Friday, 7 March 2008

In the footsteps of Napoleon...


Some Blogs have reported on Canon Griffiths and his mission to become Parish Priest of St Helena... Yes that St Helena

I have known Canon Michael Griffiths since I was a child [he was our curate for many years , his preaching and convivial manner at the sunday mass held in the local school became so popular many, many lapsed catholics returned to the fold and felt at last that the Church was truly "home"]
If Richard Marsden cared to check the Corby archives of the Evening Telegraph he'd discover that Fr Michael was the life and soul of every Parish social event [One christmas bazaar he made hundreds making and selling 'Holy Hot Dogs!!' {He's actually a Cordon Bleu Chef too !} ]..nor was he reticent to comment on social issues in an authentically truly catholic way.

Subsequently when I entered seminary I was assigned to Bedford Holy Child & St Joseph's for my parish placement - I learnt more from him and Canon Norman Smith about how to truly live the life of a priest - spiritually, pastorally and liturgically than any amount of seminary lectures could have taught me in a decade.
I'd had a rough time in seminary and his kind words and support calmed the turbulent seas within me...

Later I was withdrawn from seminary and placed in an Aylesbury parish for a year - although the parish priest was a living saint, the curate was definitely anything but ; he bullied , humiliated, ridiculed, harangued and maintained a campaign of character assassination all my time there; but I always had a bolthole in the nearby Parish of St Clare's where Fr Michael had his first parish [the church was little more than a tin shack but it was constantly heaving to the rafters with avid, devout and exceedingly happy parishioners - it wasn't just his charisma, sense of humour and infectious love of God,Our Blessed Mother and the Church ; it was the way he could always inspire [he was rarely reticent to prick consciences] and always make you feel that you were a better person than you actually were [if anyone who has been graced to enter his confessional they will know exactly what I mean] ]
Anyway , whenever I needed a place to hide from the vicious onslaught of the vitriolic curate he was always there with his cafetiere and cream cakes and a kind word for me and conspiratorial advice regarding how to survive 'K's brutal regime' - and I will always cherish it with gratitude.

An example of the way he is - when his friends arranged a secret 40th birthday party for him he insisted that everyone considered it my 20th birthday party too - sharing anything was so naturally axiomatic to him.
He cares : in fact I think he has 'care' written through him like a stick of rock - and like all holy 'boatrockers' he has invoked a modicum of hostility over the years from the more modernist, progressive 'professional clergy/laity' brigade - but he has never ceased from defending the weak, protecting his flock and fellow priests; being a devoted servant to bishops [who on occasion didn't deserve his loyalty but he still unswervingly gave it]
...and finally, when I was thrust out into the world to make my own way, it was his advice and support which has led me to where I am now - No, I am not a priest, no I am not a famous scholar or writer or mover and shaker in society [as was predicted by many] - I am just a shelf-stacker with three children whom I adore more than life itself - and I wouldn't change my past one iota because it led to my beloved three 'angels' [well? if angels eat you out of house and home and have a predilection to use every piece of crockery in the house and lose their shoes?]
...and my life is happy in more than a small part thanks to him.

when I heard he was being 'exiled' to St Helena I thought selfishly how much England [and more especially the diocese of Northampton ] will lose - it can't afford to lose priests of this ilk - there's still a civil war going on out there within the church - and a war of attrition against secularism and all its evil exigences - and canon Michael was always a thorn in our enemy's side. If there is one thing that can blow away the smoke of satan it's Michael's famous booming chestertonian laugh ! If there was ever anything that cast out despair and despondency it was his kind words of support.

I thank God for knowing him; and know most assuredly that very soon the people of St Helena will feel exactly the same way.... If this country had a hundred priests like him we could change the world !

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