Monday, October 24, 2011

Throwing imitation pearl before real swine.

I've found myself seriously tied down to some tough awkward writing in the last few weeks. It seems that I've become default flavour of the month- well not so much favoured flavour but an easy person to default to when all else fails. I really don't mind this at all - it gives me quite a wide range of experiences and I know that my small pool of anecdotal wit soon evaporates if the audience becomes too familiar. Anyhow I'm in Ireland for a music conference but my mind will be well and truly distracted by a forthcoming 'key note' address that I have inherited. This is a talk to a group of 'Catholic' Educational Professionals. (As you'll see I was not to sure where to place the parentheses at the end of the last sentence- each words seriously needs qualifying, probably a health and safety warning or some disclaimer to protect it from advertising fraud legislation.)

Anyhow in a weeks time I will find myself standing in front of a crowd of 'Catholic Educational Professionals' who, in their brief to me, have described themselves at 10% Catholic 20% other Christian and 70% Agnostic or Atheist. Do I need to repeat the phrase 'Catholic Professional Christians' again or have you got my drift? Well having got over statistical shock I decided there just might be an opportunity for evangelism here and like St Paul I better start with looking for some common ground. Some sort of altar to the unknown God that I could claim as my own and somehow get a leg in to the rarified alternative reality that is professional agnosticism. 'Aha', says I when I found the mission statement of these 'Catholic Professional Christians' tucked away towards the end of the brief. Alas not a word in it says anything really Christian, professional or Catholic.

I really do wonder what purpose it serves some institutions to maintain even the facade of a pretence of Catholicism. It would be the Devil's work if it was purely to hold on to the trust funds. The same trust funds given by devout Catholics that pay for their generous salaries and fund their extended holidays. But back to the 'Mission Statement'. It does talk about Christian Values and lists them~ unfortunately only the ones that could be drawn from any other world philosophy. Nothing to offend here! Perhaps that's where I should start!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

A silent backlash?

Could I beg your prayers for some of my clergy friends at the moment. The world of the cleric is not without a degree of 'tit for tat' going on. One in particular is being targeted by his superiors who are trying to effectively silence what has been faithful and quite effective preaching over some years. The superiors have got tired of the complaints letters and seem to be resorting to all sorts of tactics to get him out of the way. Another has complained about the actions of his superiors and is facing an onslaught from ecclesiastics higher up the food chain on the grounds of disobedience and lack of community spirit. A third is just so weary of the constant need to justify perfectly orthodox opinions that he's beginning to question his own judgement. In all three cases these men are being isolated by what seems to be a silent backlash which knows that it can't openly dispute the current good things that are being promoted but do know that they have the means to at least limit the amount of priests that will actively promote them.

One could hope that this is the beginning of an 'end game' when those who outwardly appear quite sound are very scared of what's going on in the younger eschelons of the clergy and want to maintain the status quo of a rather grey and dreary compromise with the world. You get hints on the surface of this battle when you read the letters to the editor in some publications. Unfortunately the more damaging tactics are being played out at a deeper level by those who have publically sworn to defend the faith. The saddest thing is that many of them actually believe that they are defending the faith. Generally they think in terms of there only having been one Vatican Council and that earlier councils are just too imbued with the cultural baggage of their own times to be any use today.

None of the fellows I mentioned above are 'high fliers' by the way. They don't undertake big preaching tours or oversee international ministries. No criticism is implied here. But these unknown 'little' men are just quiet 'plodders' getting on with the day to day business of being a priest. They are vulnerable, few will know that they are in difficulties, and they face a very uncertain future palmed off as 'unsuitable' by the use of under hand tactics.

Orate fratres!


Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Widow of Naim

This was no ordinary tragedy. These were days, after all, well before any type of National Pension Scheme. Naim may have been at the heighth of it’s economic history but it still remained well off the main roads of Galilee sheltered under the hilly watch of Mount Moreh where Gideon had once amassed his army. Widows, in the ancient Middle East, trod a very precarious path through no fault of their own. Bereft of a husband their legal standing was awkward- totally dependent on any children or their nearest male relative. Take a son out of the picture and their whole ability to exist, beyond begging, came into question. It was a dire situation that the poor widow had not even begun to fathom as she prepared to bury her son probably on the very day of his death. We don’t know much more than that. We do know that the situation was very, very serious. The prospects were not good.

The theological point of today’s Gospel is Our Lord’s power over death. It is at the centre of our faith, indeed a motivation for us, that one day we will come to benefit in His power over death - that we too may be ‘raised from the dead’. We think of that in terms of going to Heaven- for the widow of Naim even that was not the certain outcome of her son’s death. There was no comfort from any notion of an eventual joyful reunion- that was a novel idea that hadn’t quite filtered into rural 1st century Judaism. Death was death and all that could possibly remain was some sort of shadowy memory of the one who had died. Literally the grave was the grave and once you were in one, that was that. So the widow had lost her husband, her son, her livelihood, her prospects and, what was the worst, any hope of her own continued existence in the memories of her descendants.

Our Lord’s actions on that day were truly radical in the sense that they got to the radix, the root of the problem. No pious words of comfort but direct action that would rectify the situation and put things back to where they should have been. It was the achievement of one who could only have been God. Jesus’s raising of this widow’s son was essentially yet another sign, a proof if you like, of God coming to be with his people. That was nearly 2000 years ago. Today he does the same. At this altar God will come to us again raising us to the possibility of eternal life. Giving us salvation in that most precious gift of his own body and blood in the Blessed Sacrament. Our only response can be like the people of Naim- one of Godly fear- not of terror but of awe in what God can do and what he continues to do.

"God has been with us," was the cry

Of that assembled company;

Each heart was filled with love and fear,

And all confessed the Godhead near.

The widow's tears, her sadness gone,

She felt not upon earth alone.

With fervent praver and humble mind.

To every will of God's resigned.

Reuben Percy, ‘Theta’ in
The Mirror of literature, amusement The Mirror of literature, amusement, and instruction,
Volume 34, p. 373 (1839)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Serving two masters

I'm getting this one in before it becomes illegal for me to do so! My server this morning asked me if I was packing my bags ready for a jail sentence.  He then gave me a potted version of the latest outrage from the British state. The Gospel for tomorrow is really quite apposite. It's almost as if what we need to here at this very moment comes bouncing off the page. Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God, and His justice.  Note, please, it's the justice of God not some confection of man that we have to seek.
It's a source of considerable frustration when something appears in the media which is obviously just plain wrong. Many thanks, by the way, to all those who sent me links this week to a multitude of web sites (and other media) where something masquerading under the patronage of the Catholic Church is just plainly not that. I don't dwell on these sites by the way. I'd rather not help spike their web counters. Phrases like 'I get the full support of my wonderful parish pastor' tend to get the skin creeping particularly when it involves flagrant disobedience, not to some bit of minutiae, but rather to something that is rather essential. In the case of the laity they are entitled to their opinion. As far as some of the clergy go it's quite reasonable to think that they don't remember, or worse still don't care, about who is actually paying their accomodation and three square meals.
In the United Kingdom we are going to be watching with interest what the Church's response to a new piece of legislation is. As far as I can make it out this is what's happening. A political conference today will announce the beginning of the legislation process to permit single sex couple to be married under the same laws governing other marriages in this country. I suspect the battle against this one is already lost and, short of the Royal Assent being withheld, it will pass into law in the next year. The bigger problem is that several politicians are already mooting that the new laws should be used in conjunction with existing anti discrimination legislation thus making it compulsory for all licenced celebrants to be available to witness such 'marriages'. It's unlikely that this would be applied without exceptions for faith groups.
It's quite possible that the Church could follow the pattern elsewhere of marrying couples after civil registration however the problem won't stop there. There are an associated group of laws targetting 'incitement to hatred' and it seems that, at least technically, it will become illegal to publically speak against single sex 'marriage'. To say that it is sinful would be inciting discrimination or hatred. This has already been used against some civil celebrants refusing to 'do' civil unions. There's also been a botched attempt at prosecuting an evangelical preacher. So now we wait, in hope, for a response from the Church. For the time being I'll operate on the Gospel principal of serving God rather than mammon (Matthew 6) and hope that it might catch on.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Young dinosaurs

Some carefully planted press releases have struck gold this week in places where good news is desperately needed. The message managed to get through that seminary numbers are up. This is encouraging and, anecdotally, the quality is good.

To my surprise I've discovered that dinosaurs have not entirely died out indeed they seem to be breeding, admittedly at a rather slower rate than in years past but nevertheless in enough numbers to get me worried. Well one is too many in my book. You see I thought the younger clergy were a fairly sound bunch. I'd always made an allowance for diocesan seminarians as most of them have to lie their way through if they want any hope of ordination. But I've just met one of the new 'statistics', the product of a largely secular Irish institution, who's a real flash back. Amongst particular gems are his undying devotion to The Tablet (with a real concern that it is becoming conservative) and a fine sensitivity to exclusive language and the benefits of Celtic 'spirituality'. I really wonder how such a throw back could have been reared in these more enlightened days. The sad thing is that I suspect fear has probably played a great part in it.

It could be me a quarter of a century ago. It wasn't the clergy that saved me by the way. Rather, it was a group of orthodox faithful who took me in hand and gently wrought a miracle.  Pray for these men as they start their studies in the coming weeks. Pray for their faithfulness and pray for the continuing conversion of all us clergy.

Friday, August 19, 2011

F(r)isking the Gospel

During the week something rather irked me. In the Church where I say Mass I came across an Order of Service for a funeral that had taken place the previous night. On the front cover was a quotation, from a secular source, which amounted to a denial of the value of praying for the dead. My first reaction was to package it up with a covering note to the Congregation for Divine Worship. Then I read this weeks Gospel and was rather stopped in my tracks. So with tongue 'sort of in cheek' an attempt at 'fisking' today's Gospel.

Luke 18: 9 - 14

At that time, Jesus spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves as just, and despised others. I think we get the tenor of what is to come. Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one was a pharisee, and the other a publican. Perhaps one was going for a worship session with 'Defending Shiloh II' the other attending a specially arranged service of the Ugaritic Psalter Association. The pharisee standing (nota bene), prayed thus with himself (note the direction- seems to have been using some liturgical text celebrating his collective goodness): O God, I give Thee thanks that I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers; as also is this publican (that's right casting all his grievances onto a much maligned minority group without any real voice in the local hierarchy to defend themselves). I fast twice in the week; (Good for him!) I give tithes of all that I possess. (However obviously obsessed with material issues he might be). And the publican standing afar off (his meeting was obviously stuck in some obscure side chapel) would not so much as lift up his eyes towards heaven, but struck his breast saying: O God, be merciful to me a sinner (Mea culpa! Was this external sign of penance what really offended the other chap?). I say to you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: because every one that exalteth himself shall be humbled: and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.


Of course it could be fisked in the 'opposite' direction quite easily and that is perhaps the timely warning from this Gospel. No matter how much we just know we are right it's appropriate that we maintain considerable humility in our certainty. Now where's the address for the Congregation?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Retro Rioting

It's hard to know how to react to the riots in London at the moment but I do 'smell a rat'. They came to the end of the street last night and, although I slept through the noise, there's clear evidence of last night's festivities on the street this morning. Whilst I can almost understand the indignation that spiked the protests a couple of days  ago last night's foray into the leafier parts of Greater London just seems to be recreational vandalism by a non generic, non race specific and gender inclusive bunch of 'yooves' who have got too much time on their hands after finishing their GCSE at whatever public school Mummy and Daddy have 'cashed the investments bonds in' for. The bigger 'rat' I smell is that I wouldn't be surprised if all of this becomes the opportunity for some government knee jerk legislation for the return of national service.

It's all a bit 'retro'. Reliving the glories of 1968 or whatever the 'defining moment' of your grandparents' youth was. It's probably also fuelled by the unrest overseas at the moment and the way this is reported through social media. 'Hey! If they can have a revolution, why can't we?' There is a fundamental difference however. There lots of people are dying. Here there are major slip ups, to be sure, but the major frustration seems to be not 'keeping up with the Jones' in a society where we are driven by unrealistic expectations of material success and comfort. Having said that there was that rather disturbing picture of a young lad riding off with his bike basket stuffed with groceries whilst nearby the white vans were pulling up to empty the local electronics store.

So what's the Catholic response? For the moment I'll have to wait and think on this one however at Mass this morning we added the De Profundis to the prayers after Mass as an act of reparation for any wrongs we have caused but also for those who may have been killed or hurt in the current unrest.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

I'm Spartacus!

Several sites have picked up on various threats to introduce legislation obliging priests to reveal some matters revealed in the Confessional. It's nothing new of course. Recent years have seen credible threats against the seal from various legislatures on at least three occasions. Each time there has been a lot of posturing then a back down in the face of considerable opposition. I imagine if you scanned the newspapers of Britain in the 1880s you'd find similar stirrings. At the moment we seem to have two politicians rather ham fistedly attempting to gain votes for themselves by huffing and puffing over this old chestnut. Thankfully they both seem to be receiving a fairly firm 'not on your nelly' from the Church spokesmen in Ireland and Australia.

But what if, and only what if, some lawmaking group were to introduce legislation that would make keeping the seal an act against the State? Even the most liberal of Church men would not budge on this one. But is there a way that such a law could become ineffectual? To be able to report what you have heard in confession you would need to be able to identify the penitent in a manner that satisfied the civil laws of evidence. Traditional anonymous confession would seem to be a way forward here. Back into the box and away with the 'open forum' counselling session would seem to be a wise precaution. Of course all the faithful could play a part in protecting the seal by making a sure an abundance of penitents were available at every advertised session. It would be hard to single out the individual no matter who was looking on.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Back on topic!

I'm afraid I have to do something today that I would normally avoid like the plague. Before you conjure up an image of some sort of  esoteric liturgical abuse let me assure  you that the unpleasant task, for it can frequently be so, would seem, at least externally, to be quite benign. But like other things that eat away it's actual potency can be hidden. Well what is this terror of terrors? Yes I'm afraid I have to go and socialise with other clergy. It's something I generally find irksome, not just as an ardent anti clericalist of the old school, but because clergy, at a social level, are best taken diluted. Other similes would involve them being best spread around.

So what's the real problem you ask? Well it's not the usual lot of heretical rot that's spewed amongst clergy- you just expect that and learn to 'take it on the chin'. Half the time they're not aware of what they're doing. It's not the inane pomposity of the clerical caste at play nor their intellectual achievements- to find such in many places would be a rare pleasure. Rather it's simply the pure boorish nature of such gatherings. Come to think of it it's pretty much the same with modern homiletics except it's difficult, but not impossible, to spill a glass of bubbly and make a discreet exit, when being subjected to parsimonious balderdash from the 'presidential chair'.

The  clergy these days (and traddies seem to be particularly susceptible) are unable to hold a decent conversation without reference to (i) tat, or, (ii) Vatican politics, or, (iii) more tat, or (iv) diocesan politics, or (v) even more tat! It's not their fault really, rather it is the way they were trained without any reference whatsoever to their own cultural heritage.  By the way, in case of emergencies you  can 'kill' a conversation over a clerical dining table in 15 seconds flat by just mentioning 'Antigone'. You can then work your way down, starting with William Shakespeare, till you find some common ground. I normally make a pit stop when we get to Mark Twain to see how we are going. Unfortunately I normally get to Marvel Comics before any real group discussion will kick back in with any coherence.

S. Thomas  More, ora pro nobis!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Ploughing

Around this time of the year we often receive news of ordinations that have just happened or are about to happen. It’s an appropriate time. The Feast of Ss Peter and Paul is close by and the link to the apostles is strong. Through the laying on of bishops’ hands the sacramental ministry of the Church is ensured. That which was started in the Upper Room at that Last Supper is continued. Comfort and healing for the penitent is made available. The strengthening power of the Paraclete is renewed. Food and solace for the long journey to the new life if offered to all who call on the Lord’s name. Another sap bearing twig is added to that tree whose roots extend back to Our Lord himself.

          For those receiving orders, the new ‘fishers of men’, it is a day of profound experiences. The memories of this day will form a large part of what holds them to that call of the Lord to follow him in this particular way. Yet we know there are those who do not persevere. This was certainly the experience of the Early Christians and we hear it recalled in the agricultural parable of the ploughman looking back. Those in Holy Orders never leave the ministry without considerable sacrifice. They know that once the step as been taken never again will they be permitted to as much read a lesson during Mass.

          When this happens we should be reticent to condemn them. Certainly the pressures of the current times, the attacks of the evil one, certainly impair judgement on the part of many. We must pray for them. We can never fully understand what brings somebody to this point nor can we perceive, in this life, what part this sadness may play in God’s larger plan for the world. Listen to these words from Our Lord. Once the hand is laid on the plough, no one who looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God. To turn back is serious and the consequences dire just like the state of sin that we all fall into. But the grace of the Lord is also revealed if we listen carefully; is fit. It does not exclude the possibility that again, by the grace of God, the person may become fit for the Kingdom of God.

          Let us pray that God will act in the hearts of those who have taken their hand from the plough and looked back. Let us pray that His grace may abound now and at the hour of our deaths.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Catholic Pennies

From memories of years ago, and they may well be rosy-hued, we used to have a special collection today for various smaller Catholic charities and good works. It may have been a local practice which has probably died out with the new systematic table of second collections ordered throughout the region. From memory it was a day not of big donations but of small charitable actions, often the 'widow's mite' which went towards feeding the poor, a project for the parish school, and numerous other worthy causes. It set me to thinking about the real sacrificial giving that has come from people who can least afford it over the years. Those for whom a shilling was a big deal. Those for whom a couple of pence, a century ago, meant one less loaf of bread on the family table. It was these donations that built our local schools and hospitals and were the daily support of many smaller charitable works without the benefit of large trumpets.

It worries me that this inherited patrimony of charitable giving is being subverted. We may have considerable freedom now as Catholics in Britain but it doesn't mean that the wheels of the state will stop grinding in a subtle attempt to ensure that these charities get diverted into the general purse. They may not seize our property, as they did in the past, but they certainly can do a pretty good job in making sure that all those hard earned Catholic pennies are not applied to Catholic purposes and that they get their 'cut'.

Two examples of a generic kind. I'm sure that fifty years ago when Mrs Everyman, widowed mother of eight, was delving to the bottom of her purse to find a stray penny, to give to the local parish school building appeal, she meant it to serve Catholics of the parish for generations to come. She was doing this so that the Catholic faith would be promoted and that there would be a place for her children, and their children, to receive a sound education in the future. At the grander 'end' of the scale I'm equally sure that the scholarship fund endowed by Lord Whoever to enable poor Catholic children to receive a good education was not intended to enable a school to keep it's 'league table' score up by importing talented children of any, or no, religious persuasion. Both had Catholic intentions in mind. To subvert their generosity in another direction is a breach of their trust. I'm equally sure that those who paid for the land or buildings of a hospital had no intention that there largesse would end up supporting the provision of dubious medical 'services'.

And yet we have submitted ourselves to laws, through accepting charitable status, that actively seek to limit the real Catholic effect we can have. Is this right? Perhaps it's time that we took stock of exactly what is the real cost of being 'part' of the 'system'. Should we abandon charitable status for the sake of the common good? It certainly may mean less fine lunches in the corridors of power, for some, but what would it really mean for those for whom the 'widow's mite' was originally intended?

With apologies for the lack of postings over the last few weeks. I've had a deadline on a new publication to meet.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Church Millinery here on earth.

I'm not sure who first coined the term 'The Church Millinery Here On Earth'. It was originally applied, from memory, to the rows of ladies in special bonnets who used to show up on Easter Day as if it was some sort of fashion parade. These days I tend to apply it more to those who have bypassed the fundamentals of the faith and seem to satisfy themselves with the superficial elements alone. Hence the 'cut of one's maniple', sorry- fanon for the Dearmerites, becomes a life and death situation of ecclesiastical shattering proportions. What a cardinal happens to be wearing at any particular time, no matter the context, becomes the evidence for another conspiracy theory related to some sort of unpleasantness that happened forty years ago.

Now I don't begrudge some sort of interest in the topic of ecclesiastical fashion. That scene from Fellini's Roma probably satirises the whole business. The Bad Vestments  Blog can be highly amusing if only for the fact that some people obviously take themselves far too seriously. But to blow these sort of things into anything beyond the superficial smacks of people with too much time on their hands. On both sides of the divide, conservative and wet liberal, 'tat' obsession often descends into sniping.

Of course the problem is equally made sadder by the fact that the 'wet liberals' just don't do snide asides very well. They tend to confect a ham fisted attempt, seen coming a mile off, which can easily be dismantled by anybody who can spell mystagogy without consulting a disctionary. The problem with 'conservatives' is that sometimes they can't 'see the wood for the trees' and something that is really not significant becomes a rallying point. You hear the call go up 'So and so is to be made a whatever and he wears nice vestments, is a classicist, and uses Latin!' Whoopee! Nobody seems to notice that the particular person would never touch a Missal printed before 1970 with a barge pole.

They say you could take the Holy Ghost out of 90% of what is fronting as Christianity and you'd see absolutely no difference. On this feast, and with a lot of nonsense flying about, you can almost see why they think this of us.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Eleventh Commandment

It's been suggested more than once that the Catholic Church in this part of the world has an eleventh commandment; 'Thou shalt be nice'. We've got a bit of a spat on at the moment over the forthcoming Pro Ecclesia conference. Cardinal Burke has decided to withdraw from speaking at the conference because of what has been perceived as some intemperate, if not inflammatory, elements in the advance publicity that has been issued. I must admit that, having read it, I stuck the flyer on the board without a second thought. Then again my innate  'niceness' gene is not highly active. It seems to have struck a nerve somewhere or another in this country. I suspect it wouldn't have raised an eyebrow in most places. I'll leave others to speculate on just how the good Cardinal's withdrawal was achieved. I suspect there was a fear that he might have wandered vaguely into the area of Catholic education which could have been just a wee bit, ahem, embarrassing. (Perish the thought!) Pro Ecclesia pro Pontifice will need to cover their costs, somehow, on this one. Their website may be found here. They hope to find a replacement speaker for the day. For one I hope that they will not be subjugating truth to niceness.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Rapture & Rupture

It's at these sort of times that I'm rather glad that the Church, in her wisdom, can be rather vague. Some wag, during the week, noted that 'rapture' was the word preferred by those who couldn't spell parousia. For those of you not plagued by the nightmares of a millenialist childhood, the 'rapture' is the term commonly used by millenialists (and others) to describe the disappearance of 'true' believers at the end times before or after the tribulation according to which hue of millenialism you adhere to. Parousia, on the other hand, is a bit more general encompassing the events surrounding the second coming of Our Lord. Thankfully the Catholic Church has never seen fit to define a timetable for the events at the end times nor has it sort to identify particularly a mark of the beast for that matter. At little bit less egg on the face in this corner. The details of all this are thankfully hidden from our view (they don't call it the Apocalypse for nothing) however that won't stop speculation. Indeed we are enjoined to look for the signs but perhaps some people need to be reminded that 'no man knoweth the hour' (Matthew 24:36).

For some reason the whole business of rupture in the development of the liturgy is raising it's head again. I guess with the whole business of Summorum Pontificum subsiding there needed to be another cause dragged out of the cupboard again to keep the presses busy. At the moment it's largely electronic media in hyper drive but watch this space. Here's the basic question; Was the liturgical reform of 40 years ago a continuance of an ongoing process or was it a rupture with the tradition of the Church? The dividing lines here are not clear cut. You get scholars from both ends of the spectrum siding with either side. You also get some liturgists sticking their oar in.

More importantly there is a theological question. Are certain aspects of the teaching of the 2nd Vatican Council a continuance of traditional Church teaching, a development of it, or a departure from it? A satisfactory answer to this question would seem to provide the basis for an answer to those skirmishing liturgical questions. Do I hear the scratching of quills as another document is prepared?

Friday, May 20, 2011

Back to normal (as we'll ever be!)

Well the 'excitement' of the last few weeks seems to have subsided. Since the controversies over exactly what was going to get into Universiae Ecclesiae first surfaced we've witnessed a bit of a crescendo in posturing, a petition, and probably a bit of skulduggery in various quarters. Perhaps now we can get back to some normality. I can't but suspect that we have been subject to an orchestrated campaign to maintain interest. Some people thrive on these things- indeed it's the bread and butter that gives minor curial officials something interesting to do for a change. The current flurry is over. I wonder what the next will be? Actually- hold it there- it's probably best for that crowd to be busy answering questions rather than being left with spare time on their hands that they might use in 'getting creative'.

This is not to belittle all that has passed in the last few weeks but rather to pose the question 'Isn't it time we got back to the immediate business of saving souls?' Out there, in the 'real' world there is the mass murder of the innocent amongst a wealth of other horrors. A single direct statement, rather than a carefully nuanced reflection, from a diocesan office condemning these horrors should certainly be more on the agenda than skimmying your way out of a rather direct bit of advice from Head Office.

Don't mistake me. What one prays one believes. But there are also people dying, starving and suffering out there and much in need of the grace of God.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Fasting and Feasting

Today's Gospel speaks of the joys that will come after suffering. It's the sort of stuff that you would expect at this time of year. In the early Church the newly baptised entered into a time of further instruction. Whilst what was necessary to make the decision for baptism had been imparted now it was time to face some of the practical realities of becoming an 'adult' Christian ready to impart the faith to others. In essence it's a warning that the times may not always be good but whatever happens they needed to keep their eyes on the ultimate end - of their Heavenly reward.

It's not a big jump to find a connection here with a bit of 'churchy' news this week. The Bishops of England and Wales have determined that from September the discipline of abstinence from meat on Fridays will be restored. And it's perfectly right that they should do this. Friday abstinence varied in it's application before Vatican 2 indeed often varied between neighbouring dioceses. I remember the story of one friend travelling across the Thames from Westminster to Southwark, on a Friday, so he could enjoy the occasional steak in post war Britain. In their wisdom the bishops may have alighted on the fact that rejoicing all the time without some form of balance can actually undermine the potency of the rejoicing. Before the joys comes the suffering.

However some commentators are opining another more 'sociological' reason for this development. Have Catholics become less distinctive, to their own detriment, from the rest of society? Do they need things that set them apart?  It would be interesting if this was the case as it would suggest that the years of integrating at all costs may be drawing to a close.  The significance of suffering for Christian life is perhaps one of the things that has got severely sidelined over the years. The application of ones' own sufferings for the benefit of others, surely a very distinctive element of the Catholic faith, is something that probably disappeared from most catechetical plans a long time ago. Perhaps with this significant step from one Bishops' conference the theology that lies behind feasting and fasting might be heard again.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Business as usual......


Friday the 13th and the blog mechanism seems to have finally sorted itself out. By now you should have read, or at least gleaned from various sources, the essence of today's emissions from Ecclesia Dei Commission. Basically nothng has practically changed nor will it unless a boot is placed firmly where it is needed. The first reaction I got was over lunch when a friend texted to say that as there was 'no pastoral need' training would not be offered in the diocesan seminary in one diocese. It was obvious the statement had been thought out some time earlier taking advantage of the rather woolly curial verbiage of the instruction itself. Nevertheless the speed and the enthusiasm with which the diocese distanced itself, and the speed that attitude got to the media, was all rather unseemly and, I gather,  will be seen as such in much more significant places than a rather provincial, on world standards,  backwater. I wouldn't be measuring for additional hat pegs in that episcopal sacristy just for a bit.

Having said that. There is much to give thanks for. Things have not reversed and the momentum continues.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The sheep of his flock

The early Christians were very struck by visual images. With a faith that attracted not only the great minds of the time but also the illiterate there was a need to pass on the stories of the Gospels in a way that they could be immediately understood. Now like stories, images rarely come from nowhere. There is always some reference to something that has existed in the past. The early Christians borrowed some of these images for their own purposes. Amongst ancient statues you can find the Moscophoros- literally the calf bearer. It is a depiction of a calf, carried around the neck of a man being taken to the altar for sacrifice.
          It’s not a great intellectual leap to find what the early believers did with this. On the ceiling of one of the cubicles in the Roman Catacomb of St Callixtus there is a striking depiction of a young man with a lamb around his neck. It is the earliest image we have of Christ the Good Shepherd. But the Christian use of the image was very clever. They had borrowed an ancient symbol but they had given it a double meaning. It could be read and explained twice. Not only was Christ the Good Shepherd but also he was the lamb being taken for sacrifice by the bearer.

  It’s only natural to ask that if Christ is the all caring shepherd why does he allow us to get into awful fixes. Perhaps this story, originally told by a lady called Nora Shankey, might help.

In highland, sheep often wander off into the rocks and get stuck in dangerous places. The grass on these mountains is very sweet, the sheep like it, and they will jump down ten or twelve feet when they spy a juicy patch. They may be there for days, until they have eaten all the grass. When they can't jump back again then the shepherd will hear them bleating. The shepherd waits until they are so faint they cannot stand, and then puts a rope around himself, and goes over and pulls the sheep up out of danger. But why doesn’t the shepherd go down there when the sheep first gets there? Well sheep are rather foolish creatures. They would probably take fright and jump into even further danger. And isn’t that the way with us; We often won't go back to God until we have lost everything. We are wanderers. However we have a Good Shepherd who will bring us back the moment we have given up trying to save ourselves and are willing to let Him save us in His own way.

So our Loving Father as the Good Shepherd often teaches us in ways that we rail and rant against, in ways that seem strange.  In ways that seem to offend the secular notions of dignity and 'rights'. Yes, we might lose everything earthly. We might even lose our diocese. But all for the sake of saving our souls. Thanks be to God.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

"My Lord and My God"

The Gospel today (S. John 20:28) enthrones S. Thomas’ thundering confession. From despair to hope, from doubt to belief, from turmoil to rest. Rest in the Divine Mercy of God. It’s a comforting story passed on through the generations. A story that is very easy to comprehend all these years later. We too learn to find hope in despair. We too can move from doubt to belief. We too can rest in the Divine Mercy of God. You see S. Thomas entered that room fighting. He was not willing to give up what he thought could only be rational. He had heard the stories that were beginning to circulate about the Lord having risen from the dead. Even his fellows seemed to have taken leave of their senses. But he was a rational man. If anything was to be salvaged from the wreckage of the last three years it could only be done by level headed thinking. The whispers and tales that passed through the city that day could only do them harm. And that’s the state of mind that he entered that room on the day which would see him surrendering to the mercy of God.
      
        It was physical evidence that got him in the end. Plain hard facts that he could touch and see which made the walls of doubt crumble down. For some reason Thomas was absent from the first appearances of the risen Lord. Yet eight days later he was amongst his fellows again. Possibly trying to ‘put pay’ to what he could not reconcile to his own rationality. God can use our weaknesses. It was S. Thomas’ rational observation, it was the obvious physical wounds of Jesus, there right in front of him, which brought him to his knees. "My Lord and My God" (Dominus meus, et Deus meus.) a cry that now rings through history. A cry that now challenges us to join in.

          And what does joining in this great acclamation demand of us? Well it is really quite simple, as simple as ABC. When we cry "My Lord and My God" we (A) Ask for his mercy. When we cry "My Lord and My God" we are reminded that we, too, should (B) Be merciful. Finally when we cry "My Lord and My God" we begin to (C) Completely trust in Jesus. Our doubts, like those of S. Thomas become servants not masters. That Great act of mercy on the part of a Creator was not some symbol, it was not a divine discourse amongst the gods. It is not some ancient legend. Rather it has physical evidence in the wounds that had once rushed forth blood and water for the salvation of the world.
For Mercy has a human heart,
Pity a human face;
And Love, the human form divine,
And Peace the human dress.
William Blake (1757-1827)

Monday, April 25, 2011

Do we really want a change?

In the run up to that wedding several British newspapers are running with a story that changes to the various acts governing the succession to the throne are unlikely. By way of explanation these acts, ranging from the mid 16th century through to the early 18th century, regulate who, and who may not, succeed to the British Throne, and by implication, at least, who reigns as the monarch of other countries currently ruled by Queen Elizabeth II (Long may she reign!). In particular the act effectively excludes Catholics from either being the monarch or being married to those in direct succession to the throne. In practice this means that somebody in the line of succession desiring to marry a Catholic has to renounce their succession rights, It's not a theoretical question as some, quite close actually, have either  married Catholics or become Catholic themselves and have had to renounce. This ban does not explicitly affect Judaism or Islam but given the Queen's position in relation to the Church of England one could envisage problems. There was uncertainty whether Catholics are banned from some other royal offices. I gather that, in theory, a Catholic could hold that rather modern office of Prime Minister (as has happened in some countries) but it was less clear whether they could hold the older office of Chancellor. This was 'cleared up' in 1974 although if a Catholic were to become Chancellor certain functions would be transferred to somebody else.

Now we've got that over with would a Catholic really want to hold the position anyhow? Nothing to do with anti monarchy sentiment at all. I'm a royalist through and through. I do wonder however with the current 'State Church' status of the Church of England (in England- not in Wales or Scotland) whether it would be possible for a Catholic to hold the position when they would be in practice involved in the appointment of senior Anglican clergy and, in theory,  the 'defender' of a protestant faith. It's not a position that could be held without compromise. In short, given the current moral condition of the British state, it's not a responsibility that I would wish on a fellow Catholic. Giving the 'royal assent' to an act liberalising the law on questions such as euthanasia or abortion would find a Catholic monarch excommunicated latae sententiae if not ferendae sententiae.

It would seem that the Anglicans have realised this problem and are not in the mood for disestablishment. I hazard a guess, and it's only a guess, that this reflects the private opinion of the Queen who takes her Coronation vows very seriously. As an act of charity to our fellow Catholics I doubt we should be pushing the question. But then it may be the actual agenda but I suspect it's not the real agenda for some leftward leaning Catholics.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

And the prince of darkness will arise in the West.

The quote above, more of an imaginary allusion, came to mind after reading the news today. A couple of days ago I'd had  a discussion about Holy Week customs in various rites and uses but what struck me was the special way Holy Scripture tends to be used in big chunks at this time of year. The starting point was a friend who observed that one particular group he knew read the whole of Apocalypse in one sitting during their Easter Ceremonies hence my 'imaginary allusion'. I know of other groups that will use Holy Scripture in more intense ways than would be usual. In the Catholic Tradition, of course, we get all Four Passion narratives in their entirety. St Matthew on Sunday, St Mark today, St Luke tomorrow, and St John on Friday.

But back to the Apocalypse. I prefer it's Greek title because it seems to avoid an open invitation to make the revelations within it stand on their own. It was a revelation to St John but one which was left largely not interpreted over the years. In some of the Eastern Churches it's actually not read publicly for fear of causing confusion. In the Latin rite it is there but it's use is quite reserved to particular poetic moments. This is not to belittle it's value within the Canon but rather it stands in a very difficult place of being very hard to understand. The history of Post 16th century Christianity is littered with failed attempts to make it's prophecies fit with contemporary events.

So when we are tempted to see doom and gloom in the future, and I've just walked past some old fashioned apocalyptic preachers in the street, when we are particularly tempted to see an event as an omen of the end of all times, when something happens in the Church we just cannot fathom, we need to grab hold of the balance that the Catholic Church gives too all of these things tempering them with the promises of Heaven and of eternal life. Promises made possible by the sacrifice that we celebrate in these days.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Keeping Calm

Holy Week is not the greatest time for keeping calm, at least for this writer. Is it, do you ask, the complexities of the ceremonial or the extra demands? Is it perhaps the emotional toll that the week can take as we walk the Via Crucis with Our Lord? No, I'm afraid all of these things I can cope with quite nicely. It is however a flash point for one of my favourite themes; Music getting the upper hand in a tail wagging the dog sort of way. To put it into context I've just come back from the chapel where I will be in the morning where I discovered that everything has been set up ready for a sung celebration later tomorrow without any concern for the fact that there are three other services all using the same space (but in very different ways) before then. It means a bit of taking down and setting up again that I wasn't expecting.

I maintain an academic interest in Church music. It's really not my field the Twentieth century atonalism being where I'm much more comfortable however I would loathe to deprive those who like having music in Church or even those who tolerate it out of obedience to the numerous documents on the subject, of what must be a major fix for the year. However I do question again if we overstretch the mark at this time of year in sort of a strange way of making up our neglect at other times. Music adorns the liturgy and is the carrier of the texts authorised by the Church. It can, for some, open the doors to the transcendent. It can, however, too frequently be the cause of grief when it gets out of hand and ceases to be the servant.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Q & A- circa 33 a.d.

Today's Epistle and Gospel, when read together, really form a 'question and answer' form of compendium of the arguments made against Our Lord Jesus Christ during his life time and in the years immediately following whilst the scriptural canon was being written. In the Epistle we have a theological statement of the nature of Jesus' work and significance whilst the Gospel collects together some of the common arguments against Jesus' credibility that the continued to be fired at the early Christian Church. The arguments seem to go beyond the Pharisees normal interests and encompass the concerns of some of the other sects that existed at the time notably in the question of the death of the Patriarchs. At the end of the Gospel we find an interesting point, almost an aside, that the Pharisees thought Jesus too young, in earthly years, to have had the insights he was expounding.


So the arguments against Jesus went something like this; (1) That Jesus was actually subject to demonic possession. (2) That Jesus was placing himself above Abraham- inconceivable for a group who defined themselves by their own descent from the Patriarchs. (3) Finally, that Jesus had not yet reached the accepted age for such teaching. These arguments would have continued to be levelled at the early Church particularly after their expulsion from the synagogues. In answer to these three arguments contra the Epistle to the Hebrews counters that (1) Jesus was the high priest of all good things to come and therefore demonic possession was impossible. (2) that he is actually a new covenant which perfects the work of the the covenant with the Patriarchs going beyond a temporary solution to human sin. Finally, (3) Jesus' significance and existence as high priest exists outside of the normal constraints of this creation. Human judgements of maturity and the like are not significant.

These are not the specific arguments that we are likely to face today however the themes that lie behind them do find new expressions; (1) That the Christian 'movement' is purely the product of mass hysteria. (2) That Christianity is just one equal amongst the many faiths of the world. (3) That the 'historical' Jesus was limited in his earthly actions by the cultural constraints of his time and his reaction against some of them. Each one of these is a stumbling block which are the real challenges to what the Church proclaims and unfortunately tend to get repeated, without any challenge, in much modern 'theologising' within and without the Church. At the essence of all these three is the problem of relativism, that there can be no true 'black and white', no absolute good and evil. Surely that is not what we have received from the Apostles.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Out of the mouths of babes....

I'm not sure what we are supposed to call it these days. When I was growing up it was the 'Feeding of the Multitude'. I guess my childhood coincided with that period of catechesis when people were beginning to get worried about the traditional names of Bible stories for fear that they might exclude some concerned group. A generation before me probably would have known it as the 'Feeding of the 5000'. But that number, by the biblical account itself, excluded some others who were present- women and children. I vaguely remember it being presented as the story of the 'Boy and his lunch pack'. You can probably tell the 1970s had arrived and some pretty nasty paraphrase translations with their accompanying abstract illustrations.

The point of today's Gospel is obviously twofold; (1) to give an account of a great miracle witnessed by many and (2) to tell a story about how sacrifices, no matter how small, even if they are intuitive, can be used for great things by God. In relation to the first purpose we have to remember that the Gospels are primarily documents giving witness to the Divine nature of Jesus- they are apologetic. You can almost imagine that this story just had to be included because presumably many people who had witnessed this miracle were still around and remembered the day well. What details they knew about the origins of their lunch are not clear. Possibly the immediate disciples, and the small boy, were the only ones who knew the full story. And it's that small boy that got me thinking.

Jesus used the sacrificial offering of a mere infant for great purposes on that day. Do we, today, have a tendency to over infantilise (if there is such a word) the spiritual potency of children? Do we avoid giving them credit for the spiritual insights that they have? After all how many times does Holy Scripture exhort us to be childlike in our approach to the faith. I suspect there is a tendency, indeed a presumption, that young children are not ready to cope with some elements of the faith, the Real Presence for example. More likely the adult authors of the catechetical material have been imposing their own doubts onto the minds of younger Christians for whom there is little problem with what we, as adults, tend to fret about.

Some years ago a fellow priest visited a house of  a young family in a parish he was supplying in. It was within the first week and he was not well known. Certainly the children hadn't quite got to grips with his name. The mother of the house, greeting me at the door had a toddler to hand. 'You know Fr Brown don't you?' she said to the child. 'Yes' replied the child. 'He's the one who brings Jesus down to us from the altar.'  As I heard the story of a toddlers simple act of faith all I could think of was; 'Well that explanation is fine to me'.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Crying over spilt milk?

I have to admit that when I went looking for a university degree in theology to do my first port of call was a non catholic institution. I'd discovered some time earlier that most Catholic institutes of theology were really not worth the trouble. They either dissented from teaching quite blatantly or the academic standards were appalling. Actually both problems applied in 99% of the places I looked at. In the end I settled for a place which actually had a strong connection with the Protestant Revolution, several of it's deceased dons being counted in Mr Foxes' book of hopeful heretics. At least I knew where I stood. There was no pretence about what was being taught. They didn't teach a lot of rubbish and then pretend it was Catholic. Actually they were much more open to the validity of patristic evidence than the Catholic seminary where I had done philosophy.

Given this I can't get very excited about the pros and  cons of Religious Education in the higher levels of secondary education. The syllabus, in Britain, is solid and not without academic merit. It is certainly not a 'soft' option for the differently abled student. It's continued existence and content, however, would be unlikely to reverse the anecdotal statistic that has 90% of students in Catholic schools lapsing before they've even managed to flee the nest of dear Alma Mater. I wonder if the resources being squandered on academic RE programmed in the Catholic schools might be better put into the hands of chaplains for spiritual programmes.

It's quite obvious that the passing-on of religious faith (as distnct from academic knowledge about the faith) is better achieved from parent to child rather than in the class room. It would probably be a worthy notion for the bishops' conference to use some saved education funds in the production of catechetical materials to be used at home. This will not happen of course. The union connections would be calling in favours on the behalf of the atheistic religious education teachers collective before you could whistle a stanza of the Internationale.

But is the possibility that there may not be Religious Education in some sort of Baccalaureate really a tragedy worthy of a lot of angst?

For readers outside of Britain: Religious Education is a compulsory curriculum element in British Schools up until late secondary schooling.  In the last fortnight two things have 'made the news' concerning religious education in schools in Britain. (1) The proposal not to have RE as an option in the final year of secondary education and (2) the announcement that the amount of trainee places for RE teachers is to be roughly halved. For readers in Britain: Those reading outside these isles are probably pretty amazed that we are allowed to have religious education within the state system at all!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

O Nata Lux.

How many sermons this week will try and tred that rather strained simile of Our Lord's Transfiguration and the power of a nuclear blast?Certainly with the current nuclear threat in Japan the temptation will be very inviting. Whilst this might be somewhat effective of the Feast of Transfiguration (which also happens to be 'Hiroshima' day) the horror of the immediate situation perhaps does not sit well with the glory of today's Gospel. Or does it?

The Gospel for the Second Sunday in Lent is there for a purpose. It didn't accidentally fall into it's place in the liturgical cursus for no reason whatsoever. For a good reason it has been tied into that progress towards the events of Holy Week in the mind of the Church from the earliest days- even perhaps before the Gospels themselves were completed.  Is it perhaps a deliberate foil of glory against the dark hues of Passiontide- something that would even further emphasise the abasement that would occur on Calvary?  Possibly it could have that rather dramatic purpose. Continuing that theatrical metaphor perhaps we need to look at the minor characters in the scene, sort of Biblical Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, to get to the point.

What were Moses and Elijah doing in the scene? They just seem to be almost mute parts. Stage dressing with a life support system. And it's the fact that they are just  there which is rather beguiling. You see they serve to indicate the continuance of the events recorded in the Old Testament with those of the New Testament. One of the dangers of modern Christianity has been the tendency to devalue the Old Testament to the point of irrelevance. Not a new idea. Some of the earliest heretics started from that presumption. But here we have the appearance of two of the most significant figures of the Old Covenant present in an essential moment of the New Covenant. There is a continuity. That looked forward to in the Old Testament is fulfilled in the New. The New Testament can only be properly understood by what had gone before.

The plan of God for mankind started before Creation, continued with the Patriarchs and Prophets, and was fulfilled in Our Lord Jesus Christ the Redeemer of all Ages.  In this one scene from his earthly life the strands are all brought together before the final consummation at Eastertide.

O light born of light,
Jesus, Redeemer of the ages,
deign in mercy to accept
the offering of praise and prayers.

Who once to be clad in flesh
deigned for the lost
grant that we may be made
members of thy blessed body.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A problem

The Catholic Whistle reflects on the problems arising from the natural disasters in Japan. If I get it right, and please correct me if I've missed the mark, the particular problem seen is the apparent silence of the Church on the question of the morality of technologies and industries that can so easily cause serious harm to general well being when they fail to be safe. Today's newspapers seem to make the imminent threat to the population of Japan a very real possibility. The bishops of Japan are meeting at the moment to consider an appropriate response to the situation.

At the outset I would suggest that the first response should not be one of contemplation but rather of direct action. The reflection can come later when the very real needs of those affected are addressed. And there the Church will be, no doubt, at the ground level doing what it can to alleviate the suffering of those through housing, food and medical care. Note that the first reponse from the Holy Father was to provide immediate financial assistance. (see here) The first response of the Japanese bishops has been practical. (see here) Then, and only then, can we move to appropriate reflection. That reflection will concentrate on preventative measures to ensure that such a thing does not happen again.

Unfortunately such reflection will get mixed up with political axe grinding. The whole nuclear question has generally been a cause of a particular political stance, at least they make the most noise. Unfortunately a lot which is not Catholic tends to travel with that noise. But back to the Catholic Whistle's original question. Is there a question of Catholic Moral and Social teaching to be answered here? Should there be a clear statement of the essential immorality of technologies that can so easily threaten the common good? I think so but it may take time to remove all the extraneous debate and get back to some sort of universal principle.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

And Angels came and ministered to him...

Now is the healing time decreed.
For sins of heart, of word, of deed,
When we in humble fear record
The wrong that we have done the Lord.

So here we are. It’s Lent again. As that ancient English hymn proclaims it is the healing time. A time in which we get to make some choices about our spiritual lives. Again the question is put to us. Will we follow the Lord on the path to Calvary? Will we place our feet in his footsteps as he walks the Way of the Cross? Will we not watch with him one sweet hour in Gethsemane? But first, will we follow him into the desert for forty days?

In a Gospel as short as the one set for today it is hard to miss the detail. Indeed it seems that St Matthew was being rather brutally terse. His account of those forty days, when the Lord Jesus wandered in the desert, is brief and to the point. The Judaean desert was not a pleasant place. Certainly here St Mark has a bit more detail with a rather elusive reference to the wild beasts seems to evoke just one of the physical trials that the Lord must have undergone in those days. True, it was not the pain of the final days of his earthly life, but surely it was a foretaste, a preparation of the horrors that were to come.

Yet in the arid deprivation of the desert there was, at the end, comfort. And here is one of those curious details that are retained. He was with the wild beasts and angels looked after him. We do not find Jesus staggering out of the wilderness and into the arms of some benevolent band of brigands, he does not head for the nearest town where he might find rest, food and drink. Rather, at the end of his trials, he remains there, for some time, in mystical communion with the Divine as his very own creations, the angels, appear to heal his scratches, to feed him, and quench his thirst.

This is the most mysterious appearance of the angels in Jesus’ earthly life. It is also the one which seems to make the most earthly sense. At his birth the heavens were filled with choirs of angels singing. Proclaiming that hymn that we have now put to rest until Maundy Thursday. After his resurrection the two angelic men at the tomb bare witness- He is not here, he is risen. Both these angelic episodes are to do with exaltation and glory. The angels stand static, well at least with a minimum of wing fluttering. They speak but do not do. At the end of the forty days however they do, without words, without song, but with actions.

As we wander through this Lent, through these days of spiritual desert, our minds turn more and more towards Our Lord who will hang on the cross for our redemption. As his precious, broken, flesh, reigned from the tree, we can only guess what passed through his mind. Forgiveness certainly, anguish perhaps. Confusion, unlikely. But what about temptation? That great trial at the beginning of ministry concluded with the soothing salve of angels wings upon his weather beaten face. There alone on the cross was the temptation to call angels again to minister to him. The idea had occurred to him in the garden the night of his betrayal but he rejected it saying;

"Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?" [Matthew 28]
On that sacred cross he could have called ten thousand angels. But he didn’t. He chose the hard path. He chose to ride out the course of our salvation.

We have a choice to make this Lent. Do we follow the way of that old Adam, our ancestor, who took the easy way, who gave into temptation, and let sin into the world. Or perhaps do we take the more difficult way- the way of the desert, a way where the angels sent to keep us out of Eden become our guides, our guardians as we follow the final Adam, our Lord Jesus. Will we follow our Lord to his restored Paradise where it is garden, not desert. To that place where man and wild beast dwell together in harmony, without fear of what the future might hold. To a place where we become like angels.

Cleanse, us, O Lord, from every stain,
Help us the gifts of praise to gain,
Till with the Angels linked in love
Joyful we tread thy courts above.

(Ecce tempus idoneum)

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Bred in Captivity


If I speak with the tongues of men and of Angels 1 Corinthians 13

In the last few weeks I've become convinced that very few traddies, at least here in Britain, have been completely 'bred in captivity'. Rather, it would seem, that a considerable portion of our number have actually been brought in 'from the wild'. In other words a lot of people that I come across have started their pilgrimage to tradition either as converts or reverts. Don't get me wrong I don't think this is a negative thing but rather it does give the 'movement' as a whole a dynamism that is rare in main stream Catholicism. I find particularly encouraging the news of the Mass organised for Catholic school children in Birmingham (see here). I suspect the odds of their lapsing have just become reduced. I wish I'd had the gumption to organise such a Mass when I was involved in teaching. A couple of years after I'd left teaching a group of my old students presented me with a lovely missal hoping that I'd learn to use it. It turned out that there had been a secret nest of young traddies under my own nose for some years. I was saying a daily private Mass daily in the school chapel and they were, at the same time, bemoaning the lack of the traditional rite in the school chapel.

Anyhow back to today's Epistle. If I speak with tongues. St Paul addresses a situation in the Church at Corinth which can't be too far from what we experience now. As an understatement we could say that there was a variety of opinion amongst the faithful. I wonder if the young traddies at the time were trotting off to the Aramaic Mass Society, on the quiet, to the despair of their syncretistic parents. A particular problem seems to be a division between those who were demonstrating particular spiritual gifts many of which we would associate with the modern Charismatic movement. St Paul's advice, is of course, integrationist, that the various gifts given to all Christians have to be consumed into the whole body of the Church.

Twice during the past week I've been engaged in conversation with people who have come back to practicing their faith through the Charismatic movement. It's not the first time that this has happened indeed I seem to be discerning a trend that if Charismatics are likely to return to the Church from the various sects they have run off to join they are highly likely to gravitate towards the traditional rites. The reasons for this are complex but I suspect the spiritual pendulum that the 'swings and round abouts' in the lives  of many Charismatics ultimately needs to be tempered by the strong guidance of tradition and dogma. Without such a balance faith can be reduced to what we feel rather than what we know.

So some of us have been 'bred in captivity' others have been 'caught from the wild'. In the true tradition of a Universal Church we are tempered and brought together. It's that balance that those children in Birmingham have now been exposed to. With any luck that single celebration of Mass will sow the seeds of a balanced faith which will lead them to seek out the fullness of the faith rather than the transitory attractions of a cafeteria approach which craves the greatest spiritual 'sugar fix' available at any one time.

 Apologies for the dearth of postings over the last few weeks. I'm afraid I've been given some extra duties and it's taken a while to establish a new routine.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Orate Fratres

As part of the Christian vocation we are called to pray for each other according to our abilities and means. Please pray for a reader of this blog who is suffering considerable physical illness and mental anguish at the moment. Perhaps you could offer a Rosary or the intention of a Mass. Perhaps part of the Divine Office for their intentions. Thank you.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The good people at 40 Days for Life have asked me to mention their website and blog and I'm happy to do so. At the moment there's a lot of talking going on about various issues where the faith seems to be being attacked even from within our ranks. This can be very depressing and a meeting of like minds and the opportunity for some really Catholic action is a timely remedy lest we become just a little bit too self concerned.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Keep calm!

As Michael Winner might have said; 'Keep calm- it's only a commercial!' For readers outside the UK take my word for it. You're blessed not to have to have put up with that advertising campaign. Nevertheless there's a bit of a scuffle going on in that gold fish bowl called Traddieland. Apparently it's been brewing for a while but, having a bit of an ostrich approach to most things, I seem to have missed it until it began to blow, perhaps out of all proportion, in the last week. Even the usual suspects in the blogosphere seem to be polarised by it. A petition is doing the rounds. Actually it's a pretty interesting indicator on the blogs represented on the British Blogs List as to which ones are quite firmly pro Summorum Pontificum and which are not.

Anyhow back to the point. Three things; (1) The Roman Curia operates within itself in a manner that is rather 'secular' to minds outside its own circle.  There are factions who play each other off  using strategies drawn more from Machievelli's The Prince than the Fathers of the Church. I suspect at the moment we are the onlookers to a stage in a process that in former times we would have had no knowledge. Somebody must have given a minor official a laptop with a broadband connection for Christmas. (2) There is an 'industry' which maintains itself with this type of reporting and prognosticating. It is in its interests to maintain the interest in such events and its 'tat for tat' approach can be wearisome. Unfortunately for most of us this has the same effect as a lot of the secular media. It causes undue angst. (3) Whilst we need now to be vigilant we really need to wait for the document, should it ever appear, and then make a judgment as to the next course of action. I can't actually see it making any difference immediately to me.

Of course the whole business, I suspect, is just symptomatic of something else as is so often the case with the fripperies of  'curias' whether they be diocesan, national or international. I can't imagine any official effectively hanging himself out to dry over Summorum Pontificum. I can imagine, however, many who would risk doing  so to ensure that any further reconciliation with SSPX would not happen during this papacy.

Now where was my bucket of sand?