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 

26th June 2021

Dear Parishioners, 

Whilst most would look for the silver lining in the cloud there are some who look for the cloud around the silver lining! Amongst the latter have been those lamenting the crowded-house celebrations of First Holy Communion that have not featured on the calendars of our church communities for the last two years, almost to a point where in the absence of large numbers and fripperies questions are raised as to the validity of any celebration without these. Having presided at numerous, rich and varied, First Holy Communion Masses I am aware that what is customary and traditional in one parish would be alien to another. Yet in settings where a Health and Safety Officer would quake in his boots at the numbers rammed into the interior of churches, or those where a single child or small group of children receive Our Lord at the weekly Mass they attend with their families, the Sacrament remains unequivocally the same: totally and utterly valid, and the same the world over.  

From a Presider’s perspective the recent smaller, family-group celebrations of First Holy Communion for our Year 5 children were incredibly spiritual, participatory, meaningful and memory-creating experiences for those at their centre. Appreciative comments have been received by the staff in Holy Spirit Primary School all favourably reflecting my own view of the evenings. About to embark upon another three evenings of such celebrations this coming week for Year 4 pupils, I can only hope that they go as well, most especially for the youngsters who have been preparing for these incredibly special days for a considerable period of time.  

Experience has given me a fabulous back-catalogue of the all-so-not-important additions to these celebratory occasions from forms of transportation to church, to clothing and accessories which will be a part of some children’s memories of their First Communion Day. Having seen stretch-limo arrivals at church doors, one of the most memorable and at the same time touching was of siblings been borne to church in a Police car. Yes, indeed! Travelling along the M62 the family car had been stopped by a keen-eyed Policeman due to the excessive number of passengers crammed into it. With the children’s parents explaining the significance of the day, the two communicants were duly put into the back of the Police vehicle in order to complete their journey and be at church on time. Hopefully just a warning was issued to the parents who – as the Police car didn’t appear at the end of Mass – must have promised to get their children home in a more safety conscious fashion than that used at the beginning of their special day.  

Many of us will have some recollection of our own First Holy Communion day. I was just six when I received Our Lord for the first time, on a windy May Sunday morning. The climatic conditions captured for all time on the class photograph depicting the veils worn by the girls blowing in all directions ! Having fasted from midnight, which was the expectation before an early Mass, we breakfasted in the school hall, and I well remember tucking into a bowl of jelly and ice-cream, which were never a feature on the breakfast table at home. At a theological and intellectual level as an adult I may be able to understand a little more of what I continue to receive in Holy Communion than I could as a small child on that blustery day. However the wonder and mystery remain. Satisfied that I do not need to know everything about what is given to me as sacramental gift, simply knowing that it is good for me is enough. What is offered to me evokes an on-going willingness of body, mind and spirit to utter with its entirety an expressive and believing So be it or Amen. That the sacred species is the Body and Blood of Jesus, and He said it is, is enough for me. Using the account given by St. Mark of the Last Supper, which was the gospel reading of Corpus Christi this year, I encouraged those receiving the Lord for the first time to accept – in faith – the words Jesus said about the bread and wine He shared with those closest to him: This is my BodyThis is my Blood. If the second person of the Trinity says this is fact, who am I to do anything but accept what I am privileged to receive by repeating the Abrahamic word of affirmation which means So be it.   

The celebration of First Communion by name and definition calls upon us to ensure that we build upon this unique initial meeting between God and ourselves by valuing it enough to appreciate that it is far more than a landmark on a spiritual journey. It is nourishment and viaticum, or food for the journey of life. The cloud-gazers amongst us on such high-days in parochial life may wonder, often loudly, when, or if, a particular cohort of children will arrive at their second communion with the Lord. However, what we receive is far less about the spiritual lives of others, than our own interior livelihood and well-being. If we make the Real Presence that we receive a tangible reality for others to see the benefits from in our own lives, expressed in attitude, word and deed, then, just maybe, they will come – in the fullness of a timescale which is not ours – to value the same gift offered to them. When Jesus offered Himself at table to His first disciples he did not put a sell by or best before date on His Body or Blood. Instead for all time and in all places and situations He stated This is my Body … This is my Blood. In a period of time when many have for all good reason been separated from the Real Presence in their lives, what a wonderful and consoling reality that has, and continues, to be. 

Next weekend marks a year since our two churches opened for the celebration of Holy Mass having been closed from 20th March. The experience of our current celebrations of Holy Mass is somewhat different to that of pre-pandemic times, but at its heart is the reception of Christ’s Body and Blood. With the exception of November, when we were obliged to close our doors once more for a month, and thanks to willing volunteers, together with adherence to a code of compliance issued to keep our congregations safe, we have been able to offer the gift of Holy Mass throughout this period of time. Whilst for many Holy Mass continues to be a virtual experience, accessed through the internet or a radio broadcast, as you think of the celebration of Holy Mass that in ‘normal’ times you are a participant at, so in these times, by spiritual presence you remain in the midst of the familiar sacred space and amongst recognisable faces, Communing with what is the Body and Blood of Christ. 

Having recently come upon the following reflection on the reality of presence I both assure those still hesitant about returning to church, as well as those who are beginning to return – albeit to a weekday Mass rather than those of the weekend – that in our celebrations you remain present in reality or spiritually:  “Everything can bless us, but we’ve got to be there for the blessing to occur. Being present with quality is a decision we are invited to make each day. It is another way to become like God. Due to the reality of our terribly distracted, cluttered and noisy existence, the decision for real presence is not easy. If we can make this decision and live it, it will be a kind of salvation for us. It can save us from many kinds of death: the death of apathy and mediocrity, the death of carelessness, the death of boredom, the death of selfishness, and the death of meaninglessness. There is nothing so healing in all the world as real presence. Our real presence can feed the ache for God experienced by others.”  

May a life of fidelity to the Eucharist sustain us at this time and allow us to reflect something of its real presence to those who share our life-journey whether they are under a shared roof with us, known by voice recognition, name, sight or even the random stranger, who for whatever reason, we are brought into contact with. In prayer this week may we recall especially the children in Year 4 who are about to meet Christ in the reality of His Body and Blood for the first time, asking the Lord that what they receive of Him they may, in turn, generously share.  

In the privileged ministry that I have in being able to celebrate Holy Mass in our churches, be assured that you are present in prayer and thought, together with the intentions that are closest to your hearts.                           

As ever, Fr. Nicholas

29th May 2021

Dear Parishioners, 

This time of the year gifts us with a number of Bank Holidays which, rather like proverbial buses, often come in fairly rapid succession, dependent upon the falling of the lunar Feast of Easter. This weekend there is a heightened enthusiasm for a break from routine as we are promised an improvement in the weather, and for our youngsters there is a half-term holiday, not to mention the recent lifting of some of the restrictions limiting our ability to socialize as freely as we may have wished to do. However we choose to spend this time we will inevitably encounter other people. For some a disappointment, as they seek sanctuary in the Dales or by the coast after a prolonged period of simply not being able to get there, and once there discovering that half the county has had the same idea. And for others the opportunity of gathering with family and friends fulfilling the sole purpose of the building of their fire-pit and purchase of the varying designs of overhead coverings and shelter manufactured specifically for outdoors allowing people to shelter safely and comfortably in a garden surrounding. 

Whether we lament having to share an open space with others or have simply lived for the moment to arrive over the last year when visitors could be welcomed back into familiar surroundings, it is doubtful that any of us will avoid the presence of others over the holiday weekend. Random or purposeful encounters with others provide many of us with the very stuff that feeds a hobby that we rarely admit to but find quietly gratifying and which, in its own way, often satisfies the basic hunger and thirst that we have as human beings to connect to others. It is best described as people-watching ! It can be carried out in the queue at the checkout in the supermarket, at the stop for public transport or as we simply enjoy a quick ‘breather’ taking advantage of one of the seats in our public spaces, mentioning just a few of the vantage points I admit to using in this pursuit. There are endless opportunities to indulge ourselves in this pastime. Standing sentinel at our church doors during the week gives me plenty of opportunity to watch my fellow human beings going about their business. From the doorways of both I, often unobserved, witness the finest and worst elements of our shared humanity. The impatience of speeding drivers on Bath Road; the reassurance of parents encouraging their children to take their first hesitant steps into the brand new world of school and education; the discarding of litter; and the joyous, unrestrained laughter of youngsters sharing the hilarity of an on-screen image.  

At St. Paul’s I am able to look across the road and watch the comings and goings in the King Edward VII Memorial Park but not before observing numerous drivers waiting for the lights to change who, thinking no one will see them, begin composing a text, and when the lights change find that there is a long gap between themselves and the car that was once in front of them, not to mention a horn-blowing driver behind. One of the most noticeable habits amongst my fellow townspeople in the recreational space of the park is their willingness to cut corners, appearing to be programmed at finding the quickest route, taking a short cut regardless of the state of their footwear as they cross grass and flowerbed alike without respect for either. With its horizontal and vertical pathways disregarded by walkers, runners and those taking strides and steps in between, in order to get to their destination as quickly as possible, I often wonder if those hastening to the bus station are able to embark immediately, or find themselves stood waiting in a queue, rendering their decision to corner-cut and take a shortened route somewhat invalid.  

The two central parks in the towns of Heckmondwike and Cleckheaton hold a special place in my heart as these are the places where the majority of the Fallen from our worshipping communities are commemorated on beautiful memorials. Not that either was envisaged with that purpose. Both Green Park and its related space in Cleckheaton, also called Green Park on maps pre-dating its current layout, were created from the benevolence of local people, some incredibly wealthy, others just ordinary, everyday folk who wanted somewhere pleasant to enjoy fresh air and the opportunity of taking advantage of a formal open space in which they could sit, alone or with family or friends, and make the most of the simple pleasures that life offers, not least amongst them those without gardens of their own, living in terraces and in busy yard areas. In their heyday musical entertainment would also have been available, offered by local musicians and bands. Pathways laid in them were intended to maximise the potential for exercise whilst in these none-too-large leisure spaces. In Cleckheaton the park was created to commemorate the reign of a man dubbed the Playboy King, Edward VII (1901 – 1910), who was renowned for enjoying the outdoor life, and blew a freshness into the public face of the English monarchy, after the rather dour latter decades of his mother’s reign. Heckmondwike’s Green Park was formalised to acknowledge the Coronation of his son, King George V, and Queen Mary in 1911, having previously been a site on which travelling shows and fairs pitched, and for most of the year a piece of, generally speaking, waste land used by the youth of the day for play. It was in light of this latter use that some objections were made to its conversion into a more formal area. Eventually members of the Firth family came to the rescue by offering to provide a two acre field for the youngsters of the town to play on and furnish it with fittings for enjoyment such as swings and roundabouts. The land at the top of Beauregard (a name which means “beautiful gaze” or “easy on the eye”) Street near to Flush Mills was to be named the George V Playground.  

Contemporary newspaper reports from the time of the Great War tell of the use of the perimeter of the Cleckheaton park by the Catholic community. It was at this time that the indigenous population of the town, mainly worshippers at the Non-Conformist cathedral-like places of worship which dominated the spiritual landscape of the Spen Valley, enjoying their Sabbath promenade along the pathways of the park caught their first sight of Continental Catholicism in the initial May Procession organized by Fr. Paul Van de Pitte in 1915. After a Service in the Mission Chapel handed to the Belgian Guests (as they were referred to in the press; a totally disarming collective, devoid of any form of judgmental or political labelling) of the district which included readings, a sermon, the recitation of the rosary, and the blessing of the statue of Our Lady that was to be carried in procession, the pageant began. The route was hardly long, from the Marsh area of the town, around the four sides of the park and back again to the church in Dewsbury Road. The leading children, wearing costumes made for the occasion, such as those of the May Queen, her retinue, banner-carriers and those holding streamers attached to them, altar servers, together with others, all attired in their Sunday best, must have delighted in being the object of admiration from those stood within the park, craning from its various walkways in order to catch glimpses of their finery and to delight in the spectacle of the occasion. It is possible that, radiant in their moment of glory and as the focus of attention, the processional route will not have been long enough for the children of both Belgian and English families taking part in it ! Within the confines of the park no doubt other children will have separated themselves from their parents to follow the procession around its borders, captivated by the colourful drama. A year later it was reported that the chief object of the procession was to show the devotion of the worshippers towards the Virgin Mary and to her intercession, through prayer and witness, for the Allied Nations and the distressed people of Belgium. How proud too the parents of the processing children must have been watching their off-spring enjoying a moment of glory, being admired by neighbours and fellow townspeople. With the reality of the Great War taking its toll on families, such an innocent distraction, featuring a rising generation whose parents all hoped and prayed would grow up in a world of peace, must have been a most welcome sight. 

It was an event that grew over its four year lifespan with Belgian refugees joining it from further afield as Fr. Paul Van de Pitte’s ministry widened. Not only were local people content with the distraction from a vantage point within the park, where vertical and horizontal pathways cut across trimmed lawns highlighting neatly laid out seasonal flowerbeds and maximised the ability and capacity of those promenading to pause but, growing in confidence, they took to gathering in the vicinity of the Chapel to share in the entirety of the event. It was an early expression of Christian Unity.  

Far from being a short cut used in haste, I find our centrally located parks to be havens of peace and an opportunity for brief distraction. In them I speak with people not encountered elsewhere, acknowledging, when present, the work that those employed by Kirklees do to maintain them for our use, at the same time never failing to cast my eyes in the direction of the war memorials remembering and praying for those who gave so much, allowing those who so wish to take the short-cut or conversely for others to walk the extra mile with their fellow pilgrims on life’s journey. Choices made in freedom. The original intention of the creators of both Green Park and the King Edward VII Memorial Park is not lost a century and more on from their openings. With such a rich seam of our local population passing through them they also provide a time for reflective prayer. Perhaps not in the quiet surrounds that we would normally use for our conversations with the Almighty, but somewhere in which we are gently prompted by others – in the casual chatter of passers-by, the distant excited voices of playing children, those about to start a journey, or make their way to school or a health centre – that the community of which we are apart constantly stands in need of a remembrance before God.  

Prayer for the Local Community

Father God, we pray for all in our community. 
For those who live here, we ask that they may thrive and prosper. 
For those who work here, we ask that they may strive to improve the lives of residents. 
For those who use our healthcare facilities and educational establishments: may their needs be met. 
For those who come for recreation, my they find enjoyment in their activities. 
For ourselves, that we may serve You in our community in ways that truly matter. 

May your Bank Holiday weekend be kind to you, and in it may you find recreational pleasure for body, mind and soul … and perhaps a walk in one of our parks ! 

Be assured of my prayerful remembrance of yourselves and those you love the most and know best, together with assurances of affection.

As ever,

Fr. Nicholas    

15th May 2021

Dear Parishioners, 

The appearance of these words along with the Newsletter and Readings for Holy Mass this weekend will reassure those parishioners who on reading the beginning of last week’s musings may have thought that I was destined to be snatched away from parochial duties to write better endings to some TV dramas. However, like many a prize, I remain unclaimed! The blackbird-parents about whom I wrote, are noisily calling to each other as I write these few lines. One in search of food the other taking a drink from the birdbath: easily contented and seemingly happy, and simply getting on with life. What an example to us all. From the press this week I gather that I have not been alone in finding inspiration for writing in birdlife as the wonderful (a personal opinion!) Michael Morpugo’s latest work “Song of Gladness” is the fruit of a much simpler life, lived under the restrictions of Lockdown, the dawning of a deeper appreciation and awareness of the environment in which he found himself living. In the subtitle of his book – “a story of hope for us and our planet,” the most important word for me is “hope.” A quiet but necessary virtue. It is with this gift that we have collectively looked towards a horizon, illuminated by the promise of better times, during the often dark days of recent shared life-experience, and with which individually we have stirred those closest to us to think of renewed opportunities of togetherness and pleasures yet to come.    

The former Children’s Laureate became known to me when his book “Private Peaceful” was serialised on BBC Radio 4 some years ago. Having only heard extracts, I decided to visit Waterstones and seek a copy to read for myself. Searching shelf upon shelf without success I eventually sought help, only to be guided to the Children’s Section of books, where there were numerous volumes of his writings! Despite being hesitant – an adult buying a children’s book for himself! – I took the plunge, and was an immediate convert. He is a skilled story-teller, and it isn’t only children who like a good story. Perhaps his best known work is “War Horse,” available now on film, but the best is the theatre production. I have seen it twice, travelling to London to do so, and blubbered at the same scene twice! The puppets (rather like calling a marquee a tent!) are brought to life by amazing stagehands and actors. Wow, wow, wow! If you have seen it, you will know exactly what I mean, and if you haven’t you may be left wondering what I’m going on about; better still, when theatres reopen, you may be drawn to a production of this amazing story of equine-human relationships.              

From a now distant mention of hope, may I venture to speak about its near relative: kindness. Each time I go to the fridge my eyes catch sight of a laminated sign hanging precariously with magnetic force from its door. In large print are three letters ARK beneath which their meaning is typed – Acts of Random Kindness. It serves as a reminder of a gesture made to me, and as a gentle nudge to reach out to others in a thoughtful manner. Originally it was attached by a ribbon to a couple of bars of chocolate. A kind, thoughtful and generous addition to someone’s shopping basket during the days of Lockdown which subsequently found their way through my letterbox encased in a freezer bag. Such actions seemed prevalent during the initial Lockdown period when neighbourliness became the virtue and reality which it once had been. These acts remind me of some words often recited by a great-aunt of mine in my youth: “I shall pass this way but once; any good that I can do or any kindness I can show to any human being; let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.” I was never quite sure who she was quoting, and neither are they who take it upon themselves to immortalise similar sentiments on cards and posters. Common thought seems to be that whilst attributed to French exile Etienne (Stephen) de Grellet (1773 – 1855) who fled revolution and a death sentence to begin a new life in America where he joined the Society of Friends, they may not have been his own words, just some he borrowed. Whatever their origin they are a great leveller, reminding us that sometimes the opportunity to do good knocks but once on the door of our ability to respond to it in a certain situation or to an individual, known or unknown to us. It can provide a good mantra for humanitarian actions of great or small proportions, the impact of which is best judged by those whose lives are touched by a meaningful word, attitude or gesture extended to them.  

With so many clamouring for attention to be drawn to their individual plight of hardship and difficulty on the pathway of life, still more jostling for a response to be made in the name of their situation, the amount of kindness that each of us has to offer can seem wholly inadequate to alter, change, or do anything at all to assist them. In the last year alone so many issues have been focused on at different times, all relevant and needing addressing, but surely a common, shared, not to mention global problem has to be greater, if only for the span of time it is beyond our control. When, for whatever reason, scenarios are not dealt with a victim culture can be created, causing isolation, anger, difference and a growing stack of bricks used to build walls between people. As a fundamentally optimistic person, imbued with the gift of hope, I would like to think that for every person building a wall, there are two people building bridges, bringing people together. An important building block in the construction of the latter is kindness. 

Many of us will have been touched by the plight of those currently being described as the Windrush Generation. The initial group of 1027 passengers arrived at Tilbury Docks in 1948. The majority of them had set sail from Kingston, Jamaica, but a smaller number boarded at Tampico, Mexico, as the Empire Windrush was called upon to divert its course and pick up a further 66 passengers. These, often overlooked in reports made, with the exception of one, were the wives and children of Polish soldiers who had fought alongside the Allies, and had been displaced in Mexico since 1944. Two very different groupings of people, each with their own heritage and their own story to tell, yet their shared experience was of arriving in a new country to begin life afresh. Each of those 1027 people on disembarking began collecting stories that they would in turn pass on to others. Some exposing the worst of human nature whilst others revealed the best. Recently I was privileged to hear one of the latter when asked to celebrate Holy Mass for a former nursing colleague of a parishioner who had sadly died. This lady had been a part of a slightly later Windrush Generation. In reflecting on her earliest days in this country she always gave credit for the kind welcome she received. Arriving on our shores in a cotton frock, sandals and no coat she was horrified to be greeted by English snow. Having secured a job in a clothing factory the women amongst whom she worked quickly recognised her need and discreetly organised a whip-round providing her with warmer clothes, shoes, and a pair of wellingtons. Bricks of human kindness and compassion building a bridge, and perhaps sowing the seeds, or watering those already sown, that inspired this lady to enter a vocational way of life that would allow her own gifts to shine in the care and support that she offered to others.    

Sometimes it isn’t a deed that touches the inner life of another human being, but a fleeting comment, given gravitas by the circumstances in which they are uttered. The following is an extract from a wonderful publication, recently loaned, which was compiled at the end of the twentieth century from stories told by those whose length of life covered each of its decades, indeed a couple its contributors were born in the nineteenth century. The words are those of Alice Whittle, widowed of her husband, Norman, at a young age: “When Norman died so suddenly, my faith went to pot. The only question I could ask was Why? Why has the Lord done this to me? I was brought up as a Methodist and looked forward to going to chapel. My dad used to say, “Our Alice is the only one that has a bit of faith in her.” But when Norman died it went to pot. And I remember, it would be a couple of weeks after Norman died, a knock came to the door. And it was this lady, and she had about four roses, and she said, “I go to the United Reformed Church and we heard about your sad loss. Will you accept these from me?” So I invited her in and put the kettle on and we had a cup of tea. And she asked me if I had any faith. I said, “I did until this happened over Norman. I’m left with a little lad at my time of life, 49 years old, no wage, no nothing. I keep asking the good Lord why, but there’s no answer.” And she said, “Will you do something for me before I go? The next time you say your prayers, will you not ask the good Lord why, will you give Him thanks for the strength He’s given you to carry on.” And that was the turning point for me.” It would be good to think that out of a simple, kindly-intentioned, yet rather daring knock on the door of a relative stranger a lasting friendship was born. Sometimes a quiet confidence, an inner boldness is necessary to move thoughts of kindness into meaningful actions. The Lockdown restrictions meant that Acts of Random Kindness could be done almost anonymously: something dropped through a letterbox or on a doorstep, perhaps just the briefest of pleasant verbal exchanges from a deliverer to a resident stood in their doorway, or even conversing through the slightest opening a window could provide.  

Despite his great external qualities of determination and physical doggedness, St. Paul provides numerous incredibly sensitive and insightful references about his understanding of kindness as a gift from God to be shared with others, he even presents it to us as part of a wardrobe of clothing to be worn by those who call themselves Christians: “You are God’s chosen race, his saints; he loves you, and you should be clothed in sincere compassion, in kindness and humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with one another, forgive each other as soon as a quarrel begins. The Lord has forgiven you; now you must do the same. Over all these clothes, to keep them together and complete them, put on love.” (Colossians 3:12 – 14) He ranks kindness next to patience in describing the attributes of love: “Love is always patient and kind.” (1 Corinthians 13:4) Above all he asks that we do not make a choice about who we show kindness to, discriminating for whatever reason, instead he insists that we “Treat everyone with equal kindness.” (Romans 12:16) With such an approach we may be able to untangle the knot of a sense of overwhelming inability that we so often find ourselves toying with helplessly in the face of the magnitude facing hardship and difficulty.   

A brief moment of contemplation about our own life-journey will bring to mind acts of kindness which historically, and in the present, continue to mean so much. Some of which may have been life-changing. With such thoughts comes a compulsion to go and share what we have found so beneficial, removing any hesitancy that we may have about getting it wrong, making a mistake or being misunderstood. With the Festival of Pentecost just a week away St. Paul offers a timely reminder that “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self control.” (Galatians 5:22ff) So let kindness abound! 

Holding you and your loved ones in affectionate thought and sincere prayerful remembrance. 

As ever, Fr. Nicholas 

8th May 2021

Dear Parishioners, 

Whilst Sophie Ellis-Bextor may have sung about “Murder of the Dancefloor” last Friday evening I witnessed what Alfred, Lord Tennyson described as “nature red in tooth and claw” on the Presbytery lawn. And, yes, the pesky magpie was at the centre of the traumatic events. Over and above all the other outdoor noises, (and there are certainly increasing amounts in comparison to the still, quiet days of a year ago), could be heard the shrieking call of the resident blackbirds. Well used to their rather loud conversations with one another across the garden I initially dismissed their cries as mere background din. However there was something urgent in the persistence of the clamour that made me look out of the window. To my horror I saw a magpie astride a blackbird chick whose distraught parents had noisily taken matters into their own hands by systematically dive-bombing the larger predator. Rushing outside I soon found myself a part-player in the unfolding drama. Having frightened the magpie into retreat I shielded and examined the chick … only to be the subject of friendly fire coming from its parents who continued to swoop low with beaks pointing in my direction. Eventually they gleaned I was friend rather than foe.  

Whilst surprised at the size of the chick, at a guess just a few days away from discovering the gift of flight, I stood for some time protectively over it, whilst it recovered somewhat from its experiences. All the while its parents were in close proximity, gathering, during the temporary truce, food for their off-spring to eat. Backing away, I observed feathered parents tending to the immediate needs of their chick. It was incredibly moving. Standing sentinel, it wasn’t too long before the magpie, with a reinforcement companion, was back, viewing the scene at a safe distance. For about an hour and a half I was back and forth from desk to lawn offering assistance to the blackbirds in fending off the magpies. Having observed the physical damage done to the chick, not to mention its traumatised emotional condition, there was little more that I could do. The time lapse included several crude imitations by myself of our Father in Faith, Abraham, shooing the birds of prey from the altar of sacrifice spoken of in Genesis (15:11). The ringing of the phone took me indoors for what was the briefest of moments leaving the birdlife to their finest, bravest, worst and cruellest. As the call, an automated message reputedly from Amazon (other delivery services are available !) informing me of the imminent arrival of a package that I had not ordered, ended, I noticed that a sudden eerie stillness had descended outdoors. The chick was gone, its parents silenced and not a magpie to be seen … just the tail end of a cat rushing at speed down the drive ! It was the unforeseeable ending to a script that many the creator of a TV drama would have been envious of.  

The next morning the blackbird parents were back in the garden, bathing, seeking food and calling loudly to each other. Both continue to bob around, and I have noticed the gathering of further nesting materials, so perhaps their treetop residence is being repaired. Unsure about the spiritual lives of birds, I did reflect that not even the savage removal of a chick takes place “without the Father knowing it.” (Matthew 10:29) 

Sacrifice is an defining element of Christianity, rooted in the offering made by Christ of Himself on the hill of Calvary, it is present in the first Testament, and in the early history of Christianity St. Stephen is widely recognised as being the first of a long, and sadly continuing, list of named individuals called upon to lay down their lives for the Faith. Last Tuesday we celebrated the Feast of the English Martyrs. Having been Parish Priest in an area where one of the churches was dedicated to the collective patronage of these men and women, the day holds a special significance. In a period of just over a century, beginning in December 1886 and concluding (so far) in 1987, successive Popes have acknowledged our fellow country women and men’s ultimate gift of themselves in fidelity to the Catholic Faith by raising them to a road which led to two of this number being canonised in 1935 (Ss. John Fisher and Thomas More), forty more in 1970, and Archbishop Oliver Plunkett of Armagh in 1975. Earlier and later, groups of martyrs were beatified; fifty-four in 1886, nine in 1895, one hundred and thirty six in 1929, and eighty five in 1987. The ceremony of December 1929, presided over by Pope Pius XI (1922 – 1939), was attended by Gilbert Keith Chesterton and recalled in “The Resurrection of Rome.” In 1935, for the Canonisation of the Yorkshire-born Bishop John Fisher and Thomas More, a considerable number of clergy and pilgrims from Leeds were present in Rome; the Diocese able to boast of having the first church in England dedicated to the new martyr-saints, at Burley-in-Wharfedale, built in 1932, largely from the personal resources of widower-priest, and late-vocation, Fr. Frederick Le Fevre.  

The pathway to public recognition for this cohort of martyrs began quickly. As early as the mid-1580s, whilst Elizabeth I sat on the English throne, the relics of sixty-three martyrs were already being honoured and images made for reproduction in devotional literature. The pubic persecution of Catholics in England began on 4th May 1535 when three monks were executed at Tyburn in London – Prior John Houghton of the London Charterhouse, Prior Robert Lawrence of the Beauvale Charterhouse, and Richard Reynolds, a Brigittine monk from Syon Abbey – beginning a period of about one hundred and fifty years during which the ultimate price for being recognised and betrayed for the Catholic Faith was execution. This sacrifice was made in a variety of environments including the public scaffold, languishing in prison and during the process of barbaric torture. Amongst the ranks of these men and women were a Countess and a rural Priest, who died almost a hundred and forty years apart and whose formal recognition by the Church was separated by over a century. Margaret Pole, one of just two 16th century English women peeresses in their own right, was the daughter of George Plantagenet, 1st Duke of Clarence, and niece of King Edward IV. Her formative years were dominated by personal turbulence rooted in political wrangling, and came to an end when her cousin, Elizabeth of York, married Henry VII. Through this union she found herself married to a relative of the King’s, Sir Richard Pole. Seemingly secure, politically speaking, the Poles became Chamberlain to Arthur, Prince of Wales, and lady-in-waiting to his wife, Catherine of Aragon, respectively. With Prince Arthur’s death in 1502, Margaret lost her role, and when Richard died in 1505 leaving her with five children and a limited income, it was Henry VII himself who paid for her husband’s funeral. ‘Gifting’ her middle son, Reginald, to the Church, Margaret retired to live with the Bridgettine community at Syon Abbey.  

When Catherine of Aragon became Queen, Margaret was once more appointed to the court as a lady-in-waiting, a move which in 1512 saw her being restored to some of her late brother’s lands, for which she had to pay for the privilege ! A shrewd financier, by 1538, Margaret was the fifth richest peer in the realm, but her relationship with Henry VIII was turbulent. As governess to Princess Mary, with the ascent of Anne Boleyn and Henry’s declaration of Mary’s illegitimacy, she refused to return the princess’s gold plate and jewels to the King, and when she offered to serve Mary at her own cost, he refused. Finding herself caught up in the political intrigue surrounding the Pilgrimage of Grace, for whom Pope Paul III charged her son, Reginald, (who had risen through clerical ranks to the position of a non-ordained Cardinal) with the funding of, and with another already executed, Margaret was stripped of her titles and lands. Imprisoned from November 1538 in the Tower of London, together with a grandson and nephew, she retained several servants to care for her family. Evidence procured by Thomas Cromwell saw her fate – the death sentence – hang like the sword of Damocles over her. The date of her execution was totally dependent upon Henry VIII’s whimsical mood swings, evidenced by the fact that having granted her an expensive wardrobe of clothing in March 1541, just weeks later on 27th May, he signed her life away ! At the venerable age of sixty-seven, Margaret Pole was executed. In deference of her noble birth, just 150, mainly invited, witnesses were present, and not the general populace. Her son, who in the reign of Mary Tudor, was to be the last Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury, despite an earlier rift with his mother, said that he would “never fear to call himself the son of a martyr !”  

Annually at Mass we hear the story of Eleazar, a man of advanced years, who chose to die rather than lead others into erroneous ways, as Scripture recalls: “His courageous death was remembered as a glorious example, not only by young people, but by the entire nation as well.” (2 Maccabees 6:31) Listening to it evokes thoughts of a Yorkshire-born martyr, who having ministered secretly as a priest for over half a century was apprehended during the celebration of a baptism at the age of eighty two. Fr. Nicholas Postgate was subsequently condemned to death under legislation passed the previous century in the name of Elizabeth I, in whose reign he was born in 1596/97. On 7th August 1679, on the Knavesmire at York he was hanged, disembowelled and quartered. One of his hands was sent to Douai (France) where he had trained for priesthood. Betrayed by John Reeves, manservant to Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey, for the reported payment of twenty-two shillings, the link between the nocturnal skulduggery of Judas Iscariot in the events of the first Holy Week, was not lost in subsequent stories claiming that Reeves took his own life by drowning before any money changed hands ! The longevity of Fr. Postgate’s ministry in a time of persecution and betrayal is almost unique, matched by the fact that he spent almost the last twenty years of his life discreetly celebrating Holy Mass and the Sacraments not far from his birthplace around the Guisborough, Pickering and Scarborough areas. The late dating of his execution ranks him amongst the final swath of martyrs put to death for their Catholic faith, although others would continue to die in penury and prison for their fidelity. 

Whilst our hearts may swell with a faith-based recognised near-relational pride at the mention of the sacrifices made by Margaret Pole, Nicholas Postgate and many others, there is another side to the story of the English Martyrs. John Foxe (1516/17 – 1587) compiled a “Book of Martyrs,” which continued to be expanded until the Victorian era, detailing those whose lives were taken from them in the name of a different faith – Protestantism. Often an overlooked element of history by Catholics, not only was Mary Tudor the worthy recipient of the name “Bloody” in reference to her brutal dispatch of hundreds of men and women, but her own father, and siblings, Edward VI and Elizabeth, as well as James I, at the same time as executing Catholics were themselves culturing lengthy martyrologies consisting of those deemed fervent Protestants, who like their Catholic counterparts were prepared to offer the ultimate gift of their lives. Rather like the stealthy cat and the chick, this is probably an unexpected factual ending !  

With liberality and freedom in the realm of faith and our ability to live as people of recognisably different traditions it can be easy to forget or overlook the sacrifices made by others in the name of faith, or even dismiss such oppression to the shelf of history. Regrettably in the twenty-first century the ultimate sacrifice, martyrdom, is still a feature on the landscape of faith for many. In the case of the persecution of Christians its presence is often brushed aside by the media. In a time when in a whole variety of ways many have been asked to make sacrifices for a greater good, it is worth recalling Christ’s own words to those who give up what they have for others. He states that there is “no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13) which is the ultimate response to His new commandment to “love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12) In the celebration of Holy Mass this weekend we shall participate not simply in the verbal high ambitions of the Word made flesh, but the absolute reality that God’s Word was the bond, or manifestation, of His love for each one of us … sacrificed on the hill of Calvary. So, in signing-off this week I would like to assure those who are continuing to make sacrifices, and especially those feeling the weight and burden of them, you are not alone. As a community of faith we journey with you, and like Simon of Cyrene, I would like to think at we not only walk with you but help to share the load too. This weekend, very especially, you are being remembered at the altar. 

Holding you in prayerful remembrance and affection. 

As ever, Fr. Nicholas

1st May 2021

Dear Parishioners,                                                                                                                 

It was once said that necessity is the mother of invention. These words ran through the hall of my memory on Monday afternoon as I stood admiring a portion of our family garden that I had been employed in the process of weeding and turning over for the previous couple of weeks. The job was finished and a neighbour complimented me on my handiwork. Internally, I felt as though I had arrived on the stage of recognised gardeners ! The bed of garden contains a good number of rose trees, a pampas grass (the majority of whose sharp and biting leaves are held prisoner behind some supportive fencing; but straying hands, arms and legs beware !), a hydrangea and a glorious array of spring bulbs and plants that simply look after themselves, and yearly grow in number and capacity to offer the vibrant and varied colours that speak to all who look at them of the first signs of life at the dawn of a new calendar year.  

Over the last few months I appear to have undergone a rather subtle conversion process, manifesting itself in conversations about gratitude for cooler nights that have helped maintain a longevity amongst our beautiful spring flowers not least the fragile fruit of hidden bulbs, the lack of wind to ruthlessly remove tulip blooms and blossoms prematurely, but also lamenting those same sharp frosts which have mutilated the magnolias of which I am custodian. Although not flung from a horse during this change, it has involved picking up and wielding stored equipment whose presence just a few short months ago I would only have been aware of through a cursory glance. Busying myself with this front of house activity has not seen me responding to any heavenly voice, but rather those of numerous Otley neighbours who have stopped me in my tracks, exchanging pleasantries and enquiring about Dad. At the core of this metamorphic change is my relationship with the garden.    

Our garden was always the domain of my parents. Having begun their married life in a back-to-back terrace, their move to our home in 1964 (yes, one address for almost fifty seven years, and there are still other neighbours who have been there longer than us !) fulfilled particularly my mother’s dream of having a garden which soon became a shared source of pride and joy. My mother would spend many an afternoon pushing an aging mower up and down grass, which had it been sat in the barber’s chair would have been subjected to a Number One blade all over. She was skilled with both long and short handled shears, and was equally impressive with an edging tool when determining the boundary of the lawn. On one occasion having left the mower for a moment she returned to find a rat sat atop of it. Mustering a shriek, a neighbour came to her rescue with a stone, which hit the mower and sent – what was later described as a drowsy rodent – scuttling. On another occasion a wandering patient from Highroyds Hospital was found asleep on the lawn, profusely apologising when disturbed by Mum, saying that he thought it was a park ! Bless him; the garden is attached to a two bed-roomed semi-detached property, hardly Chatsworth House. Each of the three aspects of the garden has its own memories. The lawn was where we would sit as a family enjoying the summer sunshine, sometimes on the swinging seat which for a number of years was ritualistically erected around Eastertime, and whose cushioned seats were carefully housed in the garage after every use to protect them from dew, rain and other forms of dampness.  

The lawn is also home to a line of three cherry trees; an aged weeper, a rather chic Amanogawa, and a standard which stands almost protectively head and shoulders above the others. The DNA profile of the weeping variety is probably closely related to my Dad’s given the number of times he has caught his head beneath its branches. With a bloodied head he would enter the kitchen passing the comment that he had come up too early when working beneath it ! There was occasional mention of the weeper’s removal, but with his head healed the veiled threat was soon forgotten. Beyond lies a second bed, again predominately housing roses, but there is a lovely diversity of other forms of plant and shrub life. Discreetly in a corner is something edible: rhubarb. On Monday I invited a couple of neighbours to come and help themselves to some of its stalks, as Dad normally does, as the harvest is beyond meeting his own needs. In return he usually receives a couple of crumbles. Personally I’m not living in hopes of these being delivered to the Presbytery anytime soon ! As a small boy I recall this part of the garden containing some lilac trees which both grew quickly and also out of vogue, so they were taken out in favour of roses (the culturing of which was a notable recreational habit of one of my predecessors at Holy Spirit, Fr. Denis O’Sullivan 1889 – 1897, who was something of an authority on them). The year before her death for Mothering Sunday I bought Mum a lilac sapling. Dad planted it so that it could be seen from the front window. It took immediately, and surprised us by budding early the following year. Mum never saw it in bloom, but touchingly on the day she made her last journey from home to church, a single stem of pure white blossom had burst forth, along with its rich scent. Almost on the fifth anniversary of that day, the green buds are waiting to mature and change their colouring. As the years pass, so we note an increase of its fragment stems.  

Returning to the focus of my recent labours, the colourful and varying array of species of spring flowers at the edge of the bed reflect the canny Yorkshire approach of being hesitant to throw things away, not least bulbs given in bowls for internal displays at Christmases past, such as hyacinths and miniature tulips, daffodils and narcissi in all shapes and forms. On the demise of their initial crop they were randomly buried outside, where their presence evokes numerous happy festive memories from perhaps as many as thirty or more years ago. In those distant times of childhood and youth my own contribution to the maintenance of our family garden was being handed a bucket and implement with which to remove weeds from various nooks and crannies. It was far from a labour of love or even a voluntary contribution to Team Hird, instead it came from an overly loose tongue passing the comment that I was bored ! Vocalising any experience of boredom was virtually mortal sin in my parent’s eyes, the only remedy for which was the penitential act – literally carried out on my knees – of removing weeds.  

My favourite part of our garden is at the back of the house. It is mainly pebbles (enhanced by some which were collected on forays along various beaches where holidays and days out were spent) surmounted with a variety of planters, a small rockery area and a pond. There is also a greenhouse, and yes, for the inquisitive of mind, this too has recently been given the pantry treatment – of both internal and external acts of tidying and culling – by yours truly ! The acknowledgement of which was shared – Confessional-style – and with the trepidation of a naughty child, to Dad on my first visit to him in hospital in late-March. At a distance I was granted pardon ! Fondness for this garden area probably comes from the fact that it has noticeably grown up with me over the years. In childhood it was home to a couple of pine trees each of which attracted numerous species of birdlife, and occasionally a squirrel. With the extension of the garden thanks to the reduction of space taken up by a neighbouring YEB generator came change, the removal of a privet hedge and an opening up of the space to more natural light. As a small child it was the area where I could be found sitting and playing in a paddling pool, later it was where various pets had their caged homes, and when we inherited Bracken in 1980 it became the contained and safe area in which she could roam freely, amusing us as she would follow the sunlight in order to lay out full length, basking in its warming rays. More recently it was where Dad and I would sit socially distanced for a few hours each Sunday drinking copious mugs of coffee chatting, commenting on the lack of both air and road traffic, listening to the bird life, and able to overhear conversations of neighbours also sitting outside making the most of a climatically pleasant Lockdown experience.  

Of late, for many green spaces have taken on a new significance, and, as for myself, have become an outlet for time and energy, offering in due season a sense of achievement and satisfaction, or a place to exercise or, more recently, a safe environment in which to meet up with family and friends. A horticultural theme dominates the Gospel of this weekend, albeit focusing on a more rarefied form of cultivation than mere flowers or shrubs. In Jesus’ usage of the vine we are probably more able to connect with the imagery than with the vision of shepherding offered last weekend, despite our TV familiarity with Yorkshire’s own, Amanda Owen. Emphasising the need to remain a part of the Vine, which is Christ Himself, there is mention of pruning and cutting back in order for new life to be given the necessary nutrients and environment to grow and blossom, and above all enjoy a harmonious relationship with the ultimate source of life.  

Gardening draws us into a new classroom and learning experience. Whether we are in attendance or not Nature is engaged at her work. Seen or unseen, above ground, below ground, life is evolving and being nurtured. With a generous spirit of accommodation what demands space in one season, retreats and makes room for its neighbour in another. When the exertion of producing a harvest rich in colour and enjoyed by the passer-by is over a process of near hibernation begins to rejuvenate that which has spent its energies for this year at least, recharging itself for a similar crop next spring or summer. Whether heads of many colours or bows of blossom benefit from a kind and gentle climate or succumb prematurely to decimating wind, rain, frost or snow, the virtues of patience, resilience and acceptance are taught, as innately plants, bulbs and shrubs hold an almost tangible and confident hope that they will be back again the following year. Some accept too the brevity of their existence. Blossoming and flourishing for a single season, whilst others age both gracefully and disgracefully, gaining all the while a memory of presence spanning decades for some and centuries for others. When it comes to diversity, tolerance and acceptance, gardens appear to have an abundance of each quality; even weeds are made welcome ! As St. Paul’s describes love, so too the growing population of a garden reflect a delight in the splendour and glory of one another’s blooming achievements. Such spaces are devoid of jealousy. A garden can teach us a lot if we are open to learning from it, working with it and giving it an assurance that we care for its over-all well-being. In standing back and observing the fruit of my own labours last week I could easily share God’s own creative statement of satisfaction when Genesis (1:12) records that “God saw that it was good.”  

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

Fr. Nicholas 

24th April 2021

Dear Parishioners, 

The beauty, dignity and skill of a piece of pottery demonstrating the craft of Kintsugi (“golden joinery”) is obvious for all to see. A method of mending that hides nothing of the history of the item, whilst offering further life and use to something that had been earlier been fractured, damaged or broken. It is perhaps a skill that the Church could benefit from when it comes to promoting vocations. As an institution the Church holds up the highest ideal before us, its members, when it comes to the Sacraments of Marriage and Ordained Ministry. There is sound reason why. However the fast-changing landscape of relationships impacts upon the Church, at local level, in parish communities, and not least on the traditional emphasis that has been placed on fostering and culturing vocational living. Perhaps this is because the time-tested toolbox of the Church is devoid of the appropriate and necessary resources to address the growing chasm between an ideal and lived-experience. The people of God have tremendous skills – especially sensitivity and compassion – when it comes to dealing with the raw edges of relational breakdown, just as the Church in her teaching and wisdom offers tremendous insight into the value, richness and gift between two people that Marriage is. Alas work on the bridge uniting the two is a very slow progress. Caught somewhere in the middle are those who work at the coalface of the meeting place of real life and the upholding of Church teaching. An insight into the speed of change in our approach to relationships can been gleaned from tentative conversations had by the parents of infants in the early days of my own ministry. Talking about their desire to have a child baptised, a caveat was often added: “Does it make a difference that we are not married?” Heading towards thirty years on from those times, our Baptismal Registers display the answer given to that question: absolutely not! 

This weekend is Vocation Sunday, a universal day of prayer for and reflection on vocational life, especially in regard to Priesthood and Religious Life. Just as initial thoughts and the experience, through observation, of married life come from the home in which we are raised, so the culturing of other forms of living have a seedbed in the environment most familiar to us, and are tended to by voices familiar to us. In its 143 year history the Diocese of Leeds has only once ordained more priests than it actually needed! In 1910, with a ‘no vacancies’ sign in its window, Leeds generously loaned its surplus clergy to other dioceses. Needless to say they were quickly recalled as vacancies arose in what was then an expanding vista of the Lord’s Vineyard. A century later, in a receding ecclesial landscape, clergy had already begun ministering across two parish communities, and as time marches on, the latter will inevitably become three or four. Our need to implore “the Lord of the harvest to send labourers into His harvest” (Matthew 9:38) is ever more urgent if we are to simply maintain what we are currently familiar with, let alone be at a point of energetic missionary activity. Conversations need to be had with our youngsters. Vocational life, in all its forms, needs to be an option on the careers’ prospectus. Other discussions also need to be had in regard to the shape of vocational living in contemporary society, by which I do not necessarily refer to the issue of women priests, nor married clergy (not least because we have had the latter for thirty years, albeit a rarefied form) and we often forget that Cardinal Henry Edward Manning (1808 – 1892), the second Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster after the restoration of the Hierarchy in 1850, was himself a widower. Whilst regarded as an austere individual, he was beloved by poorly paid workers as one of the few nationally recognised voices speaking up for better working conditions, and attempting to culture a social conscience amongst employers. In his rather academic book, “The Eternal Priesthood” he called on the clergy to be more than simply dispensers of Sacraments, but to be proactive advocates in social matters, using their role within a community to minister with a Gospel mind-set to those in most need.  

Just to talk vocation would be a start! Some initial conversations were had at various times. In post-war France the “Worker Priest” became a reality for some ordained men. Outside of a parochial ministry a small number of priests worked in factories and on the land, alongside communities to whom they ministered by presence and through pastoral concern. The nearest, and it is very distantly related to the French concept, that we have been familiar with were the clergy who taught in our schools. A name which appeared on our list of anniversaries recently was that of Fr. Frederick St. John Oram, who taught at St. Bede’s Grammar School in Bradford for many years. He was Received into the Catholic Faith at Holy Spirit Church in April 1928, confirmed the next year, subsequently ordained to the Priesthood in Rome (1936) and after spending a brief time as bishop’s secretary and a curate, he joined the staff at St. Bede’s in 1940. His was a lonely road to Priesthood, lacking the support of family, some of whom were openly disparaging of his desire to respond to the Lord’s call to “follow me.” In his process of discernment he will have endured a wilderness experience. No doubt a ministering angel at that time will have been Fr. Nicholson, who together with his curates will have assisted Fr. Oram in his process of discernment. As a member of staff at Heckmondwike Grammar School, I often visualise, an almost Churchillian walk across the dividing line of High Street to the Presbytery for his weekly ‘instruction,’ as we once called it. Fate determined that his priesthood and teaching career would be forever intertwined as death, just a short time before his pending retirement at 65, prevented him from being given a parochial appointment. This was unlike his former colleague at St. Bede’s, the almost legendary Fr. John Molony (known to pupils as “Johnny Moll”) who after spending no less than 25 years on the teaching staff was appointed Parish Priest of St. Patrick’, Birstall, where he spent a further 15 years until his sudden death in 1960. Two names which may evoke memories for some reading this! 

As a priest I can say that the influence of other clergy in the process of discernment and lived ministry have been, and continue to be, significant and important. Growing up in Otley our Parish Priest was a constant presence, providing for the spiritual needs of ourselves as a family, and also for everyone else in the town who identified as being Catholic. Whether individuals or families crossed its threshold, the church door was open, and Mass celebrated each day. It was a given. The product of a generation of clergy who were plenty in number, he travelled with some of them to places which in the 1970s were far distant from Otley, but on his return homilies brought biblical names to life as he regaled how mean and moody the Sea of Galilee could be, and what an incredible individual St. Paul was not least through his physical endurance and sense of adventure which saw him journey so widely in the Mediterranean basin. Serving Mass for him could bring public humiliation as he was a skilled stage whisperer, and any neglect of duty would be heralded to all in church! Despite this, we, as Altar-servers, remained loyal, and never shirked or neglected our service.  

A former curate in Otley was amongst those on the selection committee when I applied for a place at junior seminary. With astonishment and admiration when responding to a question as to whether he would know either of my parents, on proffering my mother’s maiden name, he listed the names of her parents and siblings together with their address. All remembered from his ministrations in the town over 30 years beforehand! As a student I spent a couple of placements with him in Bradford, together with his two curates and resident housekeeper. It was an insightful taste of Presbytery-life in times past.                                                         

At the Ordination of a Priest, another priest – often the rector of his seminary – is called upon to acknowledge that the candidate is worthy to assume the role and office. My choice catapulted a man who spent his life avoiding the spotlight into this role. It was based on the fact that we simply got on well from the day we met and acknowledged my gratitude for his wisdom, example and solid encouragement. Our friendship grew out of the rocky ground of him having fallen foul to the antics of an earlier experience when having opened up his home to a seminarian, the guest showed himself to be far move street and worldly-wise than his host. It was far from a good combination and resulted in the Parish Priest learning more, perhaps, than the clerical student. Aware of the breadth of experience that this priest and his parish could offer a student, the Vocations Director made a direct and impassioned plea for him to accept one Nicholas Hird, whom he had personally known from birth, under his roof. Needless to say his pleading worked and I was invited to spend a fortnight in the parish – half the usual time – but a useful get-out clause for the priest concerned had things gone pear-shaped. From day one we recognised that in many ways we were cut from the same cloth, and as the fortnight drew to a close, I was asked if I would like to stay on for another two weeks, which was further extended until he took his annual month-long holiday. A further invitation came for a week of pastoral experience at Christmas, and unusually, I was informed by the Vocations Director that I would be returning the following summer too by special request. As a student I was on placement to learn, and that included more than observation, but culturing necessary personal qualities, often overlooked. In a parish where six weekend Masses were celebrated, including one in a Chapel of Ease, there were times when in the absence of a supply priest to cover the illness of his curate, the Parish Priest would offer all the Masses himself. Despite his mild protestations, about there being no need for me to assist at all these … I did. Priesthood calls for stamina!                                   

The Church in which each of the men I’ve alluded to were ordained for Priestly service evolved greatly during their lifetimes, as it continues to do for each of us. Those gifted with faith today are not necessarily the tangibly faithful of previous generations, yet their expectations, not least in time of need, remain the same. In order for what has come to be a given expectation to continue into the future others will need to be cultured and nurtured to a place where a vocational way of life in the service of God and his people is a real option on their list of potential life-choices. This begins with the familiarity of belonging to a family of Faith, discerning conversations, encouraging and challenging guidance, the wise counsel and gentle nudging of those observing the sprouting green shoots of interest in this unique manner of life. The last year has shown the vulnerability of those whose ministrations we have all come to reply on. The reality of an aging priesthood has brought the ministerial lives of men, who in other walks of life, would already be retired, to a shuddering halt under the banner of shielding, meaning that church doors have been closed in many parts of the Diocese for much longer than others. Like so many, they too will now face the hesitant and at times faltering journey back to a new normality, which may see some hanging up the responsibility of their care for others in order to re-craft themselves.  

The high ideal of the Good Shepherd presented in this weekend’s Gospel is as much an aspirational sermon for those of us who share the privilege of an Ordained Ministry, as for those in localised communities of faith who are cared for by those sent to them by successive Bishops. The goodness of the individual may not always be evident, and the skills of shepherding rich and varied, however their unique ministry feeds us with both Sacrament and Word. A scenario devoid of their presence would potentially produce a famine for the souls of many. May the Lord indeed send labourers into His harvest, and may each of us play our part in providing an environment and atmosphere in which the youngsters of today may at least contemplate being the Priest or Religious to serve God and His people in the future.  

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

As ever, Fr. Nicholas 

17th April HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh

Dear Parishioners, 

Aware of Jeremy’s Vine’s absence from the air waves last week I tuned into BBC Radio 2’s lunchtime programme hosted by someone that I regard as a queen of articulation, Vanessa Feltz. Like many Jewish women who have chosen careers in the media, she has a wonderful ability to display the best of our verbal powers of communication in a manner that gives any listener an appreciation of the richness of the English vernacular. The diction, pronunciation, expressiveness and seeming endless dictionary of words that we share under the umbrella title of the English language is the conveyer of joy and satisfaction when used well and appropriately. Christopher Casson, the son of actress Sybil Thorndike, who taught public speaking to countless generations of seminarians in All Hallows, Dublin, my own training ground, would be proud of Vanessa ! In full spate, Ms. Feltz suddenly disappeared, and there followed a brief moment of silence making me think that that the power source had been interrupted. The pause was soon filled with an unrecognised voice reporting that news had been received from Buckingham Palace announcing the death of His Royal Highness, The Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh. As the brief contents of a written statement that I could imagine being hung on the palace railings, were read aloud the firmness and stability of the floor beneath my feet felt that little bit less solid and secure. Death had removed someone who had for an incredible number of years, for so many of us, been a part of the fabric, pageantry and structure of institution that make us as a nation who we are, and who on the highest, finest, grandest, most glorious, tragic and sad occasions has been a visible and ever present figure at public displays envied the world over.  

Living in the public eye from the time of his summer engagement to the then Princess Elizabeth, with whom he would share an amazing seventy-three years of married life which began on a mild but cloudy November day in 1947, in reality those able to remember times when he was not a feature of royal and state occasions will be approaching the venerable age of eighty. More than the span of years lived by some. In light of this there was something appropriate about having an opportunity to pause and acknowledge his passing. For some, it appears as though it was all a bit over the top judging by a reported 100,000+ complainants who took the time and trouble to contact the BBC over the disruption of viewing schedules. The anticipation surrounding the crowing of the Masterchef supremo of 2021, the loss of a socially-distanced but otherwise seemingly completely other worldly (in comparison to the restrictive one in which the rest of us inhabit !) episode of Eastenders, alongside the sacrificing of Gardeners World all taking place on a solitary Friday evening was clearly too much for some. Personally, what I saw of the programmes aired in their stead, measured in time, offered little more than a respective and appreciative nod to a man who had given decades in an attempt to make a positive difference to the lives of others, however that was done be it through the establishment of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, a walkabout allowing the briefest of conversations to be held with someone who had stood hours just for a glimpse of a royal, or through numerous determined efforts to bring people to a point of conversation, not least those of differing beliefs, as the case in 1986 when he was the mover and shaker orchestrating a meeting between the leaders of five major faith traditions with their topic of discussion being that of a shared concern – ecology. Definitely a man who thought outside the box. 

As a committed radio listener I took delight in the programmes broadcast by the BBC over the weekend offering many the opportunity of sharing their memories of Prince Philip. There were some amazing tales which revealed facets of the man which would never have been shared otherwise. My only encounter with the Duke of Edinburgh was in 1997 when the Queen came to Bradford in its centenary year as a city to distribute the Maundy Money. After the Service in St. Peter’s Cathedral the couple did a walkabout in a packed Centenary Square amongst a wonderfully diverse crowd whose facial delight alone conveyed affection and warmth for the monarch and her consort. In what was by then a time honoured custom the couple separated and worked the crowds, stopping to chat and gather armfuls of flowers and cards, faces delivering the broadest of smiles. Noticeable about the prince was his height, accentuated in comparison to the Queen’s diminutive figure, and his ramrod straight back. At the same six foot as myself, he appeared much taller facing the throng through good bearing and posture. With one arm crossed over to the elbow of the other he was clearly enjoying some longer conversations on the concourse. When the couple reunited it was to wave a final farewell, and receive a rapturous cheer from those like myself who would not forget the experience no matter how far back in the happy throng they may have been. Two very special people, igniting an equally special moment in the storeroom of memory.   

Little could I have imagined that within a decade I would be asked to supply the names of two people who would be the recipients of the Maundy Money distributed at Wakefield Cathedral in 2005. It was a privilege to do so, and my choice came after local research and discreet enquiries, as both candidates had to be volunteers of long-standing within the community. Those nominated, each of pension-age, committed to supporting children within and outside of their school life, were numbered amongst the one hundred and fifty-eight people, of equal division between women and men, representing the age attained by the Queen that year (seventy-nine), who received not only the Maundy coinage but also a purse containing newly minted commemorative currency. Each could take a guest, and were invited to a luncheon afterwards. The lady whose name I had put forward had intended to attend with her sister, but shortly before the day, her nominated guest was laid low with a bad back rendering it impossible for her to be present. Having sensed the upset in her voice at having to make the journey alone, in a conversation with the said lady, I enquired if there was a telephone number anywhere on the preparatory paperwork that she had received. Phew … there was ! Encouraging her to ring and explain the situation to the ‘event organiser’ believing that this would not be the first time such an issue had arisen, about half an hour later I received a return call from the lady concerned. She was very excited, bursting to tell someone that when she dialled the number, it was answered by an incredibly well-spoken man, whose first words were “Buckingham Palace !” At over eighty years of age, I suspect that the lady concerned could never, even in her wildest dreams, have imagined making such a call from her modest flat in Dewsbury to, perhaps, the best known residence in the world. Nor was I ever sure which had given her the greatest delight: the actual ceremony at which she met one of the residents of Buckingham Palace, or the fact that she had dialled digits that were answered in such a gracious manner. The gentleman that I had nominated regaled his captivation by the Duke of Edinburgh’s delivery of Sacred Scripture, commenting that not only did he read well but he did so with the conviction of believing every word. An insightful observation and compliment indeed.                                        

For a man who joined the royal ‘firm’ as an outsider, treated with suspicion by some, from both within and without, the role that became his, when in distant Kenya, he was the one to break the news of her father’s death to his wife, she became monarch, was one without precedent. There was no blueprint and the nearest model, that of Prince Albert – with whom Prince Philip shared similarities in a sharp and inquisitive intellect, foresight and vision, not to mention a devotional love for the woman he had married – was well beyond lived memory. Bringing himself into the role heart and soul, in many ways Prince Philip was a man whose life-experience was well ahead of his generation. His early years were in what would today be described as a dysfunctional family unit, and when stability was restored, having arrived penniless and homeless in England, it was shattered by the premature loss of his mentor. Like so many of his age-group life and limb were risked in a World War, and he learnt what hard work and discipline were in a continuing military setting. He bore the credentials necessary to face a modern and evolving world. Long term he showed that it is possible to make a difference, but it takes time. Breaking down barriers is often a life-time’s work. An important lesson for those who expect change to be instant, obtained easily and devoid of effort, pain, or sacrifice. These were elements that are recognisable in the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award. Taking talent and skill, culturing them in an environment that, whilst supportive and encouraging, is also challenging, drawing participants beyond their expectations, working as individuals forming a team that provides benefits for the wider community.  

First and foremost, the late Duke was a husband, father and grandfather across two generations. It will be as such that he is most mourned and by those closest to him that the pain of loss and absence will be felt. Many commentators lament his death just weeks shy of his hundredth birthday. Whilst his wry sense of humour may have made much about receiving a telegram from his wife, he undoubtedly would have hated being in the limelight. He was naturally ill at ease when praise was offered, skilled at deflecting accolades, so the attainment of his hundredth year was probably a good compromise reached between himself and the Good Lord. Acknowledged as a no fuss individual his Funeral will be in accordance with his wishes, aligning itself to many celebrated over the last year with limited numbers, social distancing, facial coverings and no congregational singing. In its execution, I anticipate, that the royal family will lead the nation by good example. Above all it will be a time when the ultimate hope of our Christian faith is expressed and shared with a worldwide viewing congregation. Prince Philip’s own deep rooted Christian faith, initially that of the Greek Orthodox tradition, and subsequently as a confirmed Anglican, was hugely significant to him. The unabashed and obvious references to the Christian Faith and significance of Christ’s birth made by his wife in her Christmas Speech in more recent times bear all the hallmarks of his influence. Whilst some may attribute his respect and reliance upon faith as being a legacy from his mother – described by her own mother as “a nun who smokes and plays canasta !” – the Duke of Edinburgh took nothing as a given, and will have tried and tested the gift of his faith, as well as seen the benefit and advantages of it, before committing to it or being guided by it. In offering his sympathy to the Queen, Pope Francis (to whom Prince Philip presented a bottle of Scotch whisky in 2014) wrote: “Recalling Prince Philip’s devotion to his marriage and family, his distinguished record of public service and his commitment to the education and advancement of future generations [we] commend him to the merciful love of Christ our Redeemer,” adding the Lord’s blessings of consolation and peace upon all who grieve his loss in the sure hope of the resurrection. 

 In a moment of silence at three o’clock today (Saturday) we are called to pause briefly. As a people of faith may we do so in prayerful remembrance. Royalist or republican, public service, duty, fidelity and humility are great virtues in either’s language and worthy of acknowledgement. 

May we remain united in heart and soul just as the early people of the Christian Faith were recognised as being by those whose lives they shared. Be assured of prayerful remembrances and affection. 

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.)