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.