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.

Fr Jim calls on the Church to lead on climate change

Our very own Fr Jim was interviewed recently by the Scottish Catholic Observer. They published an article based on the interview on the 6th September. You can read the article here.

Jim spoke out both for the indigenous population and for mankind in general. The wanton destruction of the rainforest affects us all. We may be distant but we are complicit by our carelessness. A quote from the article shows our connection to the problem “Fr Clarke said deforestation was taking place in the region when he worked there in 1987, as large companies such as McDonald’s were ‘using the land to farm cattle for their burgers.’” Even taking our children or grandchildren to McDonalds has consequences.

“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

Xaverian Interfaith Conference 2019

In March the Xaverian Missionaries from the United Kingdom, Europe and the United States held a conference in Coatbridge on Interfaith dialogue.

There are paper copies of the final report from the conference on the display rack in the Preston Centre or you can read it by clicking here.

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.

Mothering Sunday: 31st March 2019

For Mothering Sunday we have this lovely piece from one of our community.

As I sat beside mum on April 9th last year to ‘officially’ receive her dementia diagnosis, an unusual sense of peace surrounded me. The lovely large gentle Nigerian ‘african mama’ type  psychiatrist tried to explain to her that she had Alzheimer’s disease and there were four different tablet options, and mum could try them one at a time to see which one suited her best.  She spoke in an easy almost casual tone as though she was offering her four hats, all different colours and each with its own ‘advantages’!  Mum wasn’t in the slightest bit phased and just nodded politely and said ‘thank you very much Doctor, thank you for your time’. The two of us left and did what we always did in these situations, got back in the car and headed to the nearest tea shop. A scone and pot of tea and all would be well.  In fact, these appointments were as routine to us as they probably were to the psychiatrist. This is because mum is 86, I’m 56 and for more than the last 40 years we’ve attended as many psychiatric appointments, as we’ve had scones…..well almost! Mum has suffered severe depression for most of her life. Now Alzheimer’s has come along and I want to share the ‘friend’ it has been to us in the last year .

For the first time in our lives we are living without her depression simply because as a result of Alzheimer’s, Mum’s FORGOTTEN everything she was depressed about!  Namely a terrible childhood, 50 years of a predominantly unhappy marriage, a lifelong battle with no self esteem etc.  Whilst she can clearly remember a period of her life from about the age of 17 – 27, her Alzheimer’s symptoms mean that for some reason she chooses to recall mainly only HAPPY memories. It is incredible that she has forgotten where she lived for the last 60 years and the jobs she did too. ALL those years have just disappeared. As her primary carers, this takes some getting used to for myself and my husband who have looked after her for the last 40. But for her it is a total gift. She lives not in the past, nor in the future, but only in the present moment. Often not even in the present day, as by evening she usually can’t recall much if anything of the afternoon, she is only present to the moment by moment clock!

This means that she lives now like at no other time in her previous years. As a workaholic, she had no hobbies, no interest in her world around especially nature, which always saddened me, as I always loved every aspect of the natural world. We never had flowers in our home, as she wouldn’t have dreamt of spending money on them when she hadn’t  enough for food. Now, wherever we go, she wants to stop and admire flower, plants, trees, birds, sky, sun, moon anything she can see! Her favourite place to go to is church. She has a deep devotion to Our Lady and in church, whilst she has little engagement with the ‘theology’, she loves the statues, candles, stained glass, flowers and sings along following the readings and joining in the prayers. The vibrance of our liturgy is itself a gift for her, that I too often take for granted.

I don’t want this to sound like Alzheimer’s hasn’t come with its challenges because of course it has. The tablets didn’t ‘suit’ her, and we’ve made all sorts of ‘adaptations’ to her independent living apartment.  We have also had to change many things within our family  in order to accommodate ‘Nanna’s needs’, but overall I wouldn’t have my last 56 years of her back. As ‘Mum with Alzheimers’ at 86 she’s not in any pain, she knows she’s deeply  loved, she laughs a lot and tells me she is looking forward to our next walk and tea shop trip. There’s much to be said for ‘Contented Dementia’!

“Do Not Be Afraid For I Am With You Always”.  HE is and we aren’t! Thanks Be To God.