8th January 2022

Dear Parishioners,

A few weeks ago, a friend came to a Mass I was celebrating for his wife’s cousin who had recently died. It was great to see him as we’d not met for a long number of months. Just before leaving church after a lengthy conversation, he commented that despite continuing to work throughout Lockdown and beyond, he had ceased attending Mass on a weekly basis at the beginning of the pandemic, and had now grown used to a Sunday lie-in. His honesty was admirable. His further comment was hope-filled; that he intended to rectify this by a New Year resolution. I hope that he fulfils this, as both he and his church-family will be the poorer for his absence.   

It is noticeable that a good number of previously familiar faces have not reappeared in our two churches since we closed our doors in March 2020. I suspect that rather like my friend they have by now resumed some form of social engagement, whether that is at the hair-dressers, meeting for a coffee with friends, or indeed resuming sports or working routines. Yet they remain absent from church. Prior to Christmas encouragement was given to hesitant parishioners to attend any Mass during the final week of Advent and/or subsequently the Octave of Christmas to make that ‘their’ Mass in celebration of Christ’s birth. The response was tiny, so much so that on the Thursday before Christmas one Mass had a congregation of just one parishioner, and even on the Feast of the Epiphany we had just 18 at one of our Masses. Ever the optimist, I could see that the one person at Mass was a 100% increase on the long weeks when I was celebrating Holy Mass alone. However I personally may delight in the presence of anyone at Mass, in reality the Christmas take-up has been poor, and as a result our collective life as worshiping communities, and for those not (yet) amongst us, there is a poverty and deprivation. So, I encourage all to reach out to those they know, meet, or see who have not yet re-joined us and encourage them in some way to come along to Mass. The richness that we are privy to in the gift of the Eucharist is beyond our imaginings … yet so often we take it for granted, expecting it to be always available to and for us. The absence of ‘real’ Eucharistic participation in the Lockdown periods ought really to have made the heart grown more needy for this gift rather than culture a distance from it.

If, like my friend, you’ve grown accustomed to a lie-in on a Sunday morning, remember that there are also two Vigil Masses you could attend and still benefit from the extra hour of beauty sleep !

Be assured of remembrance at the altar, in thought and affection.

As ever, Fr. Nicholas

18th December 2021

Dear Parishioners,

It is good to be able to greet you as we enter the final week of Advent, sending the Newsletter for the coming week together with the Readings for Holy Mass this weekend, including the beautiful and poignant story of the Visitation of Our Blessed Lady to her cousin Elizabeth.

With our news stories dominated by the new Covid-19 variant and its incredible rate of transmission many will be understandably fearful and anxious about attending Holy Mass at Christmas. As I have suggested and encouraged since we opened our churches, attending Holy Mass on another day is an option. We celebrate an Octave of Christmas (meaning that the celebration of Christ’s birth is recalled in our Liturgical celebrations throughout eight days beginning on Christmas Day itself) so please do think of coming to Mass during this time. Our weekday Masses offer everyone the opportunity to social distance, should they wish to do so, and everything possible continues to be done to keep our churches safe. 

As always, I assure you (and your loved ones) of remembrance in prayer, thought and affection.

As ever, Fr. Nicholas   

27th November 2021

Dear Parishioners,

With the beginning of the Season of Advent this weekend it isn’t out of place to wish you a very happy new year, liturgically speaking, as our cycle of readings and prayers for use at Mass starts on the First Sunday of Advent each year. May it be a good year for us all, and from the Faith that we hold in common may there be benefits and blessing in abundance for ourselves and those we carry with us in our hearts and thoughts.

I continue to invite the hesitant and anxious to join us for one of our weekday Masses not least in a Season of preparation for the coming of Christ and in the recollection of His birth in the vulnerable setting of the stable at Bethlehem. Asked about numbers at our weekday Masses by several parishioners who have yet to return I can say that the busiest is the Wednesday morning at Cleckheaton, with – on occasion – as many as 25 – 30 parishioners, and the quietest is the Thursday afternoon Mass at Heckmondwike, which is often a class Mass for the children, but this week (apart from the children, who all sit at the front of church) there were just four parishioners. All of our weekday Masses allow for social distancing. I can also reassure parishioners at we continue to do everything we can to ensure a very high standard of cleanliness within our churches, thanks to volunteer cleaners, and sanitiser stations. Hopefully this encouragement and reassurance will move some to return to their spiritual home during Advent.

Be assured of remembrance in prayer, thought and affection.

As ever, Fr. Nicholas

 

19th November 2021

Dear Parishioners,

It is good to be able to send you the Newsletter and Readings for Holy Mass this weekend, together with a relatively ‘hot off the press’ statement from the Bishop’s Conference of England and Wales regarding the status of the Sunday Obligation to attend Mass. The statement is considered and clearly reflects an awareness of the level of anxiety that a number of people feel about coming together once more for a communal act of worship.

Personally, and it is only a private reflection, I am pleased to see anyone returning to participation in Holy Mass, even if they are not yet ready to join us on a Saturday evening or Sunday morning, but choose to make a weekday Mass their weekly commitment to being fed by the Lord in both the Scriptures and Eucharist. When our churches were limited for capacity, at both Christmas and Easter, we were encouraged to attend Mass on any one of the days of the Octaves of those feasts, and celebrate at that time the fulness of the festival. It worked and worked well, allowing people to come into an environment in which they felt safe, and at the same time celebrating our primary feasts. The invitation is offered once more … come to a weekday Mass, make that your weekly celebration. The Lord is waiting patiently to welcome you back, and so are many of the faces that you recognise, not to mention the buildings that are our spiritual homes !

May the week – the last in our Liturgical calendar – be kind to you and your loved ones. Be assured of remembrance at the altar, in thought and affection.

As ever, Fr. Nicholas

6th November 2021

Dear Parishioners,

Once again it is good to be able to send you the weekly Newsletter and Readings for the celebration of Holy Mass this weekend.  Hopefully you are well and safe, and life is beginning to ‘open-up’ a little bit more for you. 

The Bishops of England and Wales are hoping that at the end of this month the Obligation to attend and participate in the celebration of a weekend Mass will be reintroduced having been suspended from the beginning of the Pandemic in March 2020. It would be good to think that as a nation we will be in such a good place, in regard to the health of the population, for this to happen. However, with it will come some apprehension, anxiety and fear, not least for those who have, on the whole, kept themselves to themselves over this lengthy period of time, limiting their social contacts. 

As a faith community with two churches, which were amongst the very first in the Diocese to open their doors to worshipping congregations in July 2020, it is commendable that we have, throughout the last fifteen months, continued to provide safe environments in which to gather. Credit for this has to be given to a relatively small group of parishioners who acted in the capacity of Stewards, together with others who after every Mass or other event in both churches spent a good deal of time sanitising pews, touch-points and cleaning other areas of our buildings. Continuing to adhere to current Guidelines from our Health and Safety Officer we endeavour to maintain this safe environment for all entering our churches. I do therefore encourage those parishioners who have not yet crossed our thresholds to think about doing so. 

During the week I celebrated a Mass with just three people in the congregation, allowing plenty of room to retain social distancing ! Our weekend congregations are numbering around the two hundred figure – or a mean of fifty at each Mass. Again, there is room to socially distance, feel safe, and at the same time begin to reconnect with the familiar. Our churches are also our spiritual homes and home is often where our hearts long to be, so please do think about healing the ache in your heart to return to your spiritual home and the celebration of Mass. 

As always, the practical items of a Newsletter and the Readings come with an assurance of remembrance in prayer, thought and affection.

As ever, Fr. Nicholas    

A Prayer for the COP26 Climate Talks (31st October – 12th November 2021)

Loving God, We praise your name with all you have created. You are present in the whole universe, and in the smallest of creatures. We acknowledge the responsibilities you have placed upon us as stewards of your creation. May the Holy Spirit inspire all political leaders at COP26 as they seek to embrace the changes needed to foster a more sustainable society. Instil in them the courage and gentleness to implement fairer solutions for the poorest and most vulnerable, and commit their nations to the care of Our Common Home.

We ask this through Our Lord Jesus Christ your Son. Amen. 

(Produced by the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of England & Wales together with CAFOD; for more information visit cafod.org.uk/cop26)     

The Prayer for a Synodal Church 2021 – 2023

Prayer to the Holy Spirit.

We stand before You, Holy Spirit, as we gather together in Your name. With You alone to guide us, make Yourself at home in our hearts; teach us the way we must go and how we are to pursue it. We are weak and sinful; do not let us promote disorder. Do not let ignorance lead us down the wrong path nor partiality influence our actions. Let us find in You our unity so that we may journey together to eternal life and not stray from the way of truth and what is right. All this we ask of You, who are at work in every place and time, in the communion of the father and the Son, forever and ever. Amen. Our Lady of Unfailing Help … Pray for us !

2nd October 2021

Dear Parishioners,

Once more it is good to greet you and send you this weekend’s Newsletter and Readings for Holy Mass. Acknowledging the fact that our church doors have been open since July 2020 there are many faces that have not yet returned to our collective Worship. I am sure that many of these are known to those of you who have returned to Mass, and I wonder if when printing-off a Newsletter for yourself, you would be kind enough to do so for a friend or neighbour (not yet returned) so that they are aware of what we are doing as a Parish community. Certainly, such gestures were widely appreciated during the long weeks of the severe Lockdown which began in March 2020. Sometimes it can be taken for granted that the majority of people have access to electronic means of communication, which for many of a certain age is not the case, and although family members may have such access it can slip their minds that church-going relatives may still like to know what is taking place in our parishes despite not yet feeling able to be there in person. 

Thank you for this outreach within your neighbourhood and friendship circles.

Be assured of continued remembrance in prayer, thought and affection.

As always, Fr. Nicholas     

25th September 2021

Dear Parishioners,

Please find enclosed the Readings for Holy Mass this weekend together with the Newsletter. From NEXT weekend there will be no need to book a seat (either on-line or by telephone) for Mass, neither will our churches have any social distancing markers in them, as we are continuing a return to a new normality. Instead, we will be reliant upon common sense and respect for our fellow parishioners. The Newsletter continues to offer the guidance that has been given at national level and remains as the advice that we are following within our worshipping communities. 

Hopefully a growing personal confidence will encourage more people to attend Mass, perhaps beginning with a weekday Mass. As a Eucharistic community It is important that we to think about our spiritual sustenance and rediscover the joyful hope and optimism which is a part of who we are as God’s people.

I look forward to welcoming increasing numbers of familiar faces over the coming weeks. Until then I continue to assure you of a remembrance in prayer and affection.

As ever, Fr. Nicholas

3rd July 2021

Dear Parishioners, 

Traditionally we refer to the writings of the four Evangelists, Mark, Matthew, Luke and John, about Jesus as Gospels. The word means good news, or literally for our Anglo-Saxon forebears in this country, good-story. The good news contained in these first four volumes of the second testament are the literary life-blood of our Christian Faith tradition, not simply recalling known facts about Jesus himself, the life he led, His proclamation of a vison of God’s Kingdom-values, the impact that He and his message had on a particular people in a historical setting, but also about the transformation that His attitude, words and ministry had on individuals. The greatest and best news stories, of course, are those of His own resurrection, and the hardly imaginable significance that this has for each and every one of us. In and amongst what through our frequent listening to, or even personal reading of, have become familiar stories are those that link a singular event with the almost incomprehensible mystery of that declaration by the Easter angels to the women: He is not here. He is risen just as He said. (Matthew28:6). Those events are the stories of the journeying Christ – or even in the case of Dorcas (or Tabitha) of Joppa, by St. Peter – restoring life to the dead.  

The widow of Nain, Jairus and his wife, and the sisters Martha and Mary all felt the loss of bereavement and subsequently rejoiced in the return of a beloved family member to them. In the case of the sisters of Bethany we can hardly imagine their “glad[ness], because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again.” (Luke 15:32) St. John records that just as large numbers ventured to the home of Martha and Mary to console them at the time of their loss and in the days following, so too crowds also began to appear on their doorstep after the restoration of Lazarus to life after his time in the tomb (12:9).  

An omission or oversight in the texts recording these events is the response of those to whom loved ones were returned, not least at an emotional level. That part of the story is left to the imagination of those listening. It is an element of the captivating nature of a story well told, transporting us from where we are to another place, experience, or even, in these cases, a plethora of emotions. No doubt in the return of their daughter, son and brother the parents and siblings of those given back the precious gift of life must have recognized an individual that was the same but different. Wrapped in all the familiar vestiges of an earlier incarnation but somewhat altered in light of the physical, spiritual, emotional and psychological impact that the touch or voice of Christ had gifted them with. We are left to our own thoughts as to the magnitude of how being given life afresh and anew must have affected the individual themselves and also their nearest and dearest. Lives the same, but forever different. I often wonder how many times in the quiet of the night Jairus and his wife must have put their heads around their daughter’s bedroom door watching her in sleep knowing that she was going to awake to enjoy another day of life, filled with all that would bring fascination, pleasure, routine and even boredom to a twelve-year-old girl two thousand years ago. Or even how relieved the hospitable Martha must have been not to have to break the habit of a life-time and slim down her recipes to provide meals for just two mouths instead of three ! For the widow of Nain perhaps the reprimands that she gave to her son for spending too much time with his friends and neglecting jobs at home were also less frequent.        

Last Friday I gained a very personal insight into this reality of having that which had been removed return when I went to collect Dad from the rehabilitation centre that had been his temporary home since late-April. The staff of the third of the three addresses that have been his since Christmas Eve turned out in force to witness his departure. A tribute to the man himself and no doubt his exemplorary presence amongst caring strangers, faces covered and with voices muffled. It was exactly six months and one day since several calls had come from worried neighbours who were noticing that which was usually the same, out of years of routine, was worryingly different. On leaving the Presbytery that day I set out on the longest journey I’ve ever taken. The unknown loomed large, and whilst I did not want to face what might have and, indeed, did lie ahead, I could not get there quick enough. If Nineveh took three days to cross, getting to Otley probably took me a year. At red traffic lights I attempted to put a semblance of order on a foreboding potential chaos for our Christmas Vigil congregations … it may not have been wholly legal, but diligent necessity overtook me. And I was both discreet and handsfree!  

Discovering Dad clearly unwell, the Holy Spirit took over, and in the briefest of moments the blue lights and medical cavalry arrived. Holding one of his large work-worn hands I tried to reassure Dad that all would be well. Knowing that I had to trust him to others, my phone number was scribbled on the blue latex glove of a member of the ambulance crew. (I well recall hoping that the numbers wouldn’t smudge or be washed away before being appropriately recorded !) Hurriedly securing Dad’s home of fifty-seven years, as I turned left into the main road, in a glance to the right I could still see the blue lights disappearing into the darkening distance of the December afternoon. For me it was a big deep breath before starting Mass at 4.30 p.m. barely an hour away. That was the beginning of a journey which continues. Weekly I went to the LGI with washed clothes for Dad. A solitary figure on empty corridors. Only once was I told that I didn’t have to make the weekly pilgrimage as the hospital had a laundry. My response was that it was the least I could do for Dad, hoping that he could smell the difference between hospital detergent and our home brand. Asked questions that I did not feel were mine to give an answer to, 2021 dawned precariously, with an infection on top of the initial debilitating stroke. Medically the situation improved slowly. Probably about a month after our Christmas Eve drama, and at least one ‘phone call to the ward each day, a wonderful Staff Nurse took a mobile handset to Dad, and I heard his voice once again – familiar but altered. As children we often choose to ignore a parental voice calling out to us, in that moment Dad’s voice commanded my fullest and undivided attention. A belated Christmas gift; wrapped in the practical gesture of human kindness delivered by a busy, and probably over-worked, member of staff. 

From a different hospital at the end of March came a call to say that I could visit Dad. Hesitantly I waited until a full three weeks after my first Covid vaccination. Dad remained un-jabbed (hospital policy, despite his age and my constant references to it when speaking with the ward staff !), so I did what I thought was sensible to protect him and look after him. We had come so far, why take a risk. In reality all I wanted to do was see him, but I could hear his voice during our shared times in Lockdown, urging caution and common-sense to me as his son as I continued to minister throughout the pandemic. A few days more, and I sat opposite him, although in full PPE, wearing more plastic than I return from the weekly supermarket shop with ! Opposite Dad was a younger man, Andrew, who told me that they had been together in the LGI, a phase of his life that Dad can hardly recall. In Chapel Allerton they were enjoying each other’s company, not least the one-liners that Dad is known to come out with. Although without visitors, Andrew, was a part of the weekly conversations I had with Dad. His presence in Dad’s life was a source of reassurance. Our Lord may not have described brief or random friendships as being Blessed but he did praise the actions of the Good Samaritan. On discharge Andrew sent a lovely card to Dad, but alas, no address … perhaps one day they’ll meet again. 

In the town which was his home from adolescence to marriage, Yeadon, Dad spent a final eight weeks, ironically arriving there on Mum’s anniversary. The move meant isolation, something that a man imbued with a curious spirit (sometimes described as nosey!) struggled with, but the all-important therapies in mobility and speech continued regardless. When I was eventually able to visit it was behind a screen, we joked at its resemblance to a Confessional. It was here that we talked about a future lived by the same man but in a different and new way. Hence, Dad came to stay with me last Friday. Like the Belgian exiles a century ago, a welcome and honoured guest. Happy to be in familiar surroundings, but still my father, as I am reminded at about nine-thirty each evening when the loud yawns begin, followed by the words Well, I think it is time for me to go to bed. I then have to point out that as he is sleeping in the living room, home to the TV, another quarter of an hour would be appreciated so that I can finish watching whatever is being broadcast between nine and ten! The same but different. Having lost any control over the remote, our day ends with the words: Night, night and God bless. Still Dad. Still a child.  

Dad is cut from humble cloth. Every conversation during our separation either with those caring for him, or with him in person, included the question as to whether there was anything he required, wanted or needed. There was never a request or want for anything. For six months and a day he was contented with what was given to him, or in my case, sent into him. Before leaving for my weekly foray to the supermarket on Friday, I asked the same question. His response: a box of tissues, please. When handed to him it could have been gold or the pearl of great price, judging by the expression on his face. It is the mark of the man. The sameness and familiarity of my own home life is altered and changed by both the presence of Dad and also those who come in to assist with his needs. With a week of new arrangements under our respective belts, I think that both of us would agree that what we are able to share is an enhancement and enrichment from which we are both benefitting.  

Hopefully you will share my delight in being able to deliver a good news story which is clearly a very personal one. This backdrop to my own life is also one that I know has been on many a parishioners’ prayer-list for the last six months, for which Dad and I have been and continue to be most grateful. Within us all there lies a good news or gospel story, lacking headline grabbing scintillation, they often remain untold. Yet they are the very things that give us hope, bringing a glimpse of dawn after a long dark night, reminding us that we can be the same but different because of a single encounter or series of events or experiences.  

It is with a good news story that I draw my weekly musings and reflections to a close. They began at a time when the foundations of all that was deemed normal were shaken by something far greater than we could ever have imagined, with a purpose to offer a spiritual, sometimes humorous, reflection on life in all its ordinariness and quirkiness. This weekend marks a year since we first started celebrating Holy Mass publicly after our withdrawal to congregation-less celebrations behind closed doors. We celebrate the same in a slightly different way. That sameness and familiarity has kept us journeying forward together. The challenge over the coming months is to encourage another journey, that from home back to church. It begins by feeling comfortable to start preparing for such a journey. Ask those already attending what church is like ! Hopefully the reports will be good and above all reassuring. With the suspension of any obligation to attend Holy Mass at the weekend still in place think about a weekday Mass … you’ll be welcomed. Your spiritual home is the same, it is just us who are emerging differently. 

With or without musings I continue to carry you in prayerful remembrance, together with your loved ones – living and those handed back to God – and in affection. 

As ever, Fr. Nicholas