Thursday 13 December 2012


The Holy Father using Twitter has brought a number of responses from the Blogosphere, not least Mulier Fortis' Habemus Tweet.

I'm sure we can do better in Latin than 'tweet', though.  My mind goes cranking back thirty years to reading Catullus about Lesbia's wretched dead sparrow*. There we find in Lugete, o Veneres Cupidinesque (poem 3)
…circumsiliens modo huc modo illuc
ad solam dominam usque pipiabat.
So, pipiare is 'to tweet'.

Now someone who's Latin is better than mine ought to make a noun out of it. Pipia? So Habemus pipiam?

* and yes, I know it might mean something else, so don't bother posting rude comments.

Sunday 9 December 2012

The stuff to give the er, prime minister

Bishop Joseph Devine is not a man to mince his words. He has written to the Prime Minister to tell him exactly what he thinks of him. Here's a taster:

'So where next for David Cameron’s spiritual mission?... While I cannot speak for other creeds, let me be quite frank with you. So far as the Roman Catholic concerned, you are out of your depth. We will take no finger-prodding lectures from anyone or any group devoid of moral competence.'

Wow! And there's lots more like it. The letter itself doesn't appear to be around on the internet, but there is an interesting discussion of it here on Archbishop Cranmer's blog. (H/t Simon Cotton).

Thank you, Bishop Devine. Keep it coming.

Saturday 8 December 2012

Old rite train

This is locomotive 34067 'Tangmere' crossing the River Adur at Shoreham at 9.20 this morning. A chilly morning, with the river at nearly low tide.

If you look at the movie full size, you should clearly see the neo-gothic Lancing College chapel and the much-filmed art-deco Shoreham Airport terminal building which often appears on period productions (often standing for Croydon Airport) and dramas, such as Poirot. At the end of the train is a diesel locomotive; not to push, but to provide heating for the carriages.

(okay, perhaps not so clear; the precision lost something in the uploading—you'll have to take my word for it!)

Monday 3 December 2012

Read this

Read this.

There are still good people in the world.
H/T Dom Martin Browne of Glenstal Abbey (via Facebook)

Thursday 29 November 2012


I have decided to delete the post about the Society of Pope Leo XIII. The Society looked, and looks, to me to be a very strange organisation which has little or nothing to do with the Catholic Church. However, the comments in the combox were getting worryingly specific, and my policy of only excluding egregiously offensive comments was allowing through allegations which I was personally unable to prove or disprove, and therefore defend. I apologize to those who made comments; my suggestion is that if you feel strongly enough about these things, that you establish a blog to express them.

Saturday 24 November 2012

Another new blog

Do go over and take a look at a new blog, written by my friend, the newly qualified Doctor Tommy Heyne, a graduate of the excellent University of Dallas, and which went on line only last night. His site—for though technically a blog it seems rather more like a website—is already a positive cornucopia of interesting things, mostly concerned with the spiritual, the medical and the missionary.
It seems such a little time ago that I was beginning to despair that the Church would ever find her feet again—the grain had really fallen into the ground and appeared to die. But, as our Lord promised, green shoots are everywhere. In people like Dr Tommy, we can see the Church reaching out in a missionary sense, full of zeal for the Gospel, and also for the corporal works of mercy.
Dr Tommy's site is confusingly called Caritas, Veritas et Hilaritas—nothing to do with Fr John Boyle's excellent Caritas in Veritate except for the fact that both are written in the United States.

Thursday 22 November 2012

Beakers are poured in Husborne Crawley

It's worth reading what's written on the sign, if you can.
Crossing today from the A1M to the M1 via the spanking new-looking A412, we shouted in unison, going round a roundabout, 'Husborne Crawley'! It was as though we had discovered Shangri-La. Yes, folks, we can confirm that there really is a place called Husborne Crawley (there is a place called Burton Dasset too, but not nearby). We bethought ourselves of trying to find the local Archdruid; there was no obvious Moot House, and the only pagan object of devotion we could find was the local White Horse of Husborne Crawley. The Archdruid was not there, alas, (at least we didn't think so), which perhaps was as well, since she might be none too pleased at being called upon unannounced. I wouldn't like to end up buried under the altar in a crouching position, perhaps clutching one of those eponymous beakers.

It being lunchtime, we bethought ourselves of the inner man. Moot house or no moot house, we shared poured out beakers in the White Horse and partook of the food of a bygone age. Not perhaps the age of the Beaker People, but I had chicken kiev and chips for the first time in decades, and my companion had sausage, egg and chips. Sort of time travel, really.
And we greeted the Archdruid from afar. And do so again now.

Thursday 25 October 2012

Santo Subito

That's Italian for 'not long till Christmas!'

I suppose that there are few people I have admired more in my lifetime than our current Holy Father. My admiration began when Victor Messori published his Ratzinger Report way back in the 1980s, at a time when the liberals were still very much in the ascendent, and to question the prevailing orthodoxy was like offering a rabbi a bacon sandwich. Pope John Paul was very much in charge, but I have never really thought of him as being really on the same side as me; I commented once in an article in the Catholic Herald that his pontificate was to me rather like a taxi ride in Rome: you get there, probably in one piece, but holding clumps of hair in your white and trembling knuckles. The trouble with JPII was that you never knew what he was going to do next.

For me, this was summed up in a single comment of his; when somebody suggested that he might think of abdicating due to his declining health, he growled "I don't need two functioning legs to govern the Church!" And that was precisely the problem; he saw his job as to govern the Church, to rule it. If I were to presume to interpret Pope Benedict's mind, I think he would see his job, conversely, as being governed by the Church. Not in the narrow sense of obeying the majority, or at least loudest, view (there are so many who would like to see that!), but of obeying the majority throughout history; listening not just to Catholics alive now, but also to those who have been alive in the past, whose Church it is too—a much deeper democracy that Chesterton called, I believe the 'democracy of the dead', to preserve it for the future.

The narrow view of the Church that is currently expressed by the Church of England, which is to say governing (and even determining doctrine) by the majority view of those presently alive is very different to both Pope Benedict's view and Pope John Paul's, even more than they appear to differ from each other. The Church is God's gift to all humanity, and not even a Pope should tinker with it just because he wants to, or thinks it a good idea. This is where we need to be very careful what we mean when we consult the faithful in matters of doctrine.

I see that the US Bishops' Conference has successfully petitioned Rome for permission to celebrate the feast of Blessed John Paul. That doesn't surprise me; his method of governance naturally appeals to Americans who seem to admire strong and charismatic leadership—the President, after all, is effectively a time-limited elected monarch. Two dear American friends of mine were talking about this in my garden a few years ago: they both agreed that they couldn't really take to Pope Benedict: he just didn't seem to be a mover and a shaker. One said with deep approval 'not like Pope John Paul; he really kicked a**'!

Given the immense difference of governance style between Pope Benedict and Pope John Paul—and the latter's propensity apparently to adopt or dispense with tradition as it suited him—it remains a matter of surprise to me that our present Holy Father had such an admiration for his predecessor, even to the point of fast-tracking his beatification (something I regard as deeply unwise—imagine if Maciel had predeceased John Paul: might he now be a beatus that we would have to find a way to justify?). In the past, before Ratzinger came into his superb own as Pope (probably as much to his own surprise as anyone else's) I used to almost think of him as like a geeky schoolboy hero-worshipping the athlete as he did his homework for him.

Early in his reign, I remember Pope Benedict presiding at a great Vigil in St Peter's Square to close the Year of the Priest; he talked off the cuff about sanctity, and observed that we must remember that saints have faults too, even sins, against which they battle. That was such a refreshing thing to hear, though I gather that it was airbrushed out in the Osservatore Romano the following day. There can have been few who knew Wojtyla better than Ratzinger, and it was very apparent from the superb homily that the latter gave the former at his Requiem that Ratzinger believed in his former boss's sanctity without question. He cannot have approved his seat-of-the-pants style of government, but he recognized the true nature of someone very close to God, with perhaps at times truly divine inspiration.

This was all brought on by something I read in The Tablet this morning, and which I would like to share with you. I hope The Tablet won't mind, as it has a new edition appearing tomorrow.

"You will be the first of many East Germans to go to the West and many West Germans will go to the East," Pope John Paul II told Cardinal Joachim Meisner, then Bishop of Berlin, in September 1987, two years before the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The bishop had been asked by the Pope to visit him at Castel Gandolfo, and there, according to the bishop, "we sat on a garden bench and talked for a long while. That was when he told me that I had to go to Cologne [as Archbishop]. 'That is impossible' I replied. 'I am the president of the Berlin bishops' conference and keep telling the faithful that our task is to remain here'. That was when he told me that I'd be the first of many to go west and many West Germans would soon go east. Whereupon I said to him, 'Holy Father, you didn't say that ex cathedra, but ex garden bench.' And the Pope answered, 'It isn't ex cathedra, but the Pope is nevertheless right.' 'Holy Father, did you get this tip from the secret services?' I asked. 'My secret service is up above' he answered.
The next day, Meisner discussed his conversation with Cardinal Ratzinger. "What explanation have you got for this?" Meisner asked Ratzinger. And Ratzinger replied "The Pope has his own faith secrets. I can't see behind them either." And, as Meisner pointed out, John Paul II was right.
The Tablet, Notebook, 20 October 2012 

No, I don't want Pope John Paul canonized any time soon. And in fact, I think that we have already beatified or canonized too many recent popes, to the point that one wonders what was wrong with the others. But, perhaps, Pope Benedict's devotion to his predecessor might suggest that here, truly, was sanctity. But not as we know it, Jim.

Friday 5 October 2012

Who wears the cassock around here?

Who the Church of England chooses to be its clergy is really none of my business. In the Adur Valley most of the Anglican clergy are now women, and they seem to be very good at their job. From an ecumenical perspective, I will deal with whomever they choose to lead them, man or woman, and have always found them all affable and friendly, and spoken well of by their congregations.

On the other hand, I do regret that the ecumenical movement has been reduced to polite co-operation by the C of E's decision to move further away from the formerly agreed position on those deemed licit subjects for Orders (and I resent being harangued by members of the Established Church who accuse us of having set back ecumenism by adopting our new liturgical translation), but maybe the whole subject has simply illustrated the hopeless nature of the ecumenical project, given the very fundamental differences at the level of principle, and how doctrine is to be decided.

However, I do think one can make some practical observations. It has often been noticed in Catholic sacristies that when girl servers predominate, soon one will have no boys at all. Several years ago I was present at the plumbing-in of a new vicar, a very dynamic and personable lady, in the (Anglican) Chichester diocese. The bishop doing the job was, and is, well known for his opposition to women's orders; indeed, I believe (perhaps erroneously) that he adheres to the 'impossibilist' position. This did not prevent him licensing her for the work of a priest, entrusting her with the cure of souls and using all the language of priesthood in his address. He refused to let her concelebrate with him, however. Now, setting aside the mental gymnastics required to justify all this, it was plain that, apart from the bishop, every person—cleric or server—on the sanctuary was female. Not one male.

Yesterday, being in the locality, I visited an Anglican parish church that I used to know rather well: I used to play the organ there in the late 1970s and 1980s. In those days, though the vicar and all but one of the servers was male, there was a good distribution of the other functions between the sexes. Yesterday I read the list of parish officials, and also the current bulletin. A lady was appointed vicar some months ago, and already:
Vicar: a woman.
Churchwarden A: a woman
Churchwarden B: a woman
Parish Secretary/Church Council: a woman
Church hall information and bookings: a woman
There are no other officials listed.

according to the bulletin for last Sunday:
Sidesperson (sic) 1: a woman
Sidesperson 2: a woman
Sidesperson 3: a woman
Sidesperson 4: a woman
Refreshments: a woman
Intercessions to be led by— a man.

The week's activities seemed to be focussed around things women find interesting: coffee mornings, mothers' and toddlers' groups, handicraft circles, that sort of thing.

This is not an attack on women's orders or ministry in the Church of England. As I mentioned earlier, I have no dog in this race. But having fought so hard to be inclusive, they seen now to be so inclusive that they have almost no men at all! Is this really what they want? Is this healthy?

No doubt they would argue that men are perfectly free to participate if they want to—they just don't want to. Being their (men's) decision, does this absolve those in authority (all ladies) from having to do anything about it, or is the Church of England now becoming a sort of religious version of the Women's Institute? And is it sexist to have a problem with that?

Monday 1 October 2012


I have been consulting Universalis recently—a really wonderful resource, by the way—and was amused to see the following entry in the course of the seventh reading section at the Easter Vigil:

So, one option for everywhere English is spoken, and another for the USA. Oh dear!

Saturday 22 September 2012

That's okay, then

In all the furore concerning St Mary's College, Twickenham, most notably the rather dramatic removal of Dr Anthony Towey and the merging of the Theology department with that of several other subjects whose obvious relevance and connection to the Queen of Sciences somehow escapes me, we can, perhaps be reassured by the fact that the decision has been led by a man, the new Principal of St Mary's, who has recently been described as
a, if not the, leading Roman Catholic biblical theologian in the UK.
This is a very great accolade, without doubt. You may be assured, too, that the commentator knows the new Principal very well—none better, in fact, for the man who gave such a resounding thumbs-up to the new Principal is none other than Professor Philip Esler, who is perhaps the greatest admirer of the new Principal. In fact, he is the new Principal, and the remark was made about himself. (The Tablet, 1st September 2012, p.7).

According to Amazon, this paragon of modesty is indeed a published author, with works such as
Sex, Wives and Warriors: Reading Biblical Narratives with Its Ancient Audience (a snip at £29.00)
and the co-authorship of
Dirt, Greed and Sex (£11.66)
to his credit. Plus several other works, though they don't look as interesting.


Term has begun at St John's Seminary, Wonersh, and I have now delivered my fourth class on First Millennium Church History to the second-year students. Yesterday I launched them on their first experience of reading an ancient primary text with a historian's eye: I chose for this (as I always do) the Didache, otherwise known as the Lord's teaching of the Gentiles by the twelve apostles.

The Didache is a gift to Dan Brown-style conspiracy theorists, if only because of the strange story of its discovery. In 1873 the Greek Orthodox bishop of Nicomedia (a most ancient see now in Turkey—does it even exist any more?), Philotheos Bryennios discovered the text in the library of the Phanar in Constantinople, copied it out and published it. According to the tradition, he then promptly lost the original. That is the story as it is generally known.

What doesn't form part of the legend is that the text was found again, however, and removed for safety to Jerusalem. It forms part of a collection of writings of the Apostolic Fathers in Greek known as the Codex Hierosolymitanus; the scribe actually dated it to June 11 1056, two years after the Great Schism.

It was greeted with a lot of scepticism, since it would appear to be a first-century document suddenly appearing out of nowhere in a very late version. And faking documents was not an unknown trick a thousand years ago (for instance the Donation of Constantine, and the False Decretals of Pseudo-Isidore, both, though, western forgeries).

But bits and pieces of the Didache have emerged from other sources since, including some fragments from Oxyrhynchus, so it seems that the thing is probably genuinely ancient.

Here I always like to add a caveat. Just because it is genuinely ancient (and probably first-century), does not mean that it is Catholic. The most respectable and intelligent people still cling sweetly (Ah!) to the notion that because the Acts of the Apostles says that the disciples were of all one heart and one mind, that this undoubted state of affairs (it is in the Bible, after all) lasted for more than, say, half an hour. Otherwise sane people blithely assert that the early centuries of the Church were internally peaceful, pure, holy, undivided. That's rubbish! As nonsensical as the idea that early liturgy was simple and 'meaningful', the Eucharist celebrated squatting on scatter cushions round a coffee table with a bun and a pottery cup of wine, with Donovan singing sweetly to a guitar in the background. Both ideas are romantic nonsense, but it is surprising how enduring they are, and how much mischief these ideas have worked through the ages. So, the Didache is probably very ancient, but we mustn't automatically assume that whoever wrote it was a Catholic.

My (and others') unease about it mostly centre around the section usually titled (editorially, natch) 'The Eucharist'.
Chapter 9 The Eucharist
Now concerning the Eucharist, give thanks this way. First, concerning the cup:
We thank thee, our Father, for the holy vine of David Thy servant, which Thou madest known to us through Jesus Thy Servant; to Thee be the glory for ever.
And concerning the broken bread:
We thank Thee, our Father, for the life and knowledge which Thou madest known to us through Jesus Thy Servant; to Thee be the glory for ever. Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills, and was gathered together and became one, so let Thy Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Thy kingdom; for Thine is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ for ever..
But let no one eat or drink of your Eucharist, unless they have been baptized into the name of the Lord; for concerning this also the Lord has said, "Give not that which is holy to the dogs."

Chapter 10. Prayer after Communion.
But after you are filled, give thanks this way:
We thank Thee, holy Father, for Thy holy name which Thou didst cause to tabernacle in our hearts, and for the knowledge and faith and immortality, which Thou madest known to us through Jesus Thy Servant; to Thee be the glory for ever. Thou, Master almighty, didst create all things for Thy name's sake; You gavest food and drink to men for enjoyment, that they might give thanks to Thee; but to us Thou didst freely give spiritual food and drink and life eternal through Thy Servant. Before all things we thank Thee that Thou art mighty; to Thee be the glory for ever. Remember, Lord, Thy Church, to deliver it from all evil and to make it perfect in Thy love, and gather it from the four winds, sanctified for Thy kingdom which Thou have prepared for it; for Thine is the power and the glory for ever. Let grace come, and let this world pass away. Hosanna to the God (Son) of David! If any one is holy, let him come; if any one is not so, let him repent. Maranatha. Amen.
But permit the prophets to make Thanksgiving as much as they desire.

Okay. Many, even most, consider that we have here the first 'Eucharistic Prayer'. You will see that it lacks the Words of Institution (or Consecration). In the 1970s and 1980s, on the back of this, several priests attempted to celebrate Mass using prayers without words of Consecration. The Dutch produced several 'Anaphoras' of this type. I remember when I was a seminarian a priest using one (in English) at my seminary. I refused to go to 'Communion' and got into a certain amount of hot water as a result. How times have changed (D.G.)! And, yes, I know about Addai and Mari, and that makes me very uncomfortable, too.

The problem is with the word 'Eucharist'. After all, it only means 'thanksgiving', in any context. Even modern Greek uses it to say 'thank you'. Does 'eucharist', then, necessarily imply the Mass?

The late and great Fr Freddie Broomfield considered that here we have not Mass, but a simple grace before and after meals (and remember that both chapter titles are not original, but editorial). I am not of this opinion, mostly because of the prohibition of eating 'of the thanksgiving' without having been baptised. If it was a prohibition of eating ordinarily with pagans I don't think it would have put it that way. So I think we do have a reference to the Mass.

But is it a liturgical document? A mini-altar missal, as it were. Here I disagree with most of the scholars. The whole Didache seems to me to be a catechetical document for those preparing for baptism. For layfolk, in other words, and Chapters 9 & 10 are to my eyes therefore for lay people to use devotionally at the Eucharist. There is no explicit Eucharistic teaching either, because in many Churches that belonged to the post-baptismal catechesis, or mystagogia. This seems to me to make far more sense.

Another thing sprang out of the document yesterday while I was teaching which had never struck me before. It happens sometimes that way. This comes from Chapter 1:
Woe to him who receives; for if one receives who has need, he is guiltless; but he who receives not having need shall pay the penalty, why he received and for what. And coming into confinement, he shall be examined concerning the things which he has done, and he shall not escape from there until he pays back the last penny. 

And here's another translation:
when he is in tribulation he shall be examined concerning the things that he has done, and shall not depart thence until he has paid the last farthing.

And another:

and being in prison he shall be examined as to his deeds, and "he shall not come out thence until he pay the last farthing.

Interesting. Do we not here have a clear enough reference to Purgatory? In the first century!

Monday 17 September 2012

And yet more bones

I gather that there is a proposal that the body of someone who was a practising Roman Catholic all his life, and certainly at the time of his death, has been exhumed (rather publicly and without prayers) and will be denied reburial by those of his own communion, but is to be buried in Leicester according to the rites of a communion that did not even exist in his lifetime.

This will not, of course, prevent his co-religionists praying for his soul and offering Mass for him. After all, if he were a Roman Catholic today dying in the Diocese of Liverpool, he might very well have a layman (or woman) conducting his funeral, and a priest saying Mass for him at another time.

More Bones

I like the Scousers: I even like the accent, needing only hear that gutteral enunciation (the ck in 'chicken' pronounced rather like the ch in a Scottish loch) to smile and know that for the next few minutes I am very unlikely to be bored.

The decline in the city has been very sad, and matched by the decline in the Church's presence there. What was once vibrant and strong, a city and a small hinterland making a diocese all on its own for reason of sheer numbers, has dwindled to the point where, I am sure, they are wondering whether they ought to be thinking of hooking up with a neighbouring diocese like Salford or Lancaster. Lots of reasons, of course, not least the decline in the shipping industry.

In the popular mind, 'Liverpool' now calls to mind the Liverpool Care Pathway, a means of speeding Granddad out of this world and into the next with the least bother to anyone (except Granddad, of course, but he'll be asleep most of the time).

And now Archbishop Patrick Kelly proposes that lay people be commissioned to celebrate funerals. This has drawn a certain amount of negative comment, not least from The Tablet, who seem to consider that priests should be available to do whatever the laity want them to do (take orders from their most articulate lay parishioners, follow the liturgical fashion of twenty years ago, stay out of the bedroom and, most crucially, bury Granddad), but not what some of the laity themselves want to do themselves (pronounce on doctrine, give out the sacraments, hold onto the chequebook, preach &c).

Far be it from me to disagree with such a magisterial publication as The Tablet, but in this case (and no doubt for once many of you will be agreeing with The Tablet and disagreeing with me) I have a certain sympathy with Archbishop Kelly's decision.

If you are reading this post, or The Tablet, for that matter, the chances are that you are a believing and practising Catholic—at least to some extent. Your funeral will honestly and genuinely reflect that faith, and you won't want anything to interfere with that. You will want a proper Requiem and, no doubt, you will get it.

But so many funerals that we do are not like that. On arrival in the Adur Valley in 2004, my first funeral, for a local undertaker, was truly shocking. The undertakers' conductor (a woman dressed in fish net stockings, a very-mini-skirt, tail coat and top hat—all she needed was a whip to get a part in the local circus) had noted all the quasi-liturgical and musical demands of the family and simply announced to me 'that this and that' was what was happening. The only Catholic involved was the corpse, and she had ceased practising some time after her first Communion way back when. But demands were made for a lot of very unsuitable rock music, and when I gently tried to persuade the family that this was simply not appropriate, we had tears and hysterics, and lots of 'but we were promised by the undertakers that we could have it' and 'there's never any problem at the Anglican church'. We reached a compromise in the end, one with which I was still very unhappy, and then when the funeral began, the undertakers simply marched in and did what they originally had planned, rock music and all. What was I to do? Create a scene in the middle of a Requiem Mass? No, of course not; I had just to carry on. Afterwards, though, I let it be known that that firm would not officiate again in our churches. In a while, it was all smoothed over. The firm now behave themselves well, and no doubt have me marked down as a priest of overwhelming unreasonableness and prickliness.

I do, actually, see the Funeral Directors' dilemma. They, entirely reasonably, see themselves as providing a service for which grieving people are paying (a lot of) money. Therefore, they hold, the grieving people, who pay the piper, are entitled to call the tune, and the churches are part of this process. It isn't helped by the fact that some non-Catholic churches are very willing to do whatever is required by the family and friends. I have been to a funeral of a practising Christian, where the majority the mourners were practising Christians, and where God hardly got a mention, though there was plenty of the 'Fred loved a drink and a good dirty joke' sort of thing from the officiant.

At a funeral, we are there to provide a service, yes, but a service principally to the deceased, not to the mourners. It is not intended to be the deceased's last show, but an opportunity to pray for him, to commit his soul to God, to thank God for all the blessings with which He endowed him on his life on earth, and to reflect on the eternal verities. It's just that these things go over a lot of people's heads. Their minds are fixed on this world, not the next.

It has rightly been said that a funeral is an opportunity to engage people's faith, even if there's only a little of it. But it doesn't need a Mass to do that. And one often has the complication of a churchful of, well, mostly pagans, in front of the celebrant, all in deepest black, unresponsive, uneasy, wondering when they will get to the bit where the priest sexually abuses the servers. You have to tell them as kindly as you can about the Communion discipline, but inevitably some will present themselves anyway ('it's something I wanted to do for Nan', as if Nan had wanted them to commit sacrilege on her behalf). More distant mourners will sit throughout the service (despite being asked to stand or kneel), looking bored or aggressive, and will pointedly ignore you or be deeply cold if you try to speak with them after the Mass.

Surely in these cases it is better not to have a Funeral Requiem Mass? A shorter service at the crematorium, or even in the church gives one the opportunity to be a little more relaxed about the service, to be able to put people at their ease, even (in the Crem) to be a little more tolerant of the music.  One still has, though, a good opportunity to engage with them about the things that really matter. In such instances, I always tell people that there will be a Mass celebrated for Nan, and give them a time and date. This means that those who are coming merely to pay their respects need not come to the Mass; they have done what was expected, and they can go back to their boring little lives.

In the Adur Valley, I often pass on such non-Eucharistic funeral services to our deacon (and shortly we will have two deacons). He does them beautifully, and, no doubt, having recently taken early retirement, appreciates an extra bit of income. To deeply lapsed people there is no apparent distinction between a deacon and a priest. Lay people would be a step on from this, but I don't imagine that at least some people would be greatly upset, as long as Gran was properly seen to.

A danger to be avoided is an inevitable distancing of the priest from people; time spent on administration rather than the pastoral work for which he was ordained is not desirable. I believe that Liverpool has initiated that administration of Confirmation before First Holy Communion which in some respects is admirable. And yet, because the sacrament is administered by the parish priest, how many young people now have never even seen a bishop?

In this, as in so many things, no doubt priorities must be sorted out first. But, as long as a Mass is celebrated for the deceased, and the deceased is prayed for, I wouldn't have really rooted objections to non-Eucharistic funerals.

Sunday 16 September 2012


One of the things that I've never done as a priest is officiate religiously (or in any other way) at an exhumation. I'm not entirely sure what one might do, or what prayers one might say. The other day I was reading a detective novel by a writer who is reputed to research his work very well (told me by one who was consulted by the same writer on a certain issue). There was an exhumation in the course of the novel, and the writer recorded that the police chaplain was present and said some prayers about the person 'returning to us'.

Well, I'm not sure that the person was returning to us in any meaningful sense, but more interesting is the fact of the prayers themselves, and the sense that they might in some way be necessary or appropriate.

What I mean is this. I am a great fan of the archeological programme called Time Team; they are digging up skeletons all the time, but these are treated with no special reverence. In fact, I think that in most cases a bit of interesting pottery would get more attention.

And yet these skeletons are the remains of someone's son or daughter; they were presumably loved and valued in this life, but once those who did so have also died, then the necessity of treating their loved ones'  remains with reverence also vanishes.

It's a bit like the unborn, isn't it? An unborn child with loving and expectant parents is a baby. One without loved ones is merely a fœtus.

A skeleton with loved ones is in some sense human. One without is an archeological exhibit.

Which is why, when I watch Time Team and similar programmes, I say a quick prayer for the souls of those whose bodies they dig up. Maybe one day I'll be glad of somebody doing the same for me.

Saturday 15 September 2012

Ave Crux Spes Unica

I know I'm a day late with this, but I think it's worth posting about. For most of my priestly life I have used the traditional breviary, but since getting ill, I have reverted to the modern English breviary, simply to make sure that I get it done. Yesterday's Office of Readings had a meditation on the Holy Cross by St Andrew of Crete, and the whole office and Mass had a sense of Good Friday about it—understandable in one sense, particularly when taken with today's feast of Our Lady of Sorrows (or the Seven Sorrows, if you prefer).

When I was in my second parish as a curate, I remember celebrating the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, and placing out the church's relic of the true Cross for veneration. After Mass a screeching whirlwind swept into the sacristy while I was unvesting, and I knew I was in for it (again). We had a parishioner there, a wealthy professional lady who lived in the most exclusive district of the city, who assuaged her conscience about her large house, her smart car and her yacht by expressions of outrage if ever she saw the clergy with a new pair of shoes, or noticed a new set of vestments in the church 'while there are people starving in the world!' 'The Church should be poor', she would fulminate. Anyway, on this occasion, she screeched that I had destroyed the feast for her. 'This feast isn't about dubious relics!', she lectured me, 'it's about the poor and suffering in the world; it's about the handicapped, about those who have nothing.' And she swept out, no doubt to vent her outrage about the disgraceful curate to her friends over cappuccinos and croissants.

But, you know, she really was wrong. Actually, the feast is neither another Good Friday, nor about the poor and handicapped (apart from the sense that anything connected with the Cross can be said to apply to these), but really is about the relic itself.

The Roman Empire, for most of its history, had two main Nemesisses (anyone know the plural for Nemesis?); one was the Germans (a kind of loose term for all the tribes north and east of the Rhine), and the other was the Persians. By the time of the Emperor Maurice (reigned 582-602) in Constantinople, the various 'German' tribes had pretty well had their way with Rome and the West, and really there was only the East left. But the Persians were pretty frisky at that time, and the Byzantine Empire was weakened by plagues and famines, and taxation and civil wars. Maurice presided over a period of almost unremitting turmoil in the Empire, but was a vigorous and capable Emperor. Amongst other things, he established local governorships called Exarchates in which local Exarchs could take a certain amount of initiative in resisting the pressures that threatened the Empire. The Exarchate of Ravenna, for instance, had a measure of success in resisting the Lombards. Finding his health failing, he also began to take steps to divide the Empire into West and East again, to be ruled by his sons.

The Slavs began to make their presence felt, pushing down into the Balkans during this period. But the biggest pressure, however, came from Persia under Hormizd IV. He was overthrown in a coup, and Maurice helped a general called Chosroes to ascend the throne as Chosroes II, sealing a pact of friendship with him by marrying off his daughter to Chosroes. This freed him up to, fairly successfully, tackle the Slavs in the Balkans. In 602, however, he left the army in the Balkans (it was cheaper than bringing them home), which proved to be a mistake. The troops wanted to go home, and so elected Phocas as their candidate for Emperor, marching on Constantinople. Maurice was murdered — It is said that he was forced to watch the execution of his 5 sons before he himself was beheaded—his wife and daughters were sent to a convent. This was the first violent coup in Constantinople itself since the time of Constantine, and it is said that Phocas took considerable violent measures to sustain his control on power. Chosroes took the opportunity to invade.

Column of Phocas
Phocas (602-610) was popular in Rome; there is still a column in the Forum called the column of Phocas, and in 609 he gave the Pantheon to Pope Boniface IV to become the church of St Maria ad Martyres, a fact that preserved it for us. Hundreds of bodies were brought from the catacombs and reburied there—they had been under threat from invaders (first ‘barbarians’ of various types, then Saracens), since the catacombs were outside the city walls. Pope St Gregory fulsomely congratulated Phocas on his accession, and indeed he was popular in the early part of his reign for lowering taxes.

In 608, a father and son both named Heraclius (the Elder had been appointed by Maurice Exarch of Africa) began to revolt in Africa, issuing coins with their images, dressed as consuls, on it. Phocas responded by pulling the widow and daughters of Emperor Maurice out of their convent and executing them. Civil war broke out in the East and was so brutally repressed that popular opinion turned to Heraclius; with this distraction, the Persians, who had already advanced to the Euphrates, began to move into Anatolia. The younger Heraclius then advanced to Constantinople, 610, whereupon Phocas’ supporters deserted him, even Priscus his son-in-law. Phocas was captured and brought before Heraclius, who asked, "Is this how you have ruled, wretch?" Phocas replied, "And will you rule any better?" Enraged, Heraclius personally killed and beheaded Phocas on the spot. Phocas's body was mutilated, paraded through the capital, and burned.

Heraclius (610-641)took over the Empire in a desperate condition. Phocas, having used the Balkan troops to seize the throne, had abandoned that area to the Slav Avars. Chosroes, who had a pretender to the throne of Byzantium called Theodosius (who claimed to be a son of Maurice), also refused to recognize Heraclius as he had refused to recognize Phocas, and continued to march into Roman territory, despite Heraclius’ overtures of peace. 613, the Jews helped Chosroes to take Damascus—they also lynched the Patriarch—, and in 614 took Jerusalem, damaging the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and, crucially (no pun intended), capturing the Cross which had been discovered by St Helena, the mother of Constantine, three hundred years or so earlier, which had been kept in great veneration in Jerusalem, no doubt in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

The Cross was taken off to Persia as a trophy of war. A vast number of prisoners, too, were carried off from Jerusalem; figures vary from 35,000-60,000. Then the Persians took Egypt, including Alexandria, possibly being responsible for destroying the famous library, and certainly interrupting the grain shipments to Constantinople. They raided deep into Asia Minor, and even reached as far as Chalcedon, on the Asian side of the Bosphorus—it is said that the terrified inhabitants of Constantinople could see the Persian army’s fires from their walls. Even more terrifyingly, the Persians opened negotiations with the Avars. Heraclius considered moving the capital of the Empire to Carthage, where he had come from, thus abandoning the East altogether, but was dissuaded by the Patriarch Sergius I.

Instead, Heraclius concentrated on quietly building up the army. He then embarked on a brilliant coup. Instead of struggling to win back the lands that the Persians had taken, mile by mile, which would have been probably fatally exhausting, he relied on the fact that the Persians had put all their strength into taking those Roman provinces and holding them, and so he simply marched on Persia itself, leading the troops into battle himself, having done a deal with the Turks to invade Persia from the other side. He also neutralized a Persian general called Shahrbaraz by convincing him that Chosroes hated him and had ordered his execution.  At the Battle of Nineveh, 627, Heraclius decisively defeated a large Persian army. Chosroes refused to sue for peace, so Heraclius marched on Ctesiphon, the capital, whereupon the Persian nobles deposed Chosroes and appointed Kavadh II, who made peace, restoring the Roman Empire’s former territories. 
Heraclius scrapping with Chosrou II

That Christmas, Heraclius, who now took the Persian title ‘King of Kings’ (a title, as basileus, that was to be used by all Emperors instead of ‘Augustus’ for the next 800 years) celebrated the feast in the Monophysite Cathedral at Kirkuk. The Cross was restored in triumph to Jerusalem on 14th September 630, now celebrated as the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

And that is what the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross is all about.

Of course, the juice and joy was short-lived, for in the same year of 630, when the Cross was restored to Jerusalem, Mohammed led a force into Mecca and captured it, converting the population to Islam.  He died in 632. Four years later, in 636, (still under Heraclius) the Byzantine Empire, exhausted by its fight with the Persians, was defeated by the Islamic forces at Yermuk, and by 632 the Moslems had captured Mesopotamia, Persia, Roman Syria (including the Holy Land) and Roman Egypt. Except for the time of the Crusades, (and arguably 20th century Lebanon) these lands were never to be in Christian hands again.

Thursday 30 August 2012


I am not, of course, a fan of drinking and driving. But I suspect that, when younger, on occasion I may not have been quite as scrupulously careful as I am now.

The case of Archbishop-elect of San Francisco Salvatore Cordileone, who committed the offence known in the US as DUI, or 'driving under the influence' has caused a certain amount of schadenfreude among the liberal Catholic Church in North America. The reason is that His Excellency is a believing Catholic who has made the Church's teaching plain in any number of areas, among them sexuality. No doubt in Texas his remarks would have gone unremarked, but he is a bishop in California, where sexual and cultural mores are rather looser than just about anywhere else in the world. And San Francisco is the epicentre. If you have a strong stomach (and are over 18), just google images with the tag 'Folsom' and you'll see what I mean. But don't say I didn't warn you.

The appointment of Cordileone to San Francisco is, then, in some senses like a purple rag to a pink bull, and he has drawn down fire on his head for his inhuman, antediluvian, views. Being stopped for DUI, then, is a gift to those who would discredit him before he even puts his rear down on the throne at the Cathedral of St Mary of the Assumption. Fr Z has something to say about this, as you would expect.

The Pastor in Valle with the Bishop.
H/T. Brothers of the San Diego Little Oratory
But so have I. And you may be surprised to learn that, slightly, I know His Excellency. At least, I have met with him, discussed some matters seriously with him, preached in his presence, and have several friends who know him rather better than I do, though no doubt he has forgotten who I am.  I met him on a visit to San Diego, where he was then an auxiliary bishop, a few years ago. I think that never have I been so positively impressed by any higher cleric; I said to myself at the time that he would go far. The then Bishop of San Diego, under whom he was working, was a complicated individual, and it was clear to me that the real father of the diocese was Cordileone.

His extraordinary name, which translates as Saviour Lion-Heart could come from St Malachy himself. His defence of the faith has been widely noted, but what has not is his personal warmth. He has in spades what is sometimes called the 'common touch'; the ability to put people at their ease, to be a man among men and not insist on being the centre of attention. He is willing to celebrate an Extraordinary Form Pontifical High Mass, but also willing to play the saxophone at the do afterwards. At a reception I attended with him (he being the guest of honour), the event was nearly scuppered because nobody had remembered to bring a corkscrew. 'Don't despair', he said, 'I just happen to have one in my car'. Ironic, given recent events.

What particularly needs stating, given the nasty things people are saying about him, is that he and I in a corner discussed his real desire to care for people in San Diego suffering from AIDS. He felt (and presumably still feels) that if the Church is going to convince with her teaching on human sexuality, it had to be presented in tandem with a real compassion for fallen humanity. It is easy to dismiss the Church as a monstrous puritan killjoy that, like the Pharisees, ties up burdens too heavy for people to bear, and refuses to lift a finger to help. We need to demonstrate that our teachings rather flow out of love for people and a desire for their greatest good. That means being prepared to kiss the leper, and the Bishop was under no illusions that many (including Catholics) in San Diego thought that as AIDS sufferers had 'brought it on themselves', they should be left to die in the gutter. This, he knew, was a deeply unchristian attitude, and he was concerned that, even if, out of prudence, the work with AIDS sufferers could not be publicized much, had to be done on the quiet, then the compassion of Christ, who sat down to eat with sinners, still needed to be applied in their case.

I suppose it is unsurprising that the devil should have sought to damage Bishop Cordileone's reputation so quickly. But the bishop has not blustered, denied, sought to hush up or distract attention away from his fault, but has frankly acknowledged his guilt and asked forgiveness. Kudos to him. May he flourish in San Francisco, and may his diocese flourish under his leadership. I think that even his critics there will discover what a treasure they have acquired if they give him a chance.

Wednesday 29 August 2012

Fr Hugh Thwaites SJ — a personal memoir

Fr Hugh Thwaites SJ
H/T Fr Tim Finigan
Others have written about Fr Hugh's life far better than I could, about his conversion, his time as a prisoner of war, and as a working priest in Brixton. So I thought that I would simply write a personal memoir about my experience of that very remarkable man.

When I think of Fr Hugh Thwaites, the word that comes most readily to mind is 'simple'. Not in the sense of stupidity, not at all, but in the sense of uncomplicated directness. In this he was a true son of St Ignatius; for Fr Hugh, there never seemed to be any shades of grey. Instead he worked out in his own mind what needed to be done, and simply did it without regret, without considering how that might affect his own dignity or position. His decisions were easily made and steadfastly adhered to. His opinions likewise were simply arrived at and adhered to with ardour.

He was, I think, the most humble man I have ever known, and inspired by that I am going, for once, to fess up myself. Once, on board a ship bound overnight for France, I and a priest friend, having parted for the night from Fr Hugh and another priest friend, they being bound for another cabin corridors away, spent a pleasant hour or so in our bunks cheerfully lampooning the characteristics of Fr Hugh. In the morning, the friend who had shared with Fr Hugh was tight-lipped and furious with us. By some strange quirk of the ship's construction, the corridors that had taken them off into the bowels of the ship had returned them to the cabin that was back-to-back with ours, separated by only the very thinnest of walls. In other words, everything had been heard by him and Fr Hugh himself. My friend reassured me 'and he has the very keenest hearing. I have never been so embarrassed'. Well, I was horrified, as you would imagine. But Fr Hugh never failed throughout our trip (we were actually going on retreat together) to treat me with the greatest kindness as ever. He gave no sign of resentment, and eventually I thought that the only thing to do was to go to confession to him and acknowledge it there. Even then there was no reproach or even allusion to the incident, but, on afterwards me talking to him about my difficulties with mental prayer, he simply said 'oh gosh; I'm no good at praying at all.'

About his Ignatian directness; I remember on that same retreat (he was conducting it for a group of English priests in a French monastery) he, smiling gently as ever, said 'I'm going to talk about hell now; I always think I should talk about hell on a retreat.' We all smiled to each other tolerantly and relaxed back. I shall never forget his opening words; 'Most priests go to hell'. Well you don't forget words like that. And in the same gentle smiling way he went through the scriptures and the lives of the saints underlining the reality and the appalling nature of hell. Our tolerant smiles tightened, then froze, and then went into rictuses of horror, because we were (and are) all believing and traditionally-minded Catholics who naturally profess the existence of hell—we would just rather think about something else. He knew that we really needed to confront the reality of the consequences of a sinful life.

I didn't agree with him about everything. I remember being quite shocked at his policy of instructing converts (of whom he had many quiversful). 'I simply tell them how to pray the Rosary', he said. 'It's got everything they need to know in it.' I still prudently doubt the wisdom of this. But then wisdom was not really one of his specialities. He had something much better; holiness, and I think that that was the thing that attracted people.

I can think of three English Jesuits that I have admired (I have only known a few Jesuits); Fr Hugh, the late Fr Paul Crane, and the living Fr John Edwards. All three have, or had, a quirkiness which one might better define as a single-mindedness of purpose that sees a goal and simply goes for it, ignoring the details if they seem to distract from the end. Fr Hugh's inadequate instruction and his work in Brixton, Fr Paul Crane's highly independent apostolate of Christian Order and at Claver House, Fr Edwards' cavalier approach to the rubrics with his mini-Masses. In some ways, this seems to be so typically Jesuit in a way admirable, and in another way, not. I have in the past likened the Jesuits (at their best) to the buttresses of a great Cathedral. If you are inside the building, the buttresses seem to be outside, doing their own thing. If you are outside, you can see that actually they are keeping the whole thing standing up. Which is why the Jesuits have been feared and mistrusted both inside and outside the Church down through the ages. And the Jesuits' great perception, inherited from St Francis Xavier, that the souls in Brixton or Uganda or China are of equal value to the souls in Sunningdale or Ascot in the eyes of our Lord, is something that the Church needs to keep reminding herself.

There are so many of us who owe Fr Hugh so much. I will never forget him and the lessons I learnt from him. Especially:
1) That hell is real, and a greater possibility for us who are pastors of the Lord's flock.
2) That all souls are created in the image and likeness of God, and have equal value.
3) That prayer is much more than the acquisition of a technique; it is not something one has to be 'good at'; it is something one simply must do.
4) The importance of the rosary
5) The importance of acquiring the virtue of humility.

I feel I want to close with the customary 'May his soul rest in peace'. But, like Cæsar Baronius after the death of St Philip Neri, there is something that sticks in my throat about it in this instance. I have already begun to ask his prayers, and have already begun to receive an answer in one case……

Tuesday 21 August 2012

Fr Hugh Thwaites

I am, from a human point of view, so sorry to read on Fr Tin Finigan's blog of the death of Fr Hugh Thwaites SJ. And I am so glad for him; he never seemed entirely at home in this world. I will write something more considered soon, please God. In the meantime, may God rest his dear soul. Euge, serve bone!

Friday 17 August 2012

Latin, Jim, but not as we know it

Here's one for the latinists among you. It's from the Sarum Tonal.

Omnis antiphona primi toni que incipit in desolre descendendo in cefaut et statim saltat ad gesolreut per efaut, et postea ab efaut per gesolreut vel sine gesolreut ascendit ad alamire.

Well I have wasted a lot of time trying to figure this out. Though it has been fascinating in a rather frustrating way. It didn't take that long to discover that all those strange terms are names for the degrees of the musical scale.

It is common knowledge that what we call our 'major' scale derives from the work of a Benedictine monk, Guido d'Arezzo (d.about 1050), who worked out that each half verse of the hymn to St John the Baptist ascends a step, and thus might provide a sort of musical mnemonic.

UT queant laxis
REsonare fibris
MIra gestorum
FAmuli tuorum
SOLve polluti
LAbii reatum, Sancte Joannes.

So, Ut, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La. Which ought to ring a bell. If you substitute Do for Ut, and add a Ti (to drink with jam and bread), it will bring us back to Do.

But d'Arezzo's scale (and 'scale' means ladder) didn't include the Ti, so only had six notes. This is sometimes known as the Hexachord, or the Scala Aretina (Arezzo's ladder). Long before Messrs. Rodgers and Hammerstein got to work with Do a Deer (which seems to suggest granny-bashing), many composers had used the simple Hexachord as a cantus firmus for very splendid music—Palestrina, for instance, wrote a Hexachord Mass. Indeed, the challenge was precisely to make something extraordinary from what is really quite a dull motif. But this dull motif was recognized by all as the most important building-block of music, and therefore composing explicitly to it was an act of homage to d'Arezzo.

The point of the hexachord is that it is not necessarily pitch-related: what we call 'keys' are all applications of the same hexachord with Do (or Ut) being really at any pitch you want. As time went on, the seventh degree of the scale (which we call Ti) was added, and so the hexachord ('six notes') became an Octave ('eight notes'), with a Do (or Ut) at each end. And, voila, we have modern music.

Once you have musical instruments, though, then fixed pitch, a common agreement as to how to judge a note, is going to be important. A wind instrument, still less an organ, cannot adjust as the human voice can, to any pitch. They are strictly limited by physical constraints of holes along a tube. And, since the West has liked to use musical instruments in church for a very long time, this is no doubt why the quarter tones so typical of, say, Greek chant, are not a feature of Western music. If an organ is going to play with a crumhorn, then both need to agree as to pitch, or they will play out of tune with each other. Ut re me fa sol la will not help them here.

And so the mediævals came up with names for the various degrees of pitch, which were really concretized (sorry) elements of d'Arezzo's scale. To wit:

And it won't take a genius to work out that this corresponds to our modern and simpler pitch names of A, B, C, D, E, F and G. No doubt the reason that Alamire does not sit where Ut does, but rather on La, is that so much liturgical music, Gregorian Chant, preceded the Scala Aretina in composition—though not notation—and tends more commonly to 'home' on what we call A, just as our 'minor' scale does. But that is to get into the question of 'modes', which is another matter.

What intrigues me is the names the mediævals gave to the pitches. Perhaps here one of you can help. If you subtract the first letter or two, then the names actually have elements from the Scala Aretina:-
(Ce-)sol-fa-ut and so forth.
But what do they refer to? I wondered whether they might represent the corresponding snatches of the hymn Ut queant laxis, but I can't make them fit. In fact, they don't seem to have much shape at all.

But we can at least now translate that puzzling bit of Latin at the top of this post:
All antiphons of the first tone which begin on D, then go down to C and straight away jump up to G by way of E &c.&c.

Monday 13 August 2012

Shepherds and Spats

When I was ordained a deacon back in 1988, it was the custom to send the new cleric directly into parish ministry: I went to St Joseph's, Elm Grove, in Brighton. It wasn't a great success, I have to confess: there were too many things to get used to all at once and, looking back on it, I think I had a little version of what I have just gone through. But let's not go there; it all worked out fine in the end. There was a nice URC minister at the church which was then on the Lewes Road—I've forgotten his name, and his church has now been demolished—and I remember asking him how he exercised his ministry, how he spent his working hours, in other words. 'Oh, mostly in meetings' he cheerfully replied. 'That's what we do.' I was appalled, and very glad that I was a Catholic.

Some years later, in my second priestly curacy (at the Sacred Heart church in Hove), the Parish Priest, Fr Tony Churchill, remarked to me; 'make the most of your curacy: you get all the nice bits of being a priest, and very few of the horrid bits'. I remember his words, but at the time I didn't really believe him. It was frustrating wanting to do things my way (which, of course, would have been much better), but not being able to. And now, I know just how right he was.

During the last few months, I have done a lot of reflecting on my time here in the Valle Adurni. I asked myself how on earth I managed to give myself a breakdown when it didn't seem to me that I had done very much priestly work at all. Above all (and I came in for a lot of criticism for this), I did very little visiting, including of the sick. I made sure that they received the sacraments, of course, but it was a constant reproach to me that I could never summon up the energy to do what was necessary in that regard. Despite being a blogger, I am a very shy person, and it takes a great deal of effort to cross somebody's threshold. So where did all the energy go, then?

Well, mostly on collaborative ministry. Which meant meetings. I genuinely like working with others and sharing the decisions. But if I have to take responsibility for the decisions, I want always to be part of their making.

In the pages of The Tablet, and similar publications, we hear time and time again the plea for the laity to be given real power in the Church. Take this example for instance, a letter to the Holy Father (one of the famous 'Vatileaks' letters) from two very wealthy (they were the owners of C&A) Dutch Catholics, Hubert and Aldegonde Brenninkmeijer-Werhan. Nobody should doubt the historic commitment of the Brenninkmeijer family to the faith. Not only have they been outstandingly generous to Catholic causes, both personally, and via C&A, but have also provided many vocations; I have known, to some extent, one Brenninckmeyer who was a monk at Worth Abbey, and another who was the Provincial of the Dutch Jesuits. They seem to incline to the more 'liberal' end of things, as you might expect.
Your Holiness,
Peace be with you and the Church of Jesus entrusted to you… It is with a profound sense of sadness that we must once again note that even well-educated Catholics, Catholics all over Europe, are leaving the hierarchical Church in growing numbers but without abandoning their faith in Christ. Whatever the motives for such behaviour, I would like to recall the words of the prophet Jeremiah: "Woe to the shepherds that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture" (Jer.23:1-4) Where are the shepherds that seriously follow the people entrusted to them without being fundamentalists, who with attentive and judicious love keep an eye on the whole flock and are able to lead and guide people in a modern way? Why are bishops appointed in Europe that neither have contact with the "flock", nor trust them?…
I think that maybe the Brenninkmeijers might think a little about these shepherds who follow their sheep: shepherds who do that tend not to have many sheep left. It was a bad analogy to choose, for in reality shepherds either lead their sheep from the front, or else drive them with dogs!

This cry for the laity to be given power in the Church is frequently raised as a solution to the shortage of priestly vocations. And the solution to such problems as priests having breakdowns. If the laity ran the practical side of things, made all the major decisions, the argument goes, the priest could concentrate on what he is ordained for.

The trouble is that this is not really what is meant. When a lay person says 'give the laity power', what he usually means is 'let me make the decisions', because the truth is that in a room of fifty lay people you will have at least thirty different opinions.

It's a familiar distortion; you can see it everywhere 'what young people want is……'. The most you can say is that 'some young people want………'. The above-mentioned Fr Churchill had a custom, when being confronted with the statement 'everybody is saying X', or replying 'name six who are saying that!' In reality, almost always what is meant is that the person saying it has said it to others who may have agreed with him, or they may not, having simply kept quiet to avoid an argument.

Horrific spats
Hence the creation of the meeting. In the end, the priest has to attend most of them, because it is in meetings that all the disagreements are thrashed out, and there is nobody who can mediate between often quite firmly held and expressed views other than the priest. When the priest is not present to exercise some leadership (even if he does not take the chair) things really can degenerate horribly. I am not suggesting in a patronising sort of way that the class riot when the teacher is out of the classroom, but simply that when there is no commonly-recognized authority, the strongest inevitably rise to the top, and it is they who will direct, often with a private agenda and minimal theological expertise, what is to be done. There are authoritarian priests, and sometimes these are resented (even justifiably resented). But authoritarian layfolk are resented far more. I have witnessed some horrific spats.

And since the priest must take ultimate responsibility for the decisions made in these meetings, he must be a part of their making, and sometimes head off trouble. Collaborating with the laity means just that, working alongside the laity. But some think that it means replacing the priest with the laity. That way lies disaster, in my opinion and experience.

The priest, then, who seriously wishes to engage with the laity and discuss things with them must be prepared to attend an awful lot of meetings. These will take a great deal of time and energy. The problem I experienced was, having been put in charge of two parishes with effectively three communities, the number of meetings was at least double what my predecessors had. And more than that, because the meetings were actually increased during the interregnums before I arrived. The existing parishes had been promised that they could retain full independence of operation even though canonically they would be merged into one new parish.

I think it was genuinely envisaged that because the laity would run things in each case, it wouldn't make more work for the priest. But for all the reasons I have outlined above, it didn't work like that.

Our parish secretary said to me one day that her husband absolutely refused to attend meetings, because they achieve very little, and take enormous effort to even do that. Suddenly, she added 'too right! I hate to think how many hours of meetings I have attended to do something that could have been settled with a couple of emails!'

That started me thinking, and in a later post I'll tell you the way my mind is working and get your feedback.

But for now, let's just make a couple of conclusions.

We need to ask what a priest is for. His time and energy are limited, and they need to be expended in the most fruitful way in accord with what is necessary.

To put it baldly: is it more important that I attend the sick, get involved with evangelizing the young, help people to learn to pray and to know what is important, to pray with and for the people of God, to make my prayer-life more than just Mass and private-and-rushed Breviary, to have time to study and to prepare my homilies carefully, that I go regularly into our schools, hospitals, nursing homes; that I spend a goodly time in the confessional &c. &c.

Or is it more important that I build a community that shares power, that is fulfilling for its members, where everybody feels they belong and have a say, that they enjoy themselves and love each other; where different people are able to express their gifts in a supportive and inclusive environment? &c. &c.

Well, both would be nice, but I am (just about) living evidence that you can't have both.

In the end, some consider that the job of the priest is either one or the other. In which case I choose the first, but am constrained to do the second. This has to change.

After all, being a priest is, first and foremost, about salvation, not about community-building. If I wanted to be a community-builder, I would have been a pub landlord, or a comedian, or a social worker. That is a true lay role, in my opinion.

Sunday 12 August 2012

Still hanging in there……

This morning, I celebrated two concurrent public Masses (at 9 and 11) just to see how it would go. Fine, is the answer. After the 11 I had a headache, but nothing worse. During the week, I celebrated publicly on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday.

This is wonderful. A month ago, only a month ago, I was seriously trying to cope with the prospect of perhaps never working as a priest in ministry again—not because that was what I wanted, but because that is where the illness had taken me. There are others in this situation, and, frankly, I have nothing but compassion and prayer for them. Having (nearly) been there, I know what it is like.

The only identifiable change in behaviour has been asking for, and benefitting from, your prayers.

God bless you.

And please pray for these others, whose names I cannot mention, for their sake.

And if you meet someone 'burnt-out', as they say, please be kind.

Sunday 29 July 2012

On the way

This is just to keep those of you still interested in touch. By the grace of God, my improvement, due to your prayers, has endured. I have been able to offer Mass publicly each Sunday (and twice this Sunday!) and even preach; also three times during the week I have celebrated. A month ago I could not have contemplated this. God bless those of you to whose prayers I owe this grace. On another matter, I have been experiencing problems with my broadband connection. Sky promised to fix it within ten days, but, a fortnight later, I am still without a connection, or any sort of information from Mr Murdoch. So I shall talk to Mr Branson and see whether his cables can do any better. That done, I hope that I shall be back on blogging form. This comes to you via Three 3G connection and an iPad.