Saturday, December 01, 2007

Letter to the Tablet: Vocations?

Dear Sir, 

The further news of church closures and parish mergers in the Diocese of Lancaster (The Tablet, 1 December 2007 p42) reflects a familiar narrative  which is often interpreted as almost entirely due to a shortage of priests. However, other reorganisations, widespread handwringing and the even the radical calls by Dutch Dominicans reveal a statistical pattern which my own rather simple reading of the statistical information in successive Diocesan Directories confirms. Numbers of priests have indeed fallen - in the last 20 years here in Birmingham archdiocese by between 5 and 10% - but at the same time mass attendance has almost halved while the number of active church buildings has hardly fallen at all. So statistic after statistic shows that each active priest is saying mass for fewer than 200 people each weekend - yet saying mass two, three or even more times. 

The conclusion normally drawn - that we need more and younger priests - is clearly a false one. The age profile of priests fairly closely reflects that of their congregations. 

What we really need are fewer masses with larger groups of people. We need eucharistic communities which are more realistic, more varied, more vibrant. We need to reduce the number of buildings we use - however painful that may be. We are not really short of priests at all. It is more people that we need. A Church obsessed with vocations, patterns of ministry and leadership is barking up entirely the wrong tree. If only we were to resolutely focus on evangelisation, then vocations would look after themselves. 

Yours sincerely, 

Fr Peter Weatherby
Priest, Sacred Heart, Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Doubt and Darkness

This week was the tenth anniversary of the death of Mother Teresa, or, as we now refer to her in Catholic Church, Blessed Teresa of Kolkata. Within the next ten years, perhaps quite soon, so every commentator seems to think, she is likely to move from the being simply 'Blessed' to being referred to as 'Saint'.

Mother Teresa is perhaps the best known Christian of the 20th Century. Her small stature was contrasted with a forceful personality and determination, an extraordinary self-sacrificial life and a deep and practical compassion for the poor, the destitute and the dying. She made an extraordinary impression upon all who met her – and upon the very very many who did not. Her life was, it seems, a shining beacon of what Christianity is, and how it can be lived, and how the Christian faith can be lived in a life of great holiness and generosity.

It has cause something of a stir then, that this week has also been published a collection of her writings, mainly letters and journal entries, which reveal that for most of her life was afflicted by what she described as a great 'darkness', a deep sense of doubt, a profound sense not of Christ's presence with her, but rather of his absence. This women, who gave her who life for Christ, seems to have doubted in the heart of her being his love, his compassion, his existence. This doubt afflicted her for almost all her life. Could she still be called a saint?

Mother Teresa's 'darkness' reminds me of another Teresa, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, a most popular saint from the beginning of the 20th Century, whose statue, the 'Little Flower' is familiar in almost every Catholic Church. She too kept a diary, a spiritual journal, and it was published, heavily edited, after her death. Much later it was revealed that she too had profound doubts, moments of darkness, when she pondered whether God truly existed. There are other saints and Christians writers too, who have spoken of this great sense of loss, or darkness, or absence. Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, writes about this in his book "Introduction to Christianty", and he makes a very interesting point. The 'darkness' is not a questioning over items of the Christian faith, over this or that part of the Bible, or this or that teaching of the Church. This doubting is not about whether the virgin birth is true, or whether the bread and wine truly becomes the body and blood of Christ. It is much more profound: is God there? Is his love real? Why can't I feel his presence with me all the time?

Mother Teresa, and Saint Thérèse, and many other saints and holy people knew this darkness because they had also experienced the light. They were aware of the absence of God, because they had a very deep sense of God's presence. They could feel the shadows of unbelief, because they had been blinded by the light and warmth of truth.

And they knew that to believe is not to fuss over details, or to quibble over the items in a list, to pick and choose from a menu and perhaps even reject the unpalatable items.

To believe is to be committed and to accept, through thick and thin, through light and darkness. It is conviction, before it is ever understanding, because God's truth is not ideas: God is love.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Use words if necessary

"Preach the Gospel – use words if necessary!" these are words St Francis of Assisi once said to his followers.

This week the schools started a new term.

Who would be a teacher?

I used to be. For six years I taught. When September came, I knew it in the pit of my stomach. The long summer break was over. New classes beckoned, lessons had to be prepared. Suddenly the weather started getting better as I knew that I would have to get up earlier and work late into the evening. Agh!

But then who would be a pupil?

Well, I used to be: for 13 years from infants to sixth form. When September came, I could feel it in the pit of my stomach. The summer holidays were over. Now there would be homework night after night, the constant reminders that exams would soon be upon me, and my Mum knocking on my bedroom door each morning telling me to hurry or I'd miss the bus. Agh!

I'm not a pupil or a teacher any more. It is thirty years since I left school, and six years since I left teaching to become a parish priest. Now September is just another month, Monday just another day.

But just a minute – was it all so bad? Actually, I has a great time at school. Wonderful friendships, many laughs, few of the worries and responsibilities of adult life. And my years at a teacher were at an outstanding school, with great kids and tremendous colleagues. Hard work and responsibility, yes there was that, but also the joy of exam successes, and the rewards of seeing learners learn and I feel that I had a small part of it.

And of course, it is not true that I used to be a pupil, or that I used to be a teacher. I still am. I don't have to turn up at 8.30am every weekday any more, that's true, but I have never stopped learning, and I have never stopped teaching. There is always more to discover, and always more to share.

One of the most amazing things about us human beings is that God made us so dependent on one another. None of us lives for himself or herself only. When we enter this world we are just as dependent as we were in the womb. We need others and others need us. We take many years to learn to speak clearly and fluently, more years to read and write, even more years to learn how to bring up children ourselves. And all this time we influence others, share our knowledge with others, guide and care for others.

We grow. We never stop growing. And we help others to grow. We learn to love and we teach what love is – by example as much as by our words. We preach the Gospel of God's love: even if we don't realise it.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Chanting in the Church Car Park

As I sat in the Presbytery on Friday afternoon I could hear singing - chanting - coming from somewhere. Near the Church. In the Car Park ...

... it proved to be six members of trhe Ethiopean Orthodox Church which meet in our Church each Sunday afternoon. All in their early twenties, thousands of miles from home, singing in the car park of a English Catholic Parish Church in the City Centre of Stoke-on-Trent, a former mining and pottery city, struggling with the many problems of urban life.

How remarkable. How wonderful!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

You Raise me up (Hymn to the Sacred Heart)

When I am down, and O my soul so weary
When troubles come and my heart burdened be
Then I am still and wait here in the silence
Until you come and sit awhile with me.

You raise me up so I can stand on mountains
You raise me up to walk on stormy seas
I am strong when I am on your shoulders
You raise me up: to more than I can be.

There is no life, no life without its hunger;
each restless heart beats so imperfectly;
but when I kneel and gaze on you with wonder,
its then I know eternity's with me.

There is much sadness in the world around me
so many suffer and yearn to be free
your Sacred Heart bleeds for all those who need thee
and looks with mercy on their misery

So many questions longing for an answer
so many prayers are uttered silently
your Sacred Heart will carry all my burdens
as they were borne upon the cross for me

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

I know my handwriting is bad, but ...

... I received this morning a notification from TV Licensing of a Direct Debit Instruction, for Mr S H Hamey, or in full, Mr Sared Heard Hamey - not - as it should have been - Sacred Heart Hanley.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Moto Proprio is published

Benedict XVI's Moto Proprio allowing (in effect) the wider use of the ceremonies of the Roman Rite prior to the Second Vatican Council. You can find it here, in Latin or here, in English.

The Holy Father has also written a letter to the Bishops of the world, which can be read here.

The principal teaching is that there is, indeed, only one Roman Rite. The Missal of Paul VI provides the "ordinary form" of the rite, while the Missal of Blessed John XXIII provides the "extra-ordinary form". The 1962 Missal was never abrogated, so it is a legal rite. All that remains then is for the Church to set down the conditions/circumstances in which the rite may be celebrated.

The Motu Proprio, and the letter to the bishops are - as we might expect from Benedict - models of clear thinking, and set forward undertsandable, rational principals. There is no rolling back of the clock here. The validity of Vatican II, and the supremacy of the rite of Paul VI, are explicitly affirmed.

However, there is likely to be much misleading reporting of the letters and what they entail. Take a look at the first report from the BBC. It confuses 'Latin' with the old mass, and makes several statements which are so simplified as to be misleading.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Something is afoot ...

How smart is your right foot?

Just try this.

This will blow your mind and you will keep trying over and over again to see if you can outsmart your foot, but you can’t. It’s preprogrammed in your brain.

1. While sitting where you are at your desk in front of your computer, lift your right foot off the floor and make clockwise circles.

2. Now, while doing this, draw the number “6″ in the air with you right hand.

Your foot will change direction.

…and there is nothing you can do about it.

(PS. This is a picture of a left foot)

Monday, April 09, 2007

In Lourdes with HCPT

During Easter week I was in Lourdes with HCPT. You can read my mobile blog of the week at .

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Friday, March 30, 2007

Lean times ...

It seems that I had almost become an ex-blogger (and also almost an ex-podder, too). The last few months, well since the end of January at least, have been a difficult time.

Shirley, my wife, had a stroke on January 25th. She is now doing extremely well, but it has been a trying time.

There is something of the story to be found at