Last Sunday the parish mission, given by the redoubtable 77 year old Fr John Edwards S.J. of Farm Street, came to and end. It began on Saturday 23rd September rather dramatically. Because of a misunderstanding, Father did not realise we have a vigil Mass on Saturday at 5.30pm: his train was due in at 5. I was saying the 5pm Mass at Benton and got back to see Father in full flow having arrived by taxi and having made it in time to preach. I was somewhat alarmed not to be able to see Fr Milburn who was meant to be saying the Mass but later discovered that he was sitting in the front row of the congregation.
I first met Fr Edwards at Ushaw at the end of 1983. I had just arrived at seminary and was somewhat surprised by what I found there. Father`s college retreat was a rock of certainity in a sea of confusion. He was the only retreat father I ever went to talk to in all my time at Ushaw. I resolved that whenever I became a parish priest I would invite him to give a mission. He came to St Wilfrid`s in 1998. When I became parish priest at St Mary`s I called him again and arranged another mission. The talks hadn`t changed since 1998 or even not that much since 1983 but as Father says if something is perfect it doesn`t need changing!
I was impressed by Father`s stamina. He gives the same mission service twice a day. It consists of an instruction, an action ( such as coming up to put a few grains of incense in the thurible before the Blessed Sacrament exposed) and a way of prayer followed by Mass. The themes were: " Is our Catholic faith true?"; " Why go to confession"; " The life of grace"; " The problem of evil" and "Our Dead". This last talk was particularly moving as Father spoke of his time as a gunnery officer on board a destroyer in the Korean war and the time he had to shell a village occupied by Chinese troops. He spoke of seeing Korean civilians on the beach watching his ship and how despite his best efforts shells fell on the beach. He told us how he prays every day for those he killed and for two of the crew who were killed by enemy fire. Unfortunately the attendance at the weekday talks was lower than Father would normally expect as a proportion of the Sunday congregation. However there was a good turn out for the children`s service on Saturday morning when Father asked children to bring models of angels or candles or cribs that they had made. This was preceded by the Saturday morning Tridentine Mass which attracted a good crowd.
On Saturday evening and Sunday morning Father had a captive audience and gave a commentary on the Mass. Memorable was his claim that if the Church ever said to you that you don`t need to attend Mass on a Sunday it would be lying. It could never say that there was anything more important for a Catholic than to attend Mass where we come to Calvary and the first day of the Resurrection and where we receive the body of Christ in Holy Communion.
Father does not charge for his mission but instead leaves out envelopes for contributions. I am happy to say that he collected £1070. I look forward to inviting him back at a later date.