If you know your history…

There is a famous Celtic song sung with gusto by the legions of wonderful fans of this great club at every game (No prizes for guessing which team I support.) and it has the words…

“Sure it’s a grand old team to play for; sure it’s a grand old team to see. And if you know your history, it’s enough to make your hearts go oh, oh, oh, oh!” (I don’t think it will win any awards for it’s lyrics or tune or be the next Eurovision entry, but it grabs the sentiment and the importance of never forgetting where you have come from.)

Last Saturday we dipped into the history books as we gathered to have our first Xaverian Day. About 30 of us spent the day discovering the roots of the Xaverian Family, its charism, mission, spirituality and implications for us today.

In the morning Angela led us in a beautiful welcoming liturgy and then we explored the life of the Founder Saint Guido Maria Conforti, the birth of the Xaverians and the characteristics of this Missionary Family.

In the afternoon Phil presented Pope Francis’ “Evangelii Gaudium” – The Joy of the Gospel and facilitated input and discussion on the relevance of being missionaries today. Rose then helped bring the day to an end with a closing liturgy helping us to be reminded of what we had learned and what was shared.

Below is a part of the presentation I gave which hopefully might give readers a glimpse of who we are. We hope the day is the start of a journey where we can discover together our missionary vocation and how to live it.

The Xaverian Family.

The Origin and Charism

“The Spirit of the Lord animates the Church and constantly renews her awareness of her mission in the world. The same spirit inspired Bishop Guido Maria Conforti to dedicate himself to the evangelization of non-Christian, and to gather into one missionary community those called to consecrate their lives to God for the same ideal. Following our Founder, and reliving the same charism, we Xaverians respond to the Lord’s mandate “Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Good News to all creation.” The life and the words of the Founder are a singular source of inspiration for our apostolic life.” (Constit.#1)

Who are we?

Presently we are a small family of priests, brothers, (700) sisters (200) and lay members/collaborators/ associates working in 20 countries throughout the world, founded in 1895.

Conforti’s Testament Letter, which he wrote in 1921 whilst presenting the new Constitutions for approval, is clear on the vocation of the Xaverian.

The Xaverian is to be apostolic.

“Our vocation draws us closer to Christ and to the Apostles, who leaving behind everything pledged themselves entirely to following Christ.”

So that dimension of Christ rooted but sent is essential for us.

The Xaverian is to be Religious.

Conforti saw that the Apostolic Life must be inseparably untied to the Religious Life. He said, “The Apostolic Life combined with the Religious life is the most is in itself the most perfect life possible according to the Gospel.”

His Institute was to be a religious-missionary one or none at all. Which was quite different from other Orders and Congregations emerging at that time.

Conforti saw the purpose of the vows was to focus the Xaverian completely on the proclamation of the Gospel.

The vows.

 “Poverty is the first sacrifice Christ demands of those who aspire to perfection or of following him more closely” characterised by Moderate Lifestyles.

Chastity is the vow which is seen as the total gift of self and gives a better witness in announcing the Good News.

Obedience, Conforti saw as the sacrifice to God of the greatest gift of freedom. It is there to make the missionary become solely an instrument in proclamation of the Gospel.

Mission and Community.

For Conforti there was also another dimension to the Religious-Apostolic Life and it was that of Mission. It was a fourth vow where the Xaverian must be prepared to commit to going to others (ad gentes) outside of his own culture (ad extra) for life (ad vitam) to “win as many as possible for Christ.”

Also Conforti wished that the religious community be the agent of mission. This would be a much better sign and a model of mission. Community is where the Xaverian tries to model the very Kingdom that is being announced. Harmony and fraternal love are indispensible…

“Let each one carefully protect the bonds of this sacred unity and avoid anything that could weaken it …Everything should be generously offered on the altar of fraternal harmony which makes the communal life of any institution strong and prosperous.” (TL)

He constantly insisted on this and one of his well known phrases was; “Love one another as brothers, but respect each other as Princes.”

Xaverian Spirituality.

Xaverian Spirituality derives from the spiritual experience of its founder, Saint Guido Maria Conforti. As the founder of it, he passed on his spiritual life to his “children” as the spirituality they should follow. At least, there are three main elements of his spirituality that are very remarkable in the Constitutions;

  • Christ-centered spirituality,
  • the love of the community/family,
  • the spirit of mission towards the poor, the marginalized and especially those who have not known Jesus yet.

Recent happenings.

April 2018, we celebrated our XIII Regional Chapter.

We set ourselves these objectives for those 4 years.

  1. Develop a mission spirituality
  2. Mission on the margins (Particularly interfaith dialogue.)
  3. Lay Participation and Formation

In October 2018 we took part in the first European Study Forum where for the first time we accepted that now Europe is a mission territory and the non-Christians are on our doorsteps.

We are in the process of developing how we respond to this paradigm shift in mission and may St Guido bless us with wisdom and courage.

“Go and ask your Dad.”

My Dad has many wise sayings… usually around drink. When someone bought him a drink it was either; “Your face I may forget. Your kindness, never!” or “May your giving hand never wither!” What a philosopher the old man is! One other which he quoted frequently to us, usually around exam times, was “If you fail to prepare, be prepared to fail.”

On Monday and Tuesday (12/13th of August) we will be meeting in Coatbridge, looking at our plans for the next three years as a Region. As well as the Xaverians actively involved in our centres in Preston, Coatbridge and the Parish in Glasgow, Hugh Foy, the UK programmes director and our new recruit Phil Callaghan, Deputy Director of Programmes, will meet to pray, reflect and strategise the priorities and our activities until the next Regional Chapter in 2022. Hopefully in the next few weeks we will highlight the way ahead for us as the UK Region and give more direction and focus to our presences in Scotland and England.

Coupled with these meetings, here in Preston, we will be preparing for our Xaverian Charism Day on September 14th. On that day we hope to understand better the vision of Conforti, the history of the Xaverian Family, the lived out Xaverian Vocation and develop our mission spirituality too. In this exploration day we hope that we all emerge better prepared to make mission happen in the here and now. This will be a chance for us to take seriously Pope Francis’ invite to become missionary disciples!

We also are putting on hold the proposed Open Day which was scheduled for 7th of September. Why we meet, what we do, how we fundraise, socialise, bring people together, use our resources, reach out… will hopefully creatively come forth when we have a better handle on what being a missionary is today.

“Every day is a school day!” – another one of Dad’s pearls of wisdom – reminds us that we learn, grow, better ourselves… if prepared to do so. So let’s seize the moment and allow God to speak to us, through us and among us, so that the idea of failing might never be an option.

Jim

New wine, new wineskins…

Sometimes reality hits us hard. A few years ago, in my home Parish in Scotland, one of the Altar Servers asked if I was Father Clarke. When I replied that I was, she then continued… “Yes, you were at school with my Grandad. ”After the initial shock, I have since invested heavily on anti-wrinkle cream and anti-depressants, but the numbers don’t lie. And so it is great to announce that we are having an injection of youth to the old skins at 169.

On July the 1st we welcomed to our Regional and Preston Centre staff, Phil Callaghan who will be beefing up the team (as if I need beefing up) and will be jointly responsible for the Administration at the Xaverian Centre and as Deputy Director of Programmes for the UK Region.

Phil is from Manchester (but don’t hold that against him) and a big United fan (bless him). He has extensive experience as a lay person working in the Church. He has worked as a hospitality worker at the Quaker Meeting House, worked freelance in adult formation and in preparing and managing an event for Catholic young adults in the lead up to the Synod of Bishops’ on Young People, Faith and Vocational Discernment. He has been a Development Worker for the Young Christian Workers (YCW) and was also the National President between 2011 and 2017 as well as being involved in the Salford Diocese Lourdes Pilgrimage.

Phil studied at Heythrop College, London where he obtained a BA in Theology. It was there where Phil first encountered the Xaverians, as our confrere Rocco Viviano was studying and teaching there.

Phil came and did some YCW training in Coatbridge a few years ago and myself and Hugh took part in a YCW weekend at that time. We were both impressed by Phil’s deep faith, his love of the Gospel, his sense of justice and general desire to reach out as a missionary disciple.

Our Region felt the need to give Preston a real go and Phil’s presence with us, along with his youth, enthusiasm, energy and experience, will aid that greatly. We will also have a few changes in the make up of the Xaverian Community, which will see three Xaverians and Phil actively dedicated to programmes and projects at the Preston Centre (Watch this space).

To this end we are also having a day of Formation on Mission Spirituality and the Xaverian Charism on September 14th, where hopefully together we can look at being missionaries, here and now and plan meaningful activities. Also on September 7th we will have an Open Day to allow people to come and meet us.

The summer has been mixed, in terms of weather. As I write this it is raining heavily whereas two days ago it was tropical. From speedos and sandals to Wellies and waterproofs… such is life. We hope too that as we move on in the next few months, things will get heated up in terms of our activities and our initiatives and that our wine will be bubbly, refreshing and energising.

Please join us in these exciting times!

The Summer of ’89

Someone once quipped “If Bishops and Priests went on strike, would anyone notice.” Don’t answer, please!

From many comments such as “It’s alright for you, you only work one day a week!” and “Priesthood? That’s a cushy number. That’s why you never see it advertised at the Job Centre!” I have had my share.

On the 17th of June 2019 I will celebrate 30 years of priesthood. (Not looking for a fanfare and balloons) I have never gone on strike, but I’d like to hope I have been of some relevance to some people over that period.

Reflecting on the years gone by, I thank God for the call to ordained priesthood, for the opportunity to respond to that call (sadly not the case for many others) and for the places, people and plethora of positions the call has put me in. All in all, I have been blessed.

During the ordination rite, the Bishop asks the Superior, “Do you judge him to be worthy?” I read someone once saying that this is the wrong question. It should be “do you judge him to be unworthy?” For Christ calls the weak, the unworthy, the last … as his co-workers and I identify with that. I studied with many people, of both sexes, who would have been better equipped than me for ordained priesthood, but that is not Jesus’ criteria.

Over the 30 years I have made mistakes, I have fallen short, I have been unfaithful, I have let people down, I have let myself down…but I keep trying my best, limited at times as that may be.

However, I have been blessed and encouraged by the priesthood that we all share as Baptised. And that has inspired me to be better. Be it the women in the Base Communities in Brazil rowing for hours to teach other mum’s good child care, be it Hattie Williams in South Side Chicago opening her doors to bring the black and white communities together, be it Mrs. Murphy who gives her £5.00 every week for the missions, be it the many great men and women, who we can all think of, who have brought Christ to others, the catechists, the Eucharist Minsters, the folk who make the coffee after mass, those who visit the sick, collect for the poor, volunteer for this and that… this is the priesthood we all share, and I thank God for the priests (non-ordained) who have enriched my life and encouraged me.

I would like to believe that at our Centre here in Preston, we can create a space for all priesthoods to be welcomed, celebrated, encouraged and empowered. The body of Christ has many parts…but all part of the same!

Have a look at the range of activities on the go and maybe bring something yourself. We all have pieces of the jigsaw and together we can make the picture more complete. After all God didn’t do it alone – the Trinity, that we celebrate reminds us of the perfect community, each one playing different parts…creating, redeeming and empowering.

The late great Norman Walsh used to joke when someone was celebrating a wedding anniversary… “Did you have a minute’s silence?“ On Monday I will take a minute or two to thank God for priestly ministry, mine and others. Please take a minute too, to do the same.

Jim

Happy Birthday!!!

If like me you are shying away from Birthday celebrations when the cake looks like the Towering Inferno and there is more wax on it than Madame Tussauds, well today let’s make an exception.

Happy birthday to one and all! On this feast of Pentecost, we celebrate the birthday of the Church, not just any Church, but the Missionary Church. Today we are reminded that we are to continue the mission of Jesus, to be the proclaimers of Good News to the ends of the earth and to build up his Kingdom, here!

The disciples filled with the Spirit spoke to all in their native languages – yes even Glaswegian! The Spirit came to empower the motley crew of followers to move from fearful, frightened people to become a fearless, feisty power, that is the Church. The community is to go, to reach out, to be bearers of good news to all peoples in all parts of the world.

Our decision to take over from the Carmelites, was a spirit filled discernment, a Pentecost moment. The resources, the contacts, the good will, the challenges, the opportunities… are exactly what that first community faced when from a small group in a little corner of the world, it grew to become the world’s largest religion – 2.2 billion that is a third of the earth’s population.

And we too continue that mission in our trying to be Church here in Preston. In the activities that so many people attend and organise, in the coming together, in our reaching out, the new initiatives, in the searching to be more of a resource and service to the local Church and community as well as thinking globally, we try to keep Pentecost alive!

The Xaverian Mission Spirituality Centre uses the reference to Spirit, not loosely but deliberately. We are inspired by the Holy Spirit to be the missionary Church, here and now.

The D Day remembrance 75 years on and the 250 major wars since the end of the Second World War where over 50 million have been killed reminds us that the Spirit of Pentecost which unites the divisions and celebrates the differences, must be re-discovered.

Let’s repeat the words of Saint Pope John XXIII at the beginning of Vatican II – “Renew in our days oh Lord, your wonders as in a new Pentecost!” and lets try to repeat the bold actions of the first community. We still have plenty to do and extra miles to go. Let’s joyfully do it together. Happy Birthday!

Preston Xaverian News: 31st May 2019

News just in from Fr Jim. You may remember from his previous post (Sunday the 26th May) that he and Hugh Foy were off to Rome for a conference. Fr Jim writes…

The 50 Years anniversary of the 1969 Conference on “Cultures of Unbelief” was held in the Gregorian University in Rome from May 28-30. Jim Clarke sx and Hugh Foy took part on behalf of the UK Region who have as one of their directives Interfaith Dialogue.

The basis of the Conference was an ongoing study looking at belief and unbelief in various parts of the world. One of the aspects was looking at the disaffiliation from the Church and the growing tendency towards atheism. On the whole, it was a very useful time and relevant to our Mission in Europe and the Western World.

Preston Xaverian News: 26th May 2019

Here in Preston things have been quite busy. Last Saturday (18/05) there was a day exploring “Being Church in Smaller Groups” as part of the Formation for Mission agenda of the ACTA Group. Facilitated by Rose and Greg McCrave, the day gave the 40 or so participants a chance to identify and celebrate where we can be Church in smaller group settings. It was a very life giving and enthusiastic time together and we look forward to the next day on July 13th, where we will be aided by Simon Stewart to look at the Emerging Church.

On September 14th we will have a day organised by the Xaverians where we will present the Xaverian Charism, explore together how to live the mission spirituality and make the Xaverian Centre here a place of formation and nourishment, but also one of outreach. Come and take part and see how we can put in practice our aims of interfaith dialogue, lay formation and mission on the margins by cultivating a mission spirituality.

This week Jim will be in Rome with Hugh Foy, our director of projects and programmes, taking part in a Conference at the Gregorian University on “Cultures of Unbelief.” This is part of our commitment to interfaith, interreligious dialogue. We will keep you posted on how it went.

On July 1st we welcome Phil Callaghan who will work with us here in Preston. Phil is a young lay man who has great experience in youth and lay formation and was the Chair of the YCW in the UK. He will help in both administration but also in creating and delivering programmes. We are excited to have him on board.

We wish to thank all who continue to put on events and courses here at the Centre and to all who work behind the scenes in collaboration with us. Please keep abreast of all that’s going on via the web site or by contacting the Centre.

God bless

Jim Clarke, s.x.

What a week that was!

I write this on Wednesday the 26th of September sitting at reception here in the Xaverian Mission Spirituality Centre reflecting that a week ago we were welcoming a group of Massai Warriors from Kenya!

The Osiligi Group (Osiligi means “hope”) entertained 80 of us with stories and song from the herdsmen and women of Kenya. They presented the great work that their small charity does including building schools, refurbishing wells, building and equipping clinics and bettering the lives and health of their village community. They also sold some homemade jewellery and artefacts. For 8 weeks they have been performing and presenting their story up and down the UK and Angela managed to book them and so we had the honour to host them here.

They are a Christian based group and their smiles were a reminder of our call to be and beam the Good News wherever we are. Apart from the embarrassment of me trying to emulate their movements through dance and jumps (there are bits of me that I didn’t know I had) the evening was a great success with everyone going away reminded that the Spirit is moving in very different cultures and contexts.

On the Thursday night we had our weekly celebration of Eucharist. Thursday is traditionally were the Xaverians all over the world and in all our communities gather to pray to encourage each other in our mission and recommit to the mission of the Church. The Mass was well attended with a good cross generational presence. Our Eucharist is an attempt also to emulate the reality of our Base Communities throughout the world, where we break the Word of God and the Bread of life together.

Afterwards we had a Jacob’s Join with an abundance of wine, cheese, salads and snacks and enjoyed each other’s company. (I am still nibbling various cheeses – though the wine seemed to go quicker!)

On Friday Joseph Cooper and his team held another Via Creativa session. Joseph’s friend Sharon led the group in dances and movement entitled “Energy Movement – Simple, life affirming dances”.

Unfortunately, I had to travel to Scotland for a wedding, so I couldn’t take part as I had hoped to redeem myself after floundering with the Massai Warriors. Those who took part in it thoroughly enjoyed it and we look forward to more such activities. There are another 2 Via Creativa sessions coming up…so come along and surprise yourself.

Finally on Sunday we held our first Open Day which was an attempt to draw people in and let the world know that the Centre is up and running. There were a variety of stalls, foods from around the world, a display of all we have going on and a Storytelling Festival to offer something for everyone.

As I ended up flipping burgers, I didn’t get to see Mary and the team tell their stories. Those who took part were full of praise, so I hope there will be other occasions for me to take part.

Thanks also to all our collaborators from Fulwood, Ribbleton, Bamber Bridge, Scotland and Brazil for making the day resemble Isaiah’s “Mountain of the Lord”. We are grateful to all who came, who gave of their time and energy, who spent weeks preparing things and who allowed those who came to see a little of what we are trying to build here.

The weekend also saw new signs being installed on the wall of the building and hopefully the Xaverian Mission Spirituality Centre, our centre, can nourish our spiritual life in order to develop our missionary life too.

Many thanks and blessings
Jim Clarke, s.x.

Discernment Day

On Wednesday June 6th, 25 willing collaborators gathered to begin a process of discerning how best we can develop the Xaverian Mission Spirituality Centre (formerly Tabor). This is really the beginning of a process which will include also discerning with the Xaverians in Scotland on June 20th.

The time together saw us working in groups and asking some fundamental questions:

  • What is our vision for this place?
  • How do we build a community?
  • What can I offer?
  • How can we create a welcome environment where everyone feels God’s love?
  • How can we make it sustainable?

The discussions in the groups were very positive and the plenary session brought together many common themes but also many creative and new ideas. The findings will then feed into step two of our discernment with the Coatbridge community who are also undergoing restructuring and redefining.

We started our meeting by singing so beautifully “Spirit of the Living God fall afresh on me/us/all” and personally, I really felt the Spirit at work.

Thanks to all and watch this space.