26th December 2020

Dear Parishioners,

This weekend it is a Boxing (St. Stephen’s) Day greeting that comes alongside the weekly Newsletter, with the hope that you have had a blessed Christmas populated by the faces, voices, and even the presence of some of those closest to you. Above all, I trust that these very special days of the Octave of Christ’s nativity will give you the opportunity to pause and reflect on that first Christmas night and day, when the Word became flesh and began to live a life like our own – except for sin – with all its highs, lows, achievements, failures, moments of adulation and times of despair. Unsurprisingly you have been very much in my own thoughts and prayerful remembrances as I’ve celebrated Holy Mass this week, both in the closing days of Advent and now in Christmastime. Our unity as a community of faith is unwavering and I would like to think, a source of strength for us all to draw upon.

Last Sunday I took a giant leap for this specimen of mankind and ventured from sitting in the kitchen with Dad, on my weekly visit, to crossing the hallway into our living room. With childlike excitement and enthusiasm my appetite for a taste of festive magic was never going to be satisfied with a glimpse of our family Christmas tree from the outside of the living room window. Instead I wanted to sit near to it basking in the coloured lights reflecting from its array of baubles, revisiting Christmases past and looking forward with maturing expectation to Christmas 2020 and those in the future. And so I did ! Socially distanced from Dad, and wearing a facial covering (yes, I am as strict and necessarily observant in private as when in the public gaze !). As our family home occupies a corner position, our illuminated tree offers the first sign of Christmas to all who turn into the cul-de-sac, and full marks to Dad for his annual efforts to ensure it looks so well decorated. This includes a foray into the loft for various carefully labelled boxes, incredible patience with the strings of lights seeking the one rogue bulb that has caused the rest to go out on strike, and with great care hang each decoration, varying in both size and fragility. My own contribution is the tree itself, which I bought for my parents about thirty years ago, and carried home on a crowded bus from Leeds to Otley. Acknowledging the size of the box it was packed in I would not have blamed the driver for charging me extra for it, but, with seasonal goodwill, he didn’t.

Away from public gaze is our crib, possibly as old as myself, or even older. I could once date it to at least 1970 by the pieces of yellowing newspaper in which the figures were wrapped but even that hasn’t proved to be as enduring as the figures themselves. It stands above the television and quietly attracts its own audience of viewers. Last weekend, with the exception of the manger containing the baby and Magi, the figurines were all awaiting the arrival of the Christ-child, although the shepherds mysteriously numbered just two until I managed to locate the third still snuggled up in his protective wrapping paper, as I joking said to Dad, he must have been on the night shift of shepherding duties. Even the Angel had arrived, and taken up its rather aloof position on the exterior of the crib’s thatched roof. From being very young I was often allowed to help with the arrangement of the nativity figures, but the affixing of the Angel was another of Dad’s jobs, as the eye (a technical term learnt at a young age !) on its back had to be carefully affixed to a hook on the front of the stable. Too much wear and tear caused by youthful energetic frustration would have caused the hook to lose its tension and long ago the Angel would have found itself standing amid the hoi polloi with its message of “Gloria in excelsis Deo.” After decades of display the Angel remains hanging above the stable scene, not quite miraculously, but thanks to care, patience and a little bit of creative help from my Dad and his toolbox.

It was whilst looking at the Angel that I recalled the following words of blessing, which I felt would be more than appropriate to offer to you at this particular time. As God’s messengers and constantly in His presence they form another layer of His protective care for us. This Christmastime I prayerfully ask that the Angels continue to journey with us, enabling our prayers, hopes and aspirations to be given a hearing in God’s presence, and more profoundly that in return He will ask the Angels to keep us, and those we hold closest, safe, well and content as one year begins to fade and another dawns.

A Christmas Blessing.

May the Angels in their beauty bless you.
To come alive to the eternal within you,
Into sources of refreshment.

May the Angel of the Imagination enable you
At ease with your ambivalence
Through the glow of your contradictions.

May the Angel of Compassion open your eyes
Where your life is domesticated and safe,
Where all that is awkward in you
To the beauty of your senses
As a temple of the Holy Spirit.

May the Angel of Justice disturb you
In worth and self-respect,
That presides in your soul.

May the Angel of Death arrive only
And you have brought every given gift
And joyful guardians.

(John O’Donohoe 1956 – 2008)

As ever, Fr. Nicholas

14th November 2020

Dear Parishioners,

With the arrival of another Saturday I am delighted to be able to send you the latest Newsletter and the Readings for Holy Mass this weekend. They come with the hope that you are keeping well and safe during these days. It was good to see a number of familiar faces visiting our churches during the times they were opened for private prayer during the last week, and I trust that parishioners will find in these times renewed strength and comfort as we each walk an unfamiliar pathway through life.

Recent events across the Pond, as the Atlantic is often fondly called, played out against the backdrop of The White House, brought to mind a photograph I have of one of our diocesan clergy standing on the steps of 1600, Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington D.C., Fr. Richard Barry-Doyle. He was a relative of the Sherlock Holmes author Arthur Conan-Doyle and Commodore John Barry, the credited Father of the American Navy, in whose honour he added the name Barry to his original surname. Unlike the prevailing descriptive words of celebrity or personality, he is best described as a character. It is a phrase that we hear less of than we once did, but one that conveys fondness, affection, and often, more than just a hint of admiration too. There is also something reassuringly non-judgmental in its descriptive use. Characters just are ! Perhaps one reason behind the absence of the phrase is the reality that even humankind has been touched by mass production which has overtaken the time and care poured into the handcrafted.

Despite clamorous calls seeking recognition for diversity and difference within society, somehow we still seek to label others, maybe because it offers reason or a defined root-cause for why someone is as they are. Yet in the supermarket aisle we are encouraged to cherish (not to mention purchase !) the wonky vegetable. Reflecting on some of the characters that I’ve been privileged to know, a common factor seems to have been their openness to allowing life experience to colour, texture and shape them. Somehow they learnt the lesson of real life that the harsh cold metal of a chisel being hit with the blows of a mallet or hammer is as necessary as the fine detailing tool and gentle blowing breath of the artist removing the finest dust particles in order to produce a masterpiece. Whilst eager to embrace the misshapen vegetable in aspiring to do our bit to avoid food waste, we often approach with great caution and suspicion – if we do at all – the quirky fellow pilgrim who, in the process of climbing out of the proverbial box, has managed to lose their descriptive label !

Lockdown has seen an upsurge in reading, and even demand for the book I produced on the clergy of the Diocese of Leeds last year has seen a some growth in sales. Stood on a doorstep recently, making a socially distanced delivery, the purchaser was regaling tales of some of the clergy they had known in childhood. The names of these men were all familiar to me through my research, but I invited them to look amongst the names they had not heard of to discover some real characters, and diverse life-stories. Amongst the ranks of these is Fr. Barry-Doyle (1871 – 1933). The photograph of him on the steps of the home of the President of the United States depicts not a fee-paying tourist but an invited guest of President Calvin Coolidge. Ordained for the Diocese of Waterford in 1894 (at an age when he would not have been allowed Canonically to hear the confessions of female penitents !), his academic interests were rewarded when he was elected to Ireland’s premier cultural institution the Royal Irish Academy. However, within a decade later, officially, he tendered his resignation from the Curacy that he held. Another account says that to avoid being declared bankrupt by a judge he did a midnight flit from the Presbytery decamping to England in only the clothes he stood up in !

Taken in by the Diocese of Nottingham, he later arrived in Leeds to serve initially at Halifax and then Brighouse where, as the Priest in Charge, he covered the absence of Fr. Patrick McMenamin who was serving as a Chaplain to the Forces. In Halifax during a St. Patrick’s Day celebration Fr. Barry-Doyle took to the stage offering a series of recitations of works by Irish authors to the wide acclaim of the audience, and in Brighouse his charismatic preaching on topical issues brought such numbers to St. Joseph’s Church on Sunday evenings that people had to be turned away. From Yorkshire he went to the Front, serving as Chaplain to soldiers in France, Palestine and other theatres of war. After the signing of the Armistice he returned to one of these, Constantinople as it still was, in Turkey where Allied Forces from Britain, Italy, Greece, America and Japan occupied the centre of the Ottoman Empire. It was a divided city and Fr. Barry-Doyle hovered between its opulence, which for him included being feted at a reception given in his honour at the lavish Pera Palace Hotel and being the first British Prelate (he was a Monsignor) to be granted an audience with the last Ottoman Sultan, Mehmed VI, and a tremendous poverty witnessed by him in many forms of deprivation. His charisma and dynamism became a tool for opening the eyes of the privileged to the desperate plight and needs of those living in poverty and squalor. He did so initially by opening an orphanage in Athens and subsequently undertaking speaking tours to raise funds for it. In 1924 he founded the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, which still exists, to assist where poverty, war and displacement shatter innocent lives. Travelling to America he challenged those who attended his series of country-wide lectures to raise a million dollars for the charity. His flamboyant personal appearance, wearing military dress, dripping in decorations given him by the British, French, Greek and Russian Governments, and dramatic manner of presentation brought him limited success as the American Catholic clergy became suspicious of his motives. Unfounded rumours alleging a luxurious lifestyle abounded, perhaps fueled by the green eyes of envy. Despite this he was welcomed to the home of the First Family of the land, no doubt managing to secure a donation for his beloved Association from a President who was known for his frugality ! Although handing the Association’s reins over to the Holy See and the American bishops, he still continued to fund-raise, travelling to Australia to promote its work.

Returning to England without personal funds, and exhausted, it was recommended that he travel to the south of France for a diet of pure air and sunshine (I doubt this is currently available on an NHS prescription !). In renewed health he took up an appointment in Leicester where he set about providing the parish with a new school. He addressed this with his usual enthusiasm organising an Empire Fair, at which goods from across the world were made available for sale. His organisational skills and powers of persuasion unsurprisingly won over the assistance of the local titled Catholic gentry, offering his cause enhanced kudos. Sadly he did not see the completion of his educational dream for Catholic children in Leicester as he died suddenly in 1933 at the age of sixty-one. A character to the last, a newspaper report of his demise mentioned that feeling unwell on the day of his death he asked his valet to call for the ministrations of a neighbouring priest ! His personal estate included a small treasure trove of religious jewellery, amongst which was a bejewelled ring, presented to him by British soldiers. This, he stipulated, should be presented to a priest about to become a bishop.

At the centre of our Scripture Readings this weekend is the Parable of the Talents. It speaks of gifts being given on trust for useful purpose. The recipients respond to the talents entrusted to them in differing ways through their unique perception of the One who has given them responsibility. The terms celebrity or personality are not applicable to those spoken of in the Parable, instead we are presented with part-players each fulfilling their unique role in a story. Each is a characters and a character simply is. The finest and best of characters take what they have been given and gifted with and get on with the task in hand. Without definition their chameleon-like skills of adaptation allow them to identify with their surroundings, and whilst not always blending in they become a feature, beloved and cherished for being what many dare not to be: themselves.

Fr. Richard Barry-Doyle was certainly his own man, comfortable in his own skin for which at times he also carried the cross of suffering. In this month of remembrance we commend the soul of one of God’s own characters to the safe-keeping of the Greatest Giver of all.

I continue to carry you in prayerful remembrance, together with your loved ones – living and handed back to God – and in affection.

As ever, Fr. Nicholas

7th November 2020

Dear Parishioners,

Once more it is good to be able to send greetings alongside distributing the Newsletter and Readings for Holy Mass this weekend. A technical blip last week meant that not everyone received the e-mail containing the Newsletter. If this happens again please do go to our Parish websites where the Newsletter is also displayed and from where it can be downloaded.

This weekend will be different for us all as we have entered a new phase of Lockdown. For those who have returned to church, sadly, we too have closed our doors for a second time this year despite some impassioned calls from the Bishops for the Government to make an exception for Places of Worship. Whilst it is a loss, it also reminds us of the centrality of sacrifice to ourselves as Christians. It is often easy to forget that Holy Mass is celebrated on the altar of sacrifice and connects us directly to the events of Calvary. At the core of our individual and collective identity is sacrifice for a greater cause. On Good Friday the sacrifice of the Son was for the redemption of the entirety of humankind. In our own country during Penal times the sacrifice was the inability to worship publically, and the price paid by those who were caught doing so was martyrdom. Our sacrifice now is for the health of the society of which we are a part, not least for the protection of the vulnerable and weak and to maintain the NHS’s ability to cope with unprecedented demands on its wonderful human resources.

After sacrifice comes hope. More correctly, sacrifice is made because of hope. After the burial of Christ the faith-filled women went to the tomb, initially to offer veneration to the physical remains of Jesus of Nazareth, but ultimately they came away with news that Christ had risen. That which the Son of God had come to destroy and which appeared to have claimed Him was itself vanquished forever: death. On the eve of the closure of our church doors Max George received the Sacrament of Baptism. For the first time since our churches opened in early July I had to put out the sign saying that church had reached its maximum seating capacity ! And before any subconscious link is made between the baptism and a surge in numbers, I have to say that the personal guests sharing Max George’s special day were well within our Covid-secure guidance at just four which included his parents. On a bright, sunny morning, parishioners gathered to be spiritually fed before a time of fasting began. Despite many entering church with heavy hearts and a sense of foreboding, they departed cheered and with the gift of hope in what they had just witnessed and participated in: spiritual birth, and a small child whose happy face and sense of presence, gave us all a hopeful optimism about an unknown future.

Sacrifice is very much at the fore of our thoughts this weekend as we mark Remembrance Sunday, giving the nation an opportunity to reflect on the human price paid for the purchase of a fragile peace achieved after world-wide conflict. Not only do we recall the fallen of the Great War (1914 – 1918) and the Second World War (1939 – 1945) but, appropriately, all subsequent wars and conflicts. Any life lost, is the ultimate sacrifice paid. Whilst some of the dignity and pageantry of Acts of Remembrance may well be absent this year, it remains important to take time to reflect, pause, and recall.

To assist with this there is now a list of the Fallen on our websites, together with some images. This has been the fruit of several years of personal research, and has continued to grow. In reality the number of Catholic casualties with direct links to our two churches is smaller than the published list. The expanded list names other family members of ‘our men.’ In my eyes to have omitted these family connections and failed to acknowledge some remarkable life-stories would have simply been wrong. As I wrote last weekend, I have truly befriended these men and the harsh reality of some of their lives not only makes them worthy of remembrance for the manner in which they died, but also for the incredible stamina with which they faced they own particular journey through life. Having hoped that by this juncture I may have been able to produce a publication rightfully acknowledging the sacrifice of our war dead such aspirations remain on hold due to the necessary limitations of not being able to conduct primary research at this time. Perhaps by another Remembrance Sunday their stories may have been brought to light for the benefit of a wider audience.

Aware that customary Remembrance Sunday activities will be different this year the town centres of both Heckmondwike and Cleckheaton have beautiful War Memorials. If when out, perhaps for exercise or the necessity of a food shop, you have the opportunity to pause in the memorial gardens and scan the large numbers of names on them, you may have the opportunity to befriend some in prayer. As I heard quoted recently; Even small pebbles make large ripples, so the lives of single casualties of war contributed to the wave of peace which was borne through sacrifice.

Of the twenty-eight casualties of the Great War so far listed on our websites, here are some facts about the men, hopefully ensuring that they are more to us, over a century on from their sacrifice, than is suggested in Eric Bogle’s lyrics for Willie McBride (or The Green Fields of France) when he writes: “or are you a stranger without even a name enshrined forever behind a glass pane in an ould photograph torn, tattered and stained?”

18 hailed from Yorkshire, 5 from Derbyshire, 2 from Liverpool, and 1 from Lincolnshire, Cheshire and Ireland.

5 were born on a Monday, 6 on a Tuesday, 6 on a Wednesday, 4 on a Thursday, 1 on a Friday, 4 on a Saturday and 2 on a Sunday.

4 died on a Monday, 2 on a Tuesday, 5 on a Wednesday, 3 on a Thursday, 3 on a Friday, 8 on a Saturday and 3 on a Sunday.

8 Received the Sacrament of Confirmation in the same ceremony at St. Patrick’s School-Chapel, Heckmondwike, in 1904.

2 of the men shared the same birthday, although were born in different years.

Prior to the outbreak of War 9 worked in the Textile industry, 8 as Miners, 4 as Labourers in various fields of work, 2 worked at the Heckmondwike Boot Company, 2 on the Railways, 1 was a Gardener, 1 for a local Gas Company, and 1 had served as a member of the Royal Irish Constabulary.

2 men were captured and died as Prisoners of War.

9 left a Widow. 18 Children lost their Father-figure; 1 child was born posthumously. 22 left one or both parents to survive them.

The eldest man to lose his life was 45: the youngest 18. The average age of the men was a little over twenty-five and a half years.

Of the 28 men, 12 had a blood or marital connection with another man whose name appears on the list; this includes 3 sets of brothers.

3 of the men spent some of their formative years “in care” away from their families. 1 of these was awarded the Military Medal.

2 Military Medals were awarded to our men for Acts of gallantry and devotion to duty under fire.

17 men have graves: 10 men have no known graves and are commemorated on collective Memorials: 1 man has a commemorative headstone in the Commonwealth War Cemetery where he is known to be buried.

In prayer we commend those associated with our churches who paid the ultimate sacrifice to the eternal care of Almighty God in the words of a couple of verses of the Hymn “O Valiant Hearts”:

“These were His servants, in His steps they trod,
Following through death the martyr’d Son of God.
Victor He rose; victorious too shall rise
They who have drunk His cup of Sacrifice.

O risen Lord, O Shepherd of our Dead,
Whose Cross has bought them and whose Staff has led –
In glorious hope their proud and sorrowing land
Commits her children to Thy gracious hand.”

(O Valiant Hearts J.S. Arkwright 1872 – 1954)

May we continue to be united in prayer, kindest thought and affection.

As ever, Fr. Nicholas

31st October 2020

Dear Parishioners, 

Once more I greet you at the beginning of a weekend with the Newsletter and Readings for the Masses of All Saints’ Day. Hopefully you remain well and positive in these trying and testing, not to mention sometimes wearying and confusing times. There is strength in just knowing that we are a part of something greater than our own seemingly shrinking and limited environments. Our community of Faith unites us in love and keeps the bright and cheery light of hope in view.  

With November, beginning as it does with the glorious feast of All Saints, we traditionally bring to thought and prayer those who have gone before us, called home by Almighty God, commemorated on the day following – Holy Souls.  

In the early weeks of the year I was asked to celebrate a Funeral Service for a lady called Margaret. I had not met her, but she had lived latterly in a nursing home in the Spen Valley. Rich in years, long removed from where she had been brought up, and from where she had lived and worked, her nearest relatives were of a similar age and unable to attend her Funeral. In fact there was no direct next of kin to speak with and glean some insight into a life journey that had begun over ninety years beforehand. Despite an appeal in the local press via the Coroners’ Office (which is the norm in such circumstances) no one came forward. Margaret had shrewdly made some plans for her Funeral stipulating a Catholic Priest to officiate, and purchasing a grave in a churchyard of her choice. I lived in the hope that someone from her past would turn up at the grave. But nobody did. On an incredibly damp, windy, cold and rather dark day the Funeral Director and myself were alone. Before beginning the Service I mentioned to the lady Funeral Director that if she wished to return with the Bearers to the warmth of the awaiting car she could do so as I would be praying the full Funeral Service. She declined, and remained, admirably, in the wet and cold.  

Whilst I had no personal details to recount during the Homily I reflected on the fact that the quality of welcome God gives to us at the end of life’s pilgrimage is based on what He knows about us, reassuringly not on the views that other people have of us or even what they think they know about us ! I also mentioned the fact that we should befriend the dead, especially through our prayers for them.  

Walking away from the grave, wet, cold and muddy, the Funeral Director commented on the poignancy of the words befriending the dead and said that it had given her a new insight into the significance of Funeral Services. With aspirations of eternal life it seems very sensible to make friends with those who have gone before us as we are living in hope of spending a lot of time with them in the future !  

Walking away from Margaret’s grave little could I have envisaged the adaptations, alterations and changes that I would be called upon to make in regard to the manner in which I would be celebrating Funeral Services during Lockdown. At this juncture in time, I am aware of the reality that our annual Cemetery Mass cannot take place this year. This is something that over the last few years has come into its own by way of significance and meaning for the families of our parish communities. Celebrating an outdoor Mass where some of our loved ones rest, offering the highest prayer we can for those known to us, and those that in prayerful remembrance we are befriending.   

This year has been one of great ingenuity; learning to do things in new ways and also having the confidence to do different things. So, perhaps in the absence of our outdoor Mass, it may be possible to walk through one of our cemeteries to befriend those buried there and to remember loved ones of our own whose faces we have cherished, voices we vividly recall, and presence we quietly miss. Relationships and friendships are not lost or broken when God makes the call for a soul to return to Him, but simply changed and altered. On such a walk recall too those who, like Margaret, were prayed into eternal life by an unfamiliar voice and with Ritual observed by the stranger. By so doing, when one day – with hope – we too are enjoying the banquet of eternal life, we may find ourselves unsurprised by a gentle tap on the shoulder and a warm welcome from the likes of Margaret, grateful for our befriending of them as they made their final journey back to God. 

I conclude with a prayer that I’ve offered recently. 

Rest in Peace

Lord be good to them, 
And show them your love. 
Lord, be kind to them, 
And grant them peace above. 
Lord, be merciful to them,  
And wipe their sins away. 
Lord be generous to them, 
With all my heart I pray. 
Lord, be gracious to them, 
For the good that they have done. 
Lord, be gentle to them, 
For sufferings undergone. 
Lord, may we meet again at last,  
When heaven’s crown’s been won.  

Holding you in prayerful remembrance, together with your loved ones – living and handed back to God – and affection. 

As ever, Fr. Nicholas 

                                       

24th October 2020

Dear Parishioners,

At the cusp of another weekend, I am pleased be able to deliver another Newsletter and the readings for Holy Mass this weekend. The delivery comes with the hope and wish that you and yours are well and looking after one another.

Monday is bin day at Holy Spirit, and Wednesday at St. Paul’s. Dependent upon the amount of items in the respective grey or green bin I dutiful put it out for collection. If there is little in the bin, I let it wait for the next collection day. This was one such week. So on Wednesday I was stunned to see a bin collector in a high-viz jacket striding up the path of the Presbytery at Cleckheaton to take the bin and empty it ! A random act of kindness, which was much appreciated. Although I have yet to train the bin operatives not to leave the emptied bin – almost with measured accuracy – in the middle of the driveway, as I need to get a car in and out. Maybe extra Council Tax needs to be paid for that service !

Looking through the Diocesan Year Book and acknowledging the statistics attached to the Parish of Our Lady of Mount Carmel at Silsden, it is noticeably one of the smaller Catholic communities of the diocese, set in a relatively rural location, and, in addition to his parochial duties, my colleague there also takes care of the spiritual needs of patients in the Airedale Hospital. Yet in my eyes it punches far beyond its weight, as at least twice a year, I receive a card from parishioners there under their “Daily Adoption covering a Priest, Deacon or Student for the Priesthood in Prayer.” The card, depicting the parish’s patroness, informs me that the Faith community of Silsden “have decided that [they] would continue to cover a priest, deacon or student for the priesthood from the Diocese of Leeds with prayer for a day.” The prayers being offered include a Decade of the Rosary, a Private Holy Half Hour, the Reading Sacred Scripture, Offering Half an hour of suffering during sickness etc. I am always incredibly touched and moved to receive this Spiritual Bouquet. The card arrived this week, letting me know that the day on which I shall benefit from this great spiritual blessing will be the beautiful Feast of All Saints. The prayers and thoughts of others keep me going on the pathway of life, as they do us all.

Not just thinking about others, but actually letting them know you are doing so is a wonderful gift.

This weekend we change our clocks, gaining an hour extra in bed, but also shorter hours of daylight. In the initial Lockdown the days were lengthening and we were blessed with good weather, allowing many to enjoy outdoor exercise and their gardens. Even queuing at the supermarket was done beneath blue skies and not umbrellas. This change in our seasonal clock will bring its own challenges for many of our parishioners, relatives and friends, not least in time spent alone. A random act of kindness taking the form of a telephone call, card, letter or even a doorstep delivery of something home-baked may be the very thing that makes a huge difference to someone else’s day and quality of life. Perhaps you could even pray together over the telephone, a decade of the Rosary, for the intentions and loved ones of each other. With the creative ingenuity of our parish communities there is no end to what could be done to reflect a faith lived in love for neighbour.

The earlier mention of Airedale Hospital reminds me of the week or so my Dad spent in the Coronary Care Unit there after suffering a heart attack. The return journey from Dewsbury, where I was at the time, to the hospital was in the region of 70 miles per day. A junior nurse on the ward told her colleague that Dad must be very unwell as a Priest comes to see him every day. To which her fellow nurse replied that I was his son ! This second nurse, my parents had seen grow up as her family sat behind my parents at Mass week by week. It was a connection that provided her with some useful inside information.

Holding you in prayerful remembrance and affection.

As ever, Fr. Nicholas

17th October 2020

Dear Parishioners,

It is once more good to be able to send you the Newsletter and also the Readings for Holy Mass this weekend. Hopefully this short word of greeting finds you well and safe. Added to which I trust that within earshot of sometimes confusing and differing messages from public leaders you are managing, in the words of Rudyard Kipling, to “keep your head when all about you are losing theirs !” With all that we are being fed by our media sometimes there seems little to smile about, let alone be able to laugh at. Yet sometimes laughter is a good remedy, not least the ability to make light of oneself. Even St. Paul invited us to be “fools for Christ’s sake” (1 Corinthians 4:10).

When I first saw the letters LOL in a text I was a little baffled to say the least. In my naïve understanding I equated them with the demonstrative expression Lots of Love. At the same time they appeared out of context within the message that had been sent. But with keys that offer predictive text who knows what is at the tip of a careless finger end. It took several more communiques containing similar text-speak abbreviations and subsequently a face to face conversation to learn that LOL actually stands for Laugh out Loud. That understood, earlier texts took on a totally new definition. Needless to say, I did laugh out loud at my mistake.

I learnt a long time ago to smile, if not on occasion laugh at myself, even at times laughing out loud.

Recently, whilst out walking I spied a couple of donkeys in a field at the opposite side of the road to myself. Unable to resist a stroke of a welcoming muzzle, I crossed over to offer a less than socially distanced ‘Hello’ to my two new friends. Using both hands each donkey received an equal measure of fuss and attention. Eventually, one let me know that there was more to his life than being petted by moving away, leaving his companion to bask in being stroked and spoken to in a language that wasn’t donkey-speak. Eventually we parted. However, on my return journey, walking by the same field, I couldn’t help but cast a glance to see where the donkeys were. This time they were much further into the field and well beyond arms reach.

Observing them for a moment, a vague recollection came to mind that donkeys have a good memory. Just about to go on my way, one of the donkeys looked up from a light lunch of greenery, and suddenly I found myself giving him a wave of acknowledgement ! In return, I was sure I saw a swish of a tail signalling that I hadn’t been forgotten about either. Lost in the world of Dr. Doolittle, more than the reality of “All creatures great and small,” I failed to notice a couple of mature walkers approaching. Having clearly observed me waving as they got closer they began to strain and crane, attempting to see who it was I’d been communicating with. Looking this way and that, they were obviously confused by my actions, and passed by looking at me quizzically, still attempting to stand in my line of vision catching a fleeting glimpse of the recipient of my gesturing.

Virtually puce in the face, and at bursting point, I passed them, and immediately let out an almighty laugh, at my own apparent craziness, and their unsated curiosity. LOL became a reality !

On that note, I shall sign-off, hopefully leaving you with a smile on your face. May your week unfold kindly before and gently about you.

Holding you in prayerful remembrance and affection.

As ever, Fr. Nicholas

10th October 2020

Dear Parishioners,

Once again I am pleased to be able to send you the coming week’s Newsletter together with the Readings for Holy Mass this weekend. Hopefully this greeting will find you well and strengthened to know that despite the necessary differences of the particular time we are living through our Parish communities continue to be as they have always been, serving our Faith family, and many more besides.

As I have heard it said, and occasionally say myself, I couldn’t have written the script last Saturday morning as I concluded my few lines to you. Having commented on the autumnal atmosphere and darkness of the morning, the next chapter of garden life at the Presbytery in Cleckheaton, was the arrival of a very vocal duck, making its way up the driveway. Being somewhat ‘plagued’ by cats (sorry cat lovers !) I went out to see if the duck had been involved in a skirmish with one of the numerous collared felines (clearly someone’s, but not mine!) who also find their way into the garden. Boldly, and still very loudly making her presence felt, the duck and I met half way up the drive. She appeared uninjured, just curious and quite undeterred by my six feet of height peering at her. Behind me was the very friendly, and ever-present robin, clearly pleased to have a familiar wall of human being standing between himself and the new arrival, as he cautiously assessed the scenario. Returning to the Presbytery I noted throughout the morning that the duck remained in the garden quite contentedly taking a good look round, and on more than one occasion finding somewhere to nest for a while. Having had a walk around the garden after the lunchtime Mass and seeing nothing of the duck, I was satisfied that she had a arrived and departed as a visitor and was not looking for permanent lodgings. With some further land clearance taking place nearby, she had probably found herself forcibly evicted from a place of quiet seclusion and was viewing potential new sites to take up residence ! The robin is quite clearly back in situ as king of all he surveys, bobbing around without a care in the world. Hopefully he keeps an eye out for the cats and remains deft enough to avoid their stealthly approaches.

The presumed search of the visiting duck for new pastures and a new life reminded me of some words written by Cardinal Newman. Yesterday (Friday) we celebrated his feastday. The second as a saint of our Faith tradition. Some of you may well have been in Birmingham when Pope Benedict raised him to the status of Blessed John Henry Newman during the Papal Visit on September 2010. It is hard to believe that event is already a decade ago ! Throughout his life, and it was a long life, almost ninety years, St. John Henry Newman was seeking to understand God’s will for him. The reflection enclosed seems apt for our own time when many are seeking a purposeful existence amidst huge change to what had become the norm of life and living within our society. The wisdom of the words of a saint – one of our own countrymen – remind us that whoever we are, wherever we find ourselves, whatever we profess to being, God has a plan for us, which is uniquely ours, and has been offered to no one else in the entire expanse of history. Our response is very Lucan, to listen and respond, as depicted by Our Blessed Lady in the his account of the Annunciation. May we each do so generously, even if unlike the duck we don’t currently even have the freedom to wander aimlessly up the driveway of our neighbours ! One day we will.

 

God knows me and calls me by my name.…
God has created me to do Him some definite service;
He has committed some work to me
which He has not committed to another.
I have my mission—I never may know it in this life,
but I shall be told it in the next.

Somehow I am necessary for His purposes…
I have a part in this great work;
I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection
between persons.
He has not created me for naught. I shall do good,
I shall do His work;
I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth
in my own place, while not intending it,
if I do but keep His commandments
and serve Him in my calling.

Therefore I will trust Him.
Whatever, wherever I am,
I can never be thrown away.
If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him;
In perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him;
If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him.
My sickness, or perplexity, or sorrow may be
necessary causes of some great end,
which is quite beyond us.
He does nothing in vain; He may prolong my life,
He may shorten it;
He knows what He is about.
He may take away my friends,
He may throw me among strangers,
He may make me feel desolate,
make my spirits sink, hide the future from me—
still He knows what He is about.…
Let me be Thy blind instrument. I ask not to see—
I ask not to know—I ask simply to be used.

from Meditations and Devotions,
“Meditations on Christian Doctrine,”
“Hope in God—Creator”, March 7, 1848

 

Be assured of continuing prayerful and affectionate remembrance.

Fr. Nicholas

 

 

3rd October 2020

Dear Parishioners,

There is something rather autumnal in the atmosphere as I send the latest version of the Newsletter to you together with the Readings for Holy Mass this weekend. The morning is dark, wet, and a large tree in the garden is beginning to cast her summer clothes, littering golden coloured leaves across the grass. Yes, autumn appears to have arrived. Thankfully splashes of colour and vibrancy are to be seen in the late-flowering roses and a few other hardy gifts of nature. Small signs of hope reminding me that all everything going through change at the moment will indeed come back in the spring with renewed energy. May the same be true of ourselves !

At the beginning of the month we celebrated the feast of St. Therese of Lisieux. Her short life was lived in an assuming manner, devoid of her initial ambition of becoming a missionary and travelling the far flung parts of the globe. However in the confines of the Carmelite Monastery at Lisieux she lived a most extraordinary life. One that pleased Almighty God. A profound lesson of her life, and one that she constantly reminds others of in her writings, was to seek to serve God in the small and often mundane aspects of life. She wrote: “Our Lord does not look so much at the greatness of our actions, or even at their difficulty, as at the love with which we do them.” This week I received a lovely card, quite out of the blue, which contained the following kind words: “you cross my mind often and are in my Rosary prayers …” In the midst of an ordinary week, attempting to do what I do week by week and day by day, it was most touching and uplifting to be remembered in such a way.

Many of us are taking pleasure in the simple and, dare I say, activities often taken for granted in former days. What an adventure even going to the supermarket now is ! Perhaps through some small action or word, offered or spoken, by ourselves over the coming week, another life may be enriched or enhanced. It doesn’t take much to make a difference, and further the love of God in our world of today. Waiting for the rarefied climate in which to carry out an act of kindness is often an indulgent luxury. Next weekend we celebrate the feast of St. Paulinus of York, of whom St. Bede wrote. He travelled through this area and as he did so met many who were eager to be baptised. Not dependant upon the finery of an ornate baptismal font, he turned towards what God had provided, the River Calder, and, like John the Baptist, drew in the crowds as he celebrated Sacramental new life for them !

Be assured of remembrance in prayer and kindest thought. May we be united in spirit and heart.
As ever, Fr. Nicholas

26th September 2020

Dear Parishioners,

Time has once more passed us by with its slippers on as we arrive at another weekend, and I am delighted to be able to send out our Newsletter and the Readings for Holy Mass. In the absence of our Mass Books in church it is good to see increasing numbers bringing printed copies of the latter with them to our celebrations of Mass. At the end of each of my days, which for some may appear relatively early as I begin the ‘retiring’ process just after the headlines at 10.00 p.m., I have a conversation with the Good Lord, and eventually – no matter what time – round the day off with a little light reading. Usually this takes the form of a historical mystery, and often as I put the light out, I say to myself: The plot thickens ! And so it seems to be doing in regard to our battle with Covid-19. For some time we seemed to be doing so well, and then, sadly, we are seeing the number of cases increase, and regrettably the death toll rise. With something like a quarter of the nation’s population in ‘restrictions’ clearly there is cause for concern.

With many youngsters beginning a new chapter in their lives at universities and Colleges of Higher Education my final daily conversation with the Almighty currently includes them in a special way. Having served as a University Chaplain I am very well aware of the ‘University experience’ that many speak of in the media, adding that this can be for better or for worse ! Having got numerous student out of a variety of scrapes at different times. I ask God to care for them, open their minds and hearts to the wonderful gift of education that our universities and colleges offer, but above all I ask them to be given the friendship of the Holy Spirit – God’s sense of fun and humour, but also His Wisdom. Perhaps more than ever this is a gift they need to take with them as they pack bags and boxes, moving from the security, stability and familiarity of home, to a new environment, populated with many who will become life-long friends, and with whom they are called upon to share a domestic space. Currently good numbers of them are having to isolate for their well-being and that of others. It is far from the best way to begin a new chapter in life, but perhaps it is a part of their learning curve, and having been forced to spend two weeks alone with relative strangers the bonds that unite them will ultimately be stronger, gifts and skills shared, together with a growing sensitivity and kindness amongst those that they share a living space with. I did notice on one or two blocks of student accommodation captured by media cameras that windows contained homemade posters, not the familiar “Thank you NHS”, but those which read “Send Beer”. Clearly God’s gift of humour has arrived in our university towns and cities ! Let us also hope that the students don’t forget to unpack His Wisdom too. A wisdom that when applied will help keep them, and all of us safe and well.

Reassuring you of prayerful remembrance, not least for those still not feeling able to join us around the Altars of Word and Sacrament, uniting themselves with us in Spiritual Communion.

With affection,

Fr. Nicholas

19th September 2020

Dear Parishioners,

This Newsletter and the Readings for the celebration of Holy Mass this weekend come with the hope and trust that you and your loved ones are well and continuing to cope with the way of life that some weeks ago we began to speak of as being the ‘new’ normal. Aspects of this new way of living in society continue to be hard, tough and very demanding not least emotionally and psychologically. In the times when you feel somewhat overcome by the limitations and restrictions of life, please remember that you are not walking alone. As a faith community we are there for you, remembering you in prayerful thought, but also just at the end of the telephone, whether that is a call to me directly, or to a friend. The opportunity to chat and talk to one another is welcomed by us all. So please don’t walk alone, let us all journey together.

From recent Newsletters you will have noticed mention of the Sacraments of First Holy Communion and Reconciliation, sadly postponed earlier in the year, due to the obvious reason. However, we are now moving forward and planning to celebrate these Sacraments by the end of the Liturgical Year i.e. before Advent. These will be different celebrations to those we have become accustomed to, but nonetheless significant milestones in the faith-development of the youngsters concerned, and as such parents, our teachers in school and myself will be working closely together to ensure the children are not only well prepared but will also have a meaningful and memorable celebration of these Sacraments. Please remember these children and their families in your prayers.

Continue to keep well and safe, keeping an eye on your friends and neighbours. May our continued remembrance of one another in prayer and affection strengthen us as we face a new phase of localised restrictions which come into force from Tuesday.

As always, Fr. Nicholas