A Guest Blog for Easter

My thanks to one my oldest and dearest friends  Fr. Tom Connolly from the Diocese of Salford for this guest blog.  Edmund
GATHERING THE SHEEP FROM THE MOUNTAIN   was the name of the programme on BBC FOUR on EASTER  Monday night.
It was a filmed account of  how the Hill Farmers of the Lakeland hills bring down their widely scattered sheep from the mountains  where they pasture so that they can enjoy the springtime grasses of the valley and also be sheared.
This breed is unique since it is the only breed that survive and prosper so high up the very rocky terrain of the upland mountains with sometimes almost vertical drops. This breed has been there for as long as anyone can remember.
The most amazing and absorbing interest stirred in me which completely grasped my attention was the intermittent comments made by just one of the twelve shepherds, a young man, helping in the joint task with the [no less than] sixteen sheep dogs.
What was striking was his language about the sheep of his flock.  It was like listening to our Lord referring to Himself as the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep.
This young shepherd told us  how he knew these sheep very well.  They knew him too he told us. He could tell if one was depressed or unhappy and would  find that sheep in order to find out the cause.  If it was injured he would put it on his back and carry it so that the herding of the flock did not get delayed for it was a long way from the top of the mountain to the valley. He also told us that the sheep were very intelligent. Each sheep had its own spot up the mountain and its lambs were brought up on this spot and so it passed from one generation to the next. Certain paths had been used for hundreds of years.
The special breed of sheepdog must avoid hurrying the sheep down the mountain. They must be allowed a gentle pace which did not exhaust them or make them tumble or panic or be afraid.
Parable of the sheep that was lost?
He told us how he keeps his eye out for a sheep that was not with the rest of the flock.  He would instinctively know that one was missing and he told us how would leave the other shepherds and take a dog and go back up looking for the one missing.  He looked in particular to see if the sheep had fallen down a gap in the boulders strewn all over the mountain.  He used his crook to pull the lost sheep out of the hole with the dog helping .
At the conclusion when the flock had been gathered in an enclosure he told us that we must realise that left to themselves and without the direction of the shepherd  they would do the absolute opposite of what they were being shepherded to do.  Each would go their own way all over the place and they would suffer for lack of suitable pasture. So sheep need direction to prosper.
As followers of the Good Shepherd, risen from the dead, you don’t need me to draw the parallels. Whether or not the young shepherd was versed in the Scriptures, there was no telling.  He ended by telling us that he was the luckiest man in the world to have been taught how to be a good shepherd to his sheep. He was 23!
Our Lord in the Hidden Years in Nazareth must have helped the local shepherds and all His teaching about  “I know my sheep and they know me” and “I lay down my life for my sheep” as well as & the Parable of the Lost Sheep all came together for me in that programme.
Most of it was in silence too! A blessed Easter and joyous Pentecost to you all.
Fr Thomas Connolly.

Hardship: a vessel on the sea of deep love

During these times of trial and tribulation and mindful of the unimaginable pain and sorrow for those critically ill and those mourning the premature death of their loved ones, I am grateful for the ever-inspiring wisdom and words of St. John Paul II. [see below]
He was a man who knew personal pain and suffering in his own life. And this is why we must often view and even embrace hardship as the “vessel” within which we will be transported to another place of self-discovery and enrichment.
John Paul’s vision for the dignity of  the human person, especially in their suffering is why so much of his wisdom underpins  https://www.fertileheart.org.uk/
The outpouring of love for others of which he speaks in this quote below is what also lies behind the movement of countless thousands to reach out with their free time and resources to assist at this critical time.

salvifici doloris

Apostles of Spiritual & Moral Authority

A blessed and holy Feast of St. Joseph to all my readers – especially fathers both natural and spiritual.  I have just been watching [via livestream because of the Coronavirus restrictions] the Rite of Ordination to the Episcopate of Bishop David Oakley, the newly appointed Bishop of Northampton. Later this year on June 10 two new auxiliary bishops of Birmingham will be ordained. It’s always a privilege to witness an ordination, and seeing priests become Successors of the Apostles during a ceremony replete with historic weight and gravitas really brings home to you just how much God chooses to invest an awesome moral power and spiritual authority upon the hearts and shoulders of ordinary human beings.

All bishops are entrusted with a huge set of duties and responsibilities to teach, govern and sanctify their flock, the salvation of which they must one day give an account for face to face before God Himself. A fearful truth and one for which we must intercede on behalf of these men chosen by the Holy Father to lead us in discipleship of Jesus Christ.

All sorts of priests are selected to become bishops for all sorts of reasons and each in their own way have to bring what talents, gifts, faith, dedication to Jesus and experience they have. However, I think if I am honest, the ones chosen from among the ranks of ordinary parish clergy have a distinct advantage of having been ‘at the coal face’ of pastoral life and reality and that can only be a good thing in terms of their future episcopal insights and credibility. It’s bound to help them relate to fellow clergy more easily since they’ve known first-hand the kind of pressures and challenges on the ground.  And their sense of the family being  Flesh of the Church  as Cardinal Nichols put it after the October 2015 Synod, probably means their preaching and teaching will resonate with families more easily in the long run; at least one can hope and pray so.

When you stop and think about it, parents are a sort of “bishop” – an overseer of the family unit entrusted to them by God. St. Augustine of Hippo, after reflecting on the influence of his mother St. Monica, said the role of a parent  ‘was like unto a bishopric’ in terms of its eternal and supernatural significance in building up the Kingdom of God. And Augustine himself said ‘one soul is a big enough diocese for any bishop!’

So as many families gird their loins and prepare for indefinite “lockdown” in their homes to stay safe and well from this terrible pandemic, let is be mindful of the awesome responsibilities, rights and duties of parents not only to feed, clothe, educate and protect their children but also as Christians to transmit the Faith to their offspring. And clergy must try to begin to appreciate as well as help parents understand the comparison between these duties in the family and household and those of the bishop in his diocese to teach, govern and sanctify.  As Pope St John Paul II called spouses the ‘priests of the domestic church’ in like manner, parents are commissioned in a sense to be the “bishops” of the domestic church. This is not a novel idea. Indeed it’s ancient.   There is a famous homily of St. Augustine in which he refers to the fathers in his audience as “my fellow bishops.” (You can check the full reference HERE by Dr Scott Hahn).  Augustine startles his congregation, which certainly included many busy fathers of families, by telling them to be faithful to the duties of the priesthood. 

“Fulfil my office in your own homes,” he says. The word “bishop” means supervisor, and since “a man is called a bishop because he supervises and takes care of others, every man who heads a household also holds the office of bishop—supervising the way his people believe, and seeing that none of them fall into heresy, not his wife, or son, or daughter, or even his servant.”

What an awesome task priests have when consecrated bishops and what an equally daunting duty parents have to raise their children in such a way as they in their turn will work out their salvation to inherit eternal life. Sometimes we might feel overwhelmed by such a responsibility for our families. In the weeks and months ahead even greater perhaps even extraordinary sacrifices will be made of us. So we need models of extraordinary heroic virtue to look up to and emulate in some small way. In these weeks ahead of “self-isolation” I am going to invoke the prayers of  Wiktoria and Józef Ulma from Poland who together with their 6 children and a 7th unborn one, sheltered two Jewish families in their home and were later murdered by the Nazis for doing so.  What faith, what courage, what sacrifice and Christ-centred love for one’s neighbour.  But also what incredible witness of faith to one’s children. The cause of beatification of the entire family is now underway and as Lent continues and Passiontide approaches, I for one will be asking for their intercession to reflect in my own life, in some tiny way, their discipleship of the Lord as spouses and parents – priests and bishops of the domestic church.

Tonight at 8pm GMT – the Holy Father is asking us all to join him in praying the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary – meditating on the Luminous Mysteries bestowed upon the Church by the great “Pope of the Family” St John Paul II. Let us take to our knees [if we can] and join with that countless throng of our brothers and sisters all over the world.    family rosary

A Delicate Choreography

Lord Jonathan Sacks in his new book “Morality. Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times” makes an eloquent case for marriage as known since time immemorial as the optimum place where children best learn the ‘risk of giving and receiving love.’ This is why the https://www.fertileheart.org.uk/ explores what ‘giving and receiving creative love’ actually means and why the lifelong union of husband and wife is [as St John Paul II] said; “the least inadequate sign of God’s love in the world.” Why? Because it models the reciprocity of love between the Three Divine Persons of the Blessed Trinity which in turn inspires all relating to give and receive and respond to authentic loving in a trinitarian way. In these times of anxiety and crisis, let us respond as generously as we can to the claims that will be made upon our capax dei – our capacity for God, that we serve one another as Christ would have us serve and sacrifice.    sacks

Love and Ego-Life

In “A Fertile Heart -Giving and Receiving Creative Love” Love and Ego Life [module 8e] says: “Ego-life, is ‘A person’s consciousness of themselves, which naturally focuses them more on their desires and interests’.” Lent reminds us that from the perspective of Christian spirituality when we focus on the self-sacrificing love and self-gift of Jesus in his passion, dying and death then as faithful Christians, we know what the true source of our meditating needs to be. We can even physically stretch out our arms in supplication to Him but his embrace from that Holy Cross will always be greater than ours; loving enough to take all of us in. Why do I mention this? So I was encouraged to read the following from a diocesan newsletter for school leaders, educators and catechists which I think is worth sharing and because there is also a great deal of yoga going on in schools too. So can/should Catholics participate in yoga?
Pope Francis reminded listeners that practices like yoga aren’t capable of opening our hearts up to God. “You can take a million catechetical courses, a million courses in spirituality, a million courses in yoga, Zen and all these things. But all of this will never
be able to give you freedom”, he explained. While yoga was just one example offered among many, the Holy Father touched on a matter of great debate among faithful Catholics who happen to prefer this kind of exercise. 

One argument is that Catholics should not participate in any of the “spiritual” aspects associated with yoga, but technically can do the actual physical exercises. However, many people who practice yoga caution that it is often difficult, if not impossible, to separate the exercises from the meditations. For example, a common mantra repeated in yoga is “So’ham” that roughly translates to “I am the universal self”. This focus on the self is contrary to the focus on God to which we are called.  So what’s the official teaching?

“Christian prayer… flees from impersonal techniques or from concentrating on
oneself, which can create a kind of rut, imprisoning the person praying in a spiritual privatism which is incapable of a free openness to the transcendental God” (Some Aspects of Christian Meditation, 3)

The Pope tells us that only the Holy Spirit can “move the heart” and make it “docile to the Lord, docile to the freedom of love”. If we are seeking a zen-like peace from yoga meditation, then we are seeking peace from the wrong source.

Source: Catholic Online (https://www.catholic.org)  




rabbinical statement

Recently some Jewish Orthodox Rabbis (Chinuch UK) issued a statement [see above] regarding what their schools ought [indeed must] do to preserve their integrity in the face of overwhelming challenges in respect of the new statutory regulations governing relationships and sex education. It put me in mind of the words spoken by St. John Paul II on the occasion of his historic visit to the Jewish Community in Rome in 1986.

“a consideration of centuries-long cultural conditioning could not prevent us from recognizing that the acts of discrimination, unjustified limitation of religious freedom, oppression, also on the level of civil freedom, in regard to the Jews were, from an objective point of view, gravely deplorable manifestations. the Church, deplores the hatred, persecutions, and displays of anti-Semitism directed against the Jews at any time and by anyone.” I repeat, ”By anyone.”

I am repeating these words because I expect these rabbis and their schools to face persecution for their stance. My question is – when the state comes after these faith-filled people, will we their Christian brethren stand by them?  Will we – in the words of John Paul, rediscover our  ”’bond” with Judaism by ”searching into [our] own mystery.” The Jewish religion is not ”extrinsic” to us, but in a certain way is ”intrinsic” to our own religion. With Judaism, therefore, we have a relationship which we do not have with any other religion. You are our dearly beloved brothers, and in a certain way, it could be said that you are our elder brothers.”

Time will tell…..   in the meantime I leave you with this quote
Commend your children to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. When parents pray the Rosary, at the end of each decade they should hold the Rosary aloft & say to her,”With these beads bind my children to your Immaculate Heart”, she will attend to their souls ~ St. Louise de Marillac

Intellectual Passport

Vocation to teachLast Saturday was the first annual conference of ATCRE [Association of Catholic Teachers of Religious Education] at St. Mary’s University, Twickenham. It was a great event, filled with enthusiasm and faith and an air of genuine mutual encouragement among professionals and fellow disciples, all gathered to share a moment of renewed commitment to the mission of Catholic education.
I attended both as a speaker for one of the seminars but also as a sponsoring organisation of the ATCRE conference on behalf of “Fertile Heart.” The first keynote was given by Mary Myatt whose work in supporting in schools to develop strong and dynamic curriculum is well known and respected. Mary gave a truly inspirational talk. She spoke of the need to place high demands upon children whatever their ability levels. She reminded us that children of all backgrounds and abilities have “entitlement” to deep and challenging knowledge, and that must be accompanied with careful selection of resources that are beautiful, uplifting and celebrate the power of “story.” A solid RE curriculum, especially in a Catholic school lends itself to such high ideals. One of the phrases Mary used was this idea of presenting tough, demanding and complicated words to children, even young children [whilst challenging] can instil new confidence and hope for greater achievement in learners. She calls this giving them an “intellectual passport.” I agree totally with her vision but also I love the phrase because opening the mind and spirit to mentally demanding concepts, words and stories is what “A Fertile Heart – Receiving and Giving Creative Love” curriculum is all about. Indeed we make no apologies for the intellectual demands it makes of both teachers and pupils because, like Mary Myatt says, “as humans we are a challenge-seeking species” we always want to go further, explore deeper and deeper in to things. We have a natural inborn yearning for truth and we are prepared to make the sacrifices we need, like hard work and concentration to make those discoveries and widen our knowledge-base. It is my genuine hope that in time as more and more educators and schools and parents get to know more about Fertile Heart, that they will see how it can also be another “intellectual passport” for young people to be better equipped to pose and answer life’s big questions.

Postcard from America

A friend of mine attended the 2020 US March for Life the other day – here is his reflection. Edmund

Washington DC’s March for Life on Friday was truly amazing. It’s always hard to gauge numbers, but I’d say 250,000 people – mainly young people – came from all over the US and beyond to stand in solidarity with the unborn. It was so peaceful, joyful, hopeful and inspiring. In Trump it was great to have a world leader attend and, once more, speak so eloquently and beautifully about the dignity of every human person. But that was a bonus, not the focus. The focus was young people choosing to do what young people do best when helped to: shine with simple joy and vitality in the name of love and truth. Backed up by common sense. How can we get excited about bacteria as life on Mars and ignore life in the womb? How can we spend so much more energy on saving the panda than the unborn human? How can we kill female babies in the name of women’s rights? If abortion is a genuine solution, how come no one ever is disappointed that they weren’t aborted? So many placards calmly, rationally posed these and other questions. There was no crescendo as the March reached the Capitol, there was no ‘Rocky III’ moment of ‘right, the fight back is on’. We simply dissipated in a peaceful joy that only faith and truth can give: knowing Life wins.

Relationships Education -Authentic Approach

Since November 2019 I have been working as Education Consultant to Panda Press who have designed and published the new resource for Catholic and other faith schools to assist in the provision of relationships and sex education.
The Vision is simple:

“To provide an inspiring and dynamic programme for the spiritual, moral, emotional and intellectual development of young people, that enables them to fully appreciate and understand what makes, life-enriching relationships.”

The Mission is creative:
Teaching our young people that true freedom is so much more than just the mere freedom to choose, but the REAL and AUTHENTIC freedom to choose well.

And the Purpose is clear:
To enable educators and parents to transmit the profound truths of the human person to children in a comprehensible, attractive and convincing way so that their desire to live by them grows daily. In this great endeavour, we are all of us, partners in a shared task. 

More posts will follow to unfold and make Fertile Heart http://www.fertileheart.org.uk better known but PLEASE help raise awareness especially on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/afertileheart/ and other Social Media platforms