Monday, 27 July 2015


It is the appetite incontinence of our adult years I wish to write about and not any toilet related use of the word.

Aristotle in the Nichomachean Ethics explains the difference between the continent and the incontinent thus: Again, the incontinent man acts with appetite, but not with choice; while the continent man on the contrary acts with choice [will or purpose], but not with appetite. Ethics III 2.

Incontinence is a stage beyond sin.  Sin has to be a wilful transgression of the Law of God, to quote Tanquerey.  It has to be an act of disobedience.  If the incontinent man is somehow beyond making a choice over his actions, then he is not sinning.  The drug addict, the alcoholic, the compulsive masturbator, the glutton and others have probably all moved beyond sin into an incontinent state where they have no choice of how to act. A state where they are a complete slave to a particular appetite.  This is wretched, this is surely a living hell.

How do people arrive at this state?  One would like to think that the all powerful efficacy of the Sacrament of Confession would protect the sinner from such a horrid fall.  An initial sin is confessed, it is done as sincerely as the penitent knows how.... and yet this fall into a state of complete wretchedness ensues. What went wrong?  Was God so petty as to not "like" the sincerity of the confession and to punish the sinner accordingly?  No, this can not be the reason.  Perhaps it is best not to analyse the reasons why things go wrong, but to understand the charity that is needed in helping these souls reach a point where they can be continent again.  We ought to desire their continence; it is only the continent that can grow in virtue, it is only the continent that fully respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit,  it is only the continent that can truly sing the praise of God.  There is no real happiness in incontinence.  It is not a state God wants us to be in.

And this is where I feel the Church could be doing a lot more, this is where I feel the Church has in some quarters lost her way....

1Peter 4:15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or a railer or a coveter of other men's things.

And I will quote this in the Latin of the Vulgate too, because there is something about the Vulgate that no translation seems to do justice.

Nemo autem vestrum patiatur ut homicidi, aut fur, aut maledictus, aut alienorum appetitor.

That phrase "alienorum appetitor" is the key to all of this, methinks.  "Foreign appetites" is perhaps a better translation, certainly it is about appetites that did not come from God,  it is about "foreign tastes", "lusts"; things contrary to God's designs and God's plans for our happiness.

But there is Peter telling us not to suffer for these things.  Peter in both his letters makes it clear that all suffering must be conformed to the suffering of Christ.  He says that true suffering is suffering or bearing the burden of another's transgressions, like Christ, who was without sin suffered the consequences of all our sin.  Therefore we should not suffer for our sin, we must recognise it and manfully stare it in the face, but we must not suffer for it. We must be become like Christ and if some future suffering comes our way, then we can glory in it, because it is the life of Christ Our King... It is not rocket science... it is our Faith.

Yet, how often do we hear from the Church that those with an "alienorum appetitor" must unite their sufferings to the cross.  BUT their suffering is NOT like Christ's..... how can you unite to the cross your misery at having a "foreign appetite", or your misery at not being able to consummate your "foreign appetites"? The Church says your appetites are intrinsically disordered and then tells you to "suffer" them... but this seems to contrary to Peter. I worry about the Church.

We all have some "alienorum appetitor", and sooner or later we will give in to it... and maybe it will lead to incontinence and complete wretchedness. I suppose the thing to do is not to nurture it in the first place, not to even think about developing a taste for it.... yet we do, and the Church has ceased in many quarters to insist in the necessity that we have control of our "tongue, genitals and stomach"...

And what to do with our incontinent? I feel even the Devil can't be bothered with them. And maybe that is the key, God still loves them, some light can still fall on them, some extraordinary act of grace can still fall upon them,  and if they can respond with even the slightest flicker of recognition, then astounding things can happen.  And for the rest of us, we must just pray, with all lightness of heart, with the faith that can move mountains, glorifying the Lord in our hearts and our deeds.... and then the incontinent can be lifted out of the pit they fell into all for the greater glory of God.

It still remains a tragedy that we let so many fall down there in the first place.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Magdalene, Manning and Neri

This is a post about the Resurrection.

I am currently reading Cardinal Manning's "Glories of the Sacred Heart", it is a decidedly unflowery book about the Sacred Heart, unlike anything else I've read on the subject.  However it is typically Manning: zealous in his love for the Lord, steeped in the Church Fathers, forthright, pastoral, clear and unsentimental.

He writes about the "Transforming Power of the Sacred Heart" and quotes this rather wonderful phrase that apparently is used by spiritual writers whose names he (sadly) doesn't mention.

Deformata reformare, reformata transformare, transformata conformare

All of this is only made possible through the outpouring of Love on the cross,  through the living Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Hence this is a post about the Resurrection.

To reform the deformed is the nature of Baptism. In Baptism we die with Christ.  And on this day, the Feast of St Mary Magdalene, 500 years ago, an infant was brought to the Baptistery of St Giovanni in Florence, born in the early hours of that morning and recorded in the register of the Baptisery with the following words: Filippo e Romolo di Ser Francesco di Filippo da Castel Franco, popolo San Pier Gattolini, nato di 21 luglio 1515, a ore 6. And had that infant died there and then, his sainthood would have been assured, though perhaps largely unremarked.  But God had other plans.  Reforming the deformed is not enough and the singular degree with which that boy submitted to the actions of grace led him onwards: the reformed was transformed through love and the transformed so wondrously conformed to the Sacred Heart of Jesus that St Philip Neri, with much labour, anxiety and peril, reconverted Rome. He is the saint of Joy.

Our Joy comes from the Resurrection.  As St John writes:That which we have seen and have heard, we declare unto you; that you also may have fellowship with us, and our fellowship may be with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you, that you may rejoice and your joy may be full.

This is a post about the Resurrection.

This brings me to St Mary Magdalene.  Her story only makes sense if she was the woman from whom seven devils were removed, because her story only makes sense if she is the one who anointed Christ with oil.  Perhaps she anointed Him twice (as the scriptures seem to suggest), once for His Priesthood and once for His Kingship. Nobody was worthy (not even John the Baptist) to anoint the King of Kings or the Great High Priest.  But anointing was necessary, just as Baptism in the Jordan was necessary. No, only a redeemed sinner whose sins were scarlet could anoint the Priest and King. It is our total redemption, our complete salvation from sin which is wrought through our reformation, transformation and conformation to the Sacred Heart which is the very reason why we need a great High Priest and King. St Mary Magdalene was amongst the first fruits of this (Dismas may have been the first fruit, but Mary Magdalene ripened more slowly and more lavishly), ripening from her tearful penitence, through her witness of the Crucifixion, through her bravery and steadfast love in going to the tomb, through her hidden and most gloriously joyful life which followed.

She was not some misery ridden penitent, crying over her sins for the rest of her life.  No, she was redeemed and redemption is joy and it is the joy of being conformed to the Sacred Heart.  The joyful tears of one that pours sweet smelling oils over the sorrows and sufferings caused by sin and the joy which binds our bruises, mends our broken hearts and finds its rest in the Sacred Heart of Jesus, because it IS the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

I'm tired of joylessness, so much of the piety around is little more than titillation at scandal, an outpouring of moral indignation masquerading as charity but lacking the one thing essential to charity and that is joy. Prayer without joy is quite simply mean and stingy.

How many of you actually believe in the Resurrection, I mean REALLY believe....?

What does "go and sin no more" mean?  What does "your sins are forgiven" mean?  Do we not mock these words with our high moral tone and our false humility.

Surely holiness is like climbing a mountain?  You learn what to do as you traverse the lower slopes, you learn how to train you body and learn the sensible way to do things.  But near the summit, the rules go out of the window, your learning and your skills count for nothing.  The path disappears, the sides are steep and full of scree, you are helpless, totally liable to go plunging into a ravine at any moment and that is what you will do if you are not conformed to Christ and totally distrustful of self. Though the paths they took were very different, this is where St Mary Magdalene found herself, this is where St Philip found himself, and that is where we ought to be going too.

The Baptistery of San Giovanni in Florence


Wednesday, 15 July 2015

£££££s Sterling

What on earth! WHY?  WHY?

Still, I hope Liverpool spend that money wisely.  None of you lot will have any sympathy for me, but I'm often left wondering why I support MCFC .... I can't help it, it runs deep, being kicked in the playground by a bunch of Manc reds as a child, turns you blue to your core... but, oh, it was all so simple when we were crap and the only pleasure we had as City fans was watching our team get thrashed by Liverpool.

I still wince when I think of the money we spent on Trevor Francis way back when......

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

The Oldest Profession

The oldest profession is being a Taxonomist. It is what Adam was doing in the Garden.  Naming things isn't just some random game. Naming puts significance into something, it in some ways makes it more real.  It insists on a hierarchy, as it will relate one named creature to another in relation to how they behave with each other. Naming gives us patronage but not control.  To name something isn't to seek mastery of it, the creature retains its freedom but it gains an identity and a protection it wouldn't have otherwise had.

And God has given us each a name from the very beginning; the "white stone name" we all long to hear Him call personally and intimately to each and every one of us.

When we name things it ought to be with this in mind.  It ought to be in imitation of the Divine Life.

And so human "progress" spirals ever onwards and inwards, in ever tighter and more self-referential circles. We have names for thing, and either the thing itself or its name has no clear significance, no clear definition and the names have some bastardised entomology.  Take the word "paedophile" for example; what it should mean if we consider its entomology and what it stands for are complete opposites.  There is something ugly about this.  Something which suggests only the unguided human at work in the naming of the "thing". The human who has forgotten God. The human has created the paedophile through naming it.  God will have another name for him and will still call him His child until such time as he totally rejects His Divine love and mercy.

And to forget God is to make oneself easy prey to the Devil.  In our desire to name things without reference to God, do we not fall prey to the Devil's own Taxonomy?  A Taxonomy which mocks everything Adam was doing in the Garden.  A classification system which confuses, divides and creates false relationships.  The "science" of politics falls into this category.  The "science" of "sexuality" falls into this category. The "science" of education also sadly falls into this category.  Each of these "sciences" has its own empirical, evidence-based system of measurement and "pigeonholing".  But each of these "sciences" isn't a science, it is a fashion, and the "fashionistas" make damn sure that in excluding their "definitions of the day", you exclude yourself from society, you become part of the untermensch....

And it is happening already that many are having to make great sacrifices to stand apart from this mockery of all that is good.  To say "I do not recognise your definition of marriage",  "I do not recognise the categories "homosexual", "heterosexual" or "bisexual", I only recognise love and sin", even to say "the child is not thick, passing exams is not a measure of intelligence", to say these things makes us children of God and enemies of the world and there are consequences to this.....

Science ought to open our eyes and make God more apparent.  Many theologians argue about what Adam was doing when Eve was tempted by the serpent; whether he was with her and ought to have protected her, or whether he'd gone off chasing butterflies or something.  Recalling the Adam was older than Eve, that his science was more developed, perhaps he simply didn't recognise the serpent.  His science (and his innocence) meant he couldn't engage with its perfidy, he couldn't classify it, he didn't see it coming, the creature in the tree was not on his radar, he had no sense of danger.  Eve had no sense of danger either, but she engaged in its conversation, she could see it.  Perhaps in many ways the medieval images of a  human female-like serpent are correct, Eve recognised something Adam could not see (he had his life partner, before any procreation had taken place, why should he even recognise another human female), in the same way Eve would not have recognised a male figure that wasn't her husband.... but there was the Devil, pretending to be something he wasn't, distorting the human image, distorting our notions of self, blurring the lines, confusing us......

We ought to be very careful about what we recognise and categorise and what we name.

Eve tempted by the "female" serpent from Notre Dame Cathedral

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Bloggers Block (2)

When you are in love, you're senses are heightened and there is delight in all things creative; you love music, poetry and art and the pattern and movement of every aspect of your life is poetic, the mundane is transcended, a song echoes from every corner and it sings of the highest of things. In joy and in sorrow, the song rings out the same, there is beauty in everything.

Well, dear reader, I think I'm totally out of love for the Catholic Church.  This is not the same as not loving and being loved by God.  God's love is ring-fenced, it is solid, it is unshakable and the poetry sounds out, deep unto deep...

But the Catholic Church is like a lover I no longer recognise. I hear her voice and it doesn't make my heart leap for joy, indeed it seems to have a sibilance to it I don't remember hearing before.  I witness her liturgy and anything higher than the lowest of low Masses sounds like sounding brass and clashing symbol, I want the noise to cease as it seems like nothing but distraction. Indeed, I wish she'd shut up.  I wish she was silent.  Her staggering beauty is still there in her persecuted and forgotten, but all that is done in public that is meant to enhance her beauty, or simply promote her, just looks and sounds plain wrong. It is a bit like one of those child beauty pageants, the child would simply be more beautiful is she weren't on the stage and if she weren't wearing make-up.

So basically, without an infatuation with the Catholic Church, I've lost my creativity, I've lost my drive... and because I'm kinda married to her, I've nowhere else to go....

I'm not in love, but hopefully it is as those nice boys from Sale Grammar School once sung "it's just a silly phase I'm going through"

Wednesday, 24 June 2015


According to the Catholic Herald the working document for the forthcoming Synod of the Family has been released in Italian.  One of the main areas up for discussion is the "Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and Contemporary World".  Since reading this title (hoping it is just a bad translation of the Italian) I have been getting very frustrated by its utter lack of sense.  If it is not a bad translation of a naff modern foreign language, then to me this title is deeply worrying.

Consider the idea of "family" for a moment.  We have two immediate families, our biological family and our spiritual family. We also have many extended families of intertwined relationships crossing classes, generations and national borders. The biological family consists of two parents whose gametes formed the zyogtes that became the children of that family.  There may be substitutes; a man, woman or child standing in for the true genetic relationship for a myriad of licit and illicit reasons.

Consider the concept of "mission" for a moment. A mission is a reaching out to the world, it is a public thing.  One would hope that the spiritual family we find ourselves part of does have a common mission based round some common spiritual understanding of God and salvation.  Should one expect one's biological family to share that spiritual mission? No, that is surely an impossibility.  A biological family unit will have a very different mission, rooted round its own survival, it is only if the biological family all share the same spiritual baggage that a common spiritual mission will exist.  A spiritual mission can not be forced upon it. The mission of a biological family is actually an irrelevance in the spiritual domain; it can be good or bad, but it is purely natural, it has no supernatural element, goodness should be fostered within it, but in itself it is not a source of sanctification. However, if for example a biological family has several devout Catholics, receiving the sacraments and loving Our Lord, then their mission is supernaturalised, BUT for this to happen, the members must have freely chosen that path.  If a biological family contains only one devout Catholic, then mission in the family is also supernaturalised by the faith of the one believer, but this is hardly a "family mission". It is a mission of an individual towards souls he loves deeply.

Consider now the concept of "vocation".  A vocation is a calling from God to married life or the priesthood. It is usually less dramatic and romantic than we are led to believe.  It is a small voice that guides our path and keeps us grounded and surefooted.  There being only two vocations is why only these two have Sacraments associated with them.  Consecrated life, I'd argue is not a vocation, rather the absence of a vocation, recognised as such but given to God nevertheless.  The alternative is to remain chaste and celibate irrespective of whether a vocation materialises. Like everything else, this can be an immense source of grace, but it is not a vocation, it is a way of life.

My point is that a family cannot have a vocation. A husband and wife who have been Sacramentally married have a vocation.  An ordained priest has a vocation.  A family cannot have a vocation, because the children must be free to reject the family unit. A vocation is a "bringing forth of Christ", if a husband and wife do this effectively, then the children will likely as not respond favourably, but they don't have to. They must be free to stick two fingers up at their family, to walk away. Only if a family has this freedom within it will it be an imitation of the Divine Life. Likewise, a priest "brings forth Christ" in his ministry, and those he meets are free to accept or reject what he offers.

We have raised the biological family to ideological heights that it simply cannot live up to.  It puts tremendous and unnecessary strain and misery into its members.  It puts untold pressures on children.  It can never be perfect.  We seem to be desiring its perfection, but all we manage to do is sentimentalise and romanticise it which will only increase its chances of sorrowful brokenness.

The biological family is simply too precious to place on such a plinth. Surely, the whole point about it is that its mission in the contemporary world is an irrelevance and it can't have a vocation.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Are they now extinct...?

Are true Conservatives a thing of distant memory?  Have they died out completely?  Where are men like Baron Hailsham who wrote in 1963:

Our country is being destroyed before our eyes by a conspiracy of intellectuals without faith, delinquents without honour, muckrackers without charity or compassion, young men who are incapable of dreaming dreams, and old men who have never known what it is to see visions.  In the  public life of today a public man is mocked when he speaks about patriotism....

A cynical sneer greets references to honour and integrity in political as in business affairs.... And if someone by any chance says he believes in a healthy family life as the foundation of civilisation or backs the traditional Christian ethic on sex and morals we hear an awful lot of nonsense about the need for tolerance and charity in allowing the young to be taught to do as they please, and in allowing them to be kept in ignorance about the inevitable and disastrous consequences of doing so, when the squalid consequences  of their doing so are being played out daily in Parliament and the Courts.

Quintin Hogg: 'National Excellence' (Conservative Political Centre, 1963)


We plod on, staggering ever forward into the nightmare around us. Somehow I'm reminded of Joshua and Caleb when they set out with the other spies to see the Promised Land.  Only they came back with anything approaching optimism and trust in the Lord, the other spies were overwhelmed with what they saw before them in the tribes of Canaan that were inhabiting their land.  And as the tribes of Canaan, in the spiritual sense of scripture, can represent the seven deadly sins, then we too must take heart :

Be not rebellious against the Lord: and fear ye not the people of this land, for we are able to eat them up as bread. All aid is gone from them: the Lord is with us, fear ye not. 

Numbers 14:9

There is no politics on this earth that can save us.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Song of Songs

Whilst it is still available, I recommend that you listen to John Berger talking about "song" on Radio 3. The programme has been just about the best thing I've heard in years and the relevant bit that I want to write about starts 6 minutes in and lasts for about 24 minutes.

It should be available on the following link for another week or so:

The piece is about how song is experienced; its timelessness, the way it takes over the body, the way songs "lean forward" into the future in a way that poetry, prose and painting cannot.  As I was driving home listening to this and utterly mesmerised by Berger's beautiful prose, I couldn't help thinking that what he could have been describing was the Mass.  Now Berger is a Marxist Humanist and was certainly not describing the Mass, but to write so beautifully about "common" song, so much so that he could have been describing the Mass has inspired in me a week of idle thoughts and deeper meditations, which due to tiredness on my part are only half formed.

Is not the Mass our ultimate "Song of Songs"?  Is not the essence of Mass a timeless love song between the Lover and the beloved?  It is not a narrative.  It is not a piece of prose.  It is certainly more than poetry. Let me present to you a few of the ideas in John Berger's piece [with my thoughts in square brackets] and I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions....

  • To be successful, prose requires a shared language.  Sadly, too often this is something  that we no longer have, it is almost the defining element of our age that we cannot communicate with each other in prose because at a deep level because we've lost a common heritage.  Song transcends this.  We can be in communion with each other whilst experiencing the same song even if we do not understand the language of the song or its context.
  • The rich listen to song, the poor cling to it and make it their own.  [Blessed be the poor in spirit... we have to get away from the "rich" experience of the Mass which is little more than listening "and cling to" the Mass "and make it our own".... surely this is genuine "active participation"]
  • Pictures contain a presence.  Songs contain an absence, a separation, and as we listen we experience a shared absence.  Yet this absence becomes a triumph, usually mild, usually covert... the song takes us over and "encloses" us. [Isn't this the essence of our Judaic heritage?]
  • Song is not primarily intellectual or emotive but organic.  We find ourselves inside the message of the song, the song wraps its arms around us.  We become self-contained. Songs are about "being and becoming", they are part of the body.
  • Each song is like a river and all rivers flow into the sea; the "immense elsewhere" as Berger calls it.  Where the river meets the sea is called the mouth of the river. Berger makes the comparison to the importance of the mouth in a song. [And I can't help thinking of the importance of the mouth in Communion]

Monday, 20 April 2015

6th Sunday of Easter 2048

Because of the state sanctioned media blackout for the Catholic Church due their failure to promote homosexual marriage, it is proving impossible to get some idea of the liturgical life of faithful Catholics in 2048.  The State in its wisdom has set up its own version of the Catholic Church called the New Catholic Church.  As they never seem to say the Mass, I don't suppose we should worry too much about them.

This is how the 6th Sunday After Easter looks in the Diocese of Media City for the New Catholics.  I think the colours refer to lapel ribbons, but I will have to investigate further. Note the reinstatement of the Ascension on its correct day.

10 Sunday (white) Family Feast Day sponsored by Burger McTuckys
11 Monday (blue) Blue Whale Awareness day (optional)
12 Tuesday feria
13 Wednesday (rainbow) Elton and David day (first class)
14 Thursday (white)  ASCENSION -special Churches Together event at Media City Cathedral.  "WORSHIP LIKE its 1870" with the Old Catholics
15 Friday feria
16 Saturday (team colour) FA Cup semi final (semi-double)

Does anything grab your fancy at the Paris Centre at St Pelagius, Whitefield?

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Are we ready to be merciful?

Do we really understand the cost of the "balm of mercy"?

Those receiving mercy (and we all do), do not like to consider the cost of this balm.  Some are even totally unaware it has been applied.  Most of the rest of us are keenly aware that we do not deserve such grace and kindness, yet even we canot count the cost fully. After all, we've not paid for it.  It is as if our healing process involves a certain forgetfulness of the depth of the agony from which we have been rescued from.

It is only possible to count the cost of mercy if you yourself are merciful.  And if you are truly merciful be prepared to have your heart pierced by swords, your skin lacerated by malicious men, your body weakened by the toil of love and your intellect pummelled and derided... and be prepared to weep.

And if the "balm of mercy" has been applied, then isn't this the least we can do in return?

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Education: empowerment and slavery

This post is prompted by a certain anxiety I have about homeschooling.  Home schoolers are often the nicest of people and they often have the nicest, most well rounded, articulate of children. My anxiety is not so much about the right to educate one's children at home (a right that I will always defend), it is about the very Catholicity of homeschooling.  In my heart, I am not convinced that it is Catholic and I'd like to make my views known to a wider audience, hence my blogging about it.  The fact that so many home educated children are such grounded and holy individuals stems simply from the fact that God is the "unum necessarium" in their lives and actually has very little to do with their education as such.

I do not believe that the world is any more developed or any less modern than when Pius XI wrote his excellent encyclical on education: Divini Illius Magistri in 1929.  It is and always will be a relevant document worthy of study by anyone who cares about education. Much of what I have to say is inspired by his writings.

Pius XI makes it clear that the last end of education is God, and fitting the children of God for heaven.  He also says that three organisations bear the responsibility for the education of children: the home, society and the Church.  He makes it clear that the home cannot provide everything, nor can society, nor can the Church.  He makes it clear that education is "a social and not merely an individual activity", and that the home and society provide the natural framework for this and the Church the supernatural framework.

What will be difficult for homeschooling families to swallow is that he says that family is imperfect "since it has not in itself all the means for its own complete development", it is a unit amongst other units, divinely ordained, beautiful but utterly dependent on society and the Church.  However the family has priority over civil society because of its God given sanctity, hence the importance of defence of the family at all costs.  BUT civil society is perfect in its own sense, with its own agenda, and because families subsist within society, civil society has some pre-eminence over the family because of the common good.  Families can not cut themselves off from society any more than humans can cut themselves off from eating and sleeping. Families work within civil society or they cannot shape civil society.

So civil society is a sphere in which education OUGHT to take place, not in isolation, but as part of a wider package.  One ought not to expect any awareness of the "last end" of education from civil society as the function of civil society is purely temporal and earth bound.  BUT that doesn't make it any less fitting that children should be educated within civil society.  It has its role.

There are more good teachers than bad teachers, it is a thing of nature imbued with natural virtues, I have been utterly inspired and humbled by the care and dedication of many teachers, most of whom are humanists at heart and more often than not committed atheists   Most teachers love their subjects and would probably be doing anything else other than teaching unless they didn't genuinely wish to enthuse young people and share the treasures they have found.  Most teachers genuinely have a solid and disinterested love for children.  They care and they care deeply but they can be dispassionate as they have no vested interest in a particular child in their care.  In this sense teachers can provide things parents may struggle to do:  consistency, rigour, expertise and patience. Essentially teachers do not have the overwhelming burden of responsibility for any one of their charges that a parent may feel for their child and I believe this makes us better educators than parents in the purely academic field.  

I haven't time to go into Pius XI's prophetic warning about the dangers of leaving sex-education to the state.  Sex education ought to happen within the family.  I do however wish to raise one last point, something I feel very keenly as an educator; it is about the meaning of "education".

The entymology of the word "education" means to "draw out".  Pius XI argues that there is a tendency to reduce education to its entymological root and that this is wrong.  He argues that education is about much more than "drawing out" that which lies within the child.  If we consider education simply as drawing out, it leads to a kind of self-absorption and a dangerous belief in one's own ability.  If any teachers reading this have had the pleasure of teaching someone who has been through a Steiner school, they will know exactly what he means.

To learn involves humility.  You have to place youself in a position of trusting your teachers and working within the civil systems where you live (fully aware of their faults).  This isn't blind submission, you must learn to challenge your teachers and be critical of the agenda of society.  You must also humbly submit to the other learners around you, knowing that they too are on a journey.  Part of your learning experience always involes guiding others and patiently helping them with things you understand. Trying to provide an atmosphere where education can happen solely within the family at the expense of civil society, no matter how God-fearing the family may be, is perhaps a strain many families can do without.

So I ask again:is homeschooling Catholic? I hold that it has an undeniable right to exist within society, but is it Catholic?

Saturday, 28 March 2015

weary and disagreeable wisdom

My first guide in all things theological and the writer of the world's finest bibliography*, Adolphe "the Tank" Tanquerey, described the writings of  Fr Faber thus:

Faber, F. W (1814-1863) wrote very many ascetical works noteworthy for their unction and accurate psychology.

That about sums him up, I think.  Faber's near unparallelled understanding of the human condition and his genuine sympathy for his fellow creatures is what appeals so much to me in his writings.

It is a foul day outside and I thought this blog needed a new post, so for your edification, here are some exerts from the first chapter of Faber's "Creator and the Creature" in which he examines the grave errors that befall us when we forget we are creatures and we forget our Creator.

They [Christians in name only] have not taken pains to formulise a positive disbelief: but they do not see how progress, and perfectibility, and modern discovery, psychological or otherwise, comport with that collection of ancient dogmas which make up the Christian religion, and their instinct would be to give up the dogmas rather than the discoveries, and that with a promptitude worthy of the enlightenment.  With such persons the dignity of man is a matter of prime consideration, while in their view, his assent to the doctrines and practices of the Church is as degrading to his intellectual nobility, as his obedience to them is superstitious and debasing.

That was written in 1856 and goes a long way to prove that we are not creatures who make progress, not creatures who evolve in understanding and wisdom generation by generation, because it is sadly all too relevant today, especially with regard to the response of some to the upcoming Synod on the Family.

Here is some more....

This forgetfulness that we are creatures, which prevails in that energetically bad portion of the world which is scripturally called "the world", affects multiutdes of persons... It leads them to form a sort of religion for themselves which singularly falls in with all the most corrupt propensities of our hearts... such persons consider that religion has its own sphere and worldly interests their sphere also, and that one must not interfere with the other. .....  They enjoy all the practical laxity of unbelievers, without the responsibility of disbelieving; and besides that, they enjoy a certain good-humour of conscience of the outward respect they pay, in due season and fitting place, to the ceremonies of religion.

And perhaps as a warning to those of us who think we are OK but can see the faults in others....

Almost every popular fallacy has its representatives even among the children of faith; and when a pestilence is raging, many are feeble and languid though they have no plague-spot, so it is in matters of religion.  The contagion of the world does us a mischief in many ways of which we are hardly conscious; and we often injure ourselves in our best and highest interest by views and practices, to which we cling with fatal obstinacy, little suspecting the relationship in which they stand to widely spread evils, which we behold in their naked deformity in other sections of society, and hold up to constant reprobation.  The forgetfulness that we are creatures.... is an error which is less obviously hateful than a direct forgetfulness of God, and consequently it wins its way into holy places where the other would find no admittance, or scant hospitality.

And how to right the wrong ....

But whatever differences there may be in the amount done for God, or the manner of doing it, or the obligations under which it is done, there can be no difference in the principle on which it is done.  God must be served out of love.  This is the first and great commandment.  No one is condemned except for mortal sin; but any man who starts professedly on the principle that he will do no more than avoid mortal sin, and that God shall have no more out of him, will infallibly not succeed in his single object; that is to say he will not avoid mortal sin..... Love is the sole principle of the creature's service of his Creator, however remiss that love may be. ... the doctrines and practices of Christian perfection are simply based on God's love of us and our love of Him, that is the relation between the creature and the Creator.

And all this from a chapter that Faber himself calls "weary and disagreeable"...

* The Bibliography at the front of Tanquerey's The Spiritual Life: A Treatise on Ascetical and Mystical Theology. (1923)

Friday, 13 March 2015

once a physicist....

This video found itself in my e-mail and has reminded me why I am a Physicist.  Nobody else could have so much fun with some blobs of fluid, some food colouring, a sheet of glass and a sharpie.

Watch and marvel!

I tip my poshest trilby in the direction of those clever folk at Stanford.....

Sunday, 8 March 2015

the reform of the reform

50 years on from the first Masses in regional tongues, if feel the need to pass some comment on how I see the "reform of the reform" is progressing.  I do not hold a candle for any particular view on this reform, I only know that it is happening, as organically these things do.  Also perhaps I am in a singularly gifted position to have within a short driving distance such a wide variety of liturgical experiences.  I will start by saying I have a marked preference for Low Mass in the old rite, and this is something I will seek out, but this is personal and I wish to make my comments general and objective.  I will also say that as I've only been hanging around this planet for 45 years, I have no first hand experience of the pre-conciliar world.

Is the old rite "flourishing" since Benedict's Summorun Pontificum?  I don't think it is.  I can and do attend the old rite across 3 counties and it is the same old faces I see where ever I go.  It is a darn small world.  Yes, there are plenty of young enthusiasts and lots of young families at these Masses.  Yes, there are plenty of good and holy priests involved but it all feels like a fringe activity.  It feels like a self-help group for a disenfranchised minority and what is worse I fear it is led by the intellect rather than the heart. Yes, they are well educated people with all the answers, but that isn’t enough.  I just wish I knew who they loved the most.  It isn't obvious and it ought to be.  I was talking to a priest recently, saying that I was dismayed that the number of parishioners who were routinely bi-ritual was so small.  I named a few, he said he could add a few more to the list, but the numbers are still small. The preference for a particular Mass is essentially factional; a lifestyle choice, a statement of allegiance.  And the two sides of the OF/EF debate loathe each other at some quite fundamental level.  I have perfectly rational and solid friends on both sides but I really don’t think I could invite them to the same tea-party at my house, it would be extremely uncomfortable.  So to the OF/EF debate I reverse the letters and say politely, “ef-of”.

What is missing is what Benedict pleaded so much for: MUTUAL ENRICHMENT.  The old rite lovers are so convinced in the superiority of their own brand that they can’t see how the new rite could possibly enrich their experience.  New rite lovers who at heart are clericalists and have been sorely influenced by priests who were only too keen to ditch the old rite 45 years ago feel much the same in the opposite sense.  Younger attendees at the new rite often have such a poor grasp of the faith that it really is genuine encounter with Christ that is needed and arguments over the liturgy are essentially meaningless in this case.

Much has been written on how the old rite could enrich the newer rite.  I want to end this post by saying how the newer rite could enrich the old rite, which is what must happen.

Where I worship, it is possible to find a Holy Day Mass in the old rite virtually entirely populated by souls who don’t normally experience this.  They are there because it is Mass and the time is convenient.  They are not tut-tutting and horrified by what they see.  There is a prayerful, reverential atmosphere, but I will add a note of caution; these irregulars rarely stay after communion, it seems like they have had enough at that point.
So here are my suggestions for enrichment of the old rite with a nod to what happens in the newer; it must flow, it must be coherent but it must not be regimented and it must not be linear (like a cookery show- raw ingredients to meal) as it was never intended to be:

  •  Scripture readings in the regional tongue, either by the priest or simultaneously delivered from the lectern whilst the priest says the readings in Latin.
  • Get rid of all the hand kissing in the old rite High Mass.  In these days of scandal the gesture looks offensive.
  •  The bowing in the old rite so often looks like Daleks having a pow-wow, somehow the humility has been lost.
  • There is a younger generation of priests and servers who are saying the old rite who have been very effectively “Bugninnid” but don’t realise that they are.  They see the Mass as performance and they perform;  Fortescue, Fortescue, Fortescue.  It can be quite unpleasant to watch, indeed it is no better than a Clown Mass.  The priest and the servers ought to be invisible in the Mass, or atleast not bringing attention upon themselves.  Once again, it is a humility thing and manifests itself best when a Mass is just a wee bit shambolic, a wee bit less than perfectly executed, a wee bit more realising that our sacrifice is ALWAYS unworthy.
  • There are perhaps some words that need to be said more clearly so that the congregation can hear them, the “introibo” and the dismissal and the Last Gospel must all be said slowly and audibly.

I remain convinced that the loss of the vulgar tongue for Mass to be replaced by regional tongues was a mistake, however I remain equally convinced that preserving the Mass of 1962 just as it is, to have it there like a fly in amber, a moment in time caught for eternity, is quite simply a nonsense.  The Holy Sacrifice of Calvary is THE moment in time caught for Eternity, and this is not anything to do with the liturgy but everything to do with our faith and ultimately if our faith doesn’t  breathe this reality any liturgical reform is a dead duck.

 A group of liturgical pedants learning to serve the old rite (or Daleks in 1963)

Sunday, 22 February 2015

In praise of monotony

More Fr Faber for you, as he is proving so popular with my loyal readership:

The spiritual life is the progress of the finite creature towards union with the Infinite.  In all its stages the process of being conformed to God is going on in the soul.  Nothing is indifferent.  Every moment of time may be made to bear the burden of something which is eternal.  Each separate action, no matter how trivial, is capable of holding a supernatural intensity.  The grace, which enables us to do supernatural things, is coming to us constantly in ways that are imperceptible except to the greatest vigilance, and operating in us with such fineness and delicacy as require heavenly discernment, in order that we may perceive them, and cooperate with them.  On the other hand, the unworthiness of our nature is almost unbounded, and its manifold unfitness for such a divine union is disabling us at every turn.  .... Moreover nature to the last draws one way, and grace from the first draws another.  Thus the three leading characteristics of the spiritual life must always be effort, detail and slowness, all three things monotonous, and all three almost insufferable monotony.

If you think that last sentence does not seem to follow directly from what precedes it, the following may help:

EFFORT: this is the perseverance to keep all our actions and thoughts fixed on God.  It is an act of the will, and it can have a severely weakening effect on the body.  It is an act of love. It is more like the slow patient effort of a needlewoman rather than the energetic effort of a sprinter. Also, if the effort is some sort of constipated straining then it is wrong.  Such effort is desirous of a particular outcome, comes from self and is directed towards the pleasures of self. No matter how "religious" its motivation it is little more than the desire for release from painful verstopfung for relief's sake.

DETAIL: recall Faber says "nothing is indifferent".  Everything has significance.  This includes your dress, your breathing, your tidiness, your deportment, how you read words and how you read people, even how your fork approaches your food. (A fasting person can still be a glutton). This is not introspection, detailed self-awarness, when the focus isn't self but mastery of self and ultimately forgetfulness of self is an important step to see if your motives for dressing up/down, fast/careful talking, food likes/dislikes are actually all simply pride. Understanding detail requires mastery of simplicity.  This is a lifetime's work.

SLOWNESS:  effort and detail require nothing is hasty.  Even if you are called to pull someone from a fire, there must be a slowness and stillness in you that are the opposite of panic and feeling like a hero.  Let God work through you, that is the only heroism that counts.

This is the monotony that we must embrace, the monotony of the desert into which we plunge ourselves during Lent, to be alone with the Infinite Solitude.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Random Numbers

To me, one of the dangers of Lent is self-absorption.  If one focusses too much on one's own sin, wretchedness and general crapitude one can easily fog the presence of the Almighty who is doing His best to raise you from you that dunghill that is so uniquely yours.  So whilst some focus on our failings is vital, if the primary focus isn't on those two Great Commandments, then Lent will be another disappointment.

What I find helps is to be extra specially open to randomness at this time.  This involves the giving of self and a great deal of discernment (ie. talking to God) to work out just how much one should give and how.  Random acts of kindness.  Random smiles (until they become habitual and completely sincere)....random intensive listening, feeling the presence of complete strangers around you, allowing random discomfort (thirst in particular), stopping to listen to the geese, watching a random spider, being still at random times.... and then it starts to dawn that randomness isn't all that random, it certainly isn't chaos.......

And as for Lenten reading. This year I decided to opt for a random number generator method: there are 73 books of the Bible, so I typed in the upper and lower limits into this random number generator to see which book it would give me:

And 2Esdras here I come.  Actually it is already bearing fruit (somewhat unexpectedly).  And this is where discernment has to come in, I could be wasting my time.... but somehow, I'm not.... if you try it may be fruitless, what works for me may not work for you....

Actually all the books of Babylonian exile have a resonance about them right now.... I wonder why?

You could type in 1 and 150 and do the same with the Psalms..... this could be 30 mins well spent in a random kind of way. 

Sunday, 15 February 2015

a flattering superstition of self-love

It is time for more from Fr Faber.  I do heartily recommend his "Spiritual Conferences".  In time for Lent, I've been wading through the conferences on "self-deceit".  They make uncomfortable reading especially when he gets to his conclusion that the only time we are really free from self-deceit is when we meet Our Lord face to face: and well it is rather too late to do anything about it then.  He argues effectively and refreshingly against suffering and joy being paths to overcome self-deceit, instead he recommends simplicity in everything as being the firmest ground on which to build up our relationship with God and hence limit the damage done by our self-deceit.[ an aside - I remain convinced that the prescription for more suffering as a way of leading to holiness is fundamentally flawed and has done considerable harm.  Suffering has no intrinsic value, the only thing with value is God's love. Souls do suffer much and many saints have suffered greatly, but it was not their suffering that made them saints, suffering is not a supernatural virtue.]

Here is a taster:

No wonder self-knowledge is rare, when so few take pains to acquire it.  There are few even who honestly desire it.  There are but few men in the world who desire painful things, however salutary they may be; and self-knowledge is both painful in the acquisition and painful in the possession.  It is incredible how little honesty there is amongst religious people in religious matters.... Yet almost everyone claims to be preferring God before all things.  What a mass of unwholesome delusion then must the religious world be! It is.  A supernatural formalism outside with natural principles of action inside, and a thoroughly natural system, or rather quackery, of spiritual direction to keep things comfortable and respectable, - alas! it were devoutly to be wished that this definition embraced less than it does.


Is not life at every turn making unpleasant revelations of self?  But they are revelations, and that is noteworthy.  Yet what sort of wisdom is it for man to shun these revelations, because they disquiet him, when it will so concern him in the day of judgement to have known them? A spiritual life without a very large allowance of disquietude in it, is no spiritual life at all.  It is but a flattering superstition of self-love.  

Sunday, 25 January 2015

an endless fountain of odious disedification

In light of all the touchyness some seem to show at the faults and failings of others, here are some pertinent and pithy words from Fr FW Faber.  It is a quote from a book of his Spiritual Conferences and all I have done is change the word "scandal" to the word "offence", the sense remains the same.

To give offence is a great fault, but to take offence is a greater fault.  It implies a greater amount of wrongness in ourselves, and it does a greater amount of mischief to others.
For I find great numbers of moderately good people who think it fine to take offence.  They regard it as a sort of evidence of their own goodness, and their delicacy of conscience; while in reality it is only proof either of their inordinate conceit or their extreme stupidity..... Moreover the persons in question seem frequently to feel and act, as if their profession of piety involved some kind of appointment to take offence.  It is their business to take offence.  It is their way of bearing witness to God.  It would show a blameable intertness in the spiritual life, if they did not take offence.  They think they suffer very much while they are taking offence; whereas in truth they enjoy it amazingly.  It is a pleasurable excitement, which delightfully varies the monotony of devotion.
For one pious man, who makes piety  attractive, there are nine who make it repulsive.  Or in other words, only one out of ten among reputed spiritual  persons is really spiritual.  He who, during a long life has taken the most offence, has done the most injury to God's glory, and has been himself a real and substantial stumbling block in the way of many.  He has been an endless fountain of odious disedification to the little ones of Christ.  If such a one as reads this, he will take offence at me.  Everything that he dislikes, everything which deviates from his own narrow view of things is to him an offence. Men marvellously like to be popes; and the dullest of men, if only he has, as usual, an obstinacy proportioned to his dulness, can in most neighbourhoods carve out a tiny papacy for himself; and if to his dulness he can add pomposity, he may reign gloriously, a little ecumenical council in unintermitting session, through all the four seasons of the year. .... Let us leave them alone with their glory and their happiness.

Ahhh, spoken like a true Oratorian, a true son of "Gentleness and Kindness". Charity sometimes has to talk tough.  Taking offence is a fault deep within many of us and are we really willing to look in the mirror and see just how odious it is?  Faber ends this conference with the following:

He is happy who on his dying bed can say, No one has ever given me offence in my life!  He has either not seen his neighbour's faults, or when he saw them, the sight had to reach him through so much sunshine of his own, that they did not strike him so much as faults to blame, but rather as reasons for a deeper and tenderer love.


And Richard agrees!

Sunday, 4 January 2015

The problem with gender

Elsewhere a thoughtful blogger has posted a piece about the unfortunate story of a soul who committed suicide and who was "transgender". Here are my thoughts:

Firstly I do believe that often the thought of suicide and its ultimate execution stem from a blinding illogical logic that says suicide really is the only solution to a "problem".  Often it is the feeding and manipulation of the "problem" until it grows into something with a life of its own that can be at the root of this.  And then the problem dictates that the solution comes from you ceasing to exist as you are the irreconcilable anomaly in the whole sorry mess, and absolutely everything would be better off without you.  Yes, there is often abuse and genuine victimisation, always there is hurt and a feeling of being unloved, but these exist to a greater or lesser degree in most of us and yet suicide, thankfully is rare.  I am sure that suicidal tendencies lie in the creation of this monster "problem" that exists outside of the person themselves, and that the feelings of the person themselves simply colour their own self-disgust and loathing making everything so much worse.  A person who is not in a good mental state really does believe in the clarity of their own thoughts, really believes that they are right, and that is the tragedy of mental illness.  It is very hard for anyone, no matter how loving, to break through this barrier.

Secondly here are my thoughts about gender and how I believe we are creating and feeding a problem that we may cease to have any control over.  "Male and Female, God created them", sexual reproduction is good, it gives God's creation a share in His creative genius.  The condescension of God, how He still (post-Fall) desires our free consent and cooperation, and us pathetic, flawed, stubborn creatures!  So gender is biological and for the reproduction of the species.  Nobody would argue with that.  There is also a complementarity between the sexes that has nothing to do with biological reproduction and has to do with the way this chaste complementarity, when focused entirely on God, makes Christ and His works manifest.  There is a genuine "spiritual fecundity" and indeed most faithful loving married couples spend far more of their lives in this state than they do in the biologically fertile state. That is really all there is to gender and notice that it has nothing to do with person-centred feelings.

The problem we are creating is to link gender to the way we feel and the feelings we have.  It links everything to the human, it makes gender a burden that the person has to carry. This burden can at first be pleasurable and therefore can be fed and nurtured to suit our needs, until it takes over, as burdens always do.  Or this burden can be intolerable, an irreconcilable set of feelings that create conflict in our hearts and minds and cause upset, misunderstanding and tragedy.  Yet society says we should feed our feelings of gender and explore them.  Society says this is good and wholesome.  And when a buffoon of a cleric says words to the effect of "go watch Brokeback Mountain and feel the love", there is a real danger that the Church is walking into the trap of defining gender by the feelings we have.  We also have a touchy-feely mood to the current Papacy and there is an inherent danger in this if we elevate our feelings or if we take offence at such touchyfeelyness.  Taking offence is dangerous, very dangerous... think about it.... it is nothing but pride......

One of the things we have lost by sin is our "original nakedness" (I think this is St JPII's idea in his Theology of the Body, but I only skim read an idiot's guide to this work, so am no expert).  Original nakedness is surely the ability to be unaware of our gender, yet to know our loving complementarity. In the occasional chats I have with other unmarried chaste women, we all seem to have a desire to find the man who could look on us naked without lust.  That is the man we could love, that is the man we could trust, that is the man we would surrender ourselves to.  (We long for that unveiling, to be looked on for what we are, and yet it seems like a dream too big, so we remain single...... and we know that ultimately it is Christ who will unveil us all.)

What we have lost by sin we can regain through Christ in the Sacraments, through God in His ineffable love for us all.  This should be our focus; the rediscovery of "original nakedness".  The more we cave in to the victimhoood of the LGBT polemic (as well meaning and as heartfelt as it is) the more the penis and the vagina will become intolerable burdens, false gods, and gods that are hungry and need feeding, sacrifices and martyrs.

As an aside, modern living is certainly putting more oestrogen mimickers into our water supply (most notoriously through use of the contraceptive pill), gender will become fuzzier and less well defined and this is a problem of our own making and not a gift from God.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Taking things to their limit.

Today's news has hit hard, the attack on the school in Pakistan has really cut me up.  Pakistan is a country I have an uncommon affection for and I know too many Pakistanis for this not to hurt.  But my grief is not primarily a personal grief, it is a grief born of watching Islam tear itself apart, and the all too frequent tragic consequences of this rupture.

Now what is the correct response to this for Catholics?  I do know that painting Islam as the enemy, or indulging in some ghastly smug "I told you so, they are a heretical sect and heresies burn themselves out eventually", is quite simply wrong.  Each and every soul on this planet was made by God, each and every soul on this planet has a guardian angel.  Each and every soul on this planet is hardwired to recognise real love and each and every soul is free to receive or reject that love. Christians: we should know them by their love.  That is it.  That is our response.  And we have to take our love to the limit, basically because it isn't our love but the love of God manifest in us... somehow that is what we have to do.

The intellect is stronger than the heart and I do wonder if deep down there may be an intellectual solution to this tragedy.  My personal view (and I'd be interested if anyone out there who actually has a degree in Philosophy and isn't simply some second rate easily bored Physics teacher agrees with me) is that Islam has developed a parasitic "heresy" of its own and this is the source of the problem.

The heresy in question is what I will call "neo-Occasionalism".  Occasionalism is a philosophy developed mainly by Al-Ghazali (1058-1111) out of Oriental Atomism which refutes Aristotle's idea that there are efficient causes to anything.  An example of an efficient cause is a sculptor being the efficient cause of a sculpture.  Aristotle has three other "causes": material, formal and final.  (Go google them if you are interested).  Al-Ghazali argued that there are no efficient causes, basically because God does everything, the efficient cause is merely an illusion. Occasionalism was largely taken up by Sunnis and the influential Wahaabi movement. And I hereby wish to state that I am not attacking Occasionalism, but I am attacking what it has morphed into.

It sort of boils down to God being in every atom and God doing everything.  If taken to its limit, it seems to make God suffer from OCD.  And this is what I think has happened in "neo-Occasionalism", you get a system where God is doing everything.  But remove God from this philosophy for a moment (and simply consider a world where nothing is random and everything is pre-ordained) and you discredit most of Physics.  All systems of things have "degrees of freedom", laws governing things they can and can't do.  As as example, think of a volcano, it can chuck out pyroclasts as is pleases provided they interact with the local gravitational field according to physical law.  Nothing arranges the pyroclasts, they are simply spewed out.  But a volcano isn't free to spew out liquorice allsorts any more than a blackbird is free to sing like Justin Bieber.  Things operate within degrees of freedom, but not beyond that and neither are they straightjacketed into a particular rigid single behaviour. Physics can't predict every outcome, it can only assess possible outcomes.  The universe is not clockwork.

And this logic applies to humans too.  We operate under certain laws and suffer the consequences of not heeding to those laws AND we have free- will.  That is our God given "degree of freedom".  The freedom to choose our actions.  The freedom to do stupid things and the freedom to sin.  God cannot make us sin.  And here is the crux my argument. Sin really is one thing that ONLY has an effective cause.  The effective cause of the sin is the sinner.  Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.  The devil did not make you sin, YOU can resist the devil by God's grace.  You are responsible for your own sin.

BUT remove the efficient cause and you basically remove sin.  The tragic consequences of this unthinking "neo-Occasionalism" are the IS, the Boko Haram rapists and slaverymongers and people who think it is OK to blow up schoolchildren.  To them, God's doing everything.  And there is sweet nothing in the writings of the Koran that legitimises any of this cowardice and stupidity.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

the violent bear it away....

There was a small female pheasant left over from last week's shoot, neither the beaters or the shooters wanted it.  So it has been hanging in my shed for a week and today was the day when I came to skin and gut the bird for my Sunday lunch.  As feathers fly everywhere, I did this outside, watched from a distance by a lazy red kite.  I felt like shouting at it, "go kill something yourself, you lazy bird, this is my dinner and you are not having it".

I've done this many times before, I do think it is important that if I eat meat, I should know how to prepare it from its original state.  It is not a weekly thing, Wessex is not without a decent butcher or two, but worth doing for many reasons...... but I'm no ace with the knife.

It was as I was ripping the wings from the carcass that a thought came to me that I'd like to share with you.  It concerns that mysterious and multilayered saying of Our Lord's regarding St John the Baptist.

And from the days if John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence and the violent bear it away.  Matt 11:12

There I was dislocating the exquisite, precision engineering and soft, sublime, beauty of a pheasant's wing from its body, and it didn't feel great.  I was doing violence to God's creation.  But yet, there was no sin in it.  No act of cruelty had taken place, the bird had been well shot and downed instantly, not maimed by an overenthusiastic badly trained hunting dog.  God gives us stewardship over His creation, we are entitled to kill, butcher and eat what He provides. 

The violence in the act was violence devoid of sinful intent.  It was the violence of a mortal being who wanted food and had a legitimate right to that food.

How much more beautiful and perfect is heaven than that pheasant's wing?  How violent, ugly, grasping, needy and selfish are even the best of our prayers that we storm heaven with, compared with the music and prayers of angels and saints.  We are rough, violent, arrogant and needy in all that we do, yet the angels and saints make no complaint and bring our petitions before God.

How dreadful, uncouth and unholy are even the most reverently said Masses compared to the eternal liturgy of heaven?  Yet our pathetic representation and offerings are taken heavenward by God's angels and He permits His Son to become truly present in the Bread and Wine at the command of His unworthy priest.

We are doing violence to the perfection of Heaven, and God desires that we do.  He has come to us, He dwells with us, He loves us in all our pathetic, clumsy, irreverent, stinking humanity.

He gave me the astonishing beauty of a dead pheasant for me to fill my belly with, and there was simply no need for it to be so beautiful, (unless He wanted me to contemplate heaven).... and therein lies a great mystery.

Chardin- Still-life with pheasant

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Holy Theologians, Batman!

For the first time in his pontificate, I have really taken offence at something the Bishop of Rome has uttered.  You can read it here :

Normally, I find his style very petrine: loving, passionate and foolhardy.  One just knows his heart is in the right place, but like Peter he can be totally irritating, but that is my problem not his, he is the Rock, and that is that, and I accept his rockiness, that is part of my faith.

However, hmmmm, I'm exceedingly uncomfortable when he says we need more female theologians.   My uneasiness stems from my asking: just what is a theologian?

Isn't a theologian one who studies the Divine?  Isn't that all of us who claim to be Christians?  Don't we all embark on a journey to study the Divine.  Theology is a practical science and one we should all be very much involved in undertaking.  Is the Holy Father saying we need more female Christians?  Surely not!

I have a horrid feeling the Holy Father is referring to those who are professional theologians, those who make their living out of its study (and not necessarily its practice).  We need more theologians like the mice in my kitchen need a trap.  Lord preserve us from professional Catholics, Lord preserve us from professional theologians, irrespective of their genital apparatus.

Being a theologian is not one of the manifestations of the Spirit that St Paul talks about in 1 Cor 12.  The Spirit can give the word of wisdom, the word of knowledge, the grace of healing ,the working of miracles, prophecy, the discerning of spirits, tongues and interpretation of speeches.  It is these things that we need, and the Holy Spirit can only work in those who seek the Lord with humility and purity of heart.  I can not reconcile this with a life in academia studying "theology".

We should be living theology not studying it.  There is such danger in seeing the Church as being made up of two things, a body of professionals and those who ought to be grateful for the work those professionals do.  I've heard better theology from a 5 year old child than from many a professional theologian.

Strawberry on the cake, pah!

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Sunday This before Advent

I love the Feast of Christ the King.  In those "normal" days shortly after my "reversion" to the Faith, it seemed right and proper that there was a feast at the end of the year dedicated to Christ the King.  This is what we were told: it was fitting to have a Feast right at the end of the Church's year when we celebrate the Kingship of Christ and that is why the feast was instigated.

Now it isn't that simple.  I mainly attend the EF and here the feast is as it was originally designated to be on the last Sunday before All Saints and now it makes perfect sense (to me) for it to be there.  At Mass this morning were readings for the 24th and Last Sunday After Pentecost and they seem right and fitting for the end of the Church's year.  The Kingship of Christ is Universal and timeless and not part of some linear narrative; there should be a feast to celebrate it but not necessarily this Sunday as we look towards Advent and with an eye ever on the Second Coming.

For personal reasons I also attended my local parish church today after Mass and they are dedicated fans of the Book of Common Prayer 1662 style and gloriously Low Church.  They too were supposed to be celebrating the Feast of Christ the King, but wanted their "Sunday Next Before Advent".  We had a common bond, a love for the collect for this Sunday; the "stir up" collect, and we like to hear it. 

As an aside I'm not sure what Cranmer and chums did to the Latin of this Collect as the BCP version is rendered:
Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

The translation in my Missal reads:
Stir up, we beseech Thee, O Lord, the wills of Thy faithful to seek more earnestly this fruit of the divine work, that they will receive more abundantly healing gifts from Thy tender mercy.  Per Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum..... 

An altogether richer and more satisfying pudding being stirred up by the Catholics than the Anglicans, methinks....

Still, in a spirit of ecumenicism, we both want our Last/Next/After Pentecost/Before Advent  "Stir up Sunday" and both homilies I heard today were about judgement, both were meant to makes us feel uncomfortable and make an assessment of what was lacking in our lives, AND both were full of joyful hope.

So what am I trying to say?

The 1962 Missal (imperfect as it is) and the 1662 BCP (protestant as it is) have a liturgical "sense" to them that unites across the centuries to something way older, something nearly intangible, something that wasn't designed by a group of "modernising", "sensible" liturgical experts......

.... and the villagers where I live want their Rogation Days back. Lord knows the crops have suffered over recent years, there is a real sense that everything needs to be handed back to God.

You know, sometimes I feel the very soil of the country is Catholic, its people are actually Catholic but don't realise it and somehow England is groaning to be Catholic once more........

But who is going to come to her aid?....... It won't be "knights" in fiddleback chasubles and yards of lace, that is for sure....

Saturday, 18 October 2014

The Psalm of the Synod

Dear faithful reader, I'd like you to ponder with me a little bit of holy scripture that seems wonderfully apt for the proceedings currently taking place in Rome.  It is Psalm 67 and is always worth saying with confidence, but right now it is DYNAMITE.  Allow me to lead you through some of the most profound bits, I'm using Challoner's translation,  which whilst not perfect, has a certain majesty.

Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered: and let them that hate him flee before his face.  As smoke vanishes, so let them vanish away: as wax melteth before the fire, so let the wicked perish at the presence of God.

Say it brothers and sisters, say those lines, and don't stop saying them, you know it makes sense!

Let the just feast, and rejoice before God: and be delighted with gladness.

Whatever is going on amongst His creatures, we can and must rejoice before God, otherwise we turn the Resurrection into a sham. If we don't rejoice before God, it means we have stopped believing.

Sing ye to God, sing a psalm to His name, make way for Him who ascendeth upon the west, the Lord is His name.

In the western sky, in the darkness of the approaching night, He is there, call on Him, love Him.

Rejoice ye before Him, but the wicked shall be troubled at his presence, who is the father of orphans and the judge of widows.

We are all orphans, and we are adopted children of the Father, that is enough to rejoice over in itself. Myself, as a widow, someone for whom God has intervened so directly in my life through the death of my spouse, I will do His work, I will stand before Him and be judged, I see no harshness in those words.

God in his holy place: God who maketh men of one manner to dwell in a house.

Unity is a mark of God, God is ONE. Division is a mark of Satan.  Pray for the unity of the Church.

Who bringeth out them that were bound in strength: in the like manner them that provoke that dwell in sepulchres.

It is God who will give strength to those that love Him, even if the enemy presses against them with terrible force.  It is also God who will expose the empty vessels, the shallow clanging brass, the sound and fury with no significance.  This empty fury is in the Church, it is in each and every one of us, and we need to pray for the discernment to cut out this noise, this illusion that pretends to be life, that emanates from the tombs, and is nothing but the death of the spirit.

Thou has set aside for thy inheritance a free rain, O God: and it was weakened, but thou hast made it perfect.

The free rain of Grace, the superabundance of His mercy, the Eucharist..... God made It perfect.... we are the cause of the weakness... and the humbler we are them more we can share in Its perfection... indeed the weakening is a signal to us to be humble... our faith is not something palatable to glory hunters and to the smug.

The Lord will give word to them that preach good tidings with great power.

Pray that we all stick to the Gospel, that we live by it, and the Lord will do the rest, He will put the right words in the mouths of the right souls at the right time and His will be done.

The king of powers is of the beloved, of the beloved: and the beauty of the house shall divide the spoils.

The only treasures that matter are in the house of the King, and the "beauty of the house", Our Lady, has His ear and will make sure the treasures are distributed.

If you sleep among the midst of lots, you shall be as the wings of a dove covered with silver, and the hinder parts with the paleness of gold.

Trust in the Lord, fall asleep in His arms, and "He will give sleep to His beloved" Ps 126... His rest, His treasures..... do not fear. Trust in Him.

The mountain of God is a fat mountain, A curdled mountain.  Why suspect ye curdled mountains?

This and lines that follow it make it abundantly clear that God hears the voices of His faithful followers.  There are many more faithful than we know about, but they are silent, unfashionable and living in those parts of the world that nobody gives much of a thought to.  God's oeconomy of salvation isn't some catastrophic failure, a harvest with a poor yield. The harvest is rich, believe in it and work for Him alone, be one of His labourers and His friends.

The chariot of God is attended by ten thousands; thousands of them that rejoice: the Lord is among them in Sina in the holy place.

Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive.

I never tire of those lines!

Blessed be the Lord day by day, the God of our salvation will make our journey prosperous to us.

Or those!

Our God is the God of salvation: and of the Lord are the issues from death.  But God shall break the heads of his enemies: the hairy crown of them that walk on in their sins.

Let God deal with those who do not put Christ as their head.

In the churches bless ye God the Lord, from the fountains of Israel.

Do it!

There is Benjamin a youth in ecstasy of mind.

Surely that is St Paul?  "Rejoice I say always rejoice!".  Don't dismiss anything he says.

The princes of Juda are their leaders, the princes of Zabulon, the princes of Nepthali.

There are the Apostles.

Command thy strength O God: confirm O God what thou hast wrought in us.

That the successors of the Apostles are worthy and work to strengthen the Church, to make the bride of Christ beautiful for her Beloved.

Rebuke the wild beasts of the reeds, the congregation of bulls with the kine of the people; who seek to exclude them who are tried with silver.

There are wild beasts who have found their way into the church and they have brought their wild ways with them and they wish to exclude those who are truly sons and daughters of the Church, those who gladly suffer silently for their faith, by sticking to it despite the arguments of those within the church to lessen the discipline ...  the "bulls" wish trample on them and say their ways are irrelevant.....

Scatter the nations that delight in wars, ambassadors shall come from Egypt: Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands to God.

Only by being witnesses to the Truth can we seek to lead others to Christ.  They will come, if they see our example; the clarity and brilliance and beauty of the Truth by which we live.

Sing ye to God, ... sing ye to God...

God is wonderful in his saints: the God of Israel is He who will give power and strength to His people. Blessed be God.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Could anyone pity her?

I'm still trying to work out to myself if today's reading from the Prophet Nahum was the most appropriate or inappropriate that could possibly have been read out as the horrors unfold before us on the plains of Nineveh.  He who said Mass for us today made no mention of it whatsoever.

See, over the mountains the messenger hurries!

‘Peace!’ he proclaims.

Judah, celebrate your feasts,

carry out your vows,

for Belial will never pass through you again;

he is utterly annihilated.

Yes, the Lord is restoring the vineyard of Jacob

and the vineyard of Israel.

For the plunderers had plundered them,

they had broken off their branches.

Woe to the city soaked in blood,

full of lies,

stuffed with booty,

whose plunderings know no end!

The crack of the whip!

The rumble of wheels!

Galloping horse,

jolting chariot,

charging cavalry,

flash of swords,

gleam of spears...

a mass of wounded,

hosts of dead,

countless corpses;

they stumble over the dead.

I am going to pelt you with filth,

shame you, make you a public show.

And all who look on you will turn their backs on you and say,

‘Nineveh is a ruin.’

Could anyone pity her?

Where can I find anyone to comfort her?

Perhaps the message is that it is God who will punish wickedness, not us.  Perhaps the message is that we should continue to live as God has always said we should live, in peace and charity with our fellow man and avoiding idolatry at all costs.  Perhaps it is also worth quoting an earlier passage from the same prophet  as it refers to all the people of good will in that area, whatever their faith.  (What is happening out there is a tragedy for the faithful of Islam too, and we rejoice over that at our peril).
Though I have afflicted you, I will afflict you no more, And now I will break his yoke from off you and will burst your bonds assunder ...
Behold, on the mountains the feet of him who brings good tidings, who proclaims peace.

You see, I think the thing is that we are all forgetting is that Christianity is THE religion of worldly failure.  The world should ever look at us and laugh, scorn, mock, deride.  Ours is not a religion where battles are won and temporal victories resound triumphant.  Necessary battles have been fought in the name of Christianity but there is always a larger defeat looming around the corner.  We are a failure in the eyes of the world, therein lies our strength.  It is only through rallying round Christ whose earthly mission was a  near complete failure, that we can possibly hope to share in the supernatural victory over sin and death. He won this for us through His complete, abject, degrading worldly failure. And when individuals see this, when they see the love we have for each other and all our fellow men, then they will recognise the Truth, and the peace that only Christ can win.

And how does this practically help all the good souls caught up in this horror in Northern Iraq? We offer practical help where we can and also we pray for them all, we pray to their Guardian Angels to guide them, inspire them and comfort them.  We pray to the God of compassion and mercy that no suffering is prolonged.  We offer a sacrifice of praise to God for all those souls too distraught to do it themselves.  We do not fear the enemy (who is most definitely behind all of this) and we do not trust any purely political or military  "solution".

"Our God bringeth help to both man and beasts alike"