9 December 2019 - Fr Terrence Creech CSsR RIP
Read more

3 October 2018 - Fr John Mulligan RIP
Read more

20 July 2018 - The Gospel Journey Board Game
Read more

22 January 2018 - Canon Bill Anderson Aberdeen
Read more

23 June 2017 - Open Garden
Read more

7 February 2017 - Thailand
Read more

9 December 2016 - Reflection in The Tablet
Read more

7 March 2016 - Jonah and Mercy
Read more

21 December 2015 - The visitors get centre stage
Read more

2 November 2015 - Visit to Malaysia
Read more

2 June 2015 - Book Launch
Read more

30 March 2015 - The race to the tomb
Read more

3 February 2015 - A Mother's Hurt
Read more

22 September 2014 - Praying the Rosary
Read more

14 July 2014 - How does your garden grow?
Read more

6 June 2014 - Pentecost
Read more

30 May 2014 - The Ascension: What Now?
Read more

23 April 2014 - The Resurrection
Read more

7 April 2014 - The Crucifixion
Read more

21 March 2014 - The Agony in the Garden
Read more

6 February 2014 - The Wedding at Cana
Read more

29 November 2013 - The Kilt Altar Cloth
Read more

15 November 2013 - The Redemptorists, Tacloban
Read more

9 September 2013 - Back to school
Read more

12 August 2013 - The Typewriter
Read more

14 June 2013 - My Patio Garden
Read more

21 May 2013 - Brother Anthony C.Ss.R.
Read more

3 April 2013 - Rising to the Occasion
Read more

14 March 2013 - Pope Francis
Read more

13 March 2013 - The Election
Read more

13 February 2013 - Resignation of Pope Benedict XVI
Read more

18 December 2012 - New Year Reflection
Read more

14 September 2012 - The Year of Faith
Read more

14 August 2012 - Conference to Priests
Read more

25 May 2012 - Across the Pond
Read more

4 April 2012 - Peace Reflection
Read more

13 February 2012 - Meeting Jesus at the Well
Read more

6 January 2012 - Interview by Gregg Watts
Read more

22 December 2011 - Christmas Prayer
Read more

7 December 2011 - Your Sunday Missal
Read more

7 November 2011 - Glasgow Primary Headteachers
Read more

24 August 2011 - Zimbabwe 1
Read more

23 August 2011 - Zimbabwe 2
Read more

1 August 2011 - SVD General Council in Rome
Read more

21 January 2011 - Coming together
Read more

20 December 2010 - A Meditation on Mary
Read more

Reflections Of Denis McBride
9 December 2019 - Fr Terrence Creech CSsR RIP

I had the privilege of living with Fr Terry Creech, a fellow Redemptorist, for seven years here at St Clement’s in Chawton, the house of the Redemptorist community attached to our publications. After a busy and dedicated career as a parish missioner, Fr Terry ministered in Lourdes for 18 years, first as director of HCPT and then as an English-speaking confessor for six months each year. It was his joy and special ministry. He spent hours in the confessional at the Lourdes shrine every day, listening to secret stories and whispered regrets and wretched mistakes, and was regarded as a wonderful confessor by so many pilgrims. Fr Terry had time for everyone. He was an attentive ear and a gentle voice, responding to everything he heard with sympathy and understanding. He enshrined in his listening and his response the mercy of an all-loving Redeemer.

When Fr Terry was not in the confessional, the vineyards of the south of France were nearby and, it has to be said, his devotions were not only to our Lady of Lourdes but to the vineyard of France. He shared his devotion to French wine with his dear friend from Clapham, Dr Coffey. When he returned to England six times a year the customs and excise were fully aware of the old tank he was driving, who was driving it and what was being transported: he was stopped once but never again for his regular wine shipments and pipe tobacco. The customs might have thought that, given the volume of wine, he was shopping for Waitrose.

When he was home Fr Terry was a wonderful chef; I was hopeless and so glad of his talent for cooking. (When he went into hospital my sister Ellen sent me a book, How to Boil an Egg). Fr Terry would cook dinner every day when he was home and when I suggested we could nip out for a meal to give him a break, he always demurred: why would you bother when he was the chef? Of course, he was right. He was a most gracious host to my family when they visited (my two sisters adored him) and to the many official meetings we had at St Clement’s: he loved company and always had many stories to tell, many of which were recycled in a surprising way. A true Redemptorist.

When he was at home, he would drive into Sainsbury’s every day and slowly hunt the shelves. When his sight worsened, I would drive him in and he would carry a large magnifying glass on his lap. When he was late to call me for collection and I got worried, I would drive into the supermarket, wondering if he had collapsed, and I would see Fr Terry still there peering through his magnifying glass, like Sherlock Holmes inspecting inviting clues, at the labels of choice wines.

Fr Terry did a six month’s tour of three hospitals: Winchester, Basingstoke and Andover. Of course, he was a character in all of them, and the doctors and nurses of NHS were truly wonderful. For the last 13 months he was resident in Westlands Care Home, where he was surprisingly content and peaceful as the resident priest. The staff was very fond of him and supremely caring. His brother, Fr Michael, was a regular visitor every week and a constant friend, supporting his brother in the most devoted way. Everyone should have a brother like Fr Michael.

Fr Terry returned to the God he served, ever so quietly, on Tuesday 19 November 2019 at 1:45am.

May this loving Redemptorist priest rest in peace.

3 October 2018 - Fr John Mulligan RIP

Funeral Homily for Fr John Mulligan, October 2nd 2018

Archbishop Peter, bishops, fellow clergy and religious, dear family and friends of Fr John, dear parishioners of St Teresa’s, dear all:

Throughout our lives we do thousands of things unthinkingly, ordinary routine stuff that we do every day with no great sense of drama or fuss. But we know that there will be a time in all our lives when it will be the last time, the very last time we do things. Tomorrow is guaranteed to nobody. There will surely be:

  • the last time we open the curtains and greet a new day
  • the last time we speak to those we love
  • the last time we hear someone call our name
  • the last time we wonder if all that effort was worth it.

Perhaps it is a mercy that few of us are given to know when that last time will be. Certainly Father John Mulligan did not: God called this energetic priest to enjoy a well-deserved eternal rest. Only God could make Father John rest.

Sometimes in life we get lucky, and whether we are priest or lay, no matter, we get to meet someone who offers us a glimpse of the living Gospel, however cloudy. In this person, no matter how fragile, we can catch a glimpse of the enduring commitment of our dear Lord Jesus Christ.

For me that person was Fr John – a dear friend of 15 years. Strange to admit, he was a friend who scared me some because of the unyielding demands he made on himself and his towering expectations of priestly ministry. Why would you hold onto a friend who scares you? But as the Duke of Wellington said on the eve of the battle of Waterloo when observing his own troops: "I don’t know what our men do to the enemy, but they scare the hell out of me."

He was a loyal critic of some Church practices. I remember saying to him one day: "John, if I were your bishop I think I would make my own the words that King Henry II spoke of Thomas Becket: "Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?" He laughed easily. His commitment to the Church as dean and parish priest and his devotion to his beloved parishioners were breath-taking.

I liked what Canon Alan McLean said to me about Father John: "Sometimes I wanted to take a few batteries out of John so he would slow down." But slowing down was never on his agenda.

Father John was an authentic driven disciple, of independent mind, like the apostle Thomas in the Gospel.

The great Irish writer Oscar Wilde has a wonderful short prose piece, called The Master. After the death of Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea is walking past the tombs in the Kidron Valley when he comes across a disciple who is weeping. The disciple is alone, separated from the others. He has wounded his body with thorns and covered his head in ashes.

Joseph of Arimathea says: "I do not wonder that your sorrow is so great, for surely Jesus was a just man."

And the disciple answers, "I weep for Jesus, yes, but not only for him but for myself. I too have healed the leper; from the dwellers in the tombs I have cast out devils. I have fed the hungry in the desert, and at my bidding, a barren fig-tree withered away. All things that the master has done I have done as his disciple. So tell me this: Why have they not arrested me? Why have they not crucified me?"

In the Gospel the other disciples are gathered in a locked room. The brutal violence against their master has made them security-conscious. They have become runaways from a society they fear is hostile, so they lock themselves into what they hope is a safe house. But, but, dear friends: no one is after them; no Temple police are hunting them down; no Roman soldiers are stomping the Jerusalem alleyways seeking their hideout. They all lock themselves in, except one: the independent disciple Thomas. He leaves the locked room behind him and walks the streets. I think Thomas is the most intelligent of the disciples: he knows something the others do not: without Jesus, the disciples are a threat to nobody.

Even though the other disciples are locked in, they cannot keep out the pressing love of the risen Jesus. Jesus breathes on them: the disciples breathe in and the Spirit enlivens them to become missionary disciples. But one of their number is missing – Thomas. When he arrives back, he refuses to believe the story of the others.

Thomas is part of the apostolic group, but he is also a distinct, independent self. He is, I think, stunningly modern: he cannot be loyal to the group while being disloyal to his own inner self. That would make his loyalty worthless. For Thomas honesty is more important than loyalty. So he refuses to become part of this company of believers: he cannot shelter in a faith he does not believe.

Unlike Judas, Thomas did not betray Jesus; unlike Peter, he did not deny him. There is a stubborn authenticity about Thomas: he refuses to say that he can understand or believe when he can manage neither understanding nor belief. Thomas is brave enough to have the conviction of his doubts which he shares honestly with his community.

Later, the risen Jesus invites Thomas to inspect his wounds. But seeing Jesus is enough for Thomas, and he is the one who proclaims the basic Christian credo: "My Lord and my God." As Thomas is fearless in voicing his doubts, he is quick to proclaim his faith, and it is he who makes the most important affirmation in all the Gospels about who Jesus is – that he is Lord and God. It is Thomas who invites us to Adoremus: let us adore the one who is our Lord and our God.

Father John died on the eve of Adoremus, and he devoted so much time and energy to promoting that Eucharistic pilgrimage – for Southwark and nationally – that it seems unfair he was deprived of seeing the fruits of his labour. But while we looked upon the sacred host, John had already moved on to witness so much more, as we pray in Eucharistic Prayer III in the Mass for the dead:

  • For seeing you, our God, as you are,
  • we shall be like you for all the ages

That is Father John’s true destiny:

  • For seeing you, our God, as you are,
  • he shall be like you for all the ages...

Finally, if I may share a consoling thought on death.

In 1910 while the body of King Edward VII lay in state at Westminster Abbey, Canon Henry Scott Holland, a priest at St. Paul’s Cathedral, preached a sermon on death. In the sermon, he offered this profound Christian meditation. When I hear this I hear Father John’s practical voice:

    Death is nothing at all. It does not count. I have only slipped away into the next room. Everything remains exactly as it was. I am I, and you are you, and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged. Whatever we were to each other, that we are still. Call me by the old familiar name. Speak of me in the easy way which you always used. Put no difference into your tone. Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow. Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together. Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
    Let my name be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it. Life means all that it ever meant. It is the same as it ever was. There is absolute and unbroken continuity. Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight? I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near. All is well. Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost. One brief moment and all will be as it was before. How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!

Eternal rest, grant unto him O Lord…

20 July 2018 - The Gospel Journey Board Game

The Gospel Journey Board Game is an engaging, fun and informative game that challenges the players’ knowledge of the New and Old Testament, stimulating a desire to learn more about the Bible. The Bible is really brought to life as you journey through the scriptures, around the board travelling towards Paradise, but be careful you don’t get caught in 'Hold Up'! This is a perfect game to play with family, friends, adults, teens and board game enthusiasts.

The aim of the game is to go on a pilgrimage around the board, making your way through Rewards, Penalties and Pot Luck questions, and be the first person to reach Paradise. Here there is unconditional love; no more pain or suffering; a place where humans and wildlife can live with God in harmony for eternity. The Gospel Journey Board Game is aimed at ages 14 upwards and can be enjoyed by 2-4 players or teams.

22 January 2018 - Canon Bill Anderson Aberdeen

There are obituaries, of course, of this wonderful priest, tracing his distinguished career from a degree in classics at Cambridge, to philosophy and theology at the Gregorian University in Rome, being ordained for the archdiocese of Edinburgh, teaching at Blairs College, going on to work at the BBC Religious Affairs department, moving to the Scots College in Rome as spiritual director, returning to teach at Blairs, then chaplain to Aberdeen University, administrator of Aberdeen Cathedral where he was made a canon, then parish priest, hospital and school chaplain, and finally retirement.

None of this elegant procession of appointments captures who Bill was as a human being. Obituaries tend to trace nominations and achievements, as if a life can be reckoned by a litany of labelling: you are left to guess, too often on reading, what the person was really like, what made them hum, what hurt them or what haunted them, how they influenced others.

I knew Fr Bill – Big Hank as he was known then at Blairs College – only from 1962-65. Writing this now, so many years later, I am 68 years old; way back then I was 13-16 years old. The memory of him all those years ago, rather than the grim granite college, remains remarkably steadfast and grateful. This is only my recollection, of course. Among the professors of the time, he stood out as delightfully odd to me: I was a hopelessly nervous student and I thought I could catch something of the same in his demeanour. Entering a classroom, head down inclined to the right, he sometimes looked remarkably awkward as if he had arrived on the wrong planet. After arrival, however, he always commanded the space.

Among a predictable regime of black cassocks in Blairs he was the exception among his brothers, the one who wore Joseph’s technicolour coat. Fr Bill had an individual presence, a naturally dramatic character allied to a vague uneasiness that he might be appearing on the wrong stage. He beamed a sympathetic face and offered a ready ear. He was delightful theatre amidst the endless round of ordinary time. For me, all the other professors paled by comparison, disappearing into a fog of forgetfulness.

He loved drama, literature, poetry. I still remember at the end of a few English classes, after wrestling with Pendlebury, he would break off and read an excerpt from the novel Three Men in a Boat, which left me hopeless with laughter. In a world of dreary study he was sure to offer a shining gift. More importantly, he was a pastor of souls with a sympathetic imagination which enabled him to put himself in the shoes of any struggling student, for which I shall be eternally grateful. He enshrined the Gospel verse: "Come to me all you who labour and are overburdened and I will give you rest."

Now, after all those years, I have written over twenty books, not least because Fr Bill infused in me, so long ago, a love of the word and its energy to connect with people. Who knows why we end up doing what we do? Who knows which teachers in our past have led us, however obliquely, to who we have become?

I am sincerely sorry I did not attend him before he died, to say thank you. This note is a poor substitute.

23 June 2017 - Open Garden

Allesandro Repetti, our digital media expert at RP, kindly made a short film of the garden which can be seen here.




7 February 2017 - Thailand

I was invited to Thailand by the Sisters of the Sacred Heart to give a 8-day retreat for their council and superiors at their beautiful place in Hua Hin. Their retreat centre is beside the beach... a dream place.




I then went to the Redemptorist Spirituality Centre in Bangkok, which is part of the large complex that houses the Catholic International Independent School, run by the Redemptorists. The group was mixed with sisters from various congregations, the young St Gabriel brothers who run schools in Thailand, and the Redemptorists. A wonderful group of people. We did a seminar on Jonah, Jesus, and Discipleship.



9 December 2016 - Reflection in The Tablet

As we step into Advent, the decorations we make can help us see that what is important is not necessarily what is happening now. We must look back to God's promises and Christs birth and forward to his return.

As we approach Advent, we face a new liturgical year and leave another year behind us. This season resets the clocks and calendars of Christian worship as Advent summons us to a new beginning, encouraging us to move away from what has hurt us or haunted us in the past, and inviting us to dream again.

As we prepare for Christmas, however, most of us are absorbed more by planning the holiday celebrations. We worry about what the weather will be like and if it will cause difficulties for relatives and friends who are coming to stay; we worry about how everyone will get along, whether we will eat or drink too much, whether we will say the wrong thing and upset someone, whether we will manage a grateful smile even after unwrapping another pair of socks that is not entirely wanted or needed. And, of course, there is the worry about getting the right present for our friends and family.

The high streets start in late October with all the decorative paraphernalia, ensuring that by the time the real feast of Christmas arrives, everyone is weary of Christmas trees and fairy lights and decorations and canned carols. The retail theatre is putting on another show; and, before Christmas dinner is even over, it is time to move on to a different drama, to the Boxing Day sales and promises of bargains galore, to say nothing of the opportunity to return those misjudged presents.

The commercial world is delighted to borrow this Christian feast for its own purposes; so, what can we do in our parishes to remember the reason behind the festivities? How can we recall that, at the heart of the Advent season is the recognition that we are a people unashamedly centred on God, and waiting on God? We gather to celebrate the coming of God in Jesus and wait for the return of Jesus at the end of time.

Many parishes and families make Jesse trees during Advent as they prepare for Christmas. The name of the tree comes from Isaiah 11:1: "A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots."

We adorn a Jesse tree with illustrations and ornaments that represent people, prophesies and events that recall God's promise and its fulfilment. With a focus on Old Testament figures, the Jesse tree is a particularly good activity for the younger children in the parish to learn about salvation history. It is also very useful for older children (and adults) wanting to review the story of God in the Old Testament, connecting the Advent season with the faithfulness of God across 4,000 years of history.

Illustrations can be found online. Some parishes ask the children in the parish primary school to decorate the images; in other parishes children and/or adults have a Saturday workshop to make the 28 people and ornaments that are needed for a long Advent season.

They can be as simple as coloured-in drawings or as elaborate as you want. For example, for the story of Creation, you might decorate a Styrofoam ball as a globe; pipe cleaners can be used for the story of Adam and Eve, creating a worm on the apple, and also for Noah's rainbow, for which coloured pipe cleaners bent into shape work well with cotton wool at each end for clouds.

Most parishes have an Advent wreath; and some of them elect to use a hanging one instead of a traditional floor stand. One advantage of this is that it makes it easier for the congregation to see the wreath more clearly and elevates it to a position of prominence during Advent. (Of course, the wreath needs to be hung carefully in order to minimise the chance of people bumping into it).

Asking people to look up through the small opening in the wreath to see the lights might also offer an opportunity to reflect on how we yearn in hope for the coming of Christ at Christmas. Just as we have to wait until Christmas to see the last candle lit, we have to wait for God together as a community of hope.

Advent sets the tone not only for the solemnity of Christmas, when we welcome the beginning of the Gospel, but also for the whole liturgical year. In spite of all our feasts and fasts, our sung high Masses and our private devotions, our litanies of praise and petition, our carefully devised mission statements and pastoral programmes, Advent reminds us that we cannot possess God, and we cannot see God. Like the old people at the beginning of Luke's Gospel, we can only wait for God to let himself be known.

As we look back and look forward in the liturgy there is structured dissent from the pervading culture that everything that is of value is happening now. We express our belief, through a community setting of narration and performance, that we all have a greater power than ourselves to genuflect before, something grander than our own experience to bow down before, something higher than our own insight to acknowledge, something that is beyond us, yet is mysteriously part of ourselves.

So the season of Advent gives us time to reflect on both the past and the future. In the first week, we look forward to the coming of Christ at the end of the world, a subject rarely mentioned even in church.

In the second week, we look at the towering figure of John the Baptist who stands between the hidden life of Jesus and the start of his public ministry.

In the third week, the imprisoned John the Baptist sends his disciples to ask Jesus if he is the awaited one: Jesus invites them, and indeed all of us, to attend to what he says and does, then make up our own minds.

And, in the fourth week, we celebrate the quiet man of Christianity, Joseph, husband of Mary, whose life was interrupted on so many occasions and who responded to so many alarms and diversions before he eventually arrived to make a home for his family in Nazareth.

Advent invites us into a story larger than our own, one where we can feel at home and find our own place. We come face to face with our ancestors in the faith when they are troubled and exultant; we are drawn into the struggle of their lives; we are exalted by their daring and faith.

It is our own story writ large.

7 March 2016 - Jonah and Mercy

Jonah and Mercy

Pope Francis said in preparation for the Year of Mercy
"Here I think of the story of Jonah, a really interesting figure, especially for these times of great change and uncertainty... Go and read the book of Jonah! It is short, but it is a very instructive parable, especially for those of us in the Church."

Personally I think that the prophet Jonah is a sympathetic partner, albeit a curious one, to help us review our lives. Although a believer in God, Jonah struggles to come to terms with the awful strangeness of God's choices which do not mirror his own; he grapples to find his true self and purpose in life; he tries to flee from the presence of God, hoping to find a sanctuary for himself beyond God's reach; he is angry when he finds that God is not angry but all-merciful.

Unlike all the other prophetic books, the book of Jonah is about the character of the prophet rather than the content of his message: we are invited to follow his story, not attend his discourses. His tale is alive with ambiguity and doubt: it is stunningly modern. Neither single-minded nor persistent, Jonah appears as someone who has emerged from among us: someone who has to struggle to find himself, someone who has yet to grow into his true identity, someone who has to discover his direction in life, someone who has to allow his own outlook on life to be shaped by God,s mercy.

I think that this minor-league prophet mirrors so much of who we are: flawed, fearful, restless, driven. Jonah is opinionated and not shy to express his thinking, even to God. Over against what God commands, Jonah, a real modern, consults himself and travels on his own instincts. Being true to what he believes or fears is more important to him than being obedient to God. He sees God as a contestant, not a supreme guide or even an ally, and so he argues, weighing up the options and deciding to follow his own way.

Thanks to Jonah we can be sure that neither geography nor race has anything to do with God's mercy; that our past sins do not preclude the offer of God's forgiveness; that the mercy of God can touch the most unlikely people in such a way that might offend us to the core of our being. God's mercy, it has to be said, can scandalise the most upright people. That is why Jonah's sustained opposition to the all-merciful God goes beyond the limits of his personal story, connecting his struggle with our own lives in the twenty-first century.

21 December 2015 - The visitors get centre stage

One of the peculiar things about the two Gospel stories of Jesus' birth is that the account of the birth doesn't take up much space in the narrative. The birth is narrated in a half-line by Matthew: "she gave birth to a son, and he named him Jesus." (Matthew 1:25) Luke is fulsome by comparison, having two sentences: "While they were there, the time came for her to have a child, and she gave birth to a son, her first-born. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn." (Luke 2:6-7) There is no detail of this dramatic birth, no reaction noted from Mary or Joseph, no voices - not even a cry - from the three main characters. Like the death of Jesus, the story of his birth is told through the eyes of the observers, those who come from near or far to witness the event.

The two Gospel narratives shift the spotlight away from the birth to focus attention on those who look on the event - not the immediate family, interestingly, but outsiders. We are invited to see the events through the eyes of two different groups, the shepherds in Luke's Gospel and the wise men in Matthew's. For the evangelists it is these witnesses who appear large; it is they who take centre stage and respond to what they see and hear.

The shepherds are Bethlehem locals, poor people, who are watching their flocks by night. You might think that these star-gazers would be the ones to clock a new star as it lit up the night sky; instead they are graced with an angelic annunciation, surrounded by the glory of God, and treated to a bravura performance of five-part angelic choirs singing the Gloria!

The wise men, by contrast, are foreign celebrities, people of substance, who gain ready access to the palace of King Herod and can converse with majesty and his counsellors. The magi come from the mysterious East, which long before Christianity had been the birth of many religions. These wise men follow a new star in the sky; for all their exotic importance, there are no angelic choirs for them. They are excited about what is new and fresh and unexplained. They follow the star. Eventually they reach their destination in a child, offer their unconventional gifts, and kneel down and worship.

If the clever magi are to be admired, the poor shepherds are not to be despised. They are the first group to whom the Gospel is announced; they are the first to respond graciously. The magi who had access to the palace of a king have to eventually flee from a despot: they become unwilling fugitives. Their way led them through the palace of a king to the newborn child, but they cannot return by the same route. The shepherds can go back to their fields; they are a threat to nobody. No one will be seeking their counsel.

Two different groups. Which group do we feel more comfortable with? Are we more at ease with the clever wise men, in their embroidered silken robes, who can read the stars and can afford to travel through countries to follow their dream? Or are we happier in the company of the shepherds, first terrified and then delighted, who leave their posts and follow the angel's instructions, to pay their respects to this newborn child? Whichever group we feel more at home with, we today are the witnesses, the watchers, who will always outnumber the principal characters in the drama. This Christmas we turn up, but we do more than watch. Empty-handed or not, we come to worship this little one.

2 November 2015 - Visit to Malaysia

Malaysia is known for its beaches, rainforests and mix of Malay, Chinese, Indian and European influences. The Malaysian constitution strictly defines what makes a "Malay", considering Malays those who are Muslim, speak Malay regularly and practise Malay customs. Approximately 61.3% of the population practice Islam, 20% practice Buddhism, 9.2% Christianity, 6.3% Hinduism and the small remainder who practice other traditional Chinese religions.

Catholics are about 3.7% of a total population of 30 million people, so it is a small Church. Most of the priests are of Chinese or Indian origin: there are no Malay priests. My first stop was at the Stella Maris retreat Centre on the island of Penang and you can see the view from my balcony and the group of priests who attended.




The priests were delightful company and the local parish priest kept us all provided with holy water from Scotland. In each place I had a food advisor so that I could avoid the hot Indian dishes that are a regular part of the everyday diet.




The second retreat was in the Cameron Highlands, an area about the size of Singapore and stunningly beautiful, named after the British colonial official who mapped it out. It is strikingly green and mountainous, rich in vegetation

It was particular fun to meet up with a number of priests who had done the course at Hawkstone Hall. Many thanks to all the priests for their kindness and hospitality. They made the visit really enjoyable and worthwhile.

2 June 2015 - Book Launch

Building Positive Relationships: Freeing our present from our past

Archbishop Peter, Father Len, dear friends:

It is good to back here at St Anselm's, particularly on this wonderful occasion of the 30th Anniversary and for this moment in launching Fr Len Kofler's new book, Building Positive Relationships: Freeing our present from our past.

David Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel, once remarked: "He who believes the past cannot be changed has not yet written his memoirs." Some of the best fiction writing is included in people's memoirs as readjustments are made and history reshaped into a kinder configuration. There is the compulsion to tidy up and avoid the blunders we all make in life.

Fr Len believes that the power of the past can indeed be changed - not by writing over old distress or ignoring it, but doing the opposite, by meeting it again, calmly and seriously, and interrogating it as the source of unhealthy behaviour patterns.

All our pasts need to be challenged:

The past is not dead: it invades every fibre of our being, much of it good, happily, some of it bad. The good news is that people can be released from its sometimes destructive hold. That message is truly Gospel: it is the mercy of Jesus offered to all: that no one should be held hostage by past destructive experiences; that no one should be imprisoned by crippling habits formed over the years. The future is unwritten, waiting for all of us.

Revisiting the past on your own can be a lonely and wearisome journey, as the disciples of Emmaus found on the road leading away from Jerusalem. They were haunted by a past that crippled them and affected everything about them: their identity and their direction and outlook. They got lucky because they were joined by a wise stranger, who took them back to a deeper past that shed light on their story.

Jesus went way back into the past, beginning with Moses, so the little group must have been travelling at a leisurely pace! I see Fr Len's new book as a leisurely journey, like Emmaus, where your trusted guide will be Fr Len, a man of enormous wisdom and insight that has been gathered over thirty-five years working in the field of human relationships. You do not have to walk this challenging road alone; in this book Fr Len walks the road with you, hoping you will have the courage for the journey and the trust in him as your guide.

Fr Len is a man of great knowledge and distinction: to prove it he has more letters after his name than most people have in theirs. But there is a difference between knowledge and wisdom: as an ancient Greek philosopher noted, "You should never confuse knowledge with wisdom. Your knowledge helps you to make a living; your wisdom helps you make a life."

Fr Len has made a wonderful life, and helped so many others make a wonderful life for themselves. For the danger was that the wisdom he has gathered would not be shared beyond the confines of this wonderful Institute. I remember saying to Fr Len some years ago that it would be criminal if he died with his wisdom accompanying him to the grave. That would make a double funeral, which would be a double loss. He should share it.

I encouraged Fr Len to share what he knows in a popular way that might reach people who do not have the advantage of coming to St Anselm's: ordinary folk who cannot afford a psychologist but who might afford to buy his book. So this is the second book he has written for Redemptorist Publications. And as requested, he has not appended academic notes, but let his wonderful voice speak to people as if he is in the chair opposite them, or walking alongside them on the road, listening to their story and responding.

This book is not to be read and returned to the shelf: it is the beginning of a journey of insight and should be made a companion, one that is listening to you, interested in who you are and what you have experienced, and humbly offering insights and challenges on the way. You will be surprised what you say to yourself if you take the time to answer the questions. Sometimes a veil is lifted, sometimes fresh understanding reveals itself, sometimes a new strength comes from within.

Finally, I would like to share one of my favourite poems, written by Derek Walcott, from the island of Saint Lucia in the Caribbean, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1992. It is called Love after Love, about the real self in you that you have ignored through the years of making your life. We spend so much of our lives trying to make ourselves - we live in the culture of aspiration. Yet there is an older tradition that says that who we are is there at the beginning, like the acorn in the oak, and our task is to discern that pattern and give it permission to emerge. Our true self can be the stranger we ignore as we aspire to be someone else. Walcott writes:

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Fr Len's pastoral contribution has been to help people sit and feast on their lives, to uncover their true selves, in spite of all the problems and challenges we all face. Like Jesus, Fr Len is a most indiscrimate host: anyone can approach: everyone will be loved. "Sit," he says, "Feast on your life."

It is time for the man himself: Fr Len Kofler.

30 March 2015 - The race to the tomb


In the Gospel of John there is the story of the Easter Sunday race. On hearing the message of Mary Magdalene, Peter and the Beloved Disciple run to the tomb to check out her story that the Lord has been taken away. You watch a race between the figure of authority, Peter, and the figure of love, the unnamed Beloved Disciple. Although they set out together, the other disciple, running faster than Peter, reaches the tomb first. This is not because he is younger and fitter than Peter: it is because the urgency of love always gets you there first.

"Simon Peter who was following now came up." The figure of authority, who follows the figure of love, eventually makes it to the tomb. The figure of love kindly waits for authority to catch up, allowing Peter to enter the tomb first. When Peter goes in he sees only linen cloths abandoned on the floor of the tomb. There is only a large unexplained absence. When the Beloved Disciple enters the tomb, "he saw and he believed."

Love sees in the dark what others cannot see - even authority figures.

The primacy of love in the Gospel of John is illustrated in Jesus' mandate: "I give you a new commandment: love one another; just as I have loved you. By this love you have for one another, everyone will know that you are my disciples." (John 13:34-35) The Beloved Disciple epitomises this love; his name embodies the fulfilment of Jesus' new commandment.

Jesus will later question the figure of authority: "Do you love me more than these others do?" There is no need to question the Beloved Disciple. Peter, the figure of authority, is now challenged to become the figure of love. Out of that love Peter is commissioned to feed the flock of Jesus. In Christian discipleship authority without love is simply career. It is the love of Jesus which will give Peter and all of us the true direction for mission.

3 February 2015 - A Mother's Hurt


Facing the Pain
Have a good look at this painting. Look at the detail. Think about the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. Mary will be seriously wounded because of her child, a truth captured exquisitely in Mantegna's painting of The Presentation of Christ in the Temple (above). As we look at the painting, we feel we have stumbled on a very private moment, spotted through an open window. We absorb the details. We notice that Simeon is not looking at the extraordinary child wrapped in swaddling clothes but at his mother; his eyes seem to drill through her like the words he has just spoken. Joseph, with furrowed brow, looks sternly at Simeon: they have not come to the Temple to hear such tormented prophecy. The two witnesses look away in hopeless politeness as if what they've just heard is too private and, therefore, best left unattended. Her right elbow anchored on the window as she holds her child, Mary lowers her eyes, pensively, looking at Simeon's closed lips - did he just say that? She has just heard something as personal as it is painful. We are left to wonder as we walk away.
This painting is an extraordinary insight into the conflict that is part of Mary's motherhood. While Gabriel told Zechariah that his son would be a joy and delight - every father's dream - Mary hears a different annunciation from Simeon, that her son will be like a sword driven through her soul - every mother's nightmare. Mary hears two annunciations about her son: one from an angel that listed his future accomplishments; and now one from an old prophet telling her that her son will be cast aside and she will be deeply wounded because of him. How do you hold these two annunciations together?

There is a sense, especially among us Catholics, that when we think of Mary we sometimes think of her as an uncritical supporter of everything her son does in life, cheering him on to the final act of shameful crucifixion, as if she didn't have a mind of her own or was incapable of seeing things differently from him. Yet Simeon's prophecy warns of the future hurt she will surely know in her body and spirit. Mary is not a plastic cheerleader on the sidelines of Jesus' life; she is his mother witnessing a painful gradual revelation.

22 September 2014 - Praying the Rosary


Praying the Rosary
The beauty of the Rosary is that it is leisurely journey, through twenty episodes, of the lives of Jesus and Mary. Apart from one decade, the four sets of five mysteries focus directly on Jesus and Mary as the principal characters in the ongoing drama. Jesus' story starts with the annunciation of his birth to Mary and concludes with his return to heaven, mission completed, in the ascension. Mary's story begins in the small village of Nazareth with the annunciation of the birth of Jesus and draws to a dramatic close, mission completed, in her assumption and coronation as queen in heaven.

Not surprisingly for a mother and son, both the Mary and Jesus stories begin and end in the same place.

The recurrent prayers of the Rosary are a vehicle leading not only to a deeper understanding of the mysteries but, more importantly, to a closer relationship with Jesus and Mary. The point of the Rosary is that we connect our own lives, whatever we are celebrating or enduring at the time of prayer, to the lives of Jesus and Mary.

Meditating on the Rosary we are invited to look and listen; then look again. We are encouraged not only to say the prayers but go beyond recital and enter the beauty and complexity of the drama. Praying the Rosary presupposes that what is remembered is not lost history but an abiding force that continues to give meaning to what is happening now in our lives. The story of Jesus and Mary is part of our own lives; our story, in turn, is significant to them.

The format of this book is simple:

  • first there is a reading from the New Testament
  • this is followed by a meditation on the scripture passage
  • a painting is then included which offers its own take on the subject
  • there is a brief reflection on the painting
  • finally there is a prayer on some aspect of the mystery

My hope is that these reflections will be a real support to you in praying the Rosary and help you, in some small way, to grow personally closer to the loving lives of Jesus and Mary.

14 July 2014 - How does your garden grow?





6 June 2014 - Pentecost


This anonymous painting of the Descent of the Holy Spirit, dated around 1550, is now in the Alberto Museum, Guimaraes, Portugal. It depicts the fire of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost reaching out and enlightening the waiting assembly; it includes an unidentified monk/patron in the right foreground. Unlike other paintings that depict the gift of the Spirit bestowed only on Mary and the twelve apostles, this painting has a more ecumenical feel to it. Luke's inner circle at the beginning of Church (Acts 1:12-14) has three groups who gather together in prayer. Together, and only together, can these three groups witness to the entirety of the Jesus story:

  • the named apostles who cover Jesus' public ministry until the passion; they also witness the appearances of the risen Jesus.
  • the women of Galilee who cover the passion, the death and burial of Jesus, and the empty tomb.
  • Mary and the brothers of Jesus who cover the early life of Jesus.

As the woman Mary was "first at the cradle", so the women of Galilee are "last at the cross". These women are moved from the limits of the Jesus story - the beginning and the end - and placed at the beginning of the infant Church.

The presence of these women at the heart of the Church is beautifully represented in this painting. Central to the whole group is the seated Mary (almost enthroned), hands formed in prayer, reading from a prayer book open on her knees. Behind Mary are three of the women of Galilee, all kneeling like the remainder of the group. To Mary's right, in the foreground, is her new son, the beardless Beloved Disciple, a picture of prayerful attentiveness.

This is not an exclusive all-male enclave, but an inclusive celebration of the original witnesses of the Gospel story now inflamed and anointed by the Holy Spirit to demonstrate in their own lives the power of the Gospel.

As Pope Francis said in his address, Women called to serve, not to servitude: "It pleases me to think that the Church is not il Chiesa ('the Church', masculine): it is la Chiesa (feminine). The Church is a woman! The Church is a mother! And that's beautiful, isn't it? We have to think deeply about this... Even in the Church, it is important to ask oneself: what presence does the woman have?"

Almighty and gracious Father,
we pray for the Church in every part of the world:
that the Spirit will continue to renew each community.
Open our hearts to your truth and love,
and stir us to new mission in sharing the Gospel.

We pray for the Spirit of unity to dwell in the Church:
that the wounds of division which mark the Body of Christ
and continue to hurt it will be healed;
that all peoples can come together
and with one voice give glory to you, our one Father.

We pray that the members of the Church throughout the world
will learn the powerful language of the Spirit of God:
that we will speak it especially to those
who never hear tender words of love and peace.

We pray in gratitude for all women in the Church
and for all who progress the spirit and the work of the Gospel:
that they will experience appreciation for their particular gifts
and live in the respect and encouragement of the community.

Almighty and gracious Father,
continue to pour our your Spirit on us,
especially on those who live in dark places.
May your Spirit carry faith to the doubting,
strength to the weak,
solace to those who mourn.
And may your blessing abide with us
now and evermore.

30 May 2014 - The Ascension: What Now?


Anonymous, The Ascension of Jesus, alabaster relief

This stunning alabaster relief of the ascension of Jesus, in private ownership, was made in Nottingham, England, in the 15th century. From the Middle Ages alabaster was quarried in south Derbyshire and commonly used for local tombs. As the abundance of the stone became plain, different workshops were established and artists began producing reliefs and figures illustrating the lives of Christ, Mary and the saints. The colouring of the carvings was a key part of their production: they had to be brightly coloured in order to be seen from a distance and by candlelight in cathedrals and churches. This particular panel is rare, representing the few last remaining traces of English Catholic medieval art, which was mostly destroyed during the Reformation.

This relief of the ascension, with original polychrome and gilding, shows Mary and the eleven apostles as Jesus departs this earth. We see only Jesus' feet and the hem of his clothing as he returns to God from the summit of the Mount of Olives: the summit is decorated with the famous daisy pattern typical of Nottingham alabasters. Like the group of onlookers we are privileged to view the final moment of Jesus on earth: he is already entering the glory of heaven and will be forever lost to sight.

Mary kneels in prayer while opposite her the beardless Beloved Disciple waves a goodbye with his right hand, a palm in his left hand. Behind him the kneeling St Jude, carrying his emblem of a boat, looks upwards at the departure. Interestingly, it is the group left behind, rather than Jesus' leave-taking, that forms the focus of this panel.

When we look at them, we might well wonder a wonder: when they turn to one another, what will they do now that he is gone? How will they bear up? Will their memories of him be conflicting? Will they argue about what he really meant? How will they manage their differences? Will they agree on what they should be doing in his name and who exactly should be doing what? Will they get side-lined by peripheral concerns? How will they preserve his memory? Will they face the future with confidence? These continue to be our questions in the Church today.


Father in heaven,
we ask that you stretch our imaginations
to sense the majesty and mystery
of the ascension of your beloved Son.

Your loving Christ once dwelt on earth,
confined by time and space.
He walked the hills of his familiar Galilee
and fished the lake with his disciples;
he left his home-place to risk himself
in another world, in the city streets of Jerusalem.
Throughout all his journeying
he rubbed shoulders with so many people,
listening to their stories, noticing their pain,
all the time sharing his love and insight.
He ended up sharing his very life.

Let his kind of love be a model for us,
an outreach to others in trust and humility.
Give us faith to discern in every time and place
his continuing presence among us,
particularly in those who are poor and hungry,
in those who suffer estrangement,
in all those who are sick in body or spirit.

You took Christ home, beyond our sight,
so that we might seek him anew in those around us.
May we follow where he has led
and find our hope in his glory,
for he is Lord this day and forever.

23 April 2014 - The Resurrection


A Welcoming Presence
If you visit the Rembrandt House Museum in Amsterdam, you learn that Rembrandt lived in this house from 1639 until 1656, when he was declared bankrupt because he could not pay his debts. The house was in the centre of Amsterdam's Jewish community - composed mostly of Sephardic Jews who had fled Spain and Portugal during the time of the Inquisition. Rembrandt painted Supper at Emmaus in 1648 and broke with tradition by using a Jewish neighbour as his model for Jesus. In defiance of both anti-Semitism and the canonical tradition of portraying a European Jesus, Rembrandt portrays Jesus as a Jew.

Rembrandt was a student of the Bible and a Protestant: the established religion in his country was the Dutch Reformed Church and strict Reformed theology banned images of Christ as idolatry. Rembrandt had many Lutheran, Catholic and Jewish clients and felt free to portray Jesus not only from his own lively interpretation of the Gospels but in the light of his Jewish neighbours.

The upper part of the painting is stark and vacant; the light comes through a window in the upper left. Behind the figure of Jesus there is a monumental arch, carved from rough stone, which would not look out of place in a Romanesque basilica. The suggestion of a church apse leads the eye to interpret this table as an altar, a reading supported by the fact that the table is dressed with a heavy fringed fabric, a white cloth on top, reminiscent of the altar cloth and the white corporal which decorate the altar at Mass.

As Jesus breaks the challah bread - the Jewish braided loaf - the eyes of the two disciples are opened. The face of Christ is extraordinarily gentle, even vulnerable, as the divine radiates through his humanity, lighting up the praying hands of the disciple on the left. This is not the depiction of a distant majesty to be worshipped from afar, but the portrait of a humble host who invites us to join him at table. A dog dozes on the lower left, completing the domestic scene. We feel at home with this Jesus, at ease in his warm welcoming presence, eager to share the bread that is life.

O Lord Jesus Christ,
on the first Easter Sunday
you joined two bewildered disciples
as they journeyed on the road to Emmaus;
you listened to the story of their experience,
how they knew you as a prophet mighty in deed and word;
you listened to the story of their expectations,
how they had hoped you would be the awaited Messiah.

Join us, dear Lord, on our roads of disappointment,
when what was once alive now appears lifeless;
when what was once appealing now seems wearisome;
when what was once sacred now looks profane.
Listen to us when we feel abandoned or betrayed,
when we are left feeling bewildered and hurt,
when our cherished hopes now seem like lost causes.

Speak to us a life-giving word,
one that helps us to understand ourselves anew,
one that enables us to see differently,
one that encourages us to hope again.
Most of all, dear Lord, welcome us to your table
so that we might be refreshed and revived
in eating the food of eternal life.

7 April 2014 - The Crucifixion


Matthias Grunewald, The Crucifixion, central panel of the Isenheim Altarpiece

Unsparing Savagery
There is no painting in the history of religious art that portrays the brutality of crucifixion and the suffering of Christ like Matthias Grunewald's central panel of this famous altarpiece. What the four evangelists pass over in discreet silence - the wretched torment of Jesus - Grunewald puts on stage without discretion or delicacy. This is raw, intense, unapologetic. Like an eloquent preacher Grunewald offers us a sermon in pictures, bringing home to us the horror of Christ's suffering.

The Isenheim Altarpiece was commissioned by the abbot of a monastic community in Isenheim, which specialised in caring for patients suffering from skin diseases. Today this work is displayed in the Musee Colmar in Alsace. Constructed and painted between 1512 and 1516, the enormous moveable altarpiece served as the central object of devotion in the hospital chapel built by the Brothers of St Anthony. Unsurprisingly St Anthony the Abbot was revered as the patron saint of those suffering from skin diseases.

Against an eerie barren landscape, the gruesome figure of the dying Christ hangs from the crossbeam, bending from his weight. We see his skin swollen and torn as a result of the flagellation - a powerful image in a hospital that specialised in skin complaints. The nails or bones attached to the scourges stick in his festering wounds. The blood from his side runs down into his ripped loincloth. His claw-like fingers clutch at the air. His head, spiked with thorns, collapses to the right.

The mother of Jesus, dressed in dazzling white, faints into the waiting arms of the Beloved Disciple. Mary of Magdala kneels before the cross, wringing her hands in sorrow, her agonised fingers echoing those of Christ. Her jar of ointment awaits its sacred task. On the other side stands the powerful figure of John the Baptist, whose stabbing finger points to the tortured body of Christ. At John's feet is the Lamb of God, holding the cross and bleeding into a chalice. The Latin inscription behind John reads "He must grow greater, I must grow smaller" (John 3:30) - a truth which Grunewald illustrates by presenting the body of Jesus significantly larger that the four attendant figures.

This German artist is unmoved by the figurative beauty and majesty of the Italian Renaissance: he elects to depict the long dark night of the soul with graphic and savage insistence. This is the price paid for such enduring love.

Beloved Lord Jesus Christ,
who endured the shame and bitterness
of the way of the cross and the crucifixion,
yet reached out beyond your suffering
to unite your family and followers:
kindle in our hearts gratitude
for the love that moves beyond its own pain,
for the kindness that attends the distress of others,
for the forgiveness that releases from bondage.

Grant that we may never presume on your mercy,
but live as people who have been forgiven much.
Help us never to nurse anger or hoard hurt;
make us tender and compassionate towards others
that you might forgive us
as we forgive those who sin against us.

Give to all who pledge themselves in marriage
a shared journey of happiness and peace.
Grant that the hopes and prayers in their hearts
may find fulfilment through your mercy.

Preserve, dear Lord, in love all those
to whom we are bound by ties of family and affection;
refresh our homes with your abiding presence
and sanctify all our human relationships.
We pray that in the hour of our own trial,
when we are covered in darkness,
we may be strengthened by your kindly light.

21 March 2014 - The Agony in the Garden


Resolution in the Garden
Following his teacher and brother-in-law, Andrea Mantegna, Giovanni Bellini painted the dramatic account of Jesus' agony in the garden: both paintings hang next to each other in the National Gallery, London. Painted around 1465, Bellini's scene does not take place in the dead of night but is lit with sunrise which illuminates the whole setting, giving it a three-dimensional quality. The undersides of the grey clouds are orange; the hilltop town is bathed in dawn light; the darkness of the night is being dismissed from the nearby hills. Bellini's light infuses this anxious scene with new hope.

Jesus, awake and alert, is kneeling on a rocky outcrop, his praying hands resting on top of the rock that appears not unlike an altar. The cup - the symbol of approaching sacrifice that Jesus begged God to take away - is held out to him by an angel: Bellini's cup is now a chalice with a covering paten, lit by the rising sun. These two objects are central in the Mass: the paten which holds the body of Christ and the cup which holds the blood of Christ. The angel is not displaying them; his outstretched arms indicate that he is offering them to Jesus. This is the moment for decision and resolution.

In the mid-background the arresting party, brandishing their weapons and led by Judas, now have Jesus within sight. As they approach the flowing brook of the Kidron Valley, they will surely arrive at their destination within minutes. In the foreground the three sleeping disciples are unaware of the drama going on around them: Peter lies on his back on the rock face; James sleeps, his left arm serving as a pillow; John leans against an outcrop of bizarre rock. We notice that they sleep between the dead tree on the left and the broken-down guard rail on the right.

Bellini manages, with great delicacy, to capture the beauty of an otherwise tragic scene: the moment Jesus fully accepts his saving mission - a new dawn indeed

Redeemer of the world,
in spite of your fear and dread
in the garden of Gethsemane
you submitted to do your Father's will
and endure the brutal way of the cross.

Look with merciful kindness on us
when we are weak and wayward;
when our fear decides the roads we take;
when our distress conquers our courage;
when our desolation keeps us from daring.

Grace us with strength and boldness
that we might face our Gethsemane
and find words for our sorrow and pain,
rather than covering our confusion in sleep.

Help us to accept, like you,
that fear and dread
are part of our human makeup
and need not be denied or covered up.
In the midst of all our fear, dear Lord,
may we struggle to do the Father's will.

6 February 2014 - The Wedding at Cana


An unexpected gift
Completed around 1495 by an unidentified Spanish artist, celebrated as the Master of the Catholic Kings, this painting now hangs in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. The artist's title is derived from his principal work, The Altarpiece of the Catholic Kings, of which this panel is a part. The whole piece was completed during the reign of the Catholic monarchs, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella.

The stylish setting and the elegant costumes are Spanish, reflecting the time of the painting, and you can see the artist's energy and meticulous skill in documenting the domestic details. At the wedding table, Jesus raises his right hand in benediction over the six jars on the tiled floor in front of him, while Mary joins her hands in prayer in recognition of the miracle. The governor of the feast, sitting between Jesus and the bridegroom, looks sceptical as he holds a tasting cup of the new wine which has just been passed to him by the boy-servant on the left. With down-turned mouth the governor stares at the servant who returns his scrutiny with surprising confidence.

The boy-servant on the right offers a goblet of the new wine to the bridal pair, indicating with his left hand that this offering is the unexpected gift provided by Jesus. The aristocratic bride and groom lower their eyes in reverent acceptance of the divine gift. In the background you catch a glimpse through an open door of their marriage bed, where two white pillows lie neatly arranged on the red bedcover.

In contrast to the restrained politeness in the painting's foreground, behind the head of Jesus you get a glimpse into the kitchen, where an elderly servant has no misgivings about the quality of the new wine as he tips a flagon of this unique vintage into his mouth. The servants have caught the spirit of the occasion: this is a time for unbridled rejoicing.

O Lord our God,
we bless you that you chose your first miracle
to be at the wedding-feast at Cana in Galilee,
where a new couple pledged themselves
to each other and to the future of family.

We pray that your blessing
will rest on all those drawn together in love,
on couples who publically commit themselves
to each other before family and witnesses.

Give to all who pledge themselves in marriage
a shared journey of happiness and peace.
Grant that the hopes and prayers in their hearts
may find fulfilment through your mercy.

When they become troubled or anxious,
when they suffer injury or misfortune,
be for them a comfort and a consolation.
Stay with them until their days are over
and their shared pilgrimage ended.
We pray that you will welcome them
into the everlasting peace of your embrace.

29 November 2013 - The Kilt Altar Cloth

Brother Anthony loved all things Scottish, and he had a collection of kilts worthy of a Black Watch drum major. He looked very dashing in the full outfit. Some time after dear Anthony died, my sisters Ellen and Mary came down to visit and kindly cleared out his room, taking what they could to the local charity shops. It's funny how the remains of a life can so quickly be reduced to a collection of black bags. We kept his kilts aside and Mary took them with her back to Donegal in Ireland, "to do something with them."

Then the involved process: cut the kilts, unpick the folds, steam clean, shape into patterns, design, sew, back with wadding, and finally quilt the whole piece. She is wonderfully skilled at this craft.

The final outcome looks beautiful and makes an original altar cloth for our little house chapel at St Clement's - which has to be one of the smallest chapels in the UK, with space for a congregation of five. I think the kilt altar cloth is a fitting memorial for a wonderful Scottish confrere, who can remain close to us in spirit during our celebration of the Eucharist.


15 November 2013 - The Redemptorists, Tacloban

As a Redemptorist I have had the privilege of being invited to the Philippines a number of times, including Cebu City for a priests' retreat and Tacloban for a scripture retreat. The confreres and people have always given me a warm welcome: wherever you are in the Philippines, the Filipinos have the gracious art of making you feel at home from your arrival.

Following the worst typhoon in recorded history, our church and compound in Tacloban are now being used as an evacuation centre for some two thousand people. As you can see from the picture, the high altar is doubling as a resting place for kids and as a washing line!

The two Redemptorist superiors of the Cebu province and the Manila vice-province wrote:

"We have a community in Tacloban City with a parish and shrines of our Mother of Perpetual Help. For two days we lost communication with our confreres there. Only on the third day did we hear that they along with our lay staff were safe. We thank God for that even as we grieve with the families who lost their loved ones. More than 2,000 people are now living in our compound and are in urgent need of food and water and medicine."

I would add my voice to so many others in the plea to help the people who have lost so much, but whose faith will see them through this tragedy.

9 September 2013 - Back to school

As a boy I was terrified of teachers: I thought they came from a different terrestrial planet, sent to terrify and control small humans. Over the last few years I have been invited to speak at Catholic headteachers' conferences and staff in-service days and have always enjoyed these events, meeting up with so many dedicated people, all from the planet Earth.

Catholic schools attract a large variety of teachers and support staff, many of them non-Catholics, some from other faiths and none. All of them, however, are required to uphold the values of the Catholic faith and maintain the Catholic character of the school. For some new members of staff this might seem a bewildering prospect, something I noticed in talking to teachers around the country.

I decided to commission a book, How to Survive Working in a Catholic School, one that would be a real help to everyone working in a Catholic school. Who better to write it than two very experienced Catholic educators, Sister Judith Russi, SSMN, and Raymond Friel? They did a wonderful job, and the book is beautifully designed by Jeni Carew.

This book deals with many issues that might cause concern including "What is the Catholic Church all about?"; "What is a Catholic school and how is it different?"; "Catholic Social Teaching"; plus preparing services and a practical guide about how to address members of the clergy. Written in accessible language, top tips, reflections and discussion points, this book, I believe, will help allay some of the concerns people might have about working in a Catholic school.

The book has an Imprimatur from Bishop Philip Egan and a Foreword by Bishop Malcolm McMahon, OP, who wrote:

"By helping them understand that each person, young or old, is a child of God and precious in his sight, this excellent book will help priests, governors, teachers and parents to understand their role in supporting our Catholic schools and their mission."
Bishop Malcolm McMahon OP, Chairman of the Catholic Education Service.

I really do hope that this new book will serve as faithful companion to everyone who works in a Catholic school - they deserve it.

12 August 2013 - The Typewriter

Have you ever thought of a typewriter as a musical instrument? Leroy Anderson (1908-1975) was an American composer of short, light concert pieces and he wrote The Typewriter for orchestra, completing the work on October 9, 1950. Enjoy! The Typewriter

14 June 2013 - My Patio Garden

We don't receive many visitors here in Chawton, but we had over 350 in two days! I was asked if I would open the little patio garden at St Clement's to the public for the two afternoons of Chawton Open Gardens - 17 gardens were scheduled to be open. I thought the little patio garden too small to be of any interest to keen gardeners, but I was wrong!

The procession of people who came was very encouraging and appreciative. My favourite character was a woman on holiday from California. She was visiting her sister in Basingstoke, but her sister wouldn't drive her to Chawton so she had to take a taxi.

I asked, "Why not? Does your sister have no interest in gardens?" She replied, "My sister presides over a large stretch of rubble she calls a garden. She is addicted to negligence. She couldn't understand why I wanted to see real gardens, so she refused to drive me."

She took lots of photographs, saying she would show them to her sister that evening as she was flying home the next day.

I just hope her sister drove her to the airport . . .



21 May 2013 - Brother Anthony C.Ss.R.

In 2008 dear Brother Anthony was called out of retirement in Perth, Scotland, to come down to the new Redemptorist house in Chawton, Hampshire, and be cook and companion. I had just been appointed as the new director of Redemptorist Publications. Anthony came gladly and was a wonderful friend until his death, at 79 years, on May 20th at Basingstoke Hospital. He was a superb cook, and he always said that on his gravestone he would like the words engraved: "He could do a great soup!"

He went to the local Sainsbury's in Alton twice a day, his real cathedral, to attend his devotions of buying food "for the Fathers" as he would always say. One visit would have done, but Sainsbury's was his little way of getting out of the house and he found it difficult to walk far from his beloved Volvo. He would buy Scottish products if available - only Highland Water and Scottish beef and Scotch whisky - always with an eye to a bargain. One day when he brought back Tony Blair"s autobiography, I asked him who would read it. He protested, "But it was a bargain at half-price!"

He was very proudly Scottish and close to his large family. The only paper he really read was the Sunday Post and he had an undying love for mince and tatties, although his own version of Scottish steak pie had to be tasted to be believed. He owned wardrobes of kilts - the picture above is of him and my sister Ellen in St. Clement's here in Chawton. He was always gracious to visitors, ensuring they were welcome and well fed. If he got tired entertaining, he would shake his head, adjust both his hearing aids, and disappear upstairs in search of unneeded batteries.

In five years living with Anthony, he was never moody or distant: he had a lovely kind disposition, always ready to excuse people, a man of unfailing good humour. When he smiled broadly, it looked like he had rented the sun.

In my trips abroad he would readily drive me to the airport at speeds that could not be caught on camera. On 15 February, on my return from Rome, Anthony was not at the airport at the usual pre-arranged place. Suddenly there was a large absence. He had taken to his bed, afflicted by severe pneumonia. It was the beginning of his last journey. His local doctor advised me to keep him at home. In the weeks ahead, Anthony was a good-natured patient, having to endure my dreadful cooking, which he tried to eat, always without complaint. After a while I noticed that his clean plate was clean because he had moved most of the meal to the bin by his bed while delicately covering the leftovers with kitchen roll.

For the last six weeks Anthony has been in three hospitals. The consultant in the ICU unit in Basingstoke, five weeks ago, told me that Brother Anthony could not survive outside the hospital because his body was too fatigued. His judgement proved all too true. The kindness and care he has received from the NHS has been simply superb - especially the nurses (mostly immigrants) who treated him with heartfelt tenderness.

The day he died I was with him from 4 until 6:30, and he seemed to be regaining a bit of lost ground. He was aware he was slowly dying and asked me if he would be missed. Then suddenly, through the oxygen mask, he prayed the prayer of his childhood in a loud voice:

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
If I die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.

And then he added, "But not yet." And smiled his broad smile and told me to go home, waving his hand. He then lifted the oxygen mask and kissed my hand. I wish I had read the final signal and stayed. How stupid was that?

Not long after I returned home the hospital rang to say Anthony had taken a serious turn for the worse and they were making him comfortable. Christine Thirkell, our financial controller, very kindly drove me back to the hospital. Jim McKell, Anthony's brother, was already there. Sadly we arrived 5 minutes too late.

Brother Anthony put up such a brave fight against the inevitable. He was a truly wonderful kind confrere.

He has no idea how much I will miss him. What was it a poet said? "One person is absent; the world is depopulated."

God keep dear Brother Anthony in his everlasting embrace.

3 April 2013 - Rising to the Occasion

When you stroll through a cemetery, looking at gravestones, many are headlined with R.I.P. - rest in peace. When we celebrate Easter we honour that God the Father did not write R.I.P. over the tomb of Jesus. The resurrection is God's laughter in the tomb, his protest at the brutality his son suffered, his refusal to leave Jesus dead. In response, Jesus rises to the occasion.

When we celebrate Easter we hold holy the memory of God's great act in raising Jesus from the dead. But a question raises itself: is our faith in the resurrection limited to remembering Jesus' resurrection and hoping for our own on the last day? What happens between times? What about today?

When we look at our world today we have to close our eyes and ears not to see and hear how suffering and violence continue to disfigure so many people. There are many people who can feel their wounds. What does the resurrection of Jesus say to all this, today? The challenge of Easter today is to understand the history of human suffering in the light of Jesus' resurrection. This means that we have to take God's part in protesting against the violence and the suffering that are accepted so readily as inevitable. As Christians we have to make our protest against death in the midst of life.

Death is not just a fate that we meet at the end of life. We see death all around us in the midst of life. This point was made movingly by the German theologian Jurgen Moltmann in an Easter sermon when he said:

Death is an evil power now, in life's very midst. It is the economic death of the person we allow to starve; the political death of the people who are oppressed; the social death of the handicapped; the noisy death that strikes through bombs and torture, and the soundless death of the apathetic soul.

To accept this litany of death as inevitable is to empty the resurrection of its power for today. A resurrection faith faces the cross and protests against the finality of that violence. It educates us to see as God sees; to act as so many of God's chosen do act today when with enormous courage they refuse to genuflect to the powers of darkness that use suffering and death as their tools to keep power.

The resurrection of Jesus is a proclamation that this outcast from Galilee is the beloved of God who cannot be held in the keep of death because someone else takes action. Jesus did not raise himself; he was raised by God. The truth that God raised Jesus from the dead gives hope and help to all those who want that miracle repeated in the midst of life. They believe that God's work continues - not least because they believe Jesus' words: "I am the resurrection and the life."

14 March 2013 - Pope Francis

After only five ballots, the new Pope was appointed, the first non-European for 1,000 years: Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, SJ, a 76-year old Argentinian Jesuit. For his papal name he chose - not Ignatius, the Jesuit founder - but Francis, the gentle lover of simplicity and nature. The name, of course, of Francis of Assisi is venerated throughout Italy and indicative of a style of leadership that might surprise the Roman Curia. The new Pope's name might be his agenda as the rebuilder of the Church.

As an outsider to Vatican bureaucracy, the new Pope joked in his initial speech that the cardinals fetched the new Bishop of Rome from the end of the world. The first thing he did was to ask for silence, bow and invite the assembled people to pray for him before he blessed them.

We pray for Pope Francis that he enjoys a fruitful and blessed ministry.

13 March 2013 - The Election

They process in to Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel - 115 cardinal-electors - the stunning 15th century setting for the election of a new pope. They will elect the leader of the 1.2 billion Catholics throughout the world.

Of the assembled cardinals, 67 were created by Pope Emeritus Benedict and 48 by Blessed John Paul II. The electors spent the last week with cardinals above the voting age discussing challenges facing the church and sizing up papal candidates, including possibly electing the first non-European pope in more than a millennium. With only 24 percent of Catholics living in Europe, pressure is growing to choose a pontiff from elsewhere in the world who would bring a different perspective.

Members of the electors include the leading contenders: Angelo Scola, 71, archbishop of Milan; Vienna's archbishop Christoph Schonborn, 68; Canada's Ouellet, the 68-year-old archbishop of Montreal; and Sao Paulo's archbishop Odilo Scherer of Brazil, 63.

The conclave officially began after Guido Marini, the master of papal liturgical ceremonies, cried "Extra omnes," meaning "Everyone out!" Marini, in a purple cloak, then closed the massive wooden doors, allowing the princes of the church to get down to the business of picking the 266th pope.

Of course, nobody really knows who it will be. Whoever it is, and he agrees, he will retire to the Room of Tears. It's just a few feet away from the Sistine Chapel, but most importantly, it's where a newly elected Pope wears his Papal white vestment for the first time.

As seen below, three papal vestments of different sizes are already in the Room of Tears. Also there are three different pairs of red shoes and papal hats, so the next Pope can choose his size before he is introduced to the world, nervously, on St. Peter's balcony, as the new pontiff.

13 February 2013 - Resignation of Pope Benedict XVI

Elected in 2005, following the death of Pope John Paul II, Joseph Ratzinger had first-hand experience of attending a pope who was extremely frail and in ill-health while still maintaining his position on the world stage. Now 85, that experience has taught Joseph Ratzinger the stubborn belief that there is no indignity in a pope resigning because he can no longer manage in his own body the huge responsibilities of his office. Thus Pope Benedict XVI announced:

After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry . . .

However, in today's world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognise my incapacity to adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me.

Pope Benedict has gone against the tradition of a pope dying in office, admitting that he is now too frail in mind and body to carry out the responsibilities of the Petrine ministry. The last Pope to do so was in 1415. In a cartoon in The Times, one cardinal leans into another and says:

Neither of the previous two papal resignations was due to ill-health. On returning from his visit to Mexico and Cuba, Pope Benedict was advised by his doctors against travelling any more on transatlantic flights because of his deteriorating health.

Pope Benedict's visit to Britain, which was prefaced by negative articles in the press about the German rottweiler, ended up by recognising him, however reluctantly, as a German shepherd. His speech in Westminster Hall on faith reason and democracy, addressed to the political elite of the land, was a stunning reflection of great depth, reflecting his scholarly insight.

The probability is that he will retire first to the papal summer residence, Castel Gandolfo, overlooking Lake Albano, which is about 15 miles south-east of Rome. Then possibly to the Mater Ecclesiae monastery, inside the Vatican, once the offices of the Vatican Radio. Since no one knows how to refer to an ex-pope, there have to be a new Debrett's entry: perhaps the Emeritus Bishop of Rome?

Pope Benedict's realism about his own health and limitations, over against the considerable demands of his office, has led to his personal decision to resign. He has too much respect for the office to occupy it enfeebled and debilitated. This might be his most radical act as Pope, recognising his own human frailty. I am sure all of us wish Pope Benedict, wherever he decides to live, a restful and peaceful retirement. And wish his successor, wherever he comes from, a healthy and fruitful pontificate.

18 December 2012 - New Year Reflection

As we celebrate Christmas and approach another New Year, like the Roman god Janus, we look back and look forward. I'd like to share a little reflection we could do together.

When you pause and look back at this year, do you think the world is a safer place than it was this time last year? Do you think our world has progressed much?

Do you think you are a better person? How have you grown this year? What good things have happened to you? What bad experiences have you endured? Has this year been for you a good time, a time of growth, a time of blessing?

Have any of your loved ones died this year? How are you managing their loss? Or has someone you love moved away, out of your life, leaving you forlorn? Is there a new absence in your life?

Have you made new friends? Has it been a good year for your family? Have you stayed close to them? Do they know that you love them?

Do you feel better about yourself now than you did last year? Are you still excited about your vocation, your career, your work? Or are you content in retirement? How have you changed?

And when you look ahead to the coming year, how do you feel? Are you looking forward to this new year? Is there anything you are afraid of? Is there something you are dreading? What are you looking forward to? Anything?

Is there anything you long to happen in your life this coming year? What would you have to do to help bring your longing to life?

It's important, though not easy, to look back with kindness, and to look forward in hope.

This year is closing down and a new year beckons. Let us hand over the past to God for his healing blessing. Let us ask the Lord to face the future with us because we do not want to face it alone.

Let us pray for each person who reads this, and for all those we love and cherish: that each one might know the promise of the Lord that brings the Gospel to a close:

"Know this, I will be with you even unto the end of the world."

14 September 2012 - The Year of Faith

With the Apostolic Letter, Porta Fidei - The Door of Faith - Pope Benedict XVI declared a Year of Faith for all Catholics throughout the world. This year begins on 11 October 2012 and concludes on 24 November 2013, the Solemnity of Christ the King.

The beginning of the Year of Faith coincides with the anniversaries of two great events which have marked the life of the Church in recent times: the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and the twentieth of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The Year of Faith gives all of us a graced opportunity to nourish the life of faith we have been given. None of us stays believing automatically: our faith needs to be fostered and cherished, fed and fortified; otherwise it can die from indifference or neglect. The Year of Faith gives us a favourable time to deepen our personal faith in the Lord and strengthen our attachment to the believing community.

Although no one can believe for us, none of us believes on our own. Since the beginning of the Church, people have shared and celebrated their faith not only within the Church but beyond its boundaries. They've done this because they wanted others to experience the inner strength that graced their life - this force that helps us face the daily challenges, and sometimes the sheer trudge, of ordinary time. The opening to the First Letter of John puts it beautifully:

Something that has existed from the beginning,
that we have heard,
and that we have seen with our own eyes;
that we have watched
and touched with our hands:
the Word who is life -
this is our subject . . .
What we have seen and heard
we are telling you
so that you too may be in union with us,
as we are in union
with the Father
and with his Son Jesus Christ.

One message that flows from this passage is to share the experience of our lived faith. Belief in Jesus contains a core imperative: the impulse to pass on what we have received so that others might participate in this abundant life. Our faith is not meant to be part of the Official Secrets Act. It calls us to share what we love, to go beyond the reaches of our own community and witness to what shapes our identity and direction in life.

In the Gospels there is no passage describing Jesus being alone. The stories told about Jesus always include other people, and we learn about Jesus from those who have life in his name. This story continues in the Church today: people come to Jesus through the community that has life in his name, through those who believe in the one sent among us to reveal the face of God. There is no Jesus without community.

As part of the worldwide community of the followers of Jesus, we Catholics have a special opportunity during the Year of Faith to deepen our attachment to Jesus as Lord, strengthen our ties with all who believe in Jesus, and witness to our faith with a sense of pride. To help mark your journey through the Year of Faith, you can use this simple diary as a resource for reflection, for prayer, and for action. The diary runs to the end of December 2013 so that you can use it as a complete annual diary for 2013.

All of us at Redemptorist Publications hope that our publication, Your Diary for the Year of Faith, will serve as a helpful companion for the Year of Faith and beyond.

14 August 2012 - Conference to Priests

Leaving London in the middle of the home Olympics to travel to Australia seemed a wee bit strange, but it was all worth it, especially sensing the admiration of the Aussies for Team GB and the growing collection of medals.

Thanks to Fr Greg Bourke, who attended classes I gave in Rome, for the kind invitation. Fr Greg is the director of Ministry to Priests, a group dedicated to caring for the priests of the archdiocese, young and old.

The conference was held in a hotel in Geelong, an hour's drive west of Melbourne. It was supported by Archbishop Denis Hart, Bishop Vincent Long, and 124 priests from the archdiocese. Fr Paul Murray OP, a professor at the Angelicum in Rome, gave a day, and I gave two days on the subject of the parables of Jesus.

What was particularly delightful was the international mix of the priests, not only from Scotland and Ireland, but from Vietnam, Italy, Malta, Pakistan, Iraq, and India. Many of the priests come from the recent Asian immigration, especially the "boat people" from Vietnam, although nearly everyone in Australia, I suppose, apart from the Australian Aborigines, originally came from boat people from elsewhere.

You get a feel for a real international group of priests, who have an instinctive respect for different nationalities and diverse cultures. With immigration from so many countries, what it means to be Australian is gradually being reinvented and redrawn.

The priests'welcome was warm and effortless and genuine. I felt at home very quickly and in the photo below you can see me with two wonderful Australian/Vietnamese priests - on my right Fr Binh Le, the vocations' director, and on my left Fr Thinh Nguyen, the chaplain to the University of Melbourne. They were especially kind, together with Fr Greg and his assistant Megan, to an ancient visitor from Scotland!

25 May 2012 - Across the Pond

I was invited to lead a five-day reflection for the Redemptorist students of the American region, at San Alfonso Retreat House in New Jersey. The region consists of Canada, the two provinces in the USA, the English-speaking countries of the Caribbean, and the extra patriam group of Vietnamese Redemptorists. It was like a United Nations, and we were joined by C.Ss.R. students from Haiti.

The Redemptorist retreat house is on the Atlantic coast of New Jersey, so it is a stunning place to have any meeting. The lawns go down to the rocks, that break up the Atlantic surf.

There were 57 participants, including the formators and the regional coordinator, the ever-cheerful Fr Jack Kingsbury. I did some reflections on Jesus and discipleship, and the mood was good-humoured and relaxed. During the conference three students received the habit prior to their novitiate.

As you can see from the pictures, there was time for volleyball and football on the lawn, and time for relaxing together. It was a marvellous time to grow in a sense of belonging to a truly international group of dedicated men, although I must confess I felt like a bit of an antique surrounded by the youthfulness and vigour of the conference.

4 April 2012 - Peace Reflection

Luke is the only evangelist to write explicitly about the early church and how it began, so he is more concerned than the other evangelists to enable his readers to answer the question: what makes for Christian community? How does the Christian community begin again? How is it refounded after the passion and death of Jesus? Luke will move his story from a community shattered by the violent death of Jesus to a community preaching in the name of the risen Lord. As a storyteller he will illustrate the movement from

the disciples' experience of loss
their new attachment to the Lord

a community that stays and waits
a mission-charged community

Such a momentous change doesn't happen naturally or easily. How do you account for the transformation? When people change we often ask them, "What happened to you?" The way the question is posed indicates the belief that something must have happened to account for such a change. The question supposes that the individuals didnt accomplish this new change by themselves: some outside agency, some event must have taken place for such a change to happen. It is this kind of dramatic change that Luke's narrative describes.

The disciples change because, firstly, something happened to Jesus: he was raised from the dead by God.

In the story of Jesus' appearance to the assembled disciples and their companions the first thing Jesus does is to offer reconciliation in the greeting of peace. He returns to the same community that has abandoned him, betrayed him, denied him, and offers them peace. He is willing to begin again; his peace will enable them to begin again. He does not lock them into the failure of their past.

Perhaps most of us would have returned to such a community to inform them that their services were no longer required, and found a new group of followers! The risen Jesus, however, begins with them, the same community, in their fragility. The gift of peace marks the beginning of this new community, the community that we belong to as Church. As a Church we were founded in the peace of Christ.

Article from Your Journey to Peace, to be published in May 2012. Click here for details.

13 February 2012 - Meeting Jesus at the Well

Some time soon, give yourself ten minutes alone. Sit quietly; be still. Imagine yourself sitting on the edge of a well. It's a beautiful day, calm, peaceful. You are alone. You see a figure approach the well. You recognise the figure as Jesus of Nazareth. He is coming here to meet you. You are his destination. What do you do? Do you look at your watch and say, "Lord, I've got to run. I need to be somewhere." Another voice tells you: There is no need to be afraid. There is no need to run. There is no need to pretend. There is no need to be someone you are not. Be yourself. He knows the mystery of you. You stay, but you're nervous. He sits beside you. He smiles. You smile back. "Beautiful day," he says. 'Right,' you say. He looks down into the well behind you. "Deep down there," he says. You say, 'Right.' You don't know what else to say. Then he looks you in the eye and says, "I haven't come here to be clever about you, to humiliate you, to hurt you. I am no stranger to you, no threat. Tell me this: Out of your depth what are you crying for? What do you really thirst for in life? What do you thirst for more than anything in the world? What is your spirit crying out for? Talk to me. I am listening." You take courage and hear yourself talking. Dear friends, that is what we call prayer. When we allow the Lord to approach us. When we allow the Lord to speak to us. When we allow ourselves to speak back.

6 January 2012 - Interview by Gregg Watts

Greg Watts has established an excellent reputation as a journalist, author, teacher and public relations adviser. He has written for The Times, The Guardian, Evening Standard, and many other publications, and has reported from Iraq, Russia, Italy, Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian Territories. His TV and radio appearances include BBC, ITN, CNN, Sky, and Al-Jazeera. He has written a dozen books.
1. Fr Denis, when were the seeds of your vocation sown?
In my childhood parish of St Stephen's, Clydebank, in the west of Scotland. The parish priest, referred to in hushed tones as Doctor Mallon, was a bit on the dour side, an intellectual, and a very prayerful man. He had two curates: Fr Cush was a disciplinarian who pulled and twisted your right ear after you made a mistake serving at the altar; Fr Tobin was a gentle giant who forgave mistakes easily and was a regular visitor to our house. The three of them lived together in the "chapel house" and it was a mystery to me, and a relief, that they were so different in personality. Clearly they had not been shaped and pressed into the same mould; clearly the priesthood had expansive room for different types of people. There might even be room for the likes of me . . .

2. Why did you choose the Redemptorists?
Trying to follow in the footsteps of the priests in the parish, I attended a junior seminary in Scotland, where all the teaching staff were priests: they taught Latin and Greek and mathematics, and all the other subjects I found hopelessly dreary. I loved sports. One weekend a Redemptorist came to the college to give a retreat: he talked about Jesus in a simple and passionate way. This priest was free to wander up and down Britain giving missions and retreats, rather than being locked into the fixed world of a classroom wrestling with irregular verbs. When I was thrown out of seminary - for not taking my studies seriously and for being irredeemably thick and unhappy - I remembered his way of being a priest, and requested to follow him into the Redemptorists.

The Redemptorists have been my life since that day and I have never regretted it. Since I was eighteen, I have lived my Christian faith in Redemptorist community; and although community life has its mixture of the crooked and the cracked, I have always felt at home there.

My work as a Redemptorist has taken me all over the world - from the rain forests of Borneo to the wide avenues of New York to the sandy spread of the Kalahari Desert - and I have met a long litany of good people, struggling to live a life of faith. The reason I have been invited to go to these places is simple - to reflect with people on the story of Jesus in the Gospels. The Gospels, the images, the vocabulary, the whole culture of the faith have always been an important place for me, because this place allows me to articulate myself more intelligibly and offer God's message of plentiful redemption to people.

3. What aspect of religious life have you found most rewarding?
Its freedom and mobility. The secular clergy, from the nature of their job, have to be settlers, charged with the daily caring for the community of their parish. Religious are free to be pioneers, not tied down to the regularity of parish life; we are released to explore new ways of attending to the people of God. The Church, of course, needs both the settlers and the pioneers to complete its ministry.

4. What have you found most difficult?
The realisation that no matter how satisfying or fulfilling community life might be, it will never replace the abiding absence of a particular person to love and share my life with. One of the great practical advantages of community life is that it's a place where I can make real friends, enabling me to do things I could never manage on my own; it often compensates for my personal weakness and stupidity. But there are times, to be honest, when community life becomes a bore and a burden, and I long to be free of it. Then I remind myself of the paralytic in the Gospel who was carried up to the roof by his determined friends and then lowered through the ceiling into the loving presence of Jesus. There are times when we are saved only by our steadfast friends.

5. How do you see the work you are currently involved in?
As director of Redemptorist Publications I see my work as supporting and expanding the faith of Catholics and reaching out to other Christian faiths. The advantage of writing is that you reach a large audience, though unseen - you never know where your thoughts will eventually land. The disadvantage, of course, is that usually the only people you do hear from are those who complain about something you've written and blithely accuse you of heresy. By definition writing is a lonely job, but at Redemptorist Publications we have a supportive staff that helps you believe it's all worthwhile.

6. Fr Denis, what are the biggest challenges of the work?
To rethink in a simple and fresh way the teaching of the Gospel while staying in conversation with the struggles people face in their lives. There's little point in studying the Gospels while remaining resolutely ignorant of the people to whom they're addressed. So many people are dying to hear good news in their lives while they try to face what each day brings them; so many people expend their energy simply managing that they have little ardour for organised religion. Certainly in Western Europe the impact of Christianity has diminished with the consequence that people are less and less interested: when people lose interest it pushes you to wonder what impact you're making. In the present climate one of the greatest challenges is to keep faith with the original Gospel vision and not lose heart, believing that the Christian message still remains a liberating force for everyone.

7. What skills do you need?
An attentive ear, an expansive heart, an open mind, and an ability to reach people simply and honestly. And, not least, humility about what we can achieve as we remind ourselves that it is God's kingdom, not ours.

8. Have you a tip on how to pray?
I thought about this when writing my book, Praying with Pictures, in which I try to find a voice for all sorts of people in all sorts of situations. I think, above all, that in our prayer the challenge is to be real, truthful, heartfelt, unaffected. There is little point in dressing up before the one who knows us better than we could ever know ourselves. My tip would be to tell people not to worry about what they should say: be yourself, whatever condition you are in, and find a language for what is going on in your life.

9. What's the best piece of advice you've ever been given?
An old priest in New York - Fr Robert Hovda - told me when I was a young priest: "Never write someone else's script." When people come for advice, there is real temptation to tell them what to do with their lives; much better, I think, to help people find their own voice, discover their own road, and take responsibility for their own choices. When someone comes to talk about their life, you try to give this person your best thinking while respecting ambiguity and confusion. You refuse to write their script or pretend that you have some exclusive hotline to God that will guarantee a quick fix to their problems. You stay humble before such huge honesty and try to honour it, yes, with your own. You remind yourself that you are supposed to proclaim Good News, not just orthodoxy, so you make a real effort to ask the right questions, understand the issues, broaden the canvas, and, together, seek a way forward.

10. Which figures from history would you like to invite to a dinner party?

  • The Beloved Disciple from the fourth Gospel - I'd love to know his identity and listen to him reflect about his understanding of Jesus.
  • Piero della Francesca, the Italian Renaissance painter, whose work still speaks with such an original and fresh voice to many people today, me included.
  • Graham Greene, my favourite author, for his edgy insight into human nature and his tenuous connection with Catholicism.
  • Lady Gaga who could give us an after-dinner performance of startling creativity.

22 December 2011 - Christmas Prayer

When the song of the angels has been stilled,
when the star has gone from the night sky,
when the kings have reached their far shores,
when the shepherds have returned to their flocks,
then the work of Christmas really begins:
to find those who are lost,
to heal those who are broken in spirit,
to feed those who are hungry,
to release those who are oppressed,
to rebuild the nations torn by strife,
to bring peace among all peoples,
to bring the light of the Gospel
into the darkest corners of our world.

We pray that we might radiate the light of Christ,
through the kindliness of our presence
and the determination of our purpose,
every day of our lives.

May the joy of the angels,
the eagerness of the shepherds,
the perseverance of the wise men,
the love of Joseph and Mary,
and the peace of the Christ child
be ours this Christmas.
And may the blessing of God almighty,
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
rest upon us and remain with us always.

7 December 2011 - Your Sunday Missal

To purchase a copy of Your Sunday Missal, click here.

As general editor of our new missal I had the enduring support of two fine editors - Andrew Lyon, our editorial manager and Fr Peter Edwards, one of RP's editors and the best proof-reader this side of Boston. Rosemarie Pink, our designer, had the gargantuan task of setting everything down electronically: how she endured it all is one of the unnumbered glorious mysteries.

Everything had to be approved by the Liturgy Office in London, led by Martin Foster, and we found them kind and supportive. It has all proved worthwhile, but I wouldn't want to go through the process again.

Your Sunday Missal includes:

- The new translation of the Order of Mass
- Every Sunday Mass for the three-year cycle
- Two Eucharistic prayers for reconciliation and the four for Masses for Various Needs.
- A selection of Litanies
- The Rosary, including scriptural readings to assist prayer
- Stations of the Cross by St Alphonsus Liguori, attractively illustrated
- A Treasury of Prayers by St Alphonsus, selected by my confrere Richard Reid
- Prayers for each day of the week, which I composed
- Latin texts for the people's part of the Mass

Our single hope is that this missal will be a faithful and constant companion in worshipping the God of all kindness, in whom there is plentiful redemption.

7 November 2011 - Glasgow Primary Headteachers

HEADTEACHERS of Catholic primary schools across the Archdiocese of Glasgow have come together for a day of reflection and prayer on their role as leaders.

Excerpt from Flourish, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Glasgow.

Within a busy schedule, the time away from their daily tasks proved inspirational and beneficial. The teachers were afforded a fascinating insight into the leadership exercised by Jesus in an engaging talk given by Fr Denis McBride, a Redemptorist priest and leading teacher on the Scriptures.

"Most people think leadership is about control, power, authority, telling people what to do, how to behave," he pointed out. "Jesus is a leader, a teacher, but if we look at the Gospels we see the longest narrative about him is focused on his fragility and suffering. Passion, honesty and integrity are instinctively important parts of leadership.

"If you want to understand Jesus look at those who have life in His name. Life for the wounded, the little people: their lives are enlarged through contact with the Lord. The are enlarged in the presence of this person."

Like the witnesses in the Gospels good teachers speak out of the authority of their experience, Fr McBride explained. What they have seen and heard and touched, they pass on to others. "Tradition is not something you hold on to, but what you pass on or hand over" " he said. "If we dont pass on what we cherish as Christians, then Christianity will become a museum piece."

The gathering took in the Archdiocesan offices in Clyde Street, allowing the headteachers to join in the lunchtime Mass in St Andrew's Cathedral. Archbishop Conti lead the celebration - thanking the headteachers for their important apostolate - and Fr McBride gave an inspirational homily on the life of St Jerome whose feast day it was.

24 August 2011 - Zimbabwe 1

They are a formidable group of men, the Redemptorists in Zimbabwe, and I had the privilege of offering a retreat to all the professed of the Region. They were warm, welcoming and really good company. We have 7 priests, 5 brothers, 2 deacons, 6 professed students, 2 novices, 4 unprofessed students, and 6 postulants - making 32 in all, the average age being around thirty.

They are a young vibrant group, bringing enormous talent and commitment to their varied work. They are led by Fr William Guri, CSsR, the Regional superior, Bro Benjamin Posvo, CSsR, the rector of the formation community, and Fr Raymond Mupandasekwa, CSsR, in overall charge of formation. These three, together with Fr Ronnie McAinsh, CSsR, our provincial, were the pioneers of today's Region, although the Redemptorists from the London Province have served there for some fifty years.

Formation: Alphonsus House, Tafara
The houses of formation are set in a large compound in Tafara, on the outskirts of the capital city, Harare. Fr Raymond is assisted by Fr Joseph Musendami, CSsR, who is in charge of the six postulants. The original chapel was burnt down and is now replaced by a new building, which is simple and elegant, decorated by stunning paintings by the Jesuit artist, Fr Tony Berridge, who has now sadly died. You can catch something of the chapel's beauty from the pictures, and see some of the formation community smiling bravely!

23 August 2011 - Zimbabwe 2

The Redemptorists looks after two flourishing parishes in Tafara and Mabvuku, townships on the outskirts of Zimbabwe. The parishes are divided up into small Christian communities, with their own section leaders, who would liaise with the parish priests about the pastoral needs of their sections. The sections would meet regularly and have their own Masses. Lay participation is high, and the singing and the drums and the movement at Mass are wonderful to witness.

We also run St Gerard's parish in Borrowdale and St Augustine's in Hatcliffe, with Nazareth House as an outstation. St Gerard's is probably the most influential parish in Harare, attended by many government ministers and their families - so the content of the homilies are particularly noted by men with ear-pieces rather than earrings.

The Mavambo Trust

The name Mavambo means Genesis, standing for a new start. Brother Benjamin CSsR is the director of the Mavambo Trust, originally founded to educate children 8-11 who have missed out on school, usually because they have no birth certificate and who cannot, therefore, register at government schools, or because they are too poor to pay the fees. The kids are often single or double orphans because of the HIV/AIDS crisis and are raised by their grandparents. About 70% of them are accepted into the regular schools after only one year with the Trust, which is a measure of the quality of the teaching. Bro Benji has the help of two sisters, Kathi and Mike; Danny is his assistant director; Lamech is in charge of social services and outreach, and there are over a hundred volunteers. The trust also feeds over 300 children a day during the school terms. If anyone reading this would like to make a donation, please e-mail Bro Benji, btposvo@yahoo.com

Caritas Harare
Brother Francis Marimbe CSsR is the development coordinator for Caritas Harare, the social development arm of the archdiocese of Harare. 83% of the population live on less than $2 a day, so there are many pressing needs to meet. Caritas in emergency relief with regular projects in vulnerable group feeding, including hospitals and prisons and schools; developing skills for unemployed young people; HIV support; gender issues; water and sanitation; seed and fertiliser support; reaching out to squatter communities. Br Francis is supported by a committed staff of over thirty people, including experts in conservation farming techniques, nursing, and social workers.

The name means "the time the elephant goes to wash", signalling a new dawn, a fresh beginning. Two Redemptorist brothers work in this project, Tendai and Tendayi, which includes child protection, child counselling, HIV awareness, and unemployment issues. 85% of the people are in "informal employment", since the opportunities for full-time employment is very low. With HIV still a destructive issue in family life, the two brothers devote themselves to promoting HIV awareness, which they do not only in public places like churches but also in beer halls.

Redemptorist Book Shop
We used to run the bookshop at the Cathedral, but the bishops' conference wanted the space, so we had to find an alternative place. Fr Mark Chandavengerwa, C.Ss.R. runs the bookshop with two lay assistants and he can be seen in the photograph with Br David Nyammuronda, C.Ss.R. who very patiently took me on a walk around Harare. Br David will be starting soon at the Mavambo Trust, probably to teach the children there.

The Redemptorist Region has an impressive variety of works carried out by an impressive group of men, I thank them for their warm hospitality and good humour, and wish them every success in all their living and study and work.

1 August 2011 - SVD General Council in Rome

It was a great privilege to go to Rome to offer a retreat to the General Council of the Divine Word Missionaries - SVDs. They are a formidable missionary group of about 5,000 men who spread the Gospel all over the world and are directed in this by the General Council, led by Fr Antonio from the Philippines, standing on my right in the photograph. They are a truly international group, and rather than having provinces of the same nationality, they tend to make as many communities as possible with an international mix. I have been lecturing in their centre in Nemi for many years, so it was lovely to go back and meet the top men of the Society! They were very gracious and relaxed, which made my job so much easier. Many thanks to them.


21 January 2011 - Coming together


Based on Opening Address to the Dublin Chapter

Have a look at Jacopo Bassano's painting, The Last Supper. Bassano catches beautifully the fragility of this meeting. None of the apostles is paying any attention to Jesus. No eyes are fixed on him, no ears attentive to what he might have to say. This is a concelebration of distraction. They prefer to concentrate on their own concern: which of them is the greatest? They bring their own worries to the meeting as we all do, and they are worried about their own place in the scheme of things: hierarchy and appointments. The Beloved Disciple looks utterly bored by it all: the fingers of his right hand are poised. If I did a modern version of the painting I would insert an I-pad under those fingers as he checks his Facebook.

In the midst of this distraction Jesus looks out at us the onlooker while he points to the butchered head of a lamb on the table. He hopes we might attend. And you wonder about the questions he might be asking:

  1. You watch your team beginning to crack, and you wonder: will this crowd hold up?
  2. You make a long speech telling them that they are really worth it, yes, really. And because they're ambitious you tell them they'll have a throne each. Will that do? How do you keep ambitious men happy?
  3. You wonder why your friends cannot enter your tragedy.
  4. You wonder how you ended up here anyway. What went wrong along the way?
  5. Could you have said things differently, made things more clear? Been more precise in that vision statement?
  6. What makes people pick the sides they do?
  7. Dear God, why didn't you give me a more alert crowd?

We all know you can be in the same room with people, but on a different planet: proximity doesn't necessarily bring understanding. Sometimes when you try to be real with the people you know, they can turn away in awkward embarrassment, unsure how to react or what to say. They reach for anyone else or any topic - anything will do, apart from your revelation. Like the exchange I heard recently on the London Underground:

She says: "Have you any idea how that makes me feel. It really really hurts."
He says: "Mmm, right. You know I got a promotion today at work. Cool."

At the Last Supper Jesus as host is talking about the brokenness of the bread and the bloodiness of the wine. At the table there is a noticeable absence of the lightness and fun we associate with celebrations. It is hard to be real with the people we know, but Jesus tries valiantly with his group. The apostles turn away from him as he struggles to say what is important to him, to debate their own concerns. A voice tries calling them back to a simpler vision of authority as service, represented by the water jug and basin at the foot of the table and the little loyal dog.

At this meeting we see the common struggles of community in the making. And just as the apostles were confused and uncertain about what was going on, that same drama can be repeated at our own holy gatherings. At the Last Supper Jesus broke bread for his broken community: he was not breaking bread for an assembly of heroes, but a fragile group of followers. Jesus keeps telling us that our fragile humanity does not have to be denied or disguised to be accepted; rather in its fragility, in its shaky beauty, it is uplifted and transformed in the love of Christ.

Before Jesus is handed over into the hands of his enemies, he hands himself over, into the hands of his friends. He puts himself into their safekeeping, our safekeeping. That night before his death, Jesus said two haunting words: "Remember me." When I have gone, remember me; do this in memory of me. You can't imagine anyone looking at that painting and having Jesus say: "Remember me by doing this again and again and again. Do it." And we might say, "What, that?"

Yes, that!

That is what we do in the name of the Lord; we come together, however we are; we listen to the words spoken; we share the story; we break the bread; and we depart to share the Good News.

20 December 2010 - A Meditation on Mary

Sometimes a painter or writer revisits an ancient story and lights it up with new thinking and imagination. The following poem was written by a sixth-former, Holly Green, from Birkenhead - hailed as the Wirral Poet Laureate! Holly is now studying English at Cambridge and she has kindly given me permission to reproduce her poem on the blog. Hope you enjoy it!

Her poem sits well alongside Tanner's wonderful painting, The Annunciation.

The Virgin
It is odd, what the heart recalls. I remember the shade of the light:
late sun, like the skin of an apple, russet and gold.
I remember the backs of my hands - the splay of their bones
as fragile and slim as a bird's. The hands of a girl.
I was stitching a cloth for a man who was rich as a king -
a beautiful thing, to hang on his chamber wall.
I remember its slippery weight, its elegant sprawl,
how it spilled from my lap and pooled like ink on the floor.
I remember my needle, holding the thread in thrall.
I stitched a wild man, dancing alone on a cliff:
copper wire for his hair, a twist of bright steel for each limb.
I used tiny, split pearls for the wealth of a woman's soft tears.
I remember each dimpled curve, pierced by the needle's swift sting.
I picked out a fleet of white boats, hulls slender as flames;
the slashed black silk of the sea, the foaming lace of the waves.
I worked in a trance, 'til the day was almost done.
I was stitching a hill, stained by a ghastly, sun -
the flick of a serpent's tongue - the snickering grin of a skull;
weaving the tale of my cloth 'til the tongue of my needle was blunt.
I stitched a night in December, adazzle with frost.
The breath of a bull, like gauze on the smoke-blue sky.
A mother's astonished lips, at the cheek of her sleeping child.
I used thick silk for the sun on the roof of my home,
the shallow lap of a girl, overflowing with tumbling gold.
I remember night brimmed in the shadows , threatening to spill.
The floorboards hummed.
The darkening sky suddenly throbbed with the beating of wings.
I pulled the thread tight and split it between my teeth.
I put the needle aside. I let the cloth slip from my knee.

Holly Green