Sunday, February 28, 2016

Pray for him

I think this is just the saddest picture of our beloved Holy Father. His face seems full of unhappiness. I am not sure where thisi is from.
Is that Cardinal Sarah the other Bishops are gathering around or are they just leaving together?
I am told this is increasingly not unusual in the Vatican.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

A Requiem and Gilbeyness

One of my parishioners was talking about a funeral in a Anglican church he is going to next week and the music, readings, eulogies that he fears he will have to endure. It is going to be a funeral to console the mourners, 'to celebrate the life of ...' and for people of little faith but with a wish that somehow the dead might in some way continue. A lot of it seems Christ-denying, rather than Christian, hardly surprising he says, since none of those organising the service believe.

Next Wednesday by contrast I have a funeral in the old rite. Neville Hinton, whose funeral it is, left strict instructions that it was to be low Mass, according to the pre-1962 books, that there was to be no panegyric or preaching, and no singing during the funeral. After the funeral, we might burst into the Salve, though strangely he made an exception, that the Dies Irae could be sung, though that would not be exactly liturgical. So, though it might have been possible without much effort to have had a High Mass, especially as one of the priests Neville had a particular affection towards is coming from abroad but even without him a Missa Cantata would have possible, but it will be Low Mass as he wanted.

Neville understood despite his love of the good things in life that ultimately a funeral is not for those who are left behind but for the salvation of the faithful departed, and that despite everything, what matters is the Mass offered for a poor sinner. There is something so very Catholic in this: the imagery the priest on behalf of the whole pleading for the soul of the corpse who lies before the altar.

Neville was one of Mgr Gilbey's earlier Cambridge converts. I never met Gilbey but a former parishioner was one of his students, he told how he and one of his friends were asked to deal with a radiator problem in Fisher House, so they followed the heating system through Gilbey's rather gracious house, when they came to the attic where Gilbey's bedroom was, the carpeting and decoration stopped, in the bedroom itself there was only, lino a surplice left over a prie dieu, a small cheap wardrobe and his bed, which had no mattress on it just a rough blanket covering the springs, it was here he slept. When they told the Monsignor they had been into his bedroom he looked a little uncomfortable and said, 'I don't expect you to tell anyone about that, will you?'

There is something very English about all of Gilbey's students that I have met. There is almost an indelible mark on their in their characters, they take 'gentlemanliness' to an almost supernatural level, it is a little more than just the Cambridgeness of a previous generation. They are good company, always rather gracious. well mannered and civilised and yes posh, and yet above it all -in the attic- there is something very ascetic, especially in those who have got into the various scrapes and falls that many of them seem to have done because there is a certain daring wrecklessness amongst many of them.
I can understand Neville's agitation when as he began to lose his memory and lost the Missal Mgr Gilbey gave him on his reception into the Church, one of the few things that travelled with him wherever he went.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Servus Servorum Dei

One of the 'Francis effects' is the revisiting, not so much of Vatican II but of Vatican I. Those questions which fascinated the 16th century theologians and canonists, "What if the Pope ...?", have resurfaced. Some, and I suspect under the next Papacy, more will question that Jesuit 4th vow of obedience not to the Petrine office but to the person of the Pope. It might once have had a serious purpose, in the post-Vatican II church it has proved highly dangerous, it has made the Jesuits Papal 'heavies', who have made up their own mind over what the Pope really wants, in fact it has made each individual Jesuit his own pope. Once it might have been very much about 'thinking with the Church', now it leaves Jesuits to 'discern' which 'church' they are thinking with. The worst misinterpretations of VII seems to have perpetrated by individual Jesuits or Jesuit institutions. For many Catholics Jesuit and dissent are synonymous.

In a hyper-Papacy, where the Pope has an opinion on every matter under the sun it is difficult for us to discern quite what is the Papal Magisterium, especially when it is filtered through headline grabbing modern media. If you were shocked by the headlines that were given to us by the reports of the Papal Plane (prattle?) q &a, it is actually well worth reading what His Holiness actually did say, there was amongst the confusion some pretty good stuff, clear and concise, definite teaching. As someone else said with regard to the Francis/Cyril interview, no-one bothered to say, "Pope and Patriarch condemn gay 'marriage'" suspect.

The Francis Magisterium is imprecise, one of things that fascinates me about Orthodoxy is the idea that a Council is only 'valid' if it is accepted by the Church as a whole. It is a little like the biblical doctrine regarding 'false prophets', you only know they are false when their prophecy turns out to be untrue. In this sense the same is true about the Papacy, we only know what is 'Magisterial' in retrospect. It is little like the effects of the French French Revolution: it is too soon to judge.

Michel Vorris, who I much prefer to read than to watch, has a pretty good thing on crisis in the Magisterium,  The problem is of course as has been highlighted by the 'Congo nuns' revelation this week. This apparent significant part of Paul VI's Magisterium was probably a fiction. I had been taught it as a absolute truth: soldiers in the Congo were using rape as a weapon of war, nun's were being raped and becoming pregnant, in which case the Pope had said that they might use the contraceptive pill, not to frustrate the ends of a marital union, obviously, but to regulate their ovulatory cycle, so if these women vowed to celibacy were raped they would not become pregnant. The Curran camp of moral theologians, used this a crowbar to justify anything, even equating a child in the womb with a Congolese soldier and calling him/her an 'unjust aggressor'.

The problem this highlights is, are the actual words of a Pope Magisterial, or must they be interpreted in their historical context, or is it the perceived words of the Pope that are today given us by the media, that are Magisterial? Perhaps the great problem that this Franciscan papacy highlights is the relationship between the media and the Magisterium. Is it that the louder something is said the truer it is?

I had an interesting discussion with a Russian Orthodox over what he called the 'Papal doctrine' of the Immaculate Conception. He believed that Mary was the 'highly favoured', as the Greek renders the Angelic salutation but he wanted to say that the Blessed Virgin was highly favoured (Immaculate) not from her conception but that very moment that God said in Genesis to Eve that she and her child would crush the serpent's head. He looked perplexed when I said that she did not have any existence before her Conception, that really we were saying was always immaculate, she only came into being at her conception. It strikes me both the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption are red herrings when we speak of Infallible or Magisterial Papal statements, they are not the normal expression of it. They are true because they are true, not because the Pope. Rather than being something positive a new doctrine, they are actually a condemnation of, if anything new heresies. Thus Mary is Immaculate, not from the fall, or from some other prophecy in the Old Testament or some other pre or post-existent state but from the moment of her conception, her conception being the beginning of her existence. The same can be said I think for the Assumption, the Pope's who defined these doctrines are not saying anything positive in either doctrine, there is nothing new but he is condemning errors, possibly new errors. A definition is putting a fence (a wall?) around something by showing its limits. This is the essential nature of Vatican I's Pastor aeternus, which is itself entirely congruent with what the Church has always taught and is actually a condemnation of 19th century Jesuit Ultramontanism.
Recent 'infallible' statements such as the condemnation of contraception or he ordination of female ordination, are not in any sense spectacular, they are simply the reiteration of what the Church has always, everywhere and by all taught. Any right thinking Catholic could make them. It is Pope acting as archivist or librarian rather than a performer or magician pulling rabbits out of his sleeve.

Perhaps the great truth that this Pope will teach when he is laid to rest with his Fathers is that although the Papacy is of Divine origin, it actually should not be that important. The unity it signifies is important but is unity with Peter's faith as the Fathers remind us but after all in the normal course of the Church's life every bishop, every priest, every Catholic should be speaking infallibly or with magisterial authority all the time, firmly fixed on the Rock. If a Pope is a sower of doubt, if he polarises the Church as apparently a former South American Jesuit Provincial did in his Province we have serious problems.

The Pope is not world leader, the Church is a Communion its model is some contemporary presidency anymore than it is a feudal monarchy, he is after all servus servorum Dei, he has the least place in the Church. He is the Pontifex Maximus, the one who build bridges, we did not see that during the Synod on the family, rather the raking open of old wounds, the aggravating of divisions, even the playing of faction against faction. The Holy Spirit, as any reader of Jesuit discernment of spirits knows, is the bringer of unity, healing and peace whilst factionalism, murmuring, divisions, folly, strife etc come from an entirely different Spirit.

I pray for the time when every Catholic is so imbued with a sense of the ownership of the faith that he would tear a bishop or priest from his pulpit if ever he taught his own views in place of the revealed Truth. The thing is that the Pope shares in our faith, the faith of the whole Church, a communion that is both horizantal but also vertical. It is not 'his faith', anymore than the Church is his personal fiefdom. His role is to denounce error, and to do so with care, we all know what will happen when the returns to the steward who sets about beating the men and maid sevants in his absence.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

An Invitation to Spiritual Combat

This Saturday Fr Serafino Lanzetta FFI is leading a Lenten day of prayer on 'Spiritual Combat' in our parish, it is open to anyone who wants to attend, There are fast trains from London,,,,,

The day starts with Mass at 10.00am (in the OF).

10.30am Talk
11:00am Rosary
11.30am Coffee and Q and A sesssion
12.30pm Lunch and time for conversation
1.30pm Exposition and Benediction
2.30pm Talk
3.00pm Divine Mercy
3.30pm Coffee and Conversation
4.00pm Finish

Bring something to share for lunch

Fr Serafino has been described as one of the most brilliant young theologians of his generation, He is very much wthin the Franciscan tradition that has cme to us through St Maximllian Kolbe and St Pio, with a good shot of Ratzingerian hermeneutics. Fr Serafino was of course very much part of that Roman Conferencee that took such a dim view of Karl Rahner and earned the displeasure of many influential Jsuits.

I can well understand why Bishop Egan invited him to come Portsmouth and to bring a community. When I visit him and the community in Gosport, I was impressed by both by their youth and their gentleness and humility. They sang Sext in a whisper, how six brothers and two priests managed to fit into a presbytery that formerly was occupied by a solitary secular priest I don't know. In order to talk Fr Serafino and I had to go to the parish hall. Encountering Franciscan poverty is a good beginning to Lent. I was touched by their insistance that they eat well and 'we don't eat food that is out of date'. They seemed to have the same air about them that I enconter with other refugees, a sense of deep gratitude that they have found someone who will welcome them and somewher to rest but with a deep sense of loss and a fear that they simply did not know what the future might bring.

Come on Saturday if you can, but remember the friars and sisters, there is also a commnity of sister in Gosport, in your prayers.

Friday, February 19, 2016


Alright, so the Pope entered the American political arena and condemned Donald Trump as being un-Christian. I am not sure anyone was under any allusion that Trump was ever a Christian. He is an opportunist, an out and out Capitalist extremist, with certain sexual history. Condemning him however seems to be a condemnation of many frightened, and perhaps uncatechised, Americans who in one way or another agree with him, from a Pope on other moral issues famously said, "who am I to judge", this was a judgement, which the counter-cultural Trump will find a way to use to his advantage.
However I can't but be amused by the pictures of walls, Vatican walls, that have appeared on the net.

A few weeks ago when the Pope was going off somewhere on a plane surrounded by the Vatican thugii and Obama flying off somewhere on Air Force One with a huge retinue, our Queen caught the 9,17 train, with HRH, to go to Sandringham. She doesn't need that ego boosting panoply.

Many people  get worried by the Pope on a plane, especially when he is 'tired and emotional'.  Why doesn't he just get rid of the plane catch an ordinary scheduled aircraft and especially get rid of the Vatican Press pack too, it is a wall, it is a barrier. He could learn alot from Her Majesty. No-one would begrudge the Successor of the Fisherman an upgrade to business class, even if he took a secretary with him, but having a whole aircraft just seems excessive - and it is not entirely congruent with Laudato Si.

On the whole the past week or so has not been kind to our beloved Holy Father, in many ways it is because of the walls that surround him. The dialogue with Cyril in which the Papal walls kept out Major-Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk have led the Ukranians to see the agreement as an act of betrayal by the Holy See. Peter Saunders and Marie Collins have decried the problems of the Commission for the Protection of Minors, it seems very much as if it is one of Sir Humphrey's Royal Commissions, making a fuss over an issue in order to cover one's back and do nothing, in effect putting a wall around it. Saunders and Collins are angry that Pope seems to have distanced himself from the Commission. Then there was the incident were the Pope was leaning over a boy in a wheel chair, ignoring him and was pulled, lost his balance and almost fell on the boy and lost his temper. It tends to give credence to other instances of anger coming from Sta Marta, people seem afraid of offending him, it is another wall but then rumours multiply behind walls in secret cities. No-one wants to be cast outside the walls into outer darkness like Cardinal Burke, or even the poor Franciscans of the Immaculate. With Pope Francis there are certainly those within the wall, safely protected like Mgr Ricci or the German Bishops - at least those of a liberal outlook.

 Increasing on this last visit the Pope seems have stumbled, during that strange 'private' visit to Our Lady of Guadalupe, where the image was turned away from the people and the Pope sat in the corner of her window he again fell into a chair to the gasps of the assembled faithful in the packed Church who had come to watch the brief 'private' visit. There is increased rumours in the rumour mills of the Vatican about his health and increasingly idiosyncratic behaviour.

What I am trying to say is that there are walls as robust as those which have both protected Popes and imprisoned them for ages. I agree with Holy Father, they need to come down both the real walls, which as far as Vatican reports say, there are only two or free refugee families hosted by the Vatican outside its walls and also the psychological and moral walls, many of which have been erected over the past couple of years.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Anathema, Anathema

As a boy, a child of the CofE I was fascinated by the Commination Service on the First Sunday of Lent. I hope the Ordinariate still use it.  "Cursed are the unmerciful, fornicators, and adulterers, covetous persons, idolaters, slanderers, drunkards, and extortioners", "Cursed is he who moves his neighbour's landmark", were words a ten year old thought it worth getting up for. My 'Amen' response to each 'accursed' was, I am sure, a little more hearted than to the rest of Prayer Book Anglicanism.
Commination mirrored the Orthodox First Sunday of Lent's (Feast of the Triumph of Orthodoxy) Litany of Anathemas (see below). It is perhaps significant that this tends generally only to be used at an Heirarchical Liturgy, that is when a Bishop is present.

There was some discussion on social media over Cardinal Nichol's words recent words to Catholic educators that it only takes a month to radicalise a child in a school, the reaction was basically, 'so why are we so unsuccessful in radicalising a child in Catholic schools over eleven or so years. The obvious answer is that negative values are easier to pass on than positive ones. It is easier to teach someone to hate rather than to love. 'Don't' is easier for a parent, or a state for that matter, to teach than 'do'.

There was a time when the First Sunday of Lent was a time for Catholic Bishops to write to condemn marriage to non-Catholics or not sending children to Catholic schools or failure to donate to a particular diocesan fund, or even to give a whole list of things that were prohibited.

In the world where everything is woolly, in a Church where we welcome sinners, there is perhaps even more need to set parameters, for bishops and priests to actually say what we anathematise, what we do not believe in. Today we might be inclined to anathematise destroyers of the environment or Mafiosi or people traffickers or the intolerant but then so does any other NGO.

A friend reposted this on social media, I like the joyful response - we should be joyful about our rejection of evil but of course nowadays the idea of the Triumph of Catholicism or Orthodoxy would itself be Anathema, Anathema!
To those who deny the existence of God, and assert that the world is self-existing, and that all things in it occur by chance, and not by the providence of God, Anathema! 
Deacon: To those who say that God is not spirit, but flesh; or that He is not just, merciful, wise and all-knowing, and utter similar blasphemies, Anathema!
To those who dare to say that the Son of God and also the Holy Spirit are not one in essence and of equal honor with the Father, and confess that the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit are not one God, Anathema!
To those who foolishly say that the coming of the Son of God into the world in the flesh, and His voluntary passion, death, and resurrection were not necessary for our salvation and the cleansing of sins, Anathema!
To those who reject the grace of redemption preached by the Gospel as the only means of our justification before God, Anathema!
To those who dare to say that the all-pure Virgin Mary was not virgin before giving birth, during birth-giving, and after her child-birth, Anathema!
To those who do not believe that the Holy Spirit inspired the prophets and apostles, and by them taught us the true way to eternal salvation, and confirmed this by miracles, and now dwells in the hearts of all true and faithful Christians, and teaches them in all truth, Anathema!
To those who reject the immortality of the soul, the end of time, the future judgement, and eternal reward for virtue and condemnation for sin, Anathema!
To those who reject all the holy mysteries held by the Church of Christ, Anathema!
To those who reject the Councils of the holy fathers and their traditions, which are agreeable to divine revelation and kept piously by the Orthodox Church, Anathema!
To those who mock and profane the holy images and relics which the holy Church receives as revelations of God's work and of those pleasing to Him, to inspire their beholders with piety, and to arouse them to follow these examples; and to those who say that they are idols, Anathema!
To those who dare to say and teach that our Lord Jesus Christ did not descend to earth, but only seemed to; or that He did not descend to the earth and become incarnate only once, but many times, and who likewise deny that the true Wisdom of the Father is His only-begotten Son, Anathema!
To the followers of the occult, spiritualists, wizards, and all who do not believe in the one God, but honor the demons; or who do not humbly give their lives over to God, but strive to learn the future through sorcery, Anathema!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Christ the Gardener

A nice succinct 'Go to Confession' pastoral letter from our Bishop this morning

And a nice little reminder in the Preface of the context of the first Sunday of Lent, "by overturning the snares of the ancient serpent".
Christ enters the desert, it is the post fall world, the derelict garden, the dwelling place of the serpent, the ancient enemy. The desert is  the Garden of Eden wrecked and rendered desolate by our primal disobedience. God gave us as a home a fertile garden and we have turned it into a barren desert. St Benedict says, "by the labour of obedience you may return to Him from whom you had departed by the sloth of disobedience." St Benedict wished to create a hortus conclusus, a closed garden for spiritual battle. and eventual salvation.
Christ enters the derelict garden of the desert. As Adam and Eve were driven out by an angel, Jesus is driven into it by the Spirit. It is both a metaphor for the world and the human heart. Here he battles with the enemy and is eventually restored the company of angels.
In a garden he conforms his human will, which by nature shuns death to conform it in obedience to his divine will which desires our salvation, thus restores mankind to obedience to the Father first lost by our parents. In  the garden again he, God, is betrayed by Judas, the ultimate consequence of the sin of Adam, In a garden he is crucified on the tree, not of the Knowledge of Good and Evil but now on the other one, the Tree of Life, ravaged by sin . In a garden he rises from the dead.

No wonder our Holy Patroness the Magdalene mistakes him for the gardener!

Friday, February 12, 2016

I hate Fasting

I hate fasting! I get grumpy, I always feel cold consequently I feel ill, I get headaches and find it difficult to concentrate and consequently I get easily distracted in and from prayer, I crave food (it is psychological, of course but I am sure it gives Satan a chuckle of delight). Normally I can go a couple of days and then remember I haven't eaten but when I fast I am  hungry all the time. Far from aiding prayer, I find it a distraction - yes. alright maybe I am not fasting enough, and need to get over the foothills before ascending the mountain.
Saint Thomas Aquinas sums up the Biblical and Patristic tradition and says,  "For we fast for three purposes: 
(1) to restrain the desires of the flesh; 
(2) to raise the mind to contemplate sublime things; 
(3) to make satisfaction for our sins."
Well..., again maybe I have never done enough of it. Growing older might well restrain the desires of the flesh but fasting didn't really help, it was a bit like trying not to thinking of Tuesday, it only made Tuesday more obvious and desirable. As for raising the mind to the sublime, it tends to raise my mind to bacon. As for making satisfaction for sin, I can go along with that, except it doesn't feel as though I have made much satisfaction and I end up sinning, at least against charity even more, I think it adds to sloth and then ultimately to gluttony too.

In the West fasting, even the Eucharistic fast has all but disappeared, if you reduce something to a minimum it tends to be a sign of not being important, then of being ignored. Of course Canon Law does present the one hour (quarter of an hour for those over 60) as being the minimum. There is no reason why the pious and virtuous should not fast and abstain from liquids from midnight or even for a few days before receiving Holy Communion.

Fasting for me is an encounter with my own weakness, with my own fragility. This is really what most forms of Christian asceticism are about. They are concerned with embracing weakness, of actually reducing potency, at least in this world, of accepting the real world where Jesus Christ alone is Lord. The obvious example is a virile young man or fecund young woman embracing a life of celibacy, "for the sake of the Kingdom ...", for the sake of Christ 'becoming less'. It is like the the brilliant young theologian or philosopher going off the monastery to look after pigs (or on this Day of the Abdication, the wise and saintly old Pope embracing a life of seclusion and academic silence). 'I will pray for you', is the ultimate statement of our human powerlessness and divine omnipotence. It is end of homo liturgicus, 

Although many saints do, it is interesting that Aquinas does not, give fasting as a way of showing solidarity with the poor, or even that most practical sense of saving the money spent on a meal or two in order to give it to the poor. I suspect 'the poor' for Aquinas would be 'the poor Christ'. It is sad that our Bishop's have for so long allowed fasting as being a way of fundraising for aid organisations rather than an ascetic practice that has value in itself, and because Jesus fasted and said his disciples would fast.

Coptic friends boast of fasting for two thirds of the year, they are doing so imitation of those great ascetic saints of the Alexandrian desert there is a sense in which ascetic practice which is difficult or painful give a sense of achievement. An Epiphany dunk in the frozen Volga or laying a lash over the shoulder on a Good Friday (or every Friday) afternoon are easy ways of showing to ourselves our love for God, achieved faster and with more absoluteness than loving a brother with whom one has nothing in common, in the same way as putting a heavy cross around our neck or being tattooed with one, is easier than carrying one and following Christ.

Fasting is an expression of the incarnational nature of of our faith, we are not Manichees, we have bodies, we should use them. Conforming our bodies to Christ, at least in theory conforms our souls or our minds to him.
So this Lent do some physical penance: endure the cold, keep vigil in the night, walk barefoot over sharp rocks, kneel or prostrate on a damp stone floor, wear sackcloth, use the discipline or celice often. The trouble with these is that they can so often be vainglorious, more about our endurance of pain, more about me - fasting on the other-hand is less likely to us physical or spiritual harm, so fast! Even if it is difficult and the good it does is difficult perceive, do it.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

What has happened to the womb of the Church?

What are the signs of the times? I was looking at the Holy Father speaking at the end of the Year for Consecrated life, his words were a little depressing, see for yourself. He had departed from the text prepared for him and decided to speak impromptu, and like many of his impromptu speeches it gives a sense of being deeply depressed  and more than a little depressing- see for yourself.

One of my parishioners went to another parish on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, the priest who was standing in for the Parish Priest allegedly began his sermon with, "Since V2 of course, we no longer believe that baptism is necessary for salvation...."

Well, of course we have always believed that: the Holy Innocence, the Good Thief, the idea of the Baptism of Desire. It is the novelty of a priest standing in a pulpit and denying an imperative of the Lord that is new, Christ himself said to the Apostles, 'Go and baptise' and 'Unless a man is born of water and the Holy Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God'. It would blasphemous to place any restriction on God's mercy but the scriptures are clear Baptism and the Eucharist and membership of the Church are according to the Lord necessities. I can see nowhere the Fathers of Vatican II denied that.
Yes, the Council might well have made the notion of 'Church' a little more fuzzy, in the sense that the Council Fathers anxious that elements of the Church should not be separated from the One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church are able to say that such things as baptism or the scriptures or even the knowledge of the name of the Jesus unites us in some way to the Church which 'subsists' in the Catholic Church. The vast majority of the Fathers were jealous that those things proper to the Church should not be separated from it.

The problem is that the very notion of 'the Church' and of Christianity can be reduced to ghostly anonymity. This is the Ratzingerian discomfort with Rhaner's idea of the 'anonymous Christian'. The Catholic, and to a great extent the Orthodox, notion of Christianity is pretty hard edged; like pregnancy, either one is one isn't. Either the Eucharist is the Body of Christ or it is simply bread, either God became Man and dwelt among us or he dis not. The Ratzingerians taking the patristic path of bringing clarity, even if it is a 'both and' theology, the Rhannerian (and at the more extreme end Kung) following the 19th century German philosophers delighting in ambiguity and uncertainty, ultimately in the the theology of Doubt, which more than occasionally rears its head in the Pope's off the cuff remarks. The truth is, at least in its effects, that doubtful and anonymous Christianity in the world of creates doubtful and anonymous Christianity in the Church. It is not unusual for people to ask, 'what is a priest for?' or 'what is religious for? perhaps increasingly and rather frighteningly, 'what is a Christian for?' Doubt and uncertainty, Christianity without any knowledge or understanding of Christianity is mark of Christianity in the recent past, like parasitic liberal it simply cannot survive, it is dying and within a generation or two will be completely dead. The attempts of old men to revive it are simply a death rattle.

The problem is that anonymous Christianity, like the theology of doubt is so uninspiring. If one reads 'the signs of the times' we seem to be leaving that period of doubt and anonymity behind. At the time of Vatican II it was possible to be both a Christian and a non-Christian, Graham Greene's novels deal beautifully with this ambiguity, the drunk faithless priest, the devout adulterer, and so forth, but we have moved on, these are images from fifty years ago.

The blood of Christians in the Middle East announces clearly that either you are willing to die for Christ or you are not a Christian at all. In Rome a few weeks ago, with the studied ignoring of the old men of the Vatican. huge crowds who came onto the streets to defend Traditional (Christian) Marriage, they of course mirrored what had happened in France last year. Today in the West increasingly one is either a Christian or else one has barely heard of Christ or his teaching. These, along with mass immigration, are the signs of the times, we ignore them at our peril.

What has changed is that 'ethnic' or 'cultural' Christianity is increasingly becoming a thing of the past. Maybe it still exists in Argentina and South America but elsewhere in the Middle East, Western Europe and North America, it is being expunged by violence or government diktat or the various lobbies that oppose it, sometimes replacing it with something quite Satanic. At the peripheries of the Church there is no longer a gentle slope strewn with Christian values and people at least friendly to Christianity and willing to embrace a Christian ethos even if they reject Christ himself but now that is a sheer rocky drop into something which is increasingly anti-Christian and rejecting of Christianity.

As far as vocations are concerned, certainly where religious life is concerned, there is great need for renewal, the models of fifty years, where women religious and to some extent men left off the habit and any regular life to live as leaven in the community, seems to have failed and needs replacing urgently. Such communities though they often did good work, rarely inspired anyone to join them and often the work they started has been taken over by lay people at best but more often by people intent on a secularist agenda.

The Gospels give two models: the idea of leaven lost in the lump or the city on a hill or the lamp on a lamp-stand. I visited the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate in Gosport recently. they are perhaps typical of many young religious communities. They had just been joined by a priest Fr George who is probably well over 60 but the other 6 members of the community were all under 40. If we look at other religious communities that are thriving, both of men or women they are all very much committed to a deep and unambiguous spiritual life. They might well be gentle but they are tough and single minded.

The more traditionally minded might well say that the Traditional Mass and Liturgy is key, that might well be so in Europe but in many instances non-traditional congregations like the Franciscans of the Renewal or the various Dominican nuns and brothers are experiencing notable growth. What seems crucial as are our beloved Holy Father's final words remind us prayer. Where religious communities pray and therefore make Christ their centre there is growth, where they choose something else, even if it has the flavour of Christianity it dies.
Either we are for him or against him... a Kingdom divided cannot stand... no-one can serve two masters....

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

A Game of Thrones

I was rather pleased that the Holy Father is at last meeting the Patriarch of Moscow in Cuba. During previous Pontificates this has simply not been countenced by Moscow.

Russia Orthodox friends think it will good to sort out the problem with the Ukranians and the 'Uniates'. Ukranians and Greek Rite Catholics in Communion with Rome are a bit more wary. The Greek Orthodox are perhaps more anxious, I think that many are concerned with anything that Moscow does. As a Cypriot friend said Pope Francis must realise "Moscow might well affirm the Symbols of the Ecumenical Councils of the Church but the primary creed of the patriarchate is: first Rome has fallen, second Rome has fallen and Moscow is the New Rome". It is worth asking why is it Moscow now feels a meeting is felicitous. What does Moscow gain?

A great deal has been happening in the Orthodox world in the build up to the expected Pan-Orthodox Council which should happen later this year around Pentecost. Non-Russian Orthodox are a little concerned that the Church and the Putin Government are working hand-in-hand  to further Russian interests, not only in the Orthodox world but also in former Russian territory, not only in the Ukraine built also in the Baltic and the Balkans, in Asia and even in the Americas; Cuba, a former Russian dependency is perhaps so neutral a meeting place.
Tsaro-Patriarchism is so dead in Russia as is Caesaro-Papalism in the West. Putin has used the Holy Russia narrative to rebuild post-Communist Russia, giving identity and roots that go beyond the 1917 Revolution and the Communist era. In many ways he seems to be now using the Orthodox Church on an international level, the old alliance between Russia and Syria to protect Christians is but one example

Pope Francis at times seems to be an astute politician cloaked in naivety in the meeting in Cuba he will meet with Patriarch Kirill who will be backed up by the whole apparatus of the Russian State.
For many Greeks the Pan-Orthodox Council is primarily about a game of thrones. Whose throne is higher or more central or more directly before the icon of Christ is of importance. The real question is has Moscow indeed taken the place of Second Rome? One instance is where, in practice and in fact, is the Russian Patriarch on the table of Orthodox precedence (see below).

Some might argue that Constantinople, apart from the honour and political support given it by the Catholic Church and the West has indeed virtually disappeared. There are less than 3,000 Orthodox living in the Istanbul, there are far more Catholics, and even the territory on mainland Greece controlled by the Phanar (the territories in the North, including Athos in the population exchange by Greece and Turkey in 1924) in practice tends to look to Athens which has a more definite relationship to the Greek state.

With the death of each Patriarch the survival of the Church in Constantinople becomes more tenuous, and possibly the depth of the gene pool becomes more limited. The Patriarch of Constantinople has to be a Turkish citizen and his nomination cleared by the Turkish government, with the growing Islamification of Turkey, it is quite possible that the Turkish government could simply put so many obstacles in its way that Patriarchate can barely function. Moscow on the other hand not only has much more wealth and political clout than Second Rome could ever have but with the Bishop of Rome's support Second Rome could simply be ignored.

The video shows the Junior Patriarch of Moscow con-celebrating the Liturgy with the second most senior Byzantine Patriarch Theodore of Alexandria and all Africa 

Four Ancient Patriarchates
Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople
Greek Orthodox Church of Alexandria
Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch
Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem

Junior Patriarchates
Russian Orthodox Church (1448, recognized in 1589)
Georgian Orthodox and Apostolic Church (486)
Bulgarian Orthodox Church (870)
Serbian Orthodox Church (1219)
Romanian Orthodox Church (1872, recognized in 1885)

Autocephalous Archbishoprics
Church of Cyprus (431, recognized in 478)
Church of Greece (1833, recognized in 1850)
Albanian Orthodox Church (1922, recognized in 1937)
Polish Orthodox Church (1924)
Czech and Slovak Orthodox Church (1951,1988)
Orthodox Church in America (1970, autocephaly not universally recognised)

Neville Hinton RIP

Another of my Old Rite parishioners has died; Neville Hinton. He lived in Rome for decades working for the UN as a translator and went to Mass and served Mass with the FSSP, at first in Piazza Nicosia then in Sta Trinitate. When he eventually retired he returned to live in his flat in Brighton. He has been in a nursing home for last few months and thought I was the parish priest of Toledo, his memory had completely gone though he still conversed with the nursing home staff in most Mediterranean languages. When I brought him Holy Communion he immediately fell to his knees as soon as I entered his room.
He was an oblate of Fontgombault which had in many ways been his great spiritual anchor and spiritual home.

Pray for his soul - I don't yet know when his funeral will be.
Pray for Sally French who is also dying.

The Lord’s descent into the underworld

At Matins/the Office of Readings on Holy Saturday the Church gives us this 'ancient homily', I find it incredibly moving, it is abou...