Wednesday, 29 September 2010

While the cat's away……

…Our young people from the Adur Valley have been to St Cecilia's Abbey on the Isle of Wight (a relatively easy journey from Shoreham by train) where they had Mass (thank you, Fr Glaysher) and had a great talk from Sisters Clare and David, which our young people enjoyed. The group is the first shout of the Confirmation course, and present were some of last year's confirmati, some of this year's confirmandi and a couple of catechists. I miss you people!

Photos: Miles Leeson
Safeguarding note: Parental permission to post these pictures is presumed. If any parents of these young people object, I will, of course, blur out the face of their children.

Wimmin and the Church

The estimable and patrimonial Fr Hunwicke has just posted a perceptive commentary on the forthcoming Society of Sts Wilfrid and Hilda (SWILH); he iterates all my own reservations about this society more eloquently and knowledgeably than I could do.
One comment struck me; he observes that more than half the priests in the CofE will shortly be women. Well, as a Catholic, it isn't really any of my business to tell the CofE what to do, but the sheer fact is interesting.
As in schooling, it seems that diocesan structures now favour the female of the species over the male.
A friend who is a (male) priest in the CofE tells me that nearly all (if not actually all) Diocesan Directors of Training (DDT) Ordinands are women. In addition there are posts for Diocesan Support for Women's Ministry, but no equivalent for men.
Furthermore, we both opined, the large number of half-time posts now offered in the Anglican dioceses will suit women very well indeed. Husband can work full time, wife can, as a part-time priest, get a much larger home than they would perhaps otherwise be able to afford, free, (thus saving mortgage payments or else collecting rents from the family home), and have lots of flexible time to spend with family as she needs it. Quite ideal, in fact, and though this would naturally be an option for men, too, the fact is that it would probably appeal far more to women.
Yup, I think that we will be seeing a lot more lady clergy in the future.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

The Clarion Call

This morning, Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster has written a pastoral letter to his diocese. Quite rightly, he recognized in the Papal visit a clarion call to action. If the visit was nothing more than an uplifting occasion, then it will be an opportunity wasted.

Here is the whole text.

The first observation His Grace makes is liturgical. We should strive to achieve the 'beauty of holiness', he writes, and he means in the liturgy; perhaps he might have expressed it as the holiness of beauty. Anyway, he quite rightly praises the reverence of the papal liturgies (gosh, what a contrast to 1982!) and the profound use of silence, especially at the Vigil in Hyde Park, and suggests that our own liturgies try to reflect this.

The Archbishop goes on to admire the Holy Father's gentleness and courtesy when speaking the truth, and suggests that we should do the same. Can't quarrel with that!

We must, too, 'witness to the joy and freedom born of a living faith in Christ' by prayer and generous service.

We should be 'more confident in our faith, and more ready to speak about it and let it be seen each day'. He suggests that we do this by to tell others that we will pray for them (be careful if you're a nurse, he might have said!) and be prepared to say 'God bless you' to people, and make the sign of the cross more often.

Now, it is with this last paragraph that I take issue. Of course, what His Grace writes is quite correct; it just doesn't go far enough. We have become so accustomed in the Catholic Church to living in the shadows that it has become second nature. Back in Shoreham, due to some building works, we had to celebrate Mass in the local ancient Anglican Church, who were the very soul of courtesy and welcome. But some members of the Anglican congregation were amazed (and one or two aghast) at how many of us there were. 'I had no idea!' was said several times to me. All these practising Christians in Shoreham that nobody knew about!

There are very good reasons for this, of course. We have had centuries of persecution, and, as recent months have shown, anti-Catholicism is very far from dead. We have learnt to keep our heads down. In addition, I think, the last forty years have seen so much of the Church's energies going inwards one way or another—various liturgical ministries, sacramental instruction that used to be done in schools, groups, committees, &c &c &c, that the outward dimension has suffered.

In the 1950s, Catholics had begun to get involved in the world outside through Catholic Action (getting involved in the Unions &c) and the Young Christian Workers, but this seems to have run into the sand, perhaps because of all this internal focus.

In Westminster Hall and elsewhere, we have heard the Holy Father appeal to the state to let religion once more enter the public conversation and, what is more, we have seen with our own incredulous eyes him listened to with the profoundest respect by those from whom we least expected respect.

The possibility has been made now; the state may well now be prepared to engage with us, but we, too must be prepared in our turn to engage with the state, or it will all have been a waste of time and energy.

Now if at no other time, before the Holy Father's visit is forgotten or brushed under the carpet, is the moment for us to be prepared to enter into that public conversation, and this is not something that should be left to the Bishops' Conference, for it is the proper vocation of the laity.

Now is the time for Catholics to join political parties and become active in them. To join unions, to stand for election on local councils, to engage in the public conversation. In no other way is the climate (in any sense) going to be changed.

While he was with us, the Holy Father did not talk about abortion, euthanasia and other crucial issues. He knew he would not be listened to, that far more important ground work needed to be done first. The same must be true for us, I think. We should not hold aloof from political parties because many of the members hold (or indeed the party officially holds) rebarbative views on things we hold dear…… we should be prepared to dilute with our presence the strength of these positions and perhaps go about changing hearts and minds. Standing on the sidelines and shouting 'boo' will achieve very little but only entrench the opposition. The Holy Father has demonstrated with the most courageous voice just how our position might be heard if we are prepared to engage gently and courteously, yet firmly with others. And we cannot do that unless we, too, are prepared to join the conversation.

Another sidelight

I learnt yesterday, from someone who was there, that when the Holy Father visited the Birmingham Oratory last week to view Newman's room, he was introduced not only to the community (or such of it as is there, to save you pointing this out in the comments box) but to the Oratory cat too. And as a gift, he was given a rosary that had belonged to Blessed John Henry Newman. With this he was genuinely touched and delighted, and said that it was quite the best gift of the visit. On departure, he carefully checked that Mgr Georg had not left it behind.
Thanks to Br Richard for the info about the pictures

Saturday, 25 September 2010

That photo again

A friend has pointed out to me what the two are wearing: Rowan Williams is wearing the ring that Pope Paul VI gave to Archbishop Michael Ramsay, which he likes to produce on those papal occasion. Pope Benedict, on the other hand, is wearing a stole that belonged to Pope Leo XIII. That, too, cannot be an accident.
Leo, was, of course, the pope of Apostolicæ Curæ, but I don't really see the Holy Father being that tactless. And yet what other explanation might there be?

On another topic, I was very pleased to notice that the altar is no longer (or at least was not on this occasion) piled high with the abbey plate: on certain state occasions it used to look like a victorian sideboard, with dishes, jugs, and probably a box or two of Namaqua wine and a bowl of fruit. I also noticed that at the very beginning, the choir sang a very peculiar responsory with lots of yelping noises instead of music. The Holy Father was quite clearly trying not to giggle.

Father Philip Smith

Today has been a very special day; Philip Smith, a young man who had been an altar server in the parish where I was in charge for the first time, Sutton Park, near Guildford, Surrey, and whom I prepared for Confirmation, was ordained to the Sacred Priesthood in Southwark Cathedral.
It was quite a splendid affair: there were two archbishops, an abbot, a member of parliament, and lots of priests. Fr Philip has been appointed as assistant priest in St Thomas' Canterbury.
Please do say a prayer for him today.
It is one of the real joys of priesthood to see people develop from childhood into adults and still be strong in the faith that one has tried to impart; still more wonderful when they desire to share that same priesthood.
Ad multos annos, Fr Philip!

That's him on the right (in the unlikely event that you needed to be told), in the very smart Gammarelli cassock.

Our Charter for our Lifetimes

It is not usually my practice simply to replicate something I have seen on another's blog: the Catholic blogosphere is something of a hortus conclusus, and if you are like me, you, the reader, go around a simple circle of blogs on a regular basis and often get the same story several times. I am going to break my own rule today and include something that Fr Zuhlsdorf drew my attention to, because it is one of the most perceptive and articulate things I have read in some time. Which is to say that I also find it inspiring.
I have wondered where the Church was going in Europe: surely there must be more to life than fighting to preserve the Church's liturgy, important though that is?
Pope John Paul, having achieved the greater part of his life's work in contributing to the reuniting of Europe had begun to turn his attention to the saving of its soul; he fought hard to have Christianity acknowledged as one of the foundational elements of Europe, but failed. He had no time to try again, for his illness and then death intervened.
Pope Benedict, in his own very different way, has taken up the fight. He argues and appeals, bringing to bear all that formidable intelligence and sweetness of personality.
I had heard it predicted that the visit to Great Britain would be his 'Poland' moment, and I think that it has happened just as foretold. Now, we see his agenda clearly, and it is something we can get ourselves behind.
And it is simply to be the leaven in the lump: oh, I know it is obvious, but in his own person he has shown how it can be done. In Westminster Hall, he spoke, and the world fell silent to listen. Was that not astounding?
The question is whether we will have men of sufficient holiness, faith and eloquence to take up the task. One name springs to mind, and it is Charles Chaput, the Archbishop of Denver; he gets it.
Anyway, what about the piece that inspired all this: well, here it is; it's by Samuel Gregg of the Acton Institute.

Benedict's Creative Minority.

by Samuel Gregg
In the wake of Benedict XVI’s recent trip to Britain, we have witnessed—yet again—most journalists’ inability to read this pontificate accurately. Whether it was Queen Elizabeth’s gracious welcoming address, Prime Minister David Cameron’s sensible reflections, or the tens of thousands of happy faces of all ages and colors who came to see Benedict in Scotland and England (utterly dwarfing the rather strange collection of angry Kafkaesque protestors), all these facts quickly disproved the usual suspects’ predictions of low-turnouts and massive anti-pope demonstrations.

Indeed, off-stage voices from Britain’s increasingly not-so-cultured elites—such as the celebrity atheist Richard Dawkins and others whom the English historian Michael Burleigh recently described as “sundry chasers of limelight” and products of a “self-satisfied provincialism”—were relegated to the sidelines. As David Cameron said, Benedict “challenged the whole country to sit up and think.”

Of course the success of Benedict’s visit doesn’t mean Britain is about to return to its Christian roots. In fact, it’s tempting to say present-day Britain represents one possible—and rather depressing—European future.

In an article welcoming Benedict’s visit to Britain, the UK’s Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sachs observed, “Whether or not you accept the phrase ‘broken society,’ not all is well in contemporary Britain.” The facts cited by Sach were sobering. In 2008, 45 percent of British children were born outside marriage; 3.9 million children are living in poverty; 20 percent of deaths among young people aged from 15 to 24 are suicides; in 2009, 29.4 million antidepressants were dispensed, up 334 percent from 1985.

Such is the fruit of a deeply-secularized, über-utilitarian culture that tolerates Christians until they start questioning the coherence of societies which can’t speak of truth and error, good and evil, save in the feeble jargon of whatever passes for political correctness at a given moment.

But what few commentators have grasped is that Benedict has long foreseen that, for at least another generation, this may well be the reality confronting those European Catholics and other Christians who won’t bend the knee to political correctness or militant secularism. Accordingly, he’s preparing Catholicism for its future in Europe as what Benedict calls a “creative minority.”

The phrase, which Benedict has used for several years, comes from another English historian Arnold Toynbee (1889-1975). Toynbee’s thesis was that civilizations primarily collapsed because of internal decline rather than external assault. “Civilizations,” Toynbee wrote, “die from suicide, not by murder.”

The “creative minorities,” Toynbee held, are those who proactively respond to a civilizational crisis, and whose response allows that civilization to grow. One example was the Catholic Church’s reaction to the Roman Empire’s collapse in the West in the 5th century A.D. The Church responded by preserving the wisdom and law of Athens, Rome and Jerusalem, while integrating the invading German tribes into a universal religious community. Western civilization was thus saved and enriched.

This is Benedict’s vision of the Catholic Church’s role in contemporary Europe. In fact, it’s probably the only viable strategy. One alternative would be for the Church to ghettoize itself. But while the monastic life has always been a vocation for some Christians, retreat from the world has never been most Christians’ calling, not least because they are called to live in and evangelize the world.

Yet another option, of course, is “liberal Catholicism.” The problem is that liberal Catholicism (which is theologically indistinguishable from liberal Protestantism) has more-or-less collapsed (like liberal Protestantism) throughout the world. For proof, just visit the Netherlands, Belgium, or any of those increasingly-rare Catholic dioceses whose bishop regards the 1960s and 1970s as the highpoint of Western civilization.

Even the Economist (which strangely veers between perceptive insight and embarrassing ignorance when it comes to religious commentary) recently observed that “liberal Catholics” are disappearing. Long ago, the now-beatified John Henry Newman underscored liberal Christianity’s essential incoherence. Liberal Catholicism’s future is that of all forms of liberal Christianity: remorseless decline, an inability to replicate themselves, and their gradual reduction to being cuddly ancillaries of fashionable lefty causes or passive deliverers of state-funded welfare programs.

By contrast, Benedict’s creative minority strategy recognizes, first, that to be an active Catholic in Europe is now, as Cardinal André Vingt-Trois of Paris writes in his Une mission de liberté (2010), a choice rather than a matter of social conformity. This means practicing European Catholics in the future will be active believers because they have chosen and want to live the Church’s teaching. Such people aren’t likely to back off when it comes to debating controversial public questions.

Second, the creative minority approach isn’t just for Catholics. It attracts non-Catholics equally convinced Europe has modern problems that, as Rabbi Sachs comments, “cannot be solved by government spending.”

A prominent example is Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, Chairman of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow’s Department for External Church Relations. A deeply cultured man, who’s completely un-intimidated by either liberal Christians or militant secularists, Hilarion has conspicuously cultivated the Catholic Church in Europe because he believes that, especially under Benedict, it is committed to “defending the traditional values of Christianity,” restoring “a Christian soul to Europe,” and is “engaged in common defence of Christian values against secularism and relativism.” Likewise, prominent European non-believers such as the philosophers Jürgen Habermas and Marcello Pera have affirmed Europe’s essentially Christian pedigree and publically agreed with Benedict that abandoning these roots is Europe’s path to cultural suicide.

Lastly, creative minorities have the power to resonate across time. It’s no coincidence that during his English journey Benedict delivered a major address in Westminster Hall, the site of Sir Thomas More’s show-trial in 1535.

When Thomas More stood almost alone against Henry VIII’s brutal demolition of the Church’s liberty in England, many dismissed his resistance as a forlorn gesture. More, however, turned out to be a one-man creative minority. Five hundred years later, More is regarded by many Catholics and non-Catholics alike as a model for politicians. By contrast, no-one remembers those English bishops who, with the heroic exception of Bishop John Fisher, bowed down before the tyrant-king.

And perhaps that’s the ultimate significance of Benedict’s creative minority. Unlike Western Europe’s self-absorbed chattering classes, Benedict doesn’t think in terms of 24-hour news-cycles. He couldn’t care less about self-publicity or headlines. His creative minority option is about the long-view.

The long-view always wins. That’s something celebrities will never understand.

Friday, 24 September 2010

21 today

21 years ago today, the then Bishop Cormac Murphy-O'Connor ordained me a priest in the church of St Anne, Banstead. How the time flies! And yet the priest who baptized me in the same church nearly half a century ago, Fr Brendan Burke, is still fit and in active ministry.

The Pope in the Press

Looking around the religious press, it is interesting to see the coverage of the Papal visit. Naturally, the Catholic Press are very cock-a-hoop about the whole thing; even The Tablet seems to have developed an enthusiasm for Pope Benedict which I have discerned growing for some time now.

The Methodist Recorder (here's their rather home-made website) is rather chilly, recording on its front page
Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Britain has been hailed a "success" by the Methodist Church in Britain.
Every positive word about the visit is put in inverted commas, as if to suggest that the writer thinks otherwise, though he does note that the General Secretary of the Methodist Conference seemed to have enjoyed herself. There is a sad comment from someone that Methodism itself could not now manage to raise the profile of Christianity in Britain, and that it was a good thing that at least someone managed to pull it off.

The Church Times (aka Jezebel's Trumpet) is quite surprisingly (and refreshingly) positive. Last week it had been quite sniffy (to my eyes) about the whole thing, even running a poll among Anglicans as to whether the Catholic Church should continue to maintain a celibate clergy. As if it's any of th………… but I forbear. This week, several pages are devoted to the visit and in a very positive way, which is very nice to see; the front page features the Holy Father and the Archbishop of C striding down a path (presumably in Lambeth Palace), the ABC gesticulating oddly. It's a nice pic, but not as nice as the one of the two of them embracing, which the Holy Father spoilt by clutching his service menu. I've seen it several times in print, but can't find a copy on line to post here. (Now at the top of the page: thanks to Fr William & KMcN).

I haven't seen a paper copy of the Jewish Chronicle, but the online edition (closed now for Succot) doesn't seem very interested in the visit (and why should it be?). There is another of those nice pictures, though, of the Holy Father with the fascinating Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, a man who seems constitutionally incapable of saying anything dull. O si sic omnes!

Thursday, 23 September 2010


The French Revolution nationalized and sold French Church property—this is commonly known. But it did the same to English property in France, most notably the various emigré institutions that had been founded on the continent to serve the English Catholics who could not live religious life at home because of the penal laws. All the properties in Douai, for instance, were confiscated, and though the Benedictines returned for a while, the seminary did not, but established itself in England, eventually at Ushaw and Old Hall Green, near Ware.
After the Battle of Waterloo and the Treaty of Vienna, the new restored Bourbon French government paid handsome compensation to Britain for the properties which were not restored.
And here comes the greatest scandal. The British government refused to pass on the money to the Catholic Church, giving as the excuse that to do so would be to further superstition! It was only an unexpected legacy that enabled the London District to build adequate accommodation at Ware for the seminarians to live alongside the schoolboys. In other words, the government profited substantially from the French Revolution at the expense, not of the revolutionaries, but of the Church.
Maybe unease about this theft accounts for the readiness of the government later on to build the great seminary at Maynooth at the public charge, 'Rome on the rates' as it was dubbed.
And, as another footnote, in 1863 the domestic plate of the college at Douai was uncovered from the place it had been hidden from the revolutionaries—forks, spoons, cruets, that sort of thing—and divided between Ware and Ushaw.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Happiness in the Church of Rome

Now that the incense and euphoria of our Holy Father's visit are beginning to dissipate, our minds inevitably turn to the next thing on the agenda which is, I think, the prospect of the establishment of Anglican-Patrimonial bodies in communion with the Holy See as proposed in the Holy Father's letter Anglicanorum Cœtibus.

When, many years ago, I was an undergraduate, a friend (Anglican) then told me with great authority of Blessed John Henry Newman's misery once in the Catholic Church. He told me with great pathos of the aged Newman leaning over the gate at Littlemore and weeping for what had once been. 'People become Romans', said my friend, 'but they all come back'.

Some do, in fact, return to the Church of England, having failed to find what they sought in Catholic communion; I have indeed known some, including one who (to the surprise of all who knew him) went on to receive not just a mitre but also a wife.

After 1992, practices differed in different dioceses as to the various hoops that clergy being received into full communion were required to jump through. At the time, Cardinal Hume's arrangements in Westminster were considered particularly generous: clergy continued to wear their collars, and would attend what were facetiously variously called 'Confirmation classes' or 'Irish dancing classes'. Ordination would speedily follow. Some dioceses refused to make any concessions to convert clergy whatever and were consequently avoided. Others took a middle path. In the diocese of Arundel and Brighton, then headed by the man who was to become Hume's successor, Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, clergy were required to sit in the pew for a minimum of two years, usually being associated with a particular parish and pursuing some studies in the seminary where I am sitting right now, with the view of topping up whatever had lacked to their studies for Anglican priesthood. This was perceived as being somewhat hard (indeed, I thought so at the time), but yet we must acknowledge that several of those whom Basil Hume ordained returned to the Church of England (with all the consequent scandal), and none of those (as far as I am aware) that Cormac Murphy-O'Connor ordained have done so. In the end, the tougher path was the better.

The reason, no doubt, is that greater knowledge of the church which one is joining is valuable, and in some cases essential, to make a good assessment of just what one is doing. Men building towers, and kings going to war, that sort of thing.

Potential Ordinariates, of course, are an unknown quantity. Life may be similar enough to what has been left behind to obviate any sense of profound loss or disorientation in an unfamiliar setting that unsettled those who waded over the Tiber in 1992. But there will be differences and (at least in this country) there will be need for some education in matters like canon law and moral theology. Perhaps this can satisfactorily be arranged within the Ordinariate itself. But it must not be assumed that a cleric, his feet still wet with Tiber mud, can easily settle into the new situation, 'because it is just the same, really, only with the Pope added'.

As to happiness, and the Blessed JHN, I am engaged, at the moment, in writing a book in which the late Francis Cardinal Bourne of Westminster (d.1935) features largely. I came across a letter written by Newman to Bourne's father, who had been received into the Church a few months before the Beatus. Bourne senior had been distressed to hear the rumours that Newman was profoundly unhappy in the Catholic Church, and the rumours were sufficiently strong to inspire Bourne to write to Newman and ask if they were true. Newman replied:

Dear Sir,
I return an immediate, though necessarily hasty, answer to your inquiry, which made me more than smile.
It is wonderful that people can satisfy themselves with rumours which the slightest examination, or even attention, would disprove; but I have had experience of it long before I was a Catholic. At present the very persons, who saw through and reprobated the Evangelical misrepresentations concerning me, when I was in the Church of England, believe of me things quite as extravagant and as unfounded. their experience of past years has taught them nothing.
I can only say, if it is necessary to say it, that from the moment I became a Catholic, I never have had, through God's grace, a single doubt or misgiving on my mind that I did wrong in becoming one. I have not had any feeling whatever but one of joy and gratitude that God called me out of an insecure state into one which is sure and safe, out of the war of tongues into a realm of peace and assurance. I shrink to contemplate the guilt I should have incurred, and the account which at the last day would have laid against me, had I not become a Catholic, and it grieves me to the heart to think that so many excellent persons should still be kept in bondage in the Church of England, and should, among the many good points they have, want the great grace of faith, to trust God and follow his leadings.
This is my state of mind, and I would it could be brought home to all and every one, who, in default of real arguments for remaining Anglicans, amuse themselves with dreams and fancies.
I am, Dear Sir,
Truly Yours,
John H. Newman Maryvale, Perry Bar, June 13, 1848.

As for the person who told me of Newman's unhappiness in the Catholic Church, well, he is a Catholic priest now, too.

Monday, 20 September 2010


During these recent days, I've taken to trawling around the newspapers on line to read about the reactions to the Papal Visit. Almost universally, they began tough, and then gently melted under the charming influence of Pope Benedict. Naturally, here and there one will read something disagreeable, but it feels very different being a Catholic in Great Britain today than it did last week.
One newspaper I had avoided reading was The Independent, which, others had warned me, was the most strident in its anti-catholic tone. Today I took courage and was very glad I did so. I was very deeply touched by this article by Joanna Moorhead which pays the warmest tribute to the Catholic Church.
Read it here. You won't agree with everything, but it is moving nonetheless.
Thank you, Ms Moorhead.

And how does Richard Dawkins look now?
His site is remarkably silent, as is Stephen Fry's.
Not surprising, on the whole, given reaction elsewhere:
The New York Daily News says how the critics 'really made fools of themselves'.
Richard Ingrams of The Independent thinks that Atheism really needs to replace Dr Dawkins with a new leader that isn't Stephen Fry, either.
The Telegraph was, I suppose, the most likely to turn out to be our friend; there, Jenny McCartney suggests that Dawkins is turning into the new Ian Paisley.
Andrew Brown in the Guardian (a paper which is rarely on our side) has a very good piece about not distorting what the Pope actually had to say, and in particular not twisting his words into a suggestion that atheists are all potential nazis (one scare story that ran a few days ago).

And yet, if you look at the comments on many of these posts, you will see yet again the vile, shrill and hysterical nastiness that has cowed so many of us in recent months. Given the opinion polls taken shortly before the visit, combined with the actual experience of these last few days, I think that we may conclude that these comments are made by a very few sad, mad or (even, but let us hope not) bad individuals who post under several different names and spend a long time hunting out articles favourable to Catholicism just to unleash their venom.

Now, I think, they just look ridiculous, and I shall do my best to ignore them. And pray for them.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

From someone who was there……

I gather that at Twickenham on Friday there were two groups of protestors ; the ultra-gay lobby and the ultra-Protestants. The police were out in force to keep them from really spoiling the occasion and managed to herd them together into one corner where they could keep an eye on them.
What they didn't reckon on was that the two groups spied each other and realized that here was an enemy even more hateful than the Pope; so they then set about having a regular ding-dong at each other and quite missed what they had come to spoil.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

As dying and yet we live

I have just participated in the Holy Father's Mass in Bellahouston Park (via television in my case) and find myself deeply moved. I remember the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1982 and the celebrations then, and I was struck with how very much I preferred this occasion. This time there was none of that rather hysterical atmosphere that prevailed on the former visit, but now there was a great air of recollection and prayer, something that I would have thought nigh impossible among a crowd of some seventy five thousand people.
Yes, it seems that perhaps we have learnt some lessons from the last forty years, and there really is a new spirit abroad.
Perhaps this is partly because in the wake of all the recent opposition to our faith we have a greater sense of who we are and what is important to us. How forcibly those words of St Paul struck me today:
As servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities,5beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; 6by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; 7by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; 8through honour and dishonour, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed;10as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything. (2Cor 6)
The Holy Father's homily, too, was both moving and inspiring, and will irritate many a secularist, no doubt.
The evangelization of culture is all the more important in our times, when a “dictatorship of relativism” threatens to obscure the unchanging truth about man’s nature, his destiny and his ultimate good. There are some who now seek to exclude religious belief from public discourse, to privatize it or even to paint it as a threat to equality and liberty. Yet religion is in fact a guarantee of authentic liberty and respect, leading us to look upon every person as a brother or sister.

Let nobody now doubt that the Catholic Church on this island is still alive and can be given a very much better prognosis than I might have given it a few years ago.

And now, I must offer heartfelt congratulations to Cardinal O'Brien and the Scottish hierarchy for an impeccably organized day. I can only pray that the English and Welsh hierarchy will prove to have done as well.

And, incidentally, does His Eminence have shares in a certain tartan weaving firm, by any chance?

Tuesday, 14 September 2010


Again, I'm sorry for the slow posting, but there is a nice reason. My bishop has kindly agreed to me having a year's sabbatical break from the parish in order to write (well, finish, really) the history of St John's Seminary, Wonersh. I started work on it some ten or more years ago, but with all the work in the Valle Adurni, it still stands in the same place. So, as of yesterday, having worked very hard to prepare the parish for my absence, I've moved into the Seminary for a few months and am working now at a very different pace. Bliss!
And maybe my posting might get back up to speed.

Saturday, 4 September 2010


I've just been to a Baptist service; it was very long and there was an awful lot of talking. But it's funny what preconceptions one has about real Protestants (such as the Baptists); quite a number were demolished this afternoon. I should say straight away that there was a lot that was good: there was a real atmosphere of keenness, and nobody could doubt that their faith was genuine and deep.
Surprise 1: The scriptures played almost no part in the service. There were two very brief (and very familiar) quotations from Hebrews, but these were simply there to act as the springboard for the preacher (who read the passages himself in the context of his sermon).
Surprise 2: I thought that Protestants believed in irresistible grace and despised 'works-righteousness'. But a hymn (sorry, worship song) that constantly repeated 'I choose to follow you' (or something like that) sounded almost Pelagian.
Surprise 3: There was quite a lot of prayer, of the extempore making-up-prayers type that I am no good at. But the Lord's own prayer was clearly found to be deficient, because it didn't feature at all.
I'm not criticizing, merely recording my own surprise. Perhaps there are perfectly good explanations for all this.