Thursday, December 30, 2010

On the Road

Apologies for the dearth of postings but Christmas rather got in the way. Now it's the end of the civil year and I find myself on what has become an annual missionary journey to the far flung outposts of the traddie world. Last Sunday I celebrated a private Low Mass in a discrete Chapel of a London Church with server alone in attendance. Next Sunday will be Holy Mass for the masses in a part tin construction some 300 miles north of  the nearest expresso machine.

Anyhow this 'thought for the day' came to me on board a plane. Economy class, let me assure you, but far enough back to avoid the screaming of the 'brat pack'. I'd flown this airline before and on the surface things seemed the same- the same smiles, the same well rehearsed routine of the cabin crew- but at the same time it was quite obvious that the financial woes of the last few years were making changes at a rather fundamental level. You got the impression that this airline was doing it's best to make it appear if all was fine and 'business as usual' when there really was a more fundamental change happening underfoot.

I mean all the outer 'forms' appeared to be there but they had got a bit hollow. The menu cards, once nice bi lingual souvenirs giving zoo class some glimpse of the glories at the head of the cabin, had been replaced by on screen flash messages announcing the choices of the day. Diet Coke, by the way was off the menu far too quickly. The meals themselves were reduced in size and number and the healthy vegetarian carbon neutral option (how many buzz words was that?) must have halved the catering bill. What should have been a second meal had turned into a sandwich. The cabin crew themselves disappeared for some hours leaving the passengers to self serve at the bulk heads.

I don't think I need to spell out the parallels I was drawing in my mind. The airline still does the job even if it is only with the shell of the previous service standard. I still got from point A to point B in relative safety but it's there that the happy memories end. How long, I thought to myself, can I rely on something that is becoming gradually less 'fit for purpose'. Anyhow here I am, first stop in my travels in a rather strange land ruled over by a red shrieking banshee. Rumour has it there's a wedding brewing. I better look out my copy of Dimboola and brush up on local customs and etiquette.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Towards a theory of everything

The 'Holy Grail' of much intellectual pursuit from time immemorial has been a search for some explanation of everything. A theory, an equation, a philosophy that would give a unified explanation of why things are as they are. It's a noble ambition but will always fail because of our own human  limitations. Of course, by faith, I know that the answer must just be God and, personally, I'm quite satisfied with that. Others wont be. Recently I've tried to approach this in another way. Like the 'chaos theory' physicists who examine minute segments of the cosmos in search of the key that will lead to a 'theory of everything' I've been thinking about whether there is a single answer to all the problems of today and particularly those that seem so obvious to traditional Catholics.

Is there a Ground Zero to be found? Did somebody step on some sort of sacred butterfly many years ago and cause a ripple effect through to the current days? Using this theory of course every action taken to correct the original error will cause further ripples. I know that the liturgiologists and the liturgists will all have their own theories here. The theologians will almost turn to the modernist controversies of the early Twentieth century. The philosophers will probably lay the blame at the feet of Aquinas or, if they are being particularly daring, Augustine.

Personally I think our immediate problems probably originated in the Great War and the crisis of faith and growth of general cultural skepticism that ensued.  Of course by faith, and some experience, I know that there is a real entity who works day and night across the generations to stop any unity of thought or practice. Starting with an seemingly innocent question in the Garden of Eden his greatest achievement to date has been to make many Church leaders think and teach that such a unity of thought is undesirable. That unchecked or unchallenged dissidence is a good thing in itself. Of course in the details this seems insignificant but in the bigger picture it has led to a free for all.

Saturday, December 11, 2010


I've been thinking about the disturbances of the last few days, well those that have been close to home at least. At the forefront has been a new wave of student demonstrations on the streets of London. Student Fees are the issue at hand. For those of you 'over the pond' this may seem to be rather a strange thing to protest about. In Britain it's a slightly more complex issue. You see one of the fundamental aspirations for the last century or so has been to provide the opportunity for all levels of education free of charge to all who qualify academically. Financial means, in theory, was to have no place in either gaining or maintaining your place at University. Because of this Britain gained it's first fee paying 'private' university in relatively recent times.

Well now the bubble has burst but I'm not convinced by the outrage on the streets. It just seems a bit stage managed and, being suspicious,  I wonder what the government is trying to hide by playing up the issue of the violence rather than addressing the very rickety path they are walking in getting the fees legislation through. Now personally I can live without a 'University for All' policy. In the rush to try and get the enrollment statistics up over the years, and thus being able to crow about a more educated equal opportunity society, the 'powers that be' have ruined many fine further training institutions by forcing them to adopt the ways and means of research institutions. A friend once quipped, spying a new child's sand pit, that if we were not careful during our 'health and safety' check, the government would reclassify it as the Silicon Research Faculty of the University of Wherever.

Is there, however, a real social justice issue here? I have no doubt it will weasel it's way into the intercessions of many parishes this weekend. Is the real question being overshadowed by a bunch of retro set young brigands who are desperately to do one better on their grandparents of 1968? Is the question of appropriate education for all really being sacrificed for the sake of some feel good statistics?

Thursday, December 2, 2010


Pastor in Valle over at Valle Adurni has run with an interesting posting on the history and future of English Seminaries. I can say 'English' seminaries as these are they that remain in the British Isles. One of these is scheduled to close in the next year and now the good father notes that the question of having a single national seminary is being discussed again. At what level these discussions are taking place is not clear and I suspect that such discussions having become publicly known is not an accident, but rather a 'testing of popular opinion', before any embarrassment can be suffered. It's one of those tools that PR firms use, indeed governments seems to use, to avoid any 'awkward' confrontation. If the scream is not too loud then they know they can proceed without threatening their popularity ratings.

It is sad to see historic institutions under threat however the training of clergy is very important and what is the best for the formation of faithful pastors should be the litmus test. Historically seminary education has been pretty much the norm for the last couple of centuries, that is but a fraction of the history of the Church. Other 'models' of priestly formation have existed across that history which might be better 'fit for purpose' in the current situation. In some places an 'apprenticeship' system has operated whereby the academic side of things is dealt with by sourcing from existing institutions with the pastoral side of things being dealt with in the presbytery that the seminarian lives in. Most important is a close relationship with the bishop concerned. Those models that have really flourished in recent years have been where the bishoip has taken an active role in the formation of his clergy. On an academic level that may not work where the educational standard of the bishops themselves is a problem but on the pastoral spiritual level it has some merit drawing the seminarian in the reality of pastoral situations. on a day to day basis. at the same time as giving bishops a clearer insight into where the Church's pastors of the future are heading. Mmm...I can see why they would favour the current system.