December 1 - Wednesday
This is a poem sent in by Helen- Marie Hughes. Any other budding writers? Here’s your chance.
MESSAGE FROM A RAINBOW for Lucie.
Separately we, through life make our way
What transcends before no one knows.
Colours alone, we all see each day
Beauty in primary, secondary, glows.
At a precious moment, when time proclaims
The colours move closer; God bade.
A shy sun sparkles on delicate rain
Like lives intertwine, beauty is made.
So you see lovely lady, it’s a higher powers view
That our physical bodies are different.
Together we come, fleeting rainbow new
And beauty is made for a minute.
It is Gods sign, on the backdrop of sky
We should love all regardless, not fight.
Rainbow translucent, intangible, high
Portrays colours all can unite.
December 2 – Thursday
AN ADVENT POEM
Helen-marie's poem has led me to write something for Advent.
What are we hoping for,
if waiting is the game?
Who are we looking for?
Do we know their name?
Patience is a virtue
when it's not a vice
scared to pay the price.
When they're here already
how can sentry ask
Who goes there before me,
wearing such a mask?
Why the need for caution?
Whence the sense conceal,
making quiet entrance,
gently to reveal?
Where is power abandoned?
What does humble seek?
Who can take the chance
of showing strength while weak?
Here is all we've searched for,
never found in full,
coming as a servant,
bending down to rule.
Only One is mighty,
richness shown while poor,
fragile in eternity,
liebe, love, amour.
December 3 – Friday
At Malpas for the North-West retreat. Fr Chris who is the Director of the Centre is leading it. We’re expecting about 23 by the time a few arrive tomorrow. At the first session after the evening meal as we introduce ourselves we are asked to say what we are hoping for from the weekend, how we are feeling about it. For me this is the first time I’ve been at a group retreat and have not been giving it, so I’m looking forward to the experience and just going with the flow. For others it’s getting away for a few days from their usual life with its worries and challenges, meeting up with friends, learning something, preparing for Christmas or just getting some time of peace and quiet.
Chris’ method is to try and tease out from the group what whey want to do over
the weekend to prepare for Christmas and then to respond to that.
These are some of the points I remembered later.
Advent means ‘coming’, but it’s not about getting ready to meet God
in the sense that only when we are right/perfect will God come to us.
We can never be right to meet God. He
comes to us as a gift. He comes to
us no matter what state we are in, even if we are feeling like murdering
someone. God does not condone that, but he comes to us as we are, just as he
comes into our world as it is. Jesus
entered our world, the Word became flesh, he pitched his tent among us as John
says in the first chapter of his Gospel. He
comes to us in vulnerability and intimacy, challenging us to be vulnerable and
intimate with him and with one another.
needs intimacy. Too easily we
associate intimacy with sexuality. In
fact, having sex can be a way of avoiding intimacy for some people.
Fr Chris gave a couple of examples of this.
can also feel that we know people and situations. If we meet someone famous our preconceptions and prejudices
can prevent us getting to know them as they really are. The same with the Gospel story.
Some could be convinced that Mary rode to Bethlehem on a donkey, but
when you look at what it says in the Gospels, there is no donkey mentioned.
When we go to Lourdes, we presume that the statue we see is close to the
vision Bernadette saw of Mary, when in fact Bernadette said that it was nothing
like that. The statue represents
more what other people thought Bernadette had seen or what they thought Mary
should look like. We need to look
at the reality of the Nativity and what Mary experienced with open eyes.
is a prayer that Fr Chris read out:
To Listen, To Look
it all sewn up – my life?
it at this point so predictable,
I don’t have time or space
listening for the rustle of angels’ wings
running to stables to see a baby?
this be what he meant when he said
those who have ears to hear…
those who have eyes to see…?
God, give me the humbleness of those shepherds
saw in the cold December darkness
Coming of Light
Advent of Love!
December 4 – Saturday
was a poem that Fr Chris used in one of his talks today during the North-West
will be no donkey,
especially not a “little” donkey.
eight and a half months pregnant.
couldn’t swing my leg over its back.
I sat side-saddle, I’d probably fall off,
if I stayed on, it might trigger my contractions.
if Joseph could afford a camel…..
Joseph can’t afford a camel,
I’m going to walk….
register to pay the poll tax….
don’t know what it will be like,
since Joseph left the town,
he was just a toddler,
can’t remember either.
any of you who are women
to walk eighty miles,
your time has nearly come
who knows where,
a child who is a source of consternation
your parents before he is born,
who will be source of controversy
the world ever after?
I was a girl,
used to love playing practical jokes.
our neighbours would roar and laugh and say to my mother,
does she get her sense of humour from?
I think of the mess
Joseph and I are in,
smile to myself,
realise I got my sense of humour
Cloth for the Cradle
December 5 - Sunday
NORTH WEST RETREAT
Definitely stronger following the retreat and not giving it. Got a lot out of Fr Chris's wisdom and erudition, all given with a mixture of wit and spontaneity, but it certainly made me work. Not that it was all theoretical. We tried to imagine the kind of voices that would be playing in Mary's head after the angel told her she was to have a child. What would Joseph, family, people, all think? What were her own inner voices, both negative and positive? We thought what some of these might be, then Chris conducted us as a choir with different voices, some louder some stronger, some softer, diminishing and increasing. Poor Mary. We reflected what were our own main inner voices, where was the struggle within us. For myself it came down to a struggle between optimism and pessimism. I'm mostly optimistic, but sometimes, especially when I am tired, pessimism can raise its head - what's the point, will it make any difference what you do? We shared on this in twos. My partner had a different continuum, but we were both at our best when we were out and about, connected to others. At home, in the office, etc, our isolation could bring out the worse.
I didn't take any notes during the retreat and my memories of what Chris said would not do justice to what he was giving us. It wasn't all work. Later in the evening some went down to one of the village pubs to carry on the conversation, etc. We had good time on our own and the opportunity to do some art or writing. Project 2030 is using Malpas 7 times next year, from an overnight New Year meal and party (party, now that we have discovered the back room at the Red Lion) to a weekend on community and spirituality in February, a retreat during the summer holidays (how much silence?), and a few days for university leavers.
December 6 - Monday
FEED BACK ON ETHOS AND PRINCIPLES
The other week (22nd November) the diary had a first draft of ethos and principles for Project 2030. There was plenty of good, positive feedback, mostly just in one line encouragement. Here are some of the meatier responses.
I can see you've
spent a lot of time drafting the ethos and basic principles. I agree with
most of what you say. The bits I don't agree with or require further thought or
modification are as follows:
1. The bit about
moving into the Thirtysomethings when people reach their early 30s. This needs a
little bit of modification. Yes, we do need to encourage people to move
from the 20s and 30s as the years go by and younger people come in but we still
need some "flexibility" as we are attracting so many in the 25-35 age
band and the majority of people have no problem with the 20s and 30s mixing
2. I don't
agree with the bit about "priority will always be given to younger
members". This makes little sense. Where are all the under 25s ? Few
are interested in coming along. Where are all the people who are uncertain about
their faith ? We're not attracting either of those. Yes, we are going to try and
attract more younger ones but, as you said yourself recently, it’s the
25-40 year olds that the group is appealing to and if the younger ones
aren't interested surely we should give most consideration to the age group
that is attracted by Project 2030 i.e. the 25-40 age band.
3. I don't think we
should be saying "no one should feel pressurised to organise
anything". People should be EXPECTED to do something for the
group because the group won't survive if everyone just turns up and expects
things to be laid on for them. The best way to get this message across is to use
the parable of the three sons who were given money to invest. If people give as
much as they take the group will thrive, if they don't it won't.
4. Whilst the
group APPEARS "well organised" because newcomers see an active
programme people need to be told that they are required to muck in
because the group is still heavily dependent on certain people.
5. I think you're
way off track with the "faith" idea. Everyone who's been along, with the
exception of one person, seems to have a strong faith. All they are interested
in is meeting other young Catholics who share the same faith and values. This is
very IMPORTANT when Catholics are a minority in this country and there are so
many people in Britain who don't go to church or don't follow the church's
I caught your ethos & principles
draft in the diary extract. I think it accurately encompasses everything I feel
the group is about. It was interesting too see how certain words (or guidelines)
kept cropping up..
An excellent statement!
I still feel we need a mission statement though.
Something like, “An informal group to allow Catholics in their 20s and
30s to meet and make friends, through a variety of social and spiritual
1. Re. "Open to Catholics in their 20s and 30s and to other who accept the Catholic ethos", I think it would be appropriate to expand on the ethos of the group. Perhaps something along the lines of:
"We aim to create a safe, relaxed environment in which we treat one another with respect and where we can explore/develop our faith or simply meet socially with others of a similar background."
2. Re. "Priority will always be given to younger members whose faith is more vulnerable and who have a greater need to gather with people of their own age."
I disagree with your comment. I think there is potential vulnerability in one's faith at whatever stage of life, and people in their 40s also have a need to gather with others of their own age. In fact the need may even be greater as the group will attract a high percentage of single people and it is at this time of one's life that support and spiritual guidance is needed.
December 7 - Tuesday
Recently I've been falling behind with emails and phone calls. Is it the weather, is it me, is it my uneasiness as I move into a new phase - looking for someone to help me in the Project 2030 office at Stockport? I advertised around the parishes in the area. There have been six applications, some of which are quite interesting. Will need to do interviews next week. The process has taken more out of me than I expected. It is new territory and you ask yourself will it work out for the best. Surely it will, and the office assistant will take some of the pressure off me by doing the things that drain my energy mostly, like emails and phone calls. There are things that only I can do, but it can be frustrating when I have to do a lot of stuff that could be done better and more easily by someone else, while more important areas are neglected where only I can move the group forward.
This was the dilemma this morning when there was a lot of paper work to be dealt with before heading to Dublin in the afternoon for a meeting. I glanced at the Diocesan Justice and Peace magazine that had come in the post. Mother Teresa's Sisters in Liverpool were looking for volunteers to help in their night shelter. It reminded me that some people had been asking for the opportunity to do some voluntary work, and I had approached a friend from college who is Warden in a sheltered housing complex in Manchester to see if we could help there. He would be glad to welcome people from the groups to visit, talk to his elderly residents, and even do things like help them get the hang of their new computers and email possibilities. Nick had just sent the provisional NW 30s newsletter for me to have a look at, so I had to decide if I was going to use valuable time this morning arranging these opportunities to help in Liverpool and Manchester. If I don't do it, no-one else can, or it would certainly be much harder for them making the first contacts. I bite the bullet, and luckily one phone call to each place is enough to arrange a Saturday and Sunday in January when main or big events are quiet and I can go along with the group to help get things started. In Liverpool there is a Sunday Mass at the Sisters at 10.30, then we can help in their soup kitchen. There is no commitment. People can come and have a look and if they like what they see (or don't like it, more accurately) they they can come back. Or we might decide that there is something else that we can do in a voluntary capacity.
This won't be everyone's cup of tea. Some are already working in caring professions. Most have already got plenty of commitments to keep them busy. When the idea of helping others has been raised in the past some stressed that they needed Project 2030 to be something that helps them in their own lives, but there are those who have got that extra space and energy and are looking to help others in a practical, hands-on way. I saw a quote from a Charity last week which I'm regretting I didn't write down. It was basically that surveys have shown that people who do voluntary work are in general happier, healthier, and have a better sense of personal worth. But no pressure. I don't have any extra energy or time myself. Though this reminds me of when I was a young(er) priest and saying at a meeting of priests that no matter how busy we are in our parishes we and our parishioners would benefit if we did some voluntary work in another sector to keep us fresh and help us think outside the box. I was listened to with sympathy, but I could hear them thinking: "Ah, the idealism of youth!" It also reminds me that a priest friend of mine, a couple of years ago, said that since I had started on Project 2030 I had got more selfish, and there was me thinking that I was bursting every gut available. The truth is, I suppose, that we can think we are working hard when we are really wasting a lot of time and energy on things that are not so important. We can be giving our lives for others, or so we think, yet still wasting our lives. What was it that St Paul said in the first letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 13?
December 8 - Wednesday
ADVISORY SUPPORT GROUP - DUBLIN
Earlier this year my community agreed to set up an Advisory Support Group to help me in my work with Project 2030 - a kind of management committee or steering committee or whatever you would like to call it. We met today in Dublin for our first meeting. There was Fr John from the community here in Dublin and Fr Paul from Smithstone House in Scotland. Fr Chris from Malpas could not make it because Brother John died there yesterday. I had mentioned last week that he was dying. His funeral will take place on Monday 13th at Malpas.
The meeting went well. It was good to have the opportunity to talk things through, and explain what I was up to, and hear their reactions and suggestions. These were the main areas we covered.
December 9 - Thursday
NOVICES FROM NOWHERE TO DUBLIN - HISTORIES OF VOCATION
Still in Dublin. Leaving for Glasgow this afternoon as the 20s there have a Mass and Christmas party Friday evening.
There are two novices in our community here. I will not mention the country they are from because if the authorities there google and discover what they are doing they could be in difficulties. Similarly if this communist government found through the web that we have two priests from Britain and Ireland in their country teaching English (as a cover for being missionaries) they could be expelled. The chances are that they know they are there, and as long as they don't cause trouble by calling meetings or living under the same roof as locals they will be left alone. Things are beginning to thaw. The USA today announced that they were beginning to allow direct flights to this country after 30 years.
Being a novice means that you are doing a spiritual year before taking your first vows of poverty, chastity and obedience in the community. In future visits to Dublin I will be helping out Fr John, the novice master, by giving them talks on Dehonian spirituality and the Canon Law of the Church on Religious life. I did a couple of years as novice master in the 80s. Today he asked me to speak to them about the 2030 groups, but we had already been talking about this quite a bit and they had met some members during the European Gathering at Malpas in August. So I decided it was a good opportunity to get to know something of their life and history and how they had come to join the Sacred Heart Fathers. Their English is pretty good, but I could sense that I was putting them on the spot by asking them to tell their story, so I decided to give them a quick run down on how I ended up with the Dehonians.
I hoped to be a priest almost as long as I can remember, after wanting to be a cowboy and train-driver. I remember saying that for the first time when I visited my aunt the nun on my first communion day when I was only six, but I had already stuck up my head when a missionary had come round the school and asked who wanted to be priests. There were frequent visits like this to the school, but no one convinced me and a small group of like-minded friends to fill in one of the "Interested?" forms until Fr Lawless (still living in this community in Dublin) came and spoke about the Sacred Heart Fathers. Much of the appeal was the personality of Fr Lawless, and the example of Jesus and his loving heart, but also the fact that the Dehonians gave you the option of going on the missions without feeling you had to make some commitment about it when you were only nine. It might also have been the carrot that at the seminary school in Shropshire you played football nearly every day and they were thinking of building a swimming pool (never built).
Typically I never sent off the "Interested?" form. But one of my friends did and when Fr Lawless came back to visit him in the school the following year I spoke with him and went home that afternoon to tell my mother that I was going to Seminary in two years' time. The rest is geography.
December 10 - Friday
GLASGOW 20S PARTY - BETTING ON THE LIFE OF JESUS
For the 20s Christmas Party in Glasgow people brought loads of food and drink to share. Far too much, but Martin's shelter will benefit from this tomorrow. There was more soft drink than alcohol. I've often said how abstemious people in the groups are generally even though they like the atmosphere of the pub. There was even someone along tonight who smoked, which only highlighted that I can't think of anyone else anywhere who smokes. The Gospel at the Mass for the second Friday of Advent was quite appropriate. As we are getting ready for Christmas the readings keep asking the question: "Who is this that we are expecting to come, what kind of person is he?" People had been criticizing Jesus unfairly and inconsistently. He answers back: "When John the Baptist came among you neither eating nor drinking you said he is possessed. When the Son of Man (Jesus) comes eating and drinking you say, 'look, a drunkard and a glutton'." He went on to say that people were fickle in their opinions like children who complain: "When we played pipes for you (happily) you would not dance, when we played dirges (sad) you would not mourn". Often we do that to others expecting them to be one way and then when they act like that we wish they were the opposite. We can do that to Jesus and to God. There are certain things we might like about God, e.g. that God is loving, but then if he seems to be too soft on people who look to be getting away with things we might complain.
During the sermon I gave the group a few minutes quiet to think about their view of God and Jesus, to see what they particularly liked and what was difficult, and to consider whether there was any contradiction in their approach to Jesus/God. Some people can be moved at Christmas to think that the Son of God became a baby, but find it difficult to accept that he had to die on the Cross or was able to rise from the dead. Others find the crucifixion compelling, but are left cold by the Resurrection. In recent years the Church has stressed the greater importance of the resurrection, but I would argue for the greater significance of the Incarnation and Christmas.
To help me in this argument about the greater importance of Christmas, imagine that you ran a betting shop. Someone comes in and wants to put £50 on the chances of God becoming human, taking on our flesh and blood. You might check up on the odds of Elvis being alive, or Greenock Morton winning the Scottish Cup (they did once in 1921). God being born as a baby? Very unlikely, almost statistically impossible, but to be on the safe side you would give odds of 1000-1. Then the punter wants to put on a bet about whether this God-become-human would be killed by the people. Again unlikely, but you remember that prophets have often been executed and kings and presidents assassinated, so you make the odds 100-1. The final bet is that this God who is killed is going to rise from the dead. Now as a bookie you feel on safer ground. If this God-made-human died you would almost expect him to rise up again to prove who he was. I know someone who used to be a bookie. One of these days I must ask him what odds he would give on the Incarnation, Crucifixion and Resurrection. But for me the most amazing is that God took on our flesh. Where would my money go if I wanted to make a profit?
December 11 - Saturday
LONDON OVERNIGHT RETREAT - GOD BLESS RYANAIR
God bless Ryanair! Maybe it's theologically incorrect or liturgically unfair to be blessing one airline company and not all the others, but this morning I had my third cheap flight in five days from Glasgow to London for a retreat with the groups at the Marie Reparatrice Centre, Wimbledon. People don't seem to be travelling so much before Christmas, or maybe I booked this week's flights when they were doing their special offers in November. Whatever, the next chance you get subscribe to the Ryanair.com email service. In recent years I've travelled to Germany for £1.98p each way and to Italy for one penny. And new routes are opening all the time. Someone once said that Project 2030 had the same kind of potential as Ryanair, relatively. That might be a bit too optimistic, but it would be a shame if we didn't develop further our possibilities to respond to the needs of the 20s and 30s and beyond.
The retreat is from 2.00pm Saturday till midday Mass, Sunday. The theme is naturally Advent and preparing for Christmas. After some time of prayer in the Chapel I gave some introductory ideas, but stressed that they would learn more easily from each other's thoughts and experiences. That's part of the idea behind the groups that people grow and develop through peer example and encouragement. There were many interesting views on the meaning of Advent and Christmas. Here are a few of them:
December 12 - Sunday
LONDON RETREAT - LOSING YOUR RELIGION
One of the strains of celebrating Christmas as a Catholic is trying not to get too caught up in festivities before the 25th, but when we start into the 12 days of Christmas everyone else is packing up their decorations and carols are as out of place as sunglasses in the rain. Today's readings in the Mass were not even about Jesus, but about John the Baptist. We read the Gospel at morning prayer and I recounted my experience about baptism during one of my annual retreats. One day the Sister guiding me asked me to imagine that I was going with Jesus from Nazareth to the banks of the Jordan to be baptised by John. Picture yourself walking along the road with Jesus. How did he feel knowing that this could change his life. Stay on the river side and watch Jesus and the crowds going up to be immersed in the water by the Baptist. When you feel ready go up to be baptised yourself, she said, but only when it seems right. Don't rush it.
This was to be my theme for the day and to meditate on it at least four times for an hour. I followed the process each time and could vividly imagine being there and experiencing all that happened, but each time I did not get the urge to go up and be baptised. As the day wore on I began to worry about my reluctance. After the evening meal I had pencilled in a last meditation from 8.00 till 9.00. And I was determined to finish then, no matter what, and go for a bath. You can't pray all day. In this final hour I started to wonder whether I wanted to be baptised at all. Was I losing my faith? Did I have any? By 9.00 I was still firmly stuck on the river bank. Calling my own bluff had not worked. I was convinced that I had lost my faith and I knew that I would have to tell people. I couldn't live a lie, continuing to administer as a priest when I no longer believed. I imagined people laughing and saying: "All that Hugh believes in now is the Enneagram". As I got ready for my bath I thought about how to let others know. My faith had gone as surely as the snow in spring. While having my bath I forgot about my dilemma, but lo and behold, after it my faith had come back, stronger than before. How, I know not. It took me a while to see the connection between baptism and being submerged in the bath. We go down into the water of death to rise renewed with Jesus in new life. It had been a scary experience and I didn't want to analyse it too much. I had walked into the valley of death and emerged unscathed.
Having told this story I asked the group to imagine that they had been invited to go with Jesus to be baptised by John and to go up for baptism when they felt ready. They had half an hour on their own. After this they spent 30 minutes in twos sharing how they got on and talking about their life and faith. Finally there was a meeting in groups of six to see what were the common threads. Another question I put was whether they thought it was a good idea to have the opportunity at Mass of coming up to the altar individually to have the blessed water sprinkled on them after we had renewed our baptismal promises together. Someone before the retreat had asked if they could be re-baptised. This connected with the Questions and Answers session we had in October when there was a consensus about the need for some kind of adult re-dedication. I explained that we did not re-baptise. When we are christened that lasts for life. I wasn't even keen to have a renewal of baptismal promises until I saw that the Gospel was about John the Baptist. People individually and together were enthusiastic about the idea of coming up one by one if they wanted, but to have the choice of standing as well as kneeling. Most came up (25 had stayed overnight. Some had come just for yesterday and others turned up this morning). I also had said that I would go round and sprinkle the congregation so no-one would feel left out. The ancient wooden sprinkler had never seen so much service. It finally gave up the ghost at the second last row when the top half hit Catherine on the shoulder. No harm was done and hopefully much good was achieved in its demise. In the end we must keep believing in death and resurrection, but for me birth and re-birth will always be the greater miracle.
December 13 - Monday
FUNERAL OF BROTHER JOHN
Went to Malpas today for the funeral of Brother John. He had been ill for some time and died last Tuesday, aged 81. I had been fortunate enough to see him a few times in recent weeks, though I'm not sure if he recognised me. I first met Brother John when I went to the Sacred Heart Fathers Seminary College , Woodcote Hall, Shropshire, when I was 12. My first real memory of him was as one of the few drivers of the only car there. He did much of the shopping for the community, something he always enjoyed doing. One year on April Fool's Day we pushed the car down the back drive and hid it in the trees, then pleaded ignorance till midday when all foolery had to stop. He was not amused.
In the second year of our A Level course we started attending a grammar school in Wolverhampton. John used to drive us there and back each day. He was a great reader and if I was in a chatty mood I would sit in the front of the minibus and fill him in on what we had been learning in French, Latin, English and History. (We had started doing four main A Levels back at Woodcote, but the new school was doing another University's syllabus and we didn't get much instruction in some subjects. That's my excuse for only getting 2 A Levels). The following year John began a Teachers' Training Course and taught in the Catholic High, Chester for most of the 70s.
We ended up in the same community at the Youth Residential Centre, Dehon House, Ellesmere Port, from 1982 - 3. At the funeral today Fr Michael, our Provincial, told the story of how a group of us went to see the film 'Gandhi'. At the end of it John stood up and in a voice meant to be heard widely said: "I'm ashamed to be British". He also felt bad coming from Manchester as Gandhi was shown visiting the factories of the North-West, explaining to the workers that our methods were depriving the Indians of a living.
John and I were together again in community at Smithstone House, Kilwinning in Scotland from 1985 - 88. During this time he got to know my family well and would come with me to my sister's family reunion on Boxing Day. He loved driving. I remember how in the summer of 1987 I said to the two novices who were coming to the end of their year: "Where do you want to go for a day out?" I had just climbed Ben Nevis after doing the West Highland Way and that's what we wanted to do. We left early in the morning, got to the top and made a detour on the way back from Fort William to visit a family we knew. John was happy to do all the driving. At the end of the day we had done 400 miles and in an old car that left much to be desired.
He was always a very helpful person and at times you had to be careful about saying what you needed or were thinking of doing as he would go off and do it for you. He stayed at Kilwinning until 2000 and surprised himself with how well he got on with the Scots. He was already beginning to struggle when he retired to St Joseph's, Malpas.
I was asked to do the prayers at the burial in Malpas cemetery where many of the Sacred Heart Fathers and Brothers are buried. I was glad to do this service in return for the many things he had done for me over the years. Two of his sisters were there. Kitty used to come to Scotland often and helped us out in the house and at our Summer Fayres. She also got to know my family. John will be remembered above all for the quiet and loyal way he got on with life and helping people whenever he could. He asked for little in return, but won the quiet admiration of all his friends and colleagues who knew him as a faithful and dedicated religious.
December 14 - Tuesday
CHRISTOPHOBIA - MENTAL INCAPACITY BILL - ARCHBISHOP OF CARDIFF
Recently the Vatican asked the United Nations to treat christophobia as seriously as it does anti-semitism and islamaphobia. We might not find it easy being Christians and Catholics on our islands, but at least Church members are not openly under attack or persecuted as they might be in Pakistan, Sudan, North Nigeria, etc. There was a discussion on Radio 5 this afternoon about christophobia and Fr John Keenan, chaplain at Glasgow University was on the panel. He did very well, and managed gently to take the BBC to task for its skit on the Pope, 'Popetown', and the fact that it put out a negative documentary on him on his 25th anniversary as Pope. Fr John has just agreed to come and speak to the Glasgow 20s in the New Year. A few of the group had heard him speak elsewhere on marriage and sexuality. His brother, Fr Joe, is the founder and chaplain of the Glasgow 30s. Panelists agreed that there is some kind of 'cathlophobia' in our own country.
The discussion on Radio 5 was ironically interrupted by news reports of the confusion that was reigning in the House of Commons over the Mental Incapacity Bill and the key role of the Catholic Church in presenting this from becoming euthanasia by the back door. The Lord Chancellor had just written to Peter Smith, the Archbishop of Cardiff, to assure him of this, and MPs were not aware of the correspondence until just before the vote. I had met Peter Smith when he was press officer for the Bishops Conference. I teased him by asking him if he agreed that 'all publicity is good publicity'. He didn't. I also contacted him before sending letters to newspapers on religious issues - "Is this
going to help?" He was supportive. Yesterday he certainly got plenty of good publicity, being interviewed on several of the main TV channels. Newsnight had a fifteen minute slot on the issue. Over fifty years ago Pope Paul XII saw the implications of modern medicine and was concerned that people were not being allowed to die naturally. He said that it was not necessary 'to strive officiously' to keep people alive, a phrase that is often quoted in the debate. The problem today is that often people want to withdraw food and water. As the Archbishop said on Newsnight: "Euthanasia can also be an omission of something that would sustain a person and keep them alive". This is how the Guardian reported the debate in Westminster.
"Tony Blair personally intervened yesterday to save the government's mental incapacity bill, striking a last minute deal with the Catholic Church by promising that the bill will not allow euthanasia by the back door.
Mr Blair held telephone conversations with the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, while Lord Falconer, the Lord Chancellor, held parallel talks with Peter Smith, the Catholic Archbishop of Cardiff.
As a result, the government offered two concessions: that 'living wills' be written and witnessed and that doctors or the patient's agents should not be motivated to bring about the patient's death.
Frantic discussions preceded the Commons vote to head off a backbench Labour rebellion, largely centring on Catholic MPs.
News of this belated bartering was then rushed to Labour MPs, whittling the Labour rebellion down to 34 MPs with a further 100 abstentions.
The reduced rebellion meant the Commons voted by 297 to 203 not to back an amendment tabled by the former Conservative leader, Iain Duncan Smith, preventing doctors doing anything that might intentionally cause the death of a patient.
In an exchange of letters, disclosed only 30 minutes before MPs were preparing to vote on the amendment, Lord Falconer gave written undertakings to the Catholic Church that it would not be possible for anyone "to withdraw treatment where the motive is to kill, as opposed to relieving or preventing suffering".
The Church is always working behind the scenes to promote Christian values in Government policy. It's not that often that we make the headlines, though last week the Bishop's statement on the care of prisoners also received wide coverage. Maybe it's because we're getting near Christmas.
December 15 - Wednesday
SETTING UP DIFFERENT 2030 CULTURAL GROUPS
Last week when I reported on the Advisory Support Group for Project 2030. I wrote on the discussion I had with the other priests about doing something to help people from other countries and cultures to get together. If this idea got off the ground it would likely work best in London or Dublin which are becoming increasingly cosmopolitan. I have decided to explore the possibility of doing something in London. I spoke about it and got some good feedback at the retreat there last weekend. This is the email that is going out to the groups there.
To the 20s and 30s:
A NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL GROUP
This email is raising the question of whether Project 2030 could do more to help people in their 20s and 30s from other countries who are living and working in London. A few times in the past I have been approached by priests and sisters who have asked me if there was anything we could do, because they meet many people in their parishes from abroad who are very lonely here, especially when they come from more vibrant churches and cannot find others from their own country to meet up with. I used to worry that those from other cultures who came to the newcomers meetings were less inclined to come back. That seems to be changing if last weekend's retreat is anything to go by. I would estimate that almost half of the people there were from other countries or first generation. Or maybe they are more inclined to go to things like retreats.
At the retreat in Wimbledon at the weekend I mentioned my idea of advertising through the parishes an international gathering/meeting, encouraging Catholics in their 20s and 30s from different countries to come along. The main intention would be to put them in touch with their fellow countrymen. If there were enough of them they could form small groups to do things together, if they wanted. They could join the 20s and 30s and/or be linked as small groups under the umbrella of Project 2030. Just imagine the annual invitations to Indian Nights or South American soirees.
At the retreat the response to the idea was generally positive, though someone said that they tried to avoid people from their own country. Another said that they had been in London two years before they met anyone from back home. One suggestion was that we have an international Mass and those who are already in the group could prepare different parts of the Mass according to their own culture. Someone is exploring the possibility of a city centre church with a good hall.
Let's know what you think, especially if you would like to make more contacts with people from your own country or cultural background. Some Catholic groups like Poles, Ukrainians, already have a good support structure, but these can be mostly for older people. We need to consider the impact on the existing groups. Yet Project 2030 cannot turn its back if there are real needs out there. When I proposed starting the 30s in London, the 20s were not keen, perhaps sensing the negative impact it would have on them. I remember when I spent 2 years studying in Rome and stayed in a community of 50 Dehonians where I was the only natural English speaker. It was a great relief to go to the Scots College for a game of football, to attend the concerts at the English College, or to meet up with the Irish at the University. When our Father General was here from Rome in September he encouraged us to be truly the international community that we are and to do more to help people from other countries.
Best wishes for Christmas. Just think how Mary and Joseph coped with their exile in Egypt.
December 16 - Thursday
I emailed some of my colleagues in the Sacred Heart Fathers to see if they wanted to make a contribution to the diary while I'm on holiday. I felt this article would be better published before Christmas. It's from Fr Michael, the Parish Priest here in Stockport.
Mark, the evangelist, opens his record of Jesus with “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, son of God” (Mark 1:1). Mark’s gospel begins at John the Baptist, the precursor of Jesus; the heralded one then makes his entrance. Jesus would have been about thirty years of age at this stage. “The absence of the infancy narratives in Mark suggests very strongly that these narratives did not exist in the earliest form of the Christian traditions about Jesus and that the various traditions about the infancy were formed later” (JBC p.66). There are scriptural indications, apart from Mark, that the proclamation of the gospel began at John the Baptist. For instance, after Judas defected from the college of apostles, Peter set about having a replacement elected. The successful candidate had to be “one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John’s baptism … . ” (AA 1:21,22). The third chapters of Matthew and of Luke pick up where Mark begins, at John the Baptist and the public life of Jesus. The oldest extant gospel, Mark, has nothing to say about the birth and infancy of Jesus. Come to think of it, there is a lot of Jesus’ life between infancy and public life that we don’t hear anything about. Why, one wonders, do we hear of his entrance onto the stage of life in Matthew and Luke?
gospels are faith documents … written from faith to faith. People who came
under the influence of Jesus and were inspired by his remarkable life and
teaching would, surely, ask questions. They would like to know whom our Lord and
Saviour really is, where he came from and suchlike. Matthew opens his gospel
with the intention of pointing up who Jesus really is.. “A record of the
genesis of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham” (Mt 1:1). In verse
18 we read “The genesis of Jesus
Christ was thus …"
Jesus is, indeed, son of David and son of Abraham but he is more. He is
son of God. The gospel writer powerfully and imaginatively makes the point that
Jesus is uniquely son of God. The evangelist is focused on God-father and
Jesus-son. Mary’s virginity is an integral part of the story-form; it helps
make the point that there is a divine father. Matthew, it would appear, is
telling us in story fashion what Mark tells us, prosaically, on the first line
of his gospel, ‘ … Jesus Christ (is) son of God’.
Joseph is central in Matthew’s relating of the conception of Jesus. In Luke’s infancy narrative Mary is very much centre stage. To the angel’s suggestion that she become Jesus’ mother Mary’s response is intriguing, “How will this be since I am a virgin?” She was betrothed to Joseph, pledged to marry him. If Joseph was in the same room with Mary and listening to the conversation she was having with Gabriel, he might well have worn a puzzled look. It is more likely, though, that the gospel-writer is using a literary device. The child yet to be conceived “will be called son of the Most High”.(v.32). In the angel Gabriel’s response to Mary’s question we are told that the one “to be born will be called son of God” (v.35). The route taken by Mark, Matthew and Luke may be different but the destination is the same – Jesus the Christ is son of God. We must be careful not to take “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” as even the faintest hint of sexual activity. God is not a sexual being. So, God becoming Jesus’ father was no threat to Mary’s virginity.
17 - Friday
The Christmas cards have been coming in. I decided the first year not to send any to the group. In a parish you could get away with this. You couldn't have the Smiths at No 33 saying they got a nice card from the priest when the Jones at No 35 didn't, even though the Smiths sent one first and the Jones didn't. Anyway, that's my excuse. With the groups I thought to send one to the diary secretaries, but then there are the people who organise main events, as well as the magazine and web page. Then there are those who are the heart and soul of the group or who have some special need or something particular has happened to them in the previous year. I think people understand, because the same ones keep sending me a card every year. It reminds me about the parish priest who put in the newsletter: "Thank you for all your Christmas presents". The curate said, "But we didn't get many presents from the parish". "Just wait till next year", said the parish priest.
I got my cards from the market round the corner. There were some I had in a drawer left over from last year - an angel on the front with the message of peace to the shepherds. It was only when I looked inside that I saw it only said 'Festive Greetings'. Not quite as bad as the American 'Happy Holidays'. And then I noticed that they were for the YMCW with a paragraph about how somebody managed to overcome the drink. Who did I send these to last year? What did they think I was trying to say. It's noticeable that most people send me holy cards with the Nativity, etc. Much appreciated. I found it rare to see cards with the Nativity in the High Street shops - wise men and shepherds, yes, but not the central message of Christmas.
People take the chance to give you a news update on their cards. I don't even mind when friends send the circular letter. Michelle and Matt who got married in April are expecting a baby in the Spring. But then I also heard from Liz from the North-West who also got married last year that she had lost her baby. James Mawdsley of Burma fame wrote to say that he is getting married and then moving to the North West and hopes to come to some group things. James also got a mention on Tuesday's Radio 5 discussion on Christophobia for his stand against Popetown.
December 18 - Saturday
DUBLIN 20S AND 30S - MEET AND PARTIES - JOKE PREZZIES
In Dublin combining a few things. Meeting the 20s at 8.00pm at St Stephen's Green Hotel. Notices of their demise were extremely exaggerated. Since it looked as though the group might fold there has been a new determination to make it work. We are planning an Information (Newcomers) meeting in the New Year. I bring up the idea of doing something to welcome and integrate people from other countries, whether they set up sub-groups for their own language and culture and/or to mix in with the wider group. Since the European Union widened last year 50,000 have come to Ireland from the new countries including 30,000 Poles and the biggest group of these would be people in their 20s. Last week the Financial TImes listed the Republic as the second richest country in Europe. I wasn't sure how the idea would go down with the Dubliners (as it could make the group harder to manage, etc) but people had good memories of the three Czechs who were around last year, and there have also been Spanish Americans, etc in the group. The feeling is we need to do something. How we go about this internationalisation is another matter. It might be too late to organise and publicise some kind of international St Patrick's party in March and see what happens from there.
The 20s are going on to a Christmas meal. But I've promised the 30s that I would gatecrash their festive dinner in the Arlington Hotel near O'Connell St. There are about 30 of them in a hall with 200 other revellers, enjoying traditional Irish entertainment. Michael Flatfeet has a lot to answer for (the North-West groups are going to see Riverdance in March at £37 per head, and no food). I decree immediately that the rule of the empty chair is now in force, so I'm able to get around and talk to most of the group while individuals go to the bar and leave their places vacant. The atmosphere is lively. When Dublin's latest answer to the Dubliners come on stage I notice that the people on one of the smaller tables are singing along with their arms raised and joined. We do the same. The next song we are up swaying to the Christmas medley. None of the other tables follow our example, but it's dark enough not to be embarrassed.
We get moved so they can set up the dance floor. This is the cue for giving out the fun Christmas presents - slippers for the ballroom dancer, a ceremonial sword for the kung-fu fighter, a toy bow and arrow (was there a cupid connection here?), bubble guns (nothing to do with hot air). Michelle has been busy. She said the wrapping up took longer than the buying from the bargain shop. At Peter's suggestion, because my present last year was so.... (I didn't get one) I'm given a ....... as a joke, joke present. I forget it intentionally at the end of the night (it comes back to bite me tomorrow). When I leave about twelve as the disco starts, I'm clutching my real present through the rain - an Incredible Hulk alarm clock.
Here's an advent meditation to remind us of the meaning of Christmas. It was also used by Fr Chris at the retreat in Malpas two weeks ago. It reminds us of the power of Christ's coming to make all things new.
AMONG THE POOR
Among the poor, among the proud, among the persecuted, among the privileged, Christ is coming, HE IS COMING TO MAKE ALL THINGS NEW.
In the private house, in the market place, in the wedding feast, in the judgement hall, Christ is coming, HE IS COMING TO MAKE ALL THINGS NEW.
With a gentle touch, with an angry word, with a clear conscience, with burning love, Christ is coming, HE IS COMING TO MAKE ALL THINGS NEW.
That the kingdom might come, that the world might believe, that the powerful might stumble, that the humble might be raised, Christ is coming, HE IS COMING TO MAKE ALL THINGS NEW.
Within us, without us, among us, before us, in this place, in every place, for this time, for all time, Christ is coming, HE IS COMING TO MAKE ALL THINGS NEW.
December 19 - Sunday
DUBLIN 30S RETREAT - DREAMS AND VISIONS
A short retreat for the Dublin 30s today at the Sacred Heart Fathers Community on the Inchicore Rd. 15 come, which is our best turn out at a day retreat since we stopped using the house the other year when the place was being done up. There are a few new faces, and some that we haven't seen for a while. We emailed to remind people that even if they don't renew their yearly subscription they are welcome to come along to the retreats and to the first Friday gathering at the Bankers Club.
After a cup of tea we spend some time in the chapel. As always I'm trying to give people some space to get in touch with their own issues before I come in with other thoughts and images. The idea is to become aware of what is important to us at the moment, but then to let it go so God can break through in new ways. As we breathe in we become aware of whatever thoughts, feelings, sensations are coming through to us. Then as we breathe out we let them go, hand them over to God. They might come back in the next breath, but it could also be something different. The important thing is that we don't get stuck in what we are being dominated by at the moment. Give it to God and realise that the picture is wider that we imagined. We are more than what we are obsessing about. Be open to new life and new inspirations.
We listen to today's Gospel: "This is how Jesus Christ came to be born..." Joseph intended to break off the engagement but God tells him in a dream to take Mary as his wife. There are three other dream messages in the infancy narrative of St Matthew. What are our dreams at the moment. If someone says 'I have a dream' it sounds positive and challenging. I someone says 'I had a dream' it sounds more negative and ominous. Let yourself fall into a dream-like state. The priest might put us to sleep at times. It's not often that he encourages it. Sometimes we need to lower our defences before God can break through. God can come to us from outside. He also emerges from within us - our head, our heart and body.
Upstairs we introduce ourselves and share our reasons for coming along to the retreat. Then time is given to be alone, with the possibility of Confession. It's a sunny day. The War Memorial Park is nearby and leads down to the River Liffey and the Rowing Clubs. At the tea break people get a chance to meet Fr John who encourages the group to use the house and who is available if anyone wants ongoing spiritual guidance or counselling. We also meet the two Novices beginning their preparation for religious life and priesthood, who come from the country that cannot be mentioned in a web-page in case the communist authorities google them.
At the Mass we sing 6 carols. Okay, it's not Christmas yet but it's pretty near, and during the Mass we are also celebrating the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, Ascension and looking forward to the Second Coming, etc. After the Gospel we share lines that have hit us from the carols or ideas that have come to us during the day. Someone going for a walk had been struck by what looked like a bed inside the base of the ruined tower of what used to be an Anglican Church next door (our house had been the vicarage). The vision of the poor man's bed also makes them think of the poverty of Jesus born in the stable. The same person had told us earlier, when we were sharing our 'fascinating facts' about ourselves, that in the summer they had been rescued from quicksand at the beach. God speaks from within, but he also comes from without.
December 20 - Monday
GROUNDHOG DAY - MISSING THE PLANE, TWICE
I wake up at 8.49 am. My flight to Manchester is due to leave at 9.30. There's one minute till the check-in closes. Maybe I telepathically heard the last call, I don't think. Whatever, I've slept in. Friday night five hours sleep after late shopping. Don't ask. Saturday night four hours after the party. The later or more agitated I go to bed, the earlier I wake up. No chance even of a siesta yesterday with the retreat. Yesterday evening we had gone for a meal in the Black Lion up the road. We were back at the Community house before 8.00 pm. When I thought all the cars had gone and I had already switched off for the day, the door bell rang again - someone wanting to talk about something. Had felt fine during the day but I was really struggling to be there for them now. This morning woke at 3.00 am. Got to sleep again after 4.00. The blame must go to the alarm clock - a new one which is rarely used as I usually wake earlyish. That's what you get for buying the bottom of the range. Surely I didn't sleep through it.
Two weeks ago in Dublin, when I woke up, the regular two-second 'where am I?' had extended to about 10 seconds and got a bit scary. Today I knew where I was and the light told me immediately I was in a pickle. The sad thing is that about my sixth thought was that I would have something to write about in the diary, that was after some general 'oh no's. The thought of having to face the community, the extra expense, need to ring Stockport to say I won't be back for lunch. There wasn't any point in rushing now. I'd been going to walk down to get the airport bus from Hewston Station at 7.30. Now John offered to take me to the airport. Maybe he wanted to make sure I got away. My intention was to hang around the airport and see if I could get another flight. I got one within five minutes. With Ryanair if you turn up within an hour of the missed departure you only need to pay 60 euros (£40). I was a bit over the hour but the Christmas spirit prevailed. The next flight was at 3.30. That gave me plenty of time to sit in the restaurant upstairs and write the diary. I wrote Saturday then had a salad. When I looked at my new documentation it showed much more than the 60 extra euros, so I went down to check at the desk. The bottom line included what I had paid for the original flight. No problem there then.
The worst was still to come. I went back up to the restaurant and got the same seat I'd had earlier. The tables were better than the ones in departures. Wrote Sunday's diary. With about 40 minutes to go decided better head for departures. First of all went to the eastern-european twentysomething manageress and congratulated her on the way she'd been running her ship. She'd marshalled her staff, coped with her bosses, been patient with the elderly, entertained the children. She thought I was going to tell her off, but appreciated the praise when she understood.
The horror struck as I was approaching the departure gate. The revised documentation I had was only the equivalent of a ticket. I still had to check in and the 40 minute deadline had passed. Silent primal screams. I dashed to the ticket desk and explained my mistake. By now they knew my face. They checked in the back office to see if I could still get on. The lessons of the Easyjet documentaries were clear enough. Between heaven and hell there is no passing. I was doomed to repeat and hope for a higher incarnation. The Christmas spirit prevailed again. I was given a boarding card and told to dash. The queues at the scanners were not as bad as usual, but mine was causing problems. Got to Gate A to see that it showed 'Sligo'. "Has the Manchester flight gone?" I asked in a panic. As they checked the screen it showed Manchester again to the amusement of the waiting boarders. I'd made it to the promised land at last. I might have missed the wedding, but I had enough oil in my lamp to get into the feast. Come back groundhog, all is forgiven.
December 21 - Tuesday
BEING A HERMIT AT CHRISTMAS
Rachel sent me this extract from the 'Sunday Plus' newsletter. She is a hermit in the Sacred Heart Fathers' parish in Lincolnshire. As a teacher she used to help me when I was chaplain in a school in Gateshead 1988-90. We had groups for 14+ and 16+. In fact I remember that I set up a group for 20+ in the area and Rachel and her friend were the only two who turned up. Which means that Doctor Richard from Irvine was not the first to think of the Twentysomethings. I had already tried it in the North East.
Rachel is a hermit. She has been living "in solitude and silence" in a small Lincolnshire village for nearly three years now, and took her first religious vows last Christmas.
To live as a hermit these days seems a strange and outlandish thing - but the experience of it is very ordinary. "My rule of life says that I will live in 'simplicity, solitude and silence, staying and returning there insofar as duties permit', so I come back to solitude and silence in the same way most people come back to a family," explains Rachel.
Of course Rachel has to earn her own living. There is not much call for rush mats and rosaries these days - the traditional industries of the hermitage - so most of her income comes through writing and through part-time care work. "Any time left over is for the garden. My first job here was to dig up the lawn so that I could grow my own vegetables. It was a mammoth task, but the work paid off, and now I enjoy produce from the garden with nearly every meal."
The Rule of Life also states that the hermit will 'spend time each day in prayer'. "Without this, my life in the hermitage would become meaningless. I came here because the most authentic experience I had of God was of a deep sense of emptiness, at the very core of who I am. Being here puts me in touch with that, especially during prayer. I believe only God can fill it."
"The Church recognises the life of hermits or anchorites, in which Christ's faithful withdraw further from the world and devote their lives to the praise of God and the salvation of the world through the silence of solitude and through constant prayer and penance." (Canon 603 in the Code of Canon Law)
December 22 - Wednesday
REVIEW OF THE DIARY
The Project Office will be closed until 4th January. Until then we're putting up the diary entries which created the most interest and feedback since it started in April, and might be worth looking at again.
DISCERNING THE SPIRIT - FINDING JOINERS (FROM APRIL 2)
I’m going to keep this diary for a few weeks then I’ll email it to some
family, friends, colleagues and especially people in the groups who use email
and internet quite a bit, and ask them what they think.
it gives me a chance to see if I can keep it up. No point in fanfaring it to see it fizzle out within a month.
Do I have enough energy to keep it going?
Is it just a silly phase I’m going through?
I write I can feel a lot of energy for it, but as St Ignatius reminds us, if you
feel too excited about something, it often means that it is not coming from the
Holy Spirit, and you should be careful about making decisions when you feel like
that. The Spirit is to be seen more
clearly when we just feel moderately up about something.
And the opposite, if we feel really depressed about something, that is
not coming from the Holy Spirit. We
should avoid making decisions when we are really down.
But if we feel a bit down and uneasy about something, that is often the
Spirit nudging us to make some kind of adjustment.
is it the Spirit leading me to do this blogg/diary on the internet?
Time will tell, and the response of others.
Is it going to help spread the word?
other big issue is – do I have enough energy?
Do I have enough discipline to keep it going when the novelty wears off?
But maybe it could energise me and give me more focus in the work of the
groups. We’ll see.
quite a bit of the morning phoning round joiners to get some wooden Dehonian
crosses made. They are not much
more than an inch each way with a heart in the middle. People who went to Germany and India received them.
They also sell them at Malpas. We
use the cross on the Project 2030 letterhead.
I mean to use it more for posters, etc.
Want to get some done especially for the European Gathering at Malpas in
August, but also generally to send round the groups.
None of the local joiners have the machinery for that kind of thing.
I end up phoning Leeds. They
advise me to contact a sign maker, but even they draw a blank.
If anyone knows of anyone who can do that kind of thing in wood then let
us know. Touch wood, we’ll get
some eventually (touch wood originally meant touching the Wood of the Cross).
The original ones were made in Italy.
December 23 - Thursday
THE ENNEAGRAM (FROM MAY 20)
Last week I mentioned in passing the Enneagram. Someone wrote asking whether I would advise doing a course on it. In the 90s I gave workshops on the Enneagram regularly at Malpas and elsewhere. I got a lot out of it myself and saw the benefit for others. I would advise certain individuals to do it, but I don’t think it would be good for us to do it as a group. It has to be initially a very personal journey, and if people came along for the group experience who didn’t know what they were letting themselves in for then they could get hurt by it.
What is the Enneagram?
The word means in Greek ‘9 points’.
It looks at personality from 9 different but interconnected angles.
Usually one of these personality types is strongest in us, but on average
we have 3 or 4 which are quite strong, 3 or 4 which we don’t usually display,
and 2 or 3 which are average. It’s
usually easier to spot other people’s characteristics than our own, but we
have to be careful about pigeon-holing anyone.
The following characters are obviously shortened caricatures:
1. THE PERFECTIONIST: An upright person, but can get very angry at small things.
2. THE GIVER: who is generous in helping others, but can be too proud of this and the way they avoid their own needs.
3. THE ACHIEVER: who thrives on doing things successfully, but is tempted to lie for the sake of image.
4. THE ARTIST: who can do things in a unique way, but dislikes things that are ordinary and can be envious.
5. THE OBSERVER: Likes to study things but still feels empty. Can be greedy for knowledge, etc.
6. THE SUPPORTER: Very loyal, yet questions everything. Can live in fear.
7. THE OPTIMIST: Full of ideas and good cheer, but tempted to gluttony.
8. THE BOSS: A good leader, but has to be in control. Problems with lust.
THE MEDIATOR: A peaceful
character who avoids conflict, but struggles with laziness.
All these characteristics say something about all of us, but they show themselves depending on whether we are our usual selves, whether we are under pressure, have less pressure than usual or get out of the wrong side of bed in the morning. The Enneagram tells us mostly what we knew or already suspected about ourselves. It helps us to understand better our own patterns and the patterns of others.
often we expect others and God to see and do things like us, but they don’t.
They are different. We are
all made in God’s image and likeness, but we only reflect one small aspect of
God. God is not made in our own
image and likeness. The Enneagram can help us to accept the differences and the
giftedness in God, ourselves and others.
If you want more information on Enneagram weekend workshops, visit www.theenneagram.co.uk - I would only advise it if you like self-development courses and you have not been under any unusual pressures in the past year. If you are looking for a book to read, the best of the Americans is anything by Helen Palmer. Nearer to home there is ‘The Enneagram’ by Karen Webb who runs the association now and ‘The Full Face of God’ by David Mahon who is the editor of the Catholic Pictorial.
December 24 - Friday
MY MOUNTAIN TO CLIMB (FROM JUNE 3)
December 25 - Saturday
MARTIN'S REFLECTIONS (FROM JUNE 12)
SOME THOUGHTS ON COMMUNITY AND DEHONIAN SPIRITUALITYA 32 year old lay person, who is involved in 2030 and benefits from the peer and social support that the movement offers, wishes to deepen his relationship with God, seeks some kind of formation in his life and is drawn to the spirituality of the sponsors of the movement. He is unlikely to be alone. There are likely to be others who have experienced stirrings, who feel drawn to deepen their faith and spirituality. The Dehonians, and by extension 2030, emphasise the importance of community of experiencing Jesus in one another, serving and being supported by him in one another. How might we as lay people achieve this together in our daily lives through our being involved in 2030?
Martin Johnstone (Glasgow group)
December 26 - Sunday
SACRED HEART FATHERS' BACKING (FROM JUNE 25)
first day back was a meeting of a group of our priests at Malpas.
Project 2030 was on the agenda. It
was a follow-up to a meeting we had last month.
See 28th May. We
are preparing for our General Meeting in September which will set out our
Community’s plans for the next three years.
Here are some of the views and recommendations of the meeting regarding
Project 2030 as a long-term project aimed at serving the needs of Catholics in
their 20s and 30s;
support the aims of Project 2030;
recommend the setting-up of an Advisory Support Group of members of the
community to aid Hugh in this work (this is something I had been asking for.
It would be good to have the chance occasionally to talk things through
recommend the appointment of a Personal Assistant to help Hugh in the
administration of Project 2030 for initially 9 hours a week (again this is
something I felt was needed. Celia
and Clare already do a mountain of work for the group at Malpas and from home,
but it would be good also to have someone on the spot here at Stockport.
I’m still spending every hour I can in the office, and someone else
could do many of the things more quickly and efficiently, freeing me up to do
the things that only I can do. The
PA would also look into fund-raising and help arrange some of the main events
and holidays. This year people have been booking first with the Travel
Agents or having to arrange their own flights to Lourdes, which has not worked
Sacred Heart Fathers (Dehonians) should continue to finance Project 2030, but
other means of raising funds to be explored;
strongly encourage furthering the outreach of Project 2030 through University
Chaplaincies, developing in other areas of Britain and Ireland, and enabling
other local groups and individuals to affiliate to the wider group through
attending main events, etc;
encourage further exploration of ways to develop Project 2030, which may include
future employment of a lay co-worker.
came away from the meeting encouraged by the continuing support of my community
for Project 2030. If anyone has any
comments on these issues or has ideas for development, please let us know at email@example.com
- these issues will also be discussed at the Review Meeting of all the groups to
be held at Malpas 17 – 19 September.
December 27 - Monday
PREACHING ABOUT PROJECT 2030 – SOME HISTORY OF THE GROUP (FROM JULY 4)
you had to give a talk about Project 2030 what would you say?
Today I was celebrating the 12.00 Mass here in Stockport and took the
chance to speak about the groups. Not
that there were many in their 20s and 30s at the Mass, but many people find
about 2030 from family members. Also
it was a good opportunity to let people locally know what I am up to.
Other age groups are always happy to know that there is something like
this going on.
idea for the group came from Richard, then a medical student in our parish in
Irvine, Scotland. He was doing a lot to help us in the parish on the
computers, etc. One day, about
1997, I asked him if there was
anything we could do for him, not really meaning it, and he said he would love
to have a way of meeting up with a group of Catholics his own age. He’d tried to get people in their 20s together in the
parish, but there was not enough interest.
Could we advertise in a number of local parishes, throw the net wider and
get a group together. Nothing was
done at the time but the idea stuck with me.
1999 I was finishing my previous job as Provincial and was asked if I had any
ideas of what I would like to do. I
wrote out a plan of setting up groups for people in their late teens, early 20s,
as a follow-up to the work we were doing for school groups at Dehon House, our
Youth Residential Centre where I was based. I got the go-ahead, and the rest is geography.
I sent questionnaires around the parishes, then advertised meetings for
people in their 20s and asked what they would like to do together, how could I
help them? I didn’t want to set
the agenda, but let things come from the grass-roots.
people who filled in the initial questionnaires were looking for a more
spiritual programme and helping the poor. But
those who came to the first meetings were more interested in getting to know
each other at a social level first. Gradually
people got the confidence to suggest a retreat for Lent or a Taize Mass or a
talk. The Twentysomethings in the
North-West of England, West of Scotland and Dublin started in 2000.
London came a year later. There
were so many in their 30s saying “what about us?” that we set up a
Thirtysomethings as well.
December 28 - Tuesday
(FROM JULY 16)
(FROM JULY 16)
on my day off I went to see the new Spiderman film. It’s not my usual type of film, but it was the only one
before noon when the prices are cheaper. The
hero is a bit like Superman flying from building to building in New York on his
web slings, helping people and stopping criminals. I’ve been thinking about the film since, because it was
about celibacy for the sake of a higher cause, almost. Spiderman for most of the film feels that he couldn’t have
a girlfriend as it would be too dangerous for her if his enemies found out. When
he’s off duty he is just a poor student who has no money and no time for
himself or anyone else. But
Hollywood does not know what celibacy means, even though there was a fashion a
while back for stars to say things like: “I’ve been celibate for the past
month!” In the end he gets the
girl. Or she gets him.
could have done it, remained celibate, but today’s culture could not cope with
that. There is a danger of Jesus’
option being lost. Even within the
Church it is often misunderstood. Great
progress has been made in recent years on our understanding and appreciation of
sexuality, but the more our culture promotes it as the only road to follow,
people become less fulfilled sexually and find it harder to cope with commitment
and marriage and children. Society’s
pressure also makes it harder to make a choice for celibacy in the priesthood
and religious life. There is still
a high level of respect for those who have made that commitment, but if someone
says they are thinking about it even Catholic friends and family can react
parallels with Spiderman might be a bit melodramatic. I never had to make that choice in a concrete way.
Priesthood with celibacy was my aim for almost as long as I can remember.
Obviously the choice has to mature as you get older, and not getting
married was one of the realities you had to face as you approached ordination.
People often ask if the Church will allow priests to get married.
The Church could decide to ordain married men, and has already made
exceptions for Anglican Vicars who become Catholics, but it will not accept
priests marrying. Today many older
men are ordained Deacons but they have to accept they cannot re-marry if their
The Church’s rule of celibacy for priests might seem tough, but in previous times it was not seen to be such a difficult option and there are signs already that our own culture is backing off from putting such a high price on sexual fulfilment. It’s different again for me as a member of a religious community as opposed to a priest in a parish who comes directly under the Bishop. We take a vow of celibacy as Brothers long before ordination, and it never seemed a hard choice for me then or since. Once I was on an ecumenical pilgrimage and it became a source of open amusement to the group that a very nice non-Catholic lady had taken a great shine to me. On the last night we had an impromptu concert and she got up to sing a song “for all those who are single whether they want to be or not”! Then she looked over at me and said loudly: “And whose idea was celibacy anyway?” “Jesus’s” I chirped back.
December 29 - Wednesday
DERG – DAY 2
(FROM JULY 18)
(FROM JULY 18)
was about 1.30 before we arrived on the island yesterday.
There were about 90 of us starting the pilgrimage, joining about 200 who
were here since Friday. Everything
looks more modern than expected. Churches,
accommodation, shop, offices, Centre, all squeezed onto a small piece of land,
but wherever you turn there is a view of the sea and the shores of the Lough.
We have about 4 hours before Mass to do 3 of the Stations (taking about
an hour each) and grab our Lough Derg meal of the day.
We were worried that you were only allowed one piece of toast and one
biscuit, but we checked this out on the bus from those who had been here before
and they told us the tradition was you could eat as much as you liked.
All the Lough Derg people had changed on to a direct bus at Cavan.
The bus inspector turned out to be the brother of a classmate of mine who
I recognised by his voice even though I had not seen him for about ten years.
was surprised how much I enjoyed doing the spiritual exercises this afternoon,
even though it was mostly endless Our Fathers, Hail Marys and the Apostles
Creed. The fact of having to keep
walking most of the time made a big difference. Everyone says the prayers at their own pace, but there is a
sense of solidarity with the others who are on the same path. Also the sun kept
peeking out. My toes are sunburned.
Your feet soon get used to being ‘au naturel’, but gradually the
rocky paths around the old monastic cells took their toll on the soles.
Then later in the evening it got quite cold and not so much fun to be
barefoot. Before that I was getting
quite high on the experience and saying to myself: “Lough Derg, where have you
been all my life?” Everyone
should put this after swimming with dolphins on their list of things to do
before they die.
got our chance to lie down between 8 and 9 pm but sleep proved elusive.
After 10 those who had arrived on Friday were allowed to go to bed for
the night. One of the priests gave
us a very amusing and challenging talk. Then
between midnight and 6 am we spent four different hours saying the same prayers
we had said outside by walking round inside the church.
In the afternoon the mantra-like quality of the prayers got through to
you at a deeper level, but now saying them together at break-neck speed became
mind-numbing and most people were struggling against sleep.
To help us keep awake the doors were kept open at two sides of the
church. The idea worked but it got
very cold. As a warmer during the
breaks we were able to have a cup of Lough Derg soup, literally salt and pepper
in boiling water, not to be recommended.
was coping with the all night Vigil, but then during Mass at 6.30 am it began to
catch up on me. The lack of food
was not an obvious problem, though it likely got to me in terms of energy and
cold. The lack of sleep was taking
its toll so much so that by the time it came to the penitential service at 8.30
am I was feeling so negative that I wasn’t sure if it would be right to go to
Confession. In the end I figured
that I was likely no worse than most other people and this was par for the
course. As it got a bit warmer and
brighter things improved and after another hour round the ruins of the cells I
was almost back to normal, especially with the prospect of our ‘daily bread’
coming up soon.
conviviality of the dining room’s “we’re all in this together”
atmosphere helped steady the ship. The
rest of the day’s programme was lighter.
The only danger was dropping off during the Renewal of Baptismal Vows,
Stations of the Cross and Mass as we wait for 10 pm and the opportunity of seven
hours’ sleep. I must confess that
I’ve been asking some of the hardy annuals if last night was the best way to
keep Vigil. But we’re dealing
with more than 1000 years of experience of recreating St Patrick’s Purgatory.
I just hope it works for me. At
this stage I’m not so sure if I could encourage anyone to come to Lough Derg,
given how tough it is.
See 17 and 19 July for more details of Lough Derg.
December 30 - Thursday
FR DEHON AND DEHONIAN SPIRITUALITY (FROM AUGUST 19)
At the gathering last week people were curious to know more about Fr Dehon and the dehonian spirituality that our visitors from Europe were going on about. So by popular demand I led a workshop on it.
Leo Dehon was born in North-West France in 1843. From a young age he wanted to be a priest. His father tried to put him off by sending him on long holidays, including a tour of Britain and Ireland in 1862. Eventually he began his studies in Rome and was ordained in 1869. He was sent to St Quentin, a large industrial town near his birth place of La Capelle. Full of energy, he started a Catholic newspaper and set up a group for workers, especially young workers who were in danger of being alienated from the Church and brutalised by the Industrial Revolution. Gradually he realised that he wanted to be a part of a religious community, but no group would take him on along with the works that he had begun. In 1877 his bishop suggested that he begin his own community on condition that he set up a much needed college in the town.
He called his group Oblates of the Heart of Jesus. Other communities imitate Jesus as a poor man (Franciscans), or as a preacher (Dominicans), etc. For Dehon, it was the love of Jesus that motivated him, especially when he looked upon his heart, pierced by the soldier’s spear on the Cross (John 19:37). Each day Dehonians are invited to say an act of oblation or offering, to give themselves to others and to God in the same way that Jesus did out of love. He felt sad that many people, especially the poor and those whose lives were affected by sin, didn’t realise how much God loved them. Not only did he want to get that message across, but he tried to change the unjust structures that prevented workers and their families from achieving their full potential.
The new community got off to a slow start and was even closed down for a while in 1882 because of problems with the Bishop, but when it started up again months later as Priests of the Sacred Heart of Jesus it began to spread quickly. Within a few years missionaries were sent to South America and Africa. We came to England in 1936, Scotland in 1969 and Ireland in 1977. There are 2,500 Sacred Heart Fathers and Brothers in 40 countries. Leo Dehon is due to be beatified, made Blessed, next year, in recognition not only of his own holiness but also the impact that he has had on the lives of others.
At first we mostly kept the spirituality of our Founder to ourselves. Gradually we realised that it was a way to holiness and wholeness for everyone, especially those attracted by the love of Jesus, and by the way it is lived by the followers of Leo Dehon in our time. In many other countries there are groups of lay people who live this spirituality of love and self-sacrifice. The dehonians in Britain and Ireland will be having a meeting next year to look at ways of opening up our spirituality more to lay people. Watch this space if you feel the need for more community support and help in following Jesus more closely in the paths of love. Although Jesus was the Son of God he was also human in every way like us. His is the life we want to imitate. The experience of Leo Dehon and those who have come after him can provide us with insights to help us live our life to the full, discover our true humanity and experience a love that will enrich us, until it is no longer we that are living our lives, but Christ who is living within us. As St Paul says in his letter to the Galatians 2:19-20 “With Christ I hang upon the Cross, and yet I am alive, or rather, not I, it is Christ that lives in me. True I am living here and now this mortal life, but my real life is the faith I have in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me”.
December 31 - Friday
JOINT VISIT TO STRATFORD ON AVON, SHAKESPEARE’S BIRTHPLACE (FROM AUGUST 21)
35 of us in Stratford for the weekend, which inspired me
to write the following poem:
In August’s midst did five and thirty make their way
To Avon’s banks and there didst spend two day
With Bard who full four hundred years ago
Hath trod these streets and watched the river flow.
Six came here driven by a north-west squall
While one brave soul came south from Hadrian’s Wall.
Most journeyed north from London’s golden shores
Where Will did write and love the south bank roars
That rippled round the Globe and make his skill
Most famed in all the world with pen and quill.
The cruxifiction night we met at Thistle Inn
And many an hour we keep our drinking thin.
On Saturn’s morn we walk the very ways
Where he grew up and passed his early days.
His native house breathes airs of middle wealth
Though genius did he show by means of stealth.
The capital him called to tread the stage
And write the lines that mirror us his age.
When noon had come we make our way to Marks
Then took our bread in one of Stratford’s parks.
With sun still high we oared our way by boat,
Some strong, some fast, some glad to stay afloat.
By night we watched the Prince of Denmark’s fall
From grace through madness to the loss of all.
Forsooth he lived such weary, troubled years
With ghosts and plots and skulls to bring on tears.
The Lord’s Day too much hours of heat did pass
We met by morn and raised our hearts at Mass.
From thence the Earl of Warwick bade us come
To spy his castle and with thousands some
To see the jousts and creep the dungeons oe’r
Where many a Knight had lived and died right sore.
Then did we on the Sunday e’en depart
And wend our homesome way with gladsome heart.
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