Friday, 8 February 2013

Journey through the Wastelands

I set off last Monday, to travel to the North of England, land of frothy beer and black pudding.

To undertake such a journey from West Wales by train is, perhaps, foolish but a bad foot prevented me from taking the horseless carriage so, Arriva Trains it was.

As the train chugged (remind you of anyone?) through the Welsh countryside I thought reflectively of the Dioceses that we were passing through and the scarcity of the Latin Mass.

My undertaking started in the barren moorland of Menevia, on through the ravaged countryside of Cardiff, once a great LMS settlement, but things have just not stacked up in recent years and the EF Mass is now as rare as a flying penguin.

A crying shame when you recall that you are in the hub of Wales ( the dearth of EF Masses is something that Cardiff and Westminster have in common).

The train takes a northerly turn after Newport and flirts to and fro along the Welsh Marches, one minute in Wales and then  into England and back again.

After Hereford, it makes up its mind to stick to the England option and it chugs (sorry Auntie) steadily through increasingly hilly countryside.

It skirts (I think) the western boundaries of Birmingham (where the altar servers peak at four years of age) and travels on until it pulls into Shrewsbury Station I metaphorically raise my hat and make a silent prayer on behalf of Bishop Mark Davies and his diocese and, from there we travel on to Stockport where I change to what is optimistically called 'The Trans Pennine Express'.

On to Rawsthorneville where I say another, slightly more desperate prayer and then across a bridge over the River Tridentine.

As I view the digital screen that forecasts the stations yet to come I see that the end destination is Grimsby.
I make a mental note not to fall asleep and miss my station lest I wake up in Preeceland, although I am sure that there would be a friendly welcome there.

The following day I make the return trip and find, much to my delight, a Dominican Friar in full fig in the waiting room at Stockport.

He makes an imposing figure in his black and white habit with rosary beads around the hem.

There is one vacant seat and, it's next to the Father, so I slide into it and introduce myself.
It transpires that he is a Father Radcliffe at which I mishear and fall off said bench thinking that he had said "Ratcliffe". Phew!
All is well, however,  this is Fr Fabian Radcliffe, a most pleasant and charming man although he demurs when I ask if he celebrates the old Mass.

He has been visiting the Aquinas College in Stockport and is on his way back to the Friary in Leicester. I press my blogger's card on him and hope that the poor man will survive looking at my blog, that is, if he can even be bothered.
He has the rather grand Dominican air of being a complete intellectual.
Maybe my blog card was a mistake after all.

But my overriding feeling on both journeys was one of travelling through a country devastated by plague or, maybe, some mini nuclear holocaust where most churches that offered the Latin Mass had been obliterated.

I reckon that, on a one way journey of almost 300 miles, I had probably not passed within 50 miles of more than a handful of Latin Mass centres; a sobering thought.

I also found that the journey time was ridiculous; seven and a half hours going and eight and a half coming back. It must surely be another sign of a country in some sort of social and economic decay if the trains only run at 35 or 40 miles per hour.

I think of Japan and its Shinkansen and France with its TGV that can run quite easily at 200 mph and feel rather inferior, perhaps that's what pseudo 'marriage' legislation does to a country.

Reproduced below is one of Fr Fabian's sermons, courtesy of

The Coming of the Son of Man

Jesus's words in the Gospel today are grim. He speaks of 'signs in the sun, moon and stars, nations in agony, the clamour of the oceans, men dying of fear because of what menaces the world, the powers of heaven shaken…' And he warns us to be on the watch or 'that day will come upon you suddenly, like a trap'.
This is just one of several grim scripture passages that we read at Mass at this time of year. It may seem strange to be doing this when we are beginning to look forward to Christmas. But it is also the low point of the year, the time of darkness, cold and sickness, and that may remind us how we often think pessimistically of the future of the world as an impending disaster. In the 1960s and '70s there was deep anxiety that nuclear war would destroy human life. Now what we fear is a future of global warming and climate change, leading to huge population shifts and savage wars over diminishing resources. At the same time we have another fear that a massive asteroid could strike the earth and wipe out human life, like the dinosaurs.
Why do we feel drawn to these horrifying scenarios of the end of humanity? Are they real? And why, at the same time, do so many human societies have a primeval happiness myth at the beginning of their history? Why do we imagine a blissful start, but expect a disastrous ending?
I think it makes sense to suggest that the beginning and end of this global human story is based on the personal story of each one of us. We begin life in the security of the womb where everything is provided. That security gradually diminishes as we have to provide for ourselves and accept adult responsibility. But, unless we meet sudden death, the life of each of us slowly winds down through weakness, diminishment and suffering to the ultimate stripping of death. That is something we long to avoid, yet we are drawn to it like the river to the ocean. We cannot escape. Since this is true of each of us, we suppose it is also true of the human race as a whole. We started well, but we will end in agony.

This story of the beginning and end of human life is taken seriously by Christian revelation because it is part of our reality. It is not sidelined; nor is it simply replaced by another completely different story. It is incorporated into the Christian story and so is transformed, redeemed and given meaning. That, I suggest, is the key to understanding these grim parts of the Gospel.
The Christian story of our beginning is the Garden of Eden, which says that we came fresh and perfect from the hands of God, but which also gives the reason for the sin and suffering that we meet in life. The Christian story of our end is what Jesus is talking about in today's Gospel. Our end comes with fear and suffering. As individuals, we will meet this in the dissolution of part of our very being, our bodies. As a human race, it will come with the ultimate passing away of our home, this transitory earth.
But Jesus gives this story a completely new twist. This agony, this time of distress, which Jesus says we will have to suffer, is bound up with the appearing of the Son of Man and the gathering of all the faithful. The prophecy of Daniel, which Jesus is alluding to, speaks of one like a Son of Man, not so much coming to us, but rather coming on the clouds of heaven to God the Ancient of Days, and bringing us with him as his chosen ones, people of all races, nations and languages. The time of distress is, somehow, the way by which we come with Jesus to the Father.
This coming of the Son of Man in his death and resurrection is in fact the climax of history, and gives meaning to all that is, visible and invisible, and in particular to the distress that accompanies it. The time of distress that Jesus warns us about is not some particular moment in future history; it is our continual struggle with evil that constantly puts us to the test. And so Jesus warns us to be on the watch, to be faithful, 'praying for the strength to survive all that is going to happen'.
The suffering of sickness, old age and death, as well as the suffering of persecution, injustice, famine and disaster are all part of our human story, and are therefore somehow inevitable. They are part of the time of distress. But because of the death and resurrection of Jesus they are now linked with his coming in glory and with the definitive appearing of the Kingdom of God. That is how our sad human history is transformed into hope and fulfilment, for each of us individually and for the whole human family. We can face with assurance our own personal future, and that of the human race, and 'stand with confidence before the Son of Man'.


  1. I don't think priests should talk about global warming and climate change in a sermon. It's only a theory, and an increasingly discredited one.

    I thought you were going to the north of England, but you seem to have ended up somewhere near Sheffield. The beauties of the Yorkshire Dales still await you.

  2. Hamish, I quite agree. And, to me, anywhere north of Watford qualifies as the North of England!

  3. Richard, it depends how close to Birmingham/Wolverhampton you went. There are quite a few EF Masses offered in that area, including the weekly Solemn High at the Birmingham Oratory, and at least one priest I know of is learning the EF in the Archdiocese, with another who has recently began saying it! Rumour has it there is a lot of interest among our future priests for this form of the Mass... Keep praying!
    Prayers, Charlie

  4. That's good to hear post was more in sorrow than in strict accuracy....thing is we just whistled through your Archdiocese (with the very youthful altar servers). I will keep praying for the Mass and for you and your family. Richard