5th October 2005
The Parish was able to celebrate fittingly the centenary of the opening of the church on its present site, having completed at great cost full repairs and restoration both inside and outside, over a six month period between October 2004 and March 2005. The white marble altar, ambo and ministerial chair had been quarried and manufactured in China, and shipped into the country during August 2005, and installed in the sanctuary just a few weeks before the actual centenary Mass. During this Mass, Bishop Dunn consecrated the new altar, anointing it with the holy oil of Chrism, and at the same time some relics of the saints were inserted and sealed in the altar. The motif of St Cuthbert’s Cross can be seen on the base of the altar, and smaller crosses have been sculptured on both the ambo and ministerial chair. On his own initiative, Bishop Dunn delighted the congregation by bringing with him from bishop’s house archives the crozier of Bishop Collins, who had carried out the opening ceremony on 5th October 1905. In the photograph Joshua Potter is standing near the bishop and holding the crozier.
Father Joseph Marren can be seen in the front row on the left. He was not well enough to concelebrate.
Father Paul Zielinski received a Royal invitation to a lunch at Clarence House on the 26th of April, hosted by HRH The Prince of Wales. This reception was in honour of ‘unsung church heroes’ – those who have made contributions of time and effort towards the upkeep and day-to-day running of their local church, and those who have tirelessly raised funds to this end with no financial or wider recognition. It was a very successful and worthwhile afternoon, in the delightful company of Prince Charles. Fr Paul was accompanied by Paul Neumann, one of the parishioners from Our Lady and St Cuthbert’s church in Prudhoe, seen here in the photograph.
Fr Paul and Prince Charles chatted about the fact that the same architect, Napper of Newcastle, was used for both the Prudhoe Project and the the Tree House in Alnwick Castle Gardens . Father Paul says he warmly invited Prince Charles to visit Our Lady and St Cuthbert in Prudhoe, when he is next in Northumberland, and supplied him with his recently published book, ‘The Church that Moved’. Fr Paul subsequently received a ‘thank you’ letter from Clarence House for the book.
There was a good deal of laughter and leg-pulling, when Prince Charles asked Father Paul, “Are you Church of England?” and he replied, “No, C of E.” This was a rather amusing slip of the tongue, when Father Paul had intended to say, “No, I am RC.” The Prince thought this was very amusing, thinking that Father Paul was trying to be funny and indicating that he was “Low Church” (C of E) rather than “High Church”(Church of England), as if he were some kind of trendy vicar, who was more likely to do a puppet show instead of a sermon, and rather unlikely to be involved in the formal solemnities of cope, choir and choreography of traditional Anglicanism. When Father Paul corrected this misunderstanding, Prince Charles continued the banter with humour and quipped, “Mind, I hope that you are not one of those churches with those twanging guitars.” To which Father Paul assured him “No”, and that they tried to keep authentic traditions going in Prudhoe. The Prince came back again and said in jest, “And I hope you are not living in one of those horrible little bungalow things”, meaning that he hoped that we had not done in Prudhoe what had done in the Church of England, where the vicar’s manse had been sold to downsize into a much smaller building. Father Paul reassured Prince Charles that on the contrary the original manse built by the Liddell’s in 1904 had been retained as the Presbytery for the parish priest in Prudhoe. The Prince, observing that perhaps here was a kindred spirit, finally remarked that he had been receiving “a great deal of stick” over the years for his preference and support ( “banging on” to use his own expression) for the traditional worship of the Church of England in the form of the Book of Common Prayer. During this brief humourous exchange both the Prince and Father Paul were almost bent double with laughter, as other photographs, much less formal and composed as the one above, show.
The Reception Rooms of Clarence House used for the Reception displayed paintings and antiques, which the Queen Mother had collected over the years. Some of the paintings were of Queen Elizabeth as a young girl and of the Queen Mother, when she was in her prime. The only thing which the Prince had changed was the collection of monochrome paintings of Windsor Castle, which the Queen Mother had commissioned during the War, thinking perhaps that the Nazis might have bombed it in air raids. Apparently, they had been grouped together in the dining room which rather darkened it, and the Prince had split them up around the house. There were several display cabinets containing an extensive collection of valuable trinket boxes, which the Queen Mother had collected over the years, some of the be-jewelled.
Fr Paul recounts the rest of the visit:
“After drinks, a light lunch of cottage pie, followed by pear crumble and cream was enjoyed by the guests. At 2 pm Prince Charles gave his speech, in which he thanked the guests for their generosity in volunteering their time to their various restoration projects, without which much conservation of historic buildings would not take place. He also thanked us for our fund raising efforts. He told us about the previous evening, when plans had been made over dinner with church people to set up, beginning in Gloucestershire, a flying squad of vans and ladders to go around churches clearing out leaves from gutters. He remarked that this simple maintenance job could save huge repair bills later on. He hoped this scheme would be rolled out nationwide.”
“There followed a reply to his speech by Very Reverend Henry Stapleton of Carlisle, a trustee of the Historic Churches Preservation Trust, in which he thanked His Royal Highness for his generosity in inviting us into his home for lunch.”
“After this, the guests left Clarence House, and they were given a guided tour of the Chapel Royal of St James’ Palace by the chaplain to the Royal family.”
Before returing to Newcastle by train, Father Paul and Paul Neumann visited the National Art Gallery and were greeted on entry by a large painting of St Thomas More and his family. Stunning!
Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat.
Newsletter Reflection in August 2011
THE HEART OF CATHOLIC IDENTITY
Could mercy be the trademark for Catholicism? Scripture tells us that mercy is the condition for salvation. In Matthew ch.25 it is made clear in the Last Judgement where those saved are saved simply if they performed what we later called the corporal works of mercy – feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, shelter the homeless, clothe the naked, visit the sick, visit the imprisoned and bury the dead. Mercy can be a messy business, because it means entering into the entire “problem” or “chaos” of that person’s particular situation. Mercy could be defined as the willingness to enter into the chaos of others. Early Christianity defined itself in terms of mercy. The new religion was an urban movement, and the Church prospered in cities because those urban areas were dreadful, full of social chaos and urban misery. Given high infant mortality and short life expectancy, these cities of the Roman Empire required a constant, substantial stream of newcomers simply to maintain population levels. As a result, the cities were comprised of strangers. Through a variety of ways, financially secure Christians welcomed the newly arrived immigrants. Although the pagan Romans practiced generosity, they did not promote mercy or pity. Since mercy implied “unearned help or relief”, it was considered contradictory to justice. Mercy was seen by Roman philosophers as a defect of character, belonging to the uneducated and the naïve. This was the moral climate in which Christianity taught that a merciful God requires humans to be merciful, indeed that mercy is one of the primary virtues. The Christian understanding is this: Because God loves humanity, Christians may not please God unless they love one another. That was an entirely new understanding. Perhaps even more revolutionary was the principle that Christian love and charity must extend beyond the boundaries of family and tribe. This was revolutionary stuff. Indeed, it was the cultural basis for the revitalization of a Roman world groaning under a host of miseries. Almsgiving is an early expression of mercy. St Clement writes: “Almsgiving is good as a penance for sin; fasting is better than prayer, but almsgiving is better than both, and charity covers a multitude of sins.” In the Middle Ages, the monasteries became centres for extraordinary mercy. At Cluny in France, 17,000 persons were cared for in one year. Lay fraternities linked to monasteries founded hospitals. There were also the Spiritual Works of Mercy: console the afflicted, show the way to the lost, assist those who hesitate, rebuke the sinner, forgive sins, bear wrongs, pray for the living and the dead. Some of these works are appeals to Christians to take significant steps towards developing harmony in the community rife with problems, through spiritual “building up”. It is through the practice of these spiritual and corporal works of mercy that we concretely practice our Christian faith. As Catholics, we cling to these as beacons for living the Christian lifestyle. Through them we show our willingness to enter into the chaos of another. That’s what uniquely defines us as Catholics: It’s our legacy.
Newsletter Reflection in August 2011
PRAYDREAMING – KEY TO DISCERNMENT
We Christians don’t just decide things, we discern them. That is, we do our best to figure out what God is calling us to in every situation. There are a number of approaches to discernment in the Catholic tradition. One of the best comes from St Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits. His insight was this: “Good discernment consists of prayerfully pondering the great desires that well up in my daydreams.”
Are desires good or bad? Many spiritual writers of Ignatius’ day spoke of desires as obstacles to God’s will. One solution was to suppress one’s desires – to eliminate them whenever possible. Ignatius, on the other hand, held the radical notion that God dwells in the desires of a good person.
Not only are desires not evil, but they are one of God’s primary instruments of communicating his will to his children. God enflames the heart with holy desires, and with attraction toward a life of greater divine praise and service. Ignatius did not seek to squash desires, but rather sought to tap into the deepest desires of the heart, trusting that it is God who has placed them there.
Desires,of course, play a role in my sinful desires, too. But Ignatius would define sin as disordered desires. The problem is not that I have desires, but that they are disordered within me. That is why I must begin this entire process by tapping into the greatest, most universal desire among humans: to praise, reverence and serve God.
A teenager may want badly to have sexual relations with a girlfriend or boyfriend. Spouses may become sexually attracted to people outside of their marriage. Are these evil desires? No, they are merely disordered desires. Why do any of these people want intimate sexual relations? Because each craves oneness with another – each is created by God, for the experience of unity.
Another example: An older woman may desire to tell off her husband. In what ways might the roots of this desire be holy? Perhaps she has been too passive all these years. Perhaps she only now loves herself and values herself enough to stick up for what she believes to be right. Perhaps she desires to reverence God’s creation (her very self) by asserting herself. These deeper desires are not evil; they are, in fact holy. They come from God. If she can focus on these great desires beneath the desire to tell her husband off, then she will not sin.
We fall into sin when we are ignorant of the desires beneath the desires. Consider this way of understanding personal sin: We sin, not because we are in touch with our desires, but precisely because we are not in touch with them! This is one of Ignatius’ most profound insights.
How, then, do I tap into these great desires? I daydream that’s how. I fantasize about great and beautiful futures. I let God dream in me and I sit in silent awe and wonder as these holy dreams come to life before the eyes and ears of my soul. Now that is a different approach to prayer than most of us know. But that’s what St Ignatius taught.
As I allow myself to dream crazy dreams, I then begin to ponder on their meaning. As I praydream the possibilities of living out my great desires in each option, I try to note the stirrings in my heart. I ask myself:
After the initial excitement of new possibilities, or after the initial fear of potential problems, which dreams leave me in consolation? That is:
- Which of these dreams leave me filled with holy and wholesome desires?
- Which leave me with a sense of closeness to God?
- Which leave me filled with faith? With hope? With love?
- Which make me want to go out and share them with people I love? With my mentors and friends?
- Which leave me with a deep-down peace and tranquillity? With a sense of rightness? With a fits-like-a-glove sort of feeling?
Then I discern, Which dreams leave me in desolation? That is:
- Which leave me without faith? Without hope? Without love?
- Which leave me with a sense of distance from God?
- Which leave me disquieted and agitated?
- Which leave me with no passion and zeal? With a sense of boredom and tepidity? With no energy? Feeling deflated?
- Which fill me with deep-down anxiety and fear?
- Which are the dreams I’m not very excited to talk about with my mentors and friends? Which are the ones that I avoid mentioning to them?
As I dream these praydreams, I pay particular attention to the fluctuating moments of peace versus disquiet, and of impassioned energy versus deflatedness.
St Ignatius says that when a well-intentioned, prayerful person is in sync with God, God’s will comes “sweetly, lightly, gently, as a drop of water that enters a sponge.” This inner peace – even for a tough decision – is one of the most important telltale signs of God’s will.
When I ponder my praydreams, which of the options leave me feeling this way? Which leave me with a sense of deep-down peace? Note that I am searching for the deep-down peace, as opposed to simply feeling comfortable with the option.
It may well be that God’s will lies in the most frightening option (for example,
leaving a comfortable job in order to enter religious life, or firing an unfit employee instead of ignoring the problem, or choosing some unpopular course of action).
I may therefore feel fearful when I praydream this scenario and yet deeper down, there is a sense in me that this is the proper way to go and that the Lord’s abiding presence will sustain me through the unpleasant fallout. It is this deeper peace that I am looking out for.
I am also looking out for its opposite – for deep-down agitation. Again, one
particular option may look good on paper and make me feel comfortable on the
surface of my emotions. This “easy option” may smooth things over, avoid
conflict or avoid unpleasant or awkward situations (for example, upholding the
status quo, remaining in current status, not making waves at the office, making
only complimentary remarks).
Despite the fact that this option is clearly the path of least resistance, deeper down there is agitation within me. There is something that isn’t quite settled in my spirit as I imagine myself moving forward in this direction. This negative indicator of sensing
agitation is as important as the positive indicator of sensing deep-down peace.
When I praydream the option I thought I most wanted, I can be surprised by what I feel and didn’t feel. I felt less energy. On the other hand, I could imagine myself doing some difficult work and even enjoying it, like a crackle of electricity as my soul comes into contact with the presence of the Lord in some pregnant future possibilities. My soul leaps with joy and excitement!
Often, after many hours of prayerful deliberation, there will be a moment when you will just know. It will feel not as though you are making a decision but, rather, as though you are acknowledging a decision that has already been agreed upon by God and your heart.
I’ll recognise this auspicious moment by the way one option over the others leads to praydreams. Maybe those praydreams aren’t idealistic, comfortable or beautiful. But somehow they are realistic and right, more peaceful and charged with energy. These dreams will fit like a glove.
All the other options – though perhaps more beautiful, more comfortable or more
safe – will drift farther from my soul’s watchful eye and will begin to fade into the horizon.
Once we feel that we have reached a point of decision, Ignatius suggests we place
that decision before God and await his confirmation. How will this confirmation come? In the same way that our initial discernment came. It will be through pondering the stirrings of our heart, as we begin to take the first tentative steps toward our new option.
Perhaps the decision will be unpopular or uncomfortable, but deeper down, is there peace? Is your heart charged with God’s energy? If so, then you can move forward with the decision, knowing that you have done all that you could tondiscern God’s desires. You’ve pondered the desires he seems to have placed in your dreams.
Deciding is not an easy task. Discerning God’s will is even more challenging! But St. Ignatius assures us that God has placed his desire deep within the desires of our own heart. Praydreaming allows us to ponder those deep desires and to discover and say yes to God’s grace-filled path for our life.