8th January 2022

Dear Parishioners,

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

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

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

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

As ever, Fr. Nicholas

18th December 2021

Dear Parishioners,

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

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

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

As ever, Fr. Nicholas   

27th November 2021

Dear Parishioners,

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

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

Be assured of remembrance in prayer, thought and affection.

As ever, Fr. Nicholas

 

19th November 2021

Dear Parishioners,

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

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

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

As ever, Fr. Nicholas

6th November 2021

Dear Parishioners,

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

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

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

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

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

As ever, Fr. Nicholas    

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

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

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

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

The Prayer for a Synodal Church 2021 – 2023

Prayer to the Holy Spirit.

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

2nd October 2021

Dear Parishioners,

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

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

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

As always, Fr. Nicholas     

25th September 2021

Dear Parishioners,

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

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

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

As ever, Fr. Nicholas

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