Tag Archives: singing

More about celebrating Fr Tom

I went back to the University of Kent last Sunday to celebrate a requiem for Fr Tom with the students. There was a good attendance and we sang ‘Amazing Grace’ – one of Tom’s favourites.

I announced the details of the funeral Mass and I think some students will attend. Unfortunately I am committed to celebrating at Southwark Cathedral that morning.

I will, though, be present for The Reception the previous night.

Fr Peter Geldard, University of Kent Catholic Chaplain, 1996-2018

Today’s extract from the Wisdom of Fr Tom is from two years ago in Advent. The previous day’s posting had been about arrangements for Advent and Christmas in Local Anglican parishes, where, when and how to hear the Word – and of course, the carols, which were recorded elsewhere before lockdown. Lord that I may see!

Tree of Life window, former Franciscan International Study Centre, Canterbury, which was also the meeting place for Kent University Catholic Chaplaincy.

Yesterday was about hearing, today we are seeing hopefully. Or should I say seeing, hopefully. I’m not talking about taking note of the raindrops and kittens that we see, but about the sense of sight.

I’ve been blessed lately with two cataract operations, and sight is suddenly not to be taken for granted. Suddenly, all is Technicolor, or as my friend Winfried would have argued, Agfacolor. He favoured the German films and prints; we disagreed about the red end of the spectrum.

Seeing hopefully: this new lease of life for my eyes inspires hope. Not quite Mine eyes have seen the coming of the glory of the Lord, but a promise that if human co-operation with creation through science can enlighten my little world, there may be better things to come.

Winfried told me that the German for a cataract in the eye translates as grey star; not a star you would want to follow.

So, I told Fr Tom Herbst (TJH in Agnellus’ Mirror) as well, soon after the first op when one eye was still under the grey star.  ‘I imagine’, he said, ‘you can well relate to the ecstasy felt by the blind folks healed by Jesus!!!’

I didn’t need him to point that out, but I was glad he did. I offered this progress report: ‘Till the second eye is done it’s a mixture of ecstasy and ‘I see trees walking’. (Mark 8:24) I hope by next week the eyes will be co-ordinating freely and I’ll recognise more people!’

Tom replied, ‘Good luck with the op. As marvellous as it might be to see trees walking (other than Ents, of course, which are not technically trees), it seems recognition might be the better choice!’

Pray that we may recognise the star we are called to follow this Advent and Christmas. It may all be a little different this year!

MMB, TJH, WOH.

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14 October: A Happy Man

Here Bishop Erik Varden is discussing Humility Follow the link for his whole piece.

I wanted to share this section of it after yesterday’s visit to Korea and the ladies with Down’s syndrome who attended Mass by down-streaming. They still expressed their faith and devotion, most eloquently at Communion time.

What is a Down’s person worth in your view?

Some years ago I had the privilege of singing in a production of Handel’s Messiah. An alto in the choir had a son with Down’s, called Felix. Felix came to every rehearsal. Standing behind the conductor, he co-conducted vigorously. When the music was sad, he wept. When it was joyful, he was radiant. After the performance, he gave a noble speech to the choir, whom he addressed as his friends. I dare say each of us thereby felt ennobled.

I got to know Felix only slightly. Still I can say: he impressed me, taught me important lessons. The thought of Felix (whose name means ‘happy’) gives me joy. There are countries now, in the Western world, that no longer register any births of children with Down’s. This is presented as scientific progress. The Felixes of this world are unwanted, deemed encumbrances. Euthanasia, likewise, is spreading from country to country, advertised as a human right. Yet wherever euthanasia is available as choice, involuntary euthanasia is soon being practised. Underneath a surface of what can seem like impenetrable bureaucratic discourse, an existential combat is taking place.

Faced with such sinister developments, we have work to do. The pursuit of humility is not just a matter of devotion; it is about upholding the dignity of all human life, recognising ourselves among the weak and outcast, standing up for table fellowship. To be humble on these terms is not to be meek and mild; it requires courage, strength, and perseverance in the face of hostile opposition. We are to rise to this summons, strengthened by the food of immortality. May we not be found unworthy of Christ’s example and sacrifice.

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11 October, Little Flowers XCVIII: sing as you die.

Once again the friars are at a loss what to make of Francis in the face of his suffering and imminent death. Not everyone sings songs of praise on their deathbed, but we might if we were assured of eternal life within a few days. Firstly, a few words about another witness to the stigmata; we will meet Madonna Jacopa again later.

Madonna Jacopa di Settensoli of Rome, who was the greatest lady of her time in Rome and was most devoted to Saint Francis, saw them before he died, and, after his death, saw and kissed them many times with great reverence; for she came from Rome to Assisi, by Divine revelation, to the death-bed of Saint Francis; and her coming was after this manner. 

For some days before his death, Saint Francis lay sick at Assisi in the palace of the Bishop, with some of his companions; and, notwithstanding his sickness, he often sang certain lauds of Christ. One day, one of his companions said unto him: “Father, thou knowest that these citizens have great faith in thee, and hold thee for a saintly man, and therefore they may think that, if thou art that which that they believe thee to be, thou shouldest, in this thine infirmity, think upon thy death, and rather weep than sing, in that thou art so exceeding sick; and know that thy singing and ours, which thou makest us to sing, is heard of many, both within and without the palace; for this palace is guarded on thy account by many armed men, who perchance may take bad ensample therefrom. Wherefore I believe (said this friar) that thou wouldest do well to depart hence, and that we should all of us return to Santa Maria degli Angeli; for this is no place for us, among seculars.” 

Saint Francis answered him: “Dearest friar, thou knowest that two years ago, when we abode at Foligno, God revealed unto thee the term of my life; and in like manner also He revealed unto me that, a few days hence, the said term shall end, in this sickness; and in that revelation God made me certain of the remission of all my sins, and of the bliss of paradise. 

“Until I had that revelation I bewailed death and my sins; but, since I have had that revelation, I am so full of gladness that I can weep no more; and therefore do I sing, yea, and will sing unto God, who hath given me the blessing of His grace and hath made me sure of the blessings of the glory of paradise. As touching our departure hence, I consent thereunto and it pleaseth me; but do ye find means to carry me, because, by reason of mine infirmity, I cannot walk.” 

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4 July: Hope.

July 4 creeps in as fast as any other day of the year. What can an Englishman say about it and not appear ignorant or patronising?

I’ve been saving this poem by America’s Emily Dickinson for a suitable occasion. Perhaps we need hope on both sides of the Atlantic? It can be ours, if we listen for the tune without words; too many hasty, unreflective words have been spoken of late, threatening unity rather than building it up. Let us pray for unity as we listen to the Spirit within.

Hope is the thing with feathers 
That perches in the soul, 
And sings the tune without the words, 
And never stops at all, 

And sweetest in the gale is heard; 
And sore must be the storm 
That could abash the little bird 
That kept so many warm. 

I 've heard it in the chillest land, 
And on the strangest sea; 
Yet, never, in extremity, 
It asked a crumb of me.

From “Poems by Emily Dickinson, Series Two”.

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29 April: The deaths of Gerontius and others

Passion flowers speak of the resurrection

A little while ago on BBC Radio the composer, Sir James MacMillan, was discussing Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius, based on Saint John Henry Newman’s poem. In his exploration of the oratorio he recalled his experiences as a young altar server, experiences I could share. Gerontius, he said, lays out the Catholic attitude to death and the world to come in ‘most beautiful music’.

He and I, in Scotland and England, served at funerals where there were many mourners, and in a few cases where there were one or two, even none; so many of our fellow Catholics then had left home and family to come to the United Kingdom. (Thank God for today’s regular parish midday Mass in Canterbury, where there is always a good-sized congregation to support the bereaved!)

Most of the people Sir James and I helped to bury would have been hurt by the Second World War, and knew suffering and death intimately. Loss of faith and friends, great sorrow, compounded in this new bereavement. The First World War had undermined Elgar’s faith, said MacMillan, yet he still composed this searingly beautiful music, giving form to the feelings of mourners.

Children had been more aware of death, even in the 1950s and 1960s. I can see myself, holding the processional cross beside an open grave, as a red-headed Irishman, tears streaming down his face, laid to rest the tiny coffin of his twin babies.

It’s no use saying I should have been protected, prevented from witnessing that. I disagree: I am sure Fr MacDermott was wise to ask me to serve, to represent the Church, the body of the second Adam, the Crucified whose image I was carrying. Far rather having to cope with that intimate vision than the callous slaughter of the innocent of Ukraine.

The hymn ‘Praise to the Holiest in the height’ is taken from the Dream of Gerontius; the oratorio can be found on Youtube.

1 Praise to the Holiest in the height,
and in the depth be praise:
in all his words most wonderful,
most sure in all his ways.

2 O loving wisdom of our God!
When all was sin and shame,
a second Adam to the fight
and to the rescue came.

3 O wisest love! that flesh and blood,
which did in Adam fail,
should strive afresh against the foe,
should strive and should prevail;

4 And that a higher gift than grace
should flesh and blood refine,
God’s presence and his very self,
and essence all-divine.

5 O generous love! that he, who smote
in Man for man the foe,
the double agony in Man
for man should undergo;

6 And in the garden secretly,
and on the cross on high,
should teach his brethren, and inspire
to suffer and to die.

7 Praise to the Holiest in the height,
and in the depth be praise:
in all his words most wonderful,
most sure in all his ways.

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Good Friday gifts

The solemnity of today will be overwhelmed by the joy of Easter, but there were tokens of the coming feast for those with eyes to see.

Before the sun was properly up I was looking into the back garden. What was that hunched figure inspecting the flowerpots? A hedgehog woken from hibernation and going about its business, ridding us of a few pests. That was enough to mark the day.

After the prayerful L’Arche Good Friday service some of us found our way to the Glebe garden, where a shrine had been built of willow wands. If this was intended to be a place of quiet reflection it soon became a meeting place for people who had barely seen each other during covid; another hint of the resurrection to come.

Flitting across the garden was a brimstone butterfly, a caterpillar died but transformed into a creature of beauty no less wondrous for being totally expected.

Then to my task of adorning the church porch. The Easter garden needed the finishing touches, Mary’s jar of ointment and the grave cloths hidden behind the door (a scallop shell to be rolled to one side). What concerned me was the Easter lilies. We had some in flower the last two years, but it had been touch and go this time. Since today was warm, the first flowers were unfurling to be bright and white on Easter Day.

In the evening down to the Cathedral to hear Faure’s Requiem, with its upbeat finish: May the Angels welcome you to Paradise, may the martyrs meet you and lead you to the Holy City of Jerusalem.

Walking home from the Cathedral in the glowing dusk, under the Easter full moon, three blackbirds, singing their hearts out, serenading the new life hatched in their nests. They will be busy tomorrow, as no doubt will I, but by these tokens and by other sure evidence I know that my redeemer liveth.

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3 March: THE FIRST SPRING DAY

Snowdrops at Fletcher Moss Park, Didsbury, Manchester

THE FIRST SPRING DAY

I wonder if the sap is stirring yet,
If wintry birds are dreaming of a mate,
If frozen snowdrops feel as yet the sun
And crocus fires are kindling one by one:
    Sing, robin, sing;
I still am sore in doubt concerning Spring.


 I wonder if the springtide of this year
Will bring another Spring both lost and dear;
If heart and spirit will find out their Spring,
Or if the world alone will bud and sing:
    Sing, hope, to me;
Sweet notes, my hope, soft notes for memory.

.
 The sap will surely quicken soon or late,
The tardiest bird will twitter to a mate;
So Spring must dawn again with warmth and bloom,
Or in this world, or in the world to come:
    Sing, voice of Spring,
Till I too blossom and rejoice and sing.

Christina Rossetti

It feels here like Christina Rossetti never got out of doors, which was sometimes the case as she often was in poor health. The last verse reads like, ‘Pull yourself together, girl!’ She doesn’t much feel like rejoicing, but all the same is listening out for the voice of Spring, the sound of her Creator at work.

However miserable we may feel, let us pray this Lent that we may hear the voice of spring, ready to bloom in this world AND the world to come.

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Sing for your synod!

General Secretariat for the Synod of Bishops
www.synod.va – media@synod.va
#newsletter n.05 – 02/2022 – Available also in FR – PT – ES – ITIt’s great to see you here again! Our newsletter is more musical than usual. Because if singing is praying twice, this week we went in search of songs and hymns written to enliven the synodical process. What joy and creativity we found! Let’s listen.

Singing Synodality

With her song “Poetas Sociales” the Catholic singer-songwriter Majo Febe, a student of Theology at the Theological Institute of Murcia (Spain), began the publication of a series of songs about synodality.
Listen to her here

“Listen, let us listen” is the title of the hymn that the Antilles Bishops’ Conference shares with us through the website it developed specifically to encourage the synodal journey we are on. The authors are from the Diocese of St. George’s, Grenada.
Let’s listen to them…

The Diocese of Ipiales recorded a song for the synodical journey with musical groups from Colombia to attract young people who do not participate in the life of the Church.
 Listen to the hymn here 

The Synod in the World
The Loyola University of Chicago is inviting the university students of the Americas to participate in a synodal encounter with Pope Francis. The name of the online event on February 24 comes with a challenge: “Building Bridges North-South“.
 For more information…

In the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, a participatory synod process is taking place through the pastoral action of the Salesian community, the Missionary Sisters of Charles de Foucauld, and the Jesuit Refugee Service. Take a look at their Lumko Method and read some testimonies.
To know more…

The largest parish in the Catholic Archdiocese of Karachi, in the financial center of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, is preparing for a new synod meeting Feb. 24.

Read more… 



Pray for the Synod
In order to support the synodal journey and ask for the Spirit’s assistance, together with the World Network of Prayers of the Pope and UISG, we have set up a website in 5 languages: Church on the Way. Pray for the Synod. You too can send your prayer. See how to do it… 


We need You !
In the near future, we would like to focus on the priests and their contribution in this synodal journey. Share with us the experiences of priests who have allowed themselves to be transformed by listening and who sit with the people of God on the journey of discerning God’s will for the Church.
Copyright  2022 General Secretariat for the Synod of Bishops, All rights reserved.

Our mailing address is:
General Secretariat for the Synod of Bishops
Via della Conciliazione, 34
Vatican City 00120
Vatican City State (Holy See)

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 8 January: It’s behind you!?


Eddie from the Irish Chaplaincy sees us into the New Year. I have to admit that we did not make it to the book launch here in Canterbury, but a copy turned up in my stocking and Mrs T and I are enjoying dipping into it. We reviewed the book earlier. You can find it on line or through local bookshops. Meanwhile, where are my keys? (later: in the very deep pocket of my new coat!)

All yours, Eddie, and thank you.

I don’t know if it’s just me but I seem to spend large chunks of my life looking for things, big and small, and oftentimes searching in completely the wrong places.

How much time and energy and frustration there is bound up with this endless quest: for missing objects (that, when finally located, I realise I maybe don’t even need!); or for contentment or recognition or success or intimacy or whatever.

How many prayers are said in supplication to St Anthony, who, it has to be said, rarely if ever lets me down.

I suspect it’s not just me, and I’ve noticed the ever-increasing use in the media of the acronym FOMO (fear of missing out).

So many people doing so much searching; and, so often, looking in the wrong place. Sometimes we completely miss what might be right in front of us; or, as in the pantomimes, what’s right behind us!

As another Christmas comes and goes I find reassurance in the incongruity of God being revealed where few were expecting it. Many were waiting for a mighty king to come and bring liberation from an occupying force. Who, then, would have been searching for the messiah in Bethlehem, a back-water town on the edge of the Roman empire? And who would have suspected it would have had anything to do with an unmarried couple who were far from home and soon to become refugees? And in a stable? Surely not there! And what of those who did know where to look?

Shepherds, who were often rough hired hands, and who were outcasts in their community because having to be out at all hours meant they were unable to observe all of the rituals of the Jewish faith and who may well have been a bit tipsy due to having a little tot or two to shield them from the cold night. Then three mysterious characters who had followed a star and who turned up with the most unusual, but most fitting gifts.

I’d been invited on January 2nd, on which the feast of the Epiphany was being celebrated, to give a presentation of my book at St Paul’s church in Camden following Mass and a shared meal. It was a motley group of people gathered there which included a couple of regulars from the Irish Centre. The church itself is a rather run down and sorry looking 60s style building, albeit with a lovely, prayerful chapel at one end, but the interior had been transformed for the banquet to come. It is situated at the opposite end of Camden Square to the Centre and I began my talk by explaining how I’d discovered it on my very first day at the Irish Chaplaincy. I was feeling totally overwhelmed after the first morning and went out and strolled in the square and saw a poster advertising a half hour of silent prayer in the chapel every Thursday lunchtime and I knew that all would be well. I went to the prayer in that first week and almost every subsequent week for the next three years, until Covid put a stop to it, and it was an anchor in my week.

There was a good crowd there on the 2nd but although it seemed that the presentation went well I sold hardly any books; which is what I thought I’d gone there for. I was bitterly disappointed. Getting rained on when walking back to the station didn’t help my mood, nor my arm getting sore from carrying my guitar (and the still almost full box of books)! Then early the following morning I saw an email from Judy who organises the silent prayer at St Pauls, and I will treasure her kind words to me:

“We are such a diverse group of people, but everybody was spellbound. The things you say and the way you say them really do affirm human kindness (and God’s kindness to us) and encourage people to notice the life that goes on between them and among them that’s too deep for words. I don’t know how your sales went, but you made a whole lot of people very happy. I hope your journeys from and back to Canterbury went well and that you didn’t get soaked in the afternoon.”

As ever, I had been looking in the wrong place, or seeking the wrong thing; or maybe just completely missing what was right in front of me. I had taken part in a true feast, with lots of people having brought a variety of delicious dishes to share. I had been served an assortment of drinks, including a glass of Irish coffee, which I love. I had spoken to a range of colourful characters. At the end of my presentation, after singing ‘Be Thou my Vision’ I had been asked to sing one of my own songs, and there was a request for “something upbeat”! I did the song I’d once written after a night out in Belfast, ‘Fibber McGees’. And Kilkenny-born Enda got up and did some Irish dancing to the delight of the crowd, and was joined by Funmi who is of Sierra Leone heritage (and who had provided the Irish coffee) and it was one of those little ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ moments.

I doubt that I’ll be able to curtail my endless search for things, and I’m sure I’ll continue to get disappointed and discouraged when I don’t find what I thought I was looking for. But please God I’ll learn one day to discern more clearly the things that are truly worth seeking, and maybe occasionally find something I didn’t even know I was looking for and in a place where I least expected to find it.

PS If you’re not fed up with Christmas songs by now then you might like to listen to one I wrote some years ago: A Stable in Bethlehem

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31 December: John Anderson my jo, John.

Robert Burns is Scotland’s poet of Hogmanay, New Year’s Eve. We’ve all heard, and probably sung, his ‘Auld Lang Syne’ over the years, but recently I came across this song which is full of hope, comfort and joy. Enjoy the song and Happy New Year! May it be full of happiness, friendship and peace and monie a canty day.

Will & Co.

John Anderson my jo.

John Anderson my jo, John,                                       my dear
    When we were first acquent,                                  acquainted
Your locks were like the raven,
      Your bonny brow was brent;                                 smooth
But now your brow is beld, John,                               bald
      Your locks are like the snaw,
but blessings on your frosty pow,                               head
      John Anderson, my jo!
John Anderson my jo, John,
      We clamb the hill thegither,                                  together
And monie a canty day, John,                                     cheerful                               
      We've had wi' ane anither;
Now we maun totter down, John,                               must
      And hand in hand we'll go,
And sleep thegither at the foot,
      John Anderson, my jo!

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