27th March 2021

Dear Parishioners, 

This weekend we begin our annual journey of spiritual renewal as we commemorate, remember, and celebrate the events of the first Holy Week. On Thursday, Friday, and Saturday for those in our churches there will be the opportunity to participate in the unique yearly Liturgical actions. They will be abbreviated, devoid of some familiar communal actions, and much shorter than we have grown used to since the Vatican Council of the 1960’s opened them up for us to benefit from in all their richness and symbolism. However, after the solitary celebrations of last year, at least there will be congregations! Wherever you may be on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday I hope that you will pause to reflect on the significance of these days for all of us, perhaps at the time that some of us will be gathered in one of our churches. To assist with this I’m offering a short reflection for each day. Their differing styles represent diversity in authorship chosen in an attempt to appeal to the broadest audience. If I were in teacher-mode, I would suggest that you focus on your feet for the Holy (Maundy) Thursday reflection, handle a crucifix (perhaps the one at the end of the Rosary beads you cherish) on Good Friday, and imagine a Church in radiant celebration on Holy Saturday.  

Wherever you may be physically over the forthcoming days, may I assure you that together with your loved ones and the story of the unfolding journey of your own and their lives, we will be united by faith and affection as I preside at Liturgies commemorating, remembering and celebrating the events of Holy Week in our churches at Cleckheaton and Heckmondwike.  

As ever, Fr. Nicholas            

Give me your feet: a reflection for Maundy Thursday

Holy Thursday. Maundy Thursday. And I am thinking of that night so long ago. I am putting myself in the scene, this soul-weary, overweight, middle-aged black woman who needs Jesus with everything in me. In my mind I am there with the disciples. I am present with my Jesus. You are there, too. Can you see it? The upper room in the drafty edifice, us stumbling in exhausted. We are starving. It’s just before the Passover Feast. So much has happened. So much will happen. 

We gather together for a simple supper. Even Jesus has a kind of weight-of-the-world weariness about him. He’s talked a lot about going away lately, but He is fully present now, and His love has arms that hold us close. Still, a sadness lingers in His eyes. It reminds me of how the poet-prophet Isaiah describes Him, as a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. (cf. Isaiah 53:3) 

The table is set, and we recline where we’re seated, grateful to be with Him. Our cups are lined like guards before us, full of wine. A basket of bread lies in the centre of the table. Later He will tell us the wine is His blood poured out, and the bread His body broken. Later. Now we sit. Night, as thick and palpable as fog, surrounds us. The flames on the candles bow and rise in the breezy room, as if they too, worship our Lord. 

Then Jesus sets aside His outer garments and dons an apron like a slave would wear. He pours water in a basin. We exchange puzzled looks. 

“Give me your feet,” He says. 

We are stunned silent, each of us carefully removing our sandals, unsure of what to say, what to do, faced with such shocking humility. Foot washing is the worst of tasks, despised by a servants gesture. Yet Jesus kneels before us, one by one, and washes our feet. I watch Him move from person to person. Dear God, Jesus is on His knees, pouring water on our rough soles. The Son of God, the Son of Man, washes us as if the pitcher contains, then releases, His own tears. The water slips between our toes, and the filth of the world falls to the ground, ground now hallowed by His presence. We couldn’t help but feel emotional. Some of us wailed as He worked. 

He sure knows how to make a mess of things. 

When He gets to me I choke out his name, “Oh, Jesus,” I cry. Hot salty tears roll from my cheeks, and drop onto Jesus’ hand as He reaches up to wipe my face. “Master, let me wash yours,” I beg him. He gently, but firmly refuses me. “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will after this,” He says to me. 

“I can’t let you wash my feet,” I say. 

He speaks kindly to me. “If I don’t wash you, you can’t be a part of what I’m doing.” So I let him wash me, my Jesus, dressed as a slave, as I sit there, amazed. 

He cleanses us all, every one of us. “Do you understand what I have done to you?” He asks. His brown eyes shine in the candlelight. “You address me as ‘Teacher,’ ‘Master,’ and rightly so. That is what I am. So if I, the Master and Teacher washed your feet, you must now wash each other’s feet. I’ve laid down a pattern for you. What I’ve done, you do. A servant is not ranked above His master; an employee doesn’t give orders to the employer. If you understand what I’m telling you, act like it—and live a blessed life.” (cf. John 13:12-17) 

Act like it, and live a blessed life. 

Jesus makes things so messy, and then sets them right with such a simple, homely message, but it is good news. When He is done with you, you are washed as white as snow. 

It wasn’t too long after that last meal that He left us, only to return in three days, and go again, leaving us with His Holy Spirit. As I reflect on that day, I hear the sound of His voice, resonate, yet soft, and feel His breath warm on my face, as He leaned into me and asked me, ‘give me your feet.’ 

I think of this every Maundy Thursday, as we world weary travellers, parched and, hurting, and oh so vulnerable, gather. We are looking for Jesus, needing water, and trusting our souls, and soles to His servants. Sometimes we sit shoulder to shoulder reclined. Waiting. Humbled. Remembering. And our feet are washed clean, while God’s slave cradles them in the circle of his tear-stained hands. 


The Word made Flesh on the Hill of Calvary. A reflection for Good Friday.   

Jesus, God’s suffering servant, was there. “They crucified Him.” 

Jesus, the man of prayer, was there. “Father, forgive them.” 

Jesus, the merciful was there, “They do not know what they are doing.” 

Jesus, the friend of sinners, was there. “Two robbers were crucified with Him.” 

Jesus, the rejected King, was there. “This is Jesus, the king of the Jews.” 

Jesus, the kind man, was there. “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 

Jesus, the man, was there. “I am thirsty.” 

Jesus, the son of Mary, was there. “Mother, behold your son.” 

Jesus, the Son of God, was there. “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” 

Jesus, the ransom for our sins, was there. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me ?” 

Jesus, the perfect Saviour, was there. “It is finished.” 

Jesus, the victor over death was there. “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” 

Jesus, the judge of all, was NOT there. NO word of condemnation.  


A reflection for Holy Saturday. The Easter Vigil and first Mass of Easter. 

The following reflection was written by a commissioned Lay Minister within a different Faith tradition to that of Catholicism. The author was very much a daughter of the Word and for the majority of her life followed a Faith in which Sacred Scripture was primary, and the celebration of any form of Sacrament secondary. However, like Nicodemus in the Gospel of St. John, steeped in her own tradition, an inner thirst and hunger to grow to know Almighty God better drew her to attending a celebration of the Liturgy of Holy Saturday night in 1987. This experience together with a great eye for detail and a surprising awareness of the symbolism of the Liturgy, given her background, inspired her to write these words:-          

Beloved in Christ ! For the rest of your life you will remember tonight. Its solemnity, its majesty, is richness and its beauty will remain stamped indelibly on your hearts.  

You have seen the new fire blessed. A symbol of the holy fire which Our Lord kindles in your hearts. A fire which, please God, will glow brightly in Christ’s service. 

You have listened to the words of Holy Scripture, may they become as lavender between the pages of your life.  

The font had been blessed and in Christ’s name you have been baptized, washing away all sin. Out of the old endings of past times has been born a new beginning. The beginning of a new life, rich with promise. 

You have become partakers of Christ’s Body, broken for us. In receiving the Holy Eucharist you have received Christ Himself. He died for you and now He lives in you, the guest of your body and your being. 

Tonight is a mountain top experience, soon you will return to the lowlands of duty. To the world of men and women, who by their own choice walk other paths, other ways, pushing Christ aside, and deny Him access to their hearts and lives. 

In the sin sick and sorrow torn world of today Our Lord asks you His chosen to witness for Him. 

The congregation here have renewed their vows as you have made yours. In the fellowship of Christ they offer you something richer and stronger than any society born of this world could offer. To the beauty of this sanctuary you will return again and again, in an act of penitence to make your peace with Almighty God, and in humility and sincerity to partake of the Holy Eucharist. Outside these blessed walls you will strive to live a life of witness to Christ, by the strength and sustenance you receive inside.  

Becoming a committed Catholic does not offer you a charmed life. It does not exclude you from trials and temptations, many times you will be weary, many times hurt, and sometimes, being human, you will feel slighted, perhaps even rejected. 

In such days what will you do ? And to whom will you turn ? Why ! back to the Risen Lord who has promised “My grace is sufficient for all your needs.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) The service Our Lord asks of you only you can give, no one else. Your place here in this church can be filled by no one else, only you. “I pray thee have me excused” (Luke 14:18) is the prayer which is never answered, but then if we are followers of Christ it will never be prayed. 

As you go from this house tonight, a new presence fills you, a new hope surges in your heart, a new road lies before you, and under the command of Christ a new life begins. As the years unfold may they produce for Our Lord a rich harvest. May the tapestry of time show that when He called you answered as did the child Samuel: “Speak Lord, for thy servant heareth.” (1 Samuel 3:10)  

Tonight you have accepted the Risen Lord as Lord of your life, may your body become His temple, your heart His throne, and your life a priceless jewel for Him.   

Responding to a simple and random open invitation by a Catholic friend to attend the Easter Vigil, the author was so moved by the experience that her sixty-odd years in one Faith tradition proved to be a stepping stone from which she eventually – after a process of withdrawal from her own involvement in the Church of her baptism and journeying in faith towards another – moved into the Catholic Faith in late-1990. Whilst declaring that her shift of allegiance from one faith to another was the best thing that she had ever done – not without pain, loss and sacrifice – she presented these words as a form of second homily at the end of a subsequent Easter Vigil. Within a few short months, the Lord had further plans for her, as He called her home to rest in peace and rise in glory !

20th March 2021

Dear Parishioners, 

Jesus’s choice of his twelve closest companions leaves something to be desired. Amongst their ranks were those who criticized, penny-pinched, missed the point, welcomed a bribe, stole, as well as doubted, betrayed and distanced themselves from Him. They fell out over power, relied on their mothers to speak for them and in the ultimate moment of crisis saved their own skins by running away in the dark. Perhaps the Lord would have fared better with an equal number of dogs! After three years of training He would have benefitted from obedience, loyalty, followers who’d established a pecking order, recognised that the hand that fed them was that of their true leader, listened to their master’s voice, saw no value in money or clothes, accepted their leader’s friends as their own, and in times of threat would have laid down their lives defending Him.  

Life has provided me with three canine companions. Tammy, a Wire Hair Fox Terrier; a constant companion, protector, and four-legged nanny from before memory can recall until the end of my first decade. A Border Terrier, called Bracken, was our inheritance on the loss of my great aunt in 1980. Our bond began the moment she was collected from kennels as a puppy and was to last for some fifteen years. An excellent walker (although she always pulled) she never aged, still eager, willing and able to cover many a mile on her short doggy pensioner legs. Wise to attempts of deception so as to avoid false hope, she soon picked up the meaning of certain words spelt out in her presence such as W-A-L-K or T-E-A. About twenty minutes after the completion of a shift at the mill Dad would arrive home. A good five minutes before this Bracken would rouse herself from bed and position herself behind the door to be the first to welcome him. Her powers of being able to identify his journeying car above any other on the road were virtually psychic bearing in mind Dad’s notoriety for changing cars. 

   In the first spring of my time as Parish Priest in Dewsbury I set myself the task of looking for a four-legged companion. Initially intent on a mission to simply view dogs temporary resident at a rescue centre in Huddersfield, needless to say I arrived back at the Presbytery later the same afternoon with a nameless and bedraggled cross-Terrier. But not before a visit to a veterinary practice in Heckmondwike to have her checked over. It was a precarious start. With a rather richly odoured dog at the end of a piece of rope and in a studded-leather collar, befitting the neck of some Medieval bear in a pit, we arrived at the door of the vet’s, but not before my less than refined companion had decided to part with the contents of her bowels on the street. The wild child had arrived prematurely, and the learning curve of new doggy parenthood was steep and sharp! With my new found housemate suffering from acute Kennel Cough I was advised not to get too attached. So with pills and potions we departed, but not before she had left a further token on the streets of Heckmondwike which, I hasten to add, like the first was quickly scooped up and disposed of appropriately.  

Even if the Vet wasn’t holding his breath I decided that whatever time we had was going to reveal something of human kindness to this dog. Hopefully equalling, if not bettering whatever she’d encountered of humanity beforehand, in an unknown past. Our bonding began with a shower, ridding her of anything she was carrying from the obvious grime and dirt to hidden life-forms that may well have taken up residence on her small but warm frame. Guessing that it was a new experience, she clearly loved it, not least its conclusion which was being wrapped in a towel removing any excess water, and then, on release, having the freedom of shaking herself even drier, and taking off like a mad thing, running up and down the plentiful steps of the Presbytery, in and out of every room where she encountered an open door. Eventually exhausted by her exertions she curled up, contented, in a corner on the landing. With trust, I left the new arrival alone, in order to purchase much needed basics. A bed, collar, lead, food, and a toy or two were on the list. On my return, (with nose working overtime … just in case !), there she was, on a landing halfway down the stairs with tail wagging and eyes that offered a welcome warmer than any words could ever convey. There had been no accident and when I sought out where she had been in my absence it was obvious that she’d claimed a corner of the landing as hers. In her doggy-wisdom she had hit on the exact spot where the central heating pipes converged under the floorboards. It was where she was to sleep for the next near-decade in a series of beds.  

Taking the first of many thousands of walks around nearby Crow Nest Park, it was only as the day drew to a close, and more investigations of her new surroundings were done by my new companion, that I decided on a name. Caz. As it was the feast of St. Casimir there was something appropriate about it. Day two began with my opening the bedroom door to discover a loudly yawning, tailing-wagging and excited bundle of life with bright sparkly eyes and clean fur looking up at me from her bed. Caz had survived the night.                                          

Our relationship was adventuresome to say the least. Although spotless in the house, she was never wholly trained. Having taken the counsel of a supposed dog guru, I was told that I should show my confidence in Caz by releasing her from the lead. With speed beyond that of light came her departure from my side; it was an event never repeated. Not only was there a smallish brown dog moving at Olympic pace around the perimeter of a treasured open space, but there was also a near demented cleric frantically in chase and loudly calling out a name that was clearly lacking any recognition. Eventually, more by Divine intervention than human prowess, we were reunited, Caz clearly in better physical shape than myself at the end of our escapade. A wise investment came in the purchase of an extendable lead allowing her to enjoy long runs, and myself to have the security of being able to wind her in at the end of playtime. Well almost. Our first trip to Lytham saw Caz running excitedly at the end of the long lead, breathing in fresh sea air on the Green, supposedly under my watchful eye, when she suddenly diverted her attention to a bench on which someone was seated. In the blink of an eye she had snatched a bag of sandwiches and was clearly looking for a spot to enjoy her ill-gotten gains. With horror, embarrassment and perfuse apologies I approached the previously lunching individual. And with humility both man, and to an obvious lesser degree, dog, accepted the dignified forgiveness of the newly hungry-worker. 

Despite always having a plentiful supply of food Caz never lost touch with her earlier life on the streets of Kirklees. If the discarded remnants of a fast-food supper were to be located on the highways and byways of Dewsbury that we traversed, her sleuthing skills out-witted those of Miss Marple. Many was the time that I would try to remove some unsavoury left-over from her mouth. It was always a stand-off, fingers and teeth locked in a battle-royal. Rarely could I claim a victory. Content with her own company, when she felt it was time for bed Caz would quietly make her way to the bed in which she would spend the next eight hours. If she wanted to snuggle close, she would decide who with and when, except in the case of my Mum, whose lap was always too tempting and comfortable to refuse, even for picky-pooch Caz. Visiting Otley, Dad was her designated walker and chef. When it was time for going out she would take hold of the bottom of his trousers and give them a meaningful tug. She provided entertainment through her response to situations such as the opening of a tin of tuna or salmon and the accompanying dance and prance on hind legs, with shiny nose wildly taking in the aroma of canned fish. Or the incredible jealousy displayed when Mum received a large monkey soft-toy. Its removal from the packaging caused Caz to go into defensive and stand-off mode. The monkey was hastily replaced in its wrap, and for its own well-being and safe-keeping removed from sight and beyond reach of Caz. Similarly to prevent damage to it our TV had to be changed to another channel and our Christmas viewing interrupted as the on-screen barking dogs from “101 Dalmations” were a step too far for the real and very alive Caz, who attempted on several occasions to climb into the TV to join the pack.  

Her natural nursing skills were hugely appreciated when I found myself suffering from a dose of ‘flu, and spent time in bed. She instinctively knew just where to lay and in what position to give my aching limbs relief from her own body heat, at the same time being unusually contented with very much abbreviated outdoor exercise for herself. She travelled well, sleeping throughout any motorway drive. At the Harry Ramsden’s roundabout she knew she was just a couple of miles from Otley, and likewise her excitement for free time at the coast was apparent as we left the M55. A happy and good walker, we once walked from Starr Gate to Fleetwood, and got as far as the Tower at Blackpool on our return before reluctantly having to take public transport due to a torrential downpour. Quirkily she was fascinated by the sound of her own claw-nails on linoleum and as I carried out various jobs in St. Paulinus’ Church, she would accompany me intrigued by the echoing sound her paws made in such a cavernous space. In all the years she was in Dewsbury, living in a lighthouse-style building on a traffic island, there was just one occasion when she sounded an alarm by barking at night. On opening a window to investigate, I disturbed a late-night reveller relieving himself in the yard behind the Presbytery ! When answering night calls to the hospital, I would get little more than a knowing look from a curled-up Caz, nonplussed by the disturbance, but on my return she would be on the landing halfway down the stairs, an observation point for the front door, laid on her stomach with tail wagging. After a little fussing, showing appreciation of her welcome, we would both return to our beds, waiting for the first walk of the day. She was a great pal, and remains often talked about and her antics smiled at.  

Despite providing a foster home for a number of strays and even thinking I’d discovered another canine housemate during my earlier years in the Spen Valley, for good reason and intention no lasting bond has been established so far. There is a school of thought that would question whether as humans we find the right pet for ourselves, or whether animals seek us out, ensuring that we are suitable for them. Whatever the thought behind it, my experience of our dogs has been that they have taught me a lot, and as for training … very often they were good teachers ! Having come across the following few lines recently, written out of the experience of dog-ownership, I thought them worthy of sharing:- 

Allow the experience of fresh air and the wind in your face to be pure ecstasy. 
When loved ones come home, always run to greet them. 
When it’s in your best interest, practise obedience. 
Let others know when they’ve invaded your territory. 
Take naps and stretch before rising. 
Run, romp and play daily. 
Eat with gusto and enthusiasm. 
Be loyal. 
Never pretend to be something you’re not. 
If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it. 
When someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by, nuzzle them gently. 
Thrive on attention and let people touch you. 
Avoid biting when a simple growl will do. 
On hot days, drink lots of water and lie under a shady tree.  
When you’re happy, dance around and wag your entire body. 
No matter how often you’re scolded, don’t buy into guilt and pout … run right back and make friends. 
Bond with your pack. 
Delight in the simple joy of a long walk.    

May we remain united in faithful remembrances in prayer and affection. 

As ever, Fr. Nicholas

13th March 2021

Dear Parishioners, 

The first word of the Entrance Antiphon at Mass this weekend sets the tone for the entire Liturgy: Rejoice. In praying the words “Rejoice Jerusalem, and all who love her” (Isaiah 66:10) we are invited to celebrate the fact that Almighty God loves the people dedicated to Him. Traditionally referred to as Laetare Sunday it is mirrored in Advent by Gaudete Sunday, when we are raised in spirit to recall the fact that the Lord is near at hand. Both Sundays reflect the very real need that we have as human beings half way through our journeying to Easter and the birth of Christ to be warmed by a bright shaft of light coming from the Season that we are preparing for, preventing us from sinking too far into the mire of gloom that we so often trudge through as a penitential and humbled people. These Liturgical celebrations offer a glimpse of what is on the horizon, just around the corner, growing nearer with each passing day, like a cloudless blue sky and low sun visible over and above the snow, frost and ice of a winter day. Some traditions refer to the Fourth Sunday of Lent as Refreshment Sunday, a historical name given to a day of respite from the harsh fasts of the previous weeks, offering physical nourishment and sustenance for the remainder of the journey towards the festival of Christ’s resurrection.  

Laetare Sunday is also the day on which we acknowledge Mothering Sunday, an association between the two being acknowledged in liturgical sources dating back over a millennia, which include references and metaphors to motherhood and mothering. Linking both is the call for us to rejoice with Jerusalem; God’s spouse, and the Mother of His People. With the movement of people and spurts in population growth a number of customs grew up around Laetare and Mothering Sunday such as the return of people to their church of Baptism, parishioners of newly established churches attending the Mother Church of the area, day-release of domestic servants in order for them to visit their families, and the ability of children educated away from home to be visited by their parents or visa-versa dependent upon practical considerations. The fluidity (of almost three weeks) surrounding the date on which an increasingly secular celebration of Mothering Sunday continues to be celebrated acknowledges its roots in the rich soil of the Christian faith. This grounding was something drawn upon by Constance Penswick Smith (1878 – 1938), a single, childless woman, who breathed new life into our nation’s acknowledgement of the debt of gratitude that we owe to our mothers – physical and spiritual. Reportedly inspired by moves across the Atlantic, where, in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson established the second Sunday of May as an official day on which the gifts of mothers could be celebrated nationally, this daughter of an Anglican clergyman, drew on her own strong faith and Christian values, publishing in 1921 a work entitled The Revival of Mothering Sunday with chapters entitled The Church – Our Mother, Mothers of Earthly Homes, The Mother of Jesus and Gifts of Mother Earth. The revivalist movement surrounding Mothering Sunday took place over a couple of decades, a period of time in which the research of Constance Penswick Smith and others did much to highlight traditions, liturgical and secular, which had long been associated with Laetare and Mothering Sunday at national, local and regional level. These included long held habits and customs dating from medieval times, lost to us today, as well as the origins of culinary delights and table-fellowship which have an enduring familiarity about them such as Wafer Cakes and Simnel Cakes.   

Mothering Sunday gives us an opportunity to acknowledge the unique role of those women in our lives who fulfil the vocational role of being Mothers, whether that is biologically or those who have stepped into the shoes of nurturing and cultivation for us at some point on life’s journey. Sometime ago an expectant Mum – with tongue in cheek I suspect – asked if I had any advice to offer her in preparation for her forthcoming happy event ! My response came quickly, and, judging from the expression on her face, was not one that she was anticipating. I made the suggestion that she purchase a pram that allowed her baby to look at her, whether laid on his/her back or sat upright, giving both the infant being pushed and the pusher as many opportunities as possible to capture every expression, each breath and those initial noises and subsequent words that would become the shared means of communication for both. Such a means of transport would ensure that neither would miss out on the gift of establishing a life-long relationship forged in the most precious, significant and important days, weeks and years of new life.   

Being born in the city where the founder of Silver Cross had his first factory, and growing up just a few miles from the company’s subsequent manufacturing base at Guiseley, I was almost destined to spend my own earliest days in what was often described as the Rolls Royce of prams. It was initially from a reclining posture and subsequent sitting position in this mode of transport that I quickly discovered that the centre of my infant-world, and the most important person in it, was my Mum. She held me, fed me, bathed me, dressed me, talked to me, kept me warm, cooled me down, played with me, made me laugh, stopped me crying, and in her chauffeuring role pushed that incredibly well-sprung carriage-style pram mile upon mile on a daily basis. It was from the security of the familiar, under the watchful and vigilant gaze of the one who had brought me into the world that I was introduced to the people, locality and environment which would influence and shape me in unimaginable ways. Personal confidence grew as my unfolding world and experiences were never faced alone, always strengthened by the face and presence of Mum. When journeys into Otley were interrupted it would be to allow a friend or neighbour to draw close to the infant in the pram and utter unidentifiable noises to him which were interpreted as being kind, happy and good, judging by the expressions on the faces of these people that his mother entrusted a glimpse of her son to. An ability to read a face and judge the spoken tone became this child’s first means of communication. When words came, the first uttered were the most important: Mum and Dad. The third word was the name of my great-aunt. Unable to sound the “D” at the beginning of her name, she was simply “Olly” for a short while … and delighted in it ! 

A pram was often, as they remain today, a heavy financial investment for parents, and were passed down a line of siblings, handed-on to meet the needs of the new arrivals within the circle of family or friends, or even sold having retained a value as second-hand. Like any investment a dividend is anticipated, hoped and at times, longed, for. The reward of my parents’ investment in their choice of pram was the gift of a wonderful formative relationship that was established between the three of us from before the time my own memory began its work of recollection, gathering and storage. Whilst having no recall of there being a phased move from the Silver Cross pram to walking via any other form of pushchair, I certainly recall a highlight of summer afternoons being “put down” for a snooze by Mum in the pram which she positioned in the shade at the top of the driveway. On waking I soon discovered that with a bit of gentle persuasive rocking, even with its brakes on, the Pram could be brought to life by its solo occupant. Day after day, I would rock myself to the end of the drive, covering a distance of a good number of yards, where closed gates provided a barrier too great even for my little fingers to master, and a location from which I would eventually be retrieved. It was at the gate that neighbours and passers-by would chat to me, and to whom in return I would smile benignly. As the son of a canny Yorkshire father, and with such an ideal selling pitch, I can only judge that I must have been a relatively good infant, as no attempt was made to either put a price tag on me or a label reading: Free to a good home ! 

When the usefulness of the pram was left behind, as I took my first faltering steps, Mum’s were the hands that guided me on my journeying toward a life of relative independence. And when it came to walking, Mum and I were amongst the best, and even at an age when many teenagers dream of being behind a steering wheel I was happy walking, often times at the side of my bus-pass holding Mum. This privilege of age item was only ever flashed for discounts on admittance to attractions on holiday. I don’t think it was ever used in over three decades of existence, despite its frequent renewal and updated photos, for its true purpose or intention. During breaks from seminary life, entered at fifteen, walking provided the setting for Mum’s companionship, conversation and a backdrop to the rich counsel and wisdom that she offered born out of her own education gifted through life experience. Our walking track was the mile plus that separates our family home from the centre of Otley, with the same distance covered on the return journey. It was taken in all weathers and at times out of necessity rather than choice. It was life. It was our shared life.  

John Wesley wrote of his mother that he “learned more about Christianity from [his] mother than from all the theologians in England,” and I can share this attribute in respect of Mum. Her faith was simple, devout, unquestioning, solid, and an aspect of her make-up which she never hid or denied, in fact the opposite was true, she was incredibly proud of being a Catholic. Whilst leaving the public face of ministry to Dad, who served as a Minister of the Eucharist for many years, Mum was happier wielding a duster as a church cleaner, supporting the activities of the Ladies’ Guild, and counting the collection after Mass, something that she did until she was over ninety. Whether being pushed in the Silver Cross pram, with its incredible suspension, or walking, church was always a familiar destination. Whether it was for a ‘visit’ or for Mass, which when celebrated daily at 8.30 a.m. required an early start to our twenty minute or so walk, with no loitering, and we never arrived late ! It was her church; the place of her baptism at a time when the world was in a state of relational repair after the Great War, and from where she made her final journey, in a year when our country made a decisive statement, through the ballot box, on its relationship with its nearest geographical neighbours.  

In the times when our parents give us so much of themselves, as the recipients of gifts and experiences that will be fundamental to the people that we evolve into, for all kinds of reasons we are incapable, unable, shielded and lacking the emotional and intellectual requirements to grasp the enormity of what is being offered to us. Perhaps it is only when we pass through similar experiences on our own pathway of life that we begin, if we have the luxury of time, to reflect on and come to a partial appreciation of all that went into making the day to day life experience of our earliest years appear to run so smoothly and seamlessly: providing a roof over our heads, food on the table, and ensuring that birthdays and Christmases were special times to remember. All too often people comment that they didn’t have much, but with the basics of love, food, warmth, and a feeling of security what more do we really need. Most of us will have had much more than the basics, not least the gift of faith, and the desired hope and aspirations of our parents that we would benefit from many experiences of life that had not been theirs. Personally these have been the gifts of education and travel. Mum finished her schooling at thirteen (which may not even have been legal) and was in full time employment before her fourteenth birthday. In comparison I was still in part-time education at thirty-five ! As a couple, the furthest my parents travelled from Otley, warranting a passport, was Dublin for my Diaconate Ordination, whilst I have been fortunate enough to travel to the other side of the world, Australia.  

Laetare Sunday calls upon us to rejoice. Its link with Mothering Sunday gives us the opportunity of giving thanks for the women whom we address and acknowledge as our Mums, whether we are able to show our love and appreciation through the delivery of a card and gift, or whether we speak words of loving gratitude to them in the quiet of our hearts, resting as they are now in the companionship of Almighty God. When speaking at Mum’s Requiem Mass I described her as being the best Mum that God could have provided for me … I’d like to think that many of us, reflecting on the life-journey of our respective mothers could share those sentiments. Far from boasting of having the best or finest or most qualified or skilled Mum in the field of parenting, in some competition-style, the highest acclaim comes from recognizing and appreciating that who we have become and are bears the indelible marks of sacrifice, nurturing, culturing, shaping, crafting and above all the love of another human being that we’ve been fortunate to address as Mum, Mother or some other affectionate term of maternal recognition. If the hands of time could be turned back, the only words that I would say more often to my Mum would be how proud I was and continue to be of her. If you’ve got the opportunity or means seize the moment and speak similar words to yours ! 

Be assured of my continuing remembrance of you and your loved ones in both prayer and affection, not least this weekend, those wonderful women in your lives who have aided you to become the person that you are. 

As ever, Fr. Nicholas     

6th March 2021

Dear Parishioners, 

Like many I am a list maker. The weekly jobs to do list, with a growing number of lines through tasks accomplished brings a sense of satisfaction and achievement. Luminous post-it notes attached to various scripts and piles of paper contain memos and reminders of what still needs to be done, and there is the birthday list, sacredly viewed each Sunday evening before the card writing exercise begins. Currently I am working my way through the Easter card list, facing the dilemma of which to work from: the shorter 2020 received card list or the lengthier list of 2019 from our ‘normal’ Paschal festival that year. A new list is the one I now take with me to the supermarket each Friday. It is a “Do Not Need List”! And contains several items. In a spirit of Lenten observance I am attempting to purge myself of being led into temptation. The tempter luring me into making purchases that I do not need wears the colourful apparel of labels purporting special offers and irresistible bargains attached to various products stacked on the rows of shelves. Simple mathematics and a canny Yorkshire nature lead me to put more tins, packets and containers into the trolley than I need, but I justify such moments by telling myself that they have long lasting best before dates and will come in useful at some time. Further justifying my liberal behavior is the genuine and real concern that should I need to isolate I would need at least ten days’ food to access, the easier to prepare the better in the household of a single person. Pantry-less, the size of my forays were not initially apparent; a couple of tins in this cupboard, a number of packets here or there. Then, with more radiance than the flash of light that knocked St. Paul from his horse, I realized that the tins of soup, had become a lake, and the packets of breakfast cereal resembled a mountain, not to mention the tubes of toothpaste, which could have cleaned the teeth of a river full of alligators, nor the boxes of tissues which equated to a small forest. These latter items resident in discreet upstairs recesses ! With the dawn of reality the lake is slowly emptying, God’s generous provision of allowing me to break-fast each day means that the mountain has reduced to a localized hill, and as for the toothpaste and tissues, their longevity may take me into retirement!  

Already into its eightieth year is a radio programme which is based around a list. Desert Island Discs was first broadcast in January 1942 by the BBC on its Forces Programme. Each week since then a guest has been invited to provide eight recordings, predominately, but not always of music, a book and an inanimate luxury item that they would take with them if marooned on a deserted island. It is a simple concept that has proven to have captured the heart of the nation, and now a global audience of listeners. The gentle, non-confrontational format and one imagines a safe, comfortable and evocatively coaxing environment of which the interviewee remains in control through what they have literally brought to the turn-table, provides listeners with a great insight into the individual sharing their personal choices. Removed from bright lights, camera calls and the artificiality of their public face, the castaway is one human being in conversation with another, sharing the story of who they are. The Complete Works of Shakespeare and either a Bible or another appropriate faith-based or philosophical work are gifted to the castaway, who is then invited to select a third book to accompany them. In the case of castaway and national treasure Dame Judi Dench, who suffers from macular degeneration, an audiobook was allowed, rather than a printed edition. The luxury item must be of no use in escaping from the imaginary island or allowing communication from the outside world. A piano is one of the most requested items, although famously, one-time host, Sue Lawley, conceded to John Cleese’s request to take Michael Palin with him, provided that he was dead and stuffed ! At least two castaways have provided a feast of music from their personal store-cupboard of recordings, Elizabeth Schwarzkopf and Dame Moura Lympany, who offered seven and eight delights of their own talent, vocal and piano respectively.  

The drafting of such a list of soundtracks to the unfolding events of life’s tapestry, enriched and enhanced with personal insights and stories, is a fabulous legacy-making experience. Whilst we may think that limiting or squeezing our musical choices into just eight tracks is virtually an impossible task, if we set our minds to the quality and depth of the exercise the opposite might well be true. That we struggle to find eight pieces together with their stories of significance. My own paltry attempt at making such a list throws just four recordings on to the turntable of my mind. In no apparent order these would be Mario Lanza’s rendition of “O, Holy Night”, for reasons spoken of in recent musings, Debbie Reynolds singing “Tammy”, Louis Armstrong’s version of “Hello, Dolly” and something rather sentimental from the repertoire of the Fureys and Davey Arthur. The second of these holds two-fold reminiscence for me from the halcyon days of my earliest memories. Brought up by a mother who sang a variety of songs from musicals as she did various jobs around the house, whenever I hear the opening bars of the song, I am transported back to the rooms of our family home and can see a woman contented and happy carrying out the necessary jobs of domestic life with diligence, skill, pride and panache. Tammy was also the name of my great-aunt’s wire-haired fox terrier who on my arrival into her world immediately adopted me, forsaking all others in an inseparable bond of companionship which was to last for a decade. An experience and sentiment expressed by TV presenter Nicky Campbell in his recent book, “One of the Family – why a dog called Maxwell changed my life.” 

As for “Hello, Dolly,” it was the record requested by a very young Nicholas Hird of Otley for his great-aunt Dolly’s birthday on, what was then a very infant local radio station, called BBC Radio Leeds. A song conjuring up very happy memories of an incredibly gifted, inspirational and loving lady who graced the life of our small family unit, whose presence and spirit is immediately evoked today in the rare waft of cigarette smoke, highlighting carefree days of over forty years ago. Rolling the clock forward almost two decades, my parents wrote into BBC Radio 2 to ask for a similar birthday request when I turned twenty-one. As I’d recently been to a Fureys and Davey Arthur concert in Dublin a song from them was asked for, and Ken Bruce (still broadcasting all these years later, and who recently turned seventy himself) kindly obliged.  

Whilst uncertain that anyone is currently looking for further Lockdown projects as many are beginning to see the bright and luring light of better days ahead – I am personally hesitant to use the words ‘return to normality’ – hopefully the compiling of a soundtrack to accompany stories of a life journey will be something that some may consider or even do. Lockdown has offered many a test of how well they actually know themselves, the people they share a roof with, or others who populate our lives in work, leisure or even spiritual spaces. In some cases there continues to be admiration and surprise in how some have dealt with a brand new set of guidelines by which to live their lives, displaying incredible versatility, adaptability, inner strength, resilience, determination and endurance, a quality of faith and willingness to comply to what is being asked. For others, even those on whose rock-solid foundations of exposed humanity we have come to rely, and in many instances take for granted, their strategy and coping mechanisms, endurance, stamina, optimism and confidence have disintegrated and vanished with unbelievable rapidity, revealing a very fragile base.  

In the months and years ahead many, if not all of us, will need to engage in the gentle and patient process of reconstruction of ourselves and others, not necessarily those who shout the loudest or whose damage is as obvious as that on an item repaired under the Japanese art of Kintsugi. Like Rome we will not be repaired, rebuilt or reconstructed quickly or with speed, it will be a time consuming process, especially for those who have grown used to a shrunken world environment, limited communication, and a less populated and tactile family and social circle. The telling of and the means by which we convey the story of who we are, as well its reception and acceptance by others, is an all too often overlooked and deprived treasure as we journey through life. Perhaps the next time we hear someone say “I remember when …“, or notice a foot marking the beat of a some random soundtrack to a TV advert, or even see a loved one sashaying across the kitchen floor or having a quiet dance with an unseen, but imaged, partner, we can recognize the fact that a sacred, miraculous moment is unfolding before our eyes. A part of the story of someone else’s life is being transmitted. A gentle prompt through music, a story, image or item has brought to birth a form of transmission of some of the people, places, and experiences that have made an individual who they are. A growing awareness of this will ensure that before we have reached our own sell by date we may well have cultured an understanding that some of the lists we make in reality are as flimsy and valueless as the scraps of paper on which they are written. Lent offers us an opportunity to compose a “Needs List” and also a “Do Not Need List”. The former may be easier to satisfy and reclaim than we imagine as they may already be housed within us as pre-existing treasures, skills and virtues that have remained untapped, long-unused, and become dust-wrapped through neglect. 

Perhaps our Lent “Needs List” should be headed with a desire to get to know ourselves better. Always a good starting point ! Next, a desire and determination to discover more about those who populate our world in the guise of family members, friends, and colleagues at work or in shared leisure spaces. Asking them to share their desert island playlist with you may be the key to Pandora’s Box, also revealing the luxury item that they would take to the deserted island location and the book that would accompany them to be read beneath daily unfolding blue and cloudless skies.  

As for the “Do Not Need List,” I suspect that for many of us this will be a work in progress with the passage of time, not to mention a Lenten trim here and there, as we come to value, appreciate and treasure afresh so much of that previously treated as the ordinary, everyday, ever-present, taken for granted and overlooked in our single-minded drive for more. The Lockdown reality is that so much of what we’ve craved, desired, wanted, and felt that we needed or could not live without is already ours in the gift-wrap of the most familiar to us – people, experiences, memories and the odd item.   

From one ‘castaway’ to others, I wish you a contented, happy and above all healthy week ahead. With an assurance of prayerful affection, Fr. Nicholas.