Sunday, 29 April 2007

'A garden closed, a fountain sealed'

Professor Waldstein gave his talk on JPII's Theology of the Body yesterday to a small but attentive and relatively younger crowd. He had some important points to make in his address, starting out with the Song of Songs and explaining how it best reveals the sacrament of marriage. In it there is the amazement of each for the other ('how beautiful you are, my beloved,/ How beautiful you are!'), yet filial tenderness towards one another ('my sister, my promised bride' and 'Ah, why are you not my brother'). Both are masters of their own mystery, like 'a garden closed, a fountain sealed' and because they have this freedom to possess themselves they have the freedom to give themselves: 'I shall give you/ The gift of my love.' Professor Waldstein made it clear that in the Song of Songs we see the theology primarily of the body, not the soul, because it is through the body that the mutual attraction of the lovers is felt.
Professor Waldstein went on to look at the two main enemies of the vision illustrated in the Song of Songs. The first, he said, is biology, meaning by that a purely scientific way of viewing the body, in which we are just complex biological machines. The second enemy is concupiscence, the look at another by which we objectify and dehumanise another person. Professor Waldstein interestingly reiterated what one of our previous T of the B speakers said (Fr. Mark Withoos), which is that painted nudes such as those in the Sistine Chapel reveal the soul in the body - JPII called the chapel a shrine of the Theology of the Body - whereas it is difficult for photographs to capture effectively anything beyond the body. Professor Waldstein said that the problem with pornography is not that it reveals too much, but that it reveals too little, and those who view it see too little, i.e. they do not see the soul of a person.

Finally, Professor Waldstein touched on Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI''s landmark encyclical which spoke against the use of contraception in marriage. We heard how the sexual act is both unitive and procreative, and one aspect cannot exist without the other. The unitive aspect of sex depends upon the procreative aspect, because in procreation the man and woman are saying they want to have visible signs of their union and that they want to share together the responsibility of bringing up these visible signs, their children. But Professor Waldstein also said there can be no procreation without union, which sounds a little odd when we are used to seeing procreation as a merely biological act. He said that procreation isn't just biological, but also entails the rearing of a child in a loving and healthy environment, forming their individual personhood beyond birth, and this requires a united relationship in marriage.
Whew! That's a lot to take in, sorry to bombard you with my notes. I figured these posts could use a bit more academic rigour every once in a while.

Saturday, 28 April 2007

Theology of the Body

Today there will be a talk at Westminster cathedral by Professor Waldstein, the new translator of Theology of the Body and professor at the International Theological Institute in Gaming, Austria. It should be a wonderful way to compliment our year long evening talks on Theology of the Body at St. Patrick's, and I'll be sure to write it up for you afterwards!

Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Student profile: Mandy

Mandy, or Chao Xiao Man as we also know her by, is the first Chinese student in the five years of the School. Being in the West, let alone London, is a new experience for her, and here's what she has to say about the School:

'‘Bless the Lord my soul, and bless his holy name…’ when you pass Soho and hear the awesome hymns in the morning, at midday, at dusk, please stop in your tracks and enter the Church.

Don’t think that so many prayers and everyday going to church for Mass belongs to priests’ and nuns’ lives, don’t think those young people who are busy for the Church are seminarians. Don’t think evangelisation is far away from lay people. Don’t give yourself plenty of reasons to explain why you have no time to go to church. One day all those things happened in myself. What I am telling you is amazing and remarkable, because all those describe my daily life. I am Mandy, 22 years old, one part of St Patrick’s evangelisation school; it is a 9 month course for me to live close to God. There is a space for participating and there is a space for experiencing what love is. There are Challenges and you need Courage to open your mouth to witness about your faith to others.

There are 9 months living in mum’s womb, peaceful and safe and filled with joys. From feeling a stranger, to becoming at home in, to loving the community life, I found what is the most important thing in my life, and what is the value of mankind.'

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Polish Culture night

Monday night was our fourth culture night to date, this time led by Ewa, Iwona and Wadim in a Polish extravaganza of soup, sausage, chicken, pork, fish, pickles, potato pancake thingummies, cheesecake, sweets - and lots of Polish songs! Stolat! Yestesh Polakiem! The culture nights are always a wonderful occasion in the life of the School because we can share something of our background with the community in a way that words can't express. Arnold, the Polish cook for the students who was our guest, had tears in his eyes because he was so reminded of home, and the Poles had a transcendent glow on their faces (which wasn't merely the holiness that they have a reputation of bringing to the School!). It's at times like these that we really feel all together...

Tonight we helped out with Open House meal for the homeless. This meal was a bit more chaotic - it seems there was a glitch with the queuing system and as a consequence the homeless were late in being served. Tempers got a bit frayed and a few times Fr. Alex or a volunteer had to step in to maintain the situation. It's not always easy to serve the homeless, but it's a very rewarding task, especially when we have the chance to talk to them and get to know their past. Mother Theresa said, as we have often been reminded here, that we must 'love until it hurts.' I suppose many of the volunteers for Open House come because they are seeking to do just that - or to get a taste of it at least. Many of the homeless are very grateful for what they receive, and make it known to us. Tonight, as with the last few times, we prepared some prayer and meditation for the homeless before dinner, and afterwards one of the volunteers sang a beautiful 'Ave Maria'.


Well, there's only seven weeks left in the School and the schedule promises it will go out with a bang! We're doing several missions in this space of time, one in Leeds with Fr. Richard Aladics (who helped start the Community of Grace) and the Franciscan Friars, as well as some local missions in Soho. That means we need to begin to think of ways to evangelise, prayers and leaflets we can prepare, etc. Scripture readings tend to do well, as people are curious a) as to what they've just been handed, and b) as to what Scripture might say in their own lives. On Friday we were out in Leicester Square, along with the Pentecostal choir (who unfortunately had no mikes). Some of the students found the talks they had hard going, because of the scepticism and misinformed resentment of those they talked to. One lady declared she had been brought up Catholic but had left because of her disilusionment with the Church - she said her marriage was invalid, because Canon Law said that any marriage which bore no children after two years was annulled. Completely ridiculous of course, but the student, having no knowledge of Canon Law, found it hard to prove it to this lady who was sure of her own information. What do you find the most helpful way of responding to allegations against the Church that you know are unfounded but cannot satisfactorily disprove - especially in as brief an encounter as talking to someone on the streets?

Monday, 16 April 2007


During this last week we've been away to Celebrate, a Catholic charismatic conference organized by Charles and Sue Whitehead (Charles used to be the head of the International Catholic Charismatic Renewal). The week was a combination of daily Mass, talks from speakers national and international, workshops, performances and charismatic prayer sessions. We had a bishop come all the way from Sandhurst, Australia - Bishop Joe Grech - who was a powerful speaker, as well as some non-Catholic speakers who talked on subjects such as prayer and faith. There were a lot of young people at the conference, many who were in communities like our own, such as Sion, Carigma and Animate. We were able to go for free on the condition that we helped steward, a job that meant access to radio headsets and a sense of importance! We also had a chance to present two of the radio shows during the week - for the first time this year Celebrate had its own radio station with a 5 mile radius. Each of us enjoyed something different about the week. Some of us really appreciated the prayer that took place in the evenings after the talks, some of us liked the workshops explaining aspects of charismatic prayer or of faith. I found helpful the talks by Lord Alton (who goes to Celebrate regularly) on living our Catholic faith as citizens in today's world, and John Vaughn-Neil's talks on Mary and prayer. He told us that the Rosary is 'the business' and that we have to 'get stuck into prayer!' We were all quite divided as to the Masses at Celebrate - some of us really found in them a sense of a community alive in the Holy Spirit, and some of us thought that the children's liturgies and incorporation of drama and spontaneous prayer into the Mass was rather over the top. Liturgy is just one of the things that brings out the differences in our group! But we enjoyed the time away together, and apart from being at the conference we had an opportunity for visiting the beach and going horseback riding. Now we're back into the swing of things, looking ahead to some missions this term. This Saturday is the talk on Edith Stein at 3.30 pm in St. Patrick's, so please come along to hear about this remarkable Jewish-atheist-turned-Catholic-martyr!

Vincent Gardiner

We're back from Celebrate, of which I'll update you on in another blog, so hold your horses! But now I'll introduce you to another student - the only true Brit in the course this year - Vincent Gardiner. Here's what he has to say about the School:

'My name is Vincent Gardiner, I am British, and I am 22 years old. I was looking to give a year to God, to deepen my relationship with Him and discern my vocation in a community focused on prayer. I was not particularly prayerful before I came to SPES, and knew I needed to improve.

The School has exceeded my expectations in every way. Spending so much time in prayer and with prayerful people has changed me in a way that I could not have imagined. I now know that God is never outdone in generosity - He has given back so much more than I could give Him.

My favourite activity is SOS Prayerline, where we pray with people who call a telephone number. The faith and honesty of the many different callers always touches me and helps me to grow in faith, and I am sure that our prayers, before the Blessed Sacrament for four hours, are answered.'

Thursday, 12 April 2007


On Saturday evening we celebrated the Easter Vigil. Deacon Mike sang the Exultet, Siang was received into the Catholic Church as 'Josephine' and all of us processed around Soho Square with Father Alexander carrying Our Saviour in the Blessed Sacrament! The evening ended with wine, biscuits, chocolates, crisps and all things yummy! Easter morning we said Morning prayer in the Church and prepared for 11:00 Mass. The Church was full, and we were hard pressed to find seats - it was beautiful! Many were tourists visiting London and it was great to see the parish heaving with people from all over the world! Sunday afternoon we feasted on lamb and many trimmings, all prepared by our wonderful Arnold, the housekeeper / cook / manager of the house / fix-er-upper of the house! We feasted on cakes and coffees afterward - including homemade pumpkin pie cheesecake made by our very own Angela! After feasting, the students were off to Celebrate! They will have to tell you all about it when they return! Celebrate is an annual Charismatic conference held in Illfracombe, Devon in the southwest of England. The students will help with the stewarding this year and take part in some of the events happening there - including hosting a few of the 'Celebrate! Radio' Shows. It has been an awfully quiet week here without the students around! The parish is bustling with its normal activity ... just one, two or 8 less people here at St Pat's! The students are due to return Sunday afternoon - so hopefully Henry will be able to dive on to the Blog to give you a full update on what they've been up to with Barbara and the other 1,000 Celebrators!

Friday, 6 April 2007

Good Friday

This morning we did the Stations of the Cross through the streets of Soho, particularly in the areas where the sex shops and 'models' are. Fr. Alex spoke to us of the love of Christ which we often refuse, like Peter at the washing of the feet, to take on any terms but our own. Many people in the shadier parts of Soho are hardened to love of God which comes through the Cross. We prayed for the conversion of ourselves and for others. When we came to the Station the Death of Jesus in Soho Square on our way back, one man started insulting us and accusing us of intolerance to gays and everything else 'normal'. Unfortunately a fight broke out between him and a man who had joined us halfway through the Stations, and some broke it up while we continued on. We had the sense that this really was what Calvary was like! On the way into church we fittingly sang 'Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est,' a reminder of what really is at the heart of our faith.

In the afternoon we had the Passion of Jesus sung by the choir, and the Veneration of the Cross.The church was absolutely packed as we were warned it would be - people have a very keen sense of Jesus as saviour it would seem. Fr. Alex was assisted by Deacon Mike, a seminarian from the North American College in Rome who is here for the week and who will be ordained to the priesthood this summer. This evening we are watching Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, always good to see at this time. Tomorrow we have the Easter Vigil, the mother of all vigils as Fr. Alex calls it, so we're going to be kept on our toes for a while yet! If you are around please come - it's at 9.00 tomorrow night.

Wednesday, 4 April 2007

Westminster Chrism Mass

Yesterday we went to Westminster Cathedral to witness the Chrism Mass for the priests of the diocese. Today they renewed their vows to imitate Christ and to be good pastors for their people, for whom they lay down their lives. The oil used at Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Orders was also blessed by Cardinal Cormac so that it can be distributed to all the parishes for the coming year. That same oil will be used to initiate Sian, a catechumen in our parish, into the Church on the vigil at St. Patrick's this Saturday. We turned up early at the cathedral yesterday so that we could encourage people to pray for priests, and so that we could show thanks to the priests for all that they do for us lay faithful. We were joined by Joanna Bogle and the Catholic Women's League, who came like a whirlwind on the scene to get things really going. They've been coming now for a couple of years, and were glad to see that they had some reserves this year! Across the square was a group of women protesting the lack of women priests in the Church, saying that they felt they had a vocation and that the talents of women were being neglected. But most of the people on our side were women, and they seemed to have no problem with Church teaching on the matter. We made a lot of noise!