Saturday, November 18, 2017

...and now I am off...

...to Birmingham, with my academic robes, to take part in graduation ceremonies at the Maryvale Institute: among those graduating are students to whom I have been lecturing over the past couple of years.

I will also be attending the Redford  Memorial Lecture : Canon John Redford was a superb teacher and a formative influence on so many of us...

ON a crowded Tube train yesterday evening ...

...a kind young lady offered me a seat. We got chatting, and her accent revealed her to be French. We started to talk in that language  (haltingly, on my part - haven't used French since last visit a couple of summers ago)  - and she suggested that I might be interested in the lectures held by a group of French academics in London, which she attended regularly.  The next  happened to be on Saturday, and on the subject of the Hugenots: would I like to join her there?  I gave her my email and she promised to send the information to me:  I didn't think I would follow it up but when the email arrived, it  sounded interesting so I thought I would go.

The lecture was at More House, in South Kensington...the name was immediately familiar to me as a  Catholic chaplaincy residence  for the University of London. The French group meeting there has no Catholic connection - but More House is near the French Consulate, and the Lycee, and so it's  a convenient place. The room - under the solemn gaze of Thomas More, a large bust of whom stood by the door - was packed, and I squeezed into the last available seat. I couldn't see my kind Tube passenger. The lecture was fascinating - the Hugenot story is a grim one, but there  are many fascinating aspects including John Henry Newman's Hugenot  ancestry, a subject that I have actually coincidentally been researching...

When it came to questions and discussion, I  explained how I had come to be there....but the young lady from the Tube was not present! Much amusement. "Un ange, Certainement!"  I've now been warmly invited to attend future lectures.

On arrival home, I emailed my Tube friend...and have just had a cheery email back: at the last moment she had been unable to make it to the lecture. But some day we'll meet up....

Sometimes London feels like a sort of village...

Friday, November 17, 2017

THE CATHOLIC UNION...

...a voice for Catholics in public life in Britain for over 100 years, had a packed annual meeting this week, following the Sung Mass at Westminster Cathedral.  Big topic: Catholic schools, and the Govt's promise to lift the ruling that any new such schools cannot have more than 50 per cent Catholic children. President of the Catholic Union, Sir Edward Leigh, spoke to us on this:   the Govt's concern, of course, is Islamic schools and the creation of "ghetto territory". But this is not an issue for Catholic schools, and the 50-per-cent rule is most unjust as it will mean that Catholic families will not be able to have the schools they need.

 Other issues also discussed: rights of conscience for doctors, nurses, and pharmacists, freedom to protest/offer counselling outside abortion clinics...also the rights of parents with regard to sex education...

I reported on the 2017 Catholic Young Writer Award - an initiative of the Catholic Writers' Guild, now run by the Catholic Union, and also the "Our Father" project, initiated by the Ladies Ordinariate Group and now also supported by the Catholic Union.  The Catholic Union Charitable Trust has funded a lovely Prayer Book for children - published by Gracewing -  to be used as prizes in the "Our Father" project, and I brought along some copies...they were quickly snapped up by people anxious to buy them for children/godchildren/grandchildren for Christmas, and I took further orders to be posted this weekend...

Monday, November 13, 2017

Remembrance Sunday...

...and we took part in the service at the War Memorial at The Borough, London Bridge, walking in procession from Precious Blood Church, J. wearing his medals. The memorial is a particularly fine one, and the service was all traditional:  The Mayor of Southwark,  the Deputy Lieutenant for Greater London, local Members of Parliament, "O God our help in ages past...".   And then back to the church for Mass...again traditional hymns...the children's choir sang a beautiful Pie Jesu...and then on to a long and talkative lunch...

In the evening, J. went to an Army gathering, and I walked back along the river to Westminster with a young friend. A cold, clear night, the Thames glittering.   Parliament, especially Big Ben, looks odd, lit up but all stacked with scaffolding.  We dropped in to the St Stephen's Tavern for a drink, and immediately got talking to people, ended up spending two hours there in good company...it was all older-chaps-with-medals, and it was the easy, comfortable,  feeling of a Britain that somehow gets numb and forgotten most of the time. Remembrance Sunday seems to unlock the inner normality of people.

read here for more of Auntie's thoughts on this...

Saturday, November 11, 2017

One hundred and fifty years...

...of the Catholic Truth Society was celebrated with a gathering at Our Lady of Victories church in Kensington High Street this week. It was grand to be there. Old friends, new friends, lots and lots of talk, delicious food, some lovely music from young musicians, and a wonderful talk by special guest speaker Magnus Macfarlane-Barrow of Mary's Meals.  It was an inspirational idea to have him, talking about a new venture - just marking its 25th anniversary - as we were honouring one that has thrived for over a century. There was a sense of excitement, of the Church being very much alive and all of us uniting in something large and glorious...

Plans for new work for 2018: it was fun to talk in person after good email exchanges, and there is a delight in tackling new projects, seeing the challenges and the possibilities. When I first started writing for the CTS, it was one of my first ventures with a computer - it seemed semi-miraculous to be able to check spelling and put things into italics and move things about to create
Sub-Headings
and so on, and not have to rely on typewriter-correction fluid, and carbon paper, and complicated hand-written corrections or phone messages.  But none of us knew then about the Internet, or the horrors it would unleash, or the way it would change so many things...

Litter-picking...








...was organised by our two local Borough Councillors in our road and neighbouring roads today. Volunteers turned out - I joined in with a will. We were equipped with proper gloves and pick-up sticks with useful big tweezers.  Here we all are, standing by the local railway station, with just some of the vast bags of rubbish that we collected.

At 11 am we stopped, stood still,  and observed the Two Minutes Silence.I hope all my readers in Britain did too.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Been reading...

...brand-new book, just off the press: Fr Matthew Pittam's Building the Kingdom in the ClassroomIt's a fascinating diary of a school chaplain, and is full of human interest, some touching stories, and practical ideas for evangelisation... and in a down-to-earth way has a message of hope.  I put the book in my bag with a vague idea of reading it on the train but frankly not expecting to find it particularly interesting, opened it only when I had finished with the newspaper and had nothing else at hand...and found it really gripping!

Fr Matthew shows how much of what was once a standard line on Catholic schools no longer applies. As one obvious, but often ignored, fact: for many pupils today, school can be a place of structure and stability in a disordered world and often a disordered family. In the case of a Catholic school, it can be a place where prayer can be experienced, and where the spiritual life is recognised in a way that simply doesn't happen at home. And this isn't achieved by vague offers of a friendly chat. much less by superficial gimmicks, but by what the Church truly offers: the sacraments, structured prayer, the Rosary, the reality of Christ's presence in the Eucharist. Fr Matthew describes how praying the Rosary has proved popular and helped to nourish young people's faith, bring hope and consolation, and forge bonds of community and friendship. Friendship, kindness and availability of a chaplain also matter a great deal:  he cannot be a remote figure and he must be seen around the school.

A major problem in today's Catholic schools is the large number of  teachers who are either lapsed Catholics or are agnostic or openly atheistic. Another problem is the general sub-culture of modern Britain, which marginalises the whole idea of Christianity,  and makes it easy for teenagers who are interested in the Faith to be made to feel they are stupid, bigoted or just weird.

Fr Matthew's diary format makes the book very readable. There are some touching descriptions of pupils arriving for early Mass before school, taking part in quiet adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, or enthusiastically becoming altar servers and proud to wear their new robes.  But there are also strange paradoxes: a boy who is a loyal altar-server at school but doesn't go to Mass on Sundays - either because of family pressures or because the nearest parish seems dreary and unattractive...

This is a book that will open up many aspects of modern British school life to the reader, and is much recommended.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

...and again, a good crowd...

...for the Evening of Faith, the first of a new series of talks, organised by the FAITH Movement, and held at  the Challoner Room, 24 Golden Square in the heart of London's Piccadilly (nearest tube: Piccadilly Circus). Fr Chris Findlay-Wilson spoke superbly on "Jesus - my way to the Father", a well-presented and beautifully illustrated talk which found an interested audience. These Evenings draw people from across London, all ages though mostly young, and offer an opportunity to tackle issues that do not crop up in Sunday homilies...in this case, the absolute centrality of Christ, who is not "just another teacher" or "a figure from history full of wisdom" or whatever other fashionable cliche is used about him, but is indeed God incarnate.

Interesting to have this explored with specific reference to the human body. God wants to draw us to him. We are made to hear, see, and touch - we have bodies, and Christ had a body, inviting Thomas to place his hand in his wounds...we are made in the image and likeness of God, and Christ had a body just as we do. The claims Christ  made, His statements in response to the questioning of His disciples, make it clear: to see Him was to see the Father. He and the Father are one. No other religion makes this claim: that God Himself came to join in the human race, the human race that He himself had brought into existence...

On a cold night...

...in rural Sussex, I didn't really expect that many people would turn out to hear Auntie Joanna speak on "The Church's traditional feasts and seasons".  But they did - the hall was full, and there was a great atmosphere: this parish, under the care of Fr Ian Vane, is evidently a wonderful community and there was a buzz of cheerful talk, many willing hands to brew and serve lots of tea, and a general enthusiasm for the topic with much interest being shown, and lots of copies of my book being sold etc...


Monday, November 06, 2017

Our Parliament...

...of which we are rightly proud, is surrounded with a blur of cynicism and sneering at the moment. When I lead History walks around London, we finish at the Houses of Parliament and reflect on our heritage, our constitution and what it means to live under the rule of law...

This piece by Michael Burleigh is a thoughtful read...