Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Day of Adoration

Once a month we have an extended period of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament in the NH Chapel: either a Day of Adoration, or an all-night vigil. Today has been one of those days of prayer. A goodly number of students turn up in the course of the day to spend time in prayer in the intimacy of Christ's Presence in the Blessed Sacrament.

Prayer can be tough. Our minds all invariably wander all over the place, and we get frustrated with ourselves. Or we don't have a great numinous experience and we wonder what it's all about and what the point is. But in fact the main point is just to be there, with the Lord. We don't have to do much - he is the one doing all the work! The hardest thing about prayer is making time - and it's also the most important. As the wise Dom John Chapman once observed: "The less you pray, the harder it gets" or Metropolitan Anthony Bloom's reminder that it's not God who is absent from us - it's us who are absent from God.

So Days of Adoration are opportunities to make time and set it aside for God - hoping for nothing, expecting nothing, just rejoicing in his presence and content to be with him.

We are so fortunate at Newman House to have a Chapel attached, where the Blessed Sacrament is always reserved, Christ among us, the hope of Glory. Cardinal Newman, writing to a friend, made an intensely beautiful observation:

'I am writing next room to the Chapel. It is such an incomprehensible blessing to have Christ's bodily presence in one's house, within one's walls, as swallows up all other privileges and destroys, or should destroy, every pain. To know that He is close by—to be able again and again through the day to go in to Him; and be sure, my dearest W., when I am thus in His Presence you are not forgotten. It is the place for intercession surely, where the Blessed Sacrament is. Thus Abraham, our father, pleaded before his hidden Lord and God in the valley'.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Outstanding Speakers this week!

UCL Cathsoc tonight (Monday 29 January) welcomes the Provost of the Birmingham Oratory, Fr Paul Chevasse, as its guest speaker. Fr Chevasse is also the postulator for the cause for canonisation of Cardinal Newman. The talk will outline the process and developments so far of Cardinal Newman's cause. The talk, entitled Cardinal Newman: The Journey to Canonisation, will take place at 7.30pm at Newman House.

On Sunday 4 February we have the honour of welcoming Baroness Cox of Queensbury as the guset speaker at the Sunday Bar lunch after Mass. Her talk is on the very topical subject of Christian-Islamic Dialogue in the 21st century, and is entitled Bridges not Walls - Reconciliation through Realism.

Lady Cox is an outstanding figure in British public life and is well versed, through personal experience, with her subject. She was created a Life Peer in 1982 and has been a deputy speaker of the House of Lords since 1985. She was founder Chancellor of Bournemouth University 1991-2001 and is a Vice President of the Royal College of Nursing. She is heavily involved with international humanitarian work and is the founder and Chief Executive of the Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART). She also serves as a non-executive director of the Andrei Sakhorov Foundation; the Siberian Medical University; and has been a trustee of MERLIN -Medical Emergency Relief International.

Her awards include: the Commander Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland; the Wilberforce Award for humanitarian work and the Inetrnational Mother Teresa Award. She holds an honorary fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons, and honorary doctorates from universities in the UK, USA, Russia and Armenia.

Baroness Cox's work in the field of humanitarian aid has taken her on many missions to conflict zones, including the Armenian enclave of Nagorno Karabakh; many visits to Africa including Sudan and Nigeria; to the Karen, Karenni and Chin peoples in the jungles of Burma and to communities suffering from conflict in Indonesia and more recently to North Korea.

She has authored a number of books, her latest publications including Cox's Book of Modern Saints and Martyrs which "gives an inspiring account of living saints, enlightening the dark side of stories of martyrdom, and celebrating the ways in which men and women experience a transformation of their lives through their great sacrifices for those less fortunate" and This Immoral Trade: Slavery in the 21st Century, co-authored with Dr John Marks.

We are indeed privileged to have 2 such outsanding contributors this week, and are very grateful to them for giving of their time to be with us.

Fr Peter: Christmas a memory

I made a resolution last year that the NH blog would be updated regularly, if not frequently. Of course, Christmas and December are dead times for University chaplaincy. Most students are off home and there is very little for a chaplain to do. In the past I have volunteered for cruise chaplaincies with the Apostleship of the Sea, but in the past few years I have taken the opportunity to visit my parents and brothers in South Africa - Christmas at home is a rare privilege!

My parents retired to a small seaside resort in the Western Cape, called Still Bay (more generally Stilbaai, its Afrikaans name). It's located in a beautiful spot, off the beaten track. During the year its population is just 4000, but over Christmas and the new year it swells to 40 000. Many people from the far north of South Africa have holiday homes there. They are mainly Afrikaans people, and so largely members of the Dutch Reformed Church. The handful of English speaking Christians go to an ecumenical service in one of the DRC buildings, which they borrow for their worship. There has been no Catholic Church presence in the town.

Last year my parents, who are Anglicans, kindly drove me to Mossel Bay, the nearest big town, for Mass on Christmas Day. It is over 100km away, so we set off at around 6am to be there for the 8am Mass. We attended Mass at St Blaize's Church. The lovely parish priest, Fr John Atkinson, has responsibility for several other churches in neighbouring towns. This year I phoned him up and offered my services while I was there. To my delight I discovered that there was now a regular Mass in Stilbaai, which he himself celebrated every fortnight. The local Catholics took turns to host the Mass in their homes and advertised the venues each month in the local paper. So I checked up when I got there, and joined with Fr John to concelebrate Mass on 18 December. The local folks did not know of my existence so they had already planned for their Christmas Mass to be on 28 December - now they had a priest at their disposal, so plans were hastily redrawn! Thus it was that I gathered with around 25 local people and holidaymakers for Mass on Christmas Day in the welcoming home of a couple of faithful Christians. It certainly was one of the memorable Christmasses I have spent. My thanks to all of them for their welcome and their inspiring fidelity. It is a lovely little community and I wish them much success and many blessings.
The area is part of the Diocese of Oudtshoorn - an enormous diocese of more tha 113 000 square kilometres! It has a farely small Catholic population (28 000 or so) served by just 22 priests, about a third of whom are religious. What a mammoth task! Please pray for them all. This is a good reminder of how fortunate we are in having the provision of Mass so readily available at times and places and in styles that suit us. Visiting such mission territory reminded me of just how lucky we are here in London!