30th May 2020

Dear Parishioners,

If we are renowned as a nation for a singular, almost obsessive, interest and topic of conversation it has to be that of the weather. For those not born on our shores it is just another aspect of our culture that they look upon as being quirky, but also endearing, as the subject matter is totally non-threatening, nor objectionable, and quite neutral. The weather is something that we have no control over, and all either benefit from or have to suffer, depending on individual preference. I for one have been offering a daily prayer of thanksgiving for the diet of weather we have been fed since Lockdown began, as I contemplate the alternative – standing in the supermarket queue in the rain and wind. The subject of weather has been in my thoughts over the last few days. Not necessarily the daily climatic conditions which greet me as I throw back the curtains each morning, but instead what the weather was like on Monday 1st June 1914. Born under the Sign of the Twins, I have a natural tendency towards an active, if not random, thought process. At least that is my excuse.

Gathering the threads of my fertile thought-pattern together, is the fact that this coming Monday marks the 106th anniversary of the laying of the Foundation Stone of the Church of the Holy Spirit by the ‘Children’s Bishop’ Robert Cowgill of Leeds. Despite all that is fed to us about our climate, based on recorded data, the question is rarely asked: when did records begin? Surprisingly recently, is the simple answer! Meteorologists would set the date of the beginning of national weather records in this country as being as late as 1910. Prior to this there were numerous local records, but beyond those used for maritime navigation, there was little joined-up record keeping. Aware of this nugget of more recent history, centuries before Christ, the Egyptians were keeping their own climate-related records with the development of a means of accurate measurement, the name of which gives its purpose away: the Nilometer. From the time of the Pharaohs the water level of the Nile was measured during annual floods in order to predict the success of the harvest and compute the tax rate for a particular year. The journey made by Jacob’s sons in order to purchase grain, reflects the success of the prudent land-husbandry of the Egyptians who earned themselves the nickname of being the Bread Basket of the ancient world. It was as a result of their shopping spree that those who had sold their brother, Joseph, into slavery came face-to-face with him again, no longer a captive, but Pharaoh’s Vizier, the highest official in the Egyptian Civil Service.

As it is this year, so June 1st 1914 was Whit-Monday. From 1872 it was a Bank Holiday, which formally acknowledged a long held practice enjoyed by many working people. The local press of the time answered my climate-based question. Unsurprisingly the weather was typical of many a time of rest: varied! On the final day of May, Whit-Sunday or Pentecost as we known it, the weather was decidedly chilly, reportedly affecting the attendance and offertory at a concert given by the Cleckheaton Temperance Brass Band in West End Park. They were booked to lead the Whit-Tuesday Catholic Procession in Batley and between these two engagements, supported by the Boys’ Brigade Band from St. Paulinus Church (Dewsbury), they headed the procession of children and others connected with the Roman Catholic Church in Heckmondwike, from St. Patrick’s School in Darley Street, to the Bath Road site, where a large crowd assembled at 3.30 to witness the ceremony of blessing and laying the foundation stone. Despite the uncertainty of the weather, people turned out in great numbers.

A part from the fluttering banners of church Guilds and Societies, the bright liturgical garb of the Bishop and other clergy, and a gathering of children and adults in their new and smart Whitsuntide clothing, the visuals of the occasion were limited. In fact they stood in strikingly stark contrast to the participants and on-lookers. As well as a site marked out for the continuation of construction work, the features of the day were the Foundation Stone and a plain wooden cross [which] was erected on the site of the high altar. The latter bore the hallmark of Calvary, a meeting place between the sacred and temporal. As the Bishop sprinkled the entire site with Holy Water, these words were sung: How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord, (Ps.83:2) giving an insight into what the on-lookers anticipated seeing one day, echoing the words of an old hymn: Beneath the Apostle’s crowing dome, the golden roof, the marble walls. It was to be Fr. O’Connor’s legacy to ensure that successive generations have benefitted from both a dome and fine marble columns!

The wording on the Foundation Stone is no longer legible, erased by familiar collaborators, time and weather. The original, simple, inscription read: Deo Paracleto Sacratum Posuit Josephus Robertus E.P. Loid Cal Jun MCMXIV (Sacred to God the Paraclete, Joseph Robert, Bishop of Leeds, laid June 1st, 1914.) The first words Sacred to God, define the purpose of any church building. To refresh the memory that all that is good, or that which has potential for good, comes from God. What takes place in our liturgical celebrations refreshes and refines that definition. Hence, at the beginning of life we bring children for Baptism, sanctifying them for the purpose of discerning, embracing and living out God’s will on life’s journey. At their Marriage, a couple invite the presence of God into their shared journey, praying earnestly that through their love for each other something of God’s eternal love maybe glimpsed not only by their partner, but amongst those with whom they share their lives. At the end of life, we hand back to God, the holiest element of loved ones, that which bears the image and likeness of the Trinity, their souls. Although we may regret the weather-damage to our Foundation Stone, from the moment the church was opened its function was complete, its work over. That which was Sacred to God could be seen entering the building, and leaving. Each one different and changed by what had taken place on the altar within its hallowed walls and given the mission to go out and share what they had been gifted with.

The hope of those witnessing the spectacle around Cemetery and Bath Road on Whit-Monday 1914 was that they would be able to move out of a cramped worshipping-space in Darley Street to their new church by Easter 1915. It was not to be. In late-summer the country benefitted from its longest ever Bank Holiday, which extended from Monday 3rd – Thursday 6th August 1914, days in which the declaration of a war to end all wars would be made by Morley-born Prime Minister Herbert Asquith. At that moment the world stood on the cusp of irreversible change, the enormity of which was beyond imagining. On the site adjacent to Fieldhead House building work on the Church of the Holy Spirit continued, albeit it at a necessarily slower pace than anticipated. Priorities had shifted. Eventually the new church opened on Wednesday 29th September 1915, by which time at least one of those made Sacred to God in his Baptism in the Darley Street premises had paid the ultimate price in the name of King and Country. More would follow. Ironically, given the significance of the date spurring these lines, that first casualty was Thomas (Tom) Hirst who for several years had acted as banner carrier at the school festivals at Whitsuntide.

St. Patrick’s school-chapel in Darley Street had served its purpose for many years, but with a swelling congregation it was gradually found to be less and less convenient. The vision for a new church belonged to Fr. Russell, who spoke at the end of the Foundation Stone laying ceremony. On ground bought in 1871 a school-chapel opened in 1872, during which time the Sacramental life of the Catholic community moved from the living accommodation of Fr. Dolan in Brighton Street to rented rooms used for the education of the town’s Catholic children during the week, and at the weekend for Masses, Devotions and catechesis. It was when the improvements demanded by the educational authorities to St. Patrick’s were carried out that intolerable discomfort began to be felt by those who gathered there for Sacramental sustenance. The baton for a new place of worship was by this time thrust firmly into the hand of Fr. O’Connor, and what a tremendous legacy he ultimately left for us to benefit from.

Each of the successive worship spaces has fulfilled the purpose of being identifiably Sacred to God, and offering a Sacramental life that has sustained generations. A Baptism taking place in Fr. Dolan’s home was no less meaningful or profound than those which continue to take place beneath our golden dome! Whilst Baptisms were conducted shortly after Fr. Dolan’s arrival in 1871, no doubt in various locations, it wasn’t until 1875 that the first Marriage was celebrated. This was due to the fact that legally only a permanent building could be licensed for the celebration of weddings. With its origin in the waters of the Jordan (and more locally, according to St. Bede, in the River Calder) there has always been an element of flexibility in baptismal sites. I can say this with some authority as I once celebrated a Baptism on a Presbytery dining table due to there being a gas leak in the adjacent church! Perhaps baptized in similar surrounds, on 23rd July 1871, were Oliver Coghlan and James Edward Prendergast, the first Catholics to receive this Sacrament on Heckmondwike soil, possibly since the time of the Reformation. Parish registers record that decades later in the school-chapel James Edward Prendergast married Anne Shannon in 1895. The first wedding in St. Patrick’s was between Thomas Carty and Ann Broderick on 5th January 1875. This couple enjoyed a twenty-two-year-long marriage broken when Thomas, a Labourer died in 1897. Ann Carty lived latterly at Globe Yard, Millbridge, until her death in 1913 at sixty. She was clearly a beloved figure, who, although without children herself, opened her home to two of her great-nephews, who worked at the neighbouring Strawberry Bank Colliery. One of whom, James Broderick, was to be killed in action in 1916 at the age of twenty-one. The first child to receive the gift of Baptism amidst the marble of the new Holy Spirit Church was Helena (a Latin umbrella name used for names such as Ellen, Eileen, Nellie etc.) Cadden on 10th October 1915, and the church’s first bride was Bridget White, who married Patrick Lydon on 20th November 1915. I’m sure that if these latter names ring bells in the memory-bank of any readers of this, then information about them would be welcomed.

For those, a little over a century ago, observing the scene on the building site which one day would be transformed into the Church of the Holy Spirit, their longing was for its completion and to see its doors open. Currently, many continue to pass our churches and observe with heavy heart the fact that our doors have been necessarily closed for the well-being of us all. It is uncharted water, removing that which has been for centuries a place of sanctuary and prayer when crisis faced both individuals and, as a collective, our nation. However the original purpose of our buildings continues in the daily celebration of that which is most Sacred to God: the Mass. It is a stark experience these days, devoid of distraction brought by our usual colourful and lively congregations, but it is also a singular point of focus and purpose for me as its humble celebrant. It is akin to the presence of the cross on the site of the High Altar on Whit-Monday in 1914, which stood almost as a sign of contradiction amidst the celebratory nature of the day replete with bands and banners, new clothes and smart hats!

What is Sacred to God however continues to thrive albeit in new surroundings. This was something that struck me profoundly last weekend, when I phoned a parishioner, who at the beginning of our conversation mentioned that I had interrupted her Mass! No, we’ve not yet got female priests, but we clearly have a community who take their participation in Sacred matters very seriously. Like many of you, this lady, takes time each weekend to open her Missal and pray the Mass, aided by the altar that she has created as a focal point. This reflects the incredible fidelity of God’s people, the Church, in a present time of crisis, and also our ability to adapt in the face of change. Church doors may be closed for the moment, but hearts continue to be open to the on-going act of acknowledging what is Sacred to God. In the eyes of our God, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, there is nothing more Sacred than ourselves.

Hopefully it will not be too long until we can fling wide our church doors as an outward sign that what is Sacred to God continues to take place, even if in the first instance we are limited numerically by health and safety guidelines, separated by markers denoting social distances, and even being asked to wear gloves to distribute the Sacred Host. In the meantime, come sunshine, showers, wind or even a late frost, may we remain faithful and faith-filled, God’s own people in name and reality.

Finally, on a slightly lighter note I return to the subject of the weather. Prior to my move to Cleckheaton I was shown a Victorian postcard of the town’s Providence Place (Congregational) Chapel, now the Aakash Restaurant. On the reverse of which was written: We come here when it’s raining! Presumably a reference to the journey they made to their usual place of worship, some distance away, in all climatic conditions, and the fact that when they arrived, in damp and wet clothes, they would have to remain in them … praying for a short sermon, and a swift retreat to the comforts of home!

May the Sacred place that you’re longing to return to always feel like home to you, and in the features of your current Domestic Church may a Sacred place exist where God is a welcome guest, able to feel at home with you. At Mass we pray words which almost seem to be a protestation: Lord, I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof … In these days we have the rich opportunity of finding the Lord knocking on the door of our hearts, seeking admittance into our homes. Ours is a simple task: to let Him in!

Be assured of prayerful and affectionate remembrances,

Fr. Nicholas

23rd April 2020

Dear Parishioners,

Whenever I begin these lines to you I am transported in my mind’s eye to the dining room (or Refectory, as it was called) of the junior seminary where I was a student for four years. Sat with others at long dining tables, breaking the fast after an early Mass, the Prefect of Discipline (a priest who was also our Bursar) would enter the spacious room bearing a bundle of post. The whole environment of the now derelict Upholland College was Tom Brown School Days-esque. We dined beneath walls bedecked with images of Bishops and former Rectors, some of which bore the odd tear and stain caused when food stuff had been hurled in their direction by frolicking and dissatisfied diners! As we were fed a five-out-of-seven nightly diet of ‘something’ alongside chips and beans perhaps some sympathy can be given to the provocation behind these moments of protest. With the neon signage of 57 on the Heinz factory in Wigan visible from some rooms in the college, we really did think that pipes linked the production line to a tap in our kitchen. In the year when Gilbert and Sullivan’s Ruddigore was chosen as the operetta to be delivered to parental and public audiences, the distinguished guardians of the ‘Ref’ became the basis of student folklore. One of the operetta scenes takes place in the gallery of Ruddigore Castle where the portraits of long-dead Murgatroyd ancestors come to life. This ghoulish imagery soon became the seed sown into the naive and gullible soil of the imaginations of college newcomers about the goings on in the Refectory during the hours of darkness!

Returning to breakfast times of forty years ago; when our ‘Postie’ had sorted his precious load into the various year groupings he would move from table to table flicking deliveries in the wide direction of those sat around. It was always a good start to the day if there was a letter from home, and for the decade of my studies, rarely a week passed without such a delivery. I quickly learned that not all were as fortunate as myself. The boarding-school environment, with students aged from eleven to nineteen, gave the younger members of our near two-hundred-strong community an introduction to the art and craft of letter-writing. This came through their hour of study time on a Sunday (yes, I did say Sunday!) when they were encouraged to put pen to paper and correspond with their families. As older students, we had to find other times to write home. If caught writing letters during ‘Prep’ time, the letter that we were discovered composing was taken from us and ripped up in front of classmates. Psychological humiliation! The letters I received, and also wrote, away from formal times of study, gave me an insight into the significance of the written word.

Over recent weeks it has been good to receive responses to the lines I post out with the Newsletter, offering me an insight into how life is unfolding around and before you, together with your exploits during Lockdown. These have been most welcome, and I thank those who have responded in this way. My most loyal and faithful correspondent whilst at college, both in Lancashire and subsequently in Dublin, was my mother, who wrote every week on behalf of herself, Dad and Bracken, who was our inherited four-legged canine companion for a decade. The envelopes bearing her distinctive hand contained several sides of news, happenings at home, in Otley, and in our local parish community. The letters were usually written on our yellow Formica kitchen table (once spoken of during a homily) and always, as Mum signed-off, an all-important up-date on exactly what Bracken was doing at that moment of time; usually asleep in her bed or sometimes anxiously awaiting the arrival of my Dad from work, whose approach she seemed to have an extra sense for detecting! At times Mum wrote over a couple of days, denoted by a new date, or a written reason for her distraction.

These letters forged a lifeline between the very organized, disciplined, routined and rather peculiar life I was leading as a teenager and the wonderful familiarity of the people and community who were integral to my formation, colouring, crafting and shaping. The African proverb which says It takes a village [community] to raise a child is certainly my understanding of my own childhood. Letters from Dad were rare and usually denoted one of two things: either I was out of favour with Mum, or it was a smoke screen, protecting me from something that parents who knew their son better than anyone else thought may be either emotionally upsetting across the distance that separated us, or would be a distraction from all-important studies. One of the few times I recall finding an envelope bearing my name and address, printed, which is Dad’s style of hand, was when Mum broke her ankle and was in hospital … more time on her hands, yes, but initially devoid of pen and paper, and our kitchen table!

Some years ago I came across a collection of entertaining, inspiring and quirky letters published under the title of Letters of Note by Shaun Usher. It is an eclectic grouping of the written word, with letters from the likes of Gandhi and Iggy Pop, Charles Darwin and Charles Schulz, and even a recipe for scones from the Queen to a US President! The publication was an easy gift idea for a few friends, even those who are self-confessed non-readers, providing something to dip into every now and again. However, despite reading it from front to back, I couldn’t find anything to match the weekly scripts that came my way so loyally and faithfully from Mum.

There are other popularized letter-based pieces of literature including Helene Hanff’s 84 Charing Cross Road and Ladies of Letters by Carole Hayman and Lou Wakefield. Personally speaking, letter-writing and card-sending continue to remain an intrinsic part of life. It is something that has taken on new significance and meaning during our present times, and with a little creativity and ingenuity can be made into a very fun experience for the sender, and a humorous one for the recipient. Having clipped images from magazines, entered something randomly into the computer search engine followed by the word “image”, printed it out (I’m not sure of the legality of this!) and then added a quirky comment, given the finished product a quick run through the laminator, Bob’s your uncle! Hilarity is created for numerous folk not least the Postie. I’ve also discovered it helps to remember to put a stamp on the finished product!

Sometimes it is easy to forget that a significant part of our Sacred Scriptures comprise of letters. The most famous biblical correspondent is St. Paul who wrote to early Christian communities at Colossae, Corinth, Ephesus, Galatia, Rome and Thessalonika. In addition to these he wrote pastoral messages to his prodigies Sts. Timothy and Titus, which one can sense must have been incredibly affirming and encouraging to the recipients. These also reveal an almost surprisingly affectionate and tender side of the writer’s personality, as does his letter to Philemon. In this he implores the recipient not only to welcome its reconciliatory content, but also the Postie, Onesimus, who is the addressee’s runaway slave, whom Paul calls on Philomen to accept as a reconciled brother in the Faith. In writing to Timothy, whom he calls my son (1 Tim. 1:18), Paul adds a very human housekeeping note, asking him to bring the cloak I left at Troas, in Carpos’ house and also the scrolls, especially the parchments (2 Tim. 4:13). In his composition of letters, St. Paul was not alone. Other Second Testament figures who kept scribes and Posties busy included Sts. James, John, Jude and Peter, whose words were also inspired by the Holy Spirit. Whilst it may be the words of St. Paul that most know best, in the brief twenty-five verses which form the Letter of St. Jude is found the timeless exhortation: dearly beloved, build your life on the foundation of your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit. Remain firm in the love of God (Jude 20 & 21). Returning to St. Paul’s correspondence to Philemon, he offers a synopsis of what should be at the heart of any communiqué with family or friends: love, joy and encouragement: Your love, dear brother, has brought me great joy and much encouragement! You have cheered the hearts of all God’s people. (Phil. 7)

Letters from Pastmen of the seminary I attended in Dublin appeared in Annuals sent, for over a century, across the English speaking world, which was the missionary brief of the college from its formation in 1842. Whilst many printed letters came from far-flung parts of the world, it wasn’t uncommon for a correspondent to cite an address in either the diocese of Leeds or neighbouring Salford, these being the largest depositories for the clergy produced by All Hallows. These letters had a two-fold importance: news and recruitment! Written in an era prior to pastoral placements, the newly ordained priest’s first encounter with the place to which he had blindly committed himself and vowed to minister for life came when he stepped off a ship (and often a subsequent train) carrying him to the address sent to him by his bishop on ordination: a mitred image whom he’d probably not even met. Most letters published were cheery, newsy and spoke of warm welcomes. Some stories remained unpublished but not forgotten. One such involved a priest of our own diocese who, after crossing the Irish Sea and journeying from Liverpool to Leeds, never having set foot outside of Ireland in his twenty-five years of life, arrived at the address of the Presbytery to which he’d been appointed. Having knocked, the door was eventually opened, and he proceeded to explain who he was. The response from the housekeeper was to slam the door closed in his face screaming, “No one told me we were getting another curate!” Clearly not a story to be used during a recruitment drive.

Long after the ending of Lent, I continue to be loyal to the discipline I set myself at its beginning, devoting an hour each day to historical research. Primarily my interest is in the Catholic men of the area who were killed in the Great War. A notable feature in the local press of those far off days was the occasional publication of letters written by local lads. These, like the letters in the seminary Annuals, were used as propaganda. They offered an insight into the life of an individual soldier and the activity of his regiment, although place names were removed at a stroke of the censor’s pen. Subtly they were used to advance national issues such as recruitment. In 1915 towards the end of one such informative letter an unnamed local Northumberland Fusilier, expressed the hope that the war would be won without having to resort to conscription. Those who are of eligible age and fit should come forward and do their bit, and so help bring about an earlier end to this terrible struggle. More than a century on, we’ve heard Prince Charles, this week, encouraging people to form a Pick for Britain land army, seeking Pickers who are Stickers, for the benefit of the nation. At an emotive level during World War One the absence of a name at the end of a soldier’s letter gave hope to families across the area who recognized the regimental name that the correspondent was “Our so and so …”

One letter that appeared in the local press in March 1916 came not from the Front, but a Prisoner of War camp at Giessen, Germany. The author wrote: In reply to your kind and welcome letter of January 1st, I am pleased to tell you I have received your splendid parcel of clothing. I have previously received clothing from you. I was not really in need of the last parcel but I have given the shirts to two of my comrades who are not so fortunate in having friends to send them such necessaries. I have also received from the fund 20 shillings. I really did not know who sent it to me until I received your letter, so thank for me the ladies and other members of the Forget-Me-Not Fund for their kindness. It reveals incredible kindnesses or Mitzvahs, to use a word I mentioned last week. Charity and compassion motivated those collecting funds and practical items to be sent to POWs and soldiers serving at the Front. And, incredibly, in the midst of it, the author, from within his own confines, sees and responds to the needs of men around him, by sharing his own good fortune. Poignantly he calls those, whom he almost definitely would not have known, friends. He defines a friend by their actions of kindness towards him.

The letter was written by Joseph Duddy, of the Cheshire Regiment, who prior to the war had lived in the Spen Valley, and who worked as a plate-layer at Low Moor Station. His war lasted all of nine days, being captured at Mons and thereafter being held as a POW. Despite a lengthy time of incarceration, over three years, it was not long enough for him to return home, as in early-December 1917, at thirty-four, he died of consumption. Eighteen months later, in May 1919, when his sister received his personal possessions they comprised a single collection of articles – letters!

This week I’ve written cards offering birthday greetings, congratulating friends on their wedding anniversary, a couple of notes of sympathy to grieving families, a word of encouragement to a priest-friend in Zagreb following a recent earthquake there, a couple of sentences of appreciation on compliment slips to accompany payment for jobs done, and yes, I’ve also had the scissors in my hands, cutting and pasting, laminating and posting a couple of humourous messages, and others sent to those alone at this time, whom I hope will appreciate just being thought about and remembered in their isolation. We’re a people blessed with the ability to communicate so well! Lockdown need not mean locked-in. John Shedd once wrote: A ship in harbour is safe – but that is not what ships are built for. There is a word in all of us … let us dare to write it.

When St. Paul signed-off his First Letter to the Thessalonians, he said: Be joyful always, pray at all times, be thankful in all circumstances (1Thes.5:16-18), it seems a fitting end to my words this week.

Be assured of prayerful and affectionate remembrances,

Fr. Nicholas

P.S. (Vital for all letter-writers!) Whilst praising the writers of letters I must not neglect those who deliver them. Presently our Posties are doing a fantastic job, with many of us being grateful for their doorstep services. This praise matches the great respect they have long been held in by our family coming from the fact that in 1917, during her stay in America, my maternal great-grandmother, received a letter simply addressed to: Mrs. Alice Normanton, Chicago. The population of the city at the time was only about two and a half million!

Fr Michael Sullivan R.I.P. 21/5/2020

Dear Parishioners ,

It is with sadness that I write to let you know of the death of Fr Michael Sullivan, one of my predecessors as Parish Priest of Holy Spirit. He died earlier today (Thursday 21st May) at home in his flat at Otley, following a short but aggressive illness. Please pray for the repose of his soul.

Following Ordination to the Priesthood on 10th March 1973, Fr Michael served at St Mary’s, Maltby from 1973 to 1980, St Mary’s, Halifax from 1980 to 1982, St Walburga’s, Shipley from 1982 to 1986, St Mary’s, Cottingley from 1986 to 1991, St Aelred’s, Harrogate from 1991 to 1997, St Austin’s, Wakefield from 1997 to 1998, St Mary’s, Bradford from 1998 to 2002, Holy Spirit, Heckmondwike from 2002 to 2006, St Clare’s, Bradford from 2006 to 2007 and lastly for a few months at Leeds Cathedral before his retirement from holding parochial office.

There are no details of any funeral arrangements at this early stage, but when these are known I shall publish them on the Newsletter. It is more than likely that the Funeral, like that of other priests who have died recently, will be held under our current restrictions.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace. Amen.

16th May 2020

Dear Parishioners,

I am quite sure that during our period of Lockdown many of our priorities have shifted and changed. A new habit that I’ve developed is to ensure that the birdbath in the garden has water in it. In the absence of people to watch, nature has provided me with an abundance of feathered guests to observe. Amongst the bird population of a relatively small area I note a pecking order (the pun couldn’t be resisted!). Heading the Presbytery colony is a dominant Magpie who reminds me of my daily duty towards himself and his feathered friends by standing boldly on the lawn in front of the office and giving me the hard stare. If the look fails, his harsh ascending chatter begins, only ceasing when the door opens and I appear with a jug of water. Unsurprisingly no hint of gratitude comes from this beautifully iridescently clad Corvidae, but with his ablutions complete, the water attracts many other friends of flight during the course of the day of all shapes, size and colour, all of whom seem to appreciate my efforts at keeping them watered, and on occasion fed too.

Returning to the Magpie, at whose mention most of you will have a Marmite style reaction (either love or hate!); whilst writing these lines, he appeared with a very large foraging prize in his beak, which resembled toast. Quite how he’d managed to carry it this far, I’m not sure. Having deposited it on the lawn, as it was clearly too heavy to be carried up to the family home in a very tall tree, he made several frustrating (and noisy) attempts to divide it in to manageable pieces. Having flown off, apparently defeated, I felt compelled to go and help … Having returned I can report that the discarded bird banquet was in fact the pastry crust from half a pork pie. And having located some gloves, I broke it into what I felt might be Magpie bite-size delicacies. The episode has left me wondering just who is in charge here: man or bird!

Due to my current inability to engage with our school children in an accustomed fashion, and, oftentimes, about which experiences I’m known to regale a story, I’m delighted to be able to share a snippet with you highlighting changed priorities in the life of at least one of our younger parishioners. At the 11.30 Mass we’re blessed to have a group of very young parishioners who take the collection. Having carried the boxes to the front, bowed to the altar their synchronized assault on pockets, wallets and purses begins, working their way to the back of church. Not having altogether grasped the fact that a Standing Order means some parishioners will not voluntarily contribute to the collections either by envelope or cash, our little ministers just hover at the end of the pew displaying a stand-off pose … in the hope that their determination (or even cuteness – don’t tell them I used that expression!) might be rewarded by some kind of an offering! Their ministry is taken very seriously and they are admirable in their willing dedication to assist in church at such an early age.

The closure of our churches has clearly played on the mind of at least one of our young collectors. So much so that he began to ask his mother about my well-being in the absence of his financially sustaining ministry. It didn’t take too long before he asked the question: “Have you paid Father Nicholas?” No doubt the question was repeated, as is the way with children, because a couple of Sundays ago I had a lovely encounter on the driveway with the little chap’s Mum. She’d been dispatched to pay me! Ranked alongside shopping and exercise, the visit was clearly deemed an essential journey by the youngster. In the regularity of life earlier in the year, such thoughts, if they were ever in the mind of a child, would have been rapidly erased by far more exciting priorities such as fun, school, sport, food and play. On the priority list of the supposed adult writing these lines, the actual collection envelopes were much lower than the near-celebratory moment of the opportunity their delivery gave me of engaging in face-to-face conversation with the young mother.

Priorities are made clear in the midst of the dramatic Good Friday Liturgy when we hear the expression: It was Preparation Day (John 19:31). Words that we can be forgiven for failing to give too much thought to. Yet they are words which resonate with all the wonderful ‘behind the scenes’ members of our faith family across the world who are engaged in the work of preparation that is done to ensure that the annual Holy Week and Easter Liturgies are celebrated well. Here I think of musicians, singers, florists, church cleaners, Ministers of the Word, and those cajoled into baring their feet to be washed on Holy Thursday, and others. An aspect of my own preparatory work is to procure palms and Paschal Candles. When Lockdown began the odour of recently released palms from their polythene prisons was present in both sacristies, however we were devoid of Paschal Candles. Within days I received a phone call saying that it was doubtful these would be with me before Easter due to production and delivery issues. Changed priorities: pre-Lockdown, I would have panicked, wondering how to explain the absence of Paschal Candles, so central to the Easter Vigil, to our communities! In Lockdown contingency plans were afoot: to clean up and use last years’ candles and, when our suppliers could deliver, to welcome this years’ Paschal Candles. I long ago learnt that there should always be a Plan B!

With the candles of 2019 somewhat spruced up, it was a wonderful surprise to have this years’ candles delivered on Holy Thursday afternoon. Well done Hayes and Finch (other suppliers are available!). Unfortunately when I opened the boxes, one of the candles was broken, the sturdier of the two, wrapped well in an abundance of plastic and acres of cardboard. With only one Easter Vigil, I had all I needed; Plan B was a phone call to the supplier, and a subsequent promise of a new candle after Easter.

This week the second candle arrived, complete, intact, and, I hope, at no extra charge! It stands proud and decorated in church, and I greeted it as though it was the Prodigal Son; although the fatted calf is still grazing and the dancing and merrymaking remain on hold due to social distancing!

Whilst preparing it, which for practical reasons took place on the Presbytery kitchen table, I took the opportunity to pray again the words I’d offered on Holy Saturday at the Easter Vigil. It was an enriching moment. Pausing and reflecting on the beautiful, almost poetic, words of the Exsultet, with which we begin the solemn Liturgy at dusk. These include the imagery of our offering a symbolic gift (the candle) to God. A token crafted through the cooperation of humans and nature: “On this, your night of grace, O Holy Father, accept this candle, a solemn offering, the work of bees and of your servants’ hands, an evening sacrifice of praise, this gift from your most holy Church.” Prior to this, the candle is marked with the numerals of the year (2020); a reminder of the timeless nature of the Risen Lord: “Christ yesterday and today, the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega All time belongs to Him and all the ages to Him be glory and power through every age and for ever. Amen.”

For obvious reason there would have been poignancy and significance in using last years’ candle. Easter 2019 was, after all, the last well of Liturgical expression from which we were called upon to drink as a whole, complete and representative congregation. It was from these sacred days that we were invited to draw strength, as a people of faith, to face each and every twist and turn on life’s unfolding journey. Understanding this encourages us to prepare well for Easter, and engage with the time of getting ready, Lent. It is to the incredibly special Liturgies of Holy Week and Easter that we bring the events of our life-journey throughout the previous twelve months, or thereabouts due to the flexible nature of the timing of Easter, as our personal ‘gift’ to Almighty God. In return those sacred days feed us for the year which lies ahead. Hence preparatory work can never be underestimated, with its exposure being evidenced in the quality of the celebrations that take place.

This year it was different. We began our preparation together, and for very necessary and understandable reasons, the involvement of the majority in those great Liturgies was through very different means, and in the very familiar surroundings, not of our churches, but of your own homes, the domestic church. Priorities are present in this weekends’ Gospel as the Jesus of St. John’s Gospel prepares his nearest and dearest for a time when the world will no longer see Him (John 14:19). He speaks of that which binds Himself to his followers. It is a relationship of oneness of mission and shared vison. Put simply it is to do the will of the Father (Matthew 7:21). For three years He lived this out in a sensitive and compassionate ministry, which was not always understood or welcomed. But wherever He went He was the centre of everyone’s attention. He was the one everyone wanted to see, hear and be in the presence of. He calls on those who are travelling with Him, seeing what He does and listening to His message, to step-up. Now He invites us, His followers in this moment of time, writing our own chapter of history, to do the same. We can shy away from His vocabulary: commandment (John 14:15) causes unease as it sounds demanding, legalistic and authoritarian. Jesus’ understanding is that it is the foundation stone on which everything else will be built. In this way the new commandment (John 13:34) is a welcome guest in any life. From it can come anything, the possibilities are endless!

Our Jewish brethren use the word Mitzvah to describe a deed, usually charitable, compassionate, and always expressive of love, which is performed out of religious duty. Jesus reminds us that our religious duty, desirable not burdensome, is to reach out to others in love. He asks us to do this not because we have to, but because we want to display, tangibly, to others the relationship we enjoy with Him.

On Thursday we will celebrate the beautiful Feast of the Ascension, marking the return of the Risen Christ to His, and our, Father in heaven. It also acknowledges that forty days have passed since Easter, observed by so many of you this year in Spiritual Communion rather than in person. As a Holyday of Obligation, I shall celebrate Holy Mass in both of our churches on Thursday. In that wonderful gift of Spiritual Communion you will all be with me. The Paschal Candles (both appropriate to this year!) will be lit, burning as a symbol of our faith. Without our doors opening their flames are strong, defined and vibrant. As I gaze at unpopulated pews, the size, radiance and strength of the flame almost allows me to believe that wherever the members of our communities are the gift of this symbolic light can be seen by them. In the darkness, mist and shadow of uncertainty the brilliance of that light is so necessary. Conversely, at a time when we can all gather together again, the candle flame is more likely to flicker, splutter and waver, reflecting much more than the reality of drafts coming from the opening of some doors and the closing of others. Its involuntary movement reflects our individual pilgrimage at times beset with problems, worries and anxieties. The very things that impact on the strength of our faith. The flame of the Paschal Candle is the great reminder that it is into those same situations that we’re called to take the gift of our faith allowing something far greater than ourselves to transform them and give them new worth and value.

Outside of the Easter Season our Paschal Candles reside out of view, making appearances, appropriately, at two liturgical celebrations, baptisms and funerals. At the former the question of the congregation is: “What will this child turn out to be?” (Luke 1:66). At the latter we turn to God in prayer, asking that He finds the content of a pilgrim’s life journey an acceptable gift. It would be good to acknowledge that in and amongst the work of your servants’ hands during their life were many Mitzvahs bearing the hallmark of Christ: love of neighbour.

Let us continue to be united as a community of faith in both prayer and affection,

Fr. Nicholas

PS. The Magpie, clearly exhausted by his earlier foraging didn’t return until lunchtime for his pastry feast. I’m sure he threw me a nonplussed glance as he viewed the reduced portions on offer!

9th May 2020

Dear Parishioners,

Bank Holiday greetings come your way this weekend together with our Newsletter. Hopefully, these lines find you safe and well, as everyone seems to be saying, to which I also add sane, an important ingredient in life’s mixing bowl! As for myself, I am the former two, thankfully, but the jury is out on the latter. This Sunday I shall celebrate my eighth weekend of Holy Masses without you being physically present, yet you are all very much with me in prayerful remembrance. None of us is walking through this period of time alone. The great virtues of Eastertide, Faith, Hope and Love unite us, and this weekend, for many, there is a tangible sign of that second gift, hope, as we await words from the Prime Minister which may see a gentle form of relaxation to some of the current restrictions affecting our day to day life, work and system of education.

Already I hear voices excited and keen to get back to normal, eager to return to a way of life that we all too often take for granted, desperate for shops to fling wide their doors and a resumption of the café culture. Something tells me, it may not be quite like this at the beginning. There is always a need to walk before we can run, and numerous factors, well beyond the comprehension of many of us, will clamour for respect and impact whatever words are spoken by a Prime Minister, the gravity of whose own illness meant that contingency plans were in place if he himself succumbed to Covid-19.

When I first began putting pen to paper in order to produce something to be read by a small audience I learnt a lesson about walking and running; the difference between the accomplishments of youthful enthusiasm, and a project never quite complete, a lifetime’s work, awaiting further additions, sometimes not by the person who laid the cornerstone. In this there is an echo of some words shared last week: We lay foundations that will need further development.

My education came in the classroom of family history, an all-consuming passion in my early-20s. I was richly blessed with a living archive of elderly relatives, all willing to share memories, stories, identify relatives on ageing photographs etc. Long hours were spent in libraries both near and further afield where I would pour over microfilms, fiches, and various church records. Sometimes I would return home jubilant at a discovery made, whilst other days were frustration-filled, lived beneath a cloud of disappointment: seemingly wasted hours of bus travel and careful, but fruitless, research. Anyone who has undertaken such a project will be familiar with these emotions, I’m sure.

An ally in my research, appreciative of my ability to add detail to his life’s quest of creating a definitive family tree, was a much older distant relative. His ambition was to add leaves to branches, to reveal a further backward layer allowing him to come face to face with the names of yet another generation from which he and I were descended. Too young to fully comprehend the craftsmanship of his labours, which would never be complete, always awaiting a further addition, I was eager to produce a work that brought together, not a tree of names and dates, but the stories of the leaves on the end of many of the branches that he had nurtured on countless reams of paper, across many a decade. Having received a hesitant and cautious blessing to my ambition from my co-family historian the publication went ahead. It covered a mere century and a half of history, tracing a family reliant on a living made from a cottage-based industry in modest surrounds above Halifax to one, by 1950, residing across numerous global locations including Australia, Canada and America, not to forget Otley, of course ! It told a story, or more correctly celebrated a marriage of facts and handed down tales. Ultimately it gave great joy and pride to those of a particular generation, now all long gone, that I had sat with, listened to, sought clarification through the questioning of and had had many a laugh with. However, it was the interest that I’d shown in their loved ones, together with places, by-gone times, and personal events that was the key to the opening of a previously securely locked vault of distant human memories and images rarely exhibited other than in dusty and disregarded family albums.

Appreciative noises, for which I was grateful, did come from my relative. He taught me the importance of using sand rather than concrete! A model constructed of sand can be altered and adapted. Concrete is a tougher beast to remold when set. That is why when I produce anything for a wider audience, usually historical, I will title it with an A rather than a The. The former allows for it to be improved, built upon, and reworked if necessary. The latter is far more definitive, almost unalterable. Our war cemeteries pilgrims will have heard Peter Bennett quoting me by referring to “a work in progress.” It is what I say about anything I write. With the ink barely dry someone inevitably makes contact offering new information or a much sought after photo. There is always more to be discovered and found; alteration and adaptation have become valuable skills and tools as I walk through the verdant pastures of historical research.

Let me return to thoughts of our ability to rush and haste, amble or loiter. The imagery and significance of walking, or of pilgrimage, has rich associations with people of belief, and its benefits have been widely acknowledged by the likes of the philosopher Albert Camus who poignantly wrote: Don’t walk in front of me, I may not follow. Don’t walk behind me, I may not lead. Walk beside me, and just be my friend.

Whatever we may be able to do after Sunday’s announcement, many will need us to continue to walk with them in friendship, not least the anxious, nervous and fearful. If we run, driven by enthusiastic and competitive haste, then some will be left behind, and we’ll be adopting the guise of the hungry wolf, whose presence divides and scatters, in the same way that persecution did in the Acts of the Apostles. Instead, our mission continues to be inspired by the understanding of the Good Shepherd who allows excess energy and adrenaline to be channeled and used for the benefit of all: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young. (Isaiah 40:11) In this way we will all arrive together. Perhaps in truly walking as a pilgrim people alongside those who linger and loiter new friendships will be made and significant stories shared.

The Gospel of this weekend presents us with a couple of characters, Thomas and Philip, who seek definitive and concrete answers, as well as a detailed map. Having grown tired of walking, they are now bracing themselves for a sprint if not a run. In response the man who has just washed their feet, in a gesture of humble service, reveals who He is: the Way, the Truth and the Life. In other words He is the map, the destination and the journey. St. Philip is portrayed as being very much ahead of the crowd in sacred scripture. He is chomping at the bit, eager, enthusiastic, driven and motivated. A disciple of the Baptist, he subsequently follows the one John points out to be the Lamb of God, and later introduces Nathaniel (Bartholomew) to Jesus. Philip is the disciple who not only asks Jesus how he is going to feed the 5000, but also points out how large the bill would be for such generous picnic-style hospitality! For all Philip’s virtues, and there are many, Jesus points out that the answer to his question has already been given but perhaps he has been in too much of a rush to notice: to have seen me is to have seen the Father. In other words Jesus encourages Philip to stop and think, pause and reflect on what he’s been a part of: the will of the Father being carried out amongst the carefully crafted work of Their hands by the Son through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Any journey is far more than the starting point and the end. What Jesus does is to give Philip permission to stare out of the window and delight in the view, to capture the instant, to take notice, above all to live in the moment which is now, and not to arrive before everyone else, otherwise he may discover that whilst he knows where he is, he may not understand why he is there!

On Friday, like many, I took the time to pause, to linger and loiter. At 11 o’clock I was dressed is some liturgical finery, as befitted the occasion, and stood in Cleckheaton’s Memorial Park to remember the fallen on the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe. During the two minutes silence I looked at the first alphabetically listed name on the Second World War Memorial, Jock Adamthwaite, who was described in the local press, at the time of his death, as being a member of the St. Paul of the Cross Church, Cleckheaton. He is buried in the large and immaculately maintained cemetery at Cassino, at the bottom of the Monte (mountain) which houses the vast Benedictine Abbey, the focal point of vicious conflict in 1944. A number of years ago, I had the honour of celebrating Holy Mass in this cemetery, unaware of the connection to the Spen Valley which would become so significant.

Over the weeks after VE Day in 1945 some ten Services of Thanksgiving were held in St. Paul’s Cathedral, attended by thousands. One of the intercessions began with the words: Let us offer ourselves afresh to God praying that we may be enabled to fulfil His purpose in the world. It continued, using some adapted words taken from a speech of Abraham Lincoln in 1865, reminding those at prayer that their work was not complete, but a continuing exercise. The prayer called on those offering it to: strive to finish the task which thou has appointed us; to bind up the nations’ wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan; to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations. There is clearly much more still to be done!

In my lingering and loitering on Friday I was not alone, and I searched my conscience in regard to the current legislation regarding gatherings. As judge and jury I decided that I wasn’t contradicting any law, as I was a just an individual, who at a certain moment and in a particular place had halted my journeying to remember. It was purely coincidental that I was part of a traffic jam of others who had stopped at the same time, on the same path and for the same reason. A gathering is what I look forwards to, a collective is what we are now, each in our own place and space pausing, joining in and benefitting from our Spiritual Communion on a weekly and daily basis.

This weekend as candles are lit, and Holy Mass begins in both of our churches with the words In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit please be one of the collective, in your own home surrounded by the familiar, who are looking forward to a time of gathering in the familiarity of either Holy Spirit or St. Paul’s. In so doing you will be living out an element of the Gospel message that we do not have to see to know and believe.

The opportunity to pause and reflect on Friday morning – which noticeably wasn’t observed by all – was not the end of the journey, just a part. Whilst guns may have fallen silent in Europe in May of 1945, a ferocious, brutal, atrocious and often barbaric conflict continued in the Far East, often referred to as the forgotten war. Victory over Japan eventually came on 15th August. Perhaps by the time we see that date on our calendars, which has a special significance anyway as it is the feast of the Assumption of Our Blessed Lady, we will be less of a collective and more of a gathering. Until then may we make the most of the journey, and take simple pleasure in the view from our window.

United in affection and prayer, Fr. Nicholas

Let us also take a moment to remember, this weekend, the members of our own Faith Family who gave their lives so that we could enjoy freedom and peace. When you go home tell them of us and say, For your tomorrow we gave our today.

Lieutenant Wilfrid Trevor Taylor (+12.04.1943)
200654, 11 L. of C. Sigs. Royal Corps of Signals
(Buried War Cemetery, Annaba, Algeria)

Corporal John James Quinn (+22.04.1943)
4699336, 2/4th Bn., King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry
(Buried Medjez-El-Bab War Cemetery, Tunisia)

Private John Christopher Wall (B.04.01.1921 +06.05.1943)
4627623, 1st Bn., Duke of Wellington’s (West Yorkshire Regiment)
(Buried Massicault War Cemetery, Tunisia)

Signalman Jack Adamthwaite (B.1906 +03.12.1943)
2389896, 56th Div. Sigs., Royal Corps of Signals
(Buried Cassino War Cemetery, Italy)

Sergeant (Air Bomber) Norman Fisher (B.09.04.1921 +23.01.1944)
1451885 Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve
(Buried Cleckheaton New Cemetery)

Trooper Walter H. Pollard (B.27.08.1917 +11.11.1944)
4624180 / 145 (8th Bn. The Duke of Wellington’s Regiment) Regiment,
Royal Armoured Corps
(Buried Cesena War Cemetery, Italy)

2nd May 2020

Dear Parishioners,

Another week and here we are again ! It has been very humbling and somewhat embarrassing to receive numerous appreciative messages, and also to hear through ‘phone conversations words of gratitude for the fact that I celebrate Mass each day, and hold all our parishioners, their loved ones and intentions in both thought and prayer as I do so. As a priest I am quick reply that it is what I am called upon to do and I do it to the best of my ability. It is the positive effect of being dutiful; simply keeping things going, offering an anchor in the eye of a storm and stability together with a sense of security. St. Luke (17:10) wrote fittingly of such acknowledgements: When you have done everything you were told to do simply respond by saying we have done our duty.

I begin these weekly few lines by making a confession. There are some words that have grabbed your attention ! Don’t worry it is nothing as drastic as admitting to the pre-Lockdown stockpiling of toilet paper (which I didn’t !). It isn’t even the rather sarcastic tone and non-apologetic attitude that I took when asking a fellow shopper if he was a car driver, having come trolley to trolley with him in not one but two one-way supermarket aisles, clearly marked with arrows pointing in the direction I was gliding. Sadly, the response of the man concerned that he was a taxi driver neither surprised me nor mellowed my facial expression ! The ability that I have to flash a look is well known, and an inheritance from my Mother, who with one swift look could cause the blood in my veins to freeze quicker than a freshly caught fish in the hands of Captain Birdseye. No, my fault was to begin Holy Mass late, not just once but twice, and, worse still, both offences took place on the same day.

In order to lighten the burden of guilt, I could paraphrase the words of Adam in the Garden of Eden, and say it was the man you put before me ! But I will not lay the blame with either of the parishioners with whom I delighted, if not celebrated, in an actual face to face conversation, clearly at a safe distance, although we had neither arrows nor a measuring line. With just a few moments to spare before two of our Saturday Masses, I engaged in chatter that took me over the published time of the beginning of Mass. A wave of guilt swept over me, and I was quick to apologize to the Lord who had been waiting for me when I got on to the altar. In what I will dare to describe as normal times, with a congregation awaiting, there is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that I would have excused myself and begun, as usual, on the stroke of the given hour or half hour … and yes, I am aware that some parishioners work on a different time zone to me, acknowledging on occasion a time lapse of up to twenty minutes !

The concept of time itself seems to have taken on new definition for many of us, and I include myself in this, in light of my confession. People have said to me that they now don’t always know what day it is; others that they’ve stopped wearing a watch, and still others who’ve shared that they don’t even look at their phone to check what time it is anymore. Routine and rhythm will be written on this particular page of our history with a rather shaky hand. A component of this may well be the fact that less is dependent upon us being exact, punctual and precise. The weekday rush to get out of the house at a certain time – with every child in the house washed, as the late Terry Wogan would say – in order to beat congestion on the roads has become almost a distant memory due to seismic changes to both home life and working practices. Spaces in family homes have become work-stations; classrooms and desks have been replaced by eating spaces & dining room tables. New questions face us such as with home-schooling: does it matter if we don’t begin class at the same time each day ? Even Holy Mass can be viewed at a time that is convenient to the unique arrangements of an individual Domestic Church and there is no fear of being flashed a disapproving look for late arrival !

This weekend the global family of the Church is called to reflect on and pray for Vocations, very especially for more men and women to offer themselves for service to the Church as Priests and Religious. We live in a culture and climate where declining numbers of priests and Religious and together with their aging profile is a reality that goes hand-in-hand with the fact that priests are now called upon to look after and provide for the needs of more than one community of Faith. The great clerical names of previous generations within our own Diocese of Leeds, about whom I’ve been privileged to write, would not have achieved what they did in times such as ours, and I can say that with certain knowledge. The ability of some of the men whose lives I’ve researched to spend vast swathes of their time and energy on projects of expansion and definition, such as opening schools and the building of churches accommodating hundreds of worshippers, was made possible because they presided over households with numerous curates who did much of the day to day work, together with Religious who dedicated their lives to work in the field of Catholic education, and often a domestic staff employed to provide household necessities. It was, as we often hear, a different world, and together with the demise of this era, reputedly alien to the majority us in the twenty-first century, went a hugely different approach to life. For better, or worse, in that previous way of life everyone was understood to have a part to play in something greater than themselves; the small piece of the jigsaw border, which despite seeming so far removed from the focus of attention is still critical to the completed image. If you don’t believe me, ask anyone who has discovered a piece missing in a jigsaw !

The Priesthood of which I am a part has an unbroken lineage to the Apostles present at the Last Supper who were invited to Do this in memory of me and who were a part of the Mandatum (washing of the feet) and heard Jesus say, as their feet were still drying: I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you. In season and out of season, with packed congregations or empty buildings, on high days and to those widely acclaimed, in bleak scenarios and amongst those whose names are virtually unknown to their fellow pilgrims, we are called to minister and serve. And more than that, we are called to minister with an equity and generosity which reflects Christ’s own ministry.

As priests we are not called to be spiritual social workers. Instead we are called upon to feed the sheep, to use the rich imagery of this weekend’s Gospel, through the continuing celebration of the Eucharist, and to keep alive the prophetic message of God’s Word, proclaiming it afresh to successive generations. The missionary activity of both these elements of Priesthood require an openness and willingness of heart, mind and spirit to embracing the invitation of Christ walking by the shore of Galilee, who simply said to the first disciples: Follow me and they did.

Usually on Vocations Sunday it is easy to leave the conversations and discussions about the Priesthood and Religious Life at the church door, convinced that the following week’s homily will have a different theme. Thoughts of clerical shortages, and the very real fact that there is now a generation of young people who have no tangible experience of a nun or monk in their lives except in a historical setting, may barely enter our psyche. This particular Vocations Sunday allows us to reflect, in our own homes, on what it means to lead a life of dedication to God’s call. For many, our time of Lockdown, is giving us an opportunity of getting to know those we live with better, and importantly, of being more acutely aware of the interdependence that exists between household members, and within friendships.

Vocations to the Priesthood and Religious life are cultured in our homes. The nucleus of the family is also the seedbed in which other vocational ways of life are nurtured. I think of the child who is always looking after their siblings, gaining, at a young age, a reputation for reliability, and who subsequently says that they want to look after others when they grow up. Could this be the future Social Worker, or Nurse. The child almost obsessed with all things scientific, who in their teens sets their sights on working in the world of medical research. How do we respond to this passion – feed or ignore. Added to this mix is the young person who is always looking for new and innovative ways of showing their compassion for their fellow pilgrims on life’s journey. If there is a cause to be supported, they are the first to volunteer, they throw their arms around their parents and make an unembarrassed display of their affection. On Thursday evenings they are the one’s clapping loudest & banging the pan the hardest with the wooden spoon as they pay tribute to their heroes on the frontline of the NHS and other care agencies. Is this another generation of care workers, not only prepared to walk the extra mile but to pay the ultimate sacrifice ? Or the budding teacher determined to make a lasting impression on the lives of others.

Families and communities are made up of a whole spectrum of individuals: the reliable and those with limitless excuses; the generous and those afraid to give; the peacemaker and the aggravator; the carer, and those seeking to be served; the quiet listener, and the those who don’t come up for air in their dramatic monologues; the colourful, quirky, strange and different ! Regardless of where we place ourselves in such a list, or perhaps, where we find it easier to place others, it probably covers the spectrum of many groupings of people of which we are a part. Each has a part to play, a role uniquely theirs, and is a strangely shaped piece of a larger picture ! This is our vocational call. So please reflect on and pray for more to respond to their vocational calling. Like the sheep referred to in this weekend’s Gospel, we respond best and most readily when the voice calling to us is familiar: the sheep follow because they know his voice. (John 10).

If you doubt your own ability to play a part in something greater, then maybe some words, entitled A Future Not Our Own, often associated with St. Oscar Romero will strengthen your confidence:

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.

The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is even beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime
only a tiny fraction
of the magnificent enterprise
that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete,
which is another way of saying
that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No programme
accomplishes the Church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives
includes everything.

That is what we are about.
We plant a seed that will one day grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations
that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects
far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything,
and there is a sense of liberation
in realising that.
This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well. It may be incomplete,
but it is a beginning,
a step along the way,
an opportunity for the Lord’s grace
to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results,
but that is the difference
between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders,
ministers, not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future not our own.

I sign-off, as one worker in the vineyard of the Lord, reaching out to many others, in a voice that is familiar, assuring you that as I begin the celebration of Holy Mass as your shepherd I call to you one by one to be a part of the highest form of prayer we can offer to God. In thought, heart and spirit, together with your intentions, you are always with me … even if on two occasions, I have been late. I hope your absolution will be swift, and the penance given light !

United in affection and prayer, Fr. Nicholas