Saturday 27 September 2008

The Tudors

When the new BBC drama, The Tudors, began its first season, I watched the first episode, and half of the second, whereafter I gave up in disgust. The phrase 'gratuitous sex' doesn't even begin to describe what I thought was the ill-concealed soft porn nature of the programmes.

A few weeks ago I happened to see an episode of the second series. As there wasn't any porn on display, I continued to watch. It would be an exaggeration to say that I was hooked, but I have continued to watch the subsequent episodes, even catching up on iplayer. I am forced to acknowledge that it 'has something'.

I say that reluctantly, because there is a lot that annoys me. The producer/ director/ writer/ whoever goes to enormous trouble to get some things very very correct—more accurate than any other version I have seen. But then there are such liberties taken with the history, the dress, the manners and even events.

What I think it gets absolutely right is the spirit and atmosphere of the time. And some of the characters are very well written and played. Fat and ugly Henry, played (oddly) by slim and beautiful Jonathan Rhys Meyers, is very well done. The slow decline from his virtuous, if extravagant, beginnings to increasing selfish wilfulness and self-deception, from the Renaissance Prince to cruel tyrant are beautifully portrayed. Maria Doyle Kennedy, playing Queen Catherine of Aragon is wonderful. Throughout she is a model of dignity and injured love, steadfast in her faith and loyalty to God and the King. The deathbed scene would make a stone weep, though the random bits of Latin torn out of liturgical context and prayed by stumbling ladies in waiting are a bit of a distraction. Anne Boleyn (played by Natalie Dormer) is a strange character. Beautiful, wilful, spiteful, ambitious, proud—yes, all these things came through clearly. But then her sudden accesses of piety were not worked into the character; in exhorting her servants to read the Bible provided for them, to attend daily Mass and to ask for the sacrament in her prison chamber; these seemed not to belong to the character, but were rather mechanical. Maybe they were trying to portray her as hypocritical in this regard, but I'm not sure that's true to Anne. Her faith was genuine, though inclined to the reform, in which, I believe, she was to influence Henry towards his usurpation of the supremacy, via her gift of Tyndale's book, the Duty of a Christian Man.
St Thomas More, played by Jeremy Northam, is also very well and sympathetically done, much of the dialogue of his trial and execution lifted directly from the various contemporary histories of More. (And then, all of a sudden, they had him pulled on a hurdle to the scaffold!)

Churchmen, it has to be said, are not well done. The Pope, Wolsey, Campeggio, even Cranmer are all, frankly, miscast, wrongly dressed, and unbelievable. Cranmer, played by Hans Matheson, is too young, too hairy, and far too un-ecclesiastical for the role. He looks like a twenty-something boybander wearing a strange anachronistic purple costume uncomfortably.

In fact, the odd thing is that all the characters are improbably beautiful. Maybe the justification might be that in his age, Henry VIII was flattered for his good looks, so he should be played by somebody thought beautiful in our age. Well maybe. If a woman can play King Lear, then I suppose Rhys Meyers can play bluff King Hal, and Charles Brandon be played by handsome Henry Cavill. That's the two of them in the picture. (And why does his wife, Henry's sister, not know French when she meets the ambassador? She had been Queen of France, for heavens sake, married to Louis XII!)

And there is still some violent sex. Shut your eyes, is my advice.


Christopher Hitchens has written an interesting review of the new film of Brideshead Revisited in the Guardian. He thinks it's pretty poor, but has a lot to say about the book, too, which he seems, a little reluctantly, to admire. You can read the review here.

Monday 22 September 2008

Scouting for Boys

I suppose all of us can identify in our lives the four or five people who have really made a difference to us. Among those in my life was the late John Clifford. His job was an insurance clerk, but his vocation was a scoutmaster, and his passion was life.
In the troop to which I belonged, his influence was incalculable. He could rave, jump up and down with frustration at modern youth, but he was one of the steadiest and best people I have ever known. He did things which these days would be frowned upon; on his own he took thirty or more scouts out every week on foot or on bicycles into the wilds (or as wild as the Surrey hills and heaths got, anyway) using public transport; with only one or two other adults (and sometimes without), he took up to forty boys away camping for a fortnight, the responsibility being shared with 16-18 year-olds who were expected to exhibit a level of maturity unimaginable these days. And we all responded. Given respect and responsibility, we lived up to it, (well, most of the time). John 'Skip' Clifford would speak to us as nobody else did; as being small adults who simply lacked experience. He would (you couldn't imagine this now!) look the other way if we went to the pub (as those of us in the Senior Scouts frequently did from 16 or so years old) while at camp or on the weekly hikes or cycle rides. He taught us to discern good from bad, and not simply to run with the herd. He knew just why a Fuller's cake was so much better than a Mr Kipling cake, and Terry's chocolate so much better than Cadbury's. He would, walking along a high street, teach us to look above the boring shop windows and look at the fascinating building above. He taught us about Routemaster buses, trams, took us on train cruises, taught us knots. We learnt how to cook on open fires—something we always did on the camps, disdaining stoves of any kind. He taught us to respect quality rather than novelty, and to look beyond the obvious. And he loved the Latin Mass. 
I didn't always enjoy being a scout—it was very constraining at times for a teenager, and he would insist on us wearing the old khaki scout uniform when shorts were absolutely the nadir of fashion because, he very reasonably pointed out; the new uniform was very smart, surely, but hopeless to hike in, or cycle in, or do anything really interesting in.
By now you will have gathered that I think that this was such a good influence on my life that I am sorry that boys now do not get this experience much. Scouting still exists in the UK, but even when I was a scout, John Clifford came under very strong pressure to change it to conform to the less robust pattern that was then (and I think still) official policy. He strongly refused, because, according to his own principles, the modern version was not as good as the old, and if a thing ain't broke, don't attempt to fix it. I think that time has shown him to be right. The old principles of self-reliance and activity have disappeared now from our youth, on the whole. There is sport, for the sporty, but very little else to occupy a boy's mind (or a girl's, for that matter) that does not involve a computer or naughty substances. Since scout troops must now admit girls, there is no space really for a boy to be a boy except in football teams, which do little towards the moral and psychological development necessary if a boy is going to turn into a happy man. I don't think that constant mixing with girls is helpful: some is of course a good idea, but I think that separate groups too can be very useful in providing a space for growth without the complication of trying to impress the other sex. If women need their space, then so do men.

I have long been impressed with much French scouting. Going on retreats at monasteries in France, I have found that it is a rare weekend that does not have a troop or two camping in the grounds and attending Mass on Sunday, and even many of the other offices. These scouts are scouts as I remember them; there is strong and active esprit de corps, and the religious element is much stronger than in the English scouting movement. In fact French scouting was founded by two priests, and the faith is written into the law and promises of the movement.

Particularly impressive in my experience is the Scouts of Europe movement, which exist in most European countries outside the UK. I wish there were more hours in the day, and/or that I was twenty years younger, or that I could find other people willing to give it a try, but I would love to try a troop of the Scouts of Europe here in Shoreham. Consider these Scout Laws (rather different from the UK Scout Laws) as principles for a young man's life:

The European Scout Law:
The Scout is on his honour to be trustworthy.
The Scout is loyal to his country, his parents, his leaders and his subordinates.
The Scout must serve and save his neighbour.
The Scout is a friend of everybody and all other Scouts.
The Scout is polite and chivalrous.
The Scout sees God's work in nature. He loves plants and animals.
The Scout obeys without arguing and does nothing by halves.
The Scout is his own master, smiling and singing during hardships.
The Scout is sparing and takes care of what is others.
The Scout must be pure in his thoughts, words and actions.

The European Scout Promise:
On my honour, with the grace of God,
I promise to do my best to serve God, the Church, my Country and Europe,
To help my neighbour in all circumstances,
And to obey the Scout Law.

John Clifford died about five years ago, and at his funeral there were so many of his surrogate sons, many in tears. May he rest in peace.

Liturgical Linens

Liturgical smalls can be one of the most problematic area of sacristy maintenance, I find. The secrets of how to distinguish a purificator from a lavabo towel, or how to fold a corporal just right are, it seems, under the disciplina arcani, passed at a crossroads by midnight from one good person (usually women) to another. This can bring problems, because if a glitch gets into the system, it's very hard to convince somebody that what they've been doing (and their mother and grandmother before them) isn't quite right.
So I was delighted to see a publication, the Handbook for Laundering Liturgical Linen, and have bought several for my parish, and am delighted with the result. It is a very user-friendly introduction to the whole art, and my only regret is that it doesn't go on to deal with the larger linens, such as albs and altar cloths, the laundering of which remain sub sigillo.
Angelus Press is the publisher, and I gather the Society of St Pius X is behind the scheme, but I'm all for ecumenism if it means the amices will be properly cared for.

Saturday 20 September 2008

Pope Benedict in Paris

Andrew Cusack has posted a really good account of Pope Benedict's visit to Paris. I'm grateful to Fr Tim for pointing it out on his blog.

Our Lady of Shoreham

I have been watching with interest a house on the Upper Shoreham Road. Over the last couple of years, the inhabitants have been erecting vast wrought-iron fences—seemingly at night, for I have never seen them at work—then taking them down, and then putting them up again. They are nice pieces of work, though rather over the top for what appears to be a modest Shoreham bungalow behind them.

But then, to my amazement, a sort of rockery appeared behind the railings, topped with a statue of what looks like our Lady of Lourdes in wood (though possibly only coloured as wood) facing the house, with her back to the road.

These are clearly pious people, though I have no knowledge of any Catholics at that address. One of my parishioners, who lives on the same road, gently investigated. Apparently, these people are Coptic Christians. As I have remarked before, there are quite a lot of Copts in this area, though they tend to concentrate in Brighton.

But there is more. Apparently some Copts have been seeing visions of our Lady in Shoreham. I don't know anything further, but it's nice to think of, and certainly it is nice to see the statue of our Lady as I drive most days past it on my way to Steyning or Upper Beeding.

Another apparition was seen over Worthing in July: this one was apparently a UFO. You can read about it here. In fact last year, a similar sighting was reported in Shoreham itself. This sort of thing has never interested me much, though I know a major religious superior who is fascinated by it.


I'm so sorry for not posting over the last week: initially I had some very welcome visitors, and then a hefty bug worked its way through my body, pummelling one bit after another. Only this morning am I feeling human again.

Saturday 13 September 2008

New look

I actually liked the old look, but for some reason the links ceased to appear on the page. This is a very old look; in fact I think Valle Adurni began in this format. As in so much else these days, everything old is new again.

Thursday 11 September 2008

No doubt about it!

Some have been suggesting that the Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer (formerly known as the Transalpine Redemptorists) have not been reconciled with the Holy See, but simply that a couple of their members have had their orders regularized. Here is the refutation; it is perfectly straightforward—if you can read Italian—, and if not, my rough-and-ready translation is below. Congratulations, Fathers.

Father Gregory Wilson Rae Sim has returned with his community into full communion with the Catholic Church on 18th June 2008. This act of regularization has been accepted by Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos, President of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei. Father Gregory had founded a group whom he called Transalpine Redemptorists on 2nd August 1988, under the guidance of His Excellency Mgr Marcel Lefebvre, and on that occasion took the name of Fr Michael Mary.

Now this community is reconciled with the Church, and the three priest members have been regularized. As a sign of this full communion with the Catholic Church, they have changed their name to the Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer, and they are en route towards the approval of their Institute. The community consists of 18 members, who have been approved along with the three priests. For faculties, they must proceed as the law requires. For the last nine years, the community has lived on the island of Papa Stronsay on the diocese of Aberdeen in Scotland.

Monday 8 September 2008


I have just made a list of fifteen diocesan clerics who would (in my opinion) make fine bishops and are, ceteris paribus, eligible. Not all these men agree with me in every particular, but they are all highly talented men, all anxious for the Kingdom of God. It is, however, interesting that not a single one of them has at any stage been promoted higher than parish priest [pastor]. One has been a Dean [vicar forane], but none has achieved any higher office. The only thing they have in common (beyond the obvious) is that they believe in every doctrine of the Catholic Church and are concerned that things in this country are not progressing as they might. All are pastorally zealous, most are fine preachers, all are loyal sons of the Church and loyal to their own bishops. Yet they have seen others with none of these attributes appointed over their heads.

The difficulty is that, unless one achieves an office higher than that of parish priest, one is never in a position to be noticed for higher office.

Right now, though a great deal of attention has (understandably) gone into the successor to Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor, there are actually at least six or seven episcopal appointments pending. 

I have very little hope that even one of my list of fifteen will make it. Two on my list have never even been allowed to make it to priesthood.

Friday 5 September 2008

More from the Martyrology

Today's Martyrology has a few interesting entries.
7. At Ripon, in England, blessed William Browne, martyr, who, under King James I was condemned to be hanged and dissected for having persuaded others to reconcile to the Catholic faith. (The dissection, I assume, means quartering, and not being given to scientists as a hundred years later).
8. In a filthy ship anchored out at sea by Rochefort in France, blessed Florence Dumontet de Cardaillac, priest and martyr, who, during the French Revolution, was condemned for his priesthood, assisting his fellow captives and the sick with charity and zeal until illness completed his martyrdom.
9. In the city of Ninh Tai in Vietnam, the holy martyrs Peter Nguyen Van Tu, a Dominican priest, and Joseph Hoang Luong Canh, a doctor, who were beheaded out of hatred for the name of Christian. [I have made no attempt to reproduce the baroque diacritical marks in the Vietnamese names. Most days there are Vietnamese or Korean names in the Martyrology, which I forgot to mention yesterday].
10. In Calcutta in India [sic], blessed Teresa (Agnes) Gonhxa Bojaxhiu, virgin, who, born in Epirus, in order to quench the thirst of Christ abandoned on the cross in his poor brethren, founded the female and male Missionaries of Charity to give themselves utterly to the sick and abandoned.

Thursday 4 September 2008

Holy Moses

For some months now, as part of my daily devotions, I've been reading the day's Martyrlogy. My family kindly bought me a copy when we had a reunion in Rome in the spring. It really has been an interesting exercise. For instance, did you know that the Old Testament prophets and some other figures have an annual feastday? Today is the feastday of Saint Moses, for instance. The translation below is my own, done in rather a hurry, so excuse any blunders.

4th September
The day before the Nones of September, the third day of the current lunar cycle.
1. The commemoration of Saint Moses, prophet, whom God chose to lead his oppressed people out of Egypt and into the promised land, to whom also he revealed himself on Mount Sinai, saying 'I am who am' and gave the Law to govern the lives of the chosen people. This servant of God died, full of days, on Mount Nebo in the land of Moab, in sight of the promised land.
2. At Chalons, in Gaul, St Marcellus, martyr.
3. At Rome, in the cemetery of Maximus, on via Salaria, the burial of Pope St Boniface I, who settled many disputed ecclesiastical matters.
4. Chartres, in Neustria, St Caletricus, bishop.
5. Heresfeld in Saxony, St Ida, widow of Duke Ecbert, noted for her care of the poor and her assiduous prayers.
6. At Mende in Aquitaine, St Fredaldus, bishop and martyr.
7. At Cologne in Lotharingia, St Irmgard, who, as Countess of Süchteln, gave her goods for church building.
8. At Palermo in Sicily, St Rosalia, virgin, who on Monte Pellegrino is believed to have lived a solitary life.
9. At Cuneo in Piedmont, blessed Catherine Mattei, virgin, Penitential Sister of St Dominic, who suffered constant bad health, the calumnies of men and many temptations with wonderful charity and bore them with a host of virtues.
10. At anchor on the open sea just outside Rochefort on the French coast, blessed Scipio Jerome Brigéat de Lambert, priest and martyr, who, during the persecution of the French Revolution, being a canon of Avranches, was thrown into a prison hulk under inhuman conditions on account of his priesthood, where he died of hunger.
11. In the town of Sillery in Quebec, Canada, blessed Mary of St Cecilia of Rome (Dinah) Bélanger, virgin, from the religious Congregation of Jesus and Mary who lived only a short time dedicated to God on account of grave illness.
12. In the town of Oropesa, in Castille, on the Spanish coast, blessed Joseph Paschal Carda Saporta, priest from the Priestly Society of Diocesan Work, and martyr, who, while the persecution of the Church [in the Spanish Civil War] raged, was taken in glorious martyrdom in the hatred of religion.
13. In the village of Teulada in Spain near Lucentum [I can't translate this: anyone?], blessed Francisco Sendra Ivars, priest and martyr, who was martyred in the same persecution of the faith.
14. Near the village of Genovés in the district of Valencia, also in Spain, blessed Bernard (Joseph) Bieda Grau, a religious of the Order of Friars Minor (Capuchins) and martyr, who in the same turbulent period fought mightily for Christ.
et alibi aliorum plurimorum sanctorum Martyrum, Confessorum, atque sanctarum Virginum.
This is a fairly typical day, in fact. They might have added (but didn't) St Cuthbert, of course. Him they put on the 20th March. In the Sarum Calendar, Cuthbert is kept on 20th March, whereas today was his translation (presumably from Lindesfarne to Durham).
There are usually a couple of English martyrs—they often tend to coalesce around the quarterly Assizes—and a couple of priests from the prison hulks at Rochefort, some martyrs of the Spanish Civil War period, and usually a couple of names of people killed for being Polish by the Nazis, and beatified by Pope John Paul II.
Yesterday and the day before, there were commemorated countless numbers of clerics guillotined in Paris during the revolution. The numbers done on one day are quite shocking: On 1st September, 116 bishops, priests and other clerics in Paris, and on 2nd September another 75.

Tuesday 2 September 2008

Chichester Carmel: In memoriam

Staying at Minster Abbey has stirred memories in me which I have buried, somewhat, as one does secret griefs. When I was a seminarian, I spent some weeks in the parish of St Richard in Chichester; this was to prove a significant time for me, for, amongst many other good things, I became acquainted with the Carmelite Convent that lay in the fields just outside the Chichester ring-road.
Yes, it was the Carmelite Convent—they spurned the nomenclature of 'Monastery' as a modern new-fangled thing (at least in their context), for these sisters had a serious history. They were founded in the Low Countries, at Hoogstraet, as a Carmel for English women during the penal days, and were driven back to Britain by the Napoleonic wars, which posed a worse threat to their contemplative life than the Protestant people of England. They managed to smuggle many treasures out with them—under their habits, the tradition goes. That must have been an extraordinary sight, for there was a remarkable Flemish tabernacle in ebony and silver, at least three feet high and two broad.
The sisters settled eventually in Chichester and built themselves a convent there, where they flourished like the green bay tree. They were, of course, delighted at the canonization of St Thérèse of Lisieux, but it brought a lot of trouble in its wake, for a number of Carmels were set up in Britain at this time, on the crest of the wave of enthusiasm, I suppose. The sisters told me that some French sister was responsible for about half of them. A Carmel is not really supposed to exceed twelve sisters (though it often did), or, exceptionally, twenty-four in a double Carmel, so as more young women wanted to join, they simply built more Carmels. That was great at the time, but it meant that once the enthusiasm had passed, it was harder to keep the number of communities going. Many merged; Chichester indeed, absorbed the former Carmel of Waterbeach in Cambridgeshire—in the process, two blood-sisters, the Prioresses of each community, met each other for the first time since their professions and were thereafter reunited.
In this way, Chichester kept its head above water, but in the early 1990s it began to feel stressed by the presence of many elderly sisters, and few vocations coming in. They looked at this and that possibility, but decided, in the event, to disperse and close.
They faced their future with typical courage and detachment. Their collection of precious things, smuggled out from the Low Countries, were sold at auction. Vestments were found homes here and there—some to St Richard's parish in Chichester, others to the Sacred Heart parish in Hove—the prodigious collection of relics together with the choir grille found their way to the Oxford Oratory where they can be seen to this day. The beautiful tabernacle mentioned above found its way to the Teresianum in Rome, I believe. The sisters themselves dispersed to the Carmels in Scotland, to Sclerder in Cornwall (near Looe) and two or three even to Terre Haute in Indiana, which Carmel also descended vaguely from Hoogstraet.
One special relic I must mention. At the time I am writing of—it must be 1994 or 5—I was the Diocesan Archivist (the most boring job I have ever held, but for this one event). I had to go to the Carmel with the assistant, now Fr Jonathan Martin, on my last visit, to authenticate some relics—which is to say, to supervise the opening of an old reliquary, transfer the contents into a new one, seal it up, and sign the certificates. The relics concerned were the wimples taken off by the Carmelite nuns of Compiégne as they mounted the scaffold for the guillotine during the French Revolution. Somehow they had ended up in the care of the Sisters of Hoogstraet/Chichester. These nuns were the ones that inspired Poulenc's famous opera Dialogue des Carmelites, and who famously processed one by one to the guillotine, having received the blessing of the Prioress, singing the Salve Regina. Finally the prioress ascended the scaffold and went to God when all her sisters had been seen safely home. It is one of those moments in one's life that one never forgets. The wimples, by the way, were being sent to the present-day Carmel at Compiégne as a very special gift.
To this day I still bitterly regret the closure of the Chichester Carmel. Those sisters had helped me take my first steps in prayer, and I miss them like a limb. I still honestly believe that the closure need never have happened had others taken an interest and helped. There could have been another solution. There were enough young and able sisters to keep it going, even if their older ones had to be found homes elsewhere, perhaps in places where they could be nursed. But even their dispersal and closure was, perhaps, a lesson to me in detachment. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.
I haven't got any pictures of the Carmel, but the illustration above is the calligraphy they did for me on my ordination in 1989, a quotation from Blessed Robert Southwell. It stands opposite my bed, and I often think of the sisters and say a prayer for them. I don't know how many sisters are still alive now. Perhaps they all are. I hope so, and that they continue to help others find our Lord. 
If you happen to be reading this, sisters, thank you and 'God reward you'.

After having written the above, I came across this web page. It made me very sad. All the old faces are there.

Retreat in Thanet

I've been spending my few days of Retreat at St Mildred's Abbey, Minster, on the Isle of Thanet in Kent. For those who aren't from round here, that is near Dover, the nearest point to France. St Augustine landed here to bring the Gospel to the pagan Saxons of the Kingdom of Kent; there is a commemorative cross very near the Abbey.
The Abbey was founded only a couple of generations after St Augustine, and was peopled by nuns including St Domneva, the foundress; her daughter St Mildred, and St Eadburga, until the Vikings drove them out. In later years, the Abbey was refounded by Benedictine monks, who remained until the Reformation, after which some of the conventual buildings were converted into a manor. In the late 1930s, the Benedictine nuns of Eichstätt courageously circumvented the political turmoil of the days and refounded the Abbey (though at the moment it is technically a priory)—these days the twelve sisters are mostly English (though the young Prioress is German) and carry out the opus Dei of the canonical hours and the hospitality for which the Benedictines are famed.
They have a website here, and I commend them much to your prayers. It is very good to find such a flourishing witness to the Benedictine life alive and well in the South East. With Minster Abbey and St Cecilia's Abbey at Ryde on the Isle of Wight, we are very blessed with good Benedictine nuns in this part of the world.

Another candidate for Westminster?

Emerging from the stone under which I have been hiding for the last week or so, I find people still buzzing with the news that Mgr Jim Curry has been hotly (or at lest expensively) tipped for Westminster. Well, it's possible, I suppose; he was Cardinal Hume's secretary for several years, so he knows where a lot of the bodies are buried. However, unless Rome decides to go for a member of the magic circle, I doubt his chances are that good. Mgr Curry isn't in the obvious inner magic circle, but a little bit further out, so I suppose he might be regarded as a sort of compromise candidate. I'm sure Mgr Curry is an excellent chap in many ways, but I don't think he's likely to represent much of a change from current policy.
On the other hand, I have wondered about Fr Terence Phipps, the Parish Priest at St James, Spanish Place. A moral theologian (a good idea these days), he has been the Precentor at Westminster Cathedral, and has liturgical ability and gravitas. He can celebrate the Extraordinary form if required, though usually celebrates the Ordinary one. He is known for his work with the DePaul trust, a charitable organization. The fact that he is not a Mgr, but still a mere Fr suggests to me that he is not a member of the magic circle, but he is well known; if we were to have a secular priest from the Westminster Diocese for the job, which I think would be a good idea, it strikes me that (unless others know what I don't) he might well fit the bill.