Monday 29 December 2014
It is impossible to preach a homily on today’s feast of the Holy Family that does not offend the modernist Catholic and the atheist who expect to have the manufactured, alternative living units of today’s society accepted as ‘family’ by the Church. It comes as something of a relief then, when one is given a Bishops Letter to read, because any praise or criticism can be met with the same response –“Why don’t you write to the Bishop and tell him how it has affected you?” I don’t think any will, of course, and as yet I have heard neither criticism nor praise. Rather, there has been a remarkable silence. Here is Bishop Cunningham’s Pastoral Letter to the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle:
My Dear People
I once saw a statue of the Holy Family carved from a single piece of wood. The
figures rose from the same base, Joseph standing with his arm protectively round
Mary’s shoulder. Mary, carved out of his sleeve, sits cradling the child Jesus. It was
an icon of unity that made me ask the question “What is it that binds The Holy
As I looked for answers I contemplated the individual members of the family. Mary’s
“Yes” to God had brought the child Jesus into the world. Joseph’s “Yes” to God had
made him take Mary as his wife and look after the child Jesus. Jesus’ humility in
saying “Yes” to God in the temptations, and in the Garden of Gethsemane, led him
to the cross where he won our salvation. This family was united in accepting the will
Sadly, we often dismiss the Holy Family because we see them as too perfect, too far
beyond us. The Church needs to be careful when it points to the Holy Family as the
ideal as it could be an obstacle. When ordinary people compare their own poor
experience of family life, its weaknesses and divisions with this ideal it can lead to a
sense of failure and despair. We need to look, more carefully at what scripture tells
us about the Holy Family, then, we may find that it actually addresses our divisions
and weakness and becomes a source of hope.
There were divisions within the Holy Family. Joseph was minded to divorce Mary.
Jesus upsets his parents when he stays behind in the temple. Mary rebukes Jesus
because of the distress she and Joseph suffered as they tried to find him. An upset
between husband and wife, a wilful teenager, a distressed mother rebuking her
child, are all situations which are common to our experience. What is important
about the Holy Family is that they seek to resolve these problems. That is where we
need to learn from them.
Their problems are resolved by recourse to prayer which asks the Holy Spirit to help
them see what the will of God is. In each case they affirm and support one another
by first, saying “Yes” to God and then to each other. Where there is no immediate
understanding they hold it before God. “Mary pondered all these things in her heart.” What unites the Holy Family is their willingness to listen to the Holy Spirit
and to use his help to obey God; in our weakness we must do the same.
Pope Francis at the recent Extraordinary Synod on the family has reminded us that
there are all kinds of families and relationships in today’s world. Many are unsettled,
broken or in other difficulties and all need to be approached with compassion. He
criticised the Church for sometimes being too judgemental in its approach. He
reminded us that the Church, called to be the family of God, is called to exhibit
compassion and mercy within its own membership. It can only do this by allowing
the Holy Spirit to fill it with the burning love and mercy of God. This will seek to
bring healing and reconciliation within the family of the Church. But it will go much
further than this as it drives the Church to reach out to those on the fringes of
society, seeking to understand them and share the gospel of hope.
The process in our Diocese called “Forward Together in Hope” which is just
beginning, is a three year period to help us discover what it is to be the Family of
God in Hexham and Newcastle. It must be rooted in prayer to allow the Holy Spirit
to draw us closer together in understanding and love. If we are to grow spiritually
we need to understand ourselves, our needs and weakness. We have to recognise
the gifts our community has to offer the wider Church. In the same way we need to
understand others, their needs and weaknesses and we must not be too proud to
accept their gifts.
If we do this we will grow together in unity, renewing the Church as the Family of
God and moving forward in hope to bring his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
With very best wishes
Rt Rev Séamus Cunningham
Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle
Sunday 28 December 2014
We had the expected good turnout for our Christmas Masses, where I spoke about Christmas having a romantic feel with carols, a story of angels and shepherds, and the sharing of gifts between family and friends, but noted too that Christmas has a more significant message than romance or even family: it is about Redemption. The babe in the manger is God-made-man, come to die with us and for us that we might be saved from our sins. We sing about the babe in the manger being ‘wrapped in swaddling bands’ not realising we are singing about nappies (diapers!); of a God who has humbled Himself to the wearing of nappies so as to die on a cross for you, and for me.
Our Church and our Christmas Crib
I noted that we should of course value the family as the bedrock of society, and enjoy the time spent with our own family. After love of God, we should love our families most of all, because it is there we learn to share; to give and take, to be just and compassionate. If there are divisions, we should try to heal them, and so enjoy the love and peace that Christmas promises.
That said, one of my regular parishioners told me yesterday that her wayward child said “I’ve come to Mass and Christmas dinner because Christmas is about family, but I don’t believe in God because I can’t see Him. Anyway, science knows so much about how the world works that we don’t need to believe in God”. I wondered how many of those sitting in our congregation would say the same thing, and pointed out that her daughter was speaking as a materialist: someone who believes in only what she can see and touch and measure, and who places her faith in the limited endeavour we call science.
Let’s take ‘not seeing God’ first. What we mean by ‘seeing’ is ‘something we can measure with a ruler; weigh in scales, touch with the hand, describe according to shape, colour and texture’. The person who believes only in such material things is destined to live a sad and cynical life because they will never be able to believe in love, love being something we cannot see, touch, or measure; it has no size, shape, colour, weight, length, height or width. If this girl only believes in what she sees, she can never believe in love, or peace, or justice; in joy, in happiness or even sadness, because these are emotions, and emotions have no shape, size, colour or weight: like God, they cannot be seen or touched. We can experience emotions, but not see them; we can observe their effects, but not touch them. The same is true of God: we can experience God in prayer if we are truly open to Him; and we can see the effects of God in the lives of the saints. This girl’s refusal to follow God is more honestly the refusal to submit to God; she wants to live life following her own desires without any boundaries of behaviour except those she chooses for herself. It is a completely selfish way to live, and often results in one being an unlikeable person.
As for saying “Science knows so much about how the world works that we don’t need to believe in God”, there is as much sense in that as in saying “we know so much about how a car works that we don’t need to believe in car manufacturers”. None of what we know about how a car works proves the car was not manufactured (made) and designed, nor does knowing about physics, biology or chemistry mean we don’t need to believe in God who manufactured (created) the world. The girl is using the false idea that science and religion are opposing forces when in fact they are complementary forces: science tells us how the world works and how it was created, religion tells us why it was created. How and Why are completely different questions, they focus on different aspects of the one reality; only if science and religion were asking the same question and giving different answers could they be seen as contradictory. But they actually ask different questions, and as such can never truly be in conflict.
It is true that religion has conflict with individuals who have a kind of religious scientism; an attitude of “whatever we can do, we should do”. Thus they say “we can create animal-human hybrids, so we should; we can clone, so we should; we can contracept, so we should; we can abort, so we should; we can euthanize, so we should”. But just because we can do something does not mean we should. Whether we should or should not do something is a moral question; and morals are non-physical truths, so they are outside the boundaries of science which can deal only with the physical things of the world (its physics, chemistry and biology).
That this girl has come through Catholic schooling and gained an A grade in Religious Studies yet knows nothing about the complimentarity of faith and reason, or have any idea about the limits of materialism, is an indictment not of the girl but of Catholic education and the syllabus we have given our teachers to teach. If Christmas means nothing to this girl in its reality of God-made-man for her salvation, who is to blame? Is it her, for following her own selfish desire to live without religious moral boundaries, or is it the negotiating-indulging parenting style of today and the schooling she received which taught her to “do what is right for you”? Both are to blame, I think. Yet the greatest responsibility lies with the Bishops for not ensuring that what is taught in our schools and preached from our pulpits is good, solid catechesis rather than subjective, relativist intellectualism, simply for the sake of looking intelligent to the secularised masses. Taught to our children, solid, faithful Catechesis could have truly evangelised the parents. How many lost souls the Bishops and priests of the last fifty years may have to account for when they face God.
Saturday 20 December 2014
Following years of protests by smokers that they are being marginalised and oppressed by society, the Government’s Principal Physician yesterday called upon all health workers to support the right of smokers to smoke in public places and not to refuse them lifesaving medicine. This would see the return of the right to smoke in pubs and places of work, as well as allowing smoking in patient’s Day Rooms on hospital wards. In his statement he said that physicians are not called to judge those who smoke or set limits to places where smoking is allowed, because that would be to restrict smokers’ freedom of choice: “Just because we have the knowledge that smoking is seriously damaging to one’s health does not mean we have to restrict a person’s freedom to choose, or force a lifestyle upon them that is not to their taste. We are called to get alongside those whose lifestyles are damaging their health, and we cannot get alongside them if we are criticising their lifestyle.” Although a few physicians have raised their voices against the call, many more have taken it up for reasons of compassion and non-judgementalism. Said one Consultant, “It is notoriously hard to give up smoking; our job is not to prevent smoking but to heal those damaged by it.” Many patients, especially smokers, are voicing the same opinion, saying this is a matter of free choice and that what we need from the NHS is compassion, not exclusion.
Those who disagree have stated that to have knowledge on how damaging smoking is and not educate the public or uphold the ban on public smoking is to do the very opposite of what health practice aims at: the promotion of health: “It is hypocritical and wrong to have life-saving knowledge on the damage done by smoking and yet promote the right of people to actively engage in that damaging behaviour. It makes us hypocrites and is, in fact, totally lacking in compassion. True compassion lives by reality; it does not ignore reality.” The debate continues, and while some are calling for smoking to be given the right to promotion and free public indulgence despite the dangers to health, adversaries point out that to know what kills and yet seek to promote it is to fail as a health practitioner and positively endanger those for whom one is called to care.
The above is a spoof story, of course, but reflects what is happening in the Church on the issues of sexual ethics where high-ranking voices in the Church are proclaiming an ‘age of mercy’ in which we ‘get alongside’ those living destructive sexual behaviours and lifestyles. Yet there is no mercy in this; rather, there is an abandoning of truth to accommodate lifestyles that damage and kill the soul; an abandoning of the Lord’s sheep for the sake of acceptance by the wolf pack –which only seeks to break down the walls of the pen so as to scatter and devour the sheep. Let us pray the leaders of the Church do not succumb to the devil’s manipulation of the Truth. True mercy must indeed be exercised and true accompaniment of those in destructive lifestyles must occur, but in such a way that they are helped to move beyond those lifestyles rather than be affirmed in them. Meanwhile, as I have said before, persons in harmful lifestyles are always welcome (even encouraged) to attend Mass, to continue in the life of prayer; to seek spiritual direction and to take part in the social and charitable activities of the Church. Such persons cannot claim to be excluded from the Church; they can only truthfully claim that they are ‘unable to receive Holy Communion until such time as we end our lifestyle choice in favour of one consistent with the Ten Commandments’, -the Commandments by which God has made known the criteria by which He judges us (Deut.4v39-40; 6v1; Matt.5v14; 19v1-22). Keep on praying for the 2015 Synod; that minds and hearts may be open to the truth and not to relativism and false, damaging ‘compassion’.
Most Holy Trinity,
from whom all families take their origin and meaning,
we pray for the exaltation of our Holy Mother the Church:
and especially for the forthcoming Synod on the Family:
open minds and hearts to the Gospel of Christ;
and to the place of marriage & family in your plan for our salvation.
Help your holy Church,
and the world in which she lives,
to uphold the sanctity of human life from natural conception to natural death;
the rightfulness of natural marriage,
and to find grace-filled solutions to the breakdown of marriage and family life.
Seeking the intercession of Our Blessed Lady, of St Joseph her spouse,
of St Michael the Archangel and of all the angels and saints,
we make this prayer through Christ our Lord. Amen
Wednesday 17 December 2014
Tuesday 16 December 2014
‘The Church of Nice’ is those catholics who reduce the faith to simply being nice to everyone; not correcting them on their lifestyle choices but rather telling them that God loves them ‘as they are’ and ‘where they are at’; that they have a friend in Jesus.
In today’s Ordinary Form Gospel the Lord tells us ‘tax collectors and sinners are making their way into the kingdom of God’ before many a religious soul. This must be a favourite text of the Church of Nice, which wants to say that no matter what a soul’s treacherous activity towards their own people; no matter how immoral they are in sexual activity, such souls are making their way into haven, so ‘Who am I to judge?’. Another text much loved by the Church of Nice is ‘I do not call you servants any longer, but friends’. These texts, along with ‘Do not judge, and you shall not be judged yourselves’, allow the Church of Nice catholic to reduce Catholicism to simply being nice to people and ‘non-judgmental’; it allows them to be humanists with a religious veneer. But it allows it only because they take these texts out of context; to the loss of the fullness of their meaning.
Take today’s Gospel. Why is it that Tax collectors and prostitutes are making their way into the Kingdom of heaven? It is, Our Lord says, because they listened to the message of John the Baptist and believed in him; they repented and did not continue actively indulging in treachery or immoral sex. Rather, they converted and left their sinful ways behind. This is conveniently forgotten by the Church of Nice.
As for the texts on friendship, remember this: ‘you are My friends if you do what I command you’ (Jn 15v14) –and there are Ten Commandments to be followed, including Thou shalt not steal; Thou shalt not commit adultery and Thou shalt not kill. Yet the Church of Nice refuses to call cohabitation, contraception, re-marriage after civil divorce and same-sex activity sinful. That would not be nice. Instead, they tell such folk that Jesus loves them ‘where they are at’; that they ‘have a friend in Jesus’. No reference to Our Lord’s rejoinder ‘you are my friends if you do what I command you’. That would be harsh; it would be to judge.
Yet even ‘Do not judge’ is not the full story. We are actually called to take the plank out of our own eye first, so that we can see where to help our neighbour: “first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the splinter out of your brother's eye’. This text is not a proscription against judgement; it is a call to judge ourselves so we can help others see their sins.
It is true that God alone judges a soul (He knows far more about each individual soul than we do) but He does not forbid us to judge if our own life is in order, and He actually requires us to judge circumstances and acts. He tells us both when to judge (after having taken the plank from our eye) and how (‘judge with right judgement’). Most people know ‘do not judge’ but many are shocked to hear that Our Lord also said to ‘judge with right judgement’: it isn’t much heard from pulpits today –if at all.
The Church of Nice is in reality the handiwork of Satan; it refuses to call a spade a spade; to call sin ‘sin’ and call souls to conversion of lifestyles and attitudes. It takes a truth and distorts it, just as Satan took the truth in the garden of Eden that we are made in God’s image to say we can be more like Him if we eat of the Tree of knowledge. Thus the Church of Nice leaves sinners acting in ways and situations which are deleterious to their eternal salvation, which is not ‘nice’ but the work of the devil.
Judging must be carefully done. I tell the folk when they hear theft, violence, deceit abortion, contraception, homosexuality etc, discussed, to stay with “I” statements: ‘I couldn’t do that’; or ‘I can’t accept that’, because these statements judge no one but invite the question ‘Why not?’ We can then give the answer that proclaims the Truth while judging no one. We have, on the other hand, stood up for the Faith and proclaimed Truth –which has a power of its own. It is not enough to destroy false argument; the Truth must also be proclaimed.
Sadly, the folk of the Church of Nice judge no one and nothing except those that uphold the Truth –when they become decidedly not nice and very condemning. I often wonder if it is because they have such sin within themselves or their own past (which of us does not?) that it is easiest to proclaim ‘no judgment’. And while they may say every Sunday ‘I believe in Jesus Christ...He will come again to judge the living and the dead’, can they be putting their heart into it? And can they put their heart into saying they believe in One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church?
Wednesday 10 December 2014
We are often told that Catholic children prior to Vatican II didn’t know the bible. These very young children from the inner city of Dublin in the 1950’s show this assumption to be quite wrong. In fact, the stories of the scriptures were made very much alive for them by their inspirational teacher, Miss Peg Cunningham, who recorded their story telling on a then new-fangled reel-to-reel tape recorder, saying the children were on the radio. This was a ploy but fifty years later the tapes were discovered and were indeed played on the radio, which brought film makers to add cartoons and realise them –and for which they won an academy award.
In the videos the children tell the tale of John The Baptist, and that of the Annunciation, the Visitation and the Nativity (all quite suitable for Advent). The children speak of St Elizabeth's house being “further away than Oliver Plunkett’s head –further than the whole excursion!”. This refers to the fact that the teacher had taken them on pilgrimage to see Oliver Plunkett’s head and in those days travel took longer. The Nativity story focuses on the shepherds, the wise men and the ‘shocking holy temper’ of Herod. A whole series of these films is available on DVD from http://www.brownbagfilms.com/work/give-up-yer-aul-sins. I highly recommend them not only for their entertainment value, but as a demonstration of how to make the stories of the bible come alive for children.
Tuesday 9 December 2014
Yesterday evening I attended the Missa Cantata for the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception organised by the Durham Chapter of Juventutem. It was celebrated, with permission from the local Dominicans who have care of the Durham parish of St Cuthbert, by Father Bede Rowe of ‘A Chaplain Abroad’.
I and others I spoke to were impressed by the proficiency of the servers who had no practice at all, and the quality of the singing, the singers having had but scant practice just before Mass. Both he serving team and the singers included members of the Durham Juventutem group, the singers also having members of the student body of Durham University. They were aided and supported by a fine young organist. There was a good number in the congregation and the Buffet afterwards was enjoyed by all, along with great company! I sat in choir for the Mass, along with Father Paul Tully, Catholic chaplain to the local Durham Hospitals.
Having seen how these young people love what they were doing, and the older members of the congregation supporting them, I have to say that for the life of me I cannot understand why there is continued resistance to the Church’s ancient liturgy. Several young people spoke to me in the following Buffet saying they had never attended an Extraordinary Form Mass and asked why it was not more commonly available. One young lady however, had the same reaction I did many years ago when I first attended a TLM: it was all done on the sanctuary and the people did little or nothing. I told her my own story of having only come to appreciate the TLM only after several attendances by which time I had come to value the silence and the permission it gives to pray in my own words from my own heart rather than make programmed responses. She did, however, say she liked what she saw (she had an advantage over me in that my first few attendances were at low Masses said in a hotel room back in 1980!)
I think it is time that the EF was not be simply allowed by the Church but actively promoted in order that we allow the Holy Spirit to show us which Form allows Him to reach the human heart more readily. It is not enough to permit the TLM: permission can be a neutral stance. What we need is for the Church’s liturgical treasure be valued and positively promoted, rather than grudgingly tolerated.
The photographs were taken by Mrs Susan McDowell and Mr Michael Wee.
Thursday 4 December 2014
Ever since coming to this parish I have instructed First Holy Communion children on the how and the why of to receiving kneeling and on the tongue. They happily follow this for a while then suddenly begin to stop to receive standing and on the hand. I don’t think this is because they think it is the adult method, because a number of adults receive kneeling and on the tongue. Rather, I suspect it is instruction from parents and grandparents who do not like to receive on the tongue ‘de-instructing’ the children. That they cannot humble themselves to ‘stick their tongue out’ as they describe it, nor bend the knee, is an attitude they should not be forming their children in. But there is much prejudice about all the Traditional liturgical forms.
It is possible to invite clergy to attend the Extraordinary Form in choir and to receive a polite ‘no thank you’ simply because they have had a prejudiced view of the Extraordinary Form given by the seminary. In our time we (late eighties, early nineties) were told ‘the Old Mass was priest-centred; a nonsense in that the priest was saying something quietly while the choir was singing; bad to have one’s back to the people and use a language they didn’t understand’. These prejudices were then handed on to the people, and still thrive.
Why was the Traditional Form the subject of such negative, disparaging talk? The answer is simple: when you have had something you have extolled for nigh on two thousand years it has to be criticised in the sharpest of terms in order to justify putting it in the bin. Now if the New Rite is so superior to the Old it would have naturally displaced the Old; I believe that the New Form was imposed because they knew it would not be chosen freely at the time. It is also true that the Church could not forbid what she had declared sacred for century upon century without saying she cannot be trusted liturgically, for by saying this she automatically undercuts promotion of her new liturgical form too.
The criticisms levelled against the Old Form are in fact completely wrong: the new form is much more priest-centred in that he faces the people, engages with them as an entertainer -even his chair replaces the tabernacle at the apex of the sacred space. As for saying something quietly while the choir was singing, this provides for the Mass to be a symphony of voices, while ‘having one’s back to the people’ is actually leading from the front, like a Drum major uniting the band behind him. As for using a language the folk did not understand, most Catholics did know Latin: they learned it at school, and in any case, use of a sacred language for worship is a mark of the great religions: Judaism using Hebrew; Islam using Arabic, Christianity using Latin.
Simply put, the negative ‘Frame of Reference’ used by those who disparage the Old Form of Mass needs to be challenged and corrected.
Tuesday 2 December 2014
Three years ago Andrew (the ‘Tie’ of this blog), two teenage girls (Rachel and Miriam) and a young man from Durham University, were ready to establish themselves as a Juventutem Chapter. Seeking a Church with good access they contacted the Cathedral, well supplied by bus routes, trains and the Metro system. Sadly the Cathedral was unable to accommodate them by reason of ‘lack of resources’ and because they ‘already have a prayer group catering for the youth’. They then requested the chapel in the Metro Centre shopping mall which was offered and accepted. They were just about to go ahead when the Diocese closed the chapel. They decided to wait until clergy moves were made before trying again.
In August this year, commenting on a post on a post on Fr Brown’s ‘Gateshead Revisited’ about a possible Juventutem chapter in Gateshead, I noted that that Andrew was planning another attempt and wondered if we should get our young men (Andrew and Philip Dillon) together. Philip saw this and contacted me via this blog. Gateshead also being well supplied with bus routes and the Metro system Philip, along with Mr and Mrs Armstrong, saw the possibility of establishing themselves as a group with support from the LMS Reps (Mr and Mrs O’Neil) and Fr Brown. For the glory of God and the good of the youth their chapter was thus established. Our Diocese being long in length however (stretching from the Scottish Border to Middlesbrough) it makes good sense to have two Juventutem chapters, one for the more Northern in Gateshead, and one in Durham for the more Southern end of the Diocese. As such Andrew and Paul Duffy, another of our Thornley parishioners, arranged an enquiry meeting at St Cuthbert’s Durham, to set up a Chapter there. Seven people came together to form the core group and it has now met three times. We are thus a Diocese blest with two Juventutem Chapters, one in the County of Tyne & Wear and one in Durham County. It remains possible for more Chapters to be established within parishes, but this requires more active support from the clergy than is generally found.
That we have two Juventutem Chapters in the Diocese must say something about the attachment of young people to Traditional Liturgy, Spirituality and Catechesis. Besides H&N, perhaps only The Westminster Diocese is at present likely to have multiple chapters, but I’m sure that at more will achieve it as the movement grows. That H&N has two chapters in two of its counties is a great witness to those folk (and to those Bishops) who, in regard to ministering to the youth, dismiss the usefulness of the TLM and the Church’s liturgical and spiritual Tradition. This unfortunately leaves many of our youth in a position of being unable to gain awareness of or access to their liturgical and spiritual heritage.
Andrew’s post describing the beginning of the Durham Juventutem Chapter is linked below for your edification. You will see that the group not only promotes the Traditional Liturgy but that its members are active in their own parishes and dynamic in the corporal works of mercy -as has ever been the practice of the Catholic Church. I reproduce one paragraph here:
While Juventutem is geared towards youth who are attached to or attracted to the Traditional Liturgy (which we seek to promote), our group, by working with the homeless, fundraising for the Developing World and active in our parishes, illustrates the fact that the vision of such young people is much wider than is supposed by those who disparagingly speak of devotees of the Traditional Mass as ‘odd’ or ‘eccentric’; as ‘engaged in a passing fad’ or as ‘only interested in Latin and Lace’. Devotees of the Traditional Mass are in fact people with a social conscience involved in everyday parish life who simply value the Tradition of the Church and wish to see it promoted. Read the whole thing here.
This sounds a very rounded and active group to me and deserves to be applauded for that fullness, and despite the fact that Andrew has been mainly a background voice so far, I am proud of his efforts and achievements in all of this, as I am of Paul who has entered into it despite the pressures of running his own business and moving the family home. May God bless all our young people, especially our Juventutem chapters in the North and the South of this Diocese of Hexham & Newcastle.
I should finish with a poster for the Missa Cantata arranged by the group for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception...
I should finish with a poster for the Missa Cantata arranged by the group for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception...