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

25th April 2020

Dear Parishioners,

With another weekend, comes a further attempt to get the Newsletter to you. Some recipients have let me know that they are unable to open the attachment that comes with these few lines. I suspect that this may be something to do with varying versions of software that we all use. The computer that I work on is powered by hamsters driving a wheel ! Only joking … it is really me using a treadle-system ! Apologies for the frustrations of this, however there is always a Plan B, and in this case another point of accessing the Newsletter is at the following web address: stpaulscleckheaton.wordpress.com

From next weekend I look forward to adding to this the address of an up-dated web-page for Holy Spirit which has been worked on behind the scenes in recent times.

Hopefully you continue to remain well, and like the majority of us, are doing your best to live within the Government Guidelines, which are in place to help look after as many of us as possible, together with our fabulous NHS. During the week in a three-way conversation held at a safe distance in the bank (marked out by footprints on the floor !) reflection was made on our present situation. It was noted that what could never have been imagined has become reality, how ‘normal’ now involves queuing, the evolution of working from home, traveling less, many parents and children spending much more time together, a greater awareness of the needs of others, and how the habits formed in the mists of time – such as the washing of hands – are taking on a new relevance … The list continued to grow.

The comments made were a reminder of how chameleon-like we actually are, adapting relatively quickly to the environment in which we find ourselves. This is something I often mention at the beginning of Lent, our spiritual opportunity to embrace change. Psychologists tell us that it takes about three weeks to form a habit and a couple of months for it to become automatic. At this juncture in lockdown we are at a half-way point in this process of change and adaptation. This may well be why, we have been advised to give our days shape and routine, rather than just allow one day to merge into another, so that time is not wasted and good habits are ultimately maintained for our good.

It isn’t all positive, and perhaps as much as anyone, I am aware of the frustrations and seemingly hard edges that some of today’s limitations bring to bear on people’s lives. The author of the Book of Ecclesiastes wrote that there is a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing. The latter is very hard but necessary, and perhaps we have to be creative in our manner of addressing situations where the most natural response would be a wordless hug. For those currently living in darkness, not least through bereavement, we are called upon to offer them a glimpse of the hope and optimism of Christ’s resurrection. Assuring them too, not least that when lockdown comes to an end, and it is safe to do so, a hug of compassion will be waiting for them.

Reading the Acts of the Apostles during our daily Masses, I never cease to be amazed at how quickly our forebears in Faith responded to the reality of Christ’s resurrection and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on them. St. Luke tells us that the whole group of believers was united, heart and soul, and none of their members was ever in want. Whilst it may seem somewhat Utopian it was not without issue, such as when some of the vulnerable, namely the Hellenist widows, were being overlooked in the daily distribution of help. However, through prayer and with generosity of spirit (both Divine and human), the situation was remedied in the willingness of some members of the early Church to offer helping hands and so come to the assistance of those in need. Two thousand years on from those times, we continue to hear of need, and respond to it with kindness, generosity and willingness. The human spirit being the channel of the Holy Spirit.

Unchartered waters face many of us in unprecedented times. Last week I mentioned making my first Conference Call in relation to offering continuing governance to our primary school. There was a dummy-run in preparation for this the previous day. Ever punctual, I was the first to be connected, and this allowed me to speak to some of those who work behind the scenes in the Education Department of Kirklees, giving me the opportunity to thank them for all that they do. Our own school staff continue to offer the opportunity of learning to children during these times, and are a credit to our community.

Another area of lockdown creativity that I’ve ventured into this week has been that of hair management. There comes a point when a man (or at least this man) can only carry so much hair on his head, and I felt that I had over-reached my limit. Settling myself to watch a couple of you-tube clips (no pun intended) as to how to do the deed I felt that I had completed the required theory qualification. Unsurprisingly, the virtual teachers made it look easy, displaying a dexterity, with clippers in one hand and a mirror in the other, that I subsequently discovered were gifts that I do not possess ! However, armed with the tools of the trade i.e. clippers that should have four settings (somehow the Number 3 blade has gone walk-about), and a mirror I plucked up the confidence needed to begin. The first lesson learnt is perhaps the most important: when the first locks fall to the floor … there is definitely no going back ! The result, dare I say, isn’t too bad. It feels comfortable and having been out on our relatively deserted streets no one has noticeably stared at me, neither have they asked who the skilled person was that did the deed. If some are wondering if this is the answer to their hirsute issues, all I can say is that whilst the grey hair may be less, it hasn’t disappeared.

This weekend the gospel reading is the magnificent story of the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus. It is a beautiful story, and speaks to us about what is familiar within the celebration of Holy Mass; the gift of Sacred Scripture, and the Eucharist. The Risen Christ is very much understood as the ultimate High Priest as He explains the scriptures that are about Himself to the disciples, and then as He breaks bread for the wearied and downhearted travellers returning to the country from Jerusalem where they have witnessed the events of Good Friday.

In the explanation of the Word and the breaking of bread, their spirits were renewed and, despite their previous anxieties about the dangers of the darkness that had fallen outside, they return to Jerusalem full of joy and delight, eager to share their story of meeting the Risen Lord. I’m always struck by the fact that when Jesus begins to walk with them, they fail to recognize Him because their faces are downcast. Looking downward, dwelling on the negative, and being without hope, are not the characteristics of the followers of Christ. Instead His disciples are called to be ever vigilant, filled with joyful hope and to fan into the brightest of flames even the faintest of glimmers of light. If we dare to lift our eyes to the heavens at the moment, we will see some of the most beautiful skies, blue and pure during the day, bright and vibrant at night. A tangible reminder of our Creator God, who when They viewed the work of Their hands at the beginning, saw … it was very good. A contemporary hymn, Be still and know I am with you, contains the line: the stars shine only in darkness. For those we know who are struggling in any form of darkness may we bring the gift of light.

Be assured of a continued remembrance in the Road to Emmaus event that I am privileged to celebrate each day – Holy Mass – not only of yourself, but also of those upper most in your hearts, together with the daily unfolding intentions of your lives.

United in affection and prayer,

Fr. Nicholas

18th April 2020

Dear Parishioners,

With the passing of another week, and a further extension to the necessary restrictions being presented to us by those in the know who are attempting to keep as many safe and well as possible, I enclose this week’s Newsletter. Thank you to those who have let me know how much you appreciate this attempt at keeping us in touch with one another. As you will have gathered from last week’s debacle, some aspects of technology continue to pose a steep learning-curve for me but I’ve been impressed to hear that a number of parishioners are using this period of time to engage with new means of communication such as ipads, which is a seismic distance from my own limited abilities. The positive use of this time, different as it may be, is so important, as someone once wrote: Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.

Thank you for the numerous greetings for Easter, which meant so much; perhaps even more so this year, as extra effort was put into getting them to me, either in card form or by electronic means. Above all, my gratitude to those who do pause at the time Masses are being celebrated in our churches, because your spiritual energy is tangible in our hallowed walls. I am never alone when celebrating Holy Mass; we are all together in thought, and most definitely in spirit. In the Prayers of the Faithful, which I offer aloud each day, you are always mentioned, together with the intentions that you’re holding in your hearts and minds at that particular time. It is also important to pray for those who, because of their demanding work, fatigue or demands of juggling Front-Line work with home lives, are simply not able to turn to God in prayer as they would like. Not simply to pray for, but in fact instead of. So we become their channel of conversation to Almighty God. In this I stand humbled.

Times of adversity throw up some unexpected heroes, one of the greatest currently being Keighley-born, Captain Tom Moore, who continues to raise almost miraculous amounts of money for the brilliant NHS. His initial goal was a thousand pounds, and to date he has raised over twenty-one and a half million pounds. Incredible ! And he has pledged to keep on walking as long as donations pour in. Along similar lines, it is good to see so many people taking up the opportunity of walking, for health-reasons rather than charity. Out walking for longer than the stipulated hour on Easter Monday, I delighted in seeing a number of parishioners, and conversing at a safe distance. I saw others too – not parishioners ! – to whom I spoke, but received no reply. For those of us who live alone, a pleasant ‘Hello’ or even a wave can mean so much; so please be prepared to offer a friendly wave to others who are walking; it can mean a lot. If you receive an odd look or no response, smile to yourself as you remember the sender of this e-mail sharing with you the fact that – in a flustered moment – he once asked a mannequin in M & S where he’d find slippers. Needless to say after initially being nonplussed with the lack of a reply, I was doubly embarrassed to think someone may have seen me talking to a very well dressed but inanimate object!

Life continues at a busy pace for myself, working within limitations, and having to adapt rapidly to new means of ministry, not least in critical times, which are so very hard. This coming week, I shall be taking part in my first Conference Call in relation to the governance of our primary school (open throughout the ‘normal’ Easter break, to support the children of Key Worker parents, and as always doing a fantastic job). Hopefully all will go well, with the correct buttons being pressed, otherwise I may find myself in conversation with President Trump or the like. One of the Easter cards I received asked how I was coping with Short time to which I responded that if ever I arrive there I’ll send the enquirer a postcard! My days are full, perhaps differently to usual, but for me routine is paramount as is the setting of objectives, such as writing a note or a card each day to friends that I only hear from at Christmas and with whom we share the usual sentiment of hoping to be in touch in a new year. Well now is the time for that opportunity for contact! With hand on heart, I can say that I haven’t yet started sorting drawers out or going through cupboards, except for the necessary paperwork for our recent End of Year financial reports. The following light-hearted poem reminds me of trying to direct energy to the important things in life rather than the fleeting and passing:

Dust if you Must !

Dust if you must, but wouldn’t it be better to paint a picture, or write a letter. Bake a cake, or plant a seed; ponder the difference between want and need ?

Dust if you must, but there’s not much time. With rivers to swim, and mountains to climb; music to hear, and books to read; friends to cherish, and life to lead.

Dust if you must, but the world’s out there with the sun in your eyes, and the wind in your hair; a flutter of snow, a shower of rain. This day will not come around again.

Dust if you must, but bear in mind, old age with come and it’s not kind. And when you go (and go you must) you, yourself, will make more dust !

In closing I wish you well, and above all good health.

May we continue to be united spiritually and in affection for one another. There are so many in need of prayer at this time, may they be a priority for us.

With my prayerful remembrances of you and your intentions,

Fr. Nicholas

11th April 2020 – Holy Saturday

Dear Parishioners,

There is a great temptation to wish you a ‘Happy Easter’ but as it is still Holy Saturday, a time of waiting, or as Sacred Scripture calls it “preparation day”, I shall resist the temptation, at least for the moment !

I do hope that you are all well and looking after yourselves, and those closest to you. You all remain very close in thought and affection, and whenever I celebrate Mass you are present with me, as are those that you hold in your own hearts and thoughts. Despite it being Holy Week, I have lit candles prior to each celebration, offering them for the intentions of parishioners. As yesterday was Good Friday, the candles were not lit, as we are called very especially on that day to be a people who are caught up in the great Sacrifice of Calvary, and the candles were replaced by my carrying the worries, concerns and sufferings of you all – particularly at this time – as I processed with and subsequently venerated the Cross. It was an incredibly moving period of time and liturgical action, perhaps made so, as during the last few weeks I have spoken to so many people who really are afraid for both themselves and their loved ones, their raw humanity exposed, and carrying their own crosses in these necessary weeks of isolation.

Rather than use a large crucifix, I used the one I was given on the occasion of my own First Holy Communion, a year or so ago! It was the gift of two very elderly ladies that my parents often gave a lift home to after the 8 o’clock Mass on a Sunday in Otley. Despite their age, both were probably born at the beginning of the last century, the crucifix has a real contemporary look to it, and it hung in my bedroom at home throughout my childhood, youth and years of studying for the Priesthood. A symbol of familiarity and stability, ever-present and always there. In more recent times it has moved with me from Presbytery to Presbytery; still a sign of continuity and faith-filled hope. Now almost half a century since it was given, that same piece of religious art continues to convey all it was intended to. Our own Faith is rather like that crucifix – familiar, stabilising, ever-present, simply ‘there’. This is my rationale for inviting families and individuals to display a symbol of faith in a prominent place at home; a visual reminder of the hope that our faith conveys, and that we are not alone, but a part of a chain of people who are united in belief; a belief that has its origins in the event of the first Easter. May it these images give us a sense of the familiar, stable and constancy to which we witness, either alone or together, as a community of Faith, quietly watched, observed and – (often secretly !) – admired by so many.

The following reflection was sent to me recently. It is a reminder that despite feeling so far removed from our ‘normal’ experience of Holy Week and Easter, perhaps we are not too distant from the very first Holy Week and Easter.

The very first Easter was not in a crowded church with singing and praising.

On the very first Easter the disciples were locked in their Upper Room. It was dangerous for them to go out. They were afraid.

They wanted to believe the good news that they had heard from the women, that Jesus had risen. But it did seem too good to be true.

They were living in a time of great despair and fear. If they left their homes, their lives and the lives of their loved ones may have been at risk. Could the great event of the Resurrection really have happened ?

Could life really have won the victory over death?

Could a time of terror and fear really have been brought to an end ?

Alone or together in their homes they dared to believe that hope was possible, that the long night was over and morning had truly broken, that God’s love had proved the most powerful of forces … but it all seemed so unreal.

Eventually, they were able to leave their homes, when fear and danger had subsided.

When that happened they went around celebrating and spreading the good news that Jesus was risen and that love was the most powerful force on earth.

This year, we are perhaps having a taste of what that first Easter was like, still in our homes daring to believe that hope is on the horizon. Then, after a while, when it is safe for all people, when it is the most loving of choices, we will come out, gather together, singing and shouting the good news that God brings life out of death, that His love always has the final word.

During these days, we may get the nearest experience we have ever had to the circumstances of the first Easter.

In closing, I wish you all a Blessed Easter, when it dawns with the cry in the darken church tonight, that Christ is our Light ! May we all respond with the exclamation Thanks be to God !

May our Faith be strengthened by Easter,

our Love deepened,

and our Hope be brightened.

Thinking of you all, and assuring you of a remembrance in both the Liturgies I continue to celebrate and the personal prayers I offer.

As ever,

Fr. Nicholas

4th April 2020 – Holy Week Greetings

Dear Parishioners,

Holy Week greetings to you and, in the most wonderful and unique of weeks, I continue to assure you of a spiritual remembrance in all the Liturgies which continue to be celebrated in our two churches. Prior to each Mass I light candles at the respective side altars of the Sacred Heart and Our Lady for the intentions that you would like recalling especially that day. This “spiritual communion” between us is very, very important, and that is why, as far as I can, I continue with the celebration of Holy Mass at the usual times over each weekend. These times – 4.30 pm, 6.30 pm, 9.30 am and 11.30 am – are ‘our’ times, and despite your physical absence, you are certainly there in spirit, and because we are all creatures of habit, I can visualise you on the pew that you sit on week in and week out. There are times when I glance at the door awaiting our late-arrivals too!

Personally I would ask that in your homes you create a very visible ‘shrine’ perhaps with a crucifix, icon, statue, Rosary Beads, or even with a crib scene, in order for you to be drawn into an opportunity to focus on these incredible days in the life of ourselves, the Church. I mention the use of a crib scene as I am aware that the Catholic images which were very much a part of the fixtures and furnishings of homes a couple of generations ago have disappeared, but our cribs are beloved by us all, and make their annual appearance in our homes. The baby of the crib is the man of Calvary, and the Christ of the resurrection.

At a time when the vulnerability of the shared cloth of our humanity is so visibly exposed, the eyes of the Christ-child and the image of the suffering carpenter journeying to a place of execution, remind us of the depth of God’s love for us, and Their ability to look us in the eye and share our fragility. At Christmas we sing of the child of Bethlehem being “little, weak and helpless.” These are the exact feelings of so many during this present time. However, faith in its richness, calls us to recognise that in the crumpled wrapping paper of human form, so long ago, dwelt the very Word of God. It is the resurrection of this Word that we look forward to delighting in next week. The great sign and statement that nothing can overcome the love of God for humankind, not even death itself. As so often we witness incredibly well to love and faith, so may we give tangible expression to hope for better things and brighter times.

At a time when we shall all be together again, there will be a gift waiting for you. It is a palm cross or leaf which will be blessed at our Masses this weekend. A reminder of the welcome that Christ received from the people of Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday. A symbol too of the joy and delight that we take in being able to be united as God’s people coming together in worship in the ordinary course of events. For now it is a sign of the deep hope that our being together will soon be a reality …

My own spiritual life is much enhanced by commitment to routine at the moment, and despite the absence of music at Mass, I am able to use a hymnbook as a tool for reflection and prayer. The following words seem to reflect something of the solemnity, reality and underlying confident hope of this coming week:

“Long years ago, as earth lay dark and still,

Rose a loud cry upon a lonely hill,

while in the frailty of human clay,

Christ, our Redeemer, passed the self-same way.

Still stands His cross from that dread hour to this

like some bright star above the dark abyss;

still, through the veil, the Victor’s pitying eyes

look down to bless our lesser Calvaries.”

May we all be united in prayer, despite necessary distance, during these special days of Holy Week.

If you are able please watch the Liturgies being broadcast from our Cathedral Church, and at your ‘own’ Mass time in either Heckmondwike or Cleckheaton know that you’re being remembered.

In closing may I assure the Liturgical purists amongst you that, true to form, the statues in our churches are covered, and this weekend our Liturgical colour will be vibrant red !

With prayerful support and encouragement,

As ever, Fr. Nicholas

1st April 2020

Dear Parishioners,

Firstly I sincerely hope that this finds you in good health and spirits during the unusual scenario that we find ourselves living through.

Despite the enormous change to my own Ministry it continues, albeit in a new and evolving way. Whilst I encourage you to be united to the spiritual life of our churches through ‘spiritual communion’, I can also assure you that our churches are never empty … at every Mass I celebrate I take time to look around and, in my mind’s eye, place our regular congregations on the pews that, through habit, they sit on week by week and, in some cases, day by day.

Candles are lit for your intentions too, prior to each Mass, as I know that collectively and individually we are looked upon as a people to whom others can turn in their need, not least when it comes to wanting prayers to be offered and candles to be lit. So all of this continues, and will, please God, until we are all back together again.

The need for prayer is great, and so I urge you to find time to speak with God during the course of each day, perhaps at traditional times such as 12 noon and 6.00 pm for the Angelus, in addition to Morning and Night Prayers. The Rosary is also a great gift, asking Our Lady to unite her prayers to ours.

Holy Mass is being ‘live-streamed’ from St. Anne’s Cathedral in Leeds, our diocesan Mother Church, at 10.30 am each day and at 11.00 am on a Sunday. The Angelus is also recited at 12 noon each day followed by the Rosary, which on Friday will be replaced by the Stations of the Cross. If it is possible for you to be a part of these events ‘live’ I do encourage it. Other Masses are also available from around the diocese and well beyond, however, some of these are pre-recorded with varying degrees of sound and visual quality. I recommend the Cathedral broadcasts, as we belong to a diocesan family, something which is evidenced in the various pilgrimages that many of us have participated in such as to Lourdes or Walsingham or even World Youth Day. At a very human level when the going gets tough the one place we long to be is home, this is why our churches are so precious to us, and beyond that our Cathedral and Bishop.

Practically, can I please ask that this e-mail is not directly replied to as there are multiple recipients who will all be privy to whatever you write! If you wish to contact me please do so at an individual level.

Keep well, safe, and above all do not feel alone; we are a community, and if anyone stands in need they only have to ask (I remain contactable via ‘phone or e-mail), and hopefully a resolution can be found to assist.

Holding you all, and your intentions in prayer,

With all very best wishes,

Fr. Nicholas