The departure of Cyprian Blamires and William Johnstone means that the Society is now without area organisers. Their principal role was to travel the length and breadth of the country making appeals on our behalf in parishes. Appeals are not just about raising money. Appeals are about presenting a human face and engaging with parish priests and their parishioners. The importance of appeals cannot be underestimated. They are our principal point of contact with the wider Church.

For the time being I have taken responsibility for all the appeals myself and it has been an exciting experience to suddenly find myself on the road each weekend, often making long journeys as the Society’s ambassador. Recently I have visited Blackpool, Skegness, Leeds, Plymouth, Manchester and Leicester. In each place I have been received with great kindness. I am deeply grateful to the priests who have offered me a bed for the night and allowed me to celebrate Mass and preach in their churches. And I am equally grateful to their parishioners who have listened so patiently and responded so generously to my request for their support. Often at the door of the church after Mass someone will come up to me and say “I was really interested to hear what you had to say because I am a convert myself” and I am always fascinated to hear the story of their own conversion journey. I have spoken about our forthcoming move to the edge of Littlemore and asked for their prayers as it happens. Many of them have immediately recognised the value of the special connection we shall now have with Blessed John Henry Newman, Blessed Dominic Barberi and the most important conversion story of modern times. These visits have helped to recruit many more friends for the St Barnabas Society and as such expand the nationwide network of support for us which already exists. And as I visit these parishes and meet people I am all too aware that I am now building upon the work which has been faithfully done by the Society’s organisers in the past. They are still remembered and fondly spoken of. Not only is that touching but it is hugely important. What they have achieved through their own visits has provided firm foundations for the work that now lies ahead.

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Something made me read again the beautiful homily Emeritus Pope Benedict gave at Cofton Park in Birmingham on 19th September 2010 for the beatification of Cardinal Newman. In it the Holy Father referred to one of Newman’s better-known meditations entitled “God has created me for some definite service.” Pope Benedict said:

“He (Newman) tells us that our divine Master has assigned a specific task to each one of us, a ‘definite service’, committed uniquely to every single person: ‘I have my mission’ he wrote, ‘I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good, I shall do his work; I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place…if I do but keep his commandments and serve him in my calling.’” (Meditations and Devotions, 301-2)

May those words remind us of the “bond of connection” between the Society and our supporters which is so crucial to our work. As the Society’s Director I am all too aware that “I have my mission” but so do all the other people upon whom the Society depends – employees and friends. Each individual is “a link in a chain.” Thank you - all of you - for what you do for us and please keep up the good work!

  The chapel at Littlemore

The chapel at Littlemore

The July meeting of the Trustees of the St Barnabas Society took place within the beautiful setting of The College at Littlemore, on the south east side of Oxford. It is lovingly cared for by The Sisters of The Society of The Work and serves as the International Centre of Newman Friends. It was the home of Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman from 1842-1846 and the place where he was received into the full Communion of the Catholic Church by the Passionist priest, Blessed Dominic Barberi, on 9th October 1845.

Most of our Trustees had never visited The College before and some knew very little about the story of Newman’s conversion. It was a very moving experience to be able to celebrate Mass in the chapel of The College which had once been Newman’s oratory and is the place where Blessed Dominic received him. We were then able to move on to the place that had once been Newman’s library for the meeting itself. We were surrounded by Newman memorabilia as we discussed the support we give to our beneficiaries and the everyday work of the Society so that too was a very touching experience. It was a very happy and fruitful day and one which we hope will be repeated many times in the future.

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This meeting had a special significance because the Trustees have decided to move the Society Headquarters from its present location at Wolvercote to the outskirts of Littlemore. It will happen during August and The College will be within walking distance of our new home. More information about the move and our new location will follow shortly but in the meantime we need all our supporters and friends to keep the St Barnabas Society close to their hearts and to make a special point of praying for us each day. The move is a leap of faith but it will give us a wonderful opportunity to connect with Newman’s conversion story in a way that has not been previously possible and hopefully to play a part – albeit a small one – in the movement which is now pressing for his canonisation and that of Blessed Dominic.

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Newman wrote of Littlemore: “There it has been that I have both been taught my way and received an answer to my prayers.” May the same be true for the St Barnabas Society as we prepare for this new and exciting chapter. Through the intercession of St Barnabas and St Paul, Blessed John Henry Newman and Blessed Dominic Barberi, may the “Kindly Light” to whom Newman turned and who is God Himself lead the Society forward in faith and help us to embrace the many challenges and opportunities that this move will inevitably place in our way.

“Keep Thou my feet, I do not ask to see

The distant scene, one step enough for me.”

 

The London Event on the Feast of St Barnabas, June 11th 2018

 

This year’s London Event took place on the Feast of St Barnabas at the Church of Our Lady of Victories, Kensington High Street, thanks to the kindness of the parish priest, Monsignor Jim Curry, and his assistant, Father Daniel Humphreys. The principal celebrant and homilist at the beautiful Solemn Pontifical Mass was the Archbishop of Birmingham, The Most Reverend Bernard Longley, and he was assisted by Monsignor Keith Newton, Ordinary of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, ten concelebrating priests and three deacons. The music for the Mass was provided by the organist at Our Lady of Victories, Timothy Teague, and some of the choir members. They sang the Mozart Missa Brevis in B flat major as well as the Mozart Ave Verum during Holy Communion. The congregation included trustees, beneficiaries and supporters of the Society.

A lovely reception followed the Mass in the parish rooms beneath the church when drinks and canapes were enjoyed by everyone. The Society chairman, Roland Hayes, thanked the Archbishop and all those present for supporting the work of the Society. This important annual event which will now be held on or close to the Feast of St Barnabas is essentially a family occasion which brings together those involved at all levels in the mission of the St Barnabas Society as well as those who benefit from it. It would be a very good thing if in the years ahead we were able to attract many more people to it. At present it is the one and only opportunity we have to all come together.

Please enjoy this photo gallery which will help to give you a flavour of the evening and most important of all please put the London Event into your diaries for June 11 next year.

If it seems that this year’s London Event has come around rather more quickly than usual…it has! This year we are celebrating it on the actual feast day of St Barnabas the Apostle (June 11th) and I hope this will now become an annual tradition whenever it is possible.

The London Event reminds us that the St Barnabas Society is a family. There are those of us who work for the Society at its headquarters in Wolvercote. There are those who serve voluntarily as the Society’s trustees. There are those who are members of the Society and faithfully receive our literature and contribute to its work. There are many others who express an interest in our work and who then give generously to support it. And finally there are our beneficiaries – the principal reason why the Society exists – who, having made the courageous decision to embrace the Catholic faith, often at great personal cost to themselves, rely heavily upon the financial support we are able to offer to them, without which their lives would be an even greater uphill struggle than they are already. So it is important that there is at least one opportunity during the Church’s Year when we can gather together as a family to give thanks to God for the work of the St Barnabas Society, to forge new friendships simply by being together for a few hours, and to re-dedicate ourselves to the work that lies ahead.

The work that lies ahead will be both challenging and exciting as will become clear in time. So I do encourage all of you to make a special effort this year (if it is at all possible) to join us next Monday (June 11th) at 6.30pm at Our Lady of Victories Church, Kensington High Street, in London, for the Solemn Pontifical Mass at which Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham will preside, and the reception afterwards. We all live busy lives and it can be very difficult to make time for everything that is asked of us but your presence at this Mass is so important to the Society and for its work. If you are able to be there we shall be delighted to welcome you. Please try your very best.

In her contribution to the book “The Path to Rome”, which many of you will have read, Ann Widdecombe writes:

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“Each (person’s) path to Rome is different. Some paths are straight, others wind and occasionally disappear altogether. Some are lonely, some are crowded. Some are clear, some are brambly. Many are steep. Mine was, but there comes a time when the incline is downwards and the journey gains an almost precipitous momentum.

‘Quo vadis?’ one hears. There can only be one reply. To Rome.”

May we all find inspiration in the truth of those words as we prepare for the celebration of this year’s London Event and may we rejoice together that God has chosen to call us into the fold of His One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

 Our Lady of Victories, High St Kensington

Our Lady of Victories, High St Kensington

Fr Paul shares his thought for the week

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The sermon given by the American Episcopalian Bishop Michael Curry at last Saturday’s royal wedding in St George’s Chapel, Windsor, was rather like marmite – you either loved it or hated it! Despite the uncomfortable expressions on the faces of many of the senior Royals it has since emerged that many, many people loved it, as much for Bishop Michael’s style of delivery as for the sermon’s content. Someone posted on line – “He took us all to church – to a black church – and it was clear that for many this was a first-time experience!”

Bishop Michael took as his theme the “redemptive power of love” urging his listeners to discover for themselves the power of love to make of “this old world a new world”. “There’s power in love” he said. “There’s power in love to help and heal when nothing else can. There’s power in love to lift up and liberate when nothing else will. There’s power in love to show us the way to live.”

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Quite rightly Bishop Michael’s words were aimed first and foremost at Prince Harry and his beautiful bride who now enjoy the titles of Duke and Duchess of Sussex. “The power of love is demonstrated by the fact that we’re all here” said Bishop Michael. “Two young people fell in love and we all showed up!” Yet I found my mind wandering (as it often does) away from the events in St George’s Chapel – beautiful though they were – as I started to reflect upon the impact of love in my own life. The love of my parents and family; the love of my many friends; the many different expressions of love which, over nearly 60 years, have moulded and shaped me and helped to make me the person I am today. It is impossible for us to imagine what life would be like without the precious, indispensable gift of love. For, as Bishop Michael reminded the worldwide audience who were listening to him last Saturday:“Ultimately, the source of love is God himself; the source of all our lives. There’s an old medieval poem that says: ‘Where true love is found, God himself is there.” He must certainly have connected with his Catholic listeners in saying that for we sing the words of the“old medieval poem” each year at the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday – “Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.”

The decision to convert and embrace the Catholic faith is itself an act of love. What else but love could motivate a man or woman to leave their former security behind and step out into the unknown without any guarantee of a certain future. Yes, it is an act of faith but it is also an act of love – love for God; love for Jesus, His Divine Son and for the message of His Holy Gospel; love for His One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, which is the company of all true Christian believers. Conversion, for everyone who experiences it, makes of “this old world a new world”. It marks a whole new beginning. And what the convert longs for more than anything else as he or she makes that new start is the assurance of being loved.

Whether like marmite we loved Bishop Michael’s sermon or hated it we cannot quarrel with its central message of the “redemptive power of love.”

“Love is not selfish and self-centred. Love can be sacrificial, and in so doing, becomes redemptive. And that way of unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive love changes lives, and it can change this world.”

Fr Paul shares a story about a recent evening with Fr Timothy Radcliffe OP

For a long time now I have been an admirer of the writings of Fr Timothy Radcliffe OP, former Master of the Dominican Order. In fact when I was parish priest of Bicester and later Caversham I forbade my parishioners to buy his books because if they did they would quickly discover where I got all my homily material from! When I met Fr Timothy recently at the home of the Chilson family (who are beneficiaries of our Society) and told him about this he playfully threatened to sue for loss of earnings! But I, for one, will continue to buy anything he chooses to publish because he is always well worth reading. His travels around the world have given him so much knowledge of human society and of the Church’s mission in so many different places and situations and his books are full of these experiences. In fact he is about to publish a new book so watch out for it and buy it! As I am no longer a parish priest I am no longer so dependent upon Fr Timothy for material for my homilies!

Over a delightful kitchen supper in the Chilsons’ family home I asked Fr Timothy if he had ever written anything on the subject of“conversion” and he didn’t think he had. So, of course, I asked him if he would think about writing something on this subject for the St Barnabas Society and he told me that when the book is published and he has completed the lecture tours of Australia and Germany which lie immediately ahead he would think about it. It would certainly be a great privilege for us if he agrees.

While I was parish priest of Caversham I briefly served as Area Dean of Oxford South and during that time our Deanery received a visitation from Archbishop Bernard Longley and Bishop William Kenney. At the opening meeting of the visitation in Henley-on-Thames I was expected to say a few words and initially I wasn’t quite sure what to say. And then I received some heaven-sent inspiration from Fr Timothy’s lovely book Why go to Church? In a chapter entitled “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” he makes reference to a scene in the Bayeux Tapestry “where Bishop Odo can be seen poking a soldier in the backside with a spear, forcing him into the fray. The inscription reads ‘Odo comforteth his men.’” There in a nutshell, I said, is what a Deanery Visitation is all about. The Archbishop and his Auxiliary have come to comfort their men!

In another chapter in that same book Fr Timothy has this to say.

“…our faith is not primarily the assent to facts about God but friendship with God. This man Jesus offers us more than words about God, spiritual insight. He did not come to promote values. He did not come to tell us about God’s friendship for us. He is God’s friendship with us made flesh and blood.”

As we continue our journey through Eastertide and prepare to celebrate the Ascension of the Lord and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost let us grasp for ourselves that monumental truth. Jesus Christ “is God’s friendship with us made flesh and blood.”

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Fr Paul shares a thought on conversion

 Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI & Monsignor Georg Ratzinger

Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI & Monsignor Georg Ratzinger

On April 16th Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI celebrated his 91st birthday. True to form it was a quiet affair – “peaceful and familial” – spent in company with his 94 year-old brother, Monsignor Georg Ratzinger, who was visiting from Germany. Since Pope Benedict made the dramatic decision to step down from his role as Supreme Pontiff in 2013 he has deliberately chosen to live out the last chapter of his life away from the public glare. He is by nature a shy man. I discovered that for myself when I encountered him by accident in St Peter’s Square while leading a pilgrimage to Rome in 2001. He was courteous and kind and willingly gave a few minutes of his time to talk but I saw enough on that occasion to be able to appreciate that now he is elderly and frail he has consciously taken to heart the beautiful words of St Paul to the Colossians: “Let your thoughts be on heavenly things, not on the things that are on earth, because you have died and now the life you have is hidden with Christ in God.” (3:2-3)

Yet this “hidden Pope” is still loved and missed within the Church and no-one will ever forget the quality of his teaching which was second to none. I recently discovered an address he gave at a General Audience in Rome on 27 February 2008. He was speaking about the life of St Augustine of Hippo and I was particularly struck by what he had to say about St Augustine’s conversion.

“…Augustine’s conversion was not sudden or fully accomplished at the beginning, but can be defined, rather, as a true and proper journey that remains a model for each one of us. This itinerary certainly culminated with his conversion and then with baptism, but it was not concluded in that Easter Vigil of the year 387, when (he) was baptised in Milan by Bishop Ambrose. Augustine’s journey of conversion, in fact, humbly continued to the very end of his life, so much so that one can truly say that his various steps…are one single great conversion.”

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Pope Benedict is reminding us that whether we were born into a Catholic family and have never known anything other than the Catholic faith, or whether we found a home in the Catholic Church much later in life, we are all called to a life of “conversion” and it is a life-long experience. The distinction that is often made between cradle-Catholics and converts is unhelpful because it suggests a marked difference between those who have apparently always possessed the Truth and those who have had to search for it. Yet for us, as for St Augustine, the search for truth and for growth in holiness did not come to an immediate end the moment we were baptised and/or received into full communion. In a very real sense the conversion experience was only just beginning. Those who have been Catholics from infancy and have had the privilege of the Sacraments and full communion with the Holy See throughout their lives are not “the finished product”. Wherever and whenever our spiritual journey has begun, we shall only be “the finished product” when we are finally with God in Heaven. St Augustine himself reminds us of this in his beautiful prayer:

“Thou, O God, hast made us for thine own self, and our hearts shall be restless until they rest in Thee.”

In the same Papal Audience address Pope Benedict reminds us that:

“Augustine converted to Christ who is truth and love, followed him throughout his life and became a model for every human being, for all of us in search of God.”

And he concluded by saying:

“Let us pray, therefore, that we can follow the example of this great convert every day of our lives and, in every moment of our life encounter the Lord Jesus, the only One who saves us, purifies us and gives us true joy, true life.”

Whether we are cradle Catholics or converts the most important thing for us to remember is that we are fellow pilgrims who are walking together the road that will one day through God’s love and mercy bring us to Heaven – and we are equally proud to be able to call ourselves Catholics!

St Augustine of Hippo – pray for us.

 

Fr Paul shares a thought on his Holy Week experience.

The Paschal candle which now burns proudly each day at Mass in our little chapel at 4 First Turn was blessed not at Wolvercote but in the Adriatic Restaurant on board the P&O cruise liner Oceana during my recent cruise chaplaincy. I must confess to having had mixed feelings about the experience before I boarded the ship yet from the moment I arrived in Southampton on Monday of Holy Week I felt totally relaxed and at home. The challenges involved in adapting the Holy Week and Easter liturgies for celebration in the ship’s card room and one of her restaurants were easily overcome not least because of the enthusiastic cooperation and support of passengers and crew alike. The only thing that was not possible was the lighting of the Easter fire (for rather obvious reasons!). All the other ceremonies which we associate with this beautifully moving and inspiring time in the Church’s Year were celebrated with the same faith and devotion as would be the case in an ordinary Catholic parish church.

 The Paschal candle in the chapel at Wolvercote

The Paschal candle in the chapel at Wolvercote

Of course the Easter Vigil was the climax of our celebrations with a mixed congregation of both passengers and crew numbering 120. It was followed by a wonderful (and totally unexpected) party, centre-stage of which was a large chocolate Easter cake produced by the catering staff in the galley! And all this happened not at the usual time just as it is getting dark. The commitments of the crew meant that none of the liturgies in which they were involved were able to begin before 11.30pm! It was 2.00am before I finally returned to my cabin after the Easter Vigil and by then the ship was rolling in heavy seas on her way from Barcelona to Marseille. Yet I can hardly remember another occasion when my heart has been so filled with Easter joy. In particular the faith and devotion of the young men and women (mostly Indian and Filipino) who cooked for us, served us, cleaned for us and attended to our every conceivable need and who then at the end of a long and tiring day found the time and energy to accompany their Lord in faith along His Via Dolorosa to His Cross and finally to the Garden of the Resurrection was truly amazing! In the days that remained for us on board Oceana many people stopped me to say how moving the Easter Vigil had been for them and how uplifted they had felt that night. So now each time I light the Paschal candle at Mass I am reminded of this unforgettable experience and of the precious friendships I made during my 10 days as a cruise chaplain all rooted in the Easter faith we share together wherever we come from and wherever we find ourselves in the world.

One morning as I was setting up for Mass on board ship a man came into the card room and engaged me in conversation. He was curious to know how I had managed to escape from my parish at such an important time in the Church’s Year. When I told him that I no longer had a parish but now served as the Director of the St Barnabas Society he said: “I know it well…and I support you financially!” It made me realise what small places the Church and the world are and also how dependent charities like ourselves are upon the material and prayerful support of so many people we hardly know and yet who have been touched in some way by the work we do and moved to do something to ensure that it continues. When I celebrate Mass this week for our Beneficiaries and Benefactors that man will be at the forefront of my mind along with countless others to whom the Society remains eternally grateful. Whether on land or sea may I wish all our supporters and friends and happy and holy journey through Eastertide.

“The Lord has risen! He has risen indeed! Alleluia!”

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DIRECTOR’S EASTER MESSAGE.

“Death, be not proud, though some have called thee

Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;

For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow

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Die not, poor death, nor yet canst thou kill

me.”

I was a sixth-former at Newport High School, in South Wales, when I first heard those stirring words of the poet John Donne and I have never forgotten them. In fact “Death be not proud” is one of the few poems I know off by heart! It powerfully expresses our Easter faith as Christians namely that the way to eternal life has been opened and the doors of Heaven flung wide for us by the Saving Death and Glorious Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Each Easter Alleluia proclaims the message: “Death be not proud.” The victory of Christ is ours to share. Our Baptism has already given us a pledge of the Resurrection. Donne was right. Death cannot kill us anymore. Of course, we must eventually leave this world, but only so that we may be re-born into the world of eternity – something already in process through our experience at the font. So St Augustine of Hippo hit the nail on the head when he said: “We are an Easter People and Alleluia is our song!” For that is exactly what we are…and not just at Easter but every single moment of our lives!

Holy Week and Easter will have been an unusual experience for me this year because through the good offices of the Apostleship of the Sea I am going to serve as a cruise chaplain on board the P&O liner Oceana. It sounds like a glorified holiday but I have already realised that this is the very last thing it will be! First and foremost I shall be chaplain to the crew of 800+ which is largely Philippino and Indian and therefore strongly Catholic. But I shall also be available each day to celebrate Mass with Catholic passengers and any others who choose to join us, to hear confessions and to deal with any pastoral issues that may occur above or below deck. I know it will be both interesting and challenging. This time last year I was planning the traditional Holy Week and Easter ceremonies in the parish of Our Lady & St Anne, Caversham, on the north side of Reading. This year I shall be wracking my brains as to how you are meant to celebrate the Easter Vigil on board a ship without an Easter fire, without the lighting of candles and without a font! It will call for some liturgical ingenuity – a grace for which I am now praying daily and fervently!

The message of Christ’s Easter triumph is of equal importance to those on land and those at sea. St Boniface of Mainz once famously declared: “In her voyage across the ocean of this world, the Church is like a great ship being pounded by the waves of life’s different stresses. Our duty is not to abandon ship but to keep her on her course.” I shall take those words to heart during my 10 days aboard the MV Oceana and pray in particular that the pounding by the waves will be limited to the Bay of Biscay! And I know that with the passengers and crew I shall be intimately united with the Universal Church in her annual celebration of the Paschal Mystery. For like John Donne, we believe that:

“One short sleep past we wake eternally

And death shall be no more. Death thou shalt die!”

In my first Easter message as Director of the St Barnabas Society I would like to say a special thank you to all of you who have so kindly and generously supported our work during the past year and, in doing so, enabled us to bring new life and hope to the beneficiaries who depend upon us for support and, in some cases, for their very survival. What you have done is very deeply appreciated and you are remembered each week at the altar at Wolvercote. And I would also like to thank those who work with me at our Society headquarters and our Chairman and Trustees who are always so hugely supportive. Our mission today is as important as it has ever been and it is a potent sign of the Church alive and at work. The risen Lord told his followers that they were to “Go and make disciples”. Through its unique work on behalf of those who choose to become Catholics this is precisely what the St Barnabas Society exists for.

“A very happy and holy Easter to you all!”