10th April 2021

Dear Parishioners, 

As someone who tends not to eat until the work of the day is complete my television viewing often takes place after what was once referred to as the Watershed, hence I find relaxing enjoyment in many of the detective dramas that are a feature of post 9 p.m. schedules. Increasingly I have begun to wonder if I am made of much tougher and far less shockable stuff than other viewers as I pass the comment “Well, what do you expect !” in reply to the continuity announcers’ statement that the programme about to be aired contains violence and scenes that some viewers may find distressing. Take the suspense, grit and violent scenes out of such indulgent viewing and there would be a lot of unemployed and bland TV detectives. Vera Stanhope could spend a bit more time on housework, and Ted Hastings pursuing his life-mission of discovering the ever-elusive “H”. Far more worrying is when similar announcements are made prior to the opening bars of familiar soap opera themes. These are masked, when one makes an objection, by justifying responses that the scripts of what were once beloved national TV treasures reflect topical issues and are in no way related to the fact that a sensational storyline brings higher audience ratings than a rival. Doubting the validity of the argument I would be happy for Coronation Street to go back to two evenings a week, Emmerdale become a farm once more offering, as it once did, seasonal viewing and for some bland, good-living, naturally comical family to move into an Albert Square property. A form of normality does exist for the majority of us, and I very often say that I could not write the script for some of the scenarios that I encounter, not to mention the rich seem of priceless characters that I come across, unpaid for being wonderfully just themselves, quirky, funny and natural. Alas, no announcement is made before something featured on screens, great or small, introduces a character or two, ready, willing and overly able to take the name of the Lord in vain. Of course to object about such matters would be deemed over sensitive. The fact that we need to be informed that a murder will take place in the picturesque but deadly villages of the fictional county of Midsomer is a totally different matter.      

This weekend our Low Sunday Liturgy presents us with a story-line not intended for the faint-hearted or squeamish. The Risen Christ appears to the marooned isolating Apostles in the Upper Room. All, except one. Thomas, the twin. On his return from where we are not told, perhaps a foray for food, if so he must have been weighed down with enough to satisfy at least ten other adults under the same roof, he makes the staggering statement “Unless I see the holes that the nails made in his hands and can put my finger into the holes they made, and unless I can put my hand into his side, I refuse to believe.” (John 20:25) This post-resurrectional appearance of Christ, with all the gruesome demands of Thomas, if he is to believe the words of the other Apostles, is not something we hear just once every three years in our cycle of Sunday readings, but it is there for us to encounter and benefit from on the Second Sunday of Easter in Years A, B and C. In other words there is simply no escaping or avoiding the unashamed gore and earthiness of the graphic description offered by St. John the Evangelist. 

A number of years ago, having preached on this Gospel extract, I received in the post what I felt is a tremendously powerful image of the scene in that secured room eight days after the initial appearance of the Risen Christ. It portrays the response of the Resurrected One inviting Thomas to “Put your finger here; look here are my hands. Give me your hand; put it into my side.” (John 20:27). The image sent, entitled “The Incredulity of Saint Thomas,” was by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571 – 1610), and is a very graphic and literal interpretation of the biblical account, with Christ holding the wrist of Thomas, who, with finger outstretched, is touching the very wounds of the One he will subsequently acknowledge, climatically for the author of the Gospel, as “My Lord and my God !” (John 20:28) Peering over the shoulder of the stooping Thomas are two of his companions, who already having seen the Risen Lord, are given further proof that what they believed they had seen they really had. Emphasising the reality of the resurrection from the dead of Jesus’s physical human body the depiction is noticeably devoid of attributes such as a halo above His head. In this instance it is the shared human wrapping with the Apostles that is stressed, flesh and blood, not that which differentiates them, His divinity.  

The dawn of Caravaggio’s prolific artistic career began in the factory-like environment of the artist Giuseppe Cesari’s studio. Here there was an almost conveyor belt production of much sought after depictions of flowers and fruit made fashionable by Pope Clement VIII’s patronage of Cesari (1568 – 1640). Caravaggio’s own brief life, less than forty years, was marked by a personal reputation that included a quickness of temper, being easily provoked and in the face of defeat a tendency to allow violence to determine the outcome of arguments. He was sentenced to death for a murder which took place during a violent brawl in Naples, from where he fled and for which he was eventually granted a Papal pardon. The dramatic and ever present personal energy with which he lived his life spilled over into his career on canvass. He was a deft and skilled crafter frequently dismissing the preparatory techniques of others such as the use of cartoons or paper drafts, preferring instead to work directly on to a canvas, using live models which, together with an insightful observation of the human state and anatomy, allowed his works to convey a wealth and richness of physical and emotional expression producing paintings which communicate profoundly with those looking at them.   

In the evolving world of art Caravaggio’s influence was huge, culturing with others a new Baroque-style of art, his own works eagerly embracing the dramatic use and effect of both light and darkness, observed through life-experience, on his subject matter. His skill and inner eye allowed him to become a master craftsman able to give status and relevance to those captured in darkening shadow-effect without detracting any meaningfulness from central characters often caught in the spotlight of a radiant shaft of light. Whilst numerous paintings of his convey scenes of great sensitivity such as the “Supper at Emmaus,” the “Death of the Virgin” and the “Conversion on the way to Damascus,” Caravaggio certainly does not shy away from the gruesome and horrific, including the “Crucifixion of St. Peter,” “David with the head of Goliath” and “Judith beheading Holofernes,” to which may be added the “Incredulity of Saint Thomas.” Strange to say, I have yet to see any warning given about the subject matter of such depictions, nor, having viewed them, am I aware of suffering any emotional or psychological damage.  

Link to Caravaggio Foundation

Having been privileged to celebrate our Holy Week Liturgies last week it was reassuringly good to see our churches as full as they could be on Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday, though, as usual, there was space for a few more on Holy Thursday. I put this down to the fact that the Gospel of Holy Thursday evening (John 13:1-15) is not a story that we are totally comfortable with. It comes with its own health warning. The evangelists Mark (14:22ff), Matthew (26:26ff) and Luke (22:14ff) all recount the Last Supper at which the Eucharist is instituted by Jesus who, taking the simple gifts of bread and wine, through the power of the Holy Spirit become His very body and blood. John however, using the backdrop of the Passover meal, shifts the emphasis from receiving such a great and mystical gift to revealing, offering and giving gifts to others, taking the very tangible form of service to our sisters and brothers. In John’s telling of the events of that final evening shared by Jesus and the Apostles, even those closest to Him are shocked and stunned by His action of washing their feet and giving them “an example so that you may copy what I have done to you.” (John 13:15) This was not what they were expecting, and as we gather, year on year to celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, it still does not sit any too comfortably with us. The gift of the Eucharist comes with strings attached. That of serving our fellow human beings. It is a big ask, to put others before self and one that can involve the risks of humiliation and rejection as what is offered is not graciously welcomed or accepted and where graspingly snatched, the gesture may be misunderstood.    

St. John purposefully removed Thomas from the initial encounter of Jesus with the Apostles, allowing him to include the only beatitude in his Gospel “Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.” (John 20:29) Elsewhere we hear the more familiar attitudes of being associated with the living out in our own lives of the blueprint left by Jesus including mercy, peace and justice. John makes the presumption that the followers of Christ are already living the more familiar Beatitudes of St. Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. As such John fundamentally shifts the goalposts of expectation of Christian living to include the aspiration, coupled with a subtle new hope, that how the followers of Christ live will influence others to a point where they question the motivation of the Christian and by so doing express a hunger and thirst for a personal knowledge of the Risen Christ. This is where the uncomfortableness of being a follower of Christ kicks in. Not only are we being asked to say who we are, but also to live what we profess. Our natural apprehension and fear of failure can hold us back. However not only was the Upper Room the place where Thomas was to offer his own version of the Creed, but it was also where the Holy Spirit was poured out on the fearful Apostles. On their reception of this gift, they flung the doors wide and began to proclaim – in a language that all their hearers could understand – the message of the resurrection. Words will not have been enough for this to be effective. Attitude and deed were the co-workers of words spoken, allowing the infant Church to live a life of both integrity and authenticity. As “children of the light,” by virtue of Easter and our own baptism, we are called to continue this work today. If we do we may well be recognisable descendants of those spoken of in this weekend’s first reading: a group of believers “united, heart and soul.” (Acts 4:32)  

In signing off for this week I continue to wish you all the blessings and joys of the Season, may they be yours and the gift we offer to those who share our life-journey. With unity in both prayer and affection. 

As ever, Fr. Nicholas

3rd April 2021 – Happy Easter

Dear Parishioners, 

It is wonderful to be able to wish you all the blessings of the Season which is at the core and heart of our Faith tradition – Easter. May I especially wish you the joy and hope of the Festival, so much needed at this time when we look forward to the ‘opening up’ of society in a number of ways, with the great aspiration that a shape and form of ‘normality’ will grow from these initial baby steps. 

One of the very noticeable new skills developing within society is the ability to read other people’s eyes. Having long been able to flash a look, with the same eyes from which an occasional tear can also escape, I claim no advantage over anyone else in this field of communication, but where I am noticing it most is amongst our very young parishioners, literally babes in arms. Their brand new world is populated by people whose expressive faces are mostly covered, and so – with wonderfully adaptability and dexterity – they have discovered a new vocabulary for communication. Eye contact. Many are already incredibly skilled communicators, despite not being able to utter a word. They can sense the curious hesitant joy of the person peering at them, and they respond with happy beaming faces welcoming another human being into their circle of admirers. Those that we would usually deem to be in need of learning and education have become the teachers and educators of the adult. Our school children are equally talented. Communicating as I do with those on the playground using the traditional method of speech, I now find myself with a budding ability to capture something of what lies within their young hearts and minds as I observe their sparkling, vibrant, life and energy rich glances, looks, and long stares. We should never underestimate the look someone gives to us, or indeed that we offer to others! 

One of the Easter stories that I have a particular fondness for is the garden scene of the meeting between the Risen Christ and Mary Magdalene. Despite looking Mary initially fails to see. Her grief, sorrow, and anger at the events of the first Holy Week remove the sight from her eyes. She is in the garden to tend to and mourn the dead, not to encounter the distracting and talkative living. It is only when she hears the person that she believes to be the gardener call her by name – “Mary” (John 20:16) – that she believes the true message of what she has already seen: an empty tomb and two angels seated where the body of Jesus had been. In an attempt to literally hold on to the resurrected Jesus, Mary is told “Do not cling to me” (John 20:17) (“Noli me Tangere”). It is an image portrayed by many artists, with one of the most famous being Titian’s interpretation, housed in the National Gallery in London. In his portrayal of the scene Mary’s posture is that of a woman of the earth, belonging to the natural world and environment, whilst the upright Christ, together with the nearby tree – representing the redemptive wood of the cross – are directed heavenward, towards eternity. However the arch of posture that the Risen Christ forms over Mary, together with the tenderness and concerning look He offers her, reflect His empathy for and protection of humanity in its totality.

Titian “Noli me tangere” – image from National Gallery Website

This image, painted when Titian (1490 – 1576) was very young (c.1514), was the first of the many treasures of the Gallery to be displayed, as singular display-pieces, during the Second World War, under the title Picture of the Month. Responding to a plea written in the Times in January 1942 which stated “because London’s face is scarred and bruised these days, we need more than ever to see beautiful things,” the Gallery invited people to vote for what they would like to see. From that time one object per month was removed from its hiding place of safety in a Welsh slate mine and transported back to London. It wasn’t uncommon for queues to form in order to see a particular month’s solitary exhibit. There is something telling that the first of these was a depiction of a post-resurrection moment. Easter offers us all an invitation to look into the eyes of Christ, just as Mary did. Her response was to discard the trappings of mourning and tell “the disciples that she had seen the Lord.” (John 20:18) This continues to be the mission of ourselves as the Easter-people. The following words are, for me, a lovely reflection.     

The Eyes of Jesus. 

I imagine the eyes of Jesus 
Were harvest-brown, 
The light of their gazing  
Suffused with the seasons: 

The shadow of winter, 
The mind of spring, 
The blues of summer, 
The amber of harvest. 

A gaze that is perfect sister 
To the kindness that dwells 
In his beautiful hands. 

The eyes of Jesus gaze on us, 
Stirring in the heart’s clay 
The confidence of seasons 
That never lose their way to harvest. 

This gaze knows the signature 
Of our heartbeat, the first glimmer 
From the dawn that dreamed our minds, 

The crevices where thoughts grow 
Long before the longing in the bone 
Sends them towards the mind’s eye, 

The artistry of the emptiness 
That knows to slow the hunger 
Of outside things until they weave 
Into the twilight side of the heart, 

A gaze full of all that is still future 
Looking out for us to glimpse 
The jewelled light in winter stone. 

Quickening the eyes that look at us 
To see through to where words  
Are blind to say what we would love, 

Forever falling softly on our faces, 
His gaze plies the soul with light, 
Laying down a luminous layer 

Beneath our brief an brittle days 
Until the appointed dawn comes 
Assured and harvest deft 

To unravel the last black knot 
And we are back home in the house  
That we have never left. 

(John O’Donohue)                        

On this Easter morning, let us look again at the lives we have been so generously given and let us discard the useless baggage that we carry – old pains, old habits, old ways of seeing and feeling – and let us have the courage to begin again. Life is very short, and we are no sooner here than it is time to depart again, and we should use to the full the time that we still have. We do not realize all the good we can do. A kind, encouraging word or helping hand can bring many a person through a desert or wilderness experience in their lives. We were not put here to make money or to acquire status or reputation. We were sent here to search for the light of Easter in our hearts, and when we find it we are called upon to give it away with the generosity of Christ Himself. 

May the spirit and light of this Easter morning and the special spirit and light of our churches in Cleckheaton and Heckmondwike bless us all, watch over us and protect us on our journey, open us from the darkness into the light of peace and joy and hope and transfiguration. 

In the joy and hope of the Easter message be assured of my personal prayerful and affectionate remembrances of yourselves and those you carry with you in your hearts.

As ever, Fr. Nicholas

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.              

27th February 2021

Dear Parishioners, 

In writing his second encyclical Pope Francis began it with words echoing those of his namesake, the saint of Assisi, who wrote the “Canticle of the Sun” a prayer-filled poem in which God is praised for His work of creation. “Laudato Si” (Praise Be to You), published in 2015, calls on all people to take “swift and unified global action” to preserve and care for the natural environment entrusted to them by Almighty God. Within the letter is the following prayer: “All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe and in the smallest of your creatures. You embrace with your tenderness all that exists. Pour out upon us the power of your love, that we may protect life and beauty. Fill us with peace, that we may live as brothers and sisters, harming no one. O God of the poor, help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth, so precious in your eyes. Bring healing to our lives, that we may protect the world and not prey on it, that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction. Touch the hearts of those who look only for gain at the expense of the poor and the earth. Teach us to discover the worth of each thing, to be filled with awe and contemplation, to recognize that we are profoundly united with every creature as we journey towards your infinite light. We thank you for being with us each day. Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle for justice, love and peace.” When praying these words myself the mention of journeying towards God’s infinite light never fails to conjure a sun set image.    

The ability to watch the sun setting has always been a captivating and mesmerising experience for me, and through the gift of travel I have been fortunate to experience sunsets in many places, including those where the sun disappears in an instant, natural daylight vanishing with the speed of a switch, and still others, where with very long hours of daylight, the loss of one day’s light is actually in another day. Although currently unable to travel there a favourite place to observe this natural moment of wonder and awe is Lytham. On a summer’s evening I am never alone standing and staring at one of God’s gifts to us, numbers gather and for many a phone is held in hand hoping for a shot worthy of display on the TV screen during the regional weather forecast. In the moment of sunset there is an invitation to thank the Almighty for the gift of the day, and ask a blessing on the night. Whilst a day concludes for one group of people, as John Ellerton wrote: “The sun that bids us rest is waking our brethren ‘neath the western sky !” The setting sun produces a reflective moment to appreciate something of the extraordinary imagery created from the diversity of colour on God’s palette used to produce the backdrop to our lives. In the busyness of the day His creative festivals of sky colouring are often wasted on us. For me watching the sun set is often the near perfect end to time away, after which begins the journey back to God’s own county, with passport at the ready for the border crossing from the red rose to the white rose county ! Without the ability to travel far the gift of an hour to exercise outdoors was taken up by numerous singletons, couples and families in the early days of Lockdown, all coming to appreciate, as some had done for a long time, what a beautiful part of the world we live in, and which is so readily accessible from our own doorsteps. 

However proud I may be of my county of birth, with its incredible natural beauty, glorious in all seasons of the year, and breathtaking in all weathers, like many I have noted of late that there is a growing boldness in the careless manner in which our natural environment is being treated. Travelling between the Spen Valley and Otley throughout the period of time which I have personally dubbed the “Big Lockdown” on roads which were bereft of their usual volume of users there was almost a novelty feature about following another car driver for any distance. On one occasion mine was the second car in a convoy of two as far as the eye could see on the M606 between Bradford and the Chain Bar roundabout. At some point on the journey I began to hear a dull thud sound against the car similar to what, had it been raining, I would have thought were heavy raindrops or even hailstones. However, without a cloud in the sky, the noise was clearly not being made by droplets from heaven. Instead, as one hit the windscreen, I was immediately able to identify the cause of the thuds: French Fries ! The offending objects were being fired from the backseat of the car in front of me, and as we moved on to the slip road, they became more numerous as their container was also ejected from the rear window. Viewing the scene through a grease spattered windscreen, I was unimpressed, and flashed my lights as a statement that such behaviour was not acceptable. The driver managed to slip through the changing traffic lights, no doubt thinking that he’d seen the last of me. Fate however brought us together again at a set of temporary lights, and as we passed the Town Hall in Cleckheaton, a canister of ice-cream was also released from the window, spilling its contents liberally, on impact, across the neighbouring pavement. At this point my own engine had converted from its normal unleaded petrol status to the fuel of frustration, bordering on anger. At a red traffic signal in the centre of Cleckheaton our cars were next to each other; the offending car making a right turn and I was going straight on. To my horror as I biblically ‘stared hard’ at the occupants of the car I was faced with three generations of litter-louts, to whom I mouthed the words “I’ve got your number!” Which was most definitely both a very random thing to say and a white lie as I hadn’t got a clue what their vehicle registration was, however, in the moment, my unleashed words let them know that their wonton wasteful attitude was wholly unacceptable. 

Sadly as I walk along many of our streets, venture past public green spaces, peer over the wall of the Cleckheaton Presbytery into a carpark behind the property, and, perhaps worst of all, drive along major and minor roads, I learn the frightening and harsh lesson that the occupants of that car are far from being alone in their desecration of our beautiful environment. Walking past a set of temporary lights last Sunday there next to the sign asking drivers to halt was a plastic container holding the remnants of a supper of Peking Duck, attracting a variety of swooping birdlife, which would have excited Chris Packham, clearly unabashed that they were dining el fresco on one of their own. With the amount of food waste being disposed of in this way I could not help but think that in a short few weeks as the temperature rises we’ll be sharing our streets with vermin far more bold and aggressive than most birds, with the exception of coastal chip-loving seagulls. Most of us shiver when those in the know inform us that we are never more than a few meters away from a rodent. It is information that we can cope with when we cannot see them, but when they venture forth to do their own daylight supermarket sweep on our pavements and around open and shared spaces, brushing up against their two-legged neighbours, our sensitivities for dealing with this reality may need a booster dose ! 

With very obvious growing amounts of waste in our localities the pandemic gives us justifiable reason for not getting involved with the great British tidy up, due to the offending item’s lack of obvious pedigree. So the mountain of waste is left to do its own thing. The only problem is that it takes a long time for polystyrene to disintegrate, food waste to decay, even the eco-friendly face covering hasn’t yet mastered the skill of self destruction or evaporation on removal. In a world where twelve months ago most non-professionals had rarely heard the term P.P.E., it is now widely possible to safely remove offending items from our locality, as many of us don our own personal protection equipment almost by second nature. A small number of people, including our neighbours on Bath Road, are frequently seen with a grabber-tool and bin bag attempting to tackle the wasteful habits of others. To these I say “Thank you” for your often unseen and all too often unappreciated ministry within our shared environment. It is also something that I do, looking after the spaces that I am the custodian of, following the slogan of my youth: Keep Britain tidy.        

After a Friday wedding in Dewsbury some years ago I donned the persona of a male Eleanor Rigby (The Beatles’ character, for those who do not recognise the name) and swept confetti (not rice, as in the song) from the pavement outside of church. The volume of afternoon traffic on a one way road attempting to join the main dual carriage way meant that my task was not the easiest as the light weight confetti found a new energizing force in the breeze caused by the moving cars. With the task complete and personal satisfaction at a job well done, I walked up the hill with the tools of the trade – brush, dustpan and bin liner – to the church door. At this juncture an open-topped car joined the queue of traffic. Whilst a backseat passenger was snacking on a banana the rest of us had to endure a musical concert of deafening proportions. Just prior to closing the door, I took a final look at a well-swept, neat and once more litter free path only to see a discarded banana skin on the otherwise pristine tarmac ! The music was still blaring out of the slow moving car but the passenger in its rear clearly sat banana-less. Remaining on the steps, with the spirit of a leopard watching its prey from a distance, I hatched a plan. As the offending car moved towards the junction, a point of no return given the queue of cars behind him, I ventured down Cemetery Road with stealth, picked up the banana skin (germs or no germs, I was a man on a mission !), and on the point of the driver beginning to accelerate I politely said to the back seat passenger “I think you’ve dropped something !” at the same instant tossing the offending banana skin into his lap. Right or wrong, foolhardy or justified, I did feel an sense of inward satisfaction which was bolstered when several car drivers honked their horns … which I took to mean they agreed with my action !    

Whilst not encouraging anyone to follow my bold and brash action of that Friday afternoon, perhaps an appreciation for the beauty of the environment around us is a starting point for acknowledging the incredible natural playground that God has gifted us with for enjoyment, pleasure, leisure and health, be that mental or physical. At the end of His labouring to create for humankind an environment that would sustain and provide for them, our Thrice Holy One, “saw all that He had made, and it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31) The seemingly small acts of taking rubbish home, or placing it in a bin, being prepared to sweep a shared space, or, as a part of home-schooling, encourage a rising generation to befriend nature and grow in an understanding of the need to look after the environment, may go some way to practically responding to some of the sentiments expressed in Pope Francis’s prayer. The subtitle of “Laudato Si” is quite telling and revealing of the Holy Father’s intention by contributing to the discussion on their environment. It is simply “on care for our common home.” In other words he is offering guidance on the care, respect, dignity and appreciation that our beautiful, divinely crafted and awe inspiring world seeks and needs. Reminding us by so doing that it isn’t someone else’s world … it is ours ! Not as its owners but rather its stewards and custodians, preparing to hand it on to others.  

Holding you in prayerful remembrance and affection. 

As ever, Fr. Nicholas  

(In response to the number of enquiries that I continue to receive about Dad, just to say that he moved from the Leeds General Infirmary to Chapel Allerton Hospital (Leeds) at the end of January. In his new surroundings he is receiving a number of therapies – speech, occupational and physio – each day and is making progress. The care he receives continues to be excellent, and the staff on the ward are a joy to speak with on a daily basis. On his behalf, I thank all those who recall him in their prayers and thoughts. At this time a continued remembrance in prayer for all the sick, those known to us or even the stranger, together with those into whose care we entrust their physical, emotional and spiritual well-being is a source of comfort and support to so many.) 

20th February 2021

Dear Parishioners, 

There are some days when I awake firmly believing that I have been gifted with someone else’s fingers during the night as nothing I attempt to pick up wants to stay in my hands from the pesky five pence piece which readily slips from hand to desktop to floor, to the second or third attempt at picking up the post from behind the door, or even the inability to turn just one page of the local newspaper over at a time. Thankfully such momentary awkwardness does not usually cause much harm, merely just frustration with the ineptness of myself. On occasion though something more significant can take place, perhaps when something hits a hard surface with an amount of force that causes lasting damage, at best an almost unnoticed chip or blemish, at worst severe, lasting and very obvious scarring, rendering it incapable of fulfilling its previous use, forever bearing the mark of unintentional and accidental clumsiness. So often sadness pervades such moments as they take place during times when we have been in the process of enhancing the item through the art and craft of washing or dusting. At which point we can almost hanker after the environment in which Dicken’s character Miss Havisham lived, an image which may have prompted Quentin Crisp’s witticism: “There is no need to do any housework at all. After the first four years the dirt doesn’t get any worse.” Alas, I personally couldn’t survive the prospect of the accumulation of a month’s dust let alone four years.  

Our response to such times of breakages and near or total destruction are mixed and varied. In some instances we attempt to pick up the pieces and begin our own “Repair Shop” system of restoration. Discovering in the process that we have set ourselves a difficult task, often frustrating, needing more skills than we have personally been gifted with not least an inexhaustible well of patience. And, yes, sometimes disposing of the item, in what may appear to be a thousand guilt-inspiring pieces in the dustbin is ultimately the only option, some even glad of the accident that had befallen the casualty as they were never that enamoured with it in the first place, having received a gift in someone else’s taste, or even purchased the object on a personal whim. 

Centuries ago the Japanese devised a method of repairing broken pottery known as either Kintsukuroi (“golden repair”) or Kintsugi (“golden joinery”) which rapidly became an art form involving the use of powdered gold, silver or platinum being mixed with a lacquer to mend the areas of damage. From this a philosophy grew, acknowledging the fact that breakage, damage and repair are as much a part of the history of an object as its original intention, usage and times of appreciation and enjoyment. Far from being detrimental to the former near-perfect, undamaged item, flaws and imperfections became understood as tangible signs of its use and journeying. Displaying pottery – complete with their “golden repair” – offered a reminder that the items’ service had not reached an end when it could no longer be used for its original, intended purpose. In its own right, what might be seen by some merely as a repaired object, had its own story to tell those whose eyes fell on it and were prepared to enquire and listen.    

With this mindset, what began in the workshop of skilled craftspeople with imagination as a means of repairing physical damage to something that held great sentimental and emotional attachment soon took on a spiritual dimension, so much so that the owners of ceramic vessels even damaged them purposefully in order to have them repaired, the foisted marks being accentuated by the predominantly gold lacquer adhesive. Despite being a step away from the original intention, and with no pedigree or lineage, these object d’art soon became highly fashionable, not to mention expensive.  

Lent offers us the two-fold opportunity of identifying the flaws, damage and imperfections within ourselves and subsequently to begin working on a spiritual process of repair that will reduce their size and ultimate impact on our lives, the relationships that we enjoy with others and ultimately, Almighty God. We are often skilled practitioners in recognizing the chips and defects of those who populate our lives, but less good at seeing faults that lie closer to home. If unsure of what your limitations might be ask a friend … just ensure that it is someone that you are wanting to remove from your Christmas card list, as you will probably not like or welcome the honesty of their response especially if they produce a list ! The words of Jesus regarding the “speck” in the eye of another and the “plank” in our own come to mind. Perfection is something that we have been led to believe is within the grasp of all of us, and with others actually seeming to arrive and take ownership of their newly acquired status, thanks to skilled advertising a primeval hunger and thirst at the core of humanity is well and truly fed. Those who wilfully damaged their pots in order for them to have the hallmarks of an artificial journey and life of service reflect the desire that was an acknowledged facet of our first parents in Garden of Eden, whose craving and desire was to “be like gods” (Genesis 3:5). This led them to taste “of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden” (Genesis 3:3). Sadly, for them, it resulted in banishment, and the leaving gift of a set of clothes each and a lifetime of hard work.   

Listening to St. Mark’s account of the temptation of Jesus this weekend we can be stunned by its brevity: “The Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness and He remained there for forty days, and was tempted by Satan. He was with the wild beasts, and the angels looked after him.” (Mark 1:12 – 13) It recalls the experience of Jesus entering His own time of spiritual repair. He moves into the province of the wild beasts with His own human flaws, limitations, and defects, there within Him not due to any Divine clumsiness or oversight but by the intent and purpose of the yearning desire of our God to express Their love for us by sending “One like us in all things” (Hebrews 4:15) in the Word made flesh. It is the flesh of the human wrapping paper in which this ultimate gift arrives that Jesus takes into a place of temptation.  

he work of the Holy Spirit who led Jesus into the wilderness and of the angels who ministered to Him is to strengthen Him for the road ahead. In that desolate workshop they used their skills, similar to those of the Japanese craftspeople when mending pottery or ceramic. Their Kintsugi (“golden joinery”) will highlight the humanity of Jesus – very much evidenced by St. Mark – allowing Him to be “moved with compassion” (Mark 1:41) for the plight of his fellow human beings so much so that He will reach out to them and perform His own art and craft of repair in their broken lives. As the stories of many of these are recorded by the evangelists so the entire story of the individual is reported. Their previously fractured, broken, seemingly disadvantaged state of being is as much a part of who they are as the restored, joined together, mended, renewed and repaired selves. 

The temptation manifested in a refusal, denial, fake modesty approach to the fact that we’ve hit a hard surface at some point on our life journey that has caused a microscopic chip or long-lasting, although all too often well hidden, impression upon us will render the Holy Spirit redundant and there will be a lot of usually busy and ministering angels twiddling their thumbs (or perhaps catching up on some long overdue harp playing !). With honesty and integrity may we each face Lent 2021 well and through it, as well as from it, grow closer to Almighty God and one another, as well as valuing the knocks and bumps of life’s journey that have, once worked upon by the Divine Craftspeople, enhanced through Their own form of “golden repair”, the person that each of us is and cherished for being.      

Be assured of my continuing remembrance of you and your loved ones in both prayer and affection. 

As ever, Fr. Nicholas

13th February 2021

Dear Parishioners, 

Without wishing to sound clichéd I begin my thoughts this week by asking the question: How long does it take a man to tidy a pantry?  The answer in my case has been four weeks. Well to be more precise four Mondays! Before minds begin to think that the pantry in question must be attached to Castle Howard or Buckingham Palace it certainly isn’t. It is under the stairs of our two-bedroomed home in Otley. The origin of tidying the smallest room in the house began as a relatively random thought oozing with good intention. Having, on the first Monday, begun to put the idea into action, by simply removing a row of condiment jars from an upper shelf, something behind the containers dislodged itself. It was the box containing the inner workings of the house alarm. The external and internal sirens rang out bringing an ever vigilant neighbour at the speed of an Olympic athlete to the door to see what had caused the commotion. Guilty as charged from the look I received, and attempting to have a socially distanced penitential conversation over and above a noise that appeared to be hailing an imminent nuclear attack, profusely apologising for bringing such uproar to suburbia, I did what I felt was appropriate, and reached for the nearest useful tool that I could lay my hands on in a vague attempt to take charge of the chaos of the moment. In this instance the tool was a pair of scissors. Armed and on a mission I cut the first wire. The racket continued. A second wire was likewise guillotined, and still the uproar went on. Never having used a code, our neighbour’s plea that I should try to remember four little digits before I continued the butchery of wires wasn’t really an option, so with a third slash, silence was eventually restored to the neighbourhood, although for several hours the piercing screech of the alarm rang in my ears. It was the eerie spectre of what felt like Original Sin. Unable to comprehend what I had done and feeling about four years of age as I tried to grasp the enormity of having to explain the scenario to Dad, I decided to postpone any further exploration of the pantry, at least for the time being. My attention for the remainder of the day was concentrated on the garden where, having new founded prowess with a sharp implement I tackled a couple of jobs Dad had mentioned to me that he’d intended doing after Christmas. My attempt at gaining some brownie points involved pruning Hydrangeas and Pampas Grass, the latter of which I discovered can bite back with its sharp stems. 

It goes without saying that I am not the most practical of people but as I have heard many times over, usually from Dad, I inevitably know a little man who can help me. So on the second Monday given over to tidying the pantry, the small space was occupied by the near sainted, Stuart, who had been dispatched from Harford’s in Dewsbury (other alarm companies are available!) to assist this cleric in distress. With doors and windows open, Stuart worked indoors whilst I found more gardening jobs to do. Having workmen in the home during Lockdown isn’t an easy feat to juggle. Needing to go to his van for some parts, afforded me the opportunity of being hospitable offering Stuart refreshment which he eagerly accepted. I then had to ask him to remain outside until, as I played the role of the masked coffee-maker, we could swop locations, allowing me to once more return to the great outdoors. Occupied for some hours, Stuart eventually said that his task was complete. In our parting conversation he consoled me with the fact that as the alarm box was indeed held in place by the containers that I had inadvertently moved vibrations from traffic on the nearby road could have dislodged the precarious scenario at any time, going on to say that what had happened the previous week was better than getting a phone call from not too pleased neighbours at two in the morning, who would then have to endure further nocturnal disturbance until I arrived bleary eyed from Cleckheaton. After about a quarter of a century in service, Stuart also said the alarm was somewhat out of date. A comment made thankfully out of earshot of some fixtures which are approaching the completion of their sixth decade in the service of the Hird family. The consoling words and ultimate feel-good factor that was a part of the service received were clearly included in the subsequent bill that fell through the letter box, devoid as it was of mates-rates! 

A fortnight later than intended work in earnest began on the pantry. The work of the previous Monday meant that as well as the new alarm system, I would also have to explain the disappearance of a shelf to provide wall-accommodation for the box containing its internal workings in a future conversation with Dad. The condiment shelf was now gone, space reduced and that which was familiar and frequently used had to be found a new home. The lot of a tidier with good intention is not always a happy one ! In trying to find an explanation for the length of man-hours it took me to tidy the pantry all I can offer, through discovery, are its Tardis-like proportions. Tins and packets were stored deep and high, every space, nook and available inch on shelf and floor were filled, so much so that I began to wonder if my parents in earlier times had used some kind of adapted fishing net to reach items stored at its rear. Then I recalled as a small child having to step – with care – over numerous things on the pantry floor in order to retrieve an item stored deep within it. Back in the present, not unsurprisingly, knowing Dad’s good household management, when removing jars, bottles, tins and packets, I discovered just one item that was out of date, and it was respectably so, stamped with the date November 2016. Other items were lined up for washing and replacing, with perhaps just a little sorting out going on in and amongst too.  

My Mother was a gatherer, at times over and above any scale of known measurement! Not everything that she acquired was used, but at the time of purchase or other means used to obtain things (all legal I hasten to add!), something within her convinced her that there was no living without the item. It was a trait that she shared with Queen Mary, the present queen’s grandmother, who when visiting friends would often comment on an item of china displayed in their home. More than one reference to the item meant that she had her eye on it, and if she made a move to inspect it at closer quarters, perhaps even removing gloves to handle it, then the implied expectation was that the hostess or host would insist that she took it home with her! The presence of so many baking bowls, measuring jugs, and other culinary related items being lined up for a bath in the kitchen sink would have done the likes of Rosemary Shager proud. For the life of me I could never recall when the glass jelly moulds I was liberally dipping into hot water enhanced by soapy suds had ever held their intended contents, nor when juice had been extracted from any form of fruit using the plastic or glass squeezers I was drying with vigour. Regrettably Queen Mary is no longer with us, otherwise I may have been tempted to invite her to Otley for tea, displaying our vast array of pantry-housed accessories, hoping that one or more may take her eye! Although I doubt that the host of mainly English pottery-makers’ marks on the base of many of them would have carried the same clout in her eyes as Dresden, Royal Copenhagen or even Wedgewood! 

Virtually every item brought out of the pantry held a memory; from the selection of plates and saucers retrieved from successive sets of tableware we had used over the years, to the basin in which the Yorkshire Pudding was prepared as Mum’s first job on a Sunday morning, the Pyrex-ware that held vegetables on high days and festive times, the mixing bowl used on a weekly basis for the making of cakes and buns and from which, prior to its washing, I would almost beg a taste of the unbaked mixture in my pre-school days, the iconic and trusted enamel gravy jug which made an appearance in the kitchen every Sunday lunchtime, to the floral and Bumble Bee bedecked food cover that Mum had somehow managed to obtain, Queen Mary style, from the cream tea stall at a Summer Fayre in Dewsbury. Not one item seemed random, all had a history, each had a part to play in our family life, collectively and individually they were more than they seemed on opening the door and seeing them stacked together. There were also near relics of other regular visitors to our home in times past, such as the Rington’s Tea distributor and the selling abilities of the Betterware Rep, typified in the presence of a pyramid shaped humanitarian insect catcher dangling at the end of a short pole. Another must have item, which had clearly remained unused.  

A fourth Monday given over to “Operation Pantry” saw shelves being wiped down, a floor washed and the replacing of what had been disturbed. There was a lesson for the learning, as I soon discovered the interior of the Tardis appeared to have shrunk, as I replaced crockery and utensils in places from which I thought I’d removed them. Clearly a plot was afoot and they had either multiplied in protest at my handling of them or had enlarged when coming into contact with hot water. Either way a little culling took place, and those for which I really could not see future use (whilst others, i.e. Dad, may well have done) were discreetly placed into a waiting large and strong bin-liner. Eventually the task was complete, and rather like God at the end of some of the days of creation, the stories of which from Genesis formed our daily Mass readings at the beginning of the week, I “saw that it was good.” However any further similarity with the creative work of the Almighty ended there as unlike the Trinity the rest that They were able to enjoy on the seventh day failed to arrive for yours truly. Instead, my wandering eyes began to look around for further tasks needing my fettling skills. 

On closing the pantry door I didn’t notice the “cherubim and flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life” (Genesis 3:24) that were posted by God on humanity’s departure from the Garden of Eden, but I couldn’t help thinking how extraordinary the ordinary can be. The odd plates with their “Indian Tree” or “Willow Pattern” design that provided the tableware used at our household table rituals were not dissimilar to the precious metal church plate housed and displayed in Minsters and Cathedrals such as York or Durham. The placing of them on our trusted yellow Formica kitchen table at a given time, the saying of Grace before tucking into the delights of a menu that had a familiar weekly appearance to it, and of the use of serving dishes, napkins and decorations, marking special times, reflected a kinship to the kitchen of Martha at Bethany or the Upper Room in Jerusalem. Table fellowship is at the heart of our Christian tradition: the sanctifying of the ordinary and the gifting, in return, to the Faithful of the ultimate Extraordinary. Around tables stories were told that gave material for the authors of Sacred Scripture to use, instances and names forgotten by one but remembered by another. Across an array of dishes and foil packaging tales continue to be shared of work, rest and play. Conversations that become the very stuff of shared family memory, perhaps also forgotten until vaguely recalled at the time when a significant component of the unit is taken away leaving the remnant to give increased worth and value to that which was previously every day, mundane and routine, as the words of the poem, The Old House poignantly convey: “Lonely I wander through scenes of my childhood, They bring back to memory the happy days of yore, Gone are the old folk, the house stands deserted, No light in the window, no welcome at the door.” 

None of us has to walk into the likes of St. Peter’s in Rome or even either of our own churches to sense the awe and wonder of what it is to stand on hallowed ground or to feel the sanctity of a space. The holy and sacred can be much closer than we think and found where we least expect them. Faith adds a further dimension to our surroundings as we acknowledge a Creator God who gave us a role, as steward or custodian, preparing, in our turn, to hand on to others something that – it would be good to think – is in better shape than when it was entrusted to us or at least has been well tended and cared for during our watch.  

Wherever you can identify spaces, places and most importantly people sacred to you, cherish the encounter. Sometimes there can be no going back to them, but we have the God-given capacity to carry them with us and not discard or leave them behind forever. Life’s journey presents us with many doors to open. The greatest is that of the heart of another human being. It is the Holy of Holies, the place where we are most likely to encounter something of the face of our Creator God in another human being. May our exploration of this sacred space be with an awareness that we are indeed treading on holy ground, and may the door to it always be ajar for us to enter freely…  and discover its hidden mysteries.   

United on a daily basis in thought, prayer and affection. 

As ever, Fr. Nicholas 

P.S. I hope that for all entering their pantries this weekend it will not take four days for you to emerge from them!

5th February 2021

Dear Parishioners,  

On Tuesday we celebrated the beautiful Feast of the Presentation or Candlemas as it is sometimes referred to, a name derived from the fact that traditionally candles for use in our churches throughout the coming year are blessed on this day, and having being hallowed the Liturgy also allows for a procession of the Faithful to take place carrying their candles. Not surprisingly this year there was no procession and no blessing of candles, at least in the public gaze. Whilst sat on the sanctuary during Mass a small object caught my eye on the carpet – a pine needle – a gentle reminder that the Season of Christmas was drawing to an end. Proving the point that despite a weekly run round with the vacuum cleaner there is always something that eludes the suction nozzle. I found it hard to suppress a smile, and thought it worthy of sharing the reason behind the smile with parishioners as Mass came to an end by mentioning the pine needle to them. At Otley on Monday I took the Star of Hope from the front window, its loss mentioned by a neighbour enquiring about Dad’s well-being, who went on to say that he and his wife had thought I’d forgotten to take it down when the Christmas tree and other obvious decorations disappeared from sight. It was an opportunity to say that Christmastide still had another twenty-four hours to run!  

Christmas was a word that I heard spoken or saw written a lot more in November and December of 2020 than I had for a number of years. I recall just a few years ago speaking to a representative of a Local Authority on the telephone who kept referring to the forthcoming mid-winter holidays, a bland phrase being used alongside others at the time, so as not to offend those who do not celebrate Christmas. Rather weary of hearing the expression during our conversation, I did invite the individual to feel free to use the word Christmas into his handset, in part because the phrase was far from tripping lightly off his tongue. However, I was told that he could not utter the “C” word as his Line-Manager, on a neighbouring desk, may have overheard him. I did rather wonder what was happening to the world that I had once been familiar with ! 

In 2020 the word Christmas was back on, seemingly, everyone’s lips. Not altogether positively nor particularly out of a spiritual connection to the events in Bethlehem two millennia ago as most were lamenting the restrictions being placed on the number of guests able to gather around their festive tables. But it was certainly good to hear a descriptive word giving the true reason for our mid-winter holiday being spoken openly and with ease. “Imagine,” as I can still hear my Irish colleague say to his congregation, “if all you had to celebrate at Christmas was the birth of Christ !” 

This week the Christian, or should that be Faith, tradition that has so shaped and formed our nation over the centuries was once more headline news. As at least two of our national newspapers carried on their front pages a plea for prayer. The intention of our pleading to Almighty God was for the well-being of the national legend and centenarian, Captain Sir Tom Moore who was battling Covid-19. I’m sure that the switchboard in heaven must have been jammed with callers asking that the Lord spare Captain Tom for just a little bit longer. However, the Lord had other plans, and, thankfully in the presence of his beloved family and, as subsequent printed pages have told us, amid laughter and tears, this wonderful old soldier answered the Divine call and followed the beat of the drum into his eternal reward. 

For ninety-nine years Captain Tom’s life unfolded around and before him, and for the majority of us, as we to him, there was no connection, no recognition, no familiarity. He lived his life, we lived ours. Then suddenly he was catapulted into our lives by a short news article about a man raising additional funds for the NHS by walking lengths of his garden in Marston Mortaine in Bedfordshire about which there was nothing outstanding except that the man was almost a hundred. A length for each year of his life sponsored by those who knew him was his intention, with the hope that a £1,000 could be raised. Suddenly this stooping figure with his walking frame and a sparkle in his eyes had captured a place in the nation’s heart, and the world. The desired £1,000 ultimately topped thirty-two million, which will no doubt be added to by those wishing to pay him a posthumous tribute. Almost straight-away we all connected with him, not least those of us who recognized a Yorkshire twang when he spoke, he was instantly recognizable, so much so that artists created numerous likenesses of him using very different materials, and his name quickly became familiar in all of our homes to such a degree that as we clapped for him on Wednesday evening I’m sure many felt as though they had lost one of their own. As indeed we had. For a brief span of time, measured in months, our lives had been enriched by images of Captain Tom’s life brought into the familiar surrounds of our own homes through the media. And now someone who had become a welcome beacon of stabilizing hope has been removed from our midst.  

The fundamental of Captain Sir Tom Moore’s entry into our lives was something that in the halcyon days of what we now call normal times would have been dismissed by the majority of those who saw him as simply an old man doing some exercise to keep himself going. With some even daring to suggest that it would have been easier for him to write a cheque for a thousand pounds than to get out of the comfort of an armchair to walk up and down his garden. There will have been days when he probably thought the same, yet he kept going on, day in and day out. And it was this, simply putting one foot in front of another that intrigued us and touched something at the core of a shared humanity. We were a people who had become disjointed, fractured, and were afraid of a new threat, a pandemic that brought our established way of life to a shuddering halt. Each of his steps, slow and determined, symbolised the nation’s move from one day of Lockdown into the next. In an unassuming, quiet, dogged and modest manner he gave us an extraordinary example.    

As has been said of him many times over he was a man of a disappearing generation shaped and crafted by routine and discipline which fed a quiet determination to keep on going for as long as he could, physically, mentally and emotionally. As part of what is often called the Forgotten Army of the Second World War, fighting far away from home in a very different climate to the one familiar to him, he did battle with tropical diseases as well as a heavily armed, motivated and determined enemy, who from the outset seemed to be heading for victory. Captain Tom and his comrades knew what an up-hill slog was, daily losses amongst the ranks of the familiar faces, defeat and retreat. Yet eventually that which seemed unconquerable was finally beaten and halted in its tracks. A high price was paid by the likes of Captain Tom, but a remnant had survived and he amongst them was able to taste victory and success. 

Privately, not as a young man had Captain Tom entered into a second marriage with Pamela, gifting him with his daughters, Lucy and Hannah, vowing to love and to cherish in sickness and in health. Health brought him shared happy times beneath the blue skies of the Costa del Sol, whilst sickness saw him making a daily pilgrimage to his beloved wife’s care home. Each and every day he visited. No money was being raised by this daily commitment. Instead it was a tangible expression of a love pledged in different times, observed by family, friends, the community of which his wife was a part, and the random stranger who could have set their watch by the time of his arrival at the home’s door each day. These are two small insights acknowledging that there was a lot more to Captain Tom’s long life than what will be recalled by many. A reminder that today’s older folks were all youngsters just a short while ago !   

St. Paul writing to the infant Christian community in Rome spoke about the “life of each of us having its influence on others.” It is something worth recalling on a daily basis, offering us all, as it does, a gentle reminder that we are connected to one another through our capacity to make a positive difference to the life of someone known, or even unknown, to us. Whilst remembrance is a tremendous gift, its real worth is when we allow it to provide us with a currency that we can spend on our own life journey, acceptable in the lives of others and with the ability to enhance a shared pathway. Whilst we speak of Captain Tom and others, such as the Queen, as being part of a disappearing grouping of people, formed and crafted by a time long past, there is a need to focus on the present, and what our generation of which current day centenarians and the newest of arrivals amongst our global human family are all an integral part can continue to offer to one another, and leave as a worthy legacy to those who will come after us. 

What we recognize as great qualities in others are potentially within ourselves too seeking an environment and constituents allowing them to be brought to birth and drawn out so that they too can bear light in their own time and place. Despite his great age, Captain Tom continued to look beyond himself or even his own lifespan, investing in charitable activities that would assist the bereaved and lonely in the present, seek to educate and encourage greater equality amongst a rising generation for the betterment of an unknown future, and beyond our shorelines to offer those with far less on their table, economically speaking and in so many other ways, a share in what we have, not least in the field of medicine and basic healthcare. 

In a week when we have drawn a veil over the final vestige of Christmas, and a bright light reflecting some of the finest elements of our humanity has been dimmed I am reminded that as long as Christianity has been on our shores its fundamental hope in the face of adversity has been tangible. An ancient prayer from the Celtic communities of Faith reflects this:  

“Bless me with Thy presence when I shall make an end of living. 

Help me in the darkness to find the ford.   

And in my going comfort me with Thy promise that 

Where Thou art, there shall Thy servant be.” 

So, here’s to Captain Sir Tom Moore, hopefully walking alongside the Lord, and as a legacy to us all, a reminder of his own lasting belief and hope that “Tomorrow will be a good day!”  

Be assured of my continuing remembrance of you and your loved ones in both prayer and affection. 

As ever, Fr. Nicholas