Ash Wednesday


When I open my bedroom curtains each morning the sight that greets me is that of the churchyard of St Peter’s, Wolvercote, which is situated next door to our Society headquarters at 4 First Turn. As I looked upon that scene this morning on the first day of Lent I was reminded of some words of the former Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Basil Hume, in his book called Searching for God.

“There is something chilling, austere about the thought of Lent: the same feeling I get when I go into a graveyard.

I recall the words of Ash Wednesday: ‘Remember man that you are dust and to dust you will return.’ Musing on this I thought about the connection between death and Lent. ‘Death’ the late Professor Zaehner wrote ‘is God’s gift to man, a gift we should accept, not in fear and trembling, but in joy’. I like the words ‘Death is God’s gift to man…’ We are destined for death, but this death, this gift from God that will ultimately come to us, is the gateway to a life which is a releasing of the human and divine life in our hearts, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Throughout Lent we keep our eyes on those great days, the last days of Holy Week. We prepare for them not only because we are preparing to involve ourselves more closely in the mystery of Christ’s Death and Resurrection as we celebrate it liturgically, but because death is a reality which each one of us must face. But those ashes will live again.”

For me, the headstones in St Peter’s Churchyard do more than mark the graves of those who are buried there. They remind me of my own mortality and of the great company of the faithful who have already left this world – in effect returned to dust - including those who have served or benefited from the mission of the St Barnabas (Converts Aid) Society. But it is not in a churchyard like the one in Wolvercote that I feel close to them. It is at the altar in our little house chapel as Mass is celebrated each day. Each Mass reminds us that we have been created by God, not for death but for life, not for the grave but for Heaven. Yes, “those ashes will live again.”This is the belief upon which our Catholic faith is founded.  So while there is inevitably “something chilling, austere about the thought of Lent” there is joy too. For Lent leads to Easter and death to eternal life.

New Director

The new Director of the St Barnabas Society, Fr Paul Martin, was born in Barry, South Wales, and grew up in Newport. He was educated at Newport High School and graduated in Theology at St David's University College, Lampeter. He moved on to study at St Stephen's House, Oxford, before being ordained in 1981. After two curacies in the Diocese of Monmouth (Monmouth and Bassaleg) he was appointed as Vocations Secretary of the Additional Curates Society. He served in that capacity for four years before returning to the Diocese of Monmouth as Vicar of St Teilo's, Alway, in Newport. He then joined the Royal Navy as a chaplain serving at HM Naval Base, Devonport, and the Clyde Submarine Base, at Faslane, in Scotland. It was while on retreat on the famous Hebridean island of Iona that he made the decision to become a Catholic.

Fr Paul was received into the full communion of the Catholic Church at Belmont Abbey, near Hereford, in 1994. After a period of discernment he was accepted to train for the Priesthood at Oscott College, Sutton Coldfield. He was ordained as a Priest in St Chad's Cathedral, Birmingham, by Archbishop Maurice Couve De Murville on 10th July 1998. He served first as Catholic chaplain at New Cross Hospital, Wolverhampton, and later as Parish Priest of Corpus Christi, Ashmore Park. He then moved to Stoke on Trent to become Parish Priest of the Sacred Heart, Tunstall, and from there to be Parish Priest of the Immaculate Conception, Bicester. During his time there the John Paul II Centre was built and formally opened by HRH The Princess Royal in 2011. From Bicester he went to be Parish Priest of Our Lady and St Anne, Caversham, and oversaw the restoration of the beautiful shrine of Our Lady of Caversham which is located within the church. He was appointed as Director of the St Barnabas Society in April 2017 and took up his new appointment on 1st October. He is honoured to have been chosen for this important role and is looking forward to developing the unique mission of the Society throughout England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. Please remember him and the work of the Society in your prayers.

Fr Paul, pictured after an appeal at Our Lady of the Assumption, Swynnerton

Fr Paul, pictured after an appeal at Our Lady of the Assumption, Swynnerton