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.