Sunday, December 31, 2006

Home is Holy

Further to my reflection on the Holy unity of family life this Christmas, this morning at Mass we were read a pastoral letter from our Archbishop, the Most Reverent Vincent Nichols. His words express very well the sort of theme I have recently been following, and will no doubt provide substance on which to extend my thoughts. The occasion was this weekend's feast of the Holy Family, which is celebrated January 7th in the old calender:


On this Feast of the Holy Family there is a phrase I want to put before you. It is this: ‘Home is a Holy Place.’

In what sense is this phrase true?

Well, we know it is true of the Holy Family of Nazareth. Obviously, we think of Jesus Mary and Joseph as a perfect family, especially as we celebrate this Feast. We probably acknowledge that ideally this statement should be true of every home. But we may well think that saying ‘home is a holy place’, like so many religious expressions, is no more than wishful thinking. It is simply not true of home life today.

Yet what exactly do we mean when we say that ‘home is a holy place’?

We are not saying that all must be well for home to be holy. Holiness is not about having successful children, a tidy house, or even a very solid marriage. Nor is holiness simply about having a routine of family prayer, although that helps.

What do we mean?

Holiness is about having eyes for God. It is about being ready to respond to God’s presence in ways that are generous and brave. Holiness is about seeing beneath the surface of daily events and having the courage to know that God is at work in them even if they don’t make sense to us. Holiness is walking every minute with God. Seeking holiness is tough going.

Seeking holiness in our homes is particularly difficult. Often it’s far easier to be kind to strangers than to those with whom we live, who may have just finished off the milk, taken the last packet of crisps or jumped the queue for the bathroom. It’s far more difficult to accept the failures of those whom we love and to whom we have tried to give everything.

Everyone starts off with the hope of being the perfect family. But then reality sets in. All of life’s difficulties begin to emerge. It’s only when we realise that we are not perfect, that we are never going to be perfect, neither as individuals nor as a family, that the real work of holiness begins. When we accept that something has really gone wrong, when we have that terrible feeling in the pit of our stomach, then we can begin to discover what it is to rely on God, to have eyes for God, to walk each minute with God.

The great joys of life, especially in a family, bring us together. It is the knocks, the disappointments, the tragedies of life that leave us stunned and shaken, the façade of our respectability seriously dented. Yet these cracks and gaping holes in the fabric of our lives are precisely the spaces through which the light and love of God enter. These are the opportunities to become holy.

This experience of fragility and failure is shared by so many. Indeed the qualification we need to come to church, to sit in these pews and join in these prayers and hymns, is that of knowing our need, our weaknesses and our failures. That is our starting point.

The family is a place where we experience this vulnerability very sharply. The family is also a place where we can experience a love that sustains and nurtures us. This is why the home is a holy place: because here we meet not only our need for God but also God’s love for us. God created families so that we can participate intimately in God’s creative life and love. This happens not only when new life is born into the family, but in every single act of love and kindness which sustains and protects us.

The pathway to holiness in our homes is the pathway of St Teresa of Liseux. It is her ‘Little Way’, the constant effort of doing the ordinary things in an extraordinary way: as best we can. This is the way by which the home becomes a holy place. It is a pathway each of us can walk, day by day.

All that I have been saying is summed up in the Gospel passage we have just heard. Jesus leaves his parents, staying behind on his own in the Temple. He provokes a real family crisis. Mary and Joseph are beside themselves with anxiety. Hard words and misunderstanding between parents and youngster follow.

But out of this distressing incident we know that Mary grew in her understanding, so that eventually she would stand by the cross of her Son, lovingly sharing in his sacrifice. We also read that Jesus, at this young age, 'went down with them to Nazareth’ where ‘he increased in wisdom, in stature, and in favour with God and men.’ (Lk 2.52) It was this that made the house in Nazareth a holy place.

Your home is a holy place. Please do keep this phrase in mind. In your home God is with you. In your family life God is inviting you to know him, love him and serve him. There, in everything that happens between you, are the opportunities to please God in all that you do. You walk the path of holiness in your kindness, patience, forbearance; in your search for fairness and peace between you; in your struggle for understanding and tolerance; in your faithfulness and honesty; in your self-sacrificing love, each time you give up something you want personally for the good of the family. Everyone in a family has their part to play, as a parent or a grandparent, as a child or brother or sister. In all these ways God is drawing you to himself in holiness.

Over the coming months, the Catholic Church in England and Wales will be reflecting on this theme. Today is a starting point. I hope you will hear much more about the home being a holy place and receive much encouragement in your family life. I know that through your regular presence at Mass and through your own life of prayer, God will certainly give you the gift of the Holy Spirit to strengthen you in this calling, on this pathway to holiness.

May the Lord bless us this day. May God bless our families, no matter where they may be. May God draw us closer into the mystery of life through the love we have for each other. Amen.

+Vincent Nichols

Archbishop of Birmingham

Given at Birmingham on the 20 December 2006 and appointed to be read in all Churches and Chapels of the Diocese on the weekend of 30/31 December 2006

Friday, December 29, 2006

The Godfather

Coming to an Oratory near you...
February 10th 2007

Family Christmas

Here is a picture of me on Christmas morning at the Oratory lighting my customary candle for St. Joseph. I derive great comfort and inspiration from this special saint, who Christ himself adopted as father. I remind myself how important the vocation of fatherhood is, which is sometimes difficult for me having never been fathered myself. St. Joseph is always integral to the joy of Christmas, because we recall that it was into a humble family that Christ was given to us. St. Joseph gives the most Blessed Virgin Mary his love and support, and shepherds and guides the infant Jesus through his precious infancy. One might say that if it weren't for his manly role, our Blessed Saviour would not have survived the trials that met him in those young years.

In the context of the Holy Family, we see at Christmastide a perfect and holy example for us all. A triune unit of love and support, established by God from the beginning to be the hope for humanity. Every Christmas we rightfully strive to be with our family, and to share the joy of Christmas with them. We express our love through the giving of gifts, which is a sign of the great gift given to humanity over 2000 years ago. It is a healthy thing at this time of year to try our best to resolve differences, put aside any resentment or guilt, and try to love our family with that perfect love of the nativity. Family is the centre of Christian life for me, and it is a constant challenge to mirror the love of St. Joseph in his role of father, worker, and husband.

To clasp the Son, the Lord, was thine,
to share His flight to Egypt's shore,
with tears, to seek in Salem's shrine
Him lost, -with joy, to find once more.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Fire at Spring Grove House

The site of our wedding reception was Spring Grove House, a 220-year-old Georgian building in the grounds of the West Midlands Safari Park in Worcestershire. We had such a fantastic day there, surrounded by our friends and family, with a 3-course wedding breakfast followed by a hog roast buffet during the evening disco.

We were therefore shocked and saddened to hear that the place has been completely gutted by a fire over Christmas. It took more than 50 firefighters to control the blaze, who had to resort to pumping water out of the nearby hippo lake when their fire engines had been exhausted! Fortunately no one was hurt, but it has disrupted 100 people's Christmas dinner and New Year ball, as well as all the weddings planned for next year. For news and pictures see the local press.

One thing's for sure, there isn't many wedding receptions where the guests come away with pictures of hippos on their camera film! Only Spring Grove House!

I hope and pray it will be structurally sound to renovate this beautiful building so that many more happy couples can enjoy what we had.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Happy Christmas!!

Best wishes and prayers to all Lacrimarum Valle readers this Christmastide!

It has been a busy Christmas as always, with lots of joyful festivities that remind us that it's a truly joyous Christian feast and season. We spent a few days in Nottingham leading up to Christmas with my mother, who made us this wonderful Christmas cake. She even made the marzipan herself! So a big congratulations to her (who has even started to read my Blog despite being somewhat computer illiterate)!

I think many people get distracted during Christmas by the trappings of secular consumerism. It is easy to get swept away with the shops and television, getting bogged down with the obligation to spend money or the endless tacky parody of what this feast is really about. But I'm not just referring to non-Christians: I find many faithful people become preoccupied with the standard way Christmas is celebrated, and are busy shunning the joyful festivities which go on each year. From my point of view, this attitude is counter productive. I embrace the joy and laughter of this great feast. It is the best time in the Christian calender to truly proclaim the great hope we have in Christ.

It is sometimes difficult to realise that the Christ-child is the centre of the festivities, perhaps indicative of His very humility. But for me this is not a reason in itself to reject all the Christmas customs, even though much of it could be called Pagan drunkenness and debauchery! Indeed, many people find any excuse to behave in an undesirable way, but I just love the wholesome and childish magic which accompanies this season. I love the stockings and presents, the tinsel and lights, the silly songs as well as the beautiful carols. As time goes on I am finding more ways to embrace the magic feeling of Christmas, whilst at the same time keeping the joy of Christ central. One of the best ways we can do this is by having a nativity crib in the centre of our devotional life this season.

Heavenly Father, may this crib remind us of the coming of Thy Son.
Grant that all who pray here may be inspired by the example of love and humility that Christ gave us.
To all who are troubled, grant peace of mind.
To all in doubt and uncertainty, grant guidance and inspiration.
To all who are oppressed by guilt or sin, grant pardon and absolution.
To all who suffer in mind and body, grant comfort and healing.
Above all grant to everyone who prays here in faith, the joy of spirit that the angels proclaimed at Christ's birth.
Grant this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

"The Two Towers" of Birmingham University: Part II

In the previous part of this epic tale, I outlined the origins of the academic institutions of Birmingham University and the Medical School, and how the frantic struggle for power led to a union of the Two Towers.

Joseph Chamberlain (left), a Member of Parliament turned academic sorcerer, continued his clutch on Birmingham by becoming embodied throughout progressive generations of Birmingham scholars as the CHANCELLOR of Birmingham University.

William Sands Cox (right) by contrast, was succeeded by subsequent figures of power, which culminated in the present day DEAN. This bastion of dictatorial strength and agility is feared throughout students of the Medical School. William Sands Cox initial Christian vision became distorted and twisted until the DEAN was desperate for worldwide dominion. The CHANCELLOR, constantly aware of this from his 100 foot tower, decided to set a plan into motion to counteract the sadistic and vicious uprising of the malicious DEAN. This plan was three-fold: Political, Administrative and Medical.

Firstly the CHANCELLOR ensured, using the pervasive political powers of the original Chamberlain, coupled with the Chamberlain Tower of extreme power and force, to put in place a new government to rule Great Britain in 1997. Termed 'New Labour', this government was merely a puppet power to ensure that the CHANCELLOR's plans came to fruition. Central to this plan was an increase in the numbers of students flowing through the medical school. This would help to lessen the DEAN's grasp over these young minds, whilst making them more reliant on the actual University campus for guidance, leisure, and nutrition. This plan also involved a huge restructuring of the NHS healthcare system, to try and supplant the source of the DEAN's power: free, good quality healthcare.

Over the years that followed, the intake of students to the medical school exceeded 400. The medical school was full to bursting, and as the administrative structure began to cripple the CHANCELLOR's plan was clearly having an effect. The only way to remedy this was to expand the medical school. In 2005 the DEAN completed an extension to contain the students and prevent them from mingling with the students at the main campus of the University. There was no escaping the union of the medical school with the University, but the DEAN was desperate to break free. His success in this regard lured him into a false sense of security; he considered expanding the whole Queen Elizabeth Hospital to increase his grip on Birmingham healthcare. But this was exactly what the CHANCELLOR was anticipating...

The DEAN had continued a long line of traditional medical teaching and practice. He was of the opinion that the medical profession was an elite, with him as the invisible head. But with the CHANCELLOR's new government, this position gave way to the patient autonomy and consumerism role; where the patient was considered an equal partner, nay greater, than the doctor. This threatened the very foundations of the DEAN's power, and so he reacted against it by maintaining the old style, of doctors sitting behind desks during consultations, and bow ties for consultants, in the hope that he could resist the changes.

But the DEAN's thirst for power was his undoing... the CHANCELLOR waved the ultimate carrot before him in the form of privatisation by multi-million pound companies providing brand new buildings and facilities. Lets face it: the QE complex is by this time becoming old, grey and slowly decomposing. Part of the 'new NHS' was the prospect of super-hospitals. And the DEAN could not resist.

But as the building work progresses now, in 2006, the DEAN is blissfully unaware of the shifting forces... In the air is the rumour that the CHANCELLOR's ultimate plan is to lure the DEAN away from his clock tower and into the new super-hospital, so that he can destroy the QE Tower once and for all... Whether this latest and greatest plan will come to fruition, only time will tell....

To be continued...?

Saturday, December 23, 2006

History of Harvington

At last I have bought it. This post comes a bit late for Christmas presents, but nevertheless:

David Anthony Higham. The Priests and People of Harvington: 1580-2006. Gracewing Publishing: Hertfordshire, 2006

I really recommend this book by the wonderful parish priest of Harvington Hall, Fr. David Higham, who has been a priest of the archdiocese since 1997, before which he was educated by the Dominicans at Blackfriars, Laxton, and served the Benedictine order for many years. His special interest is history and architecture, particularly post-reformation English Catholicism. Here follows the synopsis of his book:

Few present-day Catholic communities in England can claim a continuous history going back to the sixteenth century, to the days of the restoration of the Church under Mary Tudor and the persecutions of Elizabeth I. Harvington, a small parish in the Archdiocese of Birmingham, is one.

Its moated manor house in the north Worcestershire countryside became an important centre for the undercover mission maintained throughout the Penal Days by the recusant Pakington and Throckmorton families and their priests, who could be sheltered in the many hiding places for which the Hall is celebrated.

The story of the Harvington mission is, in fact, a study in continuity in which not only the Catholic aristocracy and their chaplains, but also the yeomen and labourers have their place. The growth of the Catholic population in neighbouring towns brought about the closure of most country-house mission, yet Harvington has survived into modern times despite the departure of the lords of the manor and the break up of their estate.

Its survival is entirely due to the untiring efforts of a wealthy benefactress, Ellen Grant-Ferris of King's Norton, in saving the Hall, a building of great architectural and historical significance, from demolition. Now a shrine to St. John Wall and his fellow martyr priests of the Midlands, the Hall, along with the neighbouring Church and Priest's House, is in the care of the Archdiocese of Birmingham.

This book tells the fascinating and often heroic story of the mission and the people of Harvington from 1580 to the present day. Chronicling one of England's most important Catholic sites, it contains a wealth of fascinating detail for local and family historians, as well as for anyone with an interest in Recusant History or in how the Church has been formed in England.
For more on my involvement with Harvington Hall see a previous post.

Ember Saturday

Having just attended an edifying low Mass at Harvington, I thought it would be wonderful to show the lessons of this important day. It is quite strange to have only 3 candles lit on our advent wreath when it's this close to the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ (Christmas)!

The Mass today was in the special location of the Georgian chapel in the grounds of Harvington Hall. I will also take this opportunity to promote the parish priest David Higham's new book: The Priests and People of Harvington 1580-2006. From this book, displaying the chapel on the cover, I can tell you that this Georgian chapel was built at the house following the use of 'secret chapels' within the house itself during the reformation. In 1743 the garrets of two cottages were adapted and made into a little chapel, accessible via a staircase. It was only in 1791 that Catholics were given permission to worship in England, and so the chapel was still relatively secretive, being inside the moat and appearing secular on the outside. The original oak altar boasted several relics inside, which were unfortunately destroyed in a great fire of 1824.

It was then that St. Mary's church was built, which is the present parish church. However, the Georgian chapel was restored in 1986. It is now suitably adorned with a late eighteenth century altar and communion rails from St. Joseph's, Upton-upon-Severn, which is said to have belonged to a former Jesuit, John Joseph Reeve (1781-1848). Above the altar hangs a wonderful 17th Century painting of the Blessed Virgin and Child with St. Dominic and other saints after Barroccio. Mass is offered here every Saturday by Fr. Higham, and was a perfect setting for a Mass in the Classical Roman Rite.

Ember Saturday: All the elements of this Mass show every sign of being part of the ancient liturgy: the numerous lessons, interspersed with responsories and collects, recall the primitive form of the night vigil at Rome. On this night of ordinations twelve long lessons (as on Holy Saturday) were read to the people gathered in the Vatican basilica; the six lessons of today's Mass are a relic of this ancient practice. In reading this we are filled with a holy impatience at the approach of Christmas. We read the most beautiful prophecies of Isaiah, giving urgent appeal to the greatness of the Messiah and Saviour. The Epistle of St. Paul speaks of the second coming, but it is even now, as well as in eternity, that "the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways plain" (Gospel).
- Adapted from the Saint Andrew Daily Missal, 1954
- Following readings from Douay-Rheims Bible

First Lesson: Isaiah 19. 20-22
It shall be for a sign, and for a testimony to the Lord of hosts in the land of Egypt. For they shall cry to the Lord because of the oppressor, and he shall send them a Saviour and a defender to deliver them. And the Lord shall be known by Egypt, and the Egyptians shall know the Lord in that day, and shall worship him with sacrifices and offerings: and they shall make vows to the Lord, and perform them. And the Lord shall strike Egypt with a scourge, and shall heal it, and they shall return to the Lord, and he shall be pacified towards them, and heal them.

Second Lesson: Isaiah 35. 1-7
The land that was desolate and impassable shall be glad, and the wilderness shall rejoice, and shall flourish like the lily. It shall bud forth and blossom, and shall rejoice with joy and praise: the glory of Libanus is given to it: the beauty of Carmel, and Saron, they shall see the glory of the Lord, and the beauty of our God. Strengthen ye the feeble hands, and confirm the weak knees. Say to the fainthearted: Take courage, and fear not: behold your God will bring the revenge of recompense: God himself will come and will save you. Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as a hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall be free: for waters are broken out in the desert, and streams in the wilderness. And that which was dry land, shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water. In the dens where dragons dwell before, shall rise up the verdure of the reed and the bulrush.

Third Lesson: Isaiah 40. 9-11
Get thee up upon a high mountain, thou that bringest good tidings to Sion: lift up thy voice with strength, thou that bringest good tidings to Jerusalem: lift it up, fear not. Say to the cities of Juda: Behold your God: Behold the Lord God shall come with strength, and his arm shall rule: Behold his reward is with him and his work is before him. He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather together the lambs with his arm, and shall take them up in his bosom, and he himself shall carry them that are with young.

Fourth Lesson: Isaiah 45. 1-8
Thus saith the Lord to my anointed Cyrus, whose right hand I have taken hold of, to subdue nations before his face, and to turn the backs of kings, and to open the doors before him, and the gates shall not be shut. I will go before thee, and will humble the great ones of the earth: I will break in pieces the gates of brass, and will burst the bars of iron. And I will give thee hidden treasures, and the concealed riches of secret places: that thou mayest know that I am the Lord who call thee by thy name, the God of Israel. For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my elect, I have even called thee by thy name: I have made a likeness of thee, and thou hast not known me. I am the Lord, and there is none else: there is no God, besides me: I girded thee, and thou hast not known me: That they may know who are from the rising of the sun, and they who are from the west, that there is none besides me. I am the Lord, and there is none else: I form the light, and create darkness, I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord that do all these things. Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the just: let the earth be opened, and bud forth a saviour: and let justice spring up together: I the Lord have created him.

NB. "create evil" - The evils of afflictions and punishment, but not the evils of sin

Fifth Lesson: Daniel 3. 47-51 (& Hymn: Daniel 3. 52-56)
And the flame mounted up above the furnace nine and forty cubits: And it broke forth, and burnt such of the Chaldeans as it found near the furnace. But the angel of the Lord went down with Azarias and his companions into the furnace: and he drove the flame of the fire out of the furnace, And made the midst of the furnace like the blowing of a wind bringing dew, and the fire touched them not at all, nor troubled them, nor did them any harm.

Then these three as with one mouth praised, and glorified, and blessed God in the furnace, saying: Blessed art thou, O Lord the God of our fathers: and worthy to be praised, and glorified, and exalted above all for ever: and blessed is the holy name of thy glory: and worthy to be praised, and exalted above all in all ages. Blessed art thou in the holy temple of thy glory: and exceedingly to be praised, and exceeding glorious for ever. Blessed art thou on the throne of thy kingdom, and exceedingly to be praised, and exalted above all for ever. Blessed art thou, that beholdest the depths, and sittest upon the cherubims: and worthy to be praised and exalted above all for ever. Blessed art thou in the firmament of heaven: and worthy of praise, and glorious for ever.

Epistle: 2 Thessalonians 2. 1-8
And we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of our gathering together unto him: That you be not easily moved from your sense, nor be terrified, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by epistle, as sent from us, as if the day of the Lord were at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means, for unless there come a revolt first, and the man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition, Who opposeth, and is lifted up above all that is called God, or that is worshipped, so that he sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself as if he were God. Remember you not, that when I was yet with you, I told you these things? And now you know what withholdeth, that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity already worketh; only that he who now holdeth, do hold, until he be taken out of the way. And then that wicked one shall be revealed whom the Lord Jesus shall kill with the spirit of his mouth; and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming.

NB. "A revolt" - This revolt, or falling off, is generally understood, by the ancient fathers, of a revolt from the Roman empire, which was first to be destroyed, before the coming of Antichrist. It may, perhaps, be understood also of a revolt of many nations from the Catholic Church; which has, in part, happened already, by means of Mahomet, Luther, &c., and it may be supposed, will be more general in the days of the Antichrist.

"The man of sin" - Here must be meant some particular man, as is evident from the frequent repetition of the Greek article: 'the man of sin, 'the son of perdition, 'the adversary or opposer. It agrees to the wicked and great Antichrist, who will come before the end of the world.

"In the temple" - Either that of Jerusalem which some think he will rebuild; or in some Christian church, which he will pervert to his own worship: as Mahomet has done by the churches of the east.

Gospel: Luke 3. 1-6
Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and Philip his brother tetrarch of Iturea, and the country of Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilina; Under the high priests Annas and Caiphas; the word of the Lord was made unto John, the son of Zachary, in the desert. And he came into all the country about the Jordan, preaching the baptism of penance for the remission of sins; As it was written in the book of the sayings of Isaias the prophet: A voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Every valley shall be filled; and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight; and the rough ways plain; And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.

O God, who sees that we are afflicted because of our wickedness,
grant in Thy mercy that we may be comforted by Thy visitation.
Who lives and reigns with God the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
One God, world without end. Amen.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Transformers Trailer

My childhood dreams are becoming a reality... only an event as important as this could interrupt my blogging break...

Transformers: More than meets the eye. Transformers: Robots in disguise. Autobots rage their battle to destroy the evil forces of the Decepticons.

For those who know what I'm talking about, GO HERE NOW!!!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Wonderful Parish!

For Gaudate Sunday we ventured into Staffordshire to be at a Baptism of some friends who have recently had their first child. I have always despaired at the average parish church I have visited whilst away, on holiday for instance. But there are always exceptions, with so much depending on what the priest is like. Today Wendy and I had the pleasure of visiting Our Lady of Lourdes in Hednesford. I like Staffordshire, and have often thought it would be a nice county to live, as I realised in October when we visited Cheadle.

The Parish priest there is Father Gregory Hogan, whom I had a lovely chat with. I tend to make a point of giving my verbal support to priests I come across who celebrate the Mass properly, since they are often subject to criticism from liberal parishioners. I won't convey what we spoke about, some of it could well have been "off the record", but I was certainly impressed with his bravery and motivation at such a young age (34 I think); It was one of very few churches I've been to where communicants knelt at a communion rail; servers employed communion plates; rose vestments on Gaudate Sunday; even sung Latin Sanctus and Agnus Dei ! It was certainly a very eye-opening experience. I believe Fr. Gregory is involved in the Faith Movement. I must say that if the sort of devotion I see in him and Fr. Tim Finigan is indicative of the quality of the Faith Movement, then I would certainly like to know more!

So anyway, It was great to see some friends, now with babies, and exciting to think they may all be little play buddies one day. It is so important to have good Catholic families giving each other support. I will post more on this later, I'm sure. My prayers go out to our friends with their new baby boy. I would just love to share a picture with you of the gorgeous family, but haven't sought their permission, so will restrain myself!

Almighty, everlasting God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, look graciously down upon this Thy servant, whom Thou hast graciously called unto the beginnings of the faith; drive out from him all blindness of heart; break all the toils of Satan wherewith he was held: open unto him, O Lord, the gate of Thy loving kindness, that, being impressed with the sign of Thy wisdom, he may be free from the foulness of all wicked desires, and in the sweet odour of Thy precepts may joyfully serve Thee in Thy Church, and grow in grace from day to day. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Mere Ritual?

Those who have read my Blog for some time will have gathered that I appreciate an edifying, well presented and traditional Mass. In fact, I like the old Mass of the Roman Rite so much because of all the intricate rubrics, subtle gestures and ritual acts performed in the sanctuary. But why? More importantly, am I wasting my time on "empty religious ritual", when I should be "getting with the programme" and being more youthful and modern? I hope this post will answer some of these questions.

Firstly, I want to talk about what the Mass means to me. When I was younger, I never really grasped the full importance of what was happening on the altar each week, and quickly came to the conclusion that it was 'boring', the same every week, and not worth the time. When I "came of age" I opted not to go to Mass because of these reasons. Saying that, however; when I was much younger and preparing for my first communion, I grasped some of the sanctity which awaited me. I knew that this was truly a special moment - to receive Christ's Body onto my tongue, and to absorb Him into my very being. The feeling of being able to take the Chalice holding His precious blood, with trembling hands, was quite overpowering. I may not have understood the doctrine of transubstantiation; I may not have fully understood the role of the priesthood, or what was happening on the altar; but strangely enough this childish feeling I felt is something I strive to recapture every time I now go to Mass.

The sheer mystery of it! The fact that the priest is standing in persona Christi, in the person of Christ, and by uttering Our Lord's words is bringing about the transformation of the substance of bread and wine, to become the saving Body and Blood of Christ! People find it hard to accept this, especially as they grow up and begin to ask, in a very scientific way, how can we know this? Well, simply because Our Lord said so. "This is my Body... This is my blood of the new testament, which shall be shed for many unto remission of sins." And:
Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath everlasting life: and I will raise him up in the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed: and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, abideth in me, and I in him.
St. John's Gospel, Chapter 6 Verses 54-57
In the Old Testament of the Bible we read lots about the animal sacrifices which God required the Israelites to make. Indeed, many Pagan religions inspired by this need to sacrifice follow similar rituals, despite being unconnected with Judaism. But throughout, we also read glimpses of something greater to come. Eventually prophecies spoke clearly about a Saviour or Messiah who would come to set his people free. When Jesus fulfilled these prophecies, he did so in a wonderful way which exceeded everyone's expectations. He offered his own life on the cross, sinless as it was, as a perfect and unblemished sacrifice to God the Father. Most importantly, Jesus was God the Son, made flesh, part of the undivided God-head: the Trinity. What this means is his sacrifice would be infinite and eternal. His sacrifice was substantial for all mankind, no matter what time or place. The gates of heaven were quite literally opened for us. But this isn't enough: God gave us the free will to choose eternal life or not. To choose sin and death, or saving grace and eternal life. Therefore Christ left us a perfect way to extend his sacrifice and make it available forever - by giving his royal priesthood the authority of carrying out the Mass. He instituted this ritual giving of bread and wine at the beginning of his own earthly sacrificial action: the Last Supper with his apostles. Through the Mass Christ's sacrifice at Calvary is renewed in an unbloody manner so that we may benefit from its fantastic spiritual implications each time.

Throughout the centuries, Catholicism grew as it realised more fully the mission of the apostles: to perpetuate Christ's saving action throughout time and space. The Church is known as "Christ's Mystical Body" because Christ gives his life, which is divine and eternal, to everyone who receives him in Holy Communion. What a tremendous privilege and honour! The other essential tenet to this is the saving action of confession (discussed in another post). When these two are performed together, we partake in the spiritual reality of being purified and washed clean of the stain of sin and its guilt, and then receive Christ in the Mass, and are conformed closer to Him, through the action of the Holy Spirit which transforms and renews.

This reality is at the heart of the Mass. This is why the Mass is so important! It is the closest we get to heaven on earth, and why architecturally the Sanctuary is traditionally adorned with sacred images and golden cherubs. Heaven is actually touching earth, and God himself is infused into our humble elements. Christianity is essentially a religion of flesh and bones. At Christmas, we remember especially the birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ, a humble baby yet God made man. The Holy Saints and Martyrs have their bones venerated, which often have healing powers. The humble bread and wine at Mass are transformed into the life giving Body and Blood of Christ. We find sanctification and spiritual growth through the earthly elements, and the way God chooses to divinise them, rather than through special knowledge or books. This is why a good Christian will always give glory to God, and attribute all their good works to Christ who is working in them. Christ's mystical body is the Church, and therefore all of its members are called to turn to Christ in everything we do. To go to confession to purify and heal us, and to receive Communion in order to give us the strength to act as "little Christs" in our humble lives.

So now I come back to my original point: What is with the ritual? Well, people who have been to a High Latin Mass may have a variety of feelings. They may feel it is cold, unfriendly, divisive. On the other hand, they may find it uplifting, prayerful, and powerful. People may think "smells and bells" and fancy vestments are old fashioned and pointless. Others may feel it lifts their hearts to God and orientates our minds towards heavenly things. But these are all subjective feelings, and don't really constitute why the Church has used these tools and treasured their value. We do not perform rituals and fancy gestures because we are trying to work up an atmosphere and make Christ somehow present through our actions. We do not do it because we are trapped in tradition, and re-enact them out of obligation. The Church does these things in response to the fantastic reality and mystery which I have been describing. We wish to adorn Christ's Kingdom with all the royal splendour we can. This both helps us to see the invisible reality of what is taking place, reinforcing our beliefs, and also motivates us towards the most acceptable and sacred worship we can offer to God.

It is up to each one of us to orientate our hearts and minds towards God. Ritual and custom may not always automatically do this, but it moves us in the right direction. We may not understand exactly why tradition has evolved in the way it has; we may not see why things are done the way they are. But we will also never fully understand the sacred mystery which is underpinning them all. Ritual and tradition develops slowly and over time. Sometimes it has very practical implications, such as the priest's careful and meticulous handling of the host when it becomes the Body of Christ, lest the tiniest particle should fall. Sometimes it is almost invisible and obscured as it has developed, like the incense used, which actually symbolises our prayers rising to God. But we should be careful in all cases to love these things, because they are designed to centre the Mass upon God and fill each moment with a sacrament of its own: a visible representation of an invisible reality taking place on the altar.

So ritual isn't empty and distracting; it is the wonderful treasury of the Church which divinises our worship, in light of our awareness of the sacred mysteries. It is common for protestants to try and convince us that spontaneity and charged emotion bring about the presence of God. But in the Mass we are aware that regardless of how we feel - the same sacrifice that happened nearly 2000 years ago on Calvary is being re-presented in front of us. Our response to that is one of awe and wonder. We try to express that as best we can, and these traditions and rituals are often a clear expression and teaching tool to show the yearning in our hearts.

Finally, I want to say that it would be wrong to assume that I do not like change. On the contrary, change is absolutely paramount to the Church. I would love to see and help bring about change, even if it's just on an individual level. I want the sort of changes which would see the queues to the confessional become as long as those to communion; changes which would see young people return to the nourishment of the sacraments; to sing songs which have a wealth and depth to express the fullness of our faith; to see the seminaries brimming with new vocations; to see more respect and dignity in our Sunday Liturgy. So I am all for change. But perhaps sometimes to go forward we need to look back at the Church's treasury, to find some of the answers we are looking for.

Guilt and Healing

To thee only have I sinned, and have done evil before thee: that thou mayst be justified in thy words and mayst overcome when thou art judged. For behold I was conceived in iniquities; and in sins did my mother conceive me. For behold thou hast loved truth: the uncertain and hidden things of thy wisdom thou hast made manifest to me. Thou shalt sprinkle me with hyssop, and I shall be cleansed: thou shalt wash me, and I shall be made whiter than snow. To my hearing thou shalt give joy and gladness: and the bones that have been humbled shall rejoice.

Turn away thy face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create a clean heart in me, O God: and renew a right spirit within my bowels. Cast me not away from thy face; and take not thy holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation, and strengthen me with a perfect spirit. I will teach the unjust thy ways: and the wicked shall be converted to thee.

Psalm 50:6-15

We mess up as human beings. Even if we are not in any way religious, we still feel ashamed and embarrassed when we make mistakes. Often the most remote experiences in our distant past can surface and haunt us, and never properly heal. "Time will heal" in many cases, but sometimes in the form of a shard of glass beneath the skin: the cut will heal but the pain remains. Sometimes it surfaces in the hardest ways.

For the last couple of weeks I have been polishing my medical skills in the field of psychiatry before I am let loose on the public next August. It is a challenging area, but one I have always felt worthwhile and rewarding. I have huge respect for Psychiatrists, who always seem to have wonderful personal skills, and have the privilege of spending a lot of time with each of their patients. Now, there are many factors which contribute to mental illnesses; Physical, psychological, social, but also spiritual. None of these factors should be treated in isolation. It varies from illness to illness, and it is clear that medication is an absolute life-line for people with Schizophrenia for example, who wouldn't be able to survive without it. Other things are also important, like upbringing and social circumstances. Many of these come to the fore when talking to psychiatric patients.

But also there is often an ardent desire to unburden experiences and memories which may go back many years and decades. The guilt and pain remain as I have described. I cannot help feeling, in a quite clichéd way I'm sure you'll say, that these lost souls yearn the confessional. They might not agree with me, and it is the one of many things they need to recover. But the confessional is such an amazing sacrament because it is so easy! It makes us nervous, especially when we have a lot to say, or we feel embarrassed.

In my church we have private confessionals where the priest sits at your side behind an iron grill (everyone has seen it in the movies!) so that we do not focus on the person behind. It is effectively Christ who we are confessing to, who gave the power to his apostles to forgive sins on his behalf. They received the Holy Spirit's power, which is handed down through the priesthood, to apply Christ's infinite forgiveness to every penitent sinner! A wonderful feeling. But it does take courage to take this initial step. The resolve to attend regular confession makes this easier and easier; seeing the flaws in us and offering them to God is a humbling and enriching experience. The forgiveness we receive is a joyous and freeing experience, which washes us free from guilt and enables us to pick ourselves up to carry on the good fight.

Speaking of mental health, my wife has just finished her last day working as a physiotherapist in the (predominantly elderly) mental health service. She is pleased to be finished so that she can focus on being a mother, but it is also strange for her to be turning this new page in her life. Her colleagues gave her a wonderful send-off, including over £100 worth of baby vouchers, and she will certainly miss them. I know that she will be a great mother, which is really the most important job in the world! And I will make sure I can pay her lots of money for this great endeavour! Bump is getting bigger, kicks are getting harder, and the mountain of baby accessories gets progressively higher! We cannot wait!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Priesthood - Friendship with Christ

Fr. Julian Green is the new Chaplain of Birmingham University, and is doing very well at preserving the integrity of the Catholic faith in what can often be an environment of indifferentism and secularism. Recently he received the Archbishop Vincent Nichols to celebrate Mass for us. Here is a picture of the occasion with Angela Joyce, the Chair of the Newman Society (CathSoc), and Sister Anna O'Connor, the Chaplaincy's trendy Nun.

Fr. Julian has now joined Fr. Richard Aladics in the fantastic new blog, Friends with Christ, and has just written a fantastic premier post which consists of his reflection on Pope Benedict's address to the priests of the Diocese of Rome in the Papal Basilica of St John Lateran shortly after his election as Pope. I really recommend a read of Fr. Julian's post; it is the kind of vision of being a Priest which is often lacking in today's Church, which is probably why there such a distinct lack of vocations. I do not envy Priests, in that they do an incredibly hard service and have so much to give account for, but it must be a wonderful vocation to live when the Mass is said with the sort of love and reverence which Fr. Julian speaks about.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Liberalisation of Traditional Mass on Course

Click here for a link to The New Liturgical Movement reporting on a recent meeting of the Ecclesia Dei commission. The 'universal indult' in the form of a Motu Proprio has been rumoured for some time, but there seems more and more reason to suspect that it is something tangible. Allegedly, the commission have finished the text of the Motu Proprio, and now all remains is for Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos (the president of the commission) to present it to the Holy Father for dissemination.

To explain to readers who have no idea what I'm talking about: In 1969 the Church authorised a new missal to be used by the Latin Church, in accordance with the initial wishes of the Second Vatican Council and the subsequent work of a liturgical commission. This missal (or Novus Ordo, the Mass of Paul VI) was substantially different from the Mass being said up to that time in many important ways, but nevertheless was promptly enforced throughout the Catholic world. Many individuals continued saying the old Mass; England in particular having special permission to do so. This special permission, although becoming more widespread and encouraged by Pope John-Paul II, was vehemently opposed by many bishops. This led to more and more hostility.

I would like to point out that in 1988, when the Society of St. Pius X (established by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, left, and dedicated to the Catholic traditions of the Church pre-Vatican II) were ex-communicated, the issues were far-ranging and more complex than simply the use of the old Mass. To cut a long story short, the Ecclesia Dei commission was set up to monitor the licit traditional orders then being set up (like the Institute of Christ the King and the Fraternal Society of St. Peter) as well as to try and encourage full communion with the SSPX.

Now the issue is being discussed, after nearly 20 years of the Ecclesia Dei indult, of whether to more easily allow and encourage the use of the old Mass. The old Mass can be traced back as an organic development from the time of Pope St. Gregory the Great from the 7th Century. It is the Missal codified by St. Pius V, as commissioned by the Council of Trent, to standardise the western Rite, and therefore also lately known as the Tridentine Mass, with the most recent publication in 1962. Currently anyone wanting to offer this Mass publically must receive permission from their local ordinary. Unfortunately many bishops feel threatened by traditionalists, and opposed to the old Mass being said at all. Therefore many dioceses do not offer any, at least not on a regular basis or on Holy Days, which would otherwise enable Catholics to observe their faith in the same way as their ancestors. This is despite Pope John-Paul II's statement in Ecclesia Dei Aflicta that:
Moreover, respect must everywhere by shown for the feelings of all those who are attached to the Latin liturgical tradition by a wide and generous application of the directives already issued some time ago by the Apostolic See for the use of the Roman Missal according to the typical edition of 1962.
I am very excited about the possibility of the old Mass being liberalised. It will mean that Catholics will be able to have freer access to the traditional mass which is a part of our heritage. It is encouraging to read the writings of our current Holy Father, before he became Pope. As Cardinal Ratzinger, he stated (in the extended interview Salt of the Earth):
Unfortunately for us, there is a nearly limitless tolerance for spectacular and adventurous alterations, while effectively there is none at all for the older liturgy. We are in this way surely on the wrong path... Personally, I maintain that there is needed a more generous attitude in granting the old Rite to those who desire it. You just can’t see what could be so dangerous or unacceptable in that. A community calls itself into question when it suddenly considers forbidden what until just a little before seemed sacred and when it makes the very desire for it seem reprehensible. Why must these things still be believed? Isn’t it possible that what is being enjoined today will be forbidden tomorrow?
So if he will use his convictions to guide his papacy, then traditionalists certainly have a lot to look forward to, as do Catholics who simply yearn for more reverence in the Liturgy.

I have been a member of the Latin Mass Society for over a year now, and am excited at the prospect that I could soon begin to act as a representative for the Birmingham area. We are lucky enough in our Archdiocese to have His Grace Vincent Nichols, who is very friendly towards the traditional practices of the Church. We have an old Mass offered every Sunday and Holy Day in both Birmingham and Oxford Oratories, and many others in surrounding counties. But with regards to Birmingham itself, I think there is a huge potential to encourage and unite those Catholics who are faithful to the old Mass, and who knows, even one day have Mass celebrated at St. Chad's Cathedral from the magnificent high altar once again!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

"The Two Towers" of Birmingham University: Part I

I mentioned in a previous post that although J.R.R. Tolkien was likely inspired by other twin towers, my own experience has drawn me into a different conflict altogether. We all know that the saga of Middle Earth is a fantasy myth, set in a time long passed. But this epic battle is waging as you read this, and has been for a timeless age...
...Well, not so timeless in fact. But preceding my entrance into the world by over 100 years. This story begins in 1825, when a nobleman by the name of William Sands Cox established a uniquely Christian establishment for the education of medicine (in contrast with the abomination of London Medical Schools). In 1841 Queen's Hospital was opened, and the medical school flourished. There was brief rivalry from nearby in the guise of Syndenham College 10 years later, but the competition was simply absorbed with Queen's College into the great Mason Science College which bore forth Birmingham University at the turn of the century. The Medical School was now independent from London qualifications, and led by the DEAN, awarding the noble title of MBChB to anyone bold enough to dare embark on the challenges and tribulations a medical degree had to offer.

But peace did not last forever. At the Medical School's moment of glory, during 1933-8, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital was built. The crowning glory of its glazed terracotta brickwork was the towering Clock Tower - built as a sign of Christian hope amid the increasing secularism of Birmingham. But new powers were rising in the South...

The great CHANCELLOR of the University was discontent with being the DEAN's pawn... He wanted greater glory and dominion over the city, and so constructed a great 100 foot clock tower in the centre of his kingdom, to rival the bold gesture of the DEAN's hospital. This huge conduit of power was used to harness the heavenly dark powers, from Joseph Chamberlain himself, the original Chancellor, who even after death desired greater glory than William Sands Cox (who was truly responsible for the establishment of higher education in the city).

The CHANCELLOR constructed an array of palaces using his soldiers Aston Webb and Ingress Bell. The semicircular structure secretly provided a mystical forcefield through which the DEAN could not pass. This protected the pinnacle of power, the Chamberlain Clock Tower, through which all Chamberlain's power was derived. Chamberlain's dark spirit was now present in the world, and was a force to be reckoned with after decades of hiding in isolation.

Around this turning point in Birmingham history a great War broke out on mainland Europe, known widely as World War II. History will one day show that this was merely a diversion created by the CHANCELLOR to detract from the power struggle: The Two Clock Towers of Edgbaston.

In his broad and impenetrable clock tower, the DEAN of the medical school surveyed all. He knew that this tip in the balance would result in certain doom for his establishment. The only way for him to continue his great and traditional education of doctors was to submit to the powers-that-be and form a union... The age of the Two Towers had begun...

To be continued...

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The CMF: Contracepting Christians

There is a wonderful account over at Antonia's World all about her experience of being a Catholic and discussing medical ethics with the protestant Christian Medical Fellowship. I have, of course, some experience with them myself. I found it very useful when I was initially re-exploring Christianity to socialise with other Christian medics. The CMF gave me a real kickstart in my faith, at a time when I was more and more questioning my agnosticism. Shortly after, my wife decided on converting from Anglicanism to Catholicism! I of course, followed in her wake, as my initial exploration into Christianity was solely because of her wonderful faith. I would like to base today's reflection upon this period in my life, which was only about 2 years ago.

When I was exploring Christianity I used a lot of CMF's on-line resources. I inevitably came across an anti-Catholic article within a section denoted "Other Religions and Cults". This confused me a great deal. Eventually I realised that Catholicism was not compatible with this organisation, with many aspects alienating faithful Catholics altogether. I also discovered the Guild of Catholic Doctors. Anyway, this is retracing old ground, which can be read about at an earlier post. The saga continues, with naive doctors who think that both organisations can be best of friends, to which I have decided to address in a faceless manner. What Antonia did recently is so much braver. Something that I have shied away from in previous encounters. I can see how easy it is for Catholics who aren't grounded in apologetics to be led astray into being re-baptised and all sorts of other nonsense. What I'd like to concentrate on is the issue raised by Antonia, contraception, and reflect on it with a degree of very personal experience.

Let us remind ourselves that it was only in the last century (around the 1930s) that many christian bodies permitted contraception. In 1930, His Holiness of venerable memory Pope Pius XI had to restate the sanctity and proper context of Christian Marriage in his encyclical Casti Connubii (well worth a long hard read). The following extract is particularly relevant to this topic:

Since, therefore, openly departing from the uninterrupted Christian tradition some recently have judged it possible solemnly to declare another doctrine regarding this question [contraception], the Catholic Church, to whom God has entrusted the defense of the integrity and purity of morals, standing erect in the midst of the moral ruin which surrounds her, in order that she may preserve the chastity of the nuptial union from being defiled by this foul stain, raises her voice in token of her divine ambassadorship and through Our mouth proclaims anew: any use whatsoever of matrimony exercised in such a way that the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life is an offense against the law of God and of nature, and those who indulge in such are branded with the guilt of a grave sin.
The one problem I have with the dogged Catholic teaching on contraception in the modern Church, is the seeming hypocrisy in the way Natural Family Planning (NFP) is promoted. I have had the contraception argument with non-Catholics before, and intelligent people point out that, with such a high success rate, NFP has the same effect as barrier methods. The means may be different, but the end in itself is identical. NFP is not simply the periodic abstinence from intercourse, but an elaborate means of ensuring that abstinence is only confined to a few days of fertility during the monthly cycle. It is a relatively modern innovation and should thus be assessed carefully in light of the Gospel and traditional Church teaching.

The Church has always held that virtuous continence, or periodic abstinence (where both parties consent) is an ethical and lawful Christian way of avoiding pregnancy. What I do not agree with is the infiltration of contraception mentality into Catholicism in the guise of NFP: posing as a somehow essential part of true Christian marriage. This is a fallacy. We need to question just when avoiding pregnancy is appropriate for a married couple, and what the actual intention of the marriage union is in the first place. St. Augustine, commenting on the book of Genesis, states simply that "Intercourse even with one's legitimate wife is unlawful and wicked where the conception of the offspring is prevented. Onan, the son of Juda, did this and the Lord killed him for it". The natural state of marriage is completely orientated towards conceiving life and rearing children, as the Catholic Church has consistently taught throughout the centuries. In its wider context, Pope Pius XI rightfully states:
[The] mutual molding of husband and wife, this determined effort to perfect each other, can in a very real sense, as the Roman Catechism teaches, be said to be the chief reason and purpose of matrimony, provided matrimony be looked at not in the restricted sense as instituted for the proper conception and education of the child, but more widely as the blending of life as a whole and the mutual interchange and sharing thereof.
I mean no disrespect to anyone practising NFP; it is seemingly not sinful and therefore I understand why it is promoted so vehemently (especially with the pressures from the secular world to limit family size). All I want, is to call to attention the true intention behind the practice of NFP, and question whether it fits into the Christian ideal of surrendering our will to God and dying to our own will. Marriage should be lived in the fullest way possible, and that includes its every aspect. I am probably sounding awfully condescending, judgemental, and alienating to many readers (including the one I was giving credit to initially), but that is not my intention. I believe that between married couples this debate needs to take place.

I want to end by giving an account of my own experience, going back to the time I mentioned earlier when my wife and I were approaching the bosom of the Catholic faith. A year before that time we were a newly married couple, and I was in the middle of my degree with several years to go before I would be earning money. The obvious course of action was to contracept, and having no moral objection that is what we did. We used both the combined oral contraceptive pill (or at least Wendy did!) and the barrier method of contraception, at various stages. The first thing we changed in our lives when we began to go to Mass, was eliminating our practice of contraception in one fell swoop. I also spent a lengthy amount of time in the confessional. NFP never really occurred to us, and we expected Wendy to fall pregnant immediately, since we were presenting God with no further impediment.

However, month after month went by and nothing happened. We became more and more desperate for children (even though, one might say, we weren't in the 'ideal position' to begin a family). We began praying fervently for children. It became very difficult for us being faced with people keenly aware that we were now a 'Catholic couple' without any kids (which most would assume means we didn't abide by all the Church's teachings). It was only after a weekend of frantic prayer and petition to Our Lady in Walsingham this year that our dream became a reality. Even after we had a positive pregnancy test, we were still petrified that something would go wrong.

It has occurred to us that during our years of contracepting, God was yearning for our marriage to bear fruit in a similar way that we were forced to yearn afterwards. God taught us that we must surrender our lives to him, and only then will we be fulfilled. We depend on everything for God, and realise now that we couldn't control our lives like we wished. It was all God's timing. My heart burns that all Catholic marriages would be formed in a way that they surrender control to God and let him decide when, and how many, children arrive on the scene.

O Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and our most gentle Queen and Mother look down in mercy upon England, thy dowry, and upon us who greatly hope and trust in thee.

By thee it was that Jesus, our Saviour and our hope was given unto the world; and He has given thee to us that we might hope still more.

Plead for us thy children, whom thou didst receive and accept at the foot of the cross, O Sorrowful Mother, Intercede for our separated brethren, that with us in the one true fold, they may be united to the Chief Shepherd, the Vicar of thy Son.

Pray for us all, dear Mother, that by faith, fruitful in good works we may all deserve to see and praise God, together with thee in our heavenly home.