A long-overdue update no. 2: Mission accomplished
December 27, 2012 by Marcus
So, it’s only been four weeks and I finally have a chance to make another post. Today we actually finished our mission placement at St Patrick’s, Soho. These truly have been six of the best weeks of my life. London is an amazing place, and Fr Alex has been so welcoming. I am already considering coming back next year!
In the rest of this post I will share some general thoughts about the placement and discuss some of the most significant events. At the end of the post I will include the photos I have taken but not yet uploaded, and through the captions will try and take you through what we have been up to.
We were sent on this placement for several purposes, namely, to experience the Church in another country, to gain an understanding of the initiatives organised by Fr Alex to promote the New Evangelisation with the intention of bringing some of these back to Australia, and also to learn from the personal example of Fr Alex.
Pastoral placements are funny things. Almost from the moment I entered the seminary, I longed to go and live in a parish or to at least get involved in some sort of other pastoral work. Since – as far as I have discerned – I am called to parish work, this is what I really want to get involved in from the beginning of my seminary training. As we are often told, we discern a call to priesthood, not to the seminary itself. St Patrick’s has, therefore, been a partial concretisation of my vocation. During this time, I have had the opportunity to live and work in a real parish.
Within this context the greatest lessons from this placement have come from the personal example of Fr Alex. He is a man totally devoted to God, a true priest. As I posted on Facebook the other day, he is always awake before me and in bed after me. Another thing that becomes obvious about him is his prayer life. Prayer comes first for Fr Alex, i.e. in the mornings. But it is not just the mornings that he can be found in the church praying. He is there for a good length of time before and after Mass too, and in the evenings. Some might wonder: but isn’t he really busy? How does he find the time to pray? Yes, he is really busy. But that is what is so inspiring about him. He is one of busiest people I have ever met, and there are many things that he has to worry about that would break lesser men, yet he always prioritises Christ.
A resultant quality is Father’s vision. Because he prays, he knows Christ, and therefore knows what initiatives or activities he needs to put in place to bring people to Christ and Christ to people. Once he has realised these things he is singleminded about achieving it. This was the case for the refurbishment of his church. He had to raise 4 million pounds in one of the least well-off parishes in London, and he succeeded. Why? Because he knew the need the parish had for a renovated church, and the importance of beauty in evangelisation, and he went to any length to make it happen.
This is much more I could say about Fr Alex, suffice to say that despite my so far glowing account he is not perfect. No man is. In a strange way though, that is the point of sanctity. No two saints are identical. Sanctity is achieved through our own particular gifts and talents. It is not a possessing of all gifts and talents. To be a saint is first and foremost to live without sin. This is so evident in the life of the Cure d’Ars. He was not particularly intelligent. He was not necessarily easy to get on with. By all accounts, he was a little eccentric. But despite all these limitations, he was totally committed to ensuring the salvation of his people and eradicating sin in his own life. And because of this, he flourished, in the true sense of the word. I think this is the best way to describe Fr Alex. Despite his own limitations, he is uncompromising in his service of God.
There have also been many great initiatives that I have learned from and would like to bring back to Melbourne to varying degrees. One is Nightfever, about which I think I have posted. It is held once every six weeks at St Pat’s on a Saturday evening. It begins with Mass at 6 pm, after which the Blessed Sacrament is exposed until 10.30 pm. During this time the church is darkened so that it is lit only by candles. A choir group sings some light praise and worship style stuff in the background. For the next three hours volunteers (previously organised, numbering about 30) split into pairs. Some are sent out into the nearby streets with lanterns and unlit tealight candles. They then approach passersby and invite them to come into the church, light a tealight candle, and say a prayer before the blessed Sacrament. It is incredibly effective. People who you would never imagine coming into a church accept your invitation. For example, I asked two young girls (probably about sixteen). They were the sort of girls who were heavily made up and dressed with the latest gear from Oxford St. More likely to be seen underage drinking than in a church. Not that I stereotype! Anyway, they both accepted and were totally blown away by the beauty of the church and the atmosphere inside. One fessed up and asked if there would be midnight Mass there for Christmas – she usually went with her mum, she said. Anyway, this is an event that I think could work really well in Melbourne. You will find some awesome pictures below.
Changing tack, we had a beautiful Christmas. Advent began with a service of carols and readings at St Pat’s, sung by the excellent choir and culminated in a similar service at Brompton Oratory. Christmas in Soho is a very quiet affair. Most people leave the area to go home so Mass attendance is fairly low. The house empties too – it was only Trev, Father, and I there over the last week. This gave me alot of time to work in the new parish website which, thanks largely to A Country Priest, is now starting to look very good. The last couple of days before Christmas were spent preparing for lunch and the Masses. Due to a variety of reasons, I was asked to sing Tenor in the choir for midnight Mass. This took alot of practice, and we only sang the Gloria, Sanctus and Benedictus from Victoria’s Missa O Magnum Mysterium. All through the practices I was more of a burden than help – no thanks to a bad cold which has now properly taken hold – but when it came to the actual Mass it went amazingly smoothly. Lunch the next day was Trevor’s and my responsibility. Despite our general incompetence in the kitchen, we managed to serve pasta, roast turkey with vegetables, and pudding. I should say that we received much help from one of Father’s friends, Julie, who joined us for lunch (she was Australian by the way).
This morning Father took us to a farewell breakfast at a Monica O’Shea favourite, the Dean St Townhouse. A full English Breakfast went down very well after a busy few days. This afternoon we trekked out to watch Fulham play in the English Premier League. Our seats were awesome – borrowed from a friend – however the weather was abominable and we had our overnight bags for our trip to Oxford with us, so we bailed and just left early for Oxford. Which brings me to the present moment. I am sitting on an Oxford Tube Bus with Trev in the row behind, heading off to Campion Hall. About which I will blog more over the next couple of days.
I hope everyone had a most blessed Christmas. Bring on our holiday!
Once a month (which turned out to be three times in the six weeks we were in town) there is church cleaning, which involves getting down on hands and knees and removing wax with credit cards, as Trev is demonstrating.
Can’t remember why I took this, but this is the choir loft at the rear of the church
This photo is taken at one of our haunts, Soho Joe’s, which is run by parishioners. There were two keys to this place. First, take Fr Alex because then you got lots of free drinks. Second, if you can’t do number one, stay till closing because they give your a free shot of Sambucca! I think this was with the church cleaning crew but we also went there after Nightfever and Open House.
My iphone kept me up-to-date with the horrifying coldness. To tell the truth, it wasn’t that bad.
The view of Soho Square from my room on a sunny day.
The wreath is partly complete. One morning Fr came into the sacristy and said words to the effect of: “Trevor, Marcus, do you have a pen? Good. Today you need to go and make the Christmas wreath. Here is some money. I want you to be creative and make it look nice. And make sure wax won’t get everywhere.”
Hard at work applying my creative skill (cough).
A proud wreath-maker.
Where did this bloke come from? He just posed for a photo at the end! And bought the gear.
Every weekday morning we have adoration from 7 – 8.15 concluding with Benediction. As soon as Fr left his seat and went onto the sanctuary, his dog Ambrose would proceed to sit right in front for the best bits of grace (I think that’s good theology?!)
The biggest container of hot chocolate I have ever seen. This was at a bulk-buy place down some back alley in London where Fr seems to do his shopping.
On the way to the Imperial War Museum we stopped for breakfast and coffee. It was soo cold that morning.
First time I think I have been in negative degrees.
One time residence of Captain William Bligh of the Bounty, and also at one time governor of New South Wales.
Outside the Imperial War Museum. This was apparently meant to be really good, but I was a little disappointed. It was very limited.
Across from the Imperial War Museum is the cathedral church of the diocese of Southwark. It was built by Pugin but was heavily bombed during WWII. The roof, high altar etc. was destroyed by fire. They salvaged a side altar and the main walls and rebuilt. It is nothing like its former glory unfortunately. This is a statue of St Thomas More.
On the other side is a statue of St John Fisher with his cardinal’s hat.
Here is a nice mosaic from somewhere. I can’t remember where though – perhaps the Lady chapel at Westminster Cathedral.
Taking Ambrose for a walk to get coffee!
One day I had to cook. Stuffed peppers were ont eh menu, and they were pretty good!
We went on a martyrs tour with Joanna Bogle, a journalist and writer, beginning at St Giles in the Fields, an Anglican Church near St Patrick’s. It is particularly interesting because of the placement of the ten commandments and the something else (the beatitudes?) where the tabernacle used to be in Catholic churches
A plaque on a defunct pulpit in St Giles, advertising its unfortunate use by a certain well known preacher.
This is the famous haunt of Bp Challoner during the 1700s. He would meet Catholic men here and teach them the faith when it was still suppressed. We returned here on another occasion to sample their Christmas ale. It tasted just like pudding!
Long story here. Ely place is where the Bishop of Ely (the Cathedral of which you will see photos later) used to have a sort of embassy in London.
This is a famous Catholic site in London. It is the only pre-reformation Catholic church to remain Catholic.
The altar and window.
We went to one of a series of talks for the year of faith by Bp Hopes. The church architecture reminded me more of Australia.
We went to singing in the rain one night at Trev’s insistance. It was a great show. It even rained on stage, and the cast delighted in kicking water all over the audience.
Trev ascending the staircase at the Palace Theatre.
This is Open House, the twice-weekly dinner for the homeless which we helped serve at.
Trev and Caroline, one of the few parishioners at St Pat’s. She helps at Open House. we became good friends over our time in Soho.
Ambrose indulging in more graces.
One day Fr instructed us to sort out a massive pile of keys. I found the key to the bell tower and let myself in.
Praying in adoration before going street evangelising during the advent mission.
These hire bikes are everywhere in London, much like what you see in Melbourne. One night, Laurie (Fr’s cousin who is going to join the Scottish seminary in Rome) took us on a crazy ride through London – past Westminster, across Millenium bridge and on to Southbank. I can’t believe we didn’t die.
Coffee and croissant from our favourite cafe, Gail’s.
Our setup during street evangelisation for the advent mission. We got people’s interest by giving them hot chocolate and mince pies – then miraculous medals and CTS brochures like ‘Why be Catholic?’
These are all the volunteers preparing for Nightfever.
This is how the Church is set up for Nightfever. So beautiful!
Look at all the candles. They were all lit by people who came in off the street and prayed!
People coming in to pray!
For the Immaculate Conception we had a procession through Soho to the French Church at Leicester Square.
When we arrived we had a brief prayer service.
Of course, once we had processed, we had to head back to St Pat’s with Our Lady. We would have looked ridiculous without everybody else around.
This day, Ambrose took his grace hogging to a new level. He got into the crib and became one of the animals!
Some of the lovely ladies who help at Open House 0 they cooked all weekend in preparation for the Christmas dinner.
The tables are set
Trev and Laurie working hard in the kitchen
We had some carollers come and sing for the homeless
My group discussing how best to serve the tea and coffee. The fellow in the cassock is Hugh, or ‘ewg’ as the French seem to call him. He is French from an order whose apostolate is the conversion of Muslims. We also became good friends.
We prepare presents for the homeless and give them a gift each with some of life’s necessities – toiletries etc.
7 am one morning this truck arrived carrying the restored organ. The organ was put in in the 1790′s but became unusable in the early 1900s. A generous benefactor paid for the entire restoration, which was no mean feat. Much of it had to be rebuilt from scratch. The builders were real professionals, Goetze and Gwynn. Yes Fathers, they travel across the world to work their trade. You should google them!
Over the next two weeks the organ men proceeded to spread the organ across the church
Hard to see because it was morning, but the casing is in here.
During the installation of the organ, Mass was offered in the Guadeloupe chapel. These were beautiful Masses.
This was the feast of Our Lady of Guadeloupe, in the chapel dedicated to her honour.
For the Feast Fr took us all to Mexican!
Alphonso, who has Mexican heritage – he is from SPES – particularly enjoyed it!
Alphonso was then directed by Fr to sing Mexican Marian hyms in front of the whole restaurant, while one of the girls gave out Miraculous Medals.
I went to Westminster Cathedral one day and there was a school group playing carols!
Fr James kindly took us to Walsingham to visit the Lady Shrine their for a couple fo days. This was the treat we woke up to at our accomodation (St David’s House – its Catholic and you should patronise it if you ever go there) – seven homemade jams for breakfast!
In this medieval (now Anglican) church the reformers proceeded to smash off the faces of the priest offering Mass.
A close up of the damage – see, his head is gone!
In the morning, Fr James offered Mass at the Slipper chapel, the traditional marking point of one mile to Walsingham.
This was the Anglican shrine at Walsingham.
Outside a really old medieval church.
The sanctuary of that church.
Ely Cathedral. We stopped here on our way home from Walsingham. It is a massive building, pre-reformation. It so happened that there was a carol service on while we were there. With a bit of negotiation and spending at the gift shop we were able to gain free access!
The lady chapel at Ely. This is particularly fascinating because it also shows clear signs of destruction by reformers. This is a massive chapel which would have had all stained glass. The walls would have been elaborately painted and there would have been statues in all the niches. There would also have been a massive high altar. Around the walls are small carvings of salvation history. The heads of every single figure were smashed out. The paint and windows were all destroyed, as was the altar and statues.
The lantern (top) in Ely Cathedral specially designed to let maximum light into the building – the stained glass is magnificent
The concert at Ely
Where was this…? I think it was in Ely but I can’t remember
The organ more properly installed
Satisfying a craving for pasta.
Trafalgar square – we went to the National Gallery but only go through the medieval section – there are some amazing pieces of art there!
The national Gallery
Guadeloupe chapel photo for the website
Building the organ
Church cleaning with Zig (I hope I got that right) – every seminarian’s dream job, polishing the chalices!
Lining up for carols at Brompton oratory
The program cover
This caps line made me laugh
Inside Brompton, where even the walls get decorated in damask!
I was in such a good seat!
The altar at Brompton prepared for benediction
Had dinner one night at Newman House with Fr Peter Wilson, the Catholic Chaplaincy to London Uni. The blue is the flames from the pudding he made.
The pudding in light.
Christmas Mass at St Patrick’s – this was the Portuguese Mass I think.
Trev and Julie (an Australian friend of Father) cooking the turkey
Fr specially requested we prepare sprouts – ugh!
Fr carving the turkey
More carving – I think that dinner looks delicious, it certainly tasted that way.
The table is set!
Mass this morning for the feast of St Stephen
Mass for the feast of St Stephen
Waling to Fulham’s ground
The footy stadium
Despairing over the weather – we had front row seats but of course they were the only ones uncovered, so we bailed and went to oxford early