Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Faith Winter Session at Stonyhurst

There were some noticeable absentees among the big-hitters in the Catholic blogsphere at this year's Faith Winter Conference that took place from Monday until today. The likes of the Hermeneutic and Mulier Fortis were sorely missed. So, it's up to the part timers to give reports on the session.

I headed up to the stunning (but very cold) Stonyhurst College on Monday evening after work. Unfortunately I only got to junction 29 of the M6, two away from the turn off for the venue, before my car broke down. The alternator belt's life had ended. Luckily, I was only stranded for about 20 minutes before my breakdown recovery firm's contractor got to me and towed me to the college. Thanks to some great help from the college receptionist, a garage was found in Clitheroe on Tuesday morning and the problems were sorted by the afternoon. However, the usually unwelcome bill was a bit of a blow. But my panicking about the car didn't get in the way of having a great conference.

The subject was on priestly loving, to coincide with the Year of the Priest as announced by Pope Benedict XVI. Unfortunately, because of my troubles, I missed the first talk by Father Kevin Douglas on "Christ the High Priest". The second talk by Father Mark Vickers explored Priesthood in the New Testament.

Father Sean Riley spoke movingly about the Life and Work of the Priest. He pointed out that society's view of a priest is someone similar to what happens on Craggy Island, the home of Channel 4 TV comedy sitcom character Father Ted and company. The view from outside the church, he said, was that priests say Mass on a Sunday and then stay in bed and watch television for the rest of the week. Fr Sean went on to explore why that was far from the truth. He said an hour of a priest's life could consist of sharing the joy of a newly married couple one minute, to consoling the bereaved the next.

To conclude the session, Father Stephen Brown made his full debut as a Faith conference speaker with a fantastic talk on the Priest and his loving: The nature and purpose of celibacy. As you may have guessed, I wasn't taking notes on any of the talks but Father Stephen has kindly emailed me a copy of his. I don't have enough time to blog on it extensively tonight, so I'll do another post on it tomorrow evening. To give you a flavour, he presented celibacy as a positive, alternative form of loving to marriage as opposed to merely a sacrifice of the priest. He said:
"The love of the priest for his people is different, because it is fused into the love which Christ bears towards His people. It is wide ranging and carries a personal authority which comes from God. This kind of love sees what is good and true and of God in others and wants to build that up, take it further and deeper into the life of God and even challenge people to relinquish what is spiritually harmful to them. It is not a love between equals, as married love is; it necessarily has an element of leadership in it, precisely because it is a Christ relationship. The priest cannot be possessed in love by any one human person. His specific love is directed towards cherishing the interior life of individual souls, 'to the further deepening and refining of their personalities in the knowledge and love of God'.”
A special guest came with his family to Mass yesterday. Burnley manager Owen Coyle had been invited by one of the delegates who knows him. It always impresses me when you discover that "famous" people are practising Catholics. It's a great example to the youngsters who are knowledgeable about football to look up just before Mass starts and watch a Premier League manager walk towards the front of the church, genuflect and take his pew with his family. Afterwards, he mingled with some of the football fans and had his picture taken (which will hopefully appear on Facebook at some point).

Numbers were slightly down on last year by about 30 or 40, but that didn't prevent a fantastic atmosphere developing. People caught up with old friends and made new ones. There was a strong sense of prayer during the liturgies and the sound of carols in the chapel is something special. For most people, the religious side of Christmas (if they are remotely interested in it) ends on Boxing Day. But for Catholics, Christmas Day lasts eight days and the Masses reflect this with the Gloria, the Eucharistic Prayer I and the carols. Many of the youngsters would probably not go to Mass during the Octave of Christmas (apart from on Sunday). To experience the continuation of The Nativity is a great blessing.

With so many priests and three religious sisters in attendance at a conference on the theme of the priesthood, it is likely that every young person over the last two days (whether it be girls or lads) would have thought about their vocation at some point. In an age that to frown on full commitment to Jesus Christ, this can only be a good thing.

I'm afraid I can't write anything more before crashing out but there will be more to follow tomorrow evening all being well.

1 comment:

Mac McLernon said...

I was sorry not to be able to go along this year. Glad to hear you had a great time though!