Friday, 23 December 2011

Christmas letter to the friars

1. the act or state of travelling from place to place.
2. persons, collectively, whose occupation obliges them to travel constantly.

May the Lord give you peace.

We are entering the season of Christmas, when we celebrate the coming of Christ, Who left his heavenly home to live and move among us. So I want to offer you a few thoughts concerning our ‘movability’.

The Exemplar of itinerancy

One can say that the biggest move of all is the Incarnation. From the heights of heaven the Son of God comes to the lowest places of the earth; from the unlimited life of divinity to finite and fragile humanity. True, He does not lose His divine nature in this ‘self-emptying’; but even in this there is a lesson for us – that we do not lose our true selves when we change our location, whatever else we may lose.

In the Franciscan tradition we contemplate the marvellous humility of God, in that the Lord of heaven and earth is laid in a manger, because there was no place for Him at the inn. Shortly thereafter, His parents had to flee with Him to Egypt. So even from His beginnings, He experienced some of that itinerancy He would model for us during His ministry. "The Son of Man," He said, "has nowhere to lay His head"(Matt 8:20).

Another saying of Jesus is particularly relevant, given our tendency to make the needs of ministry a reason not to move on: 'The people would have kept Him from leaving them; but He said to them, "I must preach the Good News of the Kingdom to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose"'(Luke 4:43).

The experience of itinerancy

As we complete the changes to our fraternities, it is a good time for all of us – whether we have moved or not – to reflect on the place of itinerancy in our Capuchin life. Each one of us has moved from one place to another during his time in the Order – from the novice who’s recently left the postulancy house and expects another move next year, to the old friar who’s moved umpteen times and now just hopes to be left in peace. We’re often told that the three most stressful experiences people can have are bereavement, divorce, and moving house. For us friars, moving house shouldn’t be quite as stressful as for others, because we don’t have so much to take with us. But it’s usually a challenge, nonetheless.

Moving house is an experience of loss: we leave behind friends, established ministries, and familiar surroundings. There’s also the challenge of the new: whether it’s new people, new ministries, or new surroundings. In the particular case of religious life, there’s often the added element that the move is unexpected or unwanted. I, for example, expected to be in Canterbury right now, pursuing Franciscan studies.

Everyone in a friary shares in the effects of itinerancy when brothers come and go. Even if particular individuals don't move, the fraternity moves around them. It’s often remarked that if you change one friar, you change the whole fraternity, the whole dynamic of the relationships in that house. For all of us, then – those who move and those who don’t – the itinerant element of our life involves the challenge of change.

The value of itinerancy

We can appreciate how our movability is of practical value for our ministry, in that it allows us to respond to changing circumstances and to accept new missions at the prompting of the Holy Spirit. I have heard of a friar describing the Capuchins as 'the paratroopers of the Church'. We are dropped into a new situation, do our mission, and then get out again.

PCO VII also linked itinerancy together with our formation in poverty and minority.  "Such a choice [of itinerancy] favours our life in fraternity and offers individual brothers the possibility of personal growth by enabling them to make new relationships and to assume new responsibilities"(PCO VII, 25.). Here, I think, we are coming to the nub of what itinerancy offers us. For just as our exterior poverty is worthless unless it leads to and is animated by that inner poverty we call minority, so physical itinerancy is worthless without an 'inner itinerancy', which is conversion.

"The concept of immovability is not simply physical" – and neither, therefore, is the concept of movability simply physical – "Immovability can be more ingrained in habitual ways of thinking and judging, which often become obstacles to genuine conversion"(PCO VII, 24). My itinerancy, on the other hand, provides opportunities for my conversion, and is (or should be) an expression of my desire for conversion.

The place of itinerancy in Capuchin tradition

The preceding reflections may help to solve a little puzzle about our Capuchin tradition. It is often observed, in the context of discussions about Capuchin itinerancy, that many of our great saints spent the majority of their lives in one place – St. Pio, for example, in San Giovanni di Rotondo, or St. Conrad in Altotting. Yet if the concept of itinerancy is not simply physical, but also and more importantly about walking the path of spiritual conversion, then it is evident these saints were very itinerant.

It’s also true that our saints had a deeply missionary spirit, and one practical upshot of my thoughts is this: I am quite willing to consider requests from any brothers who feel inspired to minister among the more newly-established churches – to go on the missions, in other words. We still have a comparatively high religious/priests-to-laity ratio in our part of the world, so we should be willing to help out our brothers and sisters who are not so richly blessed (Constitutions 176).

The Road goes ever on

I hope these reflections will be of use to you, even if only by prompting your own (and perhaps very different) reflections. Let us all, however, go forward in the grace we have received. This time of Christmas speaks to us of beginnings, so let us begin to serve the Lord, for up till now we have done little or nothing.

May the Babe of Bethlehem be born in you anew.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Provincial Chapter: the Elections

It was my original intention to put up a post every day of the Chapter; but the events of the second day blew that plan (plus a lot of my other plans) out of the water. Now, three months later, I can get round to relating what happened.

The day began, as before, with Mass and Morning Prayer. The Mass was a votive Mass of the Holy Spirit, asking for Him to guide us in our decisions – most importantly the elections to be held that day. And then after breakfast we were back in the chapel for a time of further prayer. So the following proceedings were well soaked in prayer.

Elections at our Chapters involve all the brothers sitting round the edge of the room along long tables, so that everyone is facing inwards. After a roll-call, the electors take an oath to vote only for those whom they consider in conscience should be elected. Ballot papers are distributed, on which each brother writes the name of his preferred candidate, and these are then collected by the scrutineers, who count the votes. In order for a brother to be elected to the post, he needs to have a majority of the votes. At this Chapter, for example, there were 29 electors, so 15 votes were needed for a brother to be elected. Multiple ballots are usually required before such a majority is forthcoming.

The first round of ballots was, as you might expect, for the position of Provincial Minister. It would not be right for me to reveal everything that went on in the Chapter; suffice to say that when we arrived at Pantasaph less than two days earlier I was nowhere near being the favourite for the elections, but the God of surprises did His customary thing and I was elected on the third ballot.

When the result was announced the President of the Chapter asked me if I accepted my election. For a brief moment of panic I considered refusing; but that would have been disobedient to the voice of the brothers, so I accepted and slipped into a state of mild shock. My fears and consternation were somewhat alleviated, however, by the subsequent elections for the Definitory, which gave me a good team of advisors.

In the evening there was the Proclamation of the Elections, as part of Evening Prayer. As the new Provincial Minister, I then made the profession of faith, and was presented with the seal of the Province, to symbolise the authority I was receiving.

In the Capuchin Order the new Provincial takes up his responsibility immediately, so I had no time for things to sink in before I was making decisions. It's been a steep learning-curve; but there have been several consolations and helps along the way. Firstly, as I mentioned, the Definitory (i.e. my four councillors) are an excellent group, with a good mix of characters and experiences. Secondly, the outgoing Provincial, Br. James, stayed around for a good two months before heading off for his sabbatical; so there was plenty of time to pick his brains and lean on his sympathy. Thirdly, the Lord has been with me all the way. He hasn't always made it easy, but He's shown me how He can work with my mistakes at least as much as with my correct decisions. Fourthly, I attribute the graces thus far to the many prayers that people are sending up for me. Thank you, one and all!

I apologise for the autobiographical nature of this post. I felt some explanation was due, however, for my three months of silence. Now that I'm blogging again I have some backlog of stuff to share. The next post will be a slightly modified version of my Christmas letter to the friars. After that, my sister has told me she expects "a scintillating post on leadership." No pressure...

Monday, 5 September 2011

Provincial Chapter: the Beginning

Last night almost all the Capuchins of the British Province gathered at Pantasaph Friary, the oldest and largest of our houses on this isle, for the Provincial Chapter. Other Provinces send delegates from each house to the Chapter; but we're so small that everyone can participate, with only a couple of infirm brothers unable to attend. The Chapter, I should explain, is a meeting which takes place every three years, at which the friars discuss issues facing them and discern together the way God is leading them forward. Among the decisions to be made, often the most significant is the election of the Provincial Minister and his council (oddly called, 'the Definitory').

The Chapter is also a fraternal occasion, however, so after last night's initial business there was a time to socialise, to enjoy each other's company. Indeed, a lot of 'business' gets done at the dinner tables or over a drink; because our life and our work are always intermingled.

We had an opening liturgy this morning, in which our minds were focussed by some readings from writings by and about St. Francis, and from Scripture. The Provincial Minister then washed the feet of the oldest and youngest brothers, as a reminder that authority exists to serve.

The next two sessions of the day involved 'appreciative inquiry' exercises, led by Ronnie McEwan, a Marist Brother, to get us into the right frame of mind for the deliberations to follow. Thus far, however, the only 'business session' was the presentation of the Provincial's Report, and questions concerning it. I, as the minute-taker, was kept rather busy trying to keep up with the various contributions. Alas, an enthusiastic description of the beautiful view of Greyfriars garden was not done justice in my notes. The list of flowers to be seen out the window of the new chapel passed by too fast to be recorded.

It won't be flowers on the agenda tomorrow, however. Tomorrow we have the elections. Come, Holy Spirit!

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

A Summer Well Spent

It's been quite a while since my last post, as I've been on holiday from Preston – too busy having a good time to set down words of wisdom on my blog. So before getting down to serious business again, I just want to briefly explain where I've been this past month. It'll give me the opportunity to share some of the good things going on in the Church and the world.

First of all, I spent a week in the lovely city of Coventry, my home town. It was a good time to wind down a little and catch up with family and friends. Friars not being a familiar sight in Coventry, however, I had some interesting encounters with strangers - including a pleasant and in-depth conversation with a couple of Sikhs walking round the Memorial Park. I also got a sneak peek at the newly-renovated St. Osburg's Church, and learnt of how a couple of medieval alabaster altar-pieces have been incorporated into the new altar.

Next on my itinerary was Chapter of Mats – not the original gathering of St. Francis and his friars, nor yet the 800th anniversary celebration in Assisi I was lucky enough to attend, but the annual get-together of the Maltfriscans. Highlights of the customarily boisterous week included excellent talks by Ant Towey and Fr. Mark Crisp, a moving drama of the history of salvation from the young 'Friscans, street evangelisation in St. Alban's (with a last-minute flash mob tacked on), and a making of some 'Rocky Road' as an illustration of the Christian life.

As if that wasn't enough, I went on to another charismatic Catholic event – the New Dawn conference at Walsingham. This was considerably larger than Chapter of Mats – the Maltfriscan gathering numbered about 150 people, whereas New Dawn garnered about 3000. The main practical difference this made to me was that more time was spent hearing confessions. But it was very encouraging to see such a large number of Catholics setting aside a whole week to praise God and listen to His Word. Needless to say, there were plenty of good speakers and preachers. I also enjoyed getting to spend time with my sister and her little family, who were also there for the week. Some amusement was caused by the occasional sight of me walking along with a toddler or two hanging onto my cord.

I then got together with the rest of my family for a lovely week in the Lake District, where we stayed in a holiday cottage on the edge of Keswick. The cottage was at the gates of the diocesan youth centre, so there was a ready chapel (in what used to be the stables, appropriately enough) for me to celebrate Mass. Other highlights were paddling a canoe across Derwent Water with my brother Simon, while some others of the family kayaked along, and walking the Coledale Horseshoe with my Dad and my brother Aidan.

Finally, after having been back in Preston for most of a week, I took another couple of nights away for my Dad's 60th birthday celebrations. On this occasion I got down to Coventry and back by hitch-hiking. Yes, I'm glad to report that there are still some people who'll pick up hitch-hikers, although not as many as in my student days.

To finish the summer off, however, I've just been to Walsingham again, for the Youth 2000 festival. Along with the Maltfriscan community, Youth 2000 has been a support and encouragement for my Franciscan vocation since shortly before I joined the Order. This year's gathering seems to have benefited rather than lost out by its proximity to World Youth Day, with many freshly-inspired young Catholics there to spread the love.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

An Image of God

You might already have seen the video below, but you probably didn't see it in the light of the following quote from G.K. Chesterton:

“A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, ‘Do it again’; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.” (Orthodoxy, Chapter 4)

OK, now watch the video...

Monday, 4 July 2011

The Campaign for Colourful Clothing

You may not have heard before of The Campaign for Colourful Clothing; but that’s hardly surprising, as it’s not got beyond the Catholic Chaplaincy of UCLAN until now. Like many of my ideas, it may never actually come to fruition (the Eucharistic flash mob was an exception), so I thought I’d put it out for people’s amusement and (possibly) edification.

The Campaign for Colourful Clothing is not evangelistic – it falls rather into the category of ‘pre-evangelisation’ (a useful term I first came across in an article about The Lord of the Rings). For it seeks to lift something of that blanket of dullness whereby the devil keeps many people from finding and following the Lord.

I have already written about wearing the religious habit in public. But one thing I didn't mention was how it slowly dawned on me, over the years, that my sober, penitential garb is actually quite colourful and stylish compared to the drab, misshapen clothing worn by most people in this country. It further occurred to me that this was wrong, that the religious habit was originally conceived as a modest and austere contrast to the merry clothing of medieval Europe. Back then, wearing brown made the friars stand out as poor and humble. Now, however, it is the rare person wearing something colourful who stands out from a sea of black, grey, and highly muted colours. Just have a look next time you're out in a busy street or other public place.

Old Tom Bombadill is a merry fellow;
Bright blue his jacket is, and his boots are yellow.
I write this at a time of year when the amount of colour on display does go up somewhat. Oddly enough, it's just when the weather is doing a good enough job of being cheerful that many people get out their cheerful clothes. We could really do with these bright colours in the grey and damp of winter; but the prevailing fashion is for grim and grey shades. I was once told that this Western tendency to wear black, grey, and white stems from the age of the Puritans. Until then the normal thing was to wear colourful clothing (although some colours were expensive to come by). We can see this more universal human instinct in the cultures of places like Africa and India. The normality of black and grey in our society is a suppression of natural human joy. Other kill-joy changes also date back to Oliver Cromwell and his ilk: the reduction of Christmastide from 40 days to 12, and the still-extant (but not enforced) law that bans the eating of plum pudding on Christmas Day.

As someone who wears dark brown, I am far from denigrating 'drab' clothing. I appreciate the subtlety of muted shades - including grey, which no fan of The Lord of the Rings can regard as a boring colour. Black, too, has its place. But my point is that there is far too much of the dark or muted colours.

I have therefore resolved to raise my voice against this modern wrong, and start a campaign to encourage a change in fashion. I conceive this as part of a greater movement, which for the time being I shall call Making England Merry Again, and which has yet to develop. The Campaign for Colourful Clothing is but the first battle in this crusade (I use the word deliberately).

In my fond imaginings, the battle will be brought to the streets by cheerfully-dressed people wielding 'Award Cards', which will be handed out to anyone wearing colourful clothing. The cards will carry a simple message of gratitude - "Thank you for brightening up our lives". There will also be a list of the guidelines as to what kind of clothing merits an award card, and the address of a website which will give tips on good colour combinations and other ways of dressing more merrily.

Deep down, they really want to be Benedictines
As I said above, the Campaign may never actually happen. I merely put the idea out in the hope that it will be the beginning of something. But, if after all I've said, you still feel that colours like black or grey are more 'you', maybe you should join a religious order. Now there's a thought...

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Flash Mob: The Text

This ‘litany’, which we used in the Eucharistic flash mob, has been a very popular element. Many have requested the text, and many who haven’t asked might still appreciate it.

Jesus Christ is in every book of the Bible…

In Genesis Jesus is...
“The Seed of the Woman”

In Exodus He is…
“The Passover Lamb”

In Leviticus He is…
“The Priest, the Altar & the Sacrifice”

In Numbers He is…
“The Pillar of Cloud by Day and the Pillar of Fire by Night”

In Deuteronomy Jesus is…
“The Prophet Like Moses”

Come and kneel before Him now

In Joshua Jesus is…
“The Captain of Our Salvation”

In Judges He is…
“Our Judge and Lawgiver”

In Ruth He is…
“Our Kinsman-Redeemer“

In I & II Samuel He is…
“Our Trusted Prophet”

In Kings & Chronicles He is…
“Our Reigning King”

In Ezra He is…
“The Rebuilder of the Broken-Down Walls of Human Life”

Come and kneel before Him now

In Nehemiah Jesus is…
“Our Restorer”

In Tobit He is…
“The Messenger of New Life”

In Judith He is…
“Weakness Turned into Victory”

In Esther He is…
“Our Advocate”

In I & II Maccabees He is…
“The Leader Who Dies for God’s Law”

Come and kneel before Him now

In Job Jesus is…
“Our Ever-Living Redeemer”

In Psalms He is…
“Our Shepherd”

In Proverbs He is…
“Our Wisdom”

In Ecclesiastes He is…
“Our Hope of Resurrection”

In the Song of Songs He is…
“Our Loving Bridegroom”

In Wisdom He is…
“The Emanation of God’s Thought”

In Ecclesiasticus Jesus is…
“Our Security”

Come and kneel before Him now

In Isaiah Jesus is…
“The Suffering Servant”

In Jeremiah He is…
“The Righteous Branch”

In Lamentations He is…
“Our Weeping Prophet”

In Baruch He is…
“The Mercy From the Eternal One”

In Ezekiel He is…
“The One With the Right To Rule”

In Daniel Jesus is...
“The Fourth Man in the Firey Furnace”

Come and kneel before Him now

In Hosea Jesus is…
“The Faithful Husband Forever Married to the Sinner”

In Joel He is…
“The One who Baptises with the Holy Spirit and Fire”

In Amos He is…
“The Restorer of Justice”

In Obadiah He is…
“Mighty to Save”

In Jonah He is…
“Our Great Foreign Missionary”

In Micah Jesus is…
“The Feet of One Who Brings Good News”

Come and kneel before Him now

In Nahum Jesus is…
“Our Stronghold in the Day of Trouble”

In Habakkuk He is…
“God My Saviour”

In Zephaniah He is…
“The King of Israel

In Haggai He is…
“The Signet Ring”

In Zechariah He is…
“Our Humble King Riding on a Colt”

In Malachi Jesus is…
“The Sun of Righteousness”

Come and kneel before Him now

In Matthew Jesus is…
“God with us”

In Mark He is…
“The Son of God”

In Luke He is…
“The Son of Mary – feeling what you feel”

In John He is…
“The Bread of Life”

In Acts Jesus is…
“The Saviour of the world”

Come and kneel before Him now

In Romans Jesus is…
“The Righteousness of God”

In I Corinthians He is…
“The Resurrection”

In II Corinthians He is…
“The God of All Comfort”

In Galatians He is…
“Your Liberty. He sets you free.”

In Ephesians Jesus is…
“The Head of the Church”

Come and kneel before Him now

In Philippians Jesus is…
“Your joy”

In Colossians He is…
“Your completeness”

In I & II Thessalonians He is…
“Your hope”

In I Timothy He is…
“Your faith”

In II Timothy Jesus is…
“Your stability”

Come and kneel before Him now

In Titus Jesus is…

In Philemon He is…
“Your benefactor “

In Hebrews He is…
“Your perfection”

In James He is…
“The power behind your faith”

In I Peter He is…
“Your example”

In II Peter Jesus is…
“Your purity”

Come and kneel before Him now

In I John Jesus is…
“Your life”

In II John He is…
“Your pattern”

In III John He is…
“Your motivation”

In Jude He is…
“The foundation of your faith”

In Revelation Jesus is…
“Your coming King.”

He is…
the first and the last;
the beginning and the end.
He is the keeper of creation and the creator of all.
He is the architect of the universe and the manager of all time.
He always was, He always is and He always will be
unmoved, unchanged, undefeated and never undone.

He was bruised and brought healing,
He was pierced and eased pain,
He was persecuted and brought freedom,
He was dead and brought life,
He is risen and brings power,
He reigns and brings peace.

The world can’t understand him;
the armies can’t defeat him;
schools can’t explain him;
and the leaders can’t ignore him.
Herod couldn’t kill him;
the Pharisees couldn’t confuse him;
the people couldn’t hold him;
Nero couldn’t crush him;
Hitler couldn’t silence him;
the new age can’t replace him;
and Oprah can’t explain him away!

He is life, love, longevity & Lord.
He is goodness, kindness, gentleness and God.
He is holy, righteous, mighty, powerful, pure.
His ways are right, His words eternal, His rules unchanging,
and His mind… is on me.
He is my redeemer.
He is my saviour.
He is my God.
He is my Priest.
He is my Joy.
He is my Comfort.
He is my Lord
and He rules my life.

Monday, 27 June 2011

The Making of a Eucharistic Flash Mob

Br. Loarne, one of the friars I live with, is an ideas-machine. He’s forever coming up with new concepts and proposals, leaving me struggling to keep abreast of where he is. So it was quite unusual for me to blow him away with a new idea of my own. He’d been talking with an evangelist from our parish at Pantasaph in North Wales, and told me that they were hoping to do some sort of Catholic flash mob in their area. I suggested ‘flash-mob Eucharistic adoration’, and he staggered backwards across the room. Literally.

The idea had been long in germinating. Having been introduced to the phenomenon of flash mobs last year, the creative faculty somewhere in the back recesses of my mind started working away on the evangelistic possibilities. I looked at various Christian flash mobs, but wasn’t much inspired – except by the Alleluia Chorus one, which required more skill than I thought we had at our disposal. Besides, I wanted something more specifically Catholic. So it was at a Youth 2000 retreat, where they have continuous exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, that the idea of a Eucharistic flash mob first came to me. I use the phrase ‘came to me’ advisedly – I think it was a moment of inspiration, which do tend to happen in the Presence of the Blessed Sacrament.

At the time, I think I envisioned the flash mob as a possible Youth 2000 initiative. But I let the concept stew away in the aforementioned recesses of my mind, until Br. Loarne prompted it to come out of hiding. We quickly started praying and collaborating on the idea of doing it on our own patch in Preston. Both of us were partly motivated by a dissatisfaction with Corpus Christi processions and other ‘walks of witness’, which largely fail to make any connection with non-believers. I’d also often felt, on these Corpus Christi processions, a disappointment that no one among the passers-by would fall to their knees. “There must be some Catholics among them, after all”, I thought. So the prospect of modelling the proper response was appealing.

Our guardian, Br. John, gave us permission to go ahead. I then approached the parish priest of our intended location (a street called, appropriately enough, ‘Friargate’), who also gave permission. We've recently found out that we should have asked the bishop as well; but we didn't know that at the time, so we got on with the task of organising the event. Unlike many of the flash mobs you see on the internet, ours required no musical or dancing skill; all that was required of most participants was the ability to kneel on a hard surface. But we still had to gather together our ‘mob’ – I reckoned we needed at least 30 participants to make the necessary impact. Yes, I have to break it you – those of you who thought that the people kneeling were unprepared passers-by – most of them were part of the flash mob. But not all. At least four adorers were truly spontaneous. The fact that so many people have thought it spontaneous, however, is a sign of success – flash mobs are supposed to have the appearance of spontaneity.

Recruiting people for a novel event like this was difficult, not least because we wanted to keep the details from public circulation, and we were hampered by the fact that most Catholics hadn’t even heard of ‘flash mobs’. So the initial publicity was too mysterious, and only some personal appeals to some key groups got the necessary number together. Thanks are due in particular to the university students, the Irish travellers, and the parish of St. Wilfrid’s for responding with courage. People have written a lot about the bravery of us friars; but we’re used to standing out in public, unlike the brave souls who knelt down in the middle of the street.

Flash-mobbers getting
ready for action
As I wrote above, we wanted an event that made some connection with passers-by, so Br. Loarne came up with the idea of a ‘litany’ about Jesus with a refrain of “Come and kneel before Him now.” He got the litany from a Christian video on YouTube, but adapted it somewhat. He also thought up the plan for getting the sound system in position: having it brought along by a student using it to play reggae music, who could then switch tracks when the Blessed Sacrament was exposed.

The evangelistic element was even more significantly advanced by the presence of ‘undercover agents’ in the crowd, handing out cards designed by Br. Loarne (see picture), and taking opportunities to explain the proceedings to bemused onlookers. Ever tried to explain transubstantiation to a complete stranger? Top marks to our team of evangelists. It was also important that we had a follow-up to invite people to. Happily, we already had a series of ‘seeker services’ up and running.

Now to the central element of the whole event: Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. We were well aware that Eucharistic processions, the nearest precedent to what we planned, are supposed to involve cope, humeral veil, candles, and incense. But such rules are for the purpose of showing reverence to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, and we reckoned that such reverence would be adequately shown by the dramatic sight of people kneeling down before Him in a busy street. Using the full paraphernalia normally (and rightly) associated with Exposition would have two related disadvantages. Firstly, it would undermine the spontaneous appearance of  flash mobs, which is how they connect with people. People do not normally walk around with candles and thuribles hidden under their jackets. Secondly, such things would serve to distance the Sacrament from passers-by, adding layers of to-them-meaningless ritual.

We had to have a decent monstrance, of course, but one light-weight and small enough. After trying a couple of churches and convents, I found the ideal monstrance in the chapel of Corpus Christi College (fittingly). I thank the chaplain for the loan of it.

One worry during our preparations was over whether we should inform the police. But we reasoned that if we didn’t block any traffic, there was little cause for the authorities to be concerned. So it was important to choose a pedestrianised venue. The spot on Friargate outside the St. George’s Shopping Centre seemed ideal; we’d already done some more low-key evangelisation there on occasions. But we only settled on it after prayer and a reconnaissance mission (in which we visited the site on the Thursday before, to check on traffic conditions and other practicalities). As it happened, a policeman did come by during the flash mob, and strolled by unconcerned. It might have been different if we’d been spectacularly successful and hundreds of people were kneeling in worship, blocking the street up. But that would have been a nice problem to have.

A whole extra dimension was added by filming the event, which we thought very important, given that it seemed to be the first of its kind. Providentially, Sean Zaniboni, a student of sound production, had recently joined our chaplaincy community, and he enthusiastically took up the idea and used his contacts in the ‘Media Factory’ to get a team and equipment together. Gerardo Gonzalez also came in to help out with filming. The manager of the Black Horse Hotel kindly let us use an upstairs room to do filming from, and another cameraman took up position in a cafĂ©, while two others were free-roaming. One of the students kneeling in adoration had the sound-recording equipment concealed on her person. We did have to re-record Br. Loarne’s voice after the event, however, as it didn’t come across very clearly. And then Sean slaved for hours over the footage to put together the video in time for Corpus Christi. We should also mention Adam T., who took the photographs for us.

Br. Loarne briefing the participants
The choreography of our flash mob was simple compared to many others. At the preparatory meeting and briefing we split people into 5 groups, with instructions to arrive on the scene at different times (watches/phones had to be synchronised). The first group had to be the bravest, being the first to kneel down. I was to arrive at exactly1.15pm, and the first ‘kneelers’ 30 seconds after, once I’d elevated the monstrance. Others were to come on the scene at 1.16pm, and then at 1-minute intervals after that, so that the ‘congregation’ would slowly grow. The flash-mobbers were asked to start clapping and cheering at a certain point towards the end of Br. Loarne’s litany. Once again, the idea was to have something that seemed spontaneous, and which others could join in.

The stage having been set, it was fairly easy to walk up Friargate, as I often do, and stop and speak to one of the touts while I put on my stole. He was someone I’d met before, so he wasn’t surprised to see me. He was surprised, however, when I took out the monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament and held it up. “What’s that?!” he asked. “That,” I replied, “believe it or not, is Jesus.”