25th September 2021

Dear Parishioners,

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

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

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

As ever, Fr. Nicholas

19th June 2021

Dear Parishioners, 

Temptation has many disguises. One that I very occasionally succumb to is the purchasing of a lottery ticket. Instinctively a quiet inner voice reminds me that my chances of winning are virtually non-existent, but on high days and holidays I sometimes take the plunge and join millions of others whose numbers will likewise produce no tangible harvest of breaking even let alone of accumulating more than was initially speculated. Regret is the usual afterglow, as having checked my numbers, all I get is a notice wishing me better luck next time ! Once asked what I would do if I won the jackpot, I responded by saying that I would sit down and count it. A reply based on a vague thought that I would need a lot of time to begin to comprehend the fact that I had won anything at all, let alone how I might begin to dispose of it. The nearest I ever came to walking away from a form of gambling with a sizeable prize was a rather bitter-sweet experience. As a clerical student on placement at St. Joseph’s in Bradford, attending the weekly Sunday evening bingo session held in the school hall was an almost compulsory activity for the parish clergy, housekeeper and anyone else who just happened to be around at the time. In a packed room games were played in absolute silence as numbers were called with their dated ornamentations by a solo voice, as everyone waited for an interruption from a second voice crying out “Here!” With the ticket removed from their clutches, checked and authenticated at the front of the hall, a prize for a line or house would be given to the owner of the voice. After a brief social interlude, play would resume, with some eyes scanning a roll of bingo cards that Andrex would have been proud of. For the endurance of a game these were the keenest, sharpest and brightest of eyes in the land. Who needs a visit to Spec-savers when prize money is at stake!    

Maximum tension entered the room as a tangible presence when it came to the weekly Accumulator. Heightening tension was the opportunity to purchase extra tickets with the luring prospect, hope and expectation of claiming an increasingly growing jackpot within an initially low number of calls, which when unclaimed, was added to by an extra number each week. With a meagre two tickets to cast my beady eyes over the game began. There was no prize for a single line. It was eyes-down for a full house only, with every woman and man concentrating on their own interests. Sitting there quietly (there wasn’t an option!) the numbers slowly called were beginning to favour me, and eventually it was my own youthful voice that cried “Here!” The response of those I was sitting with was a glance conveying the cryptic message: if you’ve got it wrong they’ll lynch you! In a brief moment of time my life flashed before my eyes. Had there been a power cut, the red glow of embarrassment and awkwardness that I depicted could have illuminated half the city. Eventually the verdict came. I was indeed holding the winning ticket. Although the Caller-judge wasn’t wearing a black hood, the eyes of many in the room had passed the death sentence on the in-comer who was about to walk away with £100. To add insult to the pervading atmosphere of disdain and injury, I was also given £10 for the full house. On returning to the Presbytery I remember ‘phoning my parents to tell them of my good fortune … never quite sure which was the greater; escaping with my life, or claiming the much sought-after Accumulator prize. Monetary values have changed massively since the 1980s, so it is worth putting the £110 into perspective. At the junior seminary I lived on £10 spending money for an entire half-term.  

Whilst my luck and fortune in the realm of random draws may be slight, in the lottery of life itself I consider myself very fortunate many times over, not least believing that I was gifted with the jackpot when it came to the parents that God chose to provide me with. Neither would have claimed perfection in the field, nor boasted of being the best or having been awarded a coveted trophy for their endeavours. But after all there is no race or competition about parenting, except perhaps on a school playing field during sports’ day activities ! For the gift of my parents’ presence on life’s journey, I continue to thank God each day. For my mother, at least I imagine, this was to be for a lot longer than she ever comprehended when I first opened my eyes to the world as we know it, at a time when being a forty-plus Mum was said to be late in life. Into her nineties she was still a guiding light for me at fifty, keeping me going through the power of her love and prayers, which I’m sure continue to this day, although now from a different location. As for Dad, having lost his own father when he was under twenty, there is no blue-print to work from as a parent of a child in his mid-fifties. And yes, for as long as we have a parent we are still children, sometimes being reminded of it by a word, tone, or look. Such an experience of good parenting for me has indeed been, and continues to be, beyond price, and I count it as a continuing, unfolding rich and inspiring blessing every day. Something for which, and in which, I am incredibly fortunate.   

This weekend many of us will have the opportunity of acknowledging the gift that God has given to us in the form and shape of our fathers, whether we are able to be with them in person, communicate across distance with a card or call, or simply remember those no longer with us, who at the end of their earthly journey have been called back to their eternal home by the Lord. Appreciative of the fact that not for all will Father’s Day have positive overtones, for those able to be grateful it is good to have a day on which a simple word or gesture of thanks can be expressed. Unlike Mothering Sunday the, now annual, celebration of fatherhood doesn’t have roots as clearly established in Christian culture, although the recognition of the influence of fathers on their children has long been aligned to honouring St. Joseph. Amongst the Coptic Orthodox community, who celebrate St. Joseph’s Day on 20th July, the celebration of the vocational calling to fatherhood has a history dating back to the fifth century. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition the acknowledgement of the role of fathers in the lives of their children is an Advent celebration, when tribute is paid to the ancestors of Jesus, starting with Adam, emphasizing Abraham, our Father in Faith, progressing to St. Joseph, as St. Matthew records “the husband of Mary of whom was born Jesus who is called the Christ” (Matt. 1:16) 

Along with the image of the crib, we have the Franciscans to thank for the custom of linking the established feast of St. Joseph with a universal celebration of fatherhood, dating from the early 15th century. The more modern and familiar elements of the day such as cards or gift-giving (and in Lithuania a public holiday) have evolved as different countries began introducing a designated date into their own calendars on which to celebrate fathers. Observed on 23rd February each year, the title of Russia’s day of celebration “Defender of the Fatherland Day” has almost militaristic overtones. With a personal devotion to St. Joseph, I find an easy and obvious bridge between the witness to fatherhood that my own Dad continues to offer me and a very old title given to the craftsman of Nazareth, to whom the angelic messenger entrusted the care of God’s Son from before His birth. Honoured as the “Nourisher of the Lord” (Nutritor Domini) St. Joseph throughout his life fulfilled this vocational role quietly, unassumingly and without drawing undue attention to himself – a singular virtue that we call loving humility – which St. Paul would subsequently describe as being endlessly “patient, … kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no records of wrongs … does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres … [it] never fails.”(1 Corinthians 13:4ff.) For these qualities (and so many more) seen in and lived by our Dads … Thank you, today and always !       

Bless Our Fathers 

Heavenly Father,
Today we ask You to bless our earthly fathers for the many times they reflected the love, strength, generosity, wisdom and mercy that You exemplify in Your relationship with us, Your children.

We honour our fathers for putting our needs above their own convenience and comfort; for teaching us to show courage and determination in the face of adversity; for challenging us to move beyond self-limiting boundaries; for modelling the qualities that would turn us into responsible, principled, caring adults.

Not all our fathers lived up to these ideals.
Give them the grace to acknowledge and learn from their mistakes.
Give us the grace to extend to them the same forgiveness that you offer us all.
Help us to resist the urge to stay stuck in past bitterness, instead, moving forward with humility and peace of heart.

We ask your blessing on those men who served as father figures in our lives
when our biological fathers weren’t able to do so.
May the love and selflessness they showed us be returned to them in all their relationships, and help them to know that their influence has changed us for the better.

Give new and future fathers the guidance they need to raise happy and holy children, grounded in a love for God and other people – and remind these fathers that treating their wives with dignity, compassion and respect is one of the greatest gifts they can give their children.

We pray that our fathers who have passed into the next life have been welcomed into Your loving embrace, and that our family will one be day be reunited in your heavenly kingdom.

In union with St. Joseph, whom you entrusted with Your Son, we ask Your generous blessings today and every day. Amen. 

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

As ever, Fr. Nicholas

12th June 2021

Dear Parishioners, 

Questioning my value I recently placed an estimate on myself of between 89p and £2.50. This was based on the price labels left on the reverse of Christmas, Easter and birthday cards. Childhood memories of purchasing cards bring to mind the shopkeeper’s ritual of producing a rubber to remove the pencilled price from their reverse, and then gently blowing away any surplus grains of the erasure. Subsequently with cards sold in a plastic wrap the price was removed with the outer layer. Then we moved to codes … perhaps best not to go there, because whilst the deciphering was left to a machine it was a human being who demanded, at times, an extortionate amount for what was fundamentally a folded piece of paper with a little bit of glitter applied to it. Highway robbery was an expression frequently used at home, although unlike today there were no facial coverings on those asking us to stand and deliver! Still delighting in the use of pen and paper to communicate, I shall no doubt continue to pay whatever price in order to purchase these items of stationary.  

Valuing ourselves through the use of a particular unit of measurement has clearly had an impact upon the language of worth. Any mention of St. Thomas the Apostle will be followed by the question, Do you mean Doubting Thomas ?  And if we use the word priceless about someone it is usually in response to a gaff in speech or a series of actions which led to unforeseen and unintended consequences. These responses imply an almost innate reductionist or devaluing attitude. Thomas the Twin is not a saint due to his incredulity, but because of the faith he professed and ultimately died for. Likewise whilst priceless can correctly be used to describe something very amusing or incredibly absurd, in its truest sense it conveys an understanding that someone or something is so precious that their or its value cannot be determined. The people, experiences, and things that are truly priceless to ourselves come in a variety of wrappings, not all of them glitter covered or as bright and garish as may be expected, and most definitely no price tag will be visible; removed long ago! 

Whilst still at junior seminary, I was asked by a couple of friends if I would like to accompany them on a short break to Buckfast Abbey in Devon. It was somewhere that my parents had visited in the 1950’s but was unknown to me. Getting there involved an all-day coach journey depositing us on the English Riviera from which we had get a taxi (a novelty for me!) to the Abbey. We were greeted by the monastic Doorkeeper, Brother Baptist, who on opening the door cast a keen and shrewd eye over the new arrivals. In the absence of the regular monk-Guestmaster the responsibility for our care was placed in the hands of numerous members of the very hospitable Benedictine community who all seemed to view us as potential postulants. Whilst, of the three of us, I initially appeared to be the most responsive to the routine and discipline of our monastic experience, St. Benedict did eventually claim one us, although, clearly not yours truly. 

The timing of our visit, which for myself was to be a repeated experience over a good number of years, provided a priceless postcard of insight into another world. At daily gatherings in the Monk’s Common-room after lunch in the Refectory (where the meal was eaten in silence, broken by a single voice reading from a book chosen by the Abbot) there was a human time-line of the Abbey’s history. Men with German and French accents representing the early days of the modern community; others who had physically laid stone upon stone in the building of the Abbey church; craftsmen whose unique enhancing gifts provided an awe-inspiring environment for generations of visiting pilgrims and tourists alike; teachers, monks who worked on the land, others who ran parishes, those who were the backbone of maintaining community life such as cooks, cleaners, launderers, as well as an Infirmarian, not to mention those working in the gift shop and on the distilling process of the world-renowned Tonic Wine, as well as an Abbot and his predecessor. Their outward wrapping was uniform, the black of the Benedictine habit worn when together, an outward sign of equality before God and representative of no worldly ambition. On dispersal academic gowns were donned as well as over-alls, jeans and kitchen whites. The brethren rejoining their own worlds. 

A notable absentee from these daily happenings was a monk then in his mid-80s, who had arrived at the Abbey from his native Germany with indifferent health at the age of 11 in 1910 – Brother Adam Kehrle. He joined the community as a Lay-Brother, dedicated to serve the Lord through manual work, to differentiate his vocation from that of a Choir-monk, whose voice would sing God’s praise in Liturgical celebration, and the Priest-monks who proclaimed the Word and celebrated the Sacraments. Whilst the Vatican Council of the 1960’s saw the Lay and Choir monks absorbed into a single entity, communities continued to respectfully accept old ways being adhered to by those who had lived that way for decades. I first came across Brother Adam during a very, very early morning walk around the still, quiet monastic grounds, which was one of the privileges we enjoyed as guest of the Community. He was waiting for a lift to take him on to the wilds of Dartmoor to the Abbey’s world-renowned bee breeding station. A cheery wave and a quick hello, on his part still with an accent, was our introduction: I’d had an audience with a legend. With nothing to distinguish him from many others of venerable years, except perhaps the fact that he was up as dawn broke, and clearly about to head off for a full day’s work, I was in the presence of a man whose knowledge and devotion to one species of life on our planet took him beyond any monetary value. At the age of 21 he was placed in charge of the Abbey’s apiary, before which he had cultured the first Buckfast strain of bee which was resistant to a parasite that had devastated the country’s native bee colonies during the Great War. As soon as he was allowed, his world-wide travels began, and included, aged 90, being carried up Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain (at 19,340 feet) strapped to the back of a fellow apiarist on a bamboo chair, in search of native strains of bees! Recognising the importance of the bee, his life-work was to ensure that it survived numerous fatal diseases, literally pouring years of his own life into encouraging selective crossings between strains, producing new stronger varieties including the so-called Buckfast Superbee, which reputedly was the healthiest and most prolific honey producer ever bred. Bees produced at Buckfast found new homes around the world, and in 1991 helped salvage honey production in the USA which had been brought to a near halt in some States by disease. Whilst he travelled widely, those seeking his incredible knowledge and wisdom also knocked on the door of his world in Buckfast. They came from across the world and met the man as he was. Without exception they were called upon to live as he lived; long days and hard graft! Accompanying him to the unforgiving moors, it was always a hands-on experience of learning, often rather rough and devoid of the finesse of laboratory or university life.   

So highly valued were some of his bees that at different times theft was a significant risk, leading him to decamp to the moors to live alongside them. When two queens were stolen from the apiaries at the Abbey, the local constabulary circulated a description from the great man should any officers come across them: “three-quarters of an inch in length, with dark brown and dark gray stripes.” Despite his globe-trotting life and long absences from the communal element of the Abbey, Brother Adam never lost sight of the fact that his work with bees was vocational, it was his way of serving the God to whom he had committed his life as little more than a boy, and when, in 1992, his Abbot asked him to step away from the research element of his work, to concentrate more on honey production, he obediently bowed to the will of his superior. Somewhat grounded at Buckfast due to the onset of age, his wisdom and counsel continued to be much sought after. A fact that never ceased to bring him delight being able to contribute to others committed to working alongside the humble bee. His return to God at the age of 98 in 1996, removed a truly priceless individual.  

Whilst the Abbey Church at Buckfast has an almost medieval feel to it, despite being completed in 1938, it also has a striking contemporary Blessed Sacrament Chapel, where visitors to the Abbey are invited to spend time in silent, contemplative prayer. Its dominant feature is a huge east window (measuring some 8 meters across) depicting Christ at table with offerings of bread and wine. Between the two glass depictions of the gifts stands the chapel’s Tabernacle, to the fore of which is the altar used for Holy Mass. It is captivating by its size alone, and as a priest who has celebrated Mass in front of it there is something quite surreal in being almost absorbed into an image of what you are celebrating. The window was crafted from a technique known as dalles-de-verre (from the French glass-slab) in which tiles of coloured glass are chipped into shape and set, mosaic fashion, into a concrete or resin matrix. The designer and master craftsman of this project which took some three years to complete was Fr. Charles Norris, a member of the Buckfast community, who arrived at the Abbey having trained at the Royal College of Art in London in the 1920s.  

His admittance to the Benedictine family coincided with the building of the Abbey church, and its growing need for embellishment. With an abundant skill-base he worked in glass, marble, ceramics and when war was declared was found on his back atop of scaffolding, painting the ceiling of the Lantern Tower in egg-tempera and gold-leaf detail! In traditional and long established format he produced windows, pavements and floors, but hungering and thirsting for fresh and new techniques his imagination led him, disciple-like to sit at the feet of Pierre Fourmaintraux, the man acknowledged to have brought the skill of dalle-de-verre to England. In turn Fr. Charles became one of the most prolific proponents of the style in the country with associate workshops at both Prinknash Abbey and Aylesford Priory. Into his 90s he was still working, and his guidance constantly sought by those inspired by his creations in colourful glass. In the midst of the worshipping community of the Abbey it was less his artistic skill for which he was noted, but his presence on a stool in the Choir, singing as a Cantor with three of his confreres in Religious Life. In this he was true to his first calling to follow God’s plan for his life. With fine voice and through artistic skill he returned thanks, responding to the question of the psalmist; “How can I repay the Lord for His goodness to me ?” (Psalm 115) 

To myself as a teenager this erudite octogenarian, over a coffee in the Common-room, was an utter joy to engage with in conversation. Despite his undoubted encyclopaedic knowledgebase he still had room for more, quizzing me about the education I was receiving, and when mention was made of the Abbeys at Kirkstall and Fountains, he gave me a very full history lesson on the nineteenth century origins of Buckfast whose architect had used these Yorkshire foundations as a blueprint on which to build. Priceless!    

St. Paul described us as “God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus for the good works which God has already designated to make up our way of life” (Ephesians 2:10) and as such we really are beyond price. So, on those days when you wonder where on the scale you are between 89p and £2.50, recall experiences unique to yourself, relationships that you’ve enjoyed, and the abundance of gifts and talents that are yours alone, which if used well and spent liberally in the marketplace of life, will have enhanced and benefitted untold numbers, both the named and anonymous. In a world of scientific research or art Brother Adam and Fr. Charles Norris would undoubtedly have found themselves with a valuation measured on someone’s rich list, based solely on accumulated monetary wealth. Instead, they gave their lives in answer to a call God made upon them, first and foremost to serve Him, and to use the talents and gifts He had entrusted them with for the benefit of those who shared their life journey. Each man priceless, and not forgotten by myself, whose life through presence and conversation they enhanced and enriched albeit for a relative short time.  

Holding you in prayerful remembrance and affection, together with those on your life journey who are truly beyond value … priceless. 

As ever, Fr. Nicholas

5th June 2021

Dear Parishioners, 

Last week began with the Feast of the Visitation, a celebration of the hospitality of welcome that Our Lady received from her cousins Elizabeth and Zechariah, which extended for a period of three months. The alternative festive reading comes from St. Paul writing to the Christian community in Rome (Romans 12:9-16). It is incredibly sensitive and offers a further insight into the author’s very practical understanding of God’s love for humankind being generously responded to in an all-round concern and care for their neighbours. In the midst of it is the call for the followers of Christ to “make hospitality [their] special care.” It forges an easy link between the mention made last week to the term “guests” used to describe the Belgians resident in the Spen Valley during the Great War and a considerable number of comments, from near and far, in regard to this widely untapped seam of both local and national history. There was unanimous agreement that the word “guests” was far more appropriate than others that may have been given, offering as it does an image of openness, acceptance, practical assistance and welcome. It is estimated that between 225,000 – 265,000 Belgian civilians sought sanctuary in Britain in what was the largest ever influx of people on to our shores in just a few short weeks. These figures do not include a further 150,000 Belgian soldiers who took leave in the country during the war, or the 25,000 wounded men who convalesced here. The vagueness of figures is due in part to the incomplete, scant and random records that were initially kept as the first arrivals were already settled into havens of safety. Welcome was given precedence over detailed statistics. More locally it was reported that by the end of 1915 there were no less than 1571 “guests” in the city of Leeds alone.

Throughout Britain local committees were formed to help with the practical assistance needed by “guests” who arrived with few possessions, and not necessarily even a shared tongue with their hosts. Thankfully the language of welcome is almost universally understood regardless of verbal communication. Arriving at railway stations in both Leeds and Wakefield Belgians who fled their homes and country were assigned to local towns where properties were made ready to house them and structures of practical measures put in place to make sure that they felt safe and secure.

Alongside meeting their immediate needs in terms of housing, healthcare and finances, provision was made for the education of children and attempts to meet the spiritual needs of these “guests,” with places being found for children in local schools and clergy willing to share their altars and pulpits with Belgian priests who, like their flocks, found themselves displaced. The scenario of the loan of an unused chapel, as was the case in Cleckheaton, primarily for the use of the town’s “guests” was somewhat unusual, far more commonplace was for Belgians to join fellow Catholics at Mass in a local church. Although, in a report sent to the exiled auxiliary Bishop of Mechelen (Antoine Alponses Wachter 1855 – 1932) from Fr. Norbertus Van Haesendonck (1871 – 1934) who ministered in Dewsbury (1914 – 1916), it appears that a number of Belgians were not overly eager to make the journey to a church that was not on their doorstep ! Likewise, his writings acknowledge issues over education and sacramental preparation, as many of the children, despite being Catholic, were found places in non-Catholic schools. Contemporary newspapers mention some resentment towards the younger male “guests” not least because, unlike increasingly numbers of their indigenous peers, they were not at the Front. On the whole any hiccups in settlement or hostility in attitude, word or deed, were far outweighed by the generosity of the response made by the citizens of one nation to those of another. Cleckheaton New Cemetery contains three graves witnessing losses suffered by the town’s “guests” during their stay. Two of the three uniform headstones, which each give personal details and probably represent the gift of a local stonemason, bear the additional inscription: “Exiled from Belgium during the Great War and was an honoured guest of Cleckheaton.” The third is that of a child, aged just eleven weeks, who was born at Highfield House, Cleckheaton, on 27th March 1916, baptised at the town’s Anglo-Belgian Chapel on 1st April, and whilst presumably British by birth, her headstone notes that her parents were natives of Antwerp.   

There are many references made to hospitality in Sacred Scripture, virtually all positive experiences for those sheltered, welcomed, protected and fed by others. There are some massively obvious moments such as the feeding of the five thousand, the Passover meal at which the Eucharist was instituted, and the gift of manna and quails to the people of God tramping through the wilderness. Others are more subtle such as the feast given by Abraham and Sarah beneath the Oak of Mamre to the three guests addressed in the singular person (Genesis 18ff); Elijah being fed by ravens and who begged from the widow at Zarephath the last of her bread and oil (1 Kings 17:6ff);  Boaz’s order to his work-people that they should be generous with the gleanings discarded on his land for Ruth to collect (Ruth 2:15ff). Concern for the well-being of the stranger, together with care for the orphan and widow, is emphasized in both first and second testaments, not least because the people of God had known what it was like to be the stranger, hence theirs was empathetic hospitality, where a gracious welcome and table-fellowship came before questions about name, origin, reason for journeying or anything else.       

Hospitality is not always about food, not even in the Bible. God’s care for the sulky and indignant prophet Jonah included His call for a castor-oil plant to sprout, giving “shade for his head and soothe his ill-humour” (Jonah 4:6ff), and a very hungry caterpillar which served as an alarm clock the next day by eating the entire God-provided vegetation ! This forms a bridge with a story of my own in regard to the hospitality that I found myself offering a couple of years ago to a kaleidoscope of Painted Ladies. Which, before anyone begins looking up the phone number for Bishop’s House, are a species of butterfly, as the collective – one of several – hints at ! Although not uncommon in any year, there was a noted national influx of them at the time, and having migrated from northern Africa it seemed as though half of their number had taken up rent-free residence in Cleckheaton. They were most welcome, and clearly enjoyed the various blossoming shrub species in the garden, not least a Buddleia situated by the living room window, which gave me a truly wonderful view, from the inside, of these flying beauties during their gathering of food and whilst gently resting between flights. The object of their attention was truly living up to one of its nicknames, “Butterfly Bush.” That said Buddleias are not altogether the flavour of the month currently, classified as an invasive species they are the bane of Network Rail often growing in random and obscure places interfering with overhead power lines and blocking signals, and are blamed for the destruction of some natural sites of special scientific interest. In light of this, I feel somewhat guilty about the fact that I planted a second Buddleia last autumn in the hope of offering hospitality to both visiting butterflies and bees. The fact that I have not gone out and bought a new plant, something that people are increasingly doing at garden centres, but rather moved it from elsewhere may somewhat placate my action. Seeing what was little more than a twig with a few leaves on it throughout the autumn and winter, begin to sprout new greenery and look hugely more healthy than it did on arrival, has given me great personal satisfaction that I can cultivate more than the orchids for which I am known to have an affinity. All I need now are the Painted Ladies to turn up on the doorstep once more ! So far all I have seen taking up residence on it are a few Ladybirds.   

In regard to hospitality we can ponder a question, almost biblical in expression: which is the greater, the offering of hospitality or the reception of it ? On the Feast of the Visitation we venerate Our Blessed Lady who was in fact the journeyer, and the beneficiary of hospitality. Those whose door she found open on her arrival, Elizabeth and Zechariah, almost appear to be secondary characters in the story recalled uniquely by St. Luke. In reality it takes effort and courage to search out a door to knock upon, uncertain of the reception we shall receive. Generosity and kindness are needed to make a guest feel at home and safe. In her greeting to Our Lady, the woman of the Hill Country, Elizabeth, removed the confusion felt by the younger woman as a result of her initial, enthusiastic and naïve response to Gabriel’s invitation to be the mother of God’s Son: “Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb !” Only with the fog of doubt and uncertainty lifted can Our Lady utter her prayer of praise, the Magnificat. In return Mary brought her youthful enthusiasm into the home of her older relatives, not to mention the gift of conversation and laughter into an environment where one of the residents, through incredulity, had be struck dumb by God.              

Whatever shape or form the hospitality that we offer to others may it be a source of blessing to both the giver and recipient. Renowned for her hospitality, the following words are attributed to the fifth-century Irish saint, Bridget:                                           

“I should like a great lake of finest ale, for the King of Kings;
I should like a table of the choicest food, for the family of heaven.
Let the table be made from the fruits of faith, and the food be forgiving love.
I should welcome the poor to my feast, for they are God’s children.
I should welcome the sick to my feast, for they are God’s joy.
Let the poor sit with Jesus at the highest place,
and the sick dance with the angels.
God bless the poor, God bless the sick, and God bless our human race.
God bless our food, God bless our drink, all homes, O God, embrace.” 

Let us continue to be united as a community of faith in both prayer and affection, offering to others generous hospitality when they seek it, and finding an open door in our own times of need.    

As ever, Fr. Nicholas

22nd May 2021

Dear Parishioners, 

Despite the all necessary extra care that has to be taken these days in so many areas of life when dealing with the ‘unknowns’ thrown at us, I still cannot resist the temptation to bend down and pick up the seemingly random item from the pavement or gutter that catches my eye. Usually it is a discarded coin, sometimes an item that looks like a coin but turns out not to be, so I then have to carry it to the nearest dustbin ! Thank goodness for the hand-sanitiser which lurks in every pocket I dip my hand into. Being of a generation that can recall the purchasing power of a ha’penny in a sweetshop, I still see value in a penny. Alas, that power may not be what it used to be, but as well as being discarded by some as they fall from pockets with an attitude that they aren’t worth expending the energy it takes to retrieve them, these small copper-plated coins continue to make their way into our collection baskets. However it takes a lot of them to fill the required bag for them to become an acceptable, and also relatively heavy, bankable item. Weekly on a Sunday morning I gather and collect a varying amount of discarded rubbish from Bath Road, wondering as I do so where the youthful team of Spen Valley Greta Thunbergs are. Did I dream of youngsters taking days off our schools in Kirklees a couple of years ago to protest about adult-neglect of an environment we all share! Certainly when I do see people litter-picking they tend to be of mature years. Perhaps the link between the localised picture and global issues is lost in translation. Having a Dad who has always been able to see a further use for the discarded item, perhaps my tendency is hereditary. Our extended garage at Otley is the gallery in which he houses a life-time’s habit of waiting for the moment when the retrieved item will come in useful. Thus far it is an area of our home that has not fallen under the spell of my sorting and tidying skills. Earlier work done in the pantry and greenhouse would barely equate to a shelf in this Aladdin’s Cave as I’ve heard it referred to on occasion. Not my words! My vocabulary when discussing this space usually includes the word ‘skip’ at which Dad pales.   

Last week I picked up a random item from the driveway. I have no idea of its origin, and shall not blame the birds, as a recently published report stated that for every one human being on the planet there are six birds. Being so out-numbered it is worth knowing who’s really in charge! The object that found its way into my hand, en route to the bin was a piece of a jigsaw. Turning it this way and that I couldn’t quite make out what the design was, nor guess at the larger picture it fitted into and was ultimately an integral part-player of. In my hands and eyes it was random and reduced in meaning, but in the context of the whole jigsaw it was vital, necessary, crucial and completed the picture of which it was just one single piece.  

There is an element of being a piece of a jigsaw in all of us. Like many, at the end of each day, I offer the Lord an overview of the experiences of the waking hours that I recall. Sometimes I present a lengthy list of negatives for which I seek forgiveness and pardon, and maybe the future opportunity to redress, or bring back into balance, that which I may have upset or taken away from its normal harmony by the sharp word, neglectful deed, or simply poor attitude. On such days I sincerely hope that those who encounter that piece of the jigsaw of myself, will understand that there are a lot more pieces – maybe not visible or apparent in that single encounter – which when put together and taken as a whole, form a much more pleasant and likeable total experience than that dealt out in the tangible expression of a single word, deed, or moment of bad attitude.  

Reassuringly there are many more reflective times, when on contemplation of a day drawing to its close, my heart is filled with gratitude to God for all the positives to which I have, thanks to Their gifts working through me, been able to contribute a tiny speck of betterment or enhancement to those whose lives I’ve been privileged to encounter. For all of us, I am convinced that this list is far lengthier than the former viewed and clung to by regret and lamentation. Ultimately there are many jigsaw-like pieces and elements that contribute to the larger picture of our lives, in part seen by ourselves, by others, and in its totality by Those in whose image and likeness we are created. Some of these may appear to be more intrinsically linked to the whole than others, perhaps more bland – rather like sky in a landscape picture – but are equally necessary and whose contribution is one of a reliable presence devoid of which something would most definitely and noticeably be absent. 

The jigsaw of childhood is formed of large pieces, all rather naively obvious and quickly slotted together to produce a simple image. Without a need for complication we are satisfied with the basics, including love, the attention of others, food, warmth, security, and another necessary piece is one which is constantly changing shape, proportion and is the element of ourselves that is open to the learning of life that begins at home, the first classroom of experience. As teenagers we discover that there are many more pieces to the jigsaw of who we are than we first saw on the box-lid of childhood. Some pieces are simply accepted as a given, others rebelled against, and in the demand of the instant-fix pieces can be forcefully put into places not rightly theirs, meaning that others are adrift and out of place. The enthusiasm, sense of pushing boundaries and simple youthful determination to explore new frontiers can make the promise held by a thousand pieces so appealing, luring and tempting. Reality can take the jigsaw in many directions, not least into the safe hands of those experienced enough to guide and direct through assistance; see it become a pile of individual pieces smashed in frustration with even those that had been so tentatively and appropriately connected broken apart; not to mention the incomplete picture walked away from when the bland and uninteresting routine lacks sparkle or boredom strikes, bringing an army of seemingly relevant and meaningful distractions, which last no longer than a style of clothing or hair colour.  

Relationships allow us to see beyond the few pieces that we hold in our own hands. Others are attracted by what we ourselves take for granted, and even begin to nudge us in the direction of seeing more elements of the larger view than had ever been obvious on our solo journey. In trust we begin to share pieces of our lives, and develop a confidence allowing us to hand some of them over to the safe keeping of those who will ultimately become significant features of our jigsaw story. Parents, carers, grandparents across the generations with a largely completed jigsaw of their own offer willing and patient hands to assist with the pieces of new and evolving lives. Looking at their own jigsaw, more time than ever before is given to contemplating the swathes of similar appearing pieces, reflecting long years of recurring events not least amongst them work, each individual shape holding recollections of a certain environment and those who populated it. The blue of sky or sea evoking memories of favourite destinations, a sameness of location for holidays as a family, slightly more exotic and with tongue-twisting names as adventures were taken when the nest was empty, financial stability was attained or retirement came. With a freshness of vison pieces are viewed, the detail of one or more lost to the hasty youth, cherished by the mature eye that recalls the significance of the stepping stone to a new beginning, a chance meeting that led to a lifelong partnership, the slip, lapse or failure that brought continuity and the avoidance of disaster and annihilation. With age comes an understanding that whilst we handle many pieces of life’s jigsaw with the belief that they could belong or fit anywhere, their shape, characteristic, and definition mean that there is just one, single and unique space for them. That is where they actually fit and belong. It is where they are meant to be, planned out by Those greater than ourselves, but Who, thankfully never tire, get bored, lose patience or walk away from the wonderfully rich, diverse and imaginative dream that together They had for each of us, and collectively for humanity as a whole, in the playroom of creation which has a single word on its door – Love.  

Not too far removed from those thoughts inspired by a jigsaw piece picked up randomly on a drive are the words of prose which, as the proud son of a retired weaver, mean a lot to me: 

 The Divine Weaver. 

The human life is laid on a loom of time 
To a pattern they do not see. 
While the Weaver works and the shuttles fly 
Till the end of eternity. 

Some shuttles are filled with silver thread, 
And some with threads of gold; 
While often just the darker hue 
Is all that they may hold.  

But the Weaver watches with skilful eye 
Each shuttle fly to and fro, 
And sees the pattern so deftly wrought 
As the loom works sure and slow. 

God surely planned that pattern 
Each thread – the dark and the fair – 
Was chosen by His Master skill 
And placed in the web with care. 

He only knows the beauty 
And guides the shuttles which hold 
The threads so unattractive 
As well as the threads of gold. 

Not till the loom is silent, 
And the shuttles cease to fly 
Shall God unroll the pattern 
And explain the reason why 

The dark threads are as needful  
In the Weavers skilful hand, 
As the threads of gold and silver 
In the pattern He had planned. 

Whatever the shape of the piece of your own jigsaw you are currently holding, or the colour or texture of the yarn flying to and fro on life’s loom, may you know it is there with purpose, and has a vital part to play in something far greater than itself.  

With the reassurance of both prayerful and affectionate remembrance.
As ever,
Fr. Nicholas  

10th April 2021

Dear Parishioners, 

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

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

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

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

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

Link to Caravaggio Foundation

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

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

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

As ever, Fr. Nicholas

3rd April 2021 – Happy Easter

Dear Parishioners, 

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

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

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

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

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

The Eyes of Jesus. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(John O’Donohue)                        

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

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

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

As ever, Fr. Nicholas

27th March 2021

Dear Parishioners, 

This weekend we begin our annual journey of spiritual renewal as we commemorate, remember, and celebrate the events of the first Holy Week. On Thursday, Friday, and Saturday for those in our churches there will be the opportunity to participate in the unique yearly Liturgical actions. They will be abbreviated, devoid of some familiar communal actions, and much shorter than we have grown used to since the Vatican Council of the 1960’s opened them up for us to benefit from in all their richness and symbolism. However, after the solitary celebrations of last year, at least there will be congregations! Wherever you may be on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday I hope that you will pause to reflect on the significance of these days for all of us, perhaps at the time that some of us will be gathered in one of our churches. To assist with this I’m offering a short reflection for each day. Their differing styles represent diversity in authorship chosen in an attempt to appeal to the broadest audience. If I were in teacher-mode, I would suggest that you focus on your feet for the Holy (Maundy) Thursday reflection, handle a crucifix (perhaps the one at the end of the Rosary beads you cherish) on Good Friday, and imagine a Church in radiant celebration on Holy Saturday.  

Wherever you may be physically over the forthcoming days, may I assure you that together with your loved ones and the story of the unfolding journey of your own and their lives, we will be united by faith and affection as I preside at Liturgies commemorating, remembering and celebrating the events of Holy Week in our churches at Cleckheaton and Heckmondwike.  

As ever, Fr. Nicholas            

Give me your feet: a reflection for Maundy Thursday

Holy Thursday. Maundy Thursday. And I am thinking of that night so long ago. I am putting myself in the scene, this soul-weary, overweight, middle-aged black woman who needs Jesus with everything in me. In my mind I am there with the disciples. I am present with my Jesus. You are there, too. Can you see it? The upper room in the drafty edifice, us stumbling in exhausted. We are starving. It’s just before the Passover Feast. So much has happened. So much will happen. 

We gather together for a simple supper. Even Jesus has a kind of weight-of-the-world weariness about him. He’s talked a lot about going away lately, but He is fully present now, and His love has arms that hold us close. Still, a sadness lingers in His eyes. It reminds me of how the poet-prophet Isaiah describes Him, as a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. (cf. Isaiah 53:3) 

The table is set, and we recline where we’re seated, grateful to be with Him. Our cups are lined like guards before us, full of wine. A basket of bread lies in the centre of the table. Later He will tell us the wine is His blood poured out, and the bread His body broken. Later. Now we sit. Night, as thick and palpable as fog, surrounds us. The flames on the candles bow and rise in the breezy room, as if they too, worship our Lord. 

Then Jesus sets aside His outer garments and dons an apron like a slave would wear. He pours water in a basin. We exchange puzzled looks. 

“Give me your feet,” He says. 

We are stunned silent, each of us carefully removing our sandals, unsure of what to say, what to do, faced with such shocking humility. Foot washing is the worst of tasks, despised by a servants gesture. Yet Jesus kneels before us, one by one, and washes our feet. I watch Him move from person to person. Dear God, Jesus is on His knees, pouring water on our rough soles. The Son of God, the Son of Man, washes us as if the pitcher contains, then releases, His own tears. The water slips between our toes, and the filth of the world falls to the ground, ground now hallowed by His presence. We couldn’t help but feel emotional. Some of us wailed as He worked. 

He sure knows how to make a mess of things. 

When He gets to me I choke out his name, “Oh, Jesus,” I cry. Hot salty tears roll from my cheeks, and drop onto Jesus’ hand as He reaches up to wipe my face. “Master, let me wash yours,” I beg him. He gently, but firmly refuses me. “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will after this,” He says to me. 

“I can’t let you wash my feet,” I say. 

He speaks kindly to me. “If I don’t wash you, you can’t be a part of what I’m doing.” So I let him wash me, my Jesus, dressed as a slave, as I sit there, amazed. 

He cleanses us all, every one of us. “Do you understand what I have done to you?” He asks. His brown eyes shine in the candlelight. “You address me as ‘Teacher,’ ‘Master,’ and rightly so. That is what I am. So if I, the Master and Teacher washed your feet, you must now wash each other’s feet. I’ve laid down a pattern for you. What I’ve done, you do. A servant is not ranked above His master; an employee doesn’t give orders to the employer. If you understand what I’m telling you, act like it—and live a blessed life.” (cf. John 13:12-17) 

Act like it, and live a blessed life. 

Jesus makes things so messy, and then sets them right with such a simple, homely message, but it is good news. When He is done with you, you are washed as white as snow. 

It wasn’t too long after that last meal that He left us, only to return in three days, and go again, leaving us with His Holy Spirit. As I reflect on that day, I hear the sound of His voice, resonate, yet soft, and feel His breath warm on my face, as He leaned into me and asked me, ‘give me your feet.’ 

I think of this every Maundy Thursday, as we world weary travellers, parched and, hurting, and oh so vulnerable, gather. We are looking for Jesus, needing water, and trusting our souls, and soles to His servants. Sometimes we sit shoulder to shoulder reclined. Waiting. Humbled. Remembering. And our feet are washed clean, while God’s slave cradles them in the circle of his tear-stained hands. 

 

The Word made Flesh on the Hill of Calvary. A reflection for Good Friday.   

Jesus, God’s suffering servant, was there. “They crucified Him.” 

Jesus, the man of prayer, was there. “Father, forgive them.” 

Jesus, the merciful was there, “They do not know what they are doing.” 

Jesus, the friend of sinners, was there. “Two robbers were crucified with Him.” 

Jesus, the rejected King, was there. “This is Jesus, the king of the Jews.” 

Jesus, the kind man, was there. “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 

Jesus, the man, was there. “I am thirsty.” 

Jesus, the son of Mary, was there. “Mother, behold your son.” 

Jesus, the Son of God, was there. “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” 

Jesus, the ransom for our sins, was there. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me ?” 

Jesus, the perfect Saviour, was there. “It is finished.” 

Jesus, the victor over death was there. “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” 

Jesus, the judge of all, was NOT there. NO word of condemnation.  

      

A reflection for Holy Saturday. The Easter Vigil and first Mass of Easter. 

The following reflection was written by a commissioned Lay Minister within a different Faith tradition to that of Catholicism. The author was very much a daughter of the Word and for the majority of her life followed a Faith in which Sacred Scripture was primary, and the celebration of any form of Sacrament secondary. However, like Nicodemus in the Gospel of St. John, steeped in her own tradition, an inner thirst and hunger to grow to know Almighty God better drew her to attending a celebration of the Liturgy of Holy Saturday night in 1987. This experience together with a great eye for detail and a surprising awareness of the symbolism of the Liturgy, given her background, inspired her to write these words:-          

Beloved in Christ ! For the rest of your life you will remember tonight. Its solemnity, its majesty, is richness and its beauty will remain stamped indelibly on your hearts.  

You have seen the new fire blessed. A symbol of the holy fire which Our Lord kindles in your hearts. A fire which, please God, will glow brightly in Christ’s service. 

You have listened to the words of Holy Scripture, may they become as lavender between the pages of your life.  

The font had been blessed and in Christ’s name you have been baptized, washing away all sin. Out of the old endings of past times has been born a new beginning. The beginning of a new life, rich with promise. 

You have become partakers of Christ’s Body, broken for us. In receiving the Holy Eucharist you have received Christ Himself. He died for you and now He lives in you, the guest of your body and your being. 

Tonight is a mountain top experience, soon you will return to the lowlands of duty. To the world of men and women, who by their own choice walk other paths, other ways, pushing Christ aside, and deny Him access to their hearts and lives. 

In the sin sick and sorrow torn world of today Our Lord asks you His chosen to witness for Him. 

The congregation here have renewed their vows as you have made yours. In the fellowship of Christ they offer you something richer and stronger than any society born of this world could offer. To the beauty of this sanctuary you will return again and again, in an act of penitence to make your peace with Almighty God, and in humility and sincerity to partake of the Holy Eucharist. Outside these blessed walls you will strive to live a life of witness to Christ, by the strength and sustenance you receive inside.  

Becoming a committed Catholic does not offer you a charmed life. It does not exclude you from trials and temptations, many times you will be weary, many times hurt, and sometimes, being human, you will feel slighted, perhaps even rejected. 

In such days what will you do ? And to whom will you turn ? Why ! back to the Risen Lord who has promised “My grace is sufficient for all your needs.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) The service Our Lord asks of you only you can give, no one else. Your place here in this church can be filled by no one else, only you. “I pray thee have me excused” (Luke 14:18) is the prayer which is never answered, but then if we are followers of Christ it will never be prayed. 

As you go from this house tonight, a new presence fills you, a new hope surges in your heart, a new road lies before you, and under the command of Christ a new life begins. As the years unfold may they produce for Our Lord a rich harvest. May the tapestry of time show that when He called you answered as did the child Samuel: “Speak Lord, for thy servant heareth.” (1 Samuel 3:10)  

Tonight you have accepted the Risen Lord as Lord of your life, may your body become His temple, your heart His throne, and your life a priceless jewel for Him.   

Responding to a simple and random open invitation by a Catholic friend to attend the Easter Vigil, the author was so moved by the experience that her sixty-odd years in one Faith tradition proved to be a stepping stone from which she eventually – after a process of withdrawal from her own involvement in the Church of her baptism and journeying in faith towards another – moved into the Catholic Faith in late-1990. Whilst declaring that her shift of allegiance from one faith to another was the best thing that she had ever done – not without pain, loss and sacrifice – she presented these words as a form of second homily at the end of a subsequent Easter Vigil. Within a few short months, the Lord had further plans for her, as He called her home to rest in peace and rise in glory !

20th March 2021

Dear Parishioners, 

Jesus’s choice of his twelve closest companions leaves something to be desired. Amongst their ranks were those who criticized, penny-pinched, missed the point, welcomed a bribe, stole, as well as doubted, betrayed and distanced themselves from Him. They fell out over power, relied on their mothers to speak for them and in the ultimate moment of crisis saved their own skins by running away in the dark. Perhaps the Lord would have fared better with an equal number of dogs! After three years of training He would have benefitted from obedience, loyalty, followers who’d established a pecking order, recognised that the hand that fed them was that of their true leader, listened to their master’s voice, saw no value in money or clothes, accepted their leader’s friends as their own, and in times of threat would have laid down their lives defending Him.  

Life has provided me with three canine companions. Tammy, a Wire Hair Fox Terrier; a constant companion, protector, and four-legged nanny from before memory can recall until the end of my first decade. A Border Terrier, called Bracken, was our inheritance on the loss of my great aunt in 1980. Our bond began the moment she was collected from kennels as a puppy and was to last for some fifteen years. An excellent walker (although she always pulled) she never aged, still eager, willing and able to cover many a mile on her short doggy pensioner legs. Wise to attempts of deception so as to avoid false hope, she soon picked up the meaning of certain words spelt out in her presence such as W-A-L-K or T-E-A. About twenty minutes after the completion of a shift at the mill Dad would arrive home. A good five minutes before this Bracken would rouse herself from bed and position herself behind the door to be the first to welcome him. Her powers of being able to identify his journeying car above any other on the road were virtually psychic bearing in mind Dad’s notoriety for changing cars. 

   In the first spring of my time as Parish Priest in Dewsbury I set myself the task of looking for a four-legged companion. Initially intent on a mission to simply view dogs temporary resident at a rescue centre in Huddersfield, needless to say I arrived back at the Presbytery later the same afternoon with a nameless and bedraggled cross-Terrier. But not before a visit to a veterinary practice in Heckmondwike to have her checked over. It was a precarious start. With a rather richly odoured dog at the end of a piece of rope and in a studded-leather collar, befitting the neck of some Medieval bear in a pit, we arrived at the door of the vet’s, but not before my less than refined companion had decided to part with the contents of her bowels on the street. The wild child had arrived prematurely, and the learning curve of new doggy parenthood was steep and sharp! With my new found housemate suffering from acute Kennel Cough I was advised not to get too attached. So with pills and potions we departed, but not before she had left a further token on the streets of Heckmondwike which, I hasten to add, like the first was quickly scooped up and disposed of appropriately.  

Even if the Vet wasn’t holding his breath I decided that whatever time we had was going to reveal something of human kindness to this dog. Hopefully equalling, if not bettering whatever she’d encountered of humanity beforehand, in an unknown past. Our bonding began with a shower, ridding her of anything she was carrying from the obvious grime and dirt to hidden life-forms that may well have taken up residence on her small but warm frame. Guessing that it was a new experience, she clearly loved it, not least its conclusion which was being wrapped in a towel removing any excess water, and then, on release, having the freedom of shaking herself even drier, and taking off like a mad thing, running up and down the plentiful steps of the Presbytery, in and out of every room where she encountered an open door. Eventually exhausted by her exertions she curled up, contented, in a corner on the landing. With trust, I left the new arrival alone, in order to purchase much needed basics. A bed, collar, lead, food, and a toy or two were on the list. On my return, (with nose working overtime … just in case !), there she was, on a landing halfway down the stairs with tail wagging and eyes that offered a welcome warmer than any words could ever convey. There had been no accident and when I sought out where she had been in my absence it was obvious that she’d claimed a corner of the landing as hers. In her doggy-wisdom she had hit on the exact spot where the central heating pipes converged under the floorboards. It was where she was to sleep for the next near-decade in a series of beds.  

Taking the first of many thousands of walks around nearby Crow Nest Park, it was only as the day drew to a close, and more investigations of her new surroundings were done by my new companion, that I decided on a name. Caz. As it was the feast of St. Casimir there was something appropriate about it. Day two began with my opening the bedroom door to discover a loudly yawning, tailing-wagging and excited bundle of life with bright sparkly eyes and clean fur looking up at me from her bed. Caz had survived the night.                                          

Our relationship was adventuresome to say the least. Although spotless in the house, she was never wholly trained. Having taken the counsel of a supposed dog guru, I was told that I should show my confidence in Caz by releasing her from the lead. With speed beyond that of light came her departure from my side; it was an event never repeated. Not only was there a smallish brown dog moving at Olympic pace around the perimeter of a treasured open space, but there was also a near demented cleric frantically in chase and loudly calling out a name that was clearly lacking any recognition. Eventually, more by Divine intervention than human prowess, we were reunited, Caz clearly in better physical shape than myself at the end of our escapade. A wise investment came in the purchase of an extendable lead allowing her to enjoy long runs, and myself to have the security of being able to wind her in at the end of playtime. Well almost. Our first trip to Lytham saw Caz running excitedly at the end of the long lead, breathing in fresh sea air on the Green, supposedly under my watchful eye, when she suddenly diverted her attention to a bench on which someone was seated. In the blink of an eye she had snatched a bag of sandwiches and was clearly looking for a spot to enjoy her ill-gotten gains. With horror, embarrassment and perfuse apologies I approached the previously lunching individual. And with humility both man, and to an obvious lesser degree, dog, accepted the dignified forgiveness of the newly hungry-worker. 

Despite always having a plentiful supply of food Caz never lost touch with her earlier life on the streets of Kirklees. If the discarded remnants of a fast-food supper were to be located on the highways and byways of Dewsbury that we traversed, her sleuthing skills out-witted those of Miss Marple. Many was the time that I would try to remove some unsavoury left-over from her mouth. It was always a stand-off, fingers and teeth locked in a battle-royal. Rarely could I claim a victory. Content with her own company, when she felt it was time for bed Caz would quietly make her way to the bed in which she would spend the next eight hours. If she wanted to snuggle close, she would decide who with and when, except in the case of my Mum, whose lap was always too tempting and comfortable to refuse, even for picky-pooch Caz. Visiting Otley, Dad was her designated walker and chef. When it was time for going out she would take hold of the bottom of his trousers and give them a meaningful tug. She provided entertainment through her response to situations such as the opening of a tin of tuna or salmon and the accompanying dance and prance on hind legs, with shiny nose wildly taking in the aroma of canned fish. Or the incredible jealousy displayed when Mum received a large monkey soft-toy. Its removal from the packaging caused Caz to go into defensive and stand-off mode. The monkey was hastily replaced in its wrap, and for its own well-being and safe-keeping removed from sight and beyond reach of Caz. Similarly to prevent damage to it our TV had to be changed to another channel and our Christmas viewing interrupted as the on-screen barking dogs from “101 Dalmations” were a step too far for the real and very alive Caz, who attempted on several occasions to climb into the TV to join the pack.  

Her natural nursing skills were hugely appreciated when I found myself suffering from a dose of ‘flu, and spent time in bed. She instinctively knew just where to lay and in what position to give my aching limbs relief from her own body heat, at the same time being unusually contented with very much abbreviated outdoor exercise for herself. She travelled well, sleeping throughout any motorway drive. At the Harry Ramsden’s roundabout she knew she was just a couple of miles from Otley, and likewise her excitement for free time at the coast was apparent as we left the M55. A happy and good walker, we once walked from Starr Gate to Fleetwood, and got as far as the Tower at Blackpool on our return before reluctantly having to take public transport due to a torrential downpour. Quirkily she was fascinated by the sound of her own claw-nails on linoleum and as I carried out various jobs in St. Paulinus’ Church, she would accompany me intrigued by the echoing sound her paws made in such a cavernous space. In all the years she was in Dewsbury, living in a lighthouse-style building on a traffic island, there was just one occasion when she sounded an alarm by barking at night. On opening a window to investigate, I disturbed a late-night reveller relieving himself in the yard behind the Presbytery ! When answering night calls to the hospital, I would get little more than a knowing look from a curled-up Caz, nonplussed by the disturbance, but on my return she would be on the landing halfway down the stairs, an observation point for the front door, laid on her stomach with tail wagging. After a little fussing, showing appreciation of her welcome, we would both return to our beds, waiting for the first walk of the day. She was a great pal, and remains often talked about and her antics smiled at.  

Despite providing a foster home for a number of strays and even thinking I’d discovered another canine housemate during my earlier years in the Spen Valley, for good reason and intention no lasting bond has been established so far. There is a school of thought that would question whether as humans we find the right pet for ourselves, or whether animals seek us out, ensuring that we are suitable for them. Whatever the thought behind it, my experience of our dogs has been that they have taught me a lot, and as for training … very often they were good teachers ! Having come across the following few lines recently, written out of the experience of dog-ownership, I thought them worthy of sharing:- 

Allow the experience of fresh air and the wind in your face to be pure ecstasy. 
When loved ones come home, always run to greet them. 
When it’s in your best interest, practise obedience. 
Let others know when they’ve invaded your territory. 
Take naps and stretch before rising. 
Run, romp and play daily. 
Eat with gusto and enthusiasm. 
Be loyal. 
Never pretend to be something you’re not. 
If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it. 
When someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by, nuzzle them gently. 
Thrive on attention and let people touch you. 
Avoid biting when a simple growl will do. 
On hot days, drink lots of water and lie under a shady tree.  
When you’re happy, dance around and wag your entire body. 
No matter how often you’re scolded, don’t buy into guilt and pout … run right back and make friends. 
Bond with your pack. 
Delight in the simple joy of a long walk.    

May we remain united in faithful remembrances in prayer and affection. 

As ever, Fr. Nicholas

13th March 2021

Dear Parishioners, 

The first word of the Entrance Antiphon at Mass this weekend sets the tone for the entire Liturgy: Rejoice. In praying the words “Rejoice Jerusalem, and all who love her” (Isaiah 66:10) we are invited to celebrate the fact that Almighty God loves the people dedicated to Him. Traditionally referred to as Laetare Sunday it is mirrored in Advent by Gaudete Sunday, when we are raised in spirit to recall the fact that the Lord is near at hand. Both Sundays reflect the very real need that we have as human beings half way through our journeying to Easter and the birth of Christ to be warmed by a bright shaft of light coming from the Season that we are preparing for, preventing us from sinking too far into the mire of gloom that we so often trudge through as a penitential and humbled people. These Liturgical celebrations offer a glimpse of what is on the horizon, just around the corner, growing nearer with each passing day, like a cloudless blue sky and low sun visible over and above the snow, frost and ice of a winter day. Some traditions refer to the Fourth Sunday of Lent as Refreshment Sunday, a historical name given to a day of respite from the harsh fasts of the previous weeks, offering physical nourishment and sustenance for the remainder of the journey towards the festival of Christ’s resurrection.  

Laetare Sunday is also the day on which we acknowledge Mothering Sunday, an association between the two being acknowledged in liturgical sources dating back over a millennia, which include references and metaphors to motherhood and mothering. Linking both is the call for us to rejoice with Jerusalem; God’s spouse, and the Mother of His People. With the movement of people and spurts in population growth a number of customs grew up around Laetare and Mothering Sunday such as the return of people to their church of Baptism, parishioners of newly established churches attending the Mother Church of the area, day-release of domestic servants in order for them to visit their families, and the ability of children educated away from home to be visited by their parents or visa-versa dependent upon practical considerations. The fluidity (of almost three weeks) surrounding the date on which an increasingly secular celebration of Mothering Sunday continues to be celebrated acknowledges its roots in the rich soil of the Christian faith. This grounding was something drawn upon by Constance Penswick Smith (1878 – 1938), a single, childless woman, who breathed new life into our nation’s acknowledgement of the debt of gratitude that we owe to our mothers – physical and spiritual. Reportedly inspired by moves across the Atlantic, where, in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson established the second Sunday of May as an official day on which the gifts of mothers could be celebrated nationally, this daughter of an Anglican clergyman, drew on her own strong faith and Christian values, publishing in 1921 a work entitled The Revival of Mothering Sunday with chapters entitled The Church – Our Mother, Mothers of Earthly Homes, The Mother of Jesus and Gifts of Mother Earth. The revivalist movement surrounding Mothering Sunday took place over a couple of decades, a period of time in which the research of Constance Penswick Smith and others did much to highlight traditions, liturgical and secular, which had long been associated with Laetare and Mothering Sunday at national, local and regional level. These included long held habits and customs dating from medieval times, lost to us today, as well as the origins of culinary delights and table-fellowship which have an enduring familiarity about them such as Wafer Cakes and Simnel Cakes.   

Mothering Sunday gives us an opportunity to acknowledge the unique role of those women in our lives who fulfil the vocational role of being Mothers, whether that is biologically or those who have stepped into the shoes of nurturing and cultivation for us at some point on life’s journey. Sometime ago an expectant Mum – with tongue in cheek I suspect – asked if I had any advice to offer her in preparation for her forthcoming happy event ! My response came quickly, and, judging from the expression on her face, was not one that she was anticipating. I made the suggestion that she purchase a pram that allowed her baby to look at her, whether laid on his/her back or sat upright, giving both the infant being pushed and the pusher as many opportunities as possible to capture every expression, each breath and those initial noises and subsequent words that would become the shared means of communication for both. Such a means of transport would ensure that neither would miss out on the gift of establishing a life-long relationship forged in the most precious, significant and important days, weeks and years of new life.   

Being born in the city where the founder of Silver Cross had his first factory, and growing up just a few miles from the company’s subsequent manufacturing base at Guiseley, I was almost destined to spend my own earliest days in what was often described as the Rolls Royce of prams. It was initially from a reclining posture and subsequent sitting position in this mode of transport that I quickly discovered that the centre of my infant-world, and the most important person in it, was my Mum. She held me, fed me, bathed me, dressed me, talked to me, kept me warm, cooled me down, played with me, made me laugh, stopped me crying, and in her chauffeuring role pushed that incredibly well-sprung carriage-style pram mile upon mile on a daily basis. It was from the security of the familiar, under the watchful and vigilant gaze of the one who had brought me into the world that I was introduced to the people, locality and environment which would influence and shape me in unimaginable ways. Personal confidence grew as my unfolding world and experiences were never faced alone, always strengthened by the face and presence of Mum. When journeys into Otley were interrupted it would be to allow a friend or neighbour to draw close to the infant in the pram and utter unidentifiable noises to him which were interpreted as being kind, happy and good, judging by the expressions on the faces of these people that his mother entrusted a glimpse of her son to. An ability to read a face and judge the spoken tone became this child’s first means of communication. When words came, the first uttered were the most important: Mum and Dad. The third word was the name of my great-aunt. Unable to sound the “D” at the beginning of her name, she was simply “Olly” for a short while … and delighted in it ! 

A pram was often, as they remain today, a heavy financial investment for parents, and were passed down a line of siblings, handed-on to meet the needs of the new arrivals within the circle of family or friends, or even sold having retained a value as second-hand. Like any investment a dividend is anticipated, hoped and at times, longed, for. The reward of my parents’ investment in their choice of pram was the gift of a wonderful formative relationship that was established between the three of us from before the time my own memory began its work of recollection, gathering and storage. Whilst having no recall of there being a phased move from the Silver Cross pram to walking via any other form of pushchair, I certainly recall a highlight of summer afternoons being “put down” for a snooze by Mum in the pram which she positioned in the shade at the top of the driveway. On waking I soon discovered that with a bit of gentle persuasive rocking, even with its brakes on, the Pram could be brought to life by its solo occupant. Day after day, I would rock myself to the end of the drive, covering a distance of a good number of yards, where closed gates provided a barrier too great even for my little fingers to master, and a location from which I would eventually be retrieved. It was at the gate that neighbours and passers-by would chat to me, and to whom in return I would smile benignly. As the son of a canny Yorkshire father, and with such an ideal selling pitch, I can only judge that I must have been a relatively good infant, as no attempt was made to either put a price tag on me or a label reading: Free to a good home ! 

When the usefulness of the pram was left behind, as I took my first faltering steps, Mum’s were the hands that guided me on my journeying toward a life of relative independence. And when it came to walking, Mum and I were amongst the best, and even at an age when many teenagers dream of being behind a steering wheel I was happy walking, often times at the side of my bus-pass holding Mum. This privilege of age item was only ever flashed for discounts on admittance to attractions on holiday. I don’t think it was ever used in over three decades of existence, despite its frequent renewal and updated photos, for its true purpose or intention. During breaks from seminary life, entered at fifteen, walking provided the setting for Mum’s companionship, conversation and a backdrop to the rich counsel and wisdom that she offered born out of her own education gifted through life experience. Our walking track was the mile plus that separates our family home from the centre of Otley, with the same distance covered on the return journey. It was taken in all weathers and at times out of necessity rather than choice. It was life. It was our shared life.  

John Wesley wrote of his mother that he “learned more about Christianity from [his] mother than from all the theologians in England,” and I can share this attribute in respect of Mum. Her faith was simple, devout, unquestioning, solid, and an aspect of her make-up which she never hid or denied, in fact the opposite was true, she was incredibly proud of being a Catholic. Whilst leaving the public face of ministry to Dad, who served as a Minister of the Eucharist for many years, Mum was happier wielding a duster as a church cleaner, supporting the activities of the Ladies’ Guild, and counting the collection after Mass, something that she did until she was over ninety. Whether being pushed in the Silver Cross pram, with its incredible suspension, or walking, church was always a familiar destination. Whether it was for a ‘visit’ or for Mass, which when celebrated daily at 8.30 a.m. required an early start to our twenty minute or so walk, with no loitering, and we never arrived late ! It was her church; the place of her baptism at a time when the world was in a state of relational repair after the Great War, and from where she made her final journey, in a year when our country made a decisive statement, through the ballot box, on its relationship with its nearest geographical neighbours.  

In the times when our parents give us so much of themselves, as the recipients of gifts and experiences that will be fundamental to the people that we evolve into, for all kinds of reasons we are incapable, unable, shielded and lacking the emotional and intellectual requirements to grasp the enormity of what is being offered to us. Perhaps it is only when we pass through similar experiences on our own pathway of life that we begin, if we have the luxury of time, to reflect on and come to a partial appreciation of all that went into making the day to day life experience of our earliest years appear to run so smoothly and seamlessly: providing a roof over our heads, food on the table, and ensuring that birthdays and Christmases were special times to remember. All too often people comment that they didn’t have much, but with the basics of love, food, warmth, and a feeling of security what more do we really need. Most of us will have had much more than the basics, not least the gift of faith, and the desired hope and aspirations of our parents that we would benefit from many experiences of life that had not been theirs. Personally these have been the gifts of education and travel. Mum finished her schooling at thirteen (which may not even have been legal) and was in full time employment before her fourteenth birthday. In comparison I was still in part-time education at thirty-five ! As a couple, the furthest my parents travelled from Otley, warranting a passport, was Dublin for my Diaconate Ordination, whilst I have been fortunate enough to travel to the other side of the world, Australia.  

Laetare Sunday calls upon us to rejoice. Its link with Mothering Sunday gives us the opportunity of giving thanks for the women whom we address and acknowledge as our Mums, whether we are able to show our love and appreciation through the delivery of a card and gift, or whether we speak words of loving gratitude to them in the quiet of our hearts, resting as they are now in the companionship of Almighty God. When speaking at Mum’s Requiem Mass I described her as being the best Mum that God could have provided for me … I’d like to think that many of us, reflecting on the life-journey of our respective mothers could share those sentiments. Far from boasting of having the best or finest or most qualified or skilled Mum in the field of parenting, in some competition-style, the highest acclaim comes from recognizing and appreciating that who we have become and are bears the indelible marks of sacrifice, nurturing, culturing, shaping, crafting and above all the love of another human being that we’ve been fortunate to address as Mum, Mother or some other affectionate term of maternal recognition. If the hands of time could be turned back, the only words that I would say more often to my Mum would be how proud I was and continue to be of her. If you’ve got the opportunity or means seize the moment and speak similar words to yours ! 

Be assured of my continuing remembrance of you and your loved ones in both prayer and affection, not least this weekend, those wonderful women in your lives who have aided you to become the person that you are. 

As ever, Fr. Nicholas