Monday, December 18, 2017

Something slightly surreal...

...and rather bleak, about crossing Westminster Bridge at the moment. One instinctively looks up  to Big Ben - and instead there is this stack of closely-packed scaffolding, making the tower look from a distance like a ghastly distorted pretend vision of its real self. Odd, and eerily uncomfortable.

On Gaudete Sunday...

...glorious singing from the children's choir at Precious Blood Church, London Bridge. The church has a simply massive Christmas Nativity in the shrine chapel, created to be like a big cave, with a tiny waterfall, and great craggy rocks, with Mary and Joseph waiting, and an angel poised on high ready to proclaim the joyful news when the time comes...and around the church, the Three Kings are poised, making their steady way towards Bethlehem...

Up in the sanctuary stand  two massive glittering Christmas trees, one on either side of the high altar. And, outside, a beautiful Christmas Nativity in a stable, lit up with glittering stars - drawing people to enjoy it as they hurry to and fro. Immediately opposite the church is a night-club, which welcomed the church for celebrations when the latter's fabulous illumination was inaugurated by the Mayor of Southwark a few weeks ago. So the whole street has a cheery feel just at present, with a Christmas glow all around.

LOGS, the ladies' group based at the church - along with various other friends from the parish -  will be singing carols at London Bridge station this week.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

at Lambeth palace...

...this past week, I joined the secretary of the George Bell Group to hand in a petition calling for the Carlisle Report to be published: in fact it was published later in the week. The Anglican Bishop George Bell was a distinguished churchman who championed the cause of the anti-Nazi Germans, saved many children's lives through his work for the Kindertransport which brought Jewish children out of Germany, and was a supporter of ecumenical projects in addition to fostering many other good causes.   Lord Carlisle has noted the gross errors and failures that accompanied the smearing of Bishop Bell's name - you can read the full report here.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

In an incredibly packed Oxford Street...

...a splendid group from Youth 2000 gathered to sing carols. They had put out a call for any supporter to turn up and help, and it was a joy to do so. They sang, they jingled tambourines, they strummed on guitars, and they sang all the traditional carols...and handed out  striped Christmas candy-sticks to passers-by, with a joyful Scripture message.

As I left, the sound of their joyful "Sing Hosanna!" rose about the surge of the crowd beneath the glittering Christmas lights...a delight.

The entrance to Oxford Circus tube station was too packed to approach, so I went on to Piccadilly Circus. The lights in Regent Street depict glorious Christmas angels and are superb. Hopped on a bus, got to Piccadilly, but the station was similarly jam-packed -  no hope of getting anywhere near a train. I ended up walking to Westminster, past a silent and deserted Horseguards and a dark St James' Park.  The Foreign Office was dark, but all the lights were on in Downing Street - clearly people working busily there.

Home exhausted, carrying my own modest Christmas shopping (from M and S, and the gift-shop at Westminster Cathedral, since you ask - tho' I have also been doing lots of shopping elsewhere for various Christmassy things).  On a rainy night, gratitude for a warm home and mugs of tea.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

"Gaudete, Gaudete...

Christus est natus, ex Maria virgine, Gaudete..."...carolled the choir of St Mary's University, Twickenham. It was the annual Carol Service - the choir is very good and the candlelit service was utterly delightful...but not crowded. Many students alas don't relate to the University's Catholic life - the chapel is always open and welcoming, the heritage is there for all to share, but for students who have never had any link with Catholicism, it all just seems remote, a world they do not know.

However there is a good core of active young Catholic students, and the traditional service was a grand start to what promises to be a satisfying amount of carol-singing for me, as a friend is organising singing at a big local hospital tomorrow, and then there is Youth 2000 in Oxford Street at the weekend, and LOGS at London Bridge Station next Tuesday...

After the carol service, we had wine and mince pies in the Shannon Suite and I met some local residents, former students who will be of help with my work on the University's history.


I stepped out...

...on Sunday morning into an enchanting scene: Oxfordshire in snow, church spire, Georgian street, Town Hall and square all softly clad and more falling thickly on to my face and coat as I drew my suitcase down the street making a long trail behind me. Of course this all meant the start of some minor adventures in order to get into London: buses cancelled, taxi summoned, roads blocked, and finally a loooooong wait in an immobile train. We all cheered as it finally set off - only to find ourselves dropped off again at Reading...I eventually made it to Paddington, and after further struggles with the Tube, was greeted with applause when I arrived at St Patrick's, Soho, to join the Emmanuel Mission Team.  All were gathered for lunch, and I did full justice to a well-filled plate. The team had been busy with mission activities, street evangelisation, a special Healing Mass, Night Fever, and more, and Sunday was the final day of the venture.

Out into the grey rain and slush, accompanied by Ambrose, Fr Alexander's dog: the aim was for the team to get a bit more  of London's history, plus some carol-singing in Trafalgar Square. We had a good afternoon, dropped in to St Margaret's Church at Westminster (recommended - worth a visit) and the National Gallery (ditto, obviously) and returned to St P's for hot drinks and to dry out shoes...

Then a glorious International Mass. A good attendance:  children moved on to parental laps, and people squeezed into already-full pews. And as Mass ended, out into the Soho streets, taking the statue of Our Lady of Walsingham in procession to Warwick Street. With lots of singing, and glowing candles, it was a wonderful experience, and we handed out hundreds of medals and little folded Scripture verses to people in the crowded streets and cafes. People mostly smiled and said "Thank you", a few kissed the medal, some crossed themselves. Some asked if we wanted money (we didn't), some said "What is this?" and we explained it was a medal depicting Christ's mother, Mary... One man said "My daughter was given a medal just like this for her First Communion the other day!" and hurried off to fetch her: she proudly showed me her medal on its ribbon round her neck.  A few people said "No thanks", one  rather crossly. Several said "Oh, I'm a Catholic..."

Prayers and litanies at Warwick Street, and more medals and Scripture distributed on the walk back...and then everyone gathered around the tables set in a large square in the big hall:  speeches of thanks, young missionaries invited to share experiences of the past few days...




Saturday, December 09, 2017

An Oxford weekend...

...with the city shops bright with Christmassy things, and a warm welcome at the Aquinas Institute where I had tea  with Fr Richard Conrad. I needed to consult him on a theological point - and he was patient, helpful and logical, and just what a useful Dominican should be. Later I went to Blackfriars for an evening Mass for the  eve of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.  at which he was the celebrant. He preached on the history of the church's understanding of this important doctrine.  There are usually a lot of Dominican friars in the choir-stalls, but on this Friday evening there were only one or two, and as Mass ended he explained that this was because on this feast day the Franciscans - "who were right about the Immaculate Conception all along" - invite the Dominicans for Vespers and supper..

On Saturday, I spoke at a study day at Winton - again a wonderful welcome. We were looking at the "gender issues" and the ideology now being rather rigidly enforced in many academic centres...
later, a meditation on the Feast Day in the beautiful chapel, an opportunity for Advent confession...

Oxford glowing in the evening dusk: it was bitterly cold but the city with its pre-Christmas feel was a delight, and just walking down  to get the bus at St Aldates was enjoyable.Some Christmas shopping at Waterstones, some coffee, and then a bus ride across Folly Bridge and off to stay with family...

It's not going to be fun for everyone in Britain this Christmas, though..While I worked on Christmas cards and wrote up this blog, a relative was cutting and folding scarves for the big distribution of clothes for the homeless...

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

A London Mission Team...

...with young people drawn from various European countries, arrived this week at St Patrick's, Soho. They will be doing all sorts of things, from carol-singing in Trafalgar Square to leading a procession through Soho following an International Mass.  I was invited to introduce them to London this morning, and we walked down to Westminster, the centuries unrolling as I told the history...Romans and Saxons and  Normans...fields and monks and Parliament and Empire and world wars and more...and on to modern topics, current issues...

They were great company and it was all fun...a cheery lunch followed back at St P's, and then I settled on a coffee-shop to tackle some work. Carrying a laptop around in a backpack is second nature now. A pleasing sort of camaraderie in coffee shops ensures that we keep watch if some one needs to leave his laptop to get more coffee or whatever...apparently it's the standard new way to work and such shops are known now as "coffices"....


...and a happy day....

...in Parliament!  Boys and girls from secondary schools across Britain who won the main prizes in the 2017 Schools Bible Project came to Westminster to receive their prizes from our Trustee, Baroness Cox. It is always a joy to meet the young prizewinners and their families. And on a winter afternoon it is rather awesome, somehow, to explore the story of our magnificent Parliament building, to ponder what it means to live under the rule of law, to talk through some of the history of the centuries...and to stand in Westminster Hall beneath that great hammerbeam roof that dates back almost a thousand years...

And then we crossed the road, walking down past the Sovereign's Entrance and  St Margaret's and the Abbey - looking glorious in the mellow light as dusk was falling - for Tea in the Millbank building, and a splendid presentation of prizes...a happy day.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

...a lecture...

...at St Mary's University, held in the rather splendid Waldegrave suite. The University's Senior Common Room here has large signed photograph of HM Queen Mary and of Edward VIII - one of the few signed photographs of his short reign. Of course there is a picture of the present Queen in the entrance Hall. Clearly the tradition has always been to have a picture of the monarch...but I wondered why these two rather fine photographs in the Senior Common Room are actually signed. That's another bit of the University's history to research...

Meanwhile, I enjoyed giving the lecture, which was organised by the University's Cathsoc and preceded by an excellent lecture by Dr Jacob Phillips, on the significance of the University's name, and the message it carries for all us.  The splendid setting - the Waldegrave rooms are nobly proportioned  with magnificent ceilings and that sense of solid comfort that Victorian buildings convey - made for a good atmosphere, and there was a sense of belonging to a strong institution that has served the country well and has something new to offer in this new century....