25th April 2020

Dear Parishioners,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

United in affection and prayer,

Fr. Nicholas

18th April 2020

Dear Parishioners,

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

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

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

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

Dust if you Must !

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

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

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

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

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

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

With my prayerful remembrances of you and your intentions,

Fr. Nicholas

11th April 2020 – Holy Saturday

Dear Parishioners,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Could life really have won the victory over death?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May our Faith be strengthened by Easter,

our Love deepened,

and our Hope be brightened.

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

As ever,

Fr. Nicholas

4th April 2020 – Holy Week Greetings

Dear Parishioners,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rose a loud cry upon a lonely hill,

while in the frailty of human clay,

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

Still stands His cross from that dread hour to this

like some bright star above the dark abyss;

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

look down to bless our lesser Calvaries.”

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

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

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

With prayerful support and encouragement,

As ever, Fr. Nicholas

1st April 2020

Dear Parishioners,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holding you all, and your intentions in prayer,

With all very best wishes,

Fr. Nicholas