Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Giving up Sermons for Lent?


Dr Joseph Shaw, has a very wise little piece on children at the Traditional Mass, I know the Holy Father has be speaking a lot about the art of preaching, indeed it takes up a great deal of his encyclical, and the CDW have just issued some guidelines about preaching. Nevertheless every year I think I should give up preaching for Lent. I never have but I think I should.

In the days when we had so many people here, and so many priests too, Mass on Sunday was on the hour and half hour it seems that the only Mass that had more than perfunctory sermon was the last Mass of the day advertised as "High Mass with Sermon", even then it must have been by Protestant standards of the time rather short because the High Mass had to be within an hour and quarter, because there was then a Polish Mass which did indeed have notoriously long sermons, the Polish chaplain preached everywhere and whenever he could, even at gravesides in blinding blizzards. It seems that sermons here really took place for those who chose to go to them in the evening at Rosary Vespers, Benediction and Sermon.

In the Old Rite the sermon wasn't until the Pius XII (that great moderniser) considered part of the Liturgy, purist even now will remove their maniple and possibly even the chasuble whilst preaching.
I must say I feel less need to preach at the Old Rite, than the new. The simplicity of the Traditional Mass seems to be sermon enough, the New Rite as Joseph points out seems to need further interpolation.
In the immortal words of a working-class Catholic in Newcastle, interviewed by the sociologist Anthony Archer, on the New Mass:It’s just like a lecture, man. It goes on and on. Not because it is actually longer, but because it comes across as a long stream of verbiage. Archer's argument is that the New Mass is appreciated most by intellectually-minded, educated, articulate, middle class Catholics.

One might add that it is often said that women are more oriented to verbal communication than men. It is also said that spoken, as opposed to written, words, are less easily taken in by modern people, an argument frequently made against the use of lectures in education today. Pope Paul VI remarked 'modern man is sated with words'. These observations, taken together, would explain a lot about the typical size and composition of the Novus Ordo congregation, but that would take me off the point.
I was struck on Friday evening at the Taditional Mass, on Fridays we have Mass in the morning too in the New Rite, that of the total congregation a fifth were women, four fifths were men. It was almost the reverse of congregation in the morning where most were women, at both Masses there were about 25 people each and at the Traditional there were even a few children. I joked with server afterwards that I should tell women present that this was the men's Mass theirs was in the morning.

http://freebloghelp.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/library.jpgWhat I think is interesting and worth making the point is that in the past, sermonising was not how most people were catechised or formed in the faith. One of my reasons for considering giving up preaching in Lent is a vague feeling that it makes us priests lazy. Rather than getting the faithful to experience something we simply throw more words at them, it is just too easy to do, and actually put people off.  The problem is that words add to complexity. In many ways they are the antithesis of worship and real 'active participation'. They tend to get us to relate to the priest rather than to God. If they haven't caused the mind to glaze over, they stimulate it rather than cause it to be lost in awe and wonder. Like most priests I have to remind myself none of it is about me, all is about God.

I remember as a young convert struggling with the idea of the Real Presence and Transubstantiation, I read what Trent had said about it, what St Thomas had said, what the Gospels and St Paul had said about it but actually it was a group of Irish labourers kneeling and bowing at Benediction that really gave me an understanding of what we believe. In the same way a server observing the corporal scraping, the joined fingers, the careful checking of the vessels for fragments, the double ablution, which I now tend to do at both forms and also other servers occassionally not receiving Holy Communion, that caused him to say 'Now I understand why I should kneel and receive on the tongue'.

Another reason for not preaching is that after years and years of preaching I am not convinced my sermons have lead to the salvation or repentance of a single soul, not even mine yet I am convinced that the beauty and 'awesomeness of the mysteries' I have celebrated have changed the lives of many.


Interesting: I've just put the phone down, it was a retired permanent deacon who was arranging his funeral, he wanted Mass in the old rite. "Why?" I asked, he then told me as a young man he thought how beautiful the Mass was, how he would lost in silent adoration and prayer how he was able to enter into the stillness of God. I think really what he was saying is that he experienced God in the Mass. Wordiness is no substitute for the experience of God, indeed they often get in the way.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Friday, February 27, 2015

Avoiding stereotypes

 
We should all avoid stereotypes. The Holy See was placed in such an embarrassing position earlier this week over a leaked private email from His Holiness in which he had used the phrase 'avoid the Mexification'. Poor old Fr Lombardi had to again, 'clarify', the Vatican Information Service had to issue an explanation and an assurance that no-one on earth was more loved by the Holy Father more than Mexicans, which suggests the Secretary of State had to do a great deal to soothe ruffled feathers behind the scenes. It is all very reminiscent of Vatileaks at the end of  the last Pontificate.

Just as one should avoid 'Mexification', so one should avoid 'Argentinianisation' or 'Latin-Americanisation' but this last week or so seems to have been a rather dramatic gear change, rather unpleasant things seem to have hatched out of the mud. The latest, Card. Baldisseri ordering the interception or theft and destruction of 'Remaining in the Truth', the book by five of his fellow Cardinals, which was sent Synod members. He had the rather limp excuse of protecting the Synod participants from 'confusion', yet as Matt Archbold reminds us the Pope had demanded 'parrhesia' open speech from Synod members.
http://images4.fanpop.com/image/photos/17300000/Madonna-As-Eva-Per-n-In-The-Film-Evita-madonna-17320812-629-263.jpg
"Let us invoke openness to a sincere, open and fraternal exchange of views, that it might lead us to take pastoral responsibility for the questions that this changing time brings with it."  — Pope Francis on the Synod.
"Let no one say, 'This can't be said, they will think this or that about me.' Everything we feel must be said, with parrhesia," a Greek word meaning to speak candidly or boldly, and without fear. — Pope Francis on the Synod.
"... a cardinal wrote to me saying that it was a pity that some cardinals did not have the courage to say certain things out of respect for the pope, thinking perhaps that the pope thought differently. This is not good -- it is not synodality, because it is necessary to say everything that in the Lord we feel must be said: without human respect, without timidness." — Pope Francis on the Synod.
"I was the rapporteur of the 2001 synod and there was a cardinal who told us what should be discussed and what should not," the Pope told La Nacion, an Argentine newspaper. "That will not happen now." Francis is not afraid of discussion and disagreement." — Pope Francis on the Synod.
"And, at the same time, we must listen with humility and accept with an open heart all that our brothers say." — Pope Francis on the Synod.

Then there was the curious case of Fr Rossica, Fr Lombardi's assistant, someone close to the Pope, who has been threatening an obscure Canadian pensioner blogger for reporting his involvement in manipulating the Synod, coupled with Fr Volpi's reneging on an arbitration agreement with the family of Fr Manelli the founder of the Franciscans of Immaculate, there seems to be strong sense of bullying, of the total opposite of what His Holiness really wants: mercy. All of this takes place against a background of accusations of 'dissident' leveled against those who are against changing the teaching of the Church, this of course gives rise to actions like the rather unpleasant twitter of Fr Scott, Fr Rossica's confrere. And in Rome, as Alessanro Magister suggests there is open season on kangaroos, there are increasingly vicious attacks on Cardinal Pell.

Though one would want to avoid words like 'Argentinianisation' or 'Latin-Americanisation', that seems to be what we are steadily paddling towards. The methods of President Kirchner or the Perons seem to have an echo in the Vatican. There is an unpleasant ruthlessness in those are around the Pope and even his allies elsewhere. I was rather shocked by an article by Cardinal Wuerl, obviously directed against Cardinal Burke, but not engaging in theology or ideas but simply an attack on him personally, and calling those who did not agree with a change in Church teaching, "dissenters".

Madonna As Eva Perón In The Film "Evita" - madonna Screencap
Pope Benedict left in place those who disagreed with him fundamentally Abp Pierro Marini and Cdl Kasper are the most obvious examples but under Francis we seem to have a one party state, opposition is dealt with ruthlessly. The great problem with such a situation, as we have often seen in South America, Argentina in particular, in the recent past, is such a system breeds revolution and instability, it is useful for quick-fix solutions but ultimately leads to injustice, impoverishment and disaster. it creates a climate of fear, fear of 'el presidente' or at least a desire to be sycophantically subservient but fear of unknown henchmen, of denunciation. Many of the Cardinal electors had hoped that the election of the 'new Pope' might be about clearing Rome of its cliques and anonymous accusations, its denunciation by innuendo and its bitter feuds and corruption it is simply not happening - on the contrary it is happening with renewed vigour.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Is Faith missing from Evangelisation?

 
We, a few clergy, had a discussion on evangelisation recently, we often do, and I always come away feeling uneasy, as if something is wrong, something is missing.

The thing is we were not talking about evangelisation but increasing or retaining Church membership, even for Catholics there is a difference. Yes, the Church is the Body of Christ, coming to Mass, receiving the Body of Christ, being the Body of Christ is important but all of that comes about because of faith, which is deep trust in the person of Jesus Christ.

"When the Son of Man comes will he find any faith on earth?" Jesus asks, and the disciples in turn ask Him to increase their faith. One gets the impression in St John's Gospel especially that Jesus works miracles so that the disciple might increase in faith. It is easier to talk about schools or programmes, social functions, deepening knowledge, participation, lay involvement, or even  theology, devotions or prayer, anything but Jesus Christ himself.

Catholics are often a bit perplexed when Protestants talk about 'a personal relationship with Jesus Christ', some Catholics are much happier with a personal relationship with the Church and they can recite documents and Popes, Councils and Catechisms but seem to be dead as far as faith is concerned. I suspect this is why the current Sovereign Pontiff, as a Jesuit has a bit of a downer especially on young seminarians, younger priests and 'traddies' in general, as well as leprous courtiers, curial officials, old maids etc., the list is quite long.

North-American-Martyrs1St Ignatius of Loyola was very much into the spirituality of a personal encounter with the person of Jesus, not just in 'The Exercises', but in the entire formation of his novices, for example the pilgrimage to Manresa, were they were sent out like the first disciples and taught to rely on Providence. The early Jesuits were outstanding men of faith, no religious order seems to have had so many canonised saints at its foundation, nor such a variety of different kinds of men, from St. Francis Xavier to St. Peter Favre or St. Francis Borgia to St. Aloysius Gonzaga. What they all have in common is a personal 'humanistic faith', in that Renaissance sense of Catholic of spirituality, in the person of Jesus Christ.

I think this is what our beloved Holy Father is prodding and kicking us, at time even painfully beating us into accepting. I know many clergy find this a deeply painful time and unsettling, I admit I do myself, old certainties vanish like smoke, many of us feel a real impoverishment. It is like those nobly born Iberian novices sent out on the road with nothing, to rub shoulders with the not necessarily friendly poor and to learn to trust in the Providence of the Good God. Francis' oft repeated "poorer Church for the poor", is incomprehensible apart from what 'poverty' has always really meant in Catholic Tradition: possessing nothing but Christ.

Evangelisation is surely about teaching us to live by faith, to trust the promises of Christ to 'set out into the deep', as St John Paul used to teach, rather like St Francis Xavier going to the East or those evangelist of the New World going to lands and cultures they did not know where everything was unknown and uncertain, with Christ the only thing that was sure and certain. Pope Benedict gives the example of living by faith, as being cast adrift in a turbulent sea with nothing to cling to but the rough wood of the Cross.

The great problem is that of course in the cold wet misery of the turbulent sea it is easy to become so numb that one looses grip of the rough wood. Amongst the third or fourth generation of Jesuit novice masters, it was not unusual for their better formation and to teach deeper detachment, for them to persuade bands of peasants to rough up young novices just a little. In such situations either one looses what passed for faith or it grows, fortunately God holds onto us even if we feel we are loosing grip of Him.

Evangelisation is not about external structures but interior transformation, not trusting in princes, even of the Church, but in Jesus. For many Catholics the last fifty years have been about stripping faith away and replacing it with human reasoning. The movement towards October's Synod is prime example, it is in today's world very reasonable to admit the divorced and remarried or those in homosexual relationships to Holy Communion but faith, and maybe faith alone, compels us to hold fast to the words of Jesus Christ that divorce and remarriage are adultery and homosexual acts are gravely sinful. Faith, and perhaps faith alone, that demands us to warn those who approach Holy Communion in an objective state of sin that they in the words of St Paul are likely to die and 'eat and drink their condemnation'.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

People from the Peripheries

St Anthony of Padua Roman Catholic Church
At a clergy meeting yesterday I heard that we had reached a position in our diocese where one of our parishes, Rye, was without a priest. The Conventual Franciscan Friars who have been looking after it for almost a century have no one spare, and neither does the diocese.
One of the problems is Rye is on a limb, it is on the furthest border of the diocese, beyond it is Romney Marsh. The church, St Anthony's, is a little gem but quite tiny. Say a prayer for its people

Radclyffe Hall.jpgIn the past its parishioners included Spike Milligan, as well as Radclyffe Hall, who was also associated with Corpus Christi, Maiden Lane. She was 'the' proto-Lesbian, and also a devout Catholic. She gave the rood to St Anthony's, though like many of her generation delved into spiritualism. I think Clare Sheridan who carved one of my favourite possessions, triptych in cherry wood and silver, was also a parishioner there. She became a Catholic after having been a posh Communist, she had gone to Russia after the Revolution, carved busts of Lenin and the Bolshevik leadership, she was rumoured to have had an affair with Lenin, she was also a relative of Winston Churchill. After her conversion she spent her time carving religious subjects, though she too seemed to have some eccentric spiritualistic leanings.

Lord Alfred Douglas by George Charles Beresford (1903).jpgI am sure that both these women, and Milligan too, fitted quite happily into a pre-VII  model of the Church, I'm not sure they would today. There is something in Pope Francis' words, "Who am I to judge, if someone is seeking God", which takes us back to a previous age. One of our own former parishioners was Oscar Wilde's friend Bosie, Lord Alfred Douglas, who died in 1945. I am not sure he would have felt so comfortable in today's Church. I discussed this with one of my parishioners, she said it was a class thing, I don't think it is, because not only have we lost the 'notorious' and wealthy but also the poor.

Evelyn Waugh by Cecil Beaton 1955.I am sure it is something about our attitude to sin that has changed. Celebrating both forms of the Roman Rite, and perhaps the Ordinary Form in a way that is not too dissimilar from the older form what seems to be the greatest difference is the lectionary, the older lections are generally some hard hitting section of the Epistles dealing with sin, often condemning fornication or sexual license. Sermons from the pre-Concilliar period tended not to touch much on sex but on integrity and honesty, fulfilling one's duties both religious and secular or on the tender mercy of God. I think what has changed, perhaps, is that apart from the morality set forth in the catechisms and the teaching of the Epistles and of the Gospels, we have tended to make simple and personal right and wrong more and more complicated. It is not something to be gleaned from the the plain teaching of scripture and prayerful meditation, now it needs to be interpreted by moral theologians, or even Popes. It seems to be handed down by specialists, rather than discovered in the strange mess of ordinary life. In the area of sexual morality this is true in another of the great inter-war literary converts; Evelyn Waugh both in his own personal life, in his Catholic novels he presents us with characters who are in search of what is right but in a murk of confusion, weakness and ambiguity, some of them continue to be lost but others find their way from the peripheries to the Church who is there as a tender Mother but also as an unambiguous Mistress.

At the end of Brighton Rock Rose returns to be consoled before the Blessed Sacrament, Greene another literary convert, was a frequent visitor to our church, I suspect he had St Mary Magdalen's in mind, when he has her returning to the presence of God not unstained or undamaged by the liason with Pinkie. I like to think that perhaps a character like her had sat near him on our uncomfortable pews, perhaps he had seen a good Catholic girl being met at our church door by a Brighton spiv. Where is Rose now?
 

Washington Vespers


This is a rather nice video of Vespers from Holy Comforter - St. Cyprian Catholic Church, Washington DC. Music was provided by Third Practice in collaboration with Chorus Sine Nomine. Music also includes Beatis videamus by Joshua Bornfield. The celebrant is Fr James Bradley, it just shows what is possible, without very extensive resources but a will to give God the best human beings can give. One of the singers used to help us out from time to time before her return to the US. Tonight, here, for our Lenten EF Missa Cantata it is just a little Byrd and Lotti's Miserere, no original instruments, alas!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Authentic Ashes

 
Ashes, for Ash Wednesday are supposed to made out of the palms which were carried in procession last Palm Sunday. The symbolism is earthly glory turned to dust and ashes: Palm Sunday - Good Friday.

There is a high oil content in palms so once you have them started them they burn pretty quickly but the smoke is pretty acrid, not like the smoke of incense. I know priests who have used any old ash, ash from ash trays, some of the ecclesiastical suppliers even send ash in a little sachet, I knew one who used to get an envelope of ash from the local crematorium, a rather overstated emphasis of 'Remember Man you are dust and to dust you shall return', though he himself tended to use the alternative, 'Repent and believe in the Gospel'.

'Authenticity' in the Liturgy should be important, it is important in the Christian life, it should be important in Lent. 'Authenticity' is the brother of Truth, one of the most important aspects of Lent is the Sacrament of Penance, one significant reason people fail to go to Confession is that they are afraid of facing the truth about themselves and afraid of admitting it to another human being. There is a cowardliness here that is quite alien to the Gospel.

Living in shadows, living with half truths, living with illusions is not Christian. Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Christians are supposed to be both truthful and honest, especially about themselves and the Lord.

The great spiritual masters tell us to 'seek humiliations', ultimately the humiliation of the Cross, the best way of doing this is to be truthful and honest about ourselves, to face up to the reality of who we are, to remember that we are dust and to dust we will return, to be truthful, to be honest about what we do and who we are, without this we cannot even begin to pray authentically, because must be grounded in absolute honesty, we cannot live a lie in the face of God.

Perhaps this Lent for all of us our Lenten penance should be about scrupulous authenticity: honesty about who we are, integrity about our relationship with Christ, even if it brings us disadvantage, humiliation, pain, suffering, even death.

The new martyrs of Egypt died with the Holy Name of Jesus on their lips, may they inspire us this Lent to live with His Truth always on our lips.
 

Monday, February 16, 2015

Roman Catholic?

 
I am pleased the Pope has gone out the peripheries to gather Cardinals, I am pleased that the Catholic Church is loosing its European edge. We have to admit it but the Church in Europe is ineffectual and therefore dying.

However, I take pleasure in being a little uppity when Anglican friends speak of the 'Roman' or 'Roman Catholic Church' because for us 'Roman' means the fons et locus of unity. For them it is a word that signifies a certainly national identity, a denominationalism, like the use of 'England' in the 'Church of England'. I love to point out that even in Italy there are Ambrosian Catholics and Greek Catholics, and in the world at large there are a dozen different types of Catholics, all sharing Catholic doctrine and all in communion with the Roman Pontiff but not of the Roman Rite and that the Universal Church is a communion of local Churches. If I am feeling particularly mischievous I will even point out that not all Popes have actually been 'Roman' Catholics, one or two have actually been Greek Catholics and a few Ambrosian Catholics.

I have been rather intrigued by Fr Hunwicke's posts on the Roman Curia; his point being that patristic identification of Church and Bishop; that power rests in the Bishop of Rome precisely because he is the Bishop of Rome, his subsidiary point is the Cardinals and Curia are significant because they are, or stand in the place of, the clergy of the Church of Rome.

In his Regensburg address  Benedict XVI said that Greek thought was a significant part of Christian revelation, that we cannot, without harm, separate Christianity from the thought of Plato or Aristotle. With a third non-Italian Pope in a row can we forever suggest that the Pope should not be an Roman or even an Italian without in some sense damaging the authenticity of the Roman Church? Is Roman-ness important to the Church? When the Cardinals take on their most important role as the bishops, priests and deacons of the diocese of the Church of Rome are they looking for a Bishop of that city who would or should be elected by the Roman Church or are they looking someone to govern the entire Catholic Church

Reading the accounts of the somewhat eccentric machinations of the President Kirchner, and revelations about the prosecution of Fr Volpi for libeling the family of the founder of the Franciscans of the Immaculate, there seems to be cultural connection, a rather heavy handed uncompromising politicking. I am left wondering how much cultural baggage the Papacy can actually take.

A couple of our mothers were talking about the Pope's words on disciplining children, they were rather horrified at the idea of anyone, let alone the Pope, suggesting slapping a child, I couldn't help wondering what their reaction might be to an African or Asian Pope's attitude to juvenile correction. The thing is that an Argentinian Pope brings an Argentinian culture to the office, in the same way a Pole or a Bavarian brings his own culture to the office. I presume the next Pope will be African or Asian, in theory this good but in practice it separates the Bishop from the culture of the Church.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

A New Bishop

Mafia of the Mediocre? The Catholic Bishops of England and Wales
My diocese is waiting for a new bishop, I must confess I haven't written to the Nuncio to express my opinion on who should be our next bishop. In part because I don't think a parish priest's opinion is taken very seriously, unless of course he has skeletons to pull out of closets of one those mentioned as a possible bishop and in part that I am rather pleased by the new generation of diocesan bishops, no-one is perfect but Davies, Egan, O'Toole and Stock (who have I forgotten?) seem pretty good choices, I would be happy with any of them. I am not sure who we should thank, Cardinal Nichols or the Nuncio.

Like younger priests, younger bishops seem like a breath of fresh air. Fr. David M. Friel suggests there are two important factors that surround the formation of younger clergy, one is child abuse, the other Summorum Pontificum.
I agree with him on child abuse, it is a major factor which affects younger priests and the choice of younger bishops, we cannot continue as we had before, bishops and priests cannot cover-up, lie and certainly not give the impression of being themselves amoral. I am not exactly sure I would agree with him on Summorum Pontificum, at least not where bishops are concerned. I suspect it is more the eight years of Benedict XVI, (of which SP was a part) but more the sense of doctrinal solidity he brought, his teaching on the centrality of Christ to the Church and the importance of the priesthood to the Church. Summorum Pontificum though important, symbolised the end of the Church in rebellion against its own history, that period of self hatred. Benedict made moving ground solid. Seed does not grow in ground that shifts but flourishes in solid ground.
Rorate publishes a letter from Archbishop Lenga some of it can be dismissed as 'cultural' but the following struck me as being particularly pertinent:

In our days the voice of the majority of the bishops rather resembles the silence of the lambs in the face of furious wolves, the faithful are left like defenseless sheep. Christ was recognized by men as one who spoke and worked, as one, who had power and this power He bestowed upon His apostles. In today’s world the bishops must liberate themselves from all worldly bonds and – after they have done penance – convert to Christ so that strengthened by the Holy Spirit they may announce Christ as the one and only Saviour. Ultimately one must give account to God for all that was done and for all what wasn't done.
In my opinion the weak voice of many bishops is a consequence of the fact, that in the process of the appointment of new bishops the candidates are insufficiently examined with regard to their doubtless steadfastness and fearlessness in the defense of the faith, with regard to their fidelity to the centuries-old traditions of the Church and their personal piety. In the issue of the appointment of new bishops and even cardinals it is becoming increasingly apparent that sometimes preference is given to those who share a particular ideology or to some groupings which are alien to the Church and which have commissioned the appointment of a particular candidate. Furthermore it appears that sometimes consideration is given also to the favour of the mass media which usually makes a mockery of holy candidates painting a negative picture of them, whereas the candidates who in a lesser degree own the spirit of Christ are praised as open and modern. On the other side the candidates who excel in apostolic zeal, have courage in proclaiming the doctrine of Christ and show love for all that is holy and sacred, are deliberately eliminated.
In England I would have said in the past this was indeed the case, factionalism was preferred over faith, this was when one of the key players was a notoriously poor judge of character. I am not sure it is so true now, at least not here, at least at the moment - but time will tell.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

What went wrong?

 

Fr Hunwicke asks what went wrong with the Ratzinger Papacy?
I am sure we are too close to tell but I would suggest there are two basic reasons:
  1. That he was John Paul's 'minister', in the sense of the Pope can do no wrong therefore it must be his minister(s) who are at fault. The press had long seen Ratzinger as JPII's "rottweiler" as the "panzer-cardinal", as "the Enforcer", as the "Inquisitor". Ratzinger was happy as a loyal servant to be JPII's Aunt Sally. As internationally he was the most well known Cardinal the media were unable and unwilling to change their narrative. As the child abuse scandal was in the forefront of the media's thought about the Church, it was natural for Ratzinger to be attacked over it, especially as he was so shocked by it personally, and rather than delegating it a committee as Francis has, he himself kept apologising for it, as if he was indeed responsible.
  2. That John Paul was ill for a very long time and factions had developed, chief among them the divide between the CDF under Ratzinger and the Secretariate of State under Sodano. We saw that particularly in the tussle over resolving the child abuse crisis. Sodano refused to admit there was a problem well into Benedict's papacy, he dismissed it as a press fabrication. In a way he was right, the number of priest abusers is proportionately much lower than teachers or social workers. He was also one of the great defenders Maciel Marciel. I personally believe Benedict resigned to avoid the build up of factions in his declining years and it is perhaps significant that one of the first moves of Pope Francis was to reform, weaken and cast doubt over the future of the Secretariate of State and also to make it his personal secretariat.
There is perhaps a 3rd factor that the Vatican is actually ungovernable, which is of course Francis' mantra. For Ratzinger theft from his personal office and the betrayal by his valet meant that it became impossible for him to have any secure confidential communication. No letter, no telephone call, no email could be guaranteed not to be intercepted. It is true that he seemed to have mistrusted the Secretariate of State, the extraordinary subterfuge surrounding the announcement of the Ordinariate and Summorum Pontificum which came directly from his office certainly reflect this.

It is worth remembering it took almost a year and lots of concessions to get Bertone into and Sodano out of the Secretary of States Appartments. Here it might be worth understanding the geography of the Apostolic Palace, it is laid out as palace, it is necessary to go through the Secretary of State's Appartments to get to the Papal Appartments. He who controls the rooms controls access to the Pope. I am sure it was Ratzinger who urged Francis not to occupy the Apostolic Appartments.

Although Bertone has come in for lots of criticism, it will be interest to read his autobiography due out later this year, his ineffectuallity came about because the Sodanites, many of whom are now restored to power, simply refused to co-operate with him and briefed against him and against the Pope Benedict; remember Francesca Immacolata Chaouqui who actually twitter he was dying of cancer! What Fr Hunwicke suggests which was certainly part of the constant drip of certain European news outlets and the subject of certain Vatican Monsignori's sordid speculation was an significant part media poisoning of the media by certain influential Vatican lobbies. Perhaps by keeping one of its members close and indebted to him Francis has perhaps silenced other members of a rather complex and ruthless web.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

A Christian problem, not a Muslim one


The internet seems to filled with the dreadful picture of that Jordanian pilot being burnt to death, a few days ago there was a picture of a homosexual being thrown from a tower block, beheadings have become so common, they are almost not news. Add to that pictures of crucified men, women and even children, women and children sold into slavery, child brides, mutilated or burned bodies, churches razed to the ground, Christians and others robbed and sent into exile and most world, and even religious, leaders will say, "this isn't a Moslem problem". Even closer to home, the Rotherham child abuse revelations, again, 'it isn't a Muslim problem'.

Of course they are right, just the same as abortion, or the sexualisation of young children in our society 'isn't a Muslim problem', neither is pornography, or family break up, or the huge disparity between the wealthy and the poor in our society, these are obviously not 'a Muslim problem', neither are Russian gulags or the Nazi extermination camps.

These are however problems for a world that does not know Jesus Christ, in that sense they are a Christian problem. These horrors show us a world unredeemed, a world dwelling in Christ-less darkness. These are the things those who do not know Christ do.

As a priest ordained sometime after the close of the Second Vatican Council, it is the missionary impulse of the Council that is fascinating, the whole sense of going out ad gentes rather than looking inwards and being concerned with a concern for soft furnishings and furniture.
The Church is neither a museum preserving the past, nor a laboratory inventing new things. The biblical images of deeply rooted vines, closely tended, producing abundant fruit or of a house set firmly on rock.

It is perhaps natural for the priests who studied whilst the Council was taking place, especially in Rome, to be obsessed the changes the Council introduced ad intra; one only has to read the dreary pages of the Catholic Times or possibly even other Catholic papers to be re-acquainted with the self referential nonsense that haunted the church forty years ago; all those obsessions about reinventing liturgy, about parish management, setting up new committees and the like, that replaced the simple Gospel imperative of bringing Christ to the world.

The years following the Council were very much about household management, patching and restructuring and structures, but by the 1990s there was a new breed of priests who began seeing the Church in far more dynamic terms. They started asking what the purpose of the Church was. In fact asking whether the Church really had anything to bring to world. They did it from a Church that was beginning to coalesce, no longer in a state of flux, no longer filled with uncertainties, a Church that was beginning to feel a certain confidence in its own message: Jesus Christ.

As fascinating as the news from Rome is at the moment is for some, the setting up of new management committees, getting the finances up to date, even debates about remarriage and divorce, gives a sense of déjà vu, a return to times past, where the Church talks about itself, rather Christ. As one young man who a couple of years ago was seriously considering the priesthood, put it recently, 'It is all become deadly dull, there is a lack of confidence even in those doctrines which we had considered long settled, Management-speak has replace Christ-speak, we are called to go out to the peripheries but we don't have anything to take, and no certainty of the place to which we are to return'.

I confess I feel anesthetised by the whole liberal obsession with 'structure and restructuring', it was a mantra for hippies and the children of the war-time generation, but today such introspection seems facile, it certainly will not engage the young.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

A teaching that is new



An old priest once said to me, "You know being a priest is great thing, it is better than being an ordinary Catholic because you don't have to listen to other peoples' boring sermons, just your own!"

The Gospel today says, "his teaching made a deep impression on them because, unlike the scribes, he taught them with authority."
There has always been a tendency to remove Jesus' authority, to make him just like any other boring preacher, indeed apart from things like the permanence of marriage, a great deal of what Jesus says is there in the prophets, in the Old Testament, it is not new.

What is amazing is not the message that is new but the messenger. Some people will follow Jesus' 'moral teaching' but forget who the teacher actually is.

The Church teaches, and has always taught, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, God Incarnate, the Second Person of the Holy and Undivided Trinity. This is who wee receive in Holy Communion, this is the one to who we confess our sins, and the one who absolves us,

The unclean spirit knows who he is when it says, ‘What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are: the Holy One of God.’ He is not a Holy One but the Holy One.
The Gospels show us the disciples slowly coming to realise who Jesus is, at first he is a fascinating preacher, a worker of miracles, slowly they come to realise He is God. Peter, James and John glimpse it on the Mount of Transfiguration but for most it is something they come to only after the crucifixion and resurrection, for some only when they come to this realisation at the Ascension when they kneel or fall down before Him (even then, some hesitate).

Because it is not just we say but what we do, our kneeling during prayer, our genuflection before the Tabernacle, our bowing down during the creed at he words 'et incarnatus est' is an acknowledgement that Jesus is Our Lord and Our God.

With Jesus it is not his words so much as his actions which show he is God, and with the Church it is not so much her words but her actions which point to Him as God.

Mt 28:16-20
16 Meanwhile the eleven disciples set out for Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had arranged to meet them. 17 When they saw him they fell down before him, though some hesitated. 18 Jesus came up and spoke to them. He said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you. And look, I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.’

Friday, January 30, 2015

Palliums and Bureaucracy


Palliums are now to be given in the home diocese of Metropolitans by the Nuncio rather than received directly from the Supreme Pontiff who had taken them from the tomb of the Apostle Peter where they had lain over night.
I seem to remember notes about pre-Reformation English Metropolitans receiving the Pallium at Evesham or Ripon or some such place, and even the red hat was occasionally delivered (as in the case of St John Fisher) rather than got directly from the hands of the Pope. When changes are made it is always worth asking why things developed as they are in first place.

My initial reaction is that it will give the Nuncii something to do, and also enhance their status as Papal go-between, or Legates, and do a little to dispel stories of walls of ice between Nunciatures and Metropolitan Cathedrals.

The problem is that it distances the Metropolitan from Papacy by imposing a middleman, another level of bureaucracy, which we had all hoped the Holy Father intended to dispel but actually seems to be creating. Vatican Monday has an interesting over-view of the diplomatic service. With such illustrious names as Mgr Giovanni Battista Ricca and Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski one must ask if the Diplomatic Corps is really in a healthier state than other members of what Pope Francis himself describes as the "leprous court". In England and Wales the consensus among the clergy seems to be that we have not been served well by previous Nuncii.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Nothing of Value Here


My congratulations to Libby Lane and the dear old CofE, with her ordination to the Anglican episcopate in a sense it has reached its ultimate end begun at the Reformation.

A friend took me to a rather beautiful pre-Reformation church, in a side chapel, in the wall was set a small modern metal door covered by a little white curtain, it was the aumbry or tabernacle, stuck to the door was a notice, "this safe contains blessed bread - there is nothing of value here".

In this time when we seem to be invited to explore the nature of what it means to be 'Catholic', one of the most obvious threads is Catholics believe God is truly and actually present in the sacraments.