Monday, May 19, 2008

Fisticuffs at Forum Christi!

On Sunday 18th May, Fr Behruz Rafat spoke to Forum Christi on "The Joyful Mysteries and the Gospel of Life". He gave a brief summary of John Paul II's teaching in the encyclical Evangelium Vitae, and then gave a meditation whilst we prayed the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary. He suggested that as a follow-up to his talk, we read the whole encyclical for ourselves (download from the talk we went for supper in the Nightingale. The evening ended with Fr Marcus beating Gavin in boxing on the new Wii games console.

Day with Mary 2008

40 Years after Humanae Vitae

On Sunday 11th May, Fr Marcus spoke to Forum Christi on "The Church, Contraception and the Culture War". He explained a number of arguments that we can use to explain the Church's teaching, and gave examples of statistics that can be used to destroy the argument that the Catholic Church's ban on condoms has been responsible for the spread of AIDS in the developing world.

Royal Albert Hall - Keeping the Faith

On Friday 9th May, the Keep the Faith groups met at the Royal Albert Hall. After games of football and rounders and a picnic in Hyde Park, they attended the Film Harmonic concert. Music from a number of film scores and television series were played, including Jurassic Park, Gladiator (Fr Marcus' favourite) and Chariots of Fire.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Pilgrimage at Forum Christi

On Sunday 27th April, Gareth Thomas spoke to Forum Christi on "The Road to Compostela". The talk began with some images of the pilgrimage, which was followed by discussion of the historical background, and reasons for present-day pilgrims completing the journey.Gareth will be making his own pilgrimage over the next couple of months, walking all the way from Balham to Santiago de Campostela. To keep track of his progress you can log onto his blog which is already showing details of his preparations, and which he will keep up as much as possible on the journey.

On Saturday 26th April, the Confirmation group made a retreat to the Carmelite Priory at Aylesford in Kent. The visit began with a tour of the site, including prayers at the relics of Saint Simon Stock. Fr Marcus celebrated Mass in one of the chapels, and then after a short break to visit the shop and tea rooms the group prayed the rosary in the Rosary Walk. After lunch, Sr Hyacinthe gave a meditation and there was the opportunity for confession. Shortly before leaving Aylesford each member of the group was presented with a brown scapular, and was encouraged to wear it. The group then travelled to Purley for ten-pin bowling. Competition was fierce - and that was just the adults! After a sausage and chips supper, it was time to return to Balham. Thankyou to Fr Marcus for arranging the trip, and to Sr Chiara, Sr Hyacinthe, Sarah and Clare for accompanying us.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Free 2 Become

On Sunday 20th April, Sr Camilla Oberding spoke to Forum Christi about discernment. She described discernment as "A process whereby a person grows in the self-awareness and freedom necessary in order to make choices according to God's spirit." She talked about some of her own experiences, and about the work her community does in helping young people discover their call in life.
For more information, see

Monday, March 17, 2008

Christians in the Holy Land

On Sunday 16th March, John Pontifex, Head of Press and Information for Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), spoke to Forum Christi about The Christians of the Holy Land – Past, Present and Future. John gave us first-hand accounts of the situation that is faced by Christians living in Bethlehem and the surrounding areas. Christians are facing persecution from the growing Islamist and Jewish communities, and significant numbers of Christians are leaving the area. Bethlehem is also suffering because many Christians there rely on tourists visiting and buying their products, and due to violence in the area there has been a huge decrease in tourism. One of the ways in which ACN is helping is by buying olive wood products from workers in the area, and selling them around the world. John concluded his talk by discussing the current situation in Iraq, particularly in light of the recent kidnapping and death of Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho.For more information on the work of Aid to the Church in Need, or to make a donation to their work, see

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The English Cardinals

On Sunday 9th March, Fr Nicholas Schofield talked to Forum Christi on The English Cardinals (which is also the title of a book he has recently co-written with Fr Gerard Skinner). The talk was a look at some of the 50 English cardinals that there have been over the years, and included some well- known names, for example Cardinal Wolsey and Cardinal Newman, as well as lesser known figures. Fr Nicholas began by explaining that there are three types of Cardinal - Cardinal Bishops, for example Cardinal Arinze; Cardinal Priests, who lead the churches in their country, for example our own Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor; and Cardinal Deacons, who are theologians working for the Vatican, for example Cardinal Avery Dulles. (All three names mentioned above came and preached/spoke in Oxford University Catholic Chaplaincy during my time there. CV) Fr Nicholas began by talking about the Mediaeval English cardinals. The first one, although largely forgotten, was Robert Pullen. The second was Nicholas Breakspear, who is better known as Pope Adrian IV, the only English Pope (so far). Cardinal Wolsey is more widely known than any of these, although the popular view, as exemplified by his portrayal in "A Man for all Seasons", was described by Fr Nicholas as "perhaps a little unfair". Fr Nicholas described the Cardinal Duke of York, Henry Stuart as his "favourite cardinal". Cardinal Stuart lived like a king, and is even claimed by some to have been King Henry IX of England, Scotland and Wales.The talk then moved on to the Reformation cardinals, of whom the most well-known is probably the only English Cardinal to be martyred - St John Fisher. He (unlike Wolsey) refused to sanction King Henry VIII's divorce. Other cardinals mentioned in this section included Reginald Pole - the last Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury, and a relative of Henry VIII; and William Allen, who founded an English college in Douai to train seminarians. His legacy lives on today in the seminaries of Allen Hall in London and Ushaw in Durham.Since the Catholic hierarchy was restored and new dioceses established, the Archbishop of Westminster has been the head of the Catholic church in England, and every Archbishop of Westminster has been made a cardinal. The first of these was Cardinal Wiseman, and the latest is Cardinal Murphy O'Connor. In modern times there have been other English cardinals, for example Cardinal Newman. Most of the recent cardinals are buried in the crypt of Westminster Cathedral, with their red hats hanging above them. Apparantly tradition has it that when the hat falls, it signifies the cardinal's soul being released from purgatory. All the hats are so far still hanging.

Our Lady of Fatima

Over the last two weeks the Heralds of the Gospel have visited the parish to talk to some of our groups of young people. They brought with them a statue of Our Lady of Fatima, which had been crowned by the Pope. Br Aldo Leone explained what happened at Fatima, and encouraged the youngsters to pray to Mary to intercede for them. The rosary was prayed. The sessions ended with games for the younger groups, and a meal for the older ones.

Monday, March 03, 2008

An Introduction to St Thomas Aquinas

On Sunday 3rd March, Fr Bruno Witchells spoke to Forum Christi on "An Introduction to St Thomas Aquinas". He gave us a brief summary of St Thomas's life, from his birth in 1224, through being educated by Benedictines, and later Dominicans (whom he joined, although with initial disapproval from his family), to his death aged 49 in 1274, and his later canonisation in 1323, and instituition as a Doctor of the Church. Fr Bruno explained that the part of St Thomas's life that made him a saint was his thought, which shows us something of the mind of Christ. He then took us through a number of parallels between St Thomas and Pope Benedict XVI. He recommended reading GK Chesterton's "The Dumb Ox" as a good introduction to St Thomas, and "Salt of the Earth" (Paul Seeward and Joseph Ratzinger) as an introduction to the theology of Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Virtue and Vice

On Sunday 3rd February Fr Marcus spoke to Forum Christi on the topic of 'The Seven Deadly Vices and their Antidotes'. He began with a descripton of the four cardinal virtues (fortitude, temperance, prudence and justice) and the three theological virtues (faith, hope and charity). The talk then moved on to the vices (pride, envy, anger, sloth, avarice, gluttony and lust), which were illustrated by both a picture by Hieronymous Bosch, and a box of chocolates. There was also audience participation, as we were asked to contribute examples of each of the vices in today's world. Fr Marcus left us with the comforting thought that even the saints struggled to achieve all the virtues in this world. After all, if you thought that you'd got there, that would be the vice of pride!

The Ultimate Catholic Quiz Over the past month

Members of our Keep the Faith, Confirmation, Post-Confirmation and Faithform groups have been challenged with the Ultimate Catholic Quiz (prepared by Fr Marcus). They have had to identify events, people and places from pictures, work out the key phrases being defined, and then answer written questions. The results have shown that many of them have a good knowledge of their faith (although the majority did not recognise a picture of Westminster Cathedral). Could you write out the Creed, or the 20 mysteries of the Rosary, or the Ten Commandments in order?

Monday, January 28, 2008

Personhood and Personality

On Sunday 27th January, Forum Christi welcomed back Victoria Newman Seed. Victoria spoke on the topic of 'Personhood and Personality: on the virtues of being oneself .' Many ethical and social issues today, for example abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, but also education, and law and order, depend on the idea of what it is to be human, especially on what makes a "person" different from an animal. In particular in Catholic ethics the phrase "dignity of the human person" is often used. Victoria said that in the modern world, particularly in the media, the idea of "personhood" has been replaced with the idea of "personality". She gave us two key philosophical definitions of personhood - Aristotle described a person as a "rational animal", and Karol Wojtyla (later Pope John Paul II) in his book Love and Responsibility said, "A person is an entity of the sort to which the only proper and adequate way to relate is love." The evening finished with a prayer and then supper in the Nightingale.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Heralds of the Gospel in Balham

On Sunday 20th January, Br Aldo Leone of the Heralds of the Gospel spoke to Forum Christi. The Heralds of the Gospel are a new community (they are not a religious order since they do not take vows) who gained official approval from Pope John Paul II in 2001. Their mother house is in Brazil, and they now have houses in almost 30 countries. For more information see their website key phrase that Br Aldo used in his talk was "Whatever God gave to the synagogue (in the Old Testament) he gave to the Catholic Church in higher degree". He specifically talked about prophets - we are familiar with the old testament prophets of Moses, Isaiah, etc. but generally don't think about there being prophets after the time of Jesus. However Br Aldo took us through a history of the Church, and showed that wherever there were problems in the world, God sent a new prophet through the founders of the religious orders: St Benedict founded the Benedictines, St Dominic founded the Fransiscans to combat the Albigensens, St Ignatius Loyola founded the Jesuits as a reaction to Protestantism, and in more recent times St Josemaria Escriva founded Opus Dei to show lay people that they too have a call to holiness. The Heralds of the Gospel are involved in evangelisation, particularly using the beauty of music and art as evangelisation tools. In London they have a statue of Our Lady of Fatima which they take into people's houses and this gives them a good opening to begin to talk about the Gospel.Br Aldo described the habit of the Heralds of the Gospel in great detail:

  • boots - a reminder of discipline and the orders of chivalry
  • brown scapula - reminder of the Carmelites
  • St James' cross - the apostle James was always enthusiastic and the cross reminds them that they should be enthusiastic in their work
  • the colours white, gold and red - these represent the purity of Mary, faith, and the blood of sacrifice
  • white tunic - from the work monks do
  • chain (instead of a belt) - they are slaves to Our Lady
  • Rosary beads
  • hood - when up this represents the isolation of prayer as we all need to spend time alone talking to Jesus
  • badge containing the three pillars of their spirituality - keys of St Peter (representing the Pope), Our Lady, and the Blessed Sacrament

Friday, January 18, 2008

Fr Andrew Pinsent on Nature and Supernature

On Sunday 13th January Fr Andrew Pinsent from the diocese of Arundel and Brighton spoke to Forum Christi on the topic of "Nature and Supernature: Jesus Christ versus Friedrich Nietzsche and Clark Kent". He began by discussing how many aspects of the sacred in today's liturgy have become blurred with the secular - for example many churches no longer have a clearly defined altar area, and priests and religious do not always dress as such. Fr Andrew went on to give definitions of the "supernatural" as described both by Vatican I documents, and by St Thomas Aquinas. These definitions focussed on gifts given by God, rather than the popular ideas of the supernatural as seen in Buffy the vampire Slayer. He also showed us parallels between the natural life, and our supernatural life, for example natural birth has a parallel with baptism. The final part of the talk was about Nietzsche's ideas of an amoral world where there is no God, and any course of action can be justified. He linked Nietzsche's concept of an ubermensch (superman or superhuman) with the fictional superhero Superman (otherwise known as Clark Kent). It is now our job to go out into the world and regenerate the supernatural life to ensure that Nietzsche's ideal does not become a reality.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Priest in the Hot Seat

On Friday 11th January the Keep the Faith groups met for their first session of 2008. The main activity was "priest in the hot seat" where the youngsters had the opportunity to ask, anonymously, any questions they wanted of Fr Marcus. Questions ranged from the deeply spiritual and moral "What happens after death?", "Is it OK for a woman to have an abortion if she has been raped?" and "Can we go to an Anglican church?" to the more mundane "Can a priest wear a tracksuit?", "Do you get bored?" and "Were you well behaved as a teenager?"Each group also had prayer time in the church, and there was time for lively games of football and dodgeball.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Catholic Social Teaching

On Sunday 6th January, The Feast of the Epiphany, Dr Alan Fimister started off the new term for Forum Christi with a talk on 'How to Save the World' (or, as he explained in his talk, why this is not possible). He introduced us to the principles behind, and aspects of, Catholic Social Teaching, which Fr Marcus described as 'the Church's best kept secret'.Supper followed at a local restaurant - a change of venue being necessary as Fr Marcus was worried he'd get a bad reputation if he was seen in the Nightingale too many times over one weekend.

The picture above shows some of the participants at the Thomistic Philosophy Seminar held at the Holy Ghost parish over the weekend. Dr Alan Fimister is second from the right.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Archbishop Kevin at our Youth 2000 Retreat

Over the New Year 350 young people gathered for a retreat at the Holy Ghost parish. The event was called 'Redemption Balham' and the theme of the gathering was 'God is rich in Mercy'. The three day retreat involved Mass every day, perpetual adoration, many opportunites for confession, talks and workshops, a chance to meet new friends and time to celebrate the coming of 2008 AD. Thanks to all the parishioners who helped to make this event possible, especially to Maxine for her superb catering and organisation.

On Sunday Archbishop Kevin presided at Mass and gave the homily on the Feast of the Holy Family at the Holy Ghost Church, Balham during the Youth 2000 gathering. At the end of the Mass he presented four people from Youth 2000 with their Maryvale Diplomas.

Here is the text of his homily (taken from the Southwark Archdiocesan web-site):

We gather together this morning in the season of Christmas and the feast of the Holy Family is very much part of this season. It enables us to continue to ponder the mystery of Christmas and learn the lessons that this season has to teach us.

One of the most significant aspects of the Christian mystery is the relationship between the birth of Christ and peace in the world. It is clearly expressed in the song of the angels which has become part of the liturgy of the Church: “Glory to God in the highest and peace to his people on earth.” The realities of violence and war come into sharper focus when seen in the light of Christ, the saviour of the world, a child bearing the promise of peace among all peoples. The Pope’s message for the World Day of Peace is entitled, “The human family, a community of peace.” And he argues very strongly that the family is the primary source of peace in the world and that attacks on family life undermine peace in our society and our world. It’s a profound and crucial point that we would do well to ponder.

The question of the family recurs frequently in public discourse, usually in relation to problems of young people: drugs, teenage pregnancies or gun crime, and we hear calls from political leaders for the strengthening of the family life. But there is great diffidence, especially in British society about being too specific and clear about what family life is - what it means and what it costs. To understand family life we can’t simply look at present practice and the present reality. That needs to be challenged - we need to be engaged by the call to go beyond present reality to something greater and deeper, to the truth about marriage and family life. That truth is recalled for us in the scriptures, especially the readings for today’s feast and also in the teaching and tradition of the Church that has developed from the scriptural witness.

Our first reading gives practical instruction on relations within the family which are as directly relevant today as when they were first written. They are about how we treat elderly parents, about patience, about acceptance about concern. This year there have been disturbing reports about neglect and abuse of the elderly in institutions and, indeed, in the home – a development that is all the more disturbing with an increasingly elderly population. It puts before us the responsibilities of care for people with disabilities, whether age-related or not and reminds us that everyone matters, everyone’s life merits respect, everyone’s life is of value and is worth living. All of us are created in Christ, the child born in the manger, the one in whom all things are created and sustained in being.

Also in a very practical way the second reading details the kinds of attitudes that are necessary to support and sustain family life; compassion, humility, patience, forgiveness; obedience to parents by children and respect for children by parents.

Teaching about the family is at the heart of the Church’s message because the family lies at the heart of human life. We see it as central to God’s purpose for the flourishing of human life - a life-long bond between a man and a woman that is generously open to new life, open to children not as a choice or right but as a gift: a relationship that is faithful and exclusive and provides the basic structure and security in which young people can mature and develop. And it is this truth about our human reality that is under that is under attack by legislation such as the Human Fertilization and Embryology Bill which attacks the human reality of marriage and is also likely to be used to give less protection to the life of the unborn. The important thing is that these developments represent not only a moral crisis but a threat to social cohesion and to peace in the world.

In his Peace message Pope Benedict says, “The denial or even restriction of the rights of the family, by obscuring the truth about man, threatens the very foundation of peace.”

Let us learn the lessons taught by the Holy Family of Nazareth: let us pray for a rediscovery of the truth of family life so that the stability of our local communities may grow stronger and that this will lay firm foundations for peace in the world.

And finally I would relate these reflections to the theme of the weekend “God who is rich in mercy". One of the things that is little understood in our society is forgiveness. Sometimes I feel we live in a society that permits everything and forgives nothing. God calls us to great things: he asks a lot of us, but he is boundless in his mercy, and the possibility of a new start or new beginning is always there for us. Our world needs a new start devastated as it is by war, conflict and injustice. All we can do is make our own contribution by living in the integrity that God calls and enables us to live in. Let us be open and receptive to his mercy and to the unique contribution that each of us is called to make to goodness, to justice and to peace in the world.