Sunday, December 31, 2006

Feeding Body & Soul

The New Year Retreat is going really well. We have nearly two hundred people sleeping in the school with many more coming during the day but sleeping at home or at friends' houses. The talks have been great: simple, practical and challenging. So far we've looked at the Eucharist, Confession, and prayer. Last night we had a reconciliation service with fourteen priests hearing Confessions. It began at 8.00pm and ended after 10!
Today is the Feast of the Holy Family and I'm grateful to the parish for everyone's readiness to adapt to accommodate the Retreat. For example there was no 10am Mass today and so people had to come to one of the other Masses. Although a few forgot and turned up for the 10am they realised their mistake and there were no complaints!
With all this attention paid to our souls it's important to mention that a large part of the success of this year's retreat is due to the attention that is also being paid to our bodies. Whether it's attempting to unblock loos at midnight or sorting out heating systems so no one freezes to death on a school floor there's always been a smiling parishioner ready to help.
I couldn't finish this post without mentioning the food - because everyone else is talking about it endlessly. The basic theme: "It's never been so good"! Youth 2000 has been around since 1990 and today someone commented: "We've never had a cooked breakfast before". Yesterday someone said, "There's never been a choice of menu before". And the best comment of all, "This year instead of thinking, 'Oh, it's lunch time', I'm saying 'Oh great - it's lunch!". So thanks to everyone whose involved with looking after our bodies - especially all the many people and families helping with the catering. Here's a photo of just some of them.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

New Year Retreat - A Good Start

Since St John's day everything in the parish has been gearing up towards the New Year Retreat which started last night. This year our wonderful parishioners are doing the catering but since I am the one with the parish credit card I found myself spending the best part of the day in Bookers with a team of people to do the shopping. Catering for anything between three and five hundred people is no joke. Those who were thinking in terms of a big shop at Sainsbury's soon realised their mistake. Two trailer loads later we were back in the parish ready waiting for the arrival of the advance party - due at 10pm!
Yesterday the first people arrived at 9am (for 6pm registration) but were soon set to work. There's lots to be prepared for a retreat and the more people to help out the better, especially if they've had some previous experience. Seeing how confidently Maxine and her team were looking after the catering, we knew we had no worries there. Indeed, we were treated to some very tasty 'Shepherds Pie' yesterday evening. The choice of food reflected the fact that the Archbishop would be joining us for supper.
I picked up the Arch at 6.00pm and we made good time getting back here so he was able to meet lots of people before and during the evening meal. He enjoyed the first talk by Brother Martin CFR and then presided at Holy Mass.

This picture was taken in the sacristy after Mass. I've had to manipulate it a bit because there was so much incense in the sacristy that it originally came out as a milky haze. Smoke rises and, having done my best to clean it up, I'm amused that the floor area is fairly clear but there's still a lot at head height! We were fourteen concelebrants at the Mass. The Archbishop preached a lovely meditation on Christian Love.
There were over 160 people at Mass which was very good. I had been nervous that the New Year Retreat usually gets off to a slow start and didn't want the Arch preaching to an empty Church. As things were the Church looked full and we were all very happy we the whole occasion. I'm really grateful to all our parishioners who are involved in welcoming the young people to the parish and looking after them.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Day with the Archbishop

On Wednesday 27th Archbishop Kevin celebrated Mass in the Church for our vocations day. Later eighteen of us sat down for lunch together. We were a mixture of priests, seminarians and young men considering a call to the priesthood. In this photograph we see the Archbishop with some fo the forty servers who were at Mass for the occasion.
The Archbishop will be back in the parish tonight when he will celebrate the opening Mass of our New Year Retreat at 9.00pm.

Christmas Cribs

The parish Crib

Visual imagery is very important to us as Catholics. We men and women are body and soul. We might do bad things, but we are created 'very good' by God. What we perceive with our physical senses is an important aspect of our being and also, therefore, of our approach to God. In Catholic worship we make use of things like sight and sound, and even smell (think of incense).
So it's important that in our homes we make use of visual imagery that remind us of God's presence and of his love.

Children can be very proud of their Crib

At this time of year it's important to have a Nativity Scene or Crib in our home. We can encourage the children to pray before it. We can also get them to visit the Crib in our parish Churches and in the homes of our friends and neighbours.

Some Cribs are quite elaborate

Some Cribs can be quite simple. If we have small children it's probably a good idea to have fairly robust figures. Other Cribs can be quite elaborate and take several days to prepare. They're good to get older children involved.

Our image of the Baby Jesus

One tradition is not to put the Baby Jesus in the Crib until after Midnight Mass or Mass on Christmas Morning. It's good perhaps to lay the image of the Baby Jesus in the Manger as a family and then open our presents. Another tradition is to venerate the Baby Jesus with a kiss when we go to Mass during the Octave. We have a special image of the Baby Jesus for this. Another good family custom is to leave the Three Wise Men out of the Crib until the Feast of the Epiphany. Some families have them wandering all over the house so that the children have to spot where they've got to each morning.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Channel Four at it again...

I haven't checked, but one of my parishioners told me before the Vigil Mass this evening that Channel 4 is planning one of its usual attacks on Christianity tomorrow, Christmas Day. I seem to recall having read something about this on the Blogosphere although I forget which Blog it was. I did make a note of the link it offered for an explanation of the faith that would be quite useful to anyone who finds themselves having to argue against the programmes mistakes and distortions. It is Bad Aramaic Made Easy and can be accessed by simply clicking the link (i.e. on the different coloured text in this post).

Saturday, December 23, 2006

International Fame at Last!

In case anyone thinks that the effects of the work we do at the Holy Ghost don't go beyond the confines of this parish here's a link to show you you're wrong! You'll need a bit of German to understand it, but basically it's a post commending our Catholicism for the Curious programme to a German audience.
Now I wonder if Pope Benedict has seen it...

Friday, December 22, 2006

Message from Bethlehem

We print here the Christmas message from the Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah of Jerusalem in which he speaks of that region's fundamental need for peace, justice and freedom.

1. I wish you all a Blessed Christmas.

Brothers and Sisters here in Palestine, Israel, Jordan, and Cyprus, I wish each and every one of you joy, serenity, tranquility and peace. This year again, Christmas is coming to Bethlehem amid the same circumstances of death and frustration, with the Wall and the checkpoints on the ground and in the hearts. The occupation and deprivation of freedom on one side, and fear and insecurity on the other, continue as before. Gaza remains a big prison, a place of death and of internal Palestinian dissension. Even children have been killed. And everyone, including the international community, remains powerless to find the right road to peace and justice. Fear of the future has engulfed the entire region: Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt and Jordan. For everyone, the future is at stake. In this context, world terrorism is feeding on all of the open wounds.

2. That is the way Christmas is seen today from Bethlehem. And yet, the Christmas message is meant to be one of life, peace, and justice. The prophet Jeremiah said: "In those days, I will raise up for David a just shoot; he shall do what is right and just in the land … and Jerusalem shall dwell in security" (Jer 33, 15-16). And Isaiah extended his vision to include all nations: "So will the Lord God make justice and praise spring up before all the nations" (Is 61, 11). Saint Paul, for his part, in the second readings of the Advent Season, tells us that we enter into the ways of justice and peace through love of neighbor and through holiness: "May the Lord increase you and make you overflow with love for one another and for all … and may he strengthen your hearts, making them blameless and holy before God" (1 Thes 3, 11). Moreover, since the First Sunday of Advent, the Church has put before our eyes the person of John the Baptist, the Precursor of Christ. He preached repentance, and various categories of people came to listen to him and asked him questions about the ways of repentance and new life. Even soldiers asked him what they should do to save themselves: "Soldiers also asked him: 'Teacher, what is it that we should do?' He told them, 'Do not oppress anyone, do not extort anything, and be satisfied with your wages'" (Lk 3, 14).

3. Today, life in Bethlehem and its surrounding area has become very difficult to endure, in spite of the numerous initiatives of solidarity that have come from the outside. Yes, we are in need of solidarity, and we are grateful for all the messages of brotherhood we have received from around the world. But our fundamental need is for peace, justice, freedom, and an end to the occupation. Faced with this, the world seems powerless. However, we say: each and every person, even soldiers and political leaders, have the capacity to appreciate love, salvation, and life. But for that to happen, a conversion must take place, a conversion from death to life, from viewing the other as an enemy and a murderer to viewing him as a brother and a giver of life. Our political leaders also must ask the Baptist: "And what is it that we should do to find salvation for ourselves and for all those who have put their destiny into our hands?" They too must be prepared to receive the same answer: "Do not oppress anyone, do not extort anything, and be satisfied with your wages" (Lk 3, 14). They must listen to the voice of the oppressed in this Holy Land, to the voice of those who have died, of those who are still threatened by death and humiliation, those on whom they think they can impose death or humiliation in order to assure the security of the other party. Bethlehem is meant to be the city of peace. Unfortunately, it is now just the contrary, a city of conflict and death. Life and peace, however, would be easy and possible to come by if only those in positions of responsibility were sincerely determined to pursue them. Salvation will come from bringing the two peoples together, not from separating them. In that lies the salvation of the Palestinians and the Israelis, as well as of the entire region. The two peoples are capable of living together in peace and tranquility. When that comes about, murders, vengeance, rejection, and extremism will disappear little by little, as they progressively cease to feed on oppression, occupation, poverty, and humiliation.

4. Christmas brings joy to humanity. It announces salvation to everyone, especially to those who live in Bethlehem and its surrounding area, Palestinians and Israelis alike. "Let us go to Bethlehem" and see what has taken place and what continues to take place there (cf. Lk 2, 15). What is the Wall telling us today? What are the inhabitants of Bethlehem telling us today? Let us go to Bethlehem so that we too can hear the angels announce peace on earth, peace to all people of good will, peace to all who long for a sincere brotherhood that rejects all hatred and hostility, and find, in the coming together of the two peoples, both security and an end to the occupation which will bring freedom.

For all of you, Brothers and Sisters, I pray to God that you might hear and live the message of Christmas, a message of peace, joy, and new life.

+ Michel Sabbah, Patriarch Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem
Jerusalem, 20 December 2006

Thursday, December 21, 2006

De-coding your Christmas Cards

Were you sent any Christian Christmas cards this year? Reports in the media suggest that they are pretty hard to come by, so if you've received one it's because someone has made a special effort. It's worth taking time to reflect on the significance of the different elements of the card. For help de-coding your cards click here for an excellent, illustrated article.

Christmas Lights

If any of you are missing the Christmas lights that used to go up on the house on Mayford Road this video is to console you. If you're glad they're not there any more, this video is to let you know that things could have been worse... much worse!

Monday, December 18, 2006

New Year Retreat - Timetable

We are all looking forward to welcoming young people from all over the country for the New Year Retreat here in Balham. We are already getting lots of questions about the Retreat we've decided to publish the basic outline of the talks here:

Friday 29th December
Feast of St Thomas a Becket
6.00pm Registration
7.00pm Evening Meal
8.15pm "Who do you say that I am?" - Talk by Br Martin de Porres CFR
9.00pm Holy Mass celebrated by Archbishop Kevin McDonald

Saturday 30th December
Christmas Octave
10.15am "He who abides in Love" - Talk by Fr Julian Green
12.00noon Holy Hour
4.00pm "Repent and believe the Good News" - Talk by Fr Stephen Wang
5.30pm Holy Mass
8.00pm Reconciliation Service

Sunday 31st December
Feast of the Holy Family
10.15am "Pray constantly" - Talk by Fr Sylvester CFR
12.15pm Holy Hour
4.00pm "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect" - Talk by Niall Slattery
8.00pm Healing Service
11.00pm Holy Mass

Monday 1st January 2007
Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God
12.00noon Holy Mass

It's worth bearing in mind that these are just the bear bones of the timetable. There is Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament day and night, there's also daily Rosary, workshops, Morning & Evening Prayer & much, much more....

Help Oppose Abortion

Each year BBC Radio 4's Today Programme invites listeners to send in some form of 'legislative wish-list'. When they first did it the idea was to nominate a law, they even had an MP who promised to introduce a private members Bill. He ended up with egg on his face because the public voted for the right of householders to shoot intruders and in the end he refused to support it.
This year's silly season vote, however, is more serious. This time Radio 4 is asking listeners to nominate a law that they would like to have REPEALED. The producers will select the top six nominations and put them to a listeners' vote. Please take part in this poll and nominate David Steel's 1967 Abortion Act as the one to be repealed. It won't actually change the legal status of abortion in this country, but it could be a very powerful PR coup!
You can vote by clicking here.
Feel free to link or copy this post to as many blogs as you can. The more votes the better!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Our Lady of Guadalupe

After the parish Mass today I headed off into central London to celebrate a second Mass for the Good Counsel Network. Today is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the pro-life movement and the Good Counsel Network had invited all mothers and their babies to come to the Mass. Most people contact the Good Counsel Network because they are looking to terminate a pregnancy. The Network offers pregnancy tests and counselling services. Through its tremendous work many mothers change their minds and decide to keep their babies.

These are some of the mothers the Good Counsel Network has helped in recent months. They are all with their beautiful babies. One mother is due to give birth next week. Please keep her in your prayers. Without the help and support of the Good Counsel Network these babies might never have been born and their mothers would have been left with a terrible emptiness. It was wonderful to see how happy they were today and how proud they are of their children.

The Good Counsel Network helps mums in all sort of different ways. Today there was a practical lesson in budgeting. Helpers were given £20 each and asked to see what they could get at various shops. Needless to say the corner shop was the most expensive. Marks & Spencers fared unexpectedly well. Asda was quite good but by universal consent the best value for money was Morrisons!


Sorry if it's a bit noisy in the Church this week. Once again we have the workmen in to polish the marble. After a big restoration a couple of years ago, when it was as if a film of tracing paper had been lifted from the marble, I now get a company in every six months to bring it back to a full shine.
The Church stays open for prayer but it might be a little distracting.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Christmas Fayre

On Saturday we had our Christmas Fayre. Once again the weather was kind to us and, as you can see from the photo, we had a great turnout.

"Now, how do I explain to my wife I won them all on the bottle stall?"

"Lalage betrays her experience on the racecourse by signing to other vendors to fix the price of her plants"

"I'm not a sunflower. I'm a tiger"

As always a magnificent craft stall!

Father Christmas gets asked whether Rudolf's carrots are organic.
Sr Chiara just can't resist that glorious pink icing!

Holy Ghost Advent Party

This is Kathleen Ryan whom I first met in the early 1990s when she came to the parish I was in at the time to borrow some crockery for the Holy Ghost Old Folks' Party! Little did I think that one day I'd be at the Holy Ghost and Kathleen herself would be enjoying the fun at an elegantly re-branded Senior Citizens' knees up!

Now who else do we see? Ah, yes. Here's Alice who never fails to do her bit on a Friday morning and ensures that everything we have in the Church glistens and gleams at all times. Thanks, Alice!

And then there's Princess Norah of Balham, here seen displayed in all her regal splendour. It's good to see her on her feet again!

This year we have some special guests. Fr Marcus' parents have just celebrated their wedding anniversary and have come over for the weekend. Tomorrow Fr Marcus is taking them to France on the Eurostar. They'll be back Tuesday night. Meanwhile here they are picking up tips to take back to Tenby!

The Advent Party wouldn't take place at all without the hard work of Helen, Maxine and all the helpers. Yes, that's right - the same ones who worked so hard to put on yesterday's Christmas Fayre.

Now what's going on here...

"So let's work this out. 170 people needing to be fed, and all we've got is 4 Christmas puddings. Oh well, not to worry. I'm sure it will work out in the end"

"Listen lads, I hear there's a magician coming. He can cut one in half, and make another one disappear, but one of us is going to have to go home with his wife"

"The Fr Marcus fan-club just couldn't be kept under control..."

"Ahem. Sorry ladies, did you carry out a risk assessment before doing that?"

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Is it Really for Young People?

Some people have asked for more information about the forthcoming Youth Retreat that will take place in the parish over New Year.
When is it? It starts on the evening of Friday 29th December and finishes after lunch on Monday 1st January.
Who will be there? Amongst others, the Friars of the Renewal (you remember Fr Benedict Groeschel who gave such an excellent evening of recollection recently?). Apart from them, other religious, and lots and lots of young adults.
Really? Are you just saying that? Check it out for yourself. This video was made using images from last year. You know, the one you missed!


The theme for this year's New Year Youth Retreat at Balham is "Resolution". You can view more details about the retreat by clicking this link to the relevant page on the Youth 2000 website. The retreat is an annual event in the parish organised by Youth 2000. Last year we attracted 300 young people between the ages of 16 & 35. This year the organisers are hoping to hit five hundred!

The Retreat includes talks on concrete aspects of Christian life, Holy Mass, and lots of opportunities for Confession. The Blessed Sacrament is exposed in the Church throughout the Retreat and there is all-night Adoration (optional!).

Interested? Check out the link above then send us an email at the Holy Ghost. Too shy to come alone? Then bring a friend!!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Servers' Winter Trip

The servers' winter trip took place today. This year we made a visit Farnborough Abbey. 27 servers, together with helpers, made the hour long journey south whilst watching the animated film 'Joseph: King of Dreams'. Upon arrival we were greeted by Br Thomas the guest master who brought us into the Abbey church. We then celebrated a votive mass of Our Blessed Lady. The Abbot of Farnborough, Don Cuthbert Brogan, gave us short talk on the monastic life and a tour of the monastery. We visited the crypt where the Emperor Napoleon III is buried. After praying the the divine office with the community we had a short lunch in the south lodge just by the monastery farm.

Before setting back we had time to stop for ten-pin bowling at Bracknell. Much fun was had by all. On the way home we prayed the glorious mysteries of the rosary. The day we a great success with a good balance of activities. We now look forward to the summer trip...

The Miraculous Medal

During the week over 200 'miraculous medals' were distributed to the pupils of the Holy Ghost School. These were donated by the Legion of Mary. The design of the medal of the Immaculate Conception (the official name) was given by Our Lady to St Catherine Laboure in 1830 during an apparition in Paris. It is the most widespread devotional medal in the Catholic Church today.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Sexual Orientation Regulations

You will have seen a lot of concern from Christians about the Sexual Orientation Regulations currently being forced through by the Government without debate. You can read the regulations for yourself by clicking this link.

Christians believe in tolerance and freedom. So why are they opposing these regulations? Recently the parish newsletter has carried an advert from some parishioners advertising a room to rent in their home that would suit a 'practising Catholic'. Under these new regulations they wouldn't be able to place that advert unless they were willing to accept into their home someone who applied who was a practising homosexual (see paragraph 6 of the Regulations).
We don't let out Visitation House but if I were to and the Society of Militant Transexuals (I don't think there is one!) wanted to use it, I wouldn't be able to reject them on the grounds that they're ethos isn't in accord with the Church's understanding of human sexuality.
In our Catholic schools we seek to present the ideal of marriage as a faithful, monagomous union between a man and a woman. Under the proposed regulations, as we have seen recently with Christian Unions in some universities, this could be challenged as discriminatory. For further information about how the regulations would affect what is taught in schools it is worth clicking here to download an explanatory document from the Christian Institute - you will be surprised!

At present not all discrimination is illegal. Nor should it be if we are all to live in freedom.

Universities Ban Christian Unions

In our parish we have a group who carry out a very specific mission: their task is to see how we can be more effective in our influence in the local area and in society in general. The group was formed in the wake of the emergency appeal from the Catholic bishops of England and Wales to defend our schools against an attempt to force them to take non-Catholic children. The Group invites us to be aware of what is happening in society today. Recently they drew my attention to the fact that four universities have now banned Christian Unions. Here's an article on the issue from Independent Catholic News:

LONDON - 20 November 2006
Christian Unions seek legal advice after campus ban
Dan Bergin

Christian Unions in four British universities are seeking legal advice after they were banned or restricted for not meeting with equal opportunity legislation.

Exeter University's Guild of Students said the Christian Union (CU) is not open to all, because members must sign a form saying they follow Christ. The university has temporarily suspended them from the official list of student societies on campus. The Union has also had its bank account frozen and has been banned from free use of students' guild premises or advertising within guild facilities. Exeter University's student guild claims the CU constitution and activities do not conform to its equal opportunities policies.

The 150-strong Christian Union in Birmingham was also suspended this year after refusing to alter its constitution to allow non-Christians to address meetings, and refusing to amend its literature to include references to gays, lesbians, bisexuals and those of transgender sexuality.

Christian Unions at Edinburgh, Heriot-Watt and Birmingham universities say they have been accused of excluding non-Christians, promoting homophobia and discriminating against those of transgender sexuality. Edinburgh University has banned an event run by the Christian Union called PURE which promotes a traditional biblical view of personal and sexual relationships. The university defended the ban, saying that PURE was in breach of its equality and diversity policy because PURE claims that any sexual activity outside heterosexual marriage is not God-ordained.

Last year Edinburgh university banned copies of the Bible in its halls of residence after protests from the Students' Union. Exeter Christian Union said on Thursday that it would take legal action after 14 days if it was not fully re-instated as a student society by the guild with full rights and was allowed to call itself the Christian Union. Emma Brewster, CU representative at Exeter University told the BBC: "This is a fundamental issue of freedom of speech and of common sense. Legal action is the last thing we want to take, and we certainly don't relish it, but we are fully prepared to stand our ground for truth and freedom."
© Independent Catholic News 2006

Advent Pastoral Letter

Archbishop Kevin McDonald has published a Pastoral Letter to be read at all Masses on the first Sunday in Advent. In it he announces a period of reflection and consultation throughout the diocese during Lent next year. The Archbishop recognises that "fears for the future persist and they centre particularly on the fact that over the next few years we will have fewer priests than we have been used to having in the past". He encourages us both to pray for vocations to the priesthood, "strongly" recommending "the practice of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament for an increase in vocations", and to discern plans and strategies for living with fewer priests. He wants us to focus particularly on three particular issues: alongside facing the future he asks us to reflect on how we might grow in communion and reach out in mission.
The Archbishop's Pastoral Letter will appear in a few days on the diocesan website. You can access it by clicking this link.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Caption Competition

"Once again, it was the written part of the "Is yours the true religion?" exam where Pope Benedict would really shine. And as always, he was a good sport about it. "
photo: REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi
h/t: American Papist

Pope Benedict visits Turkey amid unrest

On Tuesday the Holy Father will go to Turkey for his first official visit to an Islamic country. The prospect of a Papal visit has not been received well in Turkey which is ruled by an Islamist party. Posters condemning the visit, such as the ones in this picture, have appeared everywhere. They advertise an anti-Pope rally and read "No to the Crusaders alliance! The ignorant and sneaky Pope should not come to Turkey" (AP Photo/Osman Orsal).

There have also been heated demonstr-ations. Recently the 'Hagia Sophia' was invaded by demonstr-ators protesting against the Pope. The Hagia Sophia was, of course, a Christian Church which was converted into a Mosque when the Islamic invaders captured Istanbul. Since the last century it has been a museum.
After 700 years of occupation and discrimination the remaining Christian community has dwindled to a small proprtion of the Turkish population. In recent years, with the rise of militant Islam it has suffered greatly once again. The Pope is going to Turkey primarily to meet Patriarch Bartolomeos, the 270th successor of St Andrew, first amongst equals of the Orthodox patriarchs, and leader of the worlds 300 million orthodox Christians.
The Turkish authorities make life difficult for Patriarch Bartolomeos. They refuse to recognise the Patriarchate's international role. The law states that no one but a Turkish citizen can become Patriarch yet in 1971 they closed the only high-level theological school in the country, on the island of Halki, which means that the Patriarchate cannot train Turkish-born Greeks for ministry within the country. Despite talk of tolerance, Turkey pursues a policy of slow strangulation of non-Islamic religious minorities. The Patriarchate's small cathedral, the Phanar or Fener, is squeezed into the back streets near the polluted inlet of the Golden Horn. It has frequently been a target of bomb attacks, in 1993, '94, '96, '97, '98, 2004.
Pope Benedict's visit comes at a difficult time. That it is not welcome is shown by the fact that the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister and the Minister for Religious Affairs will all be absent during the visit. It important therefore that we pray for the Pope, especially for his safety at this time.

Go Karting

Last Friday our new 'Keep the Faith' group (Year 7) made a visit to Mitcham race track for an evening of Go Karting. It seems that the rain and wind added to the fun! This group meets twice a month and provides a way for our young people to keep in touch, to pray together and learn more about their faith. It has so far been very popular with an average of 20 at each meeting since September.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Reclaiming Christmas

After the success of our 'Catholicism for the Curious' posters last Lent, we decided to try something similar for Advent and Christmas this year. In many places the stranglehold of secularism is such that the word 'Christmas' itself is studiously avoided. Some people send cards with the words "Season's Greetings", a strange sentiment given that the season in question is 'the bleak midwinter'! In other places we can hear the greeting "Happy Holidays" - which I always think is best uttered by one of those grinning, battery-operated flowers that wiggle about in reaction to noise. And of course we also hear of those dour, humourless local authorities that celebrate 'Winterval' - wasn't it Oliver Cromwell who abolished Christmas and forbade mince-pies?
Where was I? Oh yes, Advent and Christmas! Wouldn't it be great, we thought, if all our parishioners were to display the same poster from the beginning of Advent until the Feast of the Epiphany? If we all had the same poster - a simple Nativity image - in our windows, it would say to the people of Balham that Christmas means more to us than office parties and tinsel. And then we thought, why stop there? It's not just Catholics who rejoice at Christmas time. All Christians are united in celebrating our Saviour's birth. Why not invite other Christian communities to join us in giving witness? So we did. I'm very pleased to say that they were just as enthusiastic about the project as we are. It will be wonderful to get all the Christians of our parish to give this united witness.
So the posters are at the printers and we hope they will be delivered this week. We can then begin distributing them on Sunday. Experience shows that it is good to generate some prior interest, so why not talk to your Christian friends about what we are doing. If they don't attend a local Christian church you could pick up a poster for them from the Holy Ghost. The idea is to give a powerful, joint testimony to Christ in the two important liturgical seasons of Advent and Christmas.
Simple. Easy. Effective.
Just what you would expect from the Holy Ghost!

Monday, November 20, 2006


November is the month when we pray for the repose of the souls of those who have died. In Catholic families it is customary to pray for deceased relatives, and in the parish it is no different. On Sunday we celebrated the 11.30am Mass for all our parishioners who died during the course of the last twelve months.
We don't get many sick calls in the parish but in the last few days we've been called out four times. On three occasions we were able to arrive in time to give the Last Rites to prepare the person for their transition from this 'vale of tears' to the life to come. On the fourth occasion the person had died peacefully in her sleep and we were able to say the prayers for the dead asking God to have mercy on her and receive her into his heavenly home.
It can sometimes be difficult to catch a priest at home in the presbytery, and sometimes we get the dreaded answerphone. At the Holy Ghost we try not to leave the answerphone on at night - although inevitably sometimes we forget. It is always worth leaving a message during the day and calling again at night. The priest will happily drop everything he can to attend a soul in its last agony.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Today's Wedding

Congratulations to Naomi Bull and Andrew Greenwood who were married today in a splendid ceremony at the Holy Ghost. Here they are photographed signing the register. their mothers, in the background, were the witnesses. Music for the ceremony was provided by Jeremy de Satge and members of his schola Cantamus.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Back from Ireland

I flew back from Dublin airport on Wednesday evening having been at a priests' conference in Meath since Monday. I was invited over to speak on Fostering Vocations in Today's Culture. It was a good meeting and was well-attended. I met a number of interesting people over there including the Bishop of Meath and Fr Vincent Toomey, former professor at Maynooth, the Irish seminary, and personal friend and ex-student of the present Holy Father.
I travelled with Ryanair and was impressed by its efficiency. We were a bit late leaving Gatwick, but that was nothing to do with the airline. On the return journey everything from check-in to arrival went smoothly and efficiently.

Richard Dawkins meets his match

Richard Dawkins continues his personal crusade against religion in his latest book. Recently, however, he met his match in a debate on Irish Radio with the philosopher David Quinn. I have transcripts of the debate but they are too long to put on this blog. You can, however, hear it for yourself by clicking this link. Once there, scroll down to Monday 9th October to hear the programme in question. The debate is from minutes 8-25 or so of the 59 minute programme.

Mongeham & Sandwich

On Saturday I was giving a Day of Recollection to the Folkestone Deanery. The theme was Vocation and about thirty people attended. The photo is of two young lads who served on the day. The Catholic Church in Mongeham is very interesting. It is quite small but a lot of care has gone into its design. Many of its early parishioners worked in the local coal mine (there were about five coal fields in Kent) and the Sanctuary Light is converted from an old miner's Davey Lamp.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Fr Benedict Visits Balham

On Thursday evening we were very pleased to welcome Fr Benedict Groeschel to the parish. During an Evening of Recollection Fr Benedict spoke to a packed Church about the 'Spirituality of Pope Benedict XVI'. He spoke with his usual candour and good humour. If you weren't there you missed a real treat!
Fr Benedict was very badly injured in a car accident some years ago and has only recently resumed his weekly television show on EWTN, so we were exceptionally lucky that he came to Balham. It was a great grace to have him here.

One of the impressive things about the evening was the sheer number of young people who turned out to meet him, as you can see in this photo. During his inaugural Mass Pope Benedict said that one of the legacies of Pope John Paul II was a more youthful Church. Fr Benedict speaks of the "John Paul Generation". We certainly saw them present this evening.

After Benediction Fr Benedict met people as they left the Church and then went into the school hall to talk to more people while coffee and tea were being served. We'd like to thank all those who helped out in various way and contributed to making this evening such a significant one in the history of our parish. Fr Benedict was greatly impressed by our parish. As he said when he walked into the Church his first thought was, "Thank God! A CATHOLIC Church!".

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Fr Benedict Groeschel speaks to priests

Fr Benedict Groeschel today addressed a gathering of priests at St. Bede's parish, Clapham Park. He spoke to the group of about 30 clergymen about the turn around taking place in modern pyschology and how the concept of virtue has returned to mainstream discussion. Groeschel who is a professor of pastoral psychology explained that many in his field are now abandoning the 'value neutral' understanding of life, by which we make our own truth and decide on our own good, for a more meaning and goal directed approach based on objective reality. He was very well received and joined the group for Benediction and Lunch afterwards.

Maryvale Institute

Yesterday I was up at 5.00am in order to leave at 6.00am to get to Birmingham for a meeting at the Maryvale Institute at 9.00. When I got there the meeting had been postponed to 10 but, since others who left London later got horribly delayed in traffic, I was glad for the early start. Maryvale was celebrating its Silver Jubilee as an institute dedicated to catechesis and further education and its guerst of honour for the day was Archbishop Michael Miller, the Secretary of the Congregation for Education in Rome.
The parish's association with Maryvale goes back several years, and we are the only parish listed in its jubilee handbook as a Maryvale 'partner' - the others are all dioceses, institutes and organisations. Over a hundred catechists from all over London and beyond have trained here to become Catechists. Parishioners have completed a number of different Maryvale courses, and several have gone on to begin the BA in Theology. I am an external member of the Maryvale Board of Studies which gives me a good opportunity to feed information and experience from the parish back to the various course directors at the Institute.

I am also on Maryvale's Pontifical Development Group, which is an important new project aiming to develop closer ties with the Holy See. The meeting yesterday morning was a meeting between this group and Archbishop Miller. It was an opportunity for him to grow in appreciation of how much of an effect Maryvale has in the Church - its distance learning programme makes the study of theology accessible all over the world - and he was particularly impressed to hear that 2,000 catechists in the Arab world have been trained thanks to Maryvale programmes. The Archbishop expressed the Church's gratitude for our work and encouraged us to look into the possibility of becoming an Institute accredited by a Pontifical University.
Later that day the Archbishop presided over a special Mass of thanksgiving which was attended by people from all over the world who had come for the occasion. The Mass was followed by a celebratory supper prepared, as always, by the wonderful Brigittine sisters.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Matt O'Gorman at Forum Christi

Forum Christi is the parish group for 16-30s. It meets every Sunday in Visitation House. It brings young Catholics together to meet one another, to pray, to receive some catechesis and to hear some of London's best Catholic speakers (addressing a wide variety of topics relating to faith and life). This Sunday Matt O'Gorman, the dynamic press secretary of the charity LIFE, addressed the group. He spoke about the various pro-life challenges that young Catholics face today. As always at Forum Christi the evening was completed with prayer and then some 'theology on tap' at the local.


Yesterday I was in Oxford to preach at the University Chaplaincy. Before the morning Mass I was able to take a stroll through the city and took this photograph of the Cathedral from Christ Church meadow. It was a lovely bright morning and the streets were pretty well deserted. The centre is now closed to traffic apart from buses and taxis but I had the impression that the city was looking rather un-cared for. Perhaps it was just that the roadsweepers hadn't had a chance to clean things up after a Friday and Saturday night of student revelry. In my day we had to live within a fixed grant (most of which went on 'battels' - accommodation fees) the advent of the Student Loan seems to have allowed a certain relaxation of economies.

The celebration of Mass went well and the students were very kind about the sermon afterwards. I even met two of our parishioners who had travelled up for an annual Cathsoc football match. In the afternoon I attended a meeting of the Vocations Group and was able to talk to them about vocations discernment, seminary formation and the process of application. This is a really good initiative and is a credit to Fr Jeremy Fairhead the chaplain.