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     

13th February 2021

Dear Parishioners, 

Without wishing to sound clichéd I begin my thoughts this week by asking the question: How long does it take a man to tidy a pantry?  The answer in my case has been four weeks. Well to be more precise four Mondays! Before minds begin to think that the pantry in question must be attached to Castle Howard or Buckingham Palace it certainly isn’t. It is under the stairs of our two-bedroomed home in Otley. The origin of tidying the smallest room in the house began as a relatively random thought oozing with good intention. Having, on the first Monday, begun to put the idea into action, by simply removing a row of condiment jars from an upper shelf, something behind the containers dislodged itself. It was the box containing the inner workings of the house alarm. The external and internal sirens rang out bringing an ever vigilant neighbour at the speed of an Olympic athlete to the door to see what had caused the commotion. Guilty as charged from the look I received, and attempting to have a socially distanced penitential conversation over and above a noise that appeared to be hailing an imminent nuclear attack, profusely apologising for bringing such uproar to suburbia, I did what I felt was appropriate, and reached for the nearest useful tool that I could lay my hands on in a vague attempt to take charge of the chaos of the moment. In this instance the tool was a pair of scissors. Armed and on a mission I cut the first wire. The racket continued. A second wire was likewise guillotined, and still the uproar went on. Never having used a code, our neighbour’s plea that I should try to remember four little digits before I continued the butchery of wires wasn’t really an option, so with a third slash, silence was eventually restored to the neighbourhood, although for several hours the piercing screech of the alarm rang in my ears. It was the eerie spectre of what felt like Original Sin. Unable to comprehend what I had done and feeling about four years of age as I tried to grasp the enormity of having to explain the scenario to Dad, I decided to postpone any further exploration of the pantry, at least for the time being. My attention for the remainder of the day was concentrated on the garden where, having new founded prowess with a sharp implement I tackled a couple of jobs Dad had mentioned to me that he’d intended doing after Christmas. My attempt at gaining some brownie points involved pruning Hydrangeas and Pampas Grass, the latter of which I discovered can bite back with its sharp stems. 

It goes without saying that I am not the most practical of people but as I have heard many times over, usually from Dad, I inevitably know a little man who can help me. So on the second Monday given over to tidying the pantry, the small space was occupied by the near sainted, Stuart, who had been dispatched from Harford’s in Dewsbury (other alarm companies are available!) to assist this cleric in distress. With doors and windows open, Stuart worked indoors whilst I found more gardening jobs to do. Having workmen in the home during Lockdown isn’t an easy feat to juggle. Needing to go to his van for some parts, afforded me the opportunity of being hospitable offering Stuart refreshment which he eagerly accepted. I then had to ask him to remain outside until, as I played the role of the masked coffee-maker, we could swop locations, allowing me to once more return to the great outdoors. Occupied for some hours, Stuart eventually said that his task was complete. In our parting conversation he consoled me with the fact that as the alarm box was indeed held in place by the containers that I had inadvertently moved vibrations from traffic on the nearby road could have dislodged the precarious scenario at any time, going on to say that what had happened the previous week was better than getting a phone call from not too pleased neighbours at two in the morning, who would then have to endure further nocturnal disturbance until I arrived bleary eyed from Cleckheaton. After about a quarter of a century in service, Stuart also said the alarm was somewhat out of date. A comment made thankfully out of earshot of some fixtures which are approaching the completion of their sixth decade in the service of the Hird family. The consoling words and ultimate feel-good factor that was a part of the service received were clearly included in the subsequent bill that fell through the letter box, devoid as it was of mates-rates! 

A fortnight later than intended work in earnest began on the pantry. The work of the previous Monday meant that as well as the new alarm system, I would also have to explain the disappearance of a shelf to provide wall-accommodation for the box containing its internal workings in a future conversation with Dad. The condiment shelf was now gone, space reduced and that which was familiar and frequently used had to be found a new home. The lot of a tidier with good intention is not always a happy one ! In trying to find an explanation for the length of man-hours it took me to tidy the pantry all I can offer, through discovery, are its Tardis-like proportions. Tins and packets were stored deep and high, every space, nook and available inch on shelf and floor were filled, so much so that I began to wonder if my parents in earlier times had used some kind of adapted fishing net to reach items stored at its rear. Then I recalled as a small child having to step – with care – over numerous things on the pantry floor in order to retrieve an item stored deep within it. Back in the present, not unsurprisingly, knowing Dad’s good household management, when removing jars, bottles, tins and packets, I discovered just one item that was out of date, and it was respectably so, stamped with the date November 2016. Other items were lined up for washing and replacing, with perhaps just a little sorting out going on in and amongst too.  

My Mother was a gatherer, at times over and above any scale of known measurement! Not everything that she acquired was used, but at the time of purchase or other means used to obtain things (all legal I hasten to add!), something within her convinced her that there was no living without the item. It was a trait that she shared with Queen Mary, the present queen’s grandmother, who when visiting friends would often comment on an item of china displayed in their home. More than one reference to the item meant that she had her eye on it, and if she made a move to inspect it at closer quarters, perhaps even removing gloves to handle it, then the implied expectation was that the hostess or host would insist that she took it home with her! The presence of so many baking bowls, measuring jugs, and other culinary related items being lined up for a bath in the kitchen sink would have done the likes of Rosemary Shager proud. For the life of me I could never recall when the glass jelly moulds I was liberally dipping into hot water enhanced by soapy suds had ever held their intended contents, nor when juice had been extracted from any form of fruit using the plastic or glass squeezers I was drying with vigour. Regrettably Queen Mary is no longer with us, otherwise I may have been tempted to invite her to Otley for tea, displaying our vast array of pantry-housed accessories, hoping that one or more may take her eye! Although I doubt that the host of mainly English pottery-makers’ marks on the base of many of them would have carried the same clout in her eyes as Dresden, Royal Copenhagen or even Wedgewood! 

Virtually every item brought out of the pantry held a memory; from the selection of plates and saucers retrieved from successive sets of tableware we had used over the years, to the basin in which the Yorkshire Pudding was prepared as Mum’s first job on a Sunday morning, the Pyrex-ware that held vegetables on high days and festive times, the mixing bowl used on a weekly basis for the making of cakes and buns and from which, prior to its washing, I would almost beg a taste of the unbaked mixture in my pre-school days, the iconic and trusted enamel gravy jug which made an appearance in the kitchen every Sunday lunchtime, to the floral and Bumble Bee bedecked food cover that Mum had somehow managed to obtain, Queen Mary style, from the cream tea stall at a Summer Fayre in Dewsbury. Not one item seemed random, all had a history, each had a part to play in our family life, collectively and individually they were more than they seemed on opening the door and seeing them stacked together. There were also near relics of other regular visitors to our home in times past, such as the Rington’s Tea distributor and the selling abilities of the Betterware Rep, typified in the presence of a pyramid shaped humanitarian insect catcher dangling at the end of a short pole. Another must have item, which had clearly remained unused.  

A fourth Monday given over to “Operation Pantry” saw shelves being wiped down, a floor washed and the replacing of what had been disturbed. There was a lesson for the learning, as I soon discovered the interior of the Tardis appeared to have shrunk, as I replaced crockery and utensils in places from which I thought I’d removed them. Clearly a plot was afoot and they had either multiplied in protest at my handling of them or had enlarged when coming into contact with hot water. Either way a little culling took place, and those for which I really could not see future use (whilst others, i.e. Dad, may well have done) were discreetly placed into a waiting large and strong bin-liner. Eventually the task was complete, and rather like God at the end of some of the days of creation, the stories of which from Genesis formed our daily Mass readings at the beginning of the week, I “saw that it was good.” However any further similarity with the creative work of the Almighty ended there as unlike the Trinity the rest that They were able to enjoy on the seventh day failed to arrive for yours truly. Instead, my wandering eyes began to look around for further tasks needing my fettling skills. 

On closing the pantry door I didn’t notice the “cherubim and flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life” (Genesis 3:24) that were posted by God on humanity’s departure from the Garden of Eden, but I couldn’t help thinking how extraordinary the ordinary can be. The odd plates with their “Indian Tree” or “Willow Pattern” design that provided the tableware used at our household table rituals were not dissimilar to the precious metal church plate housed and displayed in Minsters and Cathedrals such as York or Durham. The placing of them on our trusted yellow Formica kitchen table at a given time, the saying of Grace before tucking into the delights of a menu that had a familiar weekly appearance to it, and of the use of serving dishes, napkins and decorations, marking special times, reflected a kinship to the kitchen of Martha at Bethany or the Upper Room in Jerusalem. Table fellowship is at the heart of our Christian tradition: the sanctifying of the ordinary and the gifting, in return, to the Faithful of the ultimate Extraordinary. Around tables stories were told that gave material for the authors of Sacred Scripture to use, instances and names forgotten by one but remembered by another. Across an array of dishes and foil packaging tales continue to be shared of work, rest and play. Conversations that become the very stuff of shared family memory, perhaps also forgotten until vaguely recalled at the time when a significant component of the unit is taken away leaving the remnant to give increased worth and value to that which was previously every day, mundane and routine, as the words of the poem, The Old House poignantly convey: “Lonely I wander through scenes of my childhood, They bring back to memory the happy days of yore, Gone are the old folk, the house stands deserted, No light in the window, no welcome at the door.” 

None of us has to walk into the likes of St. Peter’s in Rome or even either of our own churches to sense the awe and wonder of what it is to stand on hallowed ground or to feel the sanctity of a space. The holy and sacred can be much closer than we think and found where we least expect them. Faith adds a further dimension to our surroundings as we acknowledge a Creator God who gave us a role, as steward or custodian, preparing, in our turn, to hand on to others something that – it would be good to think – is in better shape than when it was entrusted to us or at least has been well tended and cared for during our watch.  

Wherever you can identify spaces, places and most importantly people sacred to you, cherish the encounter. Sometimes there can be no going back to them, but we have the God-given capacity to carry them with us and not discard or leave them behind forever. Life’s journey presents us with many doors to open. The greatest is that of the heart of another human being. It is the Holy of Holies, the place where we are most likely to encounter something of the face of our Creator God in another human being. May our exploration of this sacred space be with an awareness that we are indeed treading on holy ground, and may the door to it always be ajar for us to enter freely…  and discover its hidden mysteries.   

United on a daily basis in thought, prayer and affection. 

As ever, Fr. Nicholas 

P.S. I hope that for all entering their pantries this weekend it will not take four days for you to emerge from them!

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