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Bob Gardner

Bob Gardner

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Posted by on in Ramblings From Rome

I might even have to wear a clerical shirt - if I can find one :)

. . . was how I left you last time!!

Did it happen, did it happen, did it happen? I know you want to know - well, to be honest I think you all know it did judging from the crazy response on Facebook et al to a boootiful picture of yours truly with the big man in white! Normally our pictures on SalesianLink Facebook get 35-140 hits - why was it that the one with me in a clerical shirt got ALMOST 900!!!!! Shame on you all.

Anyway, i'm ahead of myself. . .

We had a brill trip to Assisi - now I've done relics of saints (DB's arm, Oliver Plunkett's head, a feather from the wing of Angel Gabriel (titter not, it was in Ushaw!!), but somehow praying in the chapel in front of the tomb of St Francis of Assisi put me in another place - knowing first that the magnificent frescoes (destroyed in the earthquake of a few years ago) had 80% been saved (8000 volunteers picked up every piece of everything to help restore them - amazing!!), and seeing the simplicity of the tunic of St Francis makes you want to stop and think about the bigger picture. It was an easy place to pray - and lets be honest we all need a few of those!!

The Salesian Community pulled out all the stops to feed and refresh us - and then led us on a whistlestop tour of the city of Perugia - beautiful place on the top of a hill (everything seems to be on the top of a hill recently - my feet haven't stopped aching for weeks!!) - but the pinnacle of the visit was another RELIC - yes, indeed - I saw it with my very own eyes - the WEDDING BAND of Mary and Joseph. I tried to take a photo, but a grumpy old man hit me on the back and said "no!"
One has to smile as they stole it in 1488 from the nearby town of Chiusi. The band, kept in a chapel is the size of a large bangle and is kept under lock -- 15 locks actually!!

During the week, life was hectic - what with all the work in the Chapter Commissions - we were discussing, voting, voting on voting, voting 'iuxda modem' (look it up!) - debating etc etc But to be honest, we're definitely getting there and whilst the final document isn't perfect there should be enough for all of us to work on for the next 6 years or so.

Then we all piled on to five coaches and headed into the Vatican - we had some time to pray in the Basilica, and then we were herded by the Swiss Guards into a very posh looking meeting room (frescoes to die for once again) - what can I say about the moment Pope Francis walked in through the door? Oh dear Lord, my heart swelled with so much affection for this Argentinian papa - I don't have the words - literally - as we queued up to meet him, I organised a little speech in my head - when he took my hand in his, I opened my mouth, and said nothing (yes my dear readers, struck dumb for once in my life!) - he just looked at me and smiled - and I managed to mutter, 'thank you, thank you'. At that moment, I truly realised what this man has done in one year for us all.

Ok emotional ramblings over - for the sport minded among you, North Europe made the Final of the Football by beating Asia 6-3. I have the scars on my knee and elbows to prove it!!

Saturday afternoon we all fled to the buses to get out of the Pisana - I headed into Rome and spent the afternoon at the Colliseum - a few weeks ago I told you about the Pantheon; oh my - did the Romans pull out all the stops for this building? It's even survived two serious earthquakes. If you haven't been, even if you are a cultural/historical ignoramus - please JUST GO!!

Well that evening was a right bundle of laughs - a good meal followed by a bus ride home, or at least near home; then a wait in the cold around midnight for a bus that might or might not come!!!! Fortunately the bus stop was outside a 'Holiday Inn', so when a certain Provincial said we could walk it home (20 minutes he said - it takes the bus 20 minutes!!!!), I said I would walk to the Holiday Inn (I'm good that way).

Then we saved a teenager!! Well he spoke in Italian to us - we smiled and said 'go away!" - he did, and then came back, and asked in faltering English whether he could use a phone to call his dad - naturally we negotiated the situation; and I kindly pointed out to the Prov that no one would want to steal his phone!! (neither of us felt like chasing a 16 year old up a darkened street) - anyway the boys dad arrived and everything was sorted (the bus came as well!!!)

On Sunday we felt like a change of scenery - so we headed into Rome to the train station and caught a train to Civitavecchia, which is the port of Rome and about an hours journey away. To be honest it felt a bit like Blackpool with Italian accents, but once we found a little taverna overlooking the sea we all cheered up. Four hours later, and a grappa or six, we were very much cheered up!!

Well my faithful readers this is going to be my last ramblings from Rome, as please God we will be back in blighty on monday evening. Thanks for being such good sports, and long may the Roman sunshine, shine.

Ciao!!

1082

 

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Posted by on in Ramblings From Rome

- boy, do we need your prayers so that we elect the one God has already chosen!!

. . . was how I left you last time!!

Greetings again from your intrepid wanderer in Rome; hope you have all had a good week!! Busy, busy, busy is my thoughts - we've been busy, busy, busy!!!

1078

Hopefully you recognise the new Rector Major, the 10th successor of Don Bosco (he's the one on the right hand side!!) - the process delivered the product as they say, but nothing is as straightforward as it might look. So, now that we have a boss and a Council, what actually happened I hear you ask . . .

Well on pain of death, I cannot reveal my sources - well I certainly cannot reveal anything about the votes, and how many the Provincial got for the new role of secretary to the secretary of the RM (50 quid anyone??)

But I can tell you that we did actually spent quite a bit of time in prayer and discernment (I thought we should just put everyone's name in a hat and draw it out, but I was over ruled sadly) - we reflected on how we were being called to walk in the light of faith, and to enter into a serious process of pastoral conversion (seriously that is what the document said - interpreted by me as 'this is an important time - get it right!!!!) - but we did want to know what challenges the Congregation is currently facing, and what qualities should the Rector Major have (I said a knowledge of English (!) - we promptly voted a man with almost none - lol)

But it became very apparent, very quickly, that Don Bosco's successor was Angel Fernandez, and we thank God for him!! The party was a little hip, was a little hop and also a little crazy - singing nuns, singing baby salesians (novices for those not in the know), dancing confrere from India - and an RM who wowed us all with his guitar playing and singing.

I should also have said something about ice cream, 'cause we got some - and I think that I never mentioned the ice cream and Bailey's provided by our Irish Confrere for the feast of St Patrick (I'm getting old and forgetful!!)

. . . and so the elections continued during the week - I won't bore you with the details, but I do think we sort of felt quite content with our work this week - and so I'm gonna leave that and move onto our travels.

Saturday we were bussed to the UPS (In English - the Pontifical Salesian University of Rome) - it was a hard afternoon, because none of us wanted a two hour lecture, but I did get to see Fr Josh (of Oxford fame) who made us a welcome cuppa, and the Social Communications department, where I made a list of all the new stuff I wanted (the answer was 'no'! ) - oh, oh, oh the library has a fancy thingy that gets the books for you (technological me!) - you put in the number and a metal thing gets a metal box with your book in it - very clever - sort of a robot!!!! (a very big one).

Sunday we hit the bus and headed into Rome - a bit of shopping, a bit of sight seeing, a bit of the Angelus in the Pope's round square (!) and then a bit of lunch in an amazing place. As we awaited our food, the heavens opened and it rained for a week - so we stayed in the restaurant and had a small grappa for digestion purposes, least that was what a Provincial told me - by then there was a couple with me!!

And so as the rain stopped, and the sun gradually set we were gently aware of a very satisfied feeling among us - of a job well done this week (either that or it was the very fine red wine we enjoyed!!) And we look forward to our up and coming travels to Assisi, Perugia and an audience with the Pope - YES YES YES - the big man is meeting us in his house - just how good is that on a scale of 1 to 10????

I might even have to wear a clerical shirt - if I can find one :)

Have a great week!!

Ciao for now

Bob

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Posted by on in Ramblings From Rome

And speaking of prayers, we're off to Florence this week - pray I can get up to be on the bus at 6.15am (yes in the morning, on a SUNDAY!!!!)

. . . was how I left you last time - hope you have all had a good week!!

I'm sitting at my desk writing these thoughts to you, and the rain is lashing against the window . . . the holiday I thought I was coming on is turning out to be something very different!! Trades description Act needs a rewrite.

Hope you are all well - my we have had an interesting week here in the 'happy house' (not the 'happy valley' you Bollington people!!) - and most of it has revolved around Michelangelo. First we headed off to Florence last Sunday - early start(!), coach (really just a posh bus) so life was difficult enough - but what a city. No volcanoes, or earthquakes, just magnificent things to look at, and a dinner out of this world in the Salesian House. One of the wonderful things we saw wasRFRPieta

a Pietá by Michelangelo in Florence - he had worked on this starting in 1547 and then smashed it in 1555, because one leg had broken off and because the block of marble was defective, and because he was having a bad hair day - we saw this in the Florence Cathedral Museum - after having broken the statue, he let his servant take the pieces. Later the servant sold them and the new owner had it reconstructed following Michelangelo's models, so that the work has been preserved.

We've had a number of votes this week - nothing particularly radical - how do we get a new Rector Major; how do we elect Regionals etc, but it did allow us to practice voting on our 'all singing, all dancing' computer systems. It was so good, we invited some Salesian Sisters to witness this technological wizardry - and yes you guessed it, it promptly failed to work when they arrived - you couldn't have made it up!!! But there was a lot of excitement over the make up of the European regions - meetings, straw votes, more straw votes, dramatic interventions, Presidential speeches ... I could barely sit still through it all!! Anyway, the three regions of Europe are now two (drum roll!!) - we welcome France to our merry club.

But, but, but - before we say adieu to Europe North - our gallant correspondent has been keeping goal for our football team - latest scores, we thumped the Italians (and Middle East) 6-3, and saw off the mighty South Americans 5-1!!! Rumours of limping north europeans are very true!!

And now for some serious stuff - how about two and a half hours in the Sistene Chapel!!!!!!!!!!! We were invited to come for a Concert given in our honour by the Vatican Choir (conducted by its Salesian maestro) - we were driven in through the back of the Vatican and strolled through the gardens and through hundreds and hundreds of years of history - omg - It was like Christmas and Easter all in one - I was as high as a kite, quite frankly - the poor provincial was distraught as I ran round like a five year old. "Don't touch things!!" he kept crying.

I have to make the picture large - it's the only way - again I was so gob smacked at the extraordinary talent of Michelangelo. And it was my first time EVER there - it was amazing (as you might have gathered now, the astute ones among you!!)RFRSistene

Phewww - I'm quite exhausted now after re-living that all over again - I believe if you are queuing to get in, you get about 10 minutes with thousands of people crushing you - 150 minutes with a soft chair listening to beautiful music; really what more can I say? makes the hours of sitting in Assembly almost worth it!!

Speaking of which, the documents are coming together - but, everything is on hold for the coming week as we are spending a couple of days in discernment, and then electing a new Rector Major - boy, do we need your prayers so that we elect the one God has already chosen!! - don't forget your intrepid wanderers here, and we both look forward to being back with you in three weeks time (or so!!)

Have a great week!!

Ciao for now

Bob

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Posted by on in Ramblings From Rome

ps/ there are rather a lot of churches in Rome - my two favourites so far visited - St Agnes in Agony (mainly because I kept thinking of the line - 'some saint in pieces'!!) - and the Pantheon - which is just amazing - you have got to hand it to the ancient Romans - clever, clever dudes.

. . . was how I left you last time - hope you have all had a good week!!

We all know the phrase 'blowing your top' I'm sure - and it's definitely one that comes to mine this week. To start with, we started to get stuck into the documents of the Chapter - both in our smaller commissions and in the Assembly - and we had speeches and interventions (now interventions could be of up to five minutes or three depending on when you clicked your computer!!), and there was passion and emotion and resolution and agony etc etc

But 'blowing your top' not only comes from the speeches, but from our visit to Naples on Sunday (yes we had a trip out - for good behaviour, I think!).

Let me introduce you to Vesuvius ('Vu' for short!). . .

RFRVesuvius

and Naples underneath it!! - Vu lacks it's top - it literally 'blew it off' - the fact that there were a serious of earthquakes there a couple of weeks ago, left your correspondent feeling a wee bit easy as we strolled around the streets of Naples. But what a day!! Glorious sunshine, small streets packed tight, backsides pinched twice (yes, even mine!! :)) and a glorious if not madcap introduction to every church, chapel, cathedral in the city!! Finished off with a stupendous fish dinner in the Naples yachting club (yes, let's be honest - we've all wanted to do that, haven't we??)

And going back to our week in Assembly - we learned how to vote using our computers. I say learned 'cause it took a while - example:

Moderator - "please press only the yes button" - result - 185 yes, 17 no!!!!!

Moderator - "I said, please PRESS only the yes button!!" - result 192 yes, 10 no!!!!!!

Rector Major - "I think I have to ORDER you all to press only the yes button" - only two said 'no' that time!!

So we've been examining and reflecting and studying the chapter document - the Salesian, mystic, prophet and servant of the young - lots of differing opinions on this one; and straw votes - plenty of them - looking at the composition of the General Council, and how we get to a new one, and especially a new Rector Major - can't tell you the results, else I will have to disappear forever. (note, it's looking stronger and stronger that the GBR Province will be keeping their Provincial and Delegate - phewwww.)

And then wonderful Saturday arrived (we have a half day off!!) - and we headed back into Rome and all the wonderful ruins etc.

Dinner, wine - more food, all concentrated the mind as we sat out in the streets watching Roman life go by - you should try it some time!!

Here's a picture of a lovely dinner that I noticed as I watched life go by!!

RFRDinner

Well, we're getting close to half way - and starting to talk more and more about what the Holy Spirit is telling us about our Congregation and the next successor of Don Bosco. It's just under the surface as we work, as we pray, as we chat. . . keep us in your prayers.

And speaking of prayers, we're off to Florence this week - pray I can get up to be on the bus at 6.15am (yes in the morning, on a SUNDAY!!!!)

Ciao for now

Bob

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Posted by on in Ramblings From Rome

pps/ tomorrow afternoon (Sunday) we have an afternoon off - we've just purchased our 'bus' tickets to hit Rome - Yes!!

. . . was how I left you last time - hope you have all had a good week!!

I don't really know Rome, but to be honest, our bus trip could have been to anywhere - just a need to 'get out' for a while. So, two Provincials and myself headed to Rome - couple of bus journeys later we're strolling, quite casually like, across the Pope's patio. There really was a buzz about the place, as if we'd missed something (which we probably had!!). Still that really didn't stop us heading off to the nearest coffee shop to sit and watch life go by. Do you drink hot chocolate? O dear Lord, it is to die for here - its like someone takes a bar of Galaxy and melts it in your cup. Diary note - try it if you're out here - it's delic.

And then on the Monday, the General Chapter started - big Mass, and then speeches from everybody important - Cardinals, Bishops etc etc - Cardinal Bertone (ex- Secretary of State - now has a new job!) was around with his bodyguards (security or something) - it's the first time I've been stopped going into the toilet by a big burly man.

The Rector Major gave his state of address - it was very interesting - how is the Congregation after 12 years of him being i/c? - stats, pictures, italian language (lots of it!) gave us a solid picture of the Salesians, and although our numbers have dropped a little, we are now in more Countries than ever before!! (132 I think - I can't read my own writing!!)

The next few days saw us heading off to our Commissions - I was in the English speaking one(!) - there are about 50 of us from all over the world - and we talked and debated and chatted and laughed (a lot actually) - and we gave proposals about proposals on top of suggestions about proposals - it was good - we thought that our Community Life worldwide was really, really important.

Towards the end of the week the RM started answering the questions people had proposed to him (about 60!) - okay, it was a bit of a slog sitting for long periods in assembly listening, but one cannot fail to notice that the Congregation has been, for the past 12 years, in the very capable hands of a holy man, and thank God for it.

And talking of which - prayers, tons of them - in all sorts of languages - chinese, french, spanish, polish, korean etc etc - and a lovely little statue of Our Lady of Vietnam presented to us by the Vietnamese Provinces.

You know, we joke a lot about Salesians and the Salesian world - but meeting these guys from all over the world is a very humbling experience - the pastoral work that is being done for the young; the prayers bombarding heaven daily - you very quickly realise what a privilege it is to be here!!

That's probably enough for the moment - we're heading off to Naples for the day tomorrow. It's a wee break for us being so good during the week!!

Pray for us!!

Bob

ps/ there are rather a lot of churches in Rome - my two favourites so far visited - St Agnes in Agony (mainly because I kept thinking of the line - 'some saint in pieces'!!) - and the Pantheon - which is just amazing - you have got to hand it to the ancient Romans - clever, clever dudes.

 

PantheonCathedralRome

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Posted by on in Ramblings From Rome

Well it's just over a week since we arrived for General Chapter 27 - and you might be wondering what we have been up to?

To be honest the intrepid travellers started off well - we managed to find a quiet spot in Heathrow Terminal 5 for a bite to eat (and no, not in the Lounges!!)

It's always good to see a friendly face at an airport; we met the USA West Coast delegate (Al Vu) in London, and someone met us in Rome - so our trip to the Pisana went well, and was very relaxing.

But a 4am start and a 10 hour coach journey to Turin the next morning took the shine off a little (a lot) - what can I say, except thank God for service stations and packed lunches.

In Turin, they packed us off to a hotel - very nice - we got in and was immediately told to leave for the coach as we were soooo very late!!

But what did we do? we visited Don Bosco - and the pilgrimage was excellent. Valdocco, the Basilica and places not so regularly visited like the school at Valsalice, where Don Bosco was first buried (on the road that he and his mum took walking from the Becchi to Turin!), and the Oratory and Church of St John the Evangelist (where at the last count at least 8 Saints had either been boys there, or worked there, or had a sandwich there!!)

We went to Colle Don Bosco and the Becchi and spent time soaking up the Salesian spirit - we celebrated Mass at these places and there is something very special about being where Don Bosco had been.

And so to our return to Rome (10 hours yippee on the coach!!) - and into what was described by somebody or other as the period of the Spiritual Exercises - 'witnesses to the radical approach of the Gospel'

And currently we're still in them - I'm writing this during a break, well I think I'm supposed to be praying or meditating or something - but needs must. And speaking of which, they took our laptops off us!!!! can you believe that?? well it was to check them for viruses etc and get us fixed up on the Intranet - two days, two whole long slow days......no facebook (oops!!)

There are over 200 of us here, and they are from all over the world - the dining room is an experience to be savoured (I mean Jonny and Peter and myself eat together in Cowley - and that's just 3 of us!!) - but its also pretty humbling, and exciting, and rather extraordinary knowing that Don Bosco has 'kicked off' all over the globe!!

I was gonna send you some pics, but I've seen the ones already circulating with our faces on - yes we did look gloomy on the coach - and yes Mass at the Basilica is pretty inspiring. Maybe I'll send some later - oh and the past two days it's been raining (a lot) - just in case you think we have been sunbathing or something.

We've got ourselves into a good routine pretty quickly. It's killing both of us getting up at 6am, but we're managing - just!! Something about being in bed by 10pm seems to help in that department!!

Keep us in your prayers please - both Martin and myself are praying for you all - Don Bosco and Mary Help of Christians pray for us!!

Bob

ps/ the food is good, and the wine is very drinkable

pps/ tomorrow afternoon (Sunday) we have an afternoon off - we've just purchased our 'bus' tickets to hit Rome - Yes!!

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Posted by on in Don Bosco Relics

The closeness of Jesus is a kind of "resting within us" an awareness of an "at homeness" that is safe, non judgemental and wills our good  for ever. That homely presence is the heart of what is most human. At this level there is no contradiction between science and religion, between the sinner and the saint, all is one and all is gift. What matters is how we share and prioritise this universal presence connecting all of creation.

 
 
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Westminster day two January 12th

 
The team arrived from a 6.30 am start in Basildon and were ready to welcome pilgrims by 8am. The flow of people never relented as they walked the pilgrim journey to Don Bosco's relics. Cathedral staff estimated that about 4,000 people visited the relic during the day. Groups arrived from parishes from around the diocese and beyond; from Hertfordshire, Chertsey, Farnborough as well as many from central London. Manor House , Rotherhithe, Basildon, Tourists visited from places like Mumbai where they already had participated in the pilgrimage of the relics of Don Bosco and were delighted to re-engage in a more intimate encounter with Don Bosco.
 
Watching the pilgrims approach the relics in silence was a meditation in itself. Some came and stood quite close and looked. Some stood a few feet away looking, perhaps more objectively an perhaps hesitantly at the practice of veneration of relics. Those who stood close were looking at the lifelike effigy of a man who looked quite ordinary, small in stature, with the signs of a stroke on his face and the impact of a lifetime of hard work behind his closed eyes. But what was going on in the minds of the pilgrims as they looked at the casket? Here are some of their words:
 
I wanted to talk to Don Bosco about my children and ask his guidance.
 
I had no thoughts.... just a sense of peace and reassurance that God had not left me.
 
I found that I wanted to cry and I did. I don't know why but it was good and I walked away with my shoulders a little but lighter. I was surprised because, to be honest I am a bit of a sceptic really.
 
I felt that Don Bosco was not a relic but standing right next to me and smiling even as I was looking at his relic. It was weird but very calming. I was aware that I was stood in a powerful place, a focus of holiness that was linked to the relic but separate from it.
 
I felt that God had hugged me right there at the relic. Everything else seemed to fade and it was just me and a presence which I suppose is God.
 
One lady stood at the feet of Don Bosco and moved her lips in silent prayer for twenty minutes. Many others simply wanted to touch the relic and even caress the glass that contained it. Their faces shone in the reflected glow of lighting around the relic. One group stood in silence and held hands allowing Don Bosco to recognise and bless their bond of friendship. All of these pilgrims, caught in the light of a saint came away changed on their own pilgrim journey. Each one was challenged if not illuminated by that light for the road ahead.
 
At 2pm Bishop Alan Hopes led a thanksgiving mass with 32 concelebrants and spoke warmly at the beginning and the end of mass about the impact of Don Bosco and the animating influence of the pilgrim team which were accompanying the relics around the UK. Fr Martin Coyle preached on the need for Don Bosco's balanced approach to faith in which the sacred is recognised as much in the home, school and playground of each life as it is in the church. Fr Coyle challenged the congregation to demonstrate their faith through optimism and cheerfulness. Those thoughts were echoed in the offertory procession as 8 large banners were carried forward.
 
Towards the end of the mass the road crew,all volunteers from the Salesian network, gathered on the sanctuary to lead the congregation in the pilgrimage hymn ably led by the cathedral organist. After the blessing Bishop Hopes venerated the relic and incensed it on behalf of the congregation. Then, accompanied by the clergy and the uniformed road crew, the casket was taken into the piazza where a van waited to take the relics to a new location. As the relic moved into the specially adapted van the crew began to sing “da mihi animas !” and “viva Don Bosco!” as the van moved away. Bishop Hopes then moved among the team and thanked them for their work, enthusiasm and inspiration.
 
The team then spent the next hour dismantling the pilgrim experience before returning to theor hosts in Basildon parish for a shared meal.
 
 
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Posted by on in Don Bosco Relics

 Tonight we said mass for Thomas who is not well and living in the Czech Republic. His sister joined us and we celebrated the mass at the same time as the family was celebrating mass in the Czech Republic. What was happening in that double celebration and in what sense were we connecting with Thomas? As we gathered at the altar it seemed to me that there is a sense in which we step into a timeless space and also a 'placeless space.' This celebration, happening at the same time in two places, reminds us of the deep reality of the risen Jesus who is present in all places and in all times. Therefore by being "In Christ" at the mass we are deeply connected to both the past and the future as well as to every place.


By engaging with the risen Christ at mass we also touch the places where the cross and resurrection are moving as an invitation to life. That flow of Easter energy connects people to those who have yet to be born, to those in need at present and to those who have gone before to the fullness of resurrection. Therefore the mass takes us all into a different dimension where space and time collapse to a single point in Christ and where we are one with each other and with the Risen Christ. As the host is raised up, the bread broken and the wine is poured all of creation is drawn up into that drama of dying and rising. Standing around the altar as a community that night it was as if we had discovered roots that ran deep into a common reality in Christ. We belonged together around the altar but we also belonged with all people of all time and forever.

So in focussing on Thomas and a simultaneous mass in the Czech Republic we were only making specific something that happens mystically in every mass; we were connecting with all life and creation. It's just that this time it was with Thomas in mind.
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Posted by on in Don Bosco Relics

Jesus was tempted by celebrity, self interest and power for 40 days. In this culture these temptations are as lively as ever. We can all be seduced from being ourselves by these three influential forces. Often we are not even  aware that our motives have been hijacked. To be faithful to our vocation is then to have made many u turns. The path is not the hero path but a humble process of trial and error. The one who finds their way learns to trust the road rather than himself or herself. 

The temptation is to take short cuts, to avoid conflicts, questions and uncertainty. But it is precisely in these unknowns and in the diversions that our lives become shaped by events and God's touch is experienced on the faith journey.

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Posted by on in Don Bosco Relics

Today's Gospel deals with the practice of fasting recalling the comments of Jesus that fasting does not happen when the bridegroom is still around. That is an interesting connection: linking fasting with the absence of God. Perhaps that is a way to discern why and how we might fast in a secular and individualised culture.
If fasting has to be related to an absence of God the link with the Lenten period becomes stronger; fasting becomes more than just self-denial or self control, it becomes a specific way of growth on the faith journey of the individual and the world.

 

prayer-fasting-almsgiving1-219x300.jpg

When an awareness of the absence of God becomes a criteria for fasting it helps us as both individuals and communities to focus our fasting and link it to the paschal mystery in a more concrete way. For example a person may realise that their married relationship is a place where God has largely become absent. That then becomes the place where the "bridegroom is no longer with them" and therefore the place where fasting might be focused  In a community context a person may conclude that the office workspace where they spend much of their day is a Godless environment and that may become the focus for their fasting. A young person may look at their life and feel that God is absent because they never stop to think deeply and that absence of reflection is something that needs fasting from.
The definition of fasting that is implied by these reflections may well expand to include aspects of alms-giving and prayer, the other two disciplines of lent.  The fasting element is that of self denial "agere contra" going against one's self. So the married person may well decide that switching the television off and sitting with their partner for half an hour three nights a week might be a good way to fast from a self-centred lifestyle. This might include giving up soap operas or football matches which could be seen as a form of fasting. The person working in a Godless office space might well decide to pray quietly at their desk for five minutes at lunchtime as a way of resisting the relentless tide of gossip and back-biting sweeping through the workspace. In this situation prayer and self-control form a type of fasting that might help to change the world of the office for all concerned. The young person realising that they never stop to think might pick up the challenge of a silent face-book which +cafod is promoting at present.
If fasting was seen as focused around an absence of God in our world it has the ability to draw together the other two elements of Lenten discipline (prayer and alms-giving) into a single resolution that leads to life for the individual and the community in which people live. On a wider scale fasting has the same focus when family fast day comes around. Dorothy Day began a fast during Vatican II to raise awareness among bishops of the need for peace. Gandhi fasted in a similar way to bring God back into an increasingly Godless and unjust culture.
Choosing how to fast this lent can be the most significant choice for the whole year. It can bring God into the shadows of our lives as a messiah.  It can give us the courage to feel the emptiness and desert areas of our lives and realise that it is the only place where we can meet Christ because that is where he is waiting to heal us and our world.

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The news of Pope Benedict's resignation comes as a shock to many simply because it has happened so rarely in the history of the church. His predecessor, John Paul II, deliberately lived out the infirmity of his old age in the glare of publicity in order to highlight the importance of the struggles of later life. Pope  Benedict seems to have a very different motivation for going that is equally humble and rational. Here is what he said:

 
In today's world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognise my incapacity to adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me.
 
 
Knowing when to let go of a role, especially one of high profile, takes as much wisdom as it does courage. We have seen how both Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher stayed too long in their roles. Perhaps that happens because those who fill those roles are drawn into a kind of grandiosity in their thinking that clouds the reality of their fallibility. That is not the case with Benedict, he seems to be acutely aware of his fallibility in guiding the church.

All of these thoughts seem to pale into insignificance before the fact that Benedict is already 85 years old. He should be tucked up by the fire with a blanket and some good reading. Above all he should not be exploited by a curial system that seems resistant to change and at times insensitive to individual needs. There is a danger that the curial system in the Vatican will be the rock on which the church will founder unless the next pontiff organises a good re-fit of the whole curial system. Perhaps that will be Benedicts greatest legacy; that if the church can develop its thinking in regard to the resignation of a pope what else might be able to change?

 

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 This week the house of commons passed the next stage of a bill permitting marriage for same sex couples. This is a triumph of common sense in a secular state and a disaster for the word marriage.  A word that has been consistently used over thousands of years to describe the commitment to a biological partnership that has the diversity to create new life as a single unit, a word that has described the foundational unit for all societies in every time, that word has now been stretched out of shape.

Perhaps we need to invent new words like heteronuptial or homonuptial to describe these radically different realities. Using the same word to describe the two relationships is papering over the cracks of too many fundamental differences; the potential of a heterosexual relationships, the unity of heterosexual relationships, the complementarity of heterosexual relationships are all radically different from same sex relationships. They may be equal in value but they are radically different. Simply labelling them the same way does not remove the diverse nature of the two relationships so much so that other language will have to be created to make that distinction with much confusion as a result.

As a Christian I have little problem with gay relationships and recognise the hierarchy of values in the catholic church especially which places love right at the pinnacle of that hierarchy. St Augustine put it simply "love and do what you will." Many other Christians would disagree with this approach but I am not sure that Jesus would. His approach was one of compassion and encouragement to the woman at the well and the woman caught in adultery. The woman who was a sinner  and wept at the feet of Jesus was not forgiven because of her moral strength but because "she had loved much."

Same sex couples cannot simply throw a switch and disconnect from the genuine love that holds them together. That love is as much part of God's love as is heterosexual love. Otherwise why would a consistent 11% of the human race, made in God's own image, be born with this orientation?  Christians cannot pick and choose to recognise one love and not another, bless one kind of love and evict  the other from public life. As a catholic church we have a lot to learn about sexuality. We are male, celibate and caught up in a clerical culture for millennia. We need to be a church that listens in this area and say little, perhaps for a hundred years or more. Listening will make us humble, perhaps even wise in this area and the Gospel may emerge with a greater clarity than ever before when we recall the words "God is love"
But the word +marriage- that is in for a difficult time +dictionary writers will already be scratching their heads and creative types will be dreaming up new, and hopefully better, words for heterosexual contracts.

 

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Posted by on in Don Bosco Relics

The discovery of the remains of King Richard III under a car park in my home city of Leicester has made the news today. The historians were apparently acting on a hunch!

The identification of the remains involved a lot of investigation and crucially included DNA matching with DNA from Richard's sister. The amazing thing about this story is the scientific identification that can be so accurate after so long. The blue print of our lives is unique and yet it overlaps with so many others. The freedom we have to be ourselves is built upon a communal foundation written into the DNA of our lives. 
In a culture that glorifies independent and solo heroes it is easy to overlook the interdepenedence that is built into our genes and our stories. When the individual dimension is over-stressed the sense of community is diminished and governments need to work harder at social cohesion and try to invent a "big society" where one no longer exists.
The truth is that DNA means that we are all spiral bound not only individually but also as a community. Our lives spiral through community to the point that we cannot say clearly where we end and another person begins. That is why, in the book of Genesis, Cain asks the question "am I my brothers keeper" in an attempt to cover up his brother's murder. Cain's punishment was to wander as a marked man and never enjoy community or prosperity in God's presence.

The DNA that binds us together is an image of the way that God's life weaves through our own making sense of each person's story and giving meaning to the shared journey we are making together. To plough our own furrow at the expense of others, to refuse to get engaged in the common good or to reach out in compassion is to share the mark of Cain.  To realise that we are all interconnected in God's love is to recognise that we are not so different from the bones of Richard dug up today in Leicester. At least that is my hunch!

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 What is the connection between wetherspoons and vocation? Well our vocations team have just finished their meeting here surrounded by a few beers and some good food. |The Moon Under Water is a friendly pub on Deansgate Manchester full of noise and life and a large number of rugby fans. Its just the place to talk about vocations because it keeps you real. It reminds you that all the people around us, relaxing, celebrating, escaping home or meeting friends - all of them are on a vocation journey. They may not be too aware of that, but their lives too are unfolding in a pattern of some kind and they are following a path that they hope makes sense and has some meaning.
I think all vocations planning meetings should happen in pubs. It keeps us real and avoids us talking too piously about what are earthy and often messy life decisions.
Also, the beer is good and cheap!
Well done +Wetherspoons. Well done +Moon Under Water!
 
 
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Posted by on in Don Bosco Relics

January 31st is the feast day of St John (Don) Bosco. He was a remarkable man, full of life and optimism- and at times a little devious. He knew how to get where he wanted with people and that often involved a little 'sleight of hand.' As a youngster he smashed a pot of cooking oil he should not have touched when his mother was out. The young John cleaned up the mess and took the cane his mother threatened them with and met his mother on the road. He confessed what he had done and gave the cane to his mother so that she could beat him. Of course his mother refused and he escaped punishment.

In dealing with young people in bars as a young priest he would often beat them at their own gambling games and even run off with the money  in order to get them out of the bar and to a place where he could talk sense to them.
Later, when he was raising money for large building projects, he visited a contessa to beg for money. He was shown into a parlour to await the great lady. When the contessa arrived Don Bosco had rolled back the expensive carpet and was stood on the tiles of the floor. She asked what he was doing. Don Bosco replied that he was a poor and simple priest and could not afford to stand on such an expensive carpet all the time with a twinkle in his eye. He got the big donation he was looking for.
 Later on, when he had fallen out with Pope Leo he realised he needed to make a large gesture to keep the Pope supportive of the Salesians. So he took on the building of a new church for the pope as a gesture of gratitude to someone he found difficult. It was the building of this church that eventually sent Don Bosco to an early grave.

In the Gospel we are encouraged to be as simple as doves and as wise as serpents (Matthew 10.16) and Don Bosco was both of those in his service of the young. We too need to be able to use our personality as a way to extend the network of God's kingdom. If we are to become saints today we need to engage with our culture and be able to influence, energise and loosen up the inner lives of others to the possibility of God at work in their lives.

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Perhaps your personality can become the mirror of God's own face reflected in your thinking , in your actions and in your relationships. Maybe God is close enough to whisper a joke in your ear! Maybe you will hear God laughing at you and if you have the courage of Don Bosco you will be able to join the laughter too.

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Posted by on in Don Bosco Relics

There was a phrase I heard in the fifties about a young priest that worried me: "he hasn't got a vocation to be a priest- but his mother has one!" It is a phrase less likely to be heard today but it serves as a reminder of the difficulty in discerning a vocation at any time. It is so easy to be deceived and to mix up motives for the choices we make. Pleasing your parents is not a fault but the desire to do so may mask a deeper and more authentic call that may point to a different life-choice.

One of the mysteries of a vocation to marriage, to ministry,religious life or the caring professions is that it comes through weakness as well as through gifts In Christian terms we meet the messiah in the shadow side of our lives and while we avoid confronting that darker side of our lives: the mixed motives, fears, angers and evasions, we cannot fully embrace our vocation. 

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A vocation is a lifelong challenge that comes from a deep inner voice that speaks from gifts and needs and finds an echo in the gifts and needs of the world into which we are born. The resonance between the story of the world around us and the world within us is the context of a calling. Therefore a vocation comes through life and from within ones personal story. God speaks through history and through personal histories too.

To make this more concrete I should share part of my own vocation story. My early family experience was marked with a lot of pressures including some violence, a death and the effects of depression. That darker aspect of my early years created a situation where I had to dig deep to draw on an inner spirit and meaning that gave me a more thoughtful and spiritual approach to life. Without that darkness I may never have heard the call to serve young people who struggled. I still carry the negative effects of that early time and  darkness continues to be an issue. However, even that negative aspect continues to shape my choices, and the things I notice in the world around me. The darker  aspect of my own story creates limitations that shape my vocation because there are so many things I cannot do. I get anxious and tire easily. I get impatient with detail and I can easily slip into self pity. These limitations keep me close to Christ as someone who saves me from these weaknesses and in that struggle to trust my vocation story continues to unfold towards the fullness of life.

So a vocation story is a reflection of the cross and resurrection a movement through struggle to new life. Each of us need courage to embrace both the cross and the resurrection in our lives. The danger is that we may embrace a cross that is not meant for us just as we may follow a vocation that is more to do with our parents wishes than our own.

That is why it is good to reflect on the need for discernment and perhaps attend the signpost weekend advertised on the Salesian vocations web site.

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A day in Battersea concludes what has been a life-changing experience. I never thought 2 weeks of travelling around with a hand would have moved me so much, but then again it wasn’t all about the hand.

Having a chance to sit down and reflect on what we have achieved, the people we met and the stories that have been shard reduced me to a blubbering mess. I began to think about the impact Don Bosco has had on my life and I traced the Salesian trail back to when I was 10 and had to decide which secondary school I wanted to go to. If it wasn’t for my decision to go to St John Bosco in Croxteth, I would never have experienced all the things that have shaped my life so far!

As I listened to the stories from people about Don Bosco’s influence in their lives, I never once realised that I was the same as them, cementing my sense of belonging in the Salesian family. So thank you to everyone I’ve worked with over the past 2 weeks for their support and enthusiasm, members of the public for their stories, Don Bosco for being born and inspiring a generation and God for inspiring Don Bosco and leading him to his vocation. Who’d have thought that a man born almost 200yrs ago would shape my way in such a drastic way? Not me!

 

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Posted by on in Don Bosco Pilgrimage

Was on the way to London at 6am this morning, was so early. I managed to lose my diary entry for yesterday.

Southwark has been fantastic, soooo many people came to venerate the relics, it was unbelievable. We had schools in today – pupils from Chertsey and Farnborough came and again, as with the schools in Liverpool, I was grateful that they got to experience Salesianity outside of school. Hopefully the saint that looks upon them from their school walls is much more real and the charism much more tangible, seeing that Don Bosco is much more than the name of their schools.

So many more inspirational stories from people of all walks of life who have known Don Bosco throughout their lives.

I almost dropped a sail on people’s head during the final liturgy, though thankfully I managed to rescue it before any damage was done!

 

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DON BOSCO TODAY

Spring 2018

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