Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Vespers for Advent

On Saturday evening a group of us attended Vespers at St Peter's presided over by the Pope. It was a moving event, in which the Pope called us to the great theme of Advent, hope for the Lord's coming, a hope he has just medittated upon in his Encyclical Spe Salvi. I found it moving that the Pope wished to mark the beginning of this great season in person, at St Peter's, near the tomb of him who wrote, "Simply reverence the Lord Christ in your hearts, and always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you all have." (1Peter 3:15)

I was with Fr Martin Edwards of Southwark Archdiocese who took some pictures - one of which I hope will find its way on here as a record of the event.

Many seem to focus on what the Pope was wearing that day and the style of throne on which he sat. It was all very impressive. Yet I was more struck by the Pope's homily where he referred us to the contrast between Christian hope an dhte nihilism of ancient and modern paganism. "Contempoorary nihilism...corrodes hope within man's heart, forcing him to think that within him and around him there reigns nothing: nothing before birth, nothing after death. In reality, if he lacks God, hope becomes less...The not a place where we will end after death, it is instead the reality of God, the fullness of life for which every human being is, so to speak, striving. To this desire of man God has replied in Christ with the gift of hope."

He went on to say: "This is then the surprising discovery: my, our hope is preceded by the desire that God cultivates towards us! Yes, God loves us and exactly because of this He awaits us to turn to Him, to open our heart to His love, to place our hand into His and to remember that we are His children. This desire on God's part always precedes our hope, just as His love reaches us always first of all (cf 1Jn 4:10). In this sense Christian hope is "theologal": God is its source, its support and its end. What a great consolation there is in this mystery! My Creator has placed in my spirit a reflection of His desire of life for all. Every man is called to hope, a hope corresponding to the desire God has for him."

Monday, 26 November 2007

Latin Experienced: Dies Irae

As mentioned before, I am enjoying Latin Experience classes with Fr Reggie Foster. His methodical and enthusiastic way of teaching the language is infectious and I really love the classes. He is also very funny.

Today we were doing various aspects of verb forms. Beforehand we went through our own compositions in Latin. One lady had used the feminine form for DIES which means day; she did this because often the feminine form is used to emphasise a very special day. Fr Reggie grudgingly accepted this though he prefers to use the masculine form, though he admits the feminine form is there in Latin. He referred us to the great hymn for the Day of Judgment, the Dies irae: "Dies irae, dies illa!" Illa indicates that dies is feminine here. Fr Reggie shrugged his shoulders: "Well, I suppose, that's a very special day! You cant get more special than the end of time and Day of Judgment!"

Mass of the Rings

Yesterday, Sunday 25th November, I joined a group of priests from the Casa to help in the didtribution of Holy Communion at the Pope's Mass yesterday. It was the Solemnity of Christ the King - Regis Universorum - and also the Mass at which the Pope gave specially made rings to the newly created Cardinals. It was a wonderful event, the Basilica packed full with people, and crowds spilling out into the Square. The Pope looked very well and he preached upon the reign of Christ from the Cross and how the new rings that he would give out, newly crafted with an image of the crucified Saviour, were a reminder that the Cardinal must be a man willing to give his life for Christ and for the Church which he must love as the Lord has loved it. Christ reigns from the throne of His cross.

Later in the Mass we processed, each with a ciborium of hosts, and stood around that magnificent altar over the tomb of St Peter, buried in a pauper's grave below. We had a close view of the Pope offering the Mass. It was very moving to be so close to the Successor of St Peter in that intimate moment of the confecting of Christ's sacrifice, the making present of the utterly poured out Saviour, Jesus, the Master whom Peter imitated as he went to his own sacrifice in the nearby circus of Nero. Here again Christ reigns in His sacrifice, a reign of that perfection of love, which knows little of the power of the world but know all about the eternity of God from and for whom are all things, through Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit.

And then we moved to give out Holy Communion. Despite a certain air of chaos, I was deeply impressed by the evident devotion in the eyes and on the faces of so many as they reached forward to receive the Lord as their Food of Life. The Lord truly is in His people. Deo gratias.

Below are two priests from the Casa I went with, dressed in cassock, just outside the Blessed Sacrament chapel in St Peter's where we had to gather beforehand: Fr Pat Beidelman and Fr Larry Kozak:

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Back away

We had a pleasant couple of days in sunny Positano. We are very blessed to have the opportunity to have such trips. On the way back we agreed to see if we could pop in to Monte Cassino, that great Mother House of Benedictines. It's an impressive sight, set high above a range of hills that sweep southwards from Rome.

The Monastery was destroyed by allied bombers during the Second World War. The allies claimed that the Monastery itself was used by the Germans as a store for weapons and that the Germans were stationed in rather than around the monastery. The monks strenuously deny this. I remember going there as a young 19 year old seminarian with friends and seeing the old Abbot, he who had been present during the War, still alive, though very, very old. The stay we had at that time was in mid-February (1987!) and it was extremely cold.

This time the weather was sunny and relatively warm. There were beautiful views all around.

I had remembered the inside of the church there. The tour guides decry it as nothing like the old Monastery. The Monastery was rebuilt after the war, with the help of Allied funds, and rebuilt exactly as it had been. It is evidently, nevertheless, a replica. Yet the tour guides are mistaken as to the church. It is a wondrous place, with beautiful frescoes by the "neo-Renaissance" school painter Pietro Annigoni, a deeply religious man, who took five years to complete the dome at the Monastery. He had returned to painting religious pictures after a career of painting famous people. He said: "I get a little bored with human vanity. I honestly prefer these old saints of mine." In 1979 he completed the The Glory of St. Benedict or The Benedictine Paradise, featuring St Benedict surrounded by monks, bishops, nuns who lived in holiness by following his Rule: in the foreground Pope Paul VI can be seen, who was still alive while the painting was being done, though dead by its completion:

The views from the Monastery are breathtaking. I remember the sunsets when I stayed there previously and this time as well we were blessed to see another such sunset, with all its unique colour and display.

The statue of St Benedict being supported by his brother monks stands in one of the courtyards. Its energy, tautness and sheer desire for God - they say more than I can say:

Being away

I meant to write a bit more about the time I had away. As ever, study and time are not necessarily great friends and so there is not much opportunity to fill this blog with news.

Suffice it to say, I went with the three friends from Palazzola to Sorrento, south of Naples and its volcano of Vesuvius, a view of which you can see below, a picture I took at Sorrento.

It was good to get away and to see this volcano from a distance, which previously I had seen from the city of Naples, which lies at its base. It's a beautiful part of the world and we were very blessed to have good weather.

From there we drove on to Positano, a beautiful, classy drive, with me at the wheel, though this was not what made it classy. It's a town built on the slope towards the sea, with street and houses perched on strata of rock and overlooking a stunning view. We stayed for two nights at a cheap hotel and there we spent time reading, praying and relaxing, and even entering further depths of Latin. The view of the hotel can be seen as below:

On one evening we went to listen to a concert and after that we made our way along darkened streets to the cemetery outside the town to pray for the dead, on the memorial of the Holy Souls. Italians light up their cemeteries and value the places of the dead. Below is a view at night of the place visited:

Tuesday, 6 November 2007


I got away last week for a few days with 3 priests from the Casa. I had not had much time off or away since I came here on 8th September. Doctorate work here can be a strange experience: it's easy to become so focused on the study as to lose perspective on other things, things which are just as important in the long run. One of these priests invited me away so we headed off.

Below is a picture of the library: my place in it where I work is where the lamp is placed on the desk at the far end:

Below is a picture where we went to first of all - the beautiful English College Villa called Palazzola, on lake Albano. The picture shows Castel Gandolfo, the town with the Pope's summer residence:

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

On yer bike

A new experience in the City is cycling. I have been lent, I hope on a fairly permanent basis, a bike from a friend here which I use to pedal from place to place. There are one or two peculiarities that pertain to Rome:
1) There is a lot of traffic, many say. Well the amount of traffic is not so bad really but there is a great deal of it at certain times. Therefore the nervous cyclist must plan as to when are the better times to travel? A. Has he/she recently given up smoking? If so, driving in Roman traffic may return one to the habit, since the inhaling of fumes seems to be part of the course. B. On the other hand, if he/she is a smoker, cycling in the city may give a different experience of inhaling smoke, and so an addiction may quickly develop to driving through the City. C.Finally, a cyclist who is a smoker may discover that the very inhalation of a new form of smoke may encourage him to give up the habit - but you may end up with A..
2) There is a lot of crazy traffic, many say. There is more crazy traffic than a lot of traffic. Driving in Rome involves inhabiting spaces as a means of pushing forward: therefore a degree of daring and willingness to 'slip through' is rapidly developed by drivers, motorino riders and, amazingly, cyclists - and more amazingly, bus drivers. Here one must drive with WIT - Wrought Intelligent Thought - wrought, because only the experience of such formula 0 driving would cause such thinking; thought, because one must think a journey through and be aware of time factors in the time of journey commencement; and intelligent, because one must calculate, be aware, estimate, predict and risk. Ah risk. Well, that's where prayer to the Guardian Angels (we priest are meant to have two - and do we need them!) come to our aid and are the object of much intense invocation.
3) There are a lot of red lights in the City - but for most cyclists they can mean green when red...
and that goes for motorino riders too....and drivers...indeed, the population.
4) There is a lot to see in the City. When you cycle, look around. See the sights. See ancient Rome. See the colour and the beauty. But remember WIT.
5) Lock your bike. Many bikes get stolen. So lock it. I have inherited a colossal lock, a mighty chain to wind around the bike, with a clanking lock that makes me feel more turnkey than cyclist. It does the job. It scares them away.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Memorial of the great St Ignatius of Antioch

This evening I went to the Venerable English College on the Via Monserrato for Mass and supper. I was invited by the new member of staff who was my year of ordination, Fr Tony Milner. During the day I had continue to plod on with my reading of St Hilary's commentary on the psalms, all of which is inspiring and very fruitful. I do my work in the library of the Casa: most of the morning, then afternoon, and tonight I felt I could continue for an hour or so after I returned from the English College.

The English College was, of course, where I studied for the priesthood, from 1986 until 1993. it has changed in many ways - and yet remained the same: as is true for all of Rome! I was very impressed by the quality of the homily at this evening's Mass, celebrated on the memorial of St Ignatius of Antioch, martyred here in Rome at the Colosseum in 107 AD: the Deacon summed up beautifully the essential doctrine of Ignatius - his presentation of the unity of the mystery of the Church, the mystery of Christ and the mystery of the Eucharist all as one mystery uniting man and God. Ignatius was a remarkable man, aflame with desire for God, a flame inspired by the Spirit living within him, which burned away all worldliness and desire for earthly gain. As he himself says in today's Office of readings from his letter to the Romans:

Earthly longings have been crucified; in me there is left no spark of desire for mundane things, but only a murmur of living water that whispers within me, 'Come to the Father.'

The Latin is beautiful and redolent for those acquainted with the Bridgettines:

Amor meus crucifixus est, nec est in me ignis materiae amans; sed vivens et loquens aqua in me est, mihi interius dicens: 'Veni ad Patrem.'

The relics of St Ignatius are now reserved under the main altar of that beautiful church not far from the Colosseum - St Clement's: a marvellous three-fold descent into the Rome of Clement, involving an encounter with the cult of Mithras, with Clement himself and also Ss Cyril and Methodius from a later time, and others besides.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Latin today

Today I attended the introductory class of legendary Latin professor, Fr Reggie Foster. His passion for Latin and his equal passion for detractors of Latin and for non-enthusiasts make for a good afternoon. His unique system for teaching Latin is through his graded experiences. I have already done one experience, the first: I hope to move on now to third and fourth experience. It will be a lot of work but it will aid me in reading Hilary: the question is time but I think that the time devoted to this will pay off in the long run with Hilary. Reggie is a remarkable man - probably speaking Latin better than he does English - and that's meant as a compliment!

Here's what an article by Tom Heinen on says:

He is the pope's senior Latinist, a gifted and demanding linguist who did the lion's share of the translation when Pope Benedict XVI followed tradition and delivered the first formal speech as pontiff in Latin to the cardinals on the morning after being elected.
Known as Father Reggie to some friends and students, he also is an internationally renowned Latin teacher and a fluent speaker of complex, Ciceronian Latin, not to mention a world-class curmudgeon and quirky critic of the temporal and spiritual universes around him. His sometimes intemperate outbursts of personal opinions apparently are offset by an expertise that has enabled him to survive and to serve four popes over 36 years.
This is how Foster reacted when Karol Wojtyla began signing papal documents in Latin as "Joannes Paulus II" instead of "Ioannes Paulus II" after being elected pope 26 years ago. He quickly pointed out to a papal adviser that there is no letter "J" in Latin.
"I said, 'By the way, friend, there's no J,' " Foster recalled. "And the answer kind of came back that the pope said, 'Well, now there is.' Well, fine, fine. He's the boss. And if you look at his tomb, the J is gone. One of my brethren said, 'Well he enjoyed his J for 26 years, and now it's gone.' His tombstone has 'I.' "

Some lines from his classes:

"One letter in Latin will kill you."

"After you've learned everything about Latin, you still have to think."

"Latin will kill you... if you're not smart."

"Every Latin sentence has a trap."

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Pope Benedict and Hilary (not Clinton)

Pope Benedict's words on St Hilary:

On Hilary of Poitiers
"God Only Knows How to Be Love"VATICAN CITY, OCT. 10, 2007

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today I would like to speak about a great Father of the Western Church, St. Hilary of Poitiers, one of the great bishops of the 4th century. Confronted with the Arians, who considered the Son of God a creature, albeit an excellent one, Hilary dedicated his life to the defense of faith in the divinity of Jesus Christ, Son of God, and God as the Father, who generated him from all eternity.
We do not have definitive data about most of Hilary's life. Ancient sources say that he was born in Poitiers, probably around the year 310. From a well-to-do family, he received a good literary education, which is clearly evident in his writings. It does not seem that he was raised in a Christian environment. He himself tells us about a journey of searching for the truth, which little by little led him to the recognition of God the creator and of the incarnate God, who died to give us eternal life. He was baptized around 345, and elected bishop of Poitiers around 353-354.
In the years that followed, Hilary wrote his first work, the "Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew." It is the oldest surviving commentary in Latin that we have on this Gospel. In 356, Hilary, as bishop, attended the Synod of Beziers in southern France, which he called the "Synod of the False Apostles," given that the assembly was dominated by bishops who were followers of Arianism, and thus negated the divinity of Jesus Christ. These "false apostles" asked Emperor Constantine to condemn to exile the bishop of Poitiers. So Hilary was forced to leave Gaul during the summer of 356.
Exiled to Phrygia, in present-day Turkey, Hilary found himself in contact with a religious environment totally dominated by Arianism. There, too, his pastoral solicitude led him to work tirelessly for the re-establishment of the Church’s unity, based on the correct faith, as formulated by the Council of Nicea. To this end, he began writing his most important and most famous dogmatic work: "De Trinitate" (On the Trinity).
In it, Hilary talks about his own personal journey toward knowing God, and he is intent on showing that Scriptures clearly attest to the Son's divinity and his equality with the Father, not only in the New Testament, but also in many pages of the Old Testament, in which the mystery of Christ is already presented. Faced with the Arians, he insists on the truth of the names of the Father and the Son and develops his entire Trinitarian theology departing from the formula of baptism given to us by the Lord himself: "In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit."
The Father and the Son are of the same nature. And if some passages of the New Testament could lead one to think that the Son is inferior to the Father, Hilary offers precise rules to avoid misleading interpretations: Some passages in Scripture speak about Jesus as God, others emphasize his humanity. Some refer to him in his pre-existence with the Father; others take into consideration his self lowering ("kenosis"), his lowering himself unto death; and lastly, others contemplate him in the glory of the resurrection.
During the years of his exile, Hilary also wrote the "Book of the Synod," in which, for his brother bishops of Gaul, he reproduces and comments on the confessions of faith and other documents of the synods which met in the East around the middle of the 4th century. Always firm in his opposition to radical Arians, St. Hilary showed a conciliatory spirit with those who accepted that the Son was similar to the Father in essence, naturally trying to lead them toward the fullness of faith, which says that there is not only a similarity, but a true equality of the Father and the Son in their divinity.
This also seems characteristic: His conciliatory spirit tries to understand those who still have not yet arrived to the fullness of the truth and helps them, with great theological intelligence, to reach the fullness of faith in the true divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In 360 or 361, Hilary was finally able to return from exile to his homeland and immediately resumed the pastoral work in his Church, but the influence of his teaching extended, in fact, well beyond its borders. A synod celebrated in Paris in 360 or 361 took up again the language used by the Council of Nicea. Some ancient authors think that this anti-Arian development of the bishops of Gaul was due, in large part, to the strength and meekness of the bishop of Poitiers.
This was precisely his gift: uniting strength of faith and meekness in interpersonal relationships. During the last years of his life, he wrote "Treatises on the Psalms," a commentary on 58 psalms, interpreted according to the principle highlighted in the introduction to the work: "There is no doubt that all the things said in the Psalms must be understood according to the Gospel proclamation, so that, independently of the voice with which the prophetic spirit has spoken, everything refers to the knowledge of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, incarnation, passion and kingdom, and the glory and power of our resurrection” ("Instructio Psalmorum," 5).
In all of the Psalms, he sees this transparency of Christ's mystery and of his body, which is the Church. On various occasions, Hilary met with St. Martin: The future bishop of Tours founded a monastery near Poitiers, which still exists today. Hilary died in 367. His feast day is celebrated on Jan. 13. In 1851, Blessed Pius IX proclaimed him a doctor of the Church.
To summarize the essential aspects of his doctrine, I would like to say that the starting point for Hilary's theological reflection is the baptismal faith. In "De Trinitate," he writes: Jesus "commanded to baptize in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit (cf. Matthew 28:19), that is to say, confessing the Author, the Only Begotten One and the Gift. One alone is the author of all things, because there is only one God the Father, from whom all things proceed. And one alone is our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom all things were made (1 Corinthians 8:6), and one alone is the Spirit (Ephesians 4:4), gift in everything. … Nothing can be found lacking in a plenitude that is so grand, in which converges in the Father, and in the Son, and in the Holy Spirit, the immensity of the Eternal, the revelation in the Image, the joy in the Gift" ("De Trinitate" 2:1).
God the Father, being all love, is able to communicate the fullness of his divinity to the Son. I find this phrase of St. Hilary to be particularly beautiful: "God only knows how to be love, only knows how to be Father. And he who loves is not envious, and whoever is Father, is so totally. This name does not allow for compromise, as if to say that God is father only in certain aspects and not in others” (ibid. 9:61).
For this reason, the Son is fully God without lacking anything or having any lessening: "He who comes from the perfect is perfect, because he who has everything, has given him everything" (ibid. 2:8). Only in Christ, Son of God and Son of Man, does humanity find salvation. Taking on human nature, he united every man to himself, "he became our flesh" ("Tractatus in Psalmos" 54:9); "he took on the nature of all flesh, thus becoming the true vine, the root of all branches" (ibid. 51:16).
Precisely because of this motive, the path to Christ is open to all -- because he drew everyone into his humanity -- even though personal conversion is always required: "Through the relationship with his flesh, access to Christ is open to everyone, provided that they leave aside the old man (cf. Ephesians 4:22) and nail him to his cross (cf. Colossians 2:14); provided they abandon their former works and are converted, in order to be buried with him in baptism, in view of life (cf. Colossians 1:12; Romans 6:4)" (ibid. 91:9).
Faithfulness to God is a gift of his grace. Therefore St. Hilary asks, at the end of his treatise on the Trinity, to be able to remain faithful to the faith of baptism. One of the characteristics of this book is this: Reflection is transformed into prayer and prayer leads to reflection. The entire book is a dialogue with God.
I would like to end today's catechesis with one of these prayers, that also becomes our prayer: "Grant, O Lord," Hilary prays in a moment of inspiration, "that I may remain faithful to that which I professed in the symbol of my regeneration, when I was baptized in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. That I may adore you, our Father, and together with you, your Son; that I may be worthy of your Holy Spirit, who proceeds from you through your only Son. … Amen” ("De Trinitate" 12:57).

"Happy Sunday!"

So I was wished by one of the resident priests here at the Casa. We have just celebrated Mass together: all is arranged calmly, efficiently and prayerfully. There are liturgists, yes, but they form that rare breed who like to read and use the rubrics of the Missal. I have been asked to be one of the assistant Masters of Ceremonies, given my experience in the role as Bishop's Chaplain, which I am very happy to do.

The House itself used to be a Dominican convent. The chapel is beautiful, clean and a place of real devotion. Later today we will have Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament there with Vespers and Benediction. All in all, it's a good place in which to experience and live Priesthood.

Saturday, 13 October 2007

Trip to the Forum

Lastly, I took some time off my reading this morning to visit some of the Forum with Northampton Seminarian, Michael Patey. It is a sunny day here and we had a good time looking at the various relics of Rome's great past. Here is the Forum from this morning:

St Hilary of Poitiers

The picture in the title above depicts the ordination of St Hilary. He became a Catholic around 345 AD when he was baptised: he had grown up in a seemingly well-to-do family, having been born about 310, and had benefitted from a good education. Around 353-354 he was elected and ordained Bishop of Poitiers. His great learning quickly catapaulted him into the heart of the great Arian crisis in the West. He used his powerful intellect to articulate a clear doctrine of the Trinity, defending the true Divinity of Christ and also Christ's humanity, and he did so in a very original and tightly argued form. He wrote a number of works. In this he was also influenced by the theology of the Church in the East: he spent about 4 or 5 years in the East after being exiled to Phrygia by the then Arian Emperor Constans at the instigation of a group of heretical bishops. Even in the East he showed his characteristic courage in defending the Faith, so much so that he was allowed to return to the West - which sounds as if the Arians in the East could no longer cope with him. Back in the West he continued to preach the Faith, helping to reconcile heretical groups through his gentle and persuasive presentation of the Creed. Hilary finally died around 367, leaving a valuable corpus of works, much of which has influenced theology and liturgy in the West in numerous ways. He died after having a more peaceful period in which to reflect upon the Scriptures and he was the first Father of the West to develop a commentary on the Psalms.

Pope Benedict quoted a beautiful passage from St Hilary's writings last Wednesday: "God only knows how to be love, only knows how to be Father. And he who loves is not envious, and whoever is Father, is so totally. This name does not allow for compromise, as if to say that God is father only in certain aspects and not in others” (De Trinitate 9:61).

There is so much in Hilary which is incisive and yet beautiful, full of strength of Faith and humility before the Truth which is Christ.

I was very fortunate to visit Poitiers and you can still see there the earliest surviving baptistery in France. It was Hilary who ordered it to be built around 360. It has a nearly-full immersion font inside. Here is a picture of the baptistery...

and the font....

Sadly the Cathedral in Poitiers doesn't seem to give much honour to the first known Bishop of Poitiers. His relics are stuck in a corner by the altar of St Lawrence.


So, I have finally given in to Blogworld. I am afraid that this won’t be much of a blog; more of a blag really. But it will give me the opportunity to record some of what I am doing while here in Rome. It won’t be a diary, and I wouldn’t want to unleash upon the world my spiritual diary. It is what it is.

As for ‘Hilariter’: well, if you don’t know already, I am studying the works of St Hilary of Poitiers for a doctorate. The Holy Father gave his Wednesday audience this past week on the life and works of this great Bishop and Doctor of the Church: so if you want to know more about Hilarius, then read what Pope Benedict had to say. As ever, the fourth and fifth centuries of the Church are of direct importance for today’s Church – Arianism and Pelagianism are never too far away.

Having spent nearly 6 years at Bishop’s House in Northampton (November 2001 to August 2007), I have moved to the Casa Santa Maria, run by the North American College, here in Rome to pursue these studies. As you can see I have downsized somewhat! But it’s a good place and I am enjoying getting into the library each day to read and study and try to find some inspiration. The College or Casa is on the Via dell’Umiltà near the Trevi Fountain, and the Church is dedicated to Our Lady of Humility: I think Someone is trying to tell me something.

Bishop's House, Northampton....

My room now...