Friday, November 27, 2015

Communion on the tongue - a sign of intimacy

With the alleged sacrilege of the Blessed Sacrament in Pamplona, there are many calls to revisit the manner of the reception of Our Blessed Lord in Holy Communion.

Here, after a spate of people running off with the Sacred Host, or the Host was found discarded, I moved the front row of pew kneelers forward and started giving Holy Communion there, rather than giving people Communion in a queue. It gave people more time to be a little more leisurely at Communion. People are free to receive Holy Communion kneeling or standing, in the hand or on the tongue. It is quicker, if people receive on the tongue I can pass on, if they receive in the hand, I can wait until the host is consumed. It is quite remarkable that when given the option people choose to receive kneeling and on the tongue. It is those of a certain age who tend to receive in the hand, or children at school who are told this is normative.

There is a certain power in the reception of Holy Communion in the traditional manner of the Western Church: kneeling and on the tongue.
I had an Indian priest staying with me and his bishop came and arranged to spend the weekend appealing for money in the local parishes. I had had to speak very sternly to him after he celebrated Mass here, he more or less made up his own Eucharistic Prayer, which barely reflected the Church's understanding of the Holy Eucharist, I think he had done his post-grad studies in Germany. In the evening we had a reception for some of the leading Indian Catholics in Brighton.

I am sure the Bishop was not in favour of the reception of Holy Communion on the tongue but he took great delight in giving tit-bits to the more attractive young women, insisting they didn't use their hands. I could understand why a young non-Catholic husband muttered darkly about 'punching his lights out', after the bishop had given his wife a third piece of honey coconut cake, I think it was the licking of his fingers by her, that he insisted on, that finally upset her husband. I managed to persuade him to take her home rather create an unpleasant scene.

Feeding someone in this way is an act of deep intimacy, it is the act of lovers and of parents of small children. It highlights in a very powerful way trust and union, it is an almost perfect sign of the intimacy of Holy Communion. It calls for an act of trust from the the recipient, in the sense of, "Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? Or a scorpion if he asked for an egg? ..."

Without any good reason, except the very nature of the intimacy of the relationship of Jesus and his disciples and the nature of the gift he was giving, I can quite easily believe that Jesus himself fed the disciple the Holy Eucharist directly into their mouths. It simply says a lot more about the nature of the Eucharist than handing something round on a plate or picking it up themselves.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Secret Gnostic Key

There is rather good but not very revolutionary article on NLM about celebrating Mass, as we do here, ad Orientem. It merely says that doing so is 'normative', it is what the Missal expects. Nothing in the documents of the Second Vatican Council, nor the Missal of Paul VI expects any change to what for most of two thousand was considered normative. Why is something so clear in the Missal in 'pastoral' practice interpreted in arcane way, to the point where the 'normal' becomes the unusual, and those who actually do what the text clearly says are regarded as eccentric.

Their Lordships, the Bishop's of England Wales, want to change the new Extraodinary Form Good Friday prayer for the Jews. Ominously in the press release there is the phrase, "The Bishops of England and Wales have now added their voice to that of German Bishops", I do so hope our Bishops haven't jumped on the anti-Ratzinger bandwagon, promoted by their Teutonic brothers, because of course it was he who composed the prayer.

The prayer is based on Nostrae Aetate, which in its amazing brevity (is just over 1,500 words long) doesn't change the necessity for the Jews to be saved by knowing Jesus Christ, it doesn't throw away Pauline teaching, it doesn't suggest that the Old Covenant brings salvation or Eternal Life as does the New Covenant.

Just as the interpreters of the Missal seem to live in a world separated from the actual text, as some of the interpreters of Nostrae Aetate. It is worth reading Fr Bede Rowe on the subject, at the moment he is writing his doctorate on Catholic Jewish relations. As he says the implications are enormous

In trying to avoid charges of supersessionism, the Bishops are proposing an imperialist Christian definition of Judaism which straitjackets it into Christian terms. Oh, and subsumes all of the ‘Jews’ into one undifferentiated lot.
So what are the theological implications of the Bishops’ calls? A dual covenant theology, where one is ‘never revoked’ and the other, in Christ, is the one that we Christians go by? We would have to repudiate Dominus Iesus (2000), ignore Ad Gentes, rewrite the rest of Vatican II, reformulate our Christology and theology of redemption. This is just the beginning. Why should we ignore the covenant with all creation in Noah? How dare we bring the message of Christ to anyone… did not God make them all? Should they not all grow in their revelations of the divine?
What concerns me, again, is the change in the very nature of the Church, where it becomes not so much a Church of an open book, clear teaching but something which is controlled by specialist, to the point where the official documents and statements of the Church are of little weight compared to a new gnosticism revealed to a secret group of interpreters.
The separation of doctrine from pastoral practice is a new heresy that is rapidly taking hold of the Church, words do not say what they mean - which means we become enthralled to those who have a secret key, it is movement to a new clericalisation where only the chosen know the answer. If anything tells the ordinary faithful they are unwelcome it is this kind of arcana.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

A Place for the Damaged

A few thoughts in the light of the Pope's remarks recently about priests of whom he is afraid. It is really the second part of this post.

There is a small French Old Rite Community of nuns who have Downs Syndrome, The Little Sister Disciples of the Lamb, it is one of the many offshoots or affiliates of the Abbey of Fontgombault. I don't know if there are New Rite communities like these sisters. Somehow the Old Rite seems particularly able to respond to people like the Sisters of the Lamb.

At one time people with handicaps or with mental 'difficulties' or illnesses might not have become Choir Monks or Nuns, certainly if they could not cope with the Latin but if they were able to work they might well have been welcomed as a lay Brother or Sister. The change came in with renewal of religious life following Vatican II. Nowadays without a decent university degree many religious communities would simply not consider a prospective candidate and if there was a significant blip on one's 'psychological assessment', which now seems almost mandatory for every diocese and most religious communities, they are likely to be rejected.

It would seem that one of the things that some of the new traditional communities and some more traditional bishops of diocese have come up against is that they haven't sufficiently screened new community members or seminarians. This seems to be one of the reason why the Holy Father has demanded the resignation of some more traditional bishops and possibly one of the reasons for what has been termed the 'persecution' of the Franciscans of the Immaculate. One of the things the sacked traditional(ist) bishops and the Franciscans of the Immaculate have in common is they all attract large numbers of vocations. I can't help wondering if the problem has been that often they set the bar too low, as if they somehow think a religious community is a 'field hospital', that somehow living in an environment that is aimed holiness and where holiness is expected, that a prospective religious might be taught, if his or her heart is open, the ways of holiness

In contrast the Pope always sees priesthood in terms of function, and always a pastoral function. I am not sure he accepts that it is possible to be a priest or a religious in other terms, for example being an enclose contemplative, praying for the world, or being a scholar -he has often been quite unpleasant about them, or being a teacher of doctrine or a canon lawyer. In some German diocese for example, rather than being a pastor a priest might be very welcome as an administrator on a financial board or advisor on moral theology  in a hospital. St Paul reminds us there are a variety of gifts but always the same Spirit.

Today more than ever those who join seminaries or religious communities are likely to be damaged, more than their predecessors. Increasingly they are unlikely to come from stable families, they are likely to have had some sexual experiences, they are very unlikely not to have been exposed to pornography. In the past they might have been a little 'eccentric' or even 'difficult', now they are likely to be on some spectrum, slightly autistic or some other neuro-developmental disorder. Disorder is perhaps the important word here.

It should not be surprising that those who have had 'bad experiences' of the world are likely to desire communities or seminaries that offer a contrast to those experiences. A strictly enclosed community is likely to attract those who desire separation from at least some sector of society. Childhood sexual abuse might well add to the attraction of such a community, an absent or distant parent might well move someone to seek a community with a warm and loving superior. I remember a convert saying that what he found so attractive about the Catholic Church was being able to call a priest 'Father'.

Current psychological testing might well highlight such people as 'high risk'. If such a history is also marked by some sort of self harm, it is likely to flash quite a few red lights over such an application. Even the more Traditional Catholics might well no longer see a love of fasting or a desire for corporal penance as signs of holiness but perhaps Traditional communities are less likely to 'medicalise' these desires.

I can't help wondering whether Theresa of Avila with her psychological history might have great difficulty today finding any convent to accept her, if she also spoke of being 'divinely ravished', most vocation directors would suggest she sought some kind of long term specialist psycho-therapy. As for St Francis of Assisi ... or St Catherine of Sienna ... let alone the Cure d'Ars. Coming to terms with 'disorders' in the past was a source of holiness, now they are a medical condition.

The question the Holy Father raises is can a damaged man (or women) have a vocation? I would suggest that he might well say, 'it is impossible'. A Traditionalist would be 'yes', but in the proper situation and with the proper support. Someone with paedophile tendencies should never work with or near children but looking after the monastery garden or finances behind the walls, they might well grow in saintliness, with the neurosis that comes with age they might well become a pain for their Abbot or Abbess and possibly everyone else in the monastery, it gives the opportunity for heroic sanctity for everyone else, unless of course they become the superior themselves before they have become a saint.

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Monday, November 16, 2015

After Paris - Europe

If we were Nietzschians we might see modern Liberal social values as the ultimate outcome of a post-Christian 'slave-morality': “abused, oppressed, suffering, unemancipated, weary and [those] uncertain of themselves”. Nietzsche would have seen our compassion "as weakness, as self-laceration". He would have seen Christianity as bad but post-Christianity as worst. The whole of German post-war theological muscle seems to be directed at the rejection of Nietzche's thought, in a sense it is part of the process of de-Nazification. Cardinal Kasper's 'Mercy' is part of this process, and perhaps a rather narrow understanding of European history viewed from Buenos Aires, with a short stay in Germany, might well see the whole of Europe's history through a lens of anti-Nazism - anti-Nietzchism.

What is the future of Europe after the Paris massacres? Closing of borders, the restriction of the 'free movement of people' seems to mark the beginning of the end of the European dream. The re-orientation of European politics from a tendency to the left to a movement towards the right seems inevitable. The election of Marine Le Pen seems, today, almost inevitable, as does the re-thing of the nature of Europe.

In Russia Putin has adopted the Orthodox narrative as a way of giving meaning and identity to a state that has been left empty and bankrupt by its 70 years of Communism. The search for British values of the Blair-Brown years failed because of the political difficulty of suggesting that British values might actually be Christian values was politically beyond them, they would have been laughing-stocks, Blair. publicly 'didn't do Christianity' though interestingly for both men 'Christianity' was their private personal answer.

Defining Europe today apart from territory is somewhat difficult, defining what it is not is perhaps easier. Poland and more significantly Hungary deciding that Mohammedanism is not compatible with their own values and history is unlikely to be followed by the rest of Europe, and yet the great struggle is how to define Christian/post-Christian Europe, without reference to Christianity. Christians/post-Christians alone make up the current European Community. Perhaps the reason we hardly noticed the 45 victims of terrorism in Beirut on Thursday is simply because they do not share our European civilisation, our European values.

Michel Houellebecq's 'Soumission', so interestingly after the weekend doesn't seem so relevant, it sees the Islamisation of France as political process, terror is not mentioned, and yet after the weekend Terrorism is unerasable factor in European attitudes to the outside world, it is likely to be a framework of European politics for sometime. Yet the simple truth is that our post Christian values are the source of our destruction,

Europe is dying because Europe is not having children, because Europe undermines the family, because Europe culture considers a naturally sterile homosexual relationship to be equal to a heterosexual relationship that is naturally orientated to produce children. Mrs Merkel in the maddest event of recent political history opened up the gates of Europe to every immigrant who might want to come, but the reason is simple without immigration Europe is dead because we are not replacing ourselves. Perhaps only a Catholic priest could dare to suggest that the peace and survival of Europe is dependant on a Europe that supports families and is open to children.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Pray for Paris

"Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only bad and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." Manuel II Palaiologos (Byzantine Emperor from 1391 to 1425) quoted by Benedict XVI at Regensburg September, 2006.

To understand much of our present situation, the mess in the Church and in the world it is worth reading this extraordinarily perceptive speech.

Just a few thought going through my mind at the moment - The big one is can the West self destructive low birthrate ever be reversed?
But then - must the Church re-examine its relationship with Islam? Must the West? Where will it lead us? What will be the reaction of the majority, the secularists? How do we evangelise Islamists? Is the Church capable of it?

In many ways I think that this interview with Cardinal Danneels is not unrelated to what happened in Paris last night, it shows the self referential intellectual arrogance of many of Europe's Christian leaders, especially those who dominated the last Conclave.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Fr Michael Lang: A lecture on 'The Early History of the Mass'

A lecture on 'The Early History of the Mass', part of the Benedictus/Order of Malta/London Oratory collaboration 'Architecture of the Mass'. Rev. Dr Uwe Michael Lang C.O., is a member of the Benedictus Academic Team and expert in Church History. Michael is a priest of the Oratory of St Philip Neri in London, where he serves as Parish Priest, and a lecturer in Church History at Heythrop College, University of London. He is a consultor of the Office of Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff, and a former official of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. He has published in the fields of Patristics and liturgical studies, including the books Turning Towards the Lord: Orientation in Liturgical Prayer and The Voice of the Church at Prayer: Reflections on Liturgy and Language.
Signs of the Holy One
Signs of the Holy One

Living in Bubbles

That wise and learned old pedant Fr Hunwicke suggests that Popes should be married so as to avoid upsetting women. I am crusty old celibate but I have seen that look on a lady's faces when their husbands have said or done something foolish, that tight lipped smile which doesn't quite reach they eyes, which says, "I think we must have a talk later, dear", it is like the look rural American fathers might have, which says to their sons, "any more of that and we will have to visit the woodshed together".

One of the problems we celibates have is that we can live in our little bubbles, there is no-one there to burst it. Traddies live in a traddy bubble, liberals in a liberal bubble, conservatives in their conservative bubble. It is a bit like a man I met years ago, who said, "God heavens, Father, you are the first priest I've met who doesn't shoot". He then went on to say, "I know some who don't hunt but you are the first I have met who doesn't hunt or shoot". He then turned to his wife to acquaint her of his discovery, here my thesis breaks down, in that very English three syllabled form of the word, that reveals worlds, she responded, "Really?" In their particular world all priests rode to hounds or at the very least shot, it might have meant he only knew two or three priests but that was world he lived in.

Normally, having a wife means there is someone who stops you from being a prisoner of yourself. Ideally for a celibate his religious community or parish takes the place of a wife, if you let them, they become a key that releases from your prison, (though not always).

Edward Condon writing in the Herald asks, "Is Francis becoming the new prisoner of the Vatican?" Popes have almost always ended up becoming prisoners, as much as Chinese Emperors became prisoners of the Forbidden City or the Sultan became a prisoner of the Sublime Port. It was Benedict's increasing isolation, I am sure. lead to his resignation.

I know this is pure speculation but I wonder if the preferred candidate of the St Gall Mafia, would actually be a clear thinking articulate intellectual like Martini or someone whose thinking was muddled, who was not capable of communicating his ideas, or better had few ideas of his own. More importantly someone who for a few years would convince the Church that being in 'a mess' was the natural state, and whose every word was ambiguous and needed interpretation.

Under Benedict I read practically every word he said or wrote or said, often it was complicated and subtle but it was comprehensible. Francis, I read sparingly, partly because it is incomprehensible and to be honest I have never read anything that speaks kindly to priests - I cannot bear the constant nagging. Condon suggests that Francis is simply unaware of the effects of his words (or his actions) "This can be seen, for example, in the otherwise inexplicable decision to invite a man as compromised as Cardinal Danneels to the synod (on the family of all things!) despite the scandal surrounding his reported attempts to silence victims of sexual abuse."

Condon is right to draw attention to fact that the Pope in many ways has all the qualities of a 'prisoner',  "it came out that the Pope had not watched television for more than 20 years, did not use the internet, and read only one newspaper". If you add to that a limited pastoral experience, a limited knowledge of any language beyond Italian and Spanish, a limited knowledge of the Universal Church and limited intellectual interests - I am curious about the absence of books in the Papal study - does it perhaps mean that the Pope doesn't read much? Certainly his disdain for 'doctors of the the law', "Specialist of the Logos" and "ideologues" of various stripes would suggest an intellectual grasp of the faith is something antipathetic to him. Similarly, his sense that history, in terms of the Church the hermeneutic of continuity, is pretty meaningless to him, beyond his comprehension. Like many ecclesiastics of his age he seems to think the Church is a 'now event', with little sense of its past or very much more worryingly of its long term future.

Edgar EvansIn contrast to his predecessor he seems only to appoint those who share his views. Benedict had at the heart of his theology 'both and', Francis seems be much more factional, getting rid of those who disagree with him are invariable sent into outer darkness. The great problem with that is that ultimately you dwell in a tent surrounded with cronies, whilst those outside the tent are ...err... looking in.

Monday, November 09, 2015

What have we come to?

Anthony Andrews as Lord Sebastian Flyte, Jeremy Irons as Charles Ryder, and Aloysius:
What have we come to? I had a letter recently from a parishioner telling me he had fallen in love with another man and therefore wasn't going to be coming to Mass anymore!

The Gospel yesterday in the Old Rite was the wheat harvest sown with zizzania (translated as cockle), the owner tells the servants that rather than weeding out the weeds, to leave them until harvest time, 'lest the wheat also is lost'. The Second Vatican Council spoke about a 'universal call to holiness', what we seem to have difficulty with is coping with the fact that not everyone wants 'holiness', or at least wants to delay it until the last moment, or simply feels they are incapable of it

In the past we dealt with this by accepting people were at different places in their spiritual pilgrimage. Now I wonder if we have lost that flexibility. Ronald Knox's remark about the possibility of leaving an umbrella safely in any church, of any denomination, except a Catholic church, because in a Catholic church it was bound to be stolen, because Catholic churches are full of sinners, once contained a lot of truth. I remember certain London churches and certain continental churches that seemed to be full of ladies of certain character and men of  certain 'exotic' tendencies, all at the back or behind pillars or in side chapels praying with intensity, and slightly more reflectively 'pray for us sinners, now and the hour of death'.

One of our parishioners remembers as a young boy being told by the Parish Priest not to accept sweets from the then rather elderly Lord Alfred Douglas and another, now dead, told me that his mother didn't think it "safe", presumably in the modern sense of 'safeguarding', for children to come here on their own "because of the strange people who go to 'Mad Mary Mags'". If their parents didn't come with them they were sent to the posher and safer Sacred Heart Church next door in more select Hove. Graham Greene used to come here when he stayed in Brighton, he was friends, along with Belloc and Chesterton. with Mgr Wallis, who was Rector here until his death in 1950. I can well imagine that on a Sunday not only Rose but most of the characters from Brighton Rock turning up here at Mass. Maybe even Pinky came here at Christmas and Easter.

Brighton Rock | UK | 1947 | 92m
We have always taken it that the God 'tolerates' sin in the Church, and sin in its members. It hates sin but loves sinners and yet is formed of men and women who are sinners. In the inter and post-war Catholic novels of the great age of Catholic literary converts, who often had an ambiguous relationship with God themselves, there is a deep sense of the divided self, Sebastian Flyte deeply in love with his German lover and yet ultimately finding a relationship with God, that is quite saintly but which occasionally falls disastrously apart but he he always returns again and again, to care for the sick and to live alongside the brothers in the monastery that have taken him in. It seems typical of the light and dark motifs of Catholic literature and spirituality of those years, and tells the true story of Catholic pastoral care of those years.

There is a sense that the Church can live with ambiguity not only in the laity but in the clergy too, One is reminded of Greene's 'whiskey priests'. Perhaps the critics of the pre-Concilliar Church are right that we reserve 'holiness' for specialists, for religious, for monks and nuns. I remember ages ago being told by elderly Jesuit that being a secular priest was 'a profession' whilst being a religious like himself was a vocation. He reflected an older spirituality in which 'vocation' was essentially a call to holiness, and the usual place to find it was in those who had purposefully rejected the world, and deliberated embraced the evangelical counsels. 

The Council was obviously right that all by virtue of their baptism are called to holiness, and that once baptised, all should receive the sacraments of initiation, including Holy Communion and continue to receive Holy Communion week by week until united to God in Heaven after death. 

The older idea, still prevalent in Orthodoxy and certain declining branches of Protestantism, and amongst more ultra Traditionalists, that people should receive Communion only rarely, and then only after confession and a period of intensified fasting and penance, was the norm up until Pius X. In pre-Reformation England the norm was for Communion once a year, following Lateran IV's precept of reception at 'Easter or there abouts'. The confession, penance, prayer and rigorous fasting of Lent was the period of preparation. Lateran IV was trying to correct the 'abuse' of people never receiving Holy Communion, or doings so only once in their lives.
Though Vatican II was theologically right, was it pastorally right? What seems to have happened was that we became less tolerant of sinners. I have always wondered about the interpretation of I Cor 11:27-32:

27Therefore whosoever shall eat this bread, or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord. 28But let a man prove himself: and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of the chalice. 29For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself, not discerning the body of the Lord. 30Therefore are there many infirm and weak among you, and many sleep. 31But if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. 32But whilst we are judged, we are chastised by the Lord, that we be not condemned with this world.
What does verse 30 actually mean? 'Therefore are there many infirm and weak among you, and many sleep', could it be that Paul equates infirmity and weakness -and many sleep, a euphemism for death- as being something we experiencing today, that somehow a unworthy reception of Communion leads not to physical illness and death but to a spiritual one, a complete loss of those who cannot live a holy life.

In practice, if everyone is to receive the Eucharist, does it means that there is no room for the prostitute or the gay man or adulterer unable to control his sexual desires or the alcoholic or the wife beater or the paedophile or the murderous God hating gangster, or the simply confused, or just plain ordinary sinner with a divided soul who loves the idea of God but is too damaged to fully embrace him.

We are indeed all called to holiness but yet whilst virtue might indeed be growing in us like a rich crop of wheat, the zizzania flourishes too and maybe, until harvest time, it dominates. The problem is we see the weeds and God sees virtue. We are not the best judges in our own cause. At one time we much of deathbed confessions, we don't very often nowadays.

Catholics have never been smiley faced Protestants, happy in the blessed assurance, we have been more realistic knowing that God's grace is all. Until recently we have never been a 'holiness cult' but a Church of sinners. I fear accommodating VII's teaching of 'universal holiness', we either exclude sinners who are unable to live virtuously, which means excluding those in need of Christ or else we turn a blind eye to sin, pretending it doesn't exist, which means excluding Christ, as some seemed to desire at the Synod. The problem is that sin is writ large in our consciousness and so is virtue, by stressing holiness, and having the expectation of holiness, has the Church become a place which no longer welcomes sinners?

Is there a place in today's Church for the man who washes the wounds of the diseased and lights copious candles, faithfully tells his beads, yet has a penchant for a particular vice and then goes on a bender, throws his beads in the dustbin and a few weeks later, horrified is found kneeling outside the confessional or weeping before the statue of Our Lady? Is there place for the priest addicted to drink, or maybe nowadays porn, who claims he has lost his faith, yet is actually heroic in his fidelity? Is there a place for Saint Mark Ji Tianxiang, the opium addict, forbidden the sacraments for thirty years, yet had the courage to die for Christ?

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Vespers with the Bishop in Lewes

Our new bishop has started a programme of parish visitations, among the first of these was a visit to our Diocesan Chancellor's parish of St Pancras in Lewes. The Visitation began with the liturgical welcome of Bishop Richard Moth and was followed by Solemn Vespers. I thought you might enjoy the pictures.
I am impressed by him, his presence in our diocese has already made a huge difference, there haven't been great changes in anything, just a change in spirit. It is just that he obviously enjoys being a bishop and serving God and his Church, he seems to like us clergy too, which is always a bonus.

What I find rather exciting about him is that he is a man who has faith, who prays and therefore thinks that the supernatual is important and Christianity is exciting.

There was a time when I thought that our English Bishops were pretty poor, some were quite destructive, most if not all were ideologically driven, chosen for belonging to a particular faction rather than because they had deep faith but this has changed, more and more they are obviously men who believe, maybe a little confused at times but they give me a great sense of hope for the future of the Church in our country.

As with our bishops, so with our younger clergy, they struggle but the legacy of the last two Popes, John Paul and Benedict, is bearing fruit in their sons.

More pictures click here

Friday, November 06, 2015

Year of Mercy

Official logo for the Holy Year of Mercy. (CNS/courtesy Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization)I am sure the Year of Mercy is going to yield great fruit, I am impressed by the initiatives that my own bishop seems to be coming up with: encouragement to a deeper devotion in the Church and initiatives for the our Church to reach out beyond the Church, especially with justice and peace initiatives. It is important that we see the Church as a leaven within society.

One thing I am a little concerned with, partly because it is a modern trend, is the idea of separating a phenomenon like mercy, from the person of Jesus Christ. If we separate anything from the person of Jesus it is likely to 'move beyond Jesus', and be more about a humanistic philosophical interpretation of 'mercy', rather than the flesh and blood presentation of Jesus the Merciful.

Once something is cut loose from Jesus it becomes open to any interpretation, something based on semantics rather than revelation. 'Love' for example, in a Christian context has to be seen through the prism of the Incarnation and the Cross. In a secular context it can be reduced to sentimentality or even lust, or simple personal preferences.

The Church in the past has always presented 'mercy' in strongly Christological terms: in the image of the Crucified, or the wounds of Christ, or the Sacred Heart of Jesus, or the often gloomy image of Divine Mercy. It always comes back to the person of Jesus. At the heart of Ratzinger's Jesus of Nazareth is the idea that Jesus proclaims the Kingdom and the Church proclaims Jesus.

Some of the speeches at the Synod, suggested a 'moving beyond Jesus theology' (I am reminded of those US Sisters), not just the terrifying Ultramontanism of some of the Fathers, 'the Pope can twist God's hand', 'some people prefer Tradition (meaning Scripture and Revelation) to to the Pope' but others like 'Moses was more merciful than Jesus'. The Instrumentum Laboris drawn up by Synod's controllers, presumably under the control of those close to the office of the Pope suggested that Revelation (Scripture and Tradition) were, let us say, not at the heart of the document, as if there were some abstract, even secular notion of family and marriage, and more importantly of the inclusion of people practising homosexual sexual activity and people committed to permanent state of adultery. One can do that if one leaves out Revelation.

The Mercy of Christ is what is revealed in the scriptures, essentially what is shown is limited, we know: God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.… But what about those who don't believe, those up the Amazon, those who were born and died before the Incarnation?

What scripture, or at least the New Testament is addressed to, and is concerned with, are those who believe in Jesus Christ. It is not addressed to is non-believers, so therefore what scripture does say about their fate, can to modern man can seem somewhat harsh and even unmerciful. Jesus speaks about dividing light and darkness, about doors being closed, about judgement already be upon the world or taken on themselves by unbelievers, about weeping and teeth gnashing, about the separation of sheep and goats, about the absolute necessity for metanoia, conversion, not merely of  life but to the person of Jesus Christ.

We might hope that granny, who never darkened the door of a church or prayed since childhood, who headed the local white witch coven for a few years and then seems to have become a Buddhist and had a very pleasant life with Uncle Willy, to whom she was not married, might be united with him in heaven but this is speculation, rather than Revelation. Similarly the hope that the good Jew or the good Moslem being saved either because the were good or because they adhered to their own religion is speculation. Even the destiny of unborn (and therefore unbaptised) is speculative. Speculators invented Limbo, to avoid following Augustine's interpretation of scripture which would consign them to the pains of hell. The more honest answer might be that we simply do know what happens to them, we merely hope. Modern speculators, more in line with the 'ground of being' theories of 19th century German philosophy, invented the idea of the 'anonymous Christian', which actually seems quite contrary to scripture and stretched the idea of 'baptism by desire' beyond anything know before.

Islam might happily embrace God, 'Allah the Merciful' but it is un-incarnate mercy, Christianity has something else, Jesus Christ, God made Flesh, who died for sinners. There is a difference, as there is with the secular idea of 'unconditional love' an idea unknown in Revelation, which gives the idea of 'infinite love', the two are quite different and not interchangeable

A quibble, that logo. I have a difficulty with it, not just the ugliness of the image but with the words 'merciful like the Father', isn't it that we Christians only know the Father through the Son? He shows us the nature of the Father's mercy and we are called to imitate him, the Son, so shouldn't it really say 'merciful like the Son'?

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Towards What?"I lost my faith", said a lady sometime ago, "I went to Mass at St X and Bishop Y was there and he said it was very unlikely to be true that the three kings came to Bethlehem and anyhow we didn;t have believe it". "Well it occurred to me if we didn't have believe that, Father, we don't we have to believe anything. So I started questioning everything I did believe and I decided I didn't believe in anything, even in God". Remove one bick an the Temple falls. I have known priests and even bishops, sad individuals, who seemed to delight in destroying faith rather building it up.

As a priest I am conscious of how frail God's gifts are, how slight our grasp on them can be, we hold on to them by gossamer threads, which are easily broken. Faith is easily damaged, maybe because it is the most supernatural gift of all, it can thrive in prison and under torture but it is the most vulnerable to damage through the Church and her ministers. Religious practise is often the last thing to disappear, for clergy they will always drag themselves to the altar, not being strong enough to dig or too proud to beg, but once faith goes, so does hope and eventually the practice of charity breaks down too. Mgr Charamsa is perhaps an example of this.

Those things which were once a joy can become a terrible burden.  Prayer once a delight becomes a bed of thorns, a mess of distractions, poverty or simplicity of life once happily embraced becomes a condemnation to bleak hopelessness, chastity a constant reminder of emptiness.

 At the Synod and now afterwards I wonder if some senior clergy are deliberately setting out to destroy, to take away just one or two bricks so the whole Temple collapses, it is as if their own faith has left them and they resent other people's faith

Priests and bishops are supposed to build up faith, not break it down. If we do, "It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin".

I know we priests can easily live in our own little bubble and meet only people who share our views, I know a very few Jews, a few Muslims, a few Orthodox but the majority of people I know are Catholics and Catholics of a particular sort. I was thinking last night I do not know any Methodists, or Quakers, or Unitarians, or for that matter Jesuits! Most of the priests I know all seem to be unhappy with the direction the Church seems to be being nudged into taking. Priests tend to be reflective and introspective, we have learnt to keep our own counsel, most don't blog, most don't write to newspapers, even Catholic one's. Most are unlikely to write to their bishop or even talk much to him, especially about their concerns for the Church, especially if he is unlikely to agree with them. But then so many bishops seem equally confused.

Following the Synod, some who might be in the know, like Cardinal Nichols, hint that change is in the offing, see his recent Pastoral Letter on the Synod on the Family. Other Bishops, Cardinal Pell for example, assure us that there will not be, or cannot be change in doctrine, perhaps they are a little less definite nowadays about changes in pastoral practice, and even less definite about about changes to the faith itself. We can tell ourselves that the Church is unchanging, that Christ is with her until the end of time, but we have seen the Church changing a great deal in the last fifty years since Vatican II. At one time we were told the Mass was unchangeable, when the Mass changed, our belief in the Eucharist was unchanging but as I have said before, compare the Eucharistic faith of the children of Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin with the South American child whose bishop spoke approvingly of him at the Synod, who broke the host in half to share with his divorced and remarried father.

A friend was at one of those Catholic literary lunches and met a writer for that 'Catholic' weekly, who said, 'I do hate the Catholic Church, don't you?' She then continued, 'I do think Pope Francis is so good for the Church'. It seems like madness to me but then there are those in the Church who do actually hate it and want its ruin or destruction. Judas after all sat table with Christ and the bishops. After Simon made his profession of faith and is called Cephas, Peter, the next time Jesus addresses him, he calls him Satan, 'Get behind me, Satan, for your thoughts are man's, not God's'.

the truth // lion // defend // leo: Leo Thang, Leo I, Leo Richard, Leo Lionesses, Leo Women, Leo Stuff, Leo Girls, August Leo, Leo QuotesFrom the Patristic exegesis of Pope Benedict which tended to build up faith, we have moved to dark world of confusion and ambiguity. From letting Truth go free to defend itself we have moved into a period where there are truths and then there are truths. Uncertainty and confusion are not of God, they damage faith, they do not build it up. In this environment the old debates about the Papacy of Bellarmine and Suarez have suddenly taken on a new life, maybe not with intellectual giants like 'people who disagree with the Pope because they don't like him', Cdl Wuerl or elitist American academics (why do they always want to address emotions and never address arguments?) but with many ordinary Catholics, clergy especially, thinking laity too. It is not something new for Catholics to ask, what if the Pope... is misguided, is in the pay of the Spanish, French or Austrians, is captured by Muslims, is a heretic, is evil, is suffering from megalomania, or is going senile or mad, these questions were asked before and are being asked now by people trying their best, for the good of the Church, to understand the mess we appear to be in. Under Pius XII the question was what if the Pope is captured by the Nazis or drugged by Communists.

communist crossThe apparent cruelty and still unknown charges against the Franciscans of the Immaculate, the extraordinary speech in Paraguay, accusing the Paraguayan government, and specifically the president, of the abduction of Edelio Morinigo, which he put into a context of the worst atrocities of the Nazis and Communists, Morinigo in fact turned out to be a policeman abducted by rebels against the government, the agreement to accept that extraordinary Marxist crucifix and decorations in Bolivia, the support of child abuse covering up bishops like Bishop Juan Barros in Chile or Cardinal Danneels who was invited to the Synod apparently as a reward for his support in the Conclave, his returning again and again to the journalist Scalfari, who apparently misreports him, his packing of the Synod with pro-Kasperians, his apparent manipulation of both the extraordinary Synod last year and the ordinary Synod this year, his promotion of the now arrested Chaouqui and Vallejo Balda (Chaouqui, if you remember, was bought in to manage the papal image and public relations), these are some of the reasons questions are being raised quite openly in the Italian press and increasingly by the media elsewhere. It was these incidents that raised concern over the Holy Father's health and in the rather overblown Italian style, the suggestion of a brain tumour, but this was the most extreme end of concerns and perhaps the most easily dismissed in order to scotch others.

Msgr. Fabian Pedacchio Leaniz in the Vatican on June 23, 2013. Credit: Alan Holdren/CNA.It is of note that Lifesite carries questions about the influences of the Pope's involvement with the 'gay mafia', and at least raises in my mind question of his own complicity with the St Gall group, no-one has suggested, yet that he attended the St Gall meetings. It seems from the reports that was merely passive, their candidate', but then there were all those faxes or emails sent from the Congregation of Bishops to the office of the Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires by Mgr Fabián Pedacchio, who is now the Pope's Secretary.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Hooray for Wuerl, the Apostle of Freedom

Warning this post may contain irony
Just thinking of Cardinal Wuerl and the law, I say, "Hooray, for Wuerl, the Apostle of Freedom". All that legalism, we need a knife to cut through it. It is important not to listen to legalists like Ed Peters who criticises the Eminent Cardinal

I am a great fan of English in the liturgy, I don't mind all that Latin stuff: Orbis Factor, di Angelis, masses with numbers but I say, 'English music for English people'. Sunday morning we had Byrd for 4 Voices and very nicely sung it was, despite someone fainting in the gallery, we really do have the nicest music for miles around but we rarely have Sheparde, Tallis Tye, Tallis, Byrd and Phillips or any of those English Golden Age composers. I am no fanatic, I wouldn't mind going foreign and having Victoria's Requiem on Remembrance Sunday. The dreadful truth is that those monsters described by their colleague Louis Bouyer swept away the great tradition of Catholic music by demanding the 'Eucharistic Prayer' be said aloud, waiting for five or six minutes of Sanctus to finish before beginning the Canon become an unnecessary burden for the people. O for those pre-microphone days when only those only those standing around (circum - stantes) needed to hear! and the rest could get on an pray to a polyphonic Sanctus before the Consecration and its matching Benedictus afterwards. Do hearing the words of the Eucharistic Prayer actually help people to pray the Mass more intensely? I doubt it.

Now if I were in Cdl Wuerl's diocese, freed from the terrible burden of the law, or even in Archbishop Cupich's, able to follow the lights of my own conscience, I could do what is absolutely illicit in the Ordinary Form but perfectly licit in the Extraordinary Form and rather than wait for the Sanctus and Benedictus to be sung before beginning the Canon of the Mass I could just get on and say it quitely, trusting the faithful, either to multi-task or to choose between following the liturgical action, or pray, or just bask in glorious music. Choice, under these circumstances seem to be the mature option. The Sanctus would finish just in time for the epiclesis and the Benedictus could be sung after the consecration and leave a short space for quiet prayer before the Per ipsum, it would fit terribly well, and His Eminence and His Excellency (in England it would be His Grace) would be absolutely delighted. While we are about it I could also introduce the old offertory prayers, , I always say new ones quietly, as we are supposed to but no-one would be offended and HE would praise me for not being bound by rigid legalism. I could even move the penitential rite to a little service before Mass actually began, if the lights of conscience actually led me to do so.

Being free from legalism and following one's own conscience seem very tempting to me. The trouble is I suppose other 'unbound' priests might similarly make up their own rubrics and say Mass whilst skateboarding. Some might simply decide not to send the diocese any money at all, or to opt out of various diocesan initiatives, maybe refuse to move when asked, or set up satellite churches in neighbours territory. I am sure no priest would stoop to simony arranging   They might also get in friendly bishops to ordain their parishioners, or even their friends, even their girlfriends, or worst. The problems is there always those priests who don't like their bishop and for fun will choose to do everything possible to annoy him.

But Cardinal Wuerl would respect my non-legalism, especially when I tell him the Gospel has set me free, and Archbishop Cupich will accept my conscientious decision. Other less enlightened bishops of course might not respect my personal freedom and give space to my conscience and rather than walk with me might send in his mafia storm troopers to break a leg or an arm. especially when my parish stopped sending in money to the diocese. What if I was in Cardinal Marx' diocese and denounced his nine million euro Roman palace or his even more expensive diocesan HQ, or his interests in the porn business.

The dreadful problem is when there is no law then one has to keep a close eye on the prince, when he smiles and when he frowns. On who are his friends and who he regards as his enemies. On who is in favour and who is not. Then one listens not so much to conscience of the words of the Gospel but to gossip and who is closest to to the Prince. Who has his ear and who enjoys his favour. Then we will live by rumour, then we will fear for we know that it is only by the whim of the Prince that we live or that we die.

Monday, November 02, 2015

More News from the Renaissance Court

So Ms Chaouqui and her collaborator have been arrested along with her side-kick Monsignor Vallejo Balda have been arrested, in the renaissance court of this most renaissance papacy, the are perhaps the most renaissance, read what Magister had to say when Pope Francis appointed them.

Meanwhile Fr Lombardi denies the accuracy of yet another Papal interview with senile-none-note-taking-socialist-anti-clerical-journalist Eugenio Scalfari. Lombardi might tell us to move along, that there is nothing here every time the Pope gives an interview, and yet His Holiness keeps going back to the senile-none-note-taking-socialist-anti-clerical-journalist. Someone is either evil or mad in all of this and one hopes it is Scalfari.

Ms Chaouqui was the siren of doom for the Ratzinger Papacy let us hope she doesn't serve the same purpose in this one.

An interesting, if ironic statement from the Holy See:
“Publications of this kind do not contribute in any way to establish clarity and truth, but rather to create confusion and partial and tendentious interpretations,” it says. “We must absolutely avoid the mistake of thinking that this is a way to help the mission of the Pope.”

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Doctors of the Law and the Spirit of Trent

The Holy Father and the Superior General of the Society of Jesus, Fr Adolfo Nicolas SJ

Thinking about the Holy Father's use of the phrase, 'Doctors of the Law', I have been wondering who they are. It is not unrelated to the growing thought that one of the most significant changes post Vatican II is the disenfranchisement of parents or the broader family in teaching the faith to children. It goes back to an experience I had over thirty years ago, when as a young deacon I was given the task of preparing for Holy a group of Irish traveller children.

The children did occasionally attend school but it tended to be a dozen or so different schools within a year, their parents were more or less illiterate, and of the children the girls tended to read better than the boys, who as soon as they were strong enough ended up working with their fathers. Religion seemed to be a matriarchal, there was family Rosary, which men joined in but it was led by the grandmother. Grandmother too was the chief catechist, she had taught herself to read, but had committed most of the Penny Catechism to memory. The children she catechised, knew or rather had committed to memory most of the catechism. Her catechetical method was simply, the children sat around her and were interrogated. 'Who made you?' the right answer, the child got a sweet from the bowl on her lap, the wrong answer a not very heavy tap on the arm from the wooden spoon also in her lap.

My role was not so much to teach the faith but to teach them how to behave in church. Though they understood the importance of attending Mass, it was boring and their itinerant lifestyle made weekly attendance difficult and prejudice made them feel unwelcomed. They were good at praying but pretty bad at sitting still and listening. I have occasionally come across this family since, the last time was a few months ago when some of them turned to Mass on the twentieth anniversary of their grandfathers death. There was a different matriarch, the earlier grandmother had I presumed died, the new one came with a gang of sons and a few daughters, none received Holy Communion, all lit candles at Communion time, and after Mass all were waiting outside the confessional.

The way they lived they lived and understood the faith, seemed to be how Catholics had passed on the faith for centuries. It was part of an oral tradition handed down in a matriarchal non-literate society. Church buildings were important as places to pray, priests were important as givers of grace but it was the family that was the most important factor in both worship and catechesis. Somehow I think that they were spared much by not being literate, by having little contact with schools or churches.

The interesting phenomena of American academics complaining in a letter to the New York Times about Ross Douthat writing on theological or ecclesiological issues seems emblematic of an ecclesial life that has become, and seems to be coming increasingly top down, It is faith which is handed down by experts or specialists rather than bubbles up, which I would suggest is profoundly un-Catholic. It is as far from St Vincent of Lerrins' understanding of the Catholic faith as having 'been believed everywhere, always, by all'. It is elitist, not at all like the inverted pyramid that the Pope has described.

Just as we each have a guardian angel and perhaps a guardian devil, so each Council seems to have one. Vatican Two the spirit of Relativism, Vatican One the spirit of Ultramontanism, perhaps Trent had the spirit of Didacticism. Some have suggested that Councils do more damage than good, it certainly seems that a Council attempts to clear up the house and expel the demon that occupied it only to discover that the demon returns with seven more.

Jesuit general congregation at the Vatican
Is it noteworthy that the anti-Douthat letter was signed by a significant number of Jesuits? Was it not the Jesuits who changed the Church from a place of worship into a schoolroom? I would never argue that Catholics should not know the faith but the encounter with God, though it involves the whole person, is chiefly about a heart to heart encounter, an experience of Grace, where God himself is the foremost teacher. Trent was a response to the polemicism of the Protestant Reformers, and the Reformation itself was about faith being taken out of the home or the parish church and taken into the hands of the specialists, the Doctors of the Law such as Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and Cranmer. It moved from the heart to the printed page, from, something gained from books rather than something past on within the culture itself.
I wonder when the definition of a theologian moved from the patristic 'one who prays is a theologian, a theologian is one who prays', to a theologian is one with a degree in theology. with a certificate on his wall. It marks a radical change, a movement from theology as the fruit of a relationship to one in which God becomes something to be spoken about rather than spoken with, a mere phenonemon, an academic discipline cut free of  a personal relationship. Jesuitism has always had poor regard for liturgy from it foundation, the first order not to celebrate the Office in choir. The great influence of the Jesuits on the liturgy was to remove choir stalls from our churches and replace them with pulpits. The focus becoming not the prayer of the brethren but the words of the specialist, the trained preacher. As necessary as this might of been it was a disenfranchisement of ordinary Catholics.

The wise Fr Mark Kirby gives an illustration of the development of this didacticism in this article about the Rosary facing the people. I was bemused recently by a layman showing a fragment of a Saxon altar who said something about a saint 'preaching from that altar'. The truth is that at that period preaching would have taken place rarely and probably less likely in the liturgy than the chapter house or the back of church  or the market square but never from the altar, The phrase shows what we have come to, no-one can be trusted to pray without the intervention of a 'Doctor of the Law', the liturgy itself is not of value for its real purpose, to worship but as a setting for teaching.