Wednesday 18 December 2013


Read this. (Click on it, I mean.)

My shortest post.

Saturday 14 December 2013

Filthy Lucre

Someone asked me: 'so how are Catholic Clergy paid, then?'

Well, there are many different answers to that. Some dioceses collect in all the various myriad methods of income and pay each priest a salary. That makes things very easy for filling in a tax return.

My diocese, like many others, sticks to the ancient system, which is mostly governed by custom. The priest is guaranteed his board and lodging, which (within reason) can be paid for directly from the parish account. We are allotted a weekly sum for our food, for which we do not need to present receipts; the figure, however, has not changed since at least 1995, despite all the inflation since then. This, I gather, is an Inland Revenue stipulation, not the diocese's. Inevitably, a lot of that figure goes on entertaining; people help themselves generally to coffee, milk, biscuits &c on a daily basis, and this is very hard to quantify as generally parishioners on business share the presbytery kitchen with me.

We have to buy our own car, but receive 45p/mile to run it on parish business.

Then there comes private income. Well, this can vary substantially according to the parish we serve. One source is the system of Mass stipends. This is a bit like the mediæval chantry system; basically, you pay a priest to celebrate Mass for the intention you direct. The idea originally was that the sum should keep a priest for a day. Of course these days the sum is usually a token, and I know of no priest who would refuse to say Mass for someone who couldn't pay (if he were to refuse, it would be very redolent of simony, I think). Some priests refuse Mass stipends altogether, a position I have some sympathy with, though in parishes where the other forms of income are lacking or low, (especially where the Church is under pressure for one reason or another) they can be a lifeline.

After this, there are 'stole fees'. There are no charges for the sacraments, but it is customary to make an offering to the priest or deacon who officiates at weddings, baptisms and funerals. Generally speaking he may spend quite some time on each service, with the preparation &c, and this may be reflected in the offering. No figure is specified; it is left to the generosity or resources of the individual to decide.

The other source of income (and the largest) is the two collections at Christmas and Easter. Instead of going into parish funds, the collection taken at Mass is divided among the priests of the parish. This does not include the money paid by standing order, which goes to the parish as usual (I'm not sure people know that), nor the money recovered from Gift Aid (since individual priests are not charities).

So you will understand that working things out for the annual tax return is not much fun, especially if the individual struggles with numbers as I do. The government even require us to estimate the second-hand value of the furniture in the presbytery and tax us on it.

In this country, deacons are not paid at all, other than their stole fees. They do it all for the love of God. And I think their reward will be great in heaven.

That's how it works, folks.


I cannot tell you how glad I am to have the return of Fr Hunwicke, now unquestionably my brother and priest, to the blogosphere. I'm well aware that his calm logical style will not be to everyone's taste, but his simple rational ability to cut through the crap (forgive me!) is just what we need right now. His most recent post on the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate is one of his best. Euge!

Friday 13 December 2013


Today I had a funeral; the deceased (please say a prayer for her) was not practising for many years, nor were her relatives and friends, so the service was in the Crematorium. That was a feature on its own, because the minister who preceded me exceeded his allotted time unapologetically and truncated what I could offer to the deceased lady and her loved ones.

However, some things occurred which interested me. The first was a comment from an undertaker who had had to deal with the preceding service. He is a nice guy, and we chatted about the services at which he assisted. He remarked that he had no time for clergy who stuck their noses into a book and simply read things out; 'I would like to think that my loved ones wouldn't simply have rehashed material' he said; 'I would like to think that this was the first and last time that something had been heard'. I pointed out that I was actually required to perform the rites of the Church, but he wasn't impressed. No good; I don't think we'll be doing his funeral.

Our conversation (it was quite protracted, because the service beforehand was seriously overrunning) then went on to secularist/humanist services. We talked about the fact that secularist service officiants could simply set themselves up as officiants without any training or expertise. He commented that there was a lady locally who set herself up as something of the sort, and also offered training for 'secular' officiants; she charges £600 for the course and is coining it, apparently. The undertaker told me that he would never employ this lady himself for any sort of a funeral; apparently her 'services' are dire beyond belief (no pun intended).

Another common feature these days is clergy who have obtained ordination from some source or another and set themselves up as funeral officiants. Their ordination comes from 'Old Catholic' sources, or 'Liberal Catholic' sources, none in communion with the Catholic Church or indeed with the Church of England or any other mainstream Christian Communion. But these 'clergy' make a nice living at funerals, and are a serious threat to the Church of England clergy. These days the Church Commissioners of the Church of England decree a fee of £160 plus for a funeral: in the past I and most priests have simply said to undertakers who are perplexed by our reluctance to charge a specific fee for a service, 'give us what the Church of England specify'. But £160 seems excessive to most of us, and we generally, in high embarrassment, suggest to the undertakers some lower figure. But not these 'vagi' (vagus=wandering, unattached, cleric) who, having obtained some sort of ordination from once source or another, make a rare old living locally, and no doubt elsewhere in the country. These people are less of a threat to us, though it is not unknown for them to contact the undertaker firms introducing themselves as 'Catholic priests'; we had a case locally, where the Dean had to intervene. Pressed, these vagi will confirm that they are 'independent Catholic priests', but to an undertaker who is having difficulty finding a priest or deacon for a family who won't notice the difference…… And there are lots of these guys around, it seems.

This vagus situation bites particularly hard for the Anglicans who, when in active ministry, are required to hand over all stipends to the Church Commissioners in exchange for their salary. Anyone else (including us Catholics) can simply trouser the fee*. So to see these vagi, ordained by strange wandering bishops, hoovering up their parishioners for a fat fee, when they themselves would have received nothing for the service adds to the sense of annoyance. And it would seem that the word is getting around that this is a lucrative market. And, presumably, as the number of services reaching Anglican clergy declines, the Church Commissioners will be required to put the fees up again simply to try and break even.

The undertaker I was speaking to today commented 'there aren't enough funerals to go around for all the clergy these days!'

*—in our case because we are not salaried at all; our income comes from such sources as these.

Saturday 7 December 2013

Dumbing down

I don't know if anyone else saw that programme on BBC4 this week, Byzantium, a tale of three cities. It was pretty disappointing, so don't rush to see the next episode. When one considers how much they pay to make these programmes, it staggers me that they do not set aside a little bit of the budget to employ someone to make sure they get their historical facts right. I suppose that what they are trying to do is make a good story, so why let facts get in their way? Perhaps it is because they employ scriptwriters to write these things, not historians. A historian would have been able to help a scriptwriter negotiate the sweep of history with greater accuracy, dismissing nutcases or distracting minor stories and helping the larger picture appear.

I don't think there were any actual nutcases in the programme, but there were annoying distractions, such as the guy with a private theory about having discovered Constantine's real tomb, which he identified on the grounds of it having peg holes drilled into the sides (because we know that Constantine's tomb had hangings around it) and a labarum (the Chi-Rho) on a gable end. That's pretty thin evidence; I'm sure more than Constantine's tomb had hangings, and after his time the labarum was in common use.

The two egregious errors that annoyed me most were the definition of Arianism (which Simon Sebag Montefiore pronounced 'arrianism') as being a heresy that said that Jesus was a mere human being, and the assertion that Constantine was converted to Christianity at the battle of the Milvian bridge.

The latter error may, perhaps, be forgiven: it is a common view, and I think that both Eusebius and Lactantius (our main sources for that episode) wanted to create that impression with their accounts. But the evidence paints a much more interesting picture.

Nobody doubts that Constantine died a Christian. He was baptized (by the Arian Eusebius of Nicomedia, as it happens) on his deathbed. But what happened between the Milvian Bridge and his baptism is not straightforward. Only a short while before the battle, he had had, in Autun, a vision not of Christ, but of Apollo. His coinage for the next ten years carried an inscription of devotion to the sun God (identified with Apollo) soli invicto comiti. Though the Edict of Milan (whose 1700th anniversary we celebrate this year) expressly ended persecution of Christianity, Constantine did not identify himself with it for many years. There seems to have been a sort of syncretistic policy followed of devotion to the 'Summus Deus': a notion of divinity that leaves the individual believer to fill in the blanks according to his own taste. 'We all worship the Highest God; you may call him Christ, I'll call him Apollo.'

Some historians point to the fact that the Chi-Rho / labarum was never used by Christians before Constantine's time. The labarum, not a simple cross, seems to have been the sign that he saw in the sky before the battle; some have suggested that in fact the labarum is a sign of Apollo. But the CH+R can certainly be made to suggest 'Christ', especially if you aren't worried about blurring the two a little.

In the cemetery which lies under St Peter's Basilica in Rome, there is a tomb which is without doubt Christian. In that tomb is a mosaic which would appear to show Christ—but is it Christ? It shows a bright charioteer, which is usually our representation of Apollo. Was there a deliberate policy of identifying Christ and Apollo in those early days of Constantine?

And, more intriguingly, was this the way that Constantine was induced to adopt the Christian faith? And if that is so, then who did the inducing? Who led him from a paganism sympathetic to Christianity to a wholehearted profession of the faith? My money is on a shadowy figure called Hosius of Cordoba. He was with Constantine from at least the Milvian Bridge to after Nicæa as, effectively his closest religious adviser. It was he, probably, who came up with the word 'Homoousios' at Nicæa, and thereby solved one problem and created others. He was to live on to over a hundred years old, being probably tortured into signing an Arian creed in extreme old age.

Can we honestly say that in fact a sort of syncretistic gradualism, or even dumbing down, was used to lead Constantine slowly into the faith? Well, maybe.

Let's go back to that porphyry supposed tomb of Constantine. The significance of that labarum which was on the gable end was missed by the programme. It was set into the loop of an Egyptian Ankh, the symbol of life. The ankh is known to have been used by Christians for a while: you can find it called the Coptic Cross or crux ansata, but it leads me to wonder whether there was more syncretism going on in those days than we might find comfortable. The picture shows a Christian ankh, with an ordinary cross in the loop rather than a labarum.

And here is another thought. It is becoming increasingly clear that, improbably, Celtic Christianity owes a great deal to Egyptian Christianity. Could this perhaps be the source of the famous celtic cross?

I could probably go on, but I must go and do a wedding. Pray for Lisa and Mark, please.

Thursday 26 September 2013

Not asking for much

On the whole I like the new translation, as I think I have said before. But in the last couple of days I have come across a couple of real oddities.

The first was on Tuesday, when I celebrated my 24th anniversary of ordination. The postcommunion prayer in the Mass For the Priest Himself On the Anniversary of his Ordination (what a lot of capitalization!)
For the glory of your name, O Lord, I have joyfully celebrated the mystery of faith to mark the anniversary of my priestly ordination, so that I may be in truth what I have handled mystically in this sacrifice. Through Christ our Lord.
That isn't a prayer; it's a statement, informing God of something he presumably doesn't already know.

And yes, I'm afraid I used the prayers for the feast of our Lady, too.

And today's Prayer over the Gifts, for the feast of Ss Cosmas and Damian:
In honour of the precious death of your just ones, O Lord, we come to offer that sacrifice from which all martyrdom draws its meaning [in case you haven't noticed]. Through Christ our Lord.
Now that's just weird.

Actually, in the second case it's not the translators' fault. Here's the Latin:
In tuórum, Dómine, pretiósa morte iustórum, sacrifícium illud offérimus, de quo martyrium sumpsit omne princípium. Per Christum.
But it is perhaps an example where the translators should not have been quite so literal. It should have been easier in the case of the For The Priest Himself example:
Ad glóriam, Dómine, tui nóminis ánnua festa répetens sacerdotális exórdii, mystérium fídei laetánter celebrávi, ut in veritáte hoc sim, quod in sacrifício mystice tractávi. Per Christum.
The 'sim' presumably could have been massaged into 'may I become'. Latinists no doubt can make more of this than I, poor mumpsimus.

These 'prayers' may well be ancient (I don't know whether they are or aren't); but they remain distinctly odd.

Saturday 7 September 2013


I miss Pope Benedict like a missing limb. His pontificate has been one of the most important stays of my 24 years of priesthood. It will feed me till my life's end. I wanted it to go on till then at least.

But I thank God too for Pope Francis. I believe that he is precisely the man we need right now. He can produce the right sound bite, can articulate simple truths without complication. I truly mean that as a compliment. If our philosophy and theology are to find acceptance, we need pastors who have the common touch, and Pope Francis does it wonderfully.

Friday 6 September 2013

Disgusted of Shoreham

They say that in the journalistic silly season one is apt to find all sorts of silly stories in the press, just to fill space. But with all the goings-on in Iraq, and much else to occupy us, it is depressing to find the Brighton Evening Argus starting a small media storm about my dear friend Fr Ray Blake, whose work with the poor is very well known. I cannot fathom what led Bill Gardner to put such a horrible spin on an innocent post on Fr Ray's blog. You need only go to Fr Ray's blog and see what he wrote to see the wicked unfairness of what the Argus, and now several daily papers are alleging.

Sunday 1 September 2013

The many blessings of 'Benedict'

I am writing this in a Benedictine monastery—Minster Abbey in Kent, as it happens—and am reflecting on just how important the name of Benedict has been over the ages, not least in the person of our Pope Emeritus.

And now there is something else. No doubt you all think I have been living under a stone for the last few months (and to some extent I have, that is true, due to not very good health) not to have discovered this before; now I am thrilled to have discovered for myself the Benedictus College project.

A few years ago it was my very good fortune to have encountered the University of Dallas: I did some work for them on their summer programmes in England, as chaplain and doing some history teaching and tutoring. There I encountered for the first time a real 'liberal arts' programme, which was designed to introduce American young people to their own cultural inheritance.

The key to such a programme is almost the antithesis of so much of modern education: instead of trying to pull apart and dissect great writers and artists,
'what's wrong with Aristotle's categories?'
'why doesn't the ontological argument work?'
'what's wrong with Shakespeare?'
'detect the misogyny in Thomas Hardy'
'what does Bleak House make you feel?'
it starts from the premiss that great thinkers and artists are, well, great thinkers and artists that have made a substantial contribution to mankind and have to some extent created all the good stuff we have in the world today. It encourages us to sit at their feet and actually listen to what they have to say before we wade in with our own half-baked opinions (surely the most egregious instance of hubris around today).

This approach has, literally, transformed the lives of thousands of Americans, and inspired them to truly  be able to, as it were, stand on the shoulders of giants and see further, as Newton put it. This approach is often distilled into what is known as a 'great books course', which looks simply at the writers and thinkers whose contributions have gone to make up what we think of as Western civilization and thought. This approach is truly constructive, rather than destructive; it creates civilized human beings, renaissance men and women whose lives are immeasurably enriched by what they discover.

So I am absolutely thrilled to discover that this approach is now going to be made available in Britain. It has been talked about for years (it wouldn't surprise me to discover that the energetic Forester family are involved in it somewhere), and now something finally seems to be happening. Do go and explore their website, and I'll bet that, like me, you were wishing you were able to do at least some of the course.

That means, of course, that it isn't cheap; I couldn't afford it. I don't see education authorities giving any sort of a grant for something so obviously useful. And I guess I'm too old, too. But, my goodness, if I were a bishop, I'd be trying to make sure that my seminarians had something of this experience before beginning seminary studies. And if there were an opportunity for mature students, then it would be a terrific sabbatical experience for the jaded. Perhaps Benedictus might think of this as an option.

I'm convinced that once this course becomes established, it will prove highly influential, and begin the great fight-back against the destructive and cynical current educational trends in the UK.

Go, Benedictus!

Wednesday 7 August 2013


There is an amazing exhibition on the spread of Western European Christianity up to the middle ages (and a little bit of the counter-Reformation church too) which has just opened in Paderborn. I really am very tempted to get on a plane and go to see it. The organizers have gathered together an extraordinary quantity of fascinating artefacts from all around Europe, very well chosen and organized. The accompanying literature, a guide and a catalogue/essay-festschrift, look wonderful, beautifully illustrated. Among other delights offered is, on 17th August, a guided tour of the exhibition in Latin! The exhibition will continue until early November.
You can visit the website here.


I don't usually repeat stuff that has already appeared on other blogs—life's too short. But I feel that I must record my protest against the serving of the Blessed Sacrament from plastic coffee cups in Brazil at the Papal Mass. Enough reproach has been written on this by other writers, so I won't elaborate, but I wanted to add my voice to those revolted at the indignity. Some acts of devotional reparation would seem to be called for.

Update- a parishioner said to me this evening 'I wouldn't even serve coffee in a plastic coffee cup!'

Monday 29 July 2013


The Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate have been forbidden by the Holy See to celebrate Mass in the Extraordinary Form.

In addition to the above, the Holy Father Francis has directed that every religious of the congregation of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate is required to celebrate the liturgy according to the ordinary rite and that, if the occasion should arise, the use of the extraordinary form (Vetus Ordo) must be explicitly authorized by the competent authorities, for every religious and/or community that makes the request.

Read all about it on Sandro Magister.

Saturday 27 July 2013

The war .on drugs

Do go over to The The Bones You have Crushed May Thrill and read his article on the legalisation of drug use. It deserves to be read. 'Boney' is someone who really knows many addicts very well, and this gives his words considerable force.

Saturday 20 July 2013

Silverstream Priory

Fr Mark at the main entrance
Recently I had to make a visit to Ireland to visit a relative who was staying in Drogheda, a town I had never properly visited before. Since I was in the area, I took the opportunity to visit the little Benedictine community at Stamullen, where the prior, Fr Mark Daniel Kirby writes his blog Vultus Christi. I found the whole operation very appealing.

The house, well out into the lush County Meath countryside, is a very fine late-Georgian building with fine proportions and beautiful ceilings. The Visitation Sisters who were the previous inhabitants hadn't quite appreciated the building in the same way as the Benedictines, for they had installed suspended ceilings to halve the height of some of the rooms (including the entrance hallway) and hide the elegant plasterwork, something which perhaps served to protect it, too. These false ceilings have been removed, and work is carrying on to restore the house and make it fit for purpose as a Benedictine priory.
Bedroom for visiting priests
It's a big task, and the community are impressively confident in their plans. Not only is the house being restored and converted, but there is building taking place to create a refuge for priests who need a break or a retreat. Simple en-suite rooms are being constructed, a little apart from the main house, with a small chapel, library and refectory, and even a little hermitage.

You can read the story of how the little community from Tulsa, Oklahoma, came to be County Meath on the Priory's website. When I first read about this initiative, I was excited, but wondered whether it would work. Classic Benedictinism has never much appealed to the Irish, who have historically preferred the sparer Cistercian variant. That suspended ceiling hiding the elegant plasterwork is a good illustration of the general Irish preference for practicality over beauty. A weekday Mass with Gregorian chant, lasting the best part of an hour, is not calculated to appeal to the Irish. And yet, I gather there are several enquirers about vocations. And the point of a Benedictine house is to perform the opus Dei, to sing the liturgy, to pray; not primarily to run a parish.

Mass: the Introit
I assisted at the daily Missa Cantata at Silverstream; it was a very interesting experience. I liked the way the chant was done, neither being slavishly old-school Solesmes nor antiquarian, but nonetheless careful and well-modulated; they are clearly developing their own style. The celebrant himself acted as cantor for the Mass, from the sedilia. Though the Mass was basically Extraordinary Form, the readings were sung facing liturgical West in English (from the English Missal, therefore using the Authorised Version/King James!). Mass having been preceded by Terce, the prayers at the foot of the altar were omitted, but the celebrant began with Aufer a nobis in a medium voice while setting out the altar as at a low Mass, then returning to the sedilia to intone the Introit. The liturgical aesthetic is not the mediæval Gothicism of the French Benedictines, but rather has a counter-Reformation flavour, using Roman vestments and lace. This fits with their determination to make adoration of the Blessed Sacrament a key element in their spirituality, something not common among Benedictines.

Fr Mark with Hilda, the monastery dog
The Temporary Chapel
What particularly impressed me was Fr Mark's blithe confidence in God's Providence. The Priory has embarked on some serious building work, and still has to pay for the property itself. A lot of money is needed; for the time being, some important work has had to be halted for lack of an immediate €12.000. But the Prior is not daunted. He is confident that this work is of God, and that God will provide. So, if you can make a contribution, please do so. There is nothing approaching this foundation elsewhere in Ireland, and it has the capability of doing a great deal of good. You can use the 'Donate' button on this page. Dat Deus incrementum!

Sunday 30 June 2013

Having Fun

Having Fun in an Albanian
tourist trap
Someone who comes to Mass regularly in the Valle Adurni has just been on holiday. She decided to go to Albania. Well why not, I suppose? She is now eagerly anticipating her next dose of sun, sea and sangria—she's off in a few weeks to, er, North Korea! I asked her what she liked to do for relaxation at home—slam her fingers in car doors?

Anyway, inspired by her exotic choice of holiday location, I am spending a few days with a friend in the ancient Kingdom of Bernicia. Where? you ask. Possibly a little-known former Balkan state or part of the old Soviet Empire? Well no, really. It's the Scottish Borders and Northumberland. In the seventh century, the northern Angle kingdom of Bernicia was united to the more southerly kingdom of Deira (basically, the Yorkshires) to form the kingdom of Northumbria. Deira gave St Gregory the Great the opportunity to make his other (less known) joke about the slave boys in the Roman market. Hearing that they were from Deira, he said that he would save them de ira (from anger). Yes, hilarious, isn't it? though not quite as good as his one about non Angli sed angeli, (immortally translated by Sellar and Yeatman as 'not angels but Anglicans'). Well, they couldn't get Big Brother in those days and had to make their own entertainment.

We're staying not far from Jedburgh and when the rain permits have visited quite a few sites. I'm rather impressed with Historic Scotland, which seems to be a kind of equivalent of English Heritage, only rather better, I'm thinking.

My point is that our visits to, say, Jedburgh, Melrose and Dryburgh abbey ruins were very much more enjoyable than comparable sites in England. Scotland doesn't seem to have gone for the English obsession for dumbing-down, still less for 'enriching' the visitor's experience by dressing up actors in silly costumes to annoy people who simply want to look at the place and learn something. Information boards and audio guides seem to presume at least some interest in what you're looking at, and not to distract you with irrelevant amusements. Have you noticed how many English abbeys love to place pictures all over the place of monks carrying out their various duties, and how these are always dressed in brown Franciscan habits which reach only to the knees? How the ceremonies in the church are the purest fantasy in the mind of some artist who has never visited a functioning church in his life but tries to guess what Mass might have looked like? They don't care to inform or educate, but are insistent that we be entertained.

'Carpet' by Steve Messam
So, after the Scottish abbeys, our visit to Lindisfarne yesterday was a bit of a let-down. The experience of Holy Island was 'enhanced' and interpreted by a dancer disporting herself in the remains of the cloister with the aid of a boom box; there was a 'monk' who, dressed in a grey 'habit' (Lindisfarne was a Benedictine—black-wearing—house), tried to compel visitors to join him in the ruins of the calefactory to 'listen to a story'; there was a concert of the sort of music I associate with Irish pubs in the church alongside (£10 entrance!) and, strangest of all, an 'Installation of 30.000 bottles of colour [read tinted and upended jam jars] inspired by the 'carpet pages' in the Lindisfarne Gospels and the use of colour in the Dark Ages.' In small type I learnt that this was supported using public funding by the Arts Council of England. I suppose all this is the anxiety that at every moment we be entertained, that unless visitors to Lindisfarne are having fun, they're missing out. And they mustn't be allowed to miss out. Fun is compulsory. It is the same culture that I battle in the liturgy.

St Aidan (I think) with
Lindisfarne Castle behind
Lindisfarne is important to me. It was my first visit to the island of Saints Aidan and Cuthbert, and I was pleased that my first visit to the Holy Island wasn't totally spoilt by all that nonsense, nor by the crowds of visitors. For me it really does have an atmosphere, and I'm not sensitive to that sort of thing much. I will certainly be returning. My companion found the distractions more distracting than I did. I could see that there were lots of people for whom the priory had little interest, but who were off looking elsewhere. And there were several genuine pilgrims. I saw one tubby middle-aged man make his way from holy spot to holy spot making the sign of the cross without embarrassment and pausing, sometimes kneeling, to pray. So I prayed Sext and None in the ruins of the chancel using my iPhone. I want to come back to Aidan and Cuthbert another time and perhaps in another post. Great men.

Tuesday 25 June 2013


Yes, it's over-simplifying. But it is odd now left-wingers seem to be able to get away with things that others can't, no doubt because of their self-presentation as 'compassionate'.
And when it comes to bugging, I gather GCHQ isn't so very different.

Picture: h/t Giles Pinnock, Facebook, and Five on Fox Fans

Thursday 20 June 2013

Conversion, at various levels

I must confess that I have at times been irritated with friends and family of converts who make things difficult when their friend decides that he wishes to become a Catholic.

So perhaps there is a certain justice in the fact that I have now had to become irritated over a former parishioner of mine from way back when who has left the Catholic Church to become a Russian Orthodox.

I feel more aggrieved because she has been required to repudiate her baptism publicly and has been enrolled as a catechumen. It irritates me that she continues to call me 'Father' because, presumably, since I am not even validly baptized in her co-religionists' eyes, I cannot be a priest, either. This baptism is not of a conditional kind, but will be administered absolutely, though in our eyes there was no reason to doubt that her Catholic baptism, administered in Spain, was in any way dubious.

I know already that some Anglican friends of mine reading this will be smiling wryly and saying something about sauce for the goose.

I also know that the practice of this Orthodox group is not universally observed; I have read of priests converting to Russian Orthodoxy simply being processed in some way without any questioning of the validity of their orders; their baptism was, of course, accepted without any question also.

I would be interested in any light readers may be able to throw on this divergence of practice. It seems to me to be an interesting survival of Donatism; that heretics (as these Orthodox consider us) cannot validly administer even baptism.

The convert was motivated to this seismic change mostly out of despair at the persistent liberalism in the Catholic Church of this country.

Whereas on the other hand I have seen several people leave my own congregation over the last few months precisely because we aren't liberal enough—in particular with regard to same-sex marriage. I think that there is a general malaise right now, a feeling that we have been compromised in our authority by the sex-abuse thing and by our refusal to move with the times; Stonewall and similar groups hold the moral high ground, and what I have to say is simply my antediluvian opinion. I preached on confession on Sunday (the Gospel suggesting the subject most eloquently), and I think that I might has well have saved my breath; one regular Mass-goer (and a nice chap) said afterwards that whereas he used to be regular in the box, he wasn't going to go any more, because it did no good. Others just will come to Mass when they feel like it.

The problem to my mind is really about interior conversion—it has never taken place for many people who have attended Mass simply out of habit until they ran out of steam.

Heigh ho. I'll just have to pray instead.

But I do think that Pope Francis is just what we need right now. Perhaps he might get through to some where I continue to fail.

Tuesday 18 June 2013

Eucharistic miracle

I'm never sure quite what to make of these things, but I received this the other day, and thought that it might interest you.
Sorry to be quiet for so long on the posting front.

In 1996 in the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires, Argentina, when the present Pope Francis was Auxiliary Bishop under Cardinal Quarracino, an amazing eucharistic miracle took place. He himself had it photographed and investigated and the results are astonishing.At seven o’clock in the evening on August 18, 1996, Fr. Alejandro Pezet was saying Holy Mass at a Catholic church in the commercial center of Buenos Aires. As he was finishing distributing Holy Communion, a woman came up to tell him that she had found a discarded host on a candleholder at the back of the church. On going to the spot indicated, Fr. Alejandro saw the defiled Host. Since he was unable to consume it, he placed it in a container of water and put it away in the tabernacle of the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament.On Monday, August 26, upon opening the tabernacle, he saw to his amazement that the Host had turned into a bloody substance. He informed Bishop Jorge Bergoglio (now Pope Francis, Auxillary Bishop that time), who gave instructions that the Host be professionally photographed. The photos were taken on September 6.  They clearly show that the Host, which had become a fragment of bloodied flesh, had grown significantly in size. For several years the Host remained in the tabernacle, the whole affair being kept a strict secret. Since the Host suffered no visible decomposition, Cardinal Bergoglio (Who became Archbishop by that time) decided to have it scientifically analyzed.On October 5 1999, in the presence of the Cardinal’s representatives, Dr. Castanon took a sample of the bloody fragment and sent it to New York for analysis. Since he did not wish to prejudice the study, he purposely did not inform the team of scientists of its provenance (the source of sample was kept secret to the scientists).One of these scientists was Dr. Frederic Zugiba, the well-known cardiologist and forensic pathologist. He determined that the analyzed substance was real flesh and blood containing human DNA. Zugiba testified that, “the analyzed material is a fragment of the heart muscle found in the wall of the left ventricle close to the valves. This muscle is responsible for the contraction of the heart. It should be borne in mind that the left cardiac ventricle pumps blood to all parts of the body. The heart muscle is in an inflammatory condition and contains a large number of white blood cells. This indicates that the heart was alive at the time the sample was taken. It is my contention that the heart was alive, since white blood cells die outside a living organism. They require a living organism to sustain them. Thus, their presence indicates that the heart was alive when the sample was taken. What is more, these white blood cells had penetrated the tissue, which further indicates that the heart had been under severe stress, as if the owner had been beaten severely about the chest.”Two Australians, journalist Mike Willesee and lawyer Ron Tesoriero, witnessed these tests. Knowing where sample had come from, they were dumbfounded by Dr. Zugiba’s testimony. Mike Willesee asked the scientist how long the white blood cells would have remained alive if they had come from a piece of human tissue, which had been kept in water. They would have ceased to exist in a matter of minutes, Dr. Zugiba replied. The journalist then told the doctor that the source of the sample had first been kept in ordinary water for a month and then for another three years in a container of distilled water; only then had the sample been taken for analysis. Dr. Zugiba’s was at a loss to account for this fact. There was no way of explaining it scientifically, he stated.Also, Dr. Zugibe passionately asked, “You have to explain one thing to me, if this sample came from a person who was dead, then how could it be that as I was examining it the cells of the sample were moving and beating? If this heart comes from someone who died in 1996, how can it still be alive?Then did Mike Willesee inform Dr. Zugiba that the analyzed sample came from a consecrated Host (white, unleavened bread) that had mysteriously turned into bloody human flesh. Amazed by this information, Dr. Zugiba replied, “How and why a consecrated Host would change its character and become living human flesh and blood will remain an inexplicable mystery to science—a mystery totally beyond her competence.”Then Doctor Ricardo Castanon Gomez arranged to have the lab reports from the Buenos Aires miracle compared to the lab reports from the Lanciano miracle, again without revealing the origin of the test samples. The experts making the comparison concluded that the two lab reports must have originated from test samples obtained from the same person. They further reported that both samples revealed an “AB” positive blood type. They are all characteristic of a man who was born and lived in the Middle East region.Only faith in the extraordinary action of a God provides the reasonable answer—faith in a God, who wants to make us aware that He is truly present in the mystery of the Eucharist. The Eucharistic miracle in Buenos Aires is an extraordinary sign attested to by science.Through it Jesus desires to arouse in us a lively faith in His real presence in the Eucharist. He reminds us that His presence is real, and not symbolic. Only with the eyes of faith do we see Him under appearance of the consecrated bread and wine. We do not see Him with our bodily eyes, since He is present in His glorified humanity. In the Eucharist Jesus sees and loves us and desires to save us.(Archbishop Bergoglio became a Cardinal in 2001, this miracle was published after many researches, by that time he became a Cardinal, that's why he is addressed as cardinal in this post).  Also watch where Dr.Castanon, Atheist turned Catholic explains this miracle!

Monday 8 April 2013

The Schtick

It was something of a blast from the past to see this pastoral staff, which I thought had been relegated to some store-room in the Vatican. It belonged first to Pope Paul VI. and was used by his successors until Pope Benedict changed it for another. Historically, Popes never carried croziers, and only occasionally a triple-barred cross; no doubt Paul VI felt the lack of something in his hand. Neither the cross of Paul VI nor that of Benedict were historical: I'd prefer if both were quietly dropped.
The occasion for this cross's sudden reappearance was the dedication of a large slab of the square outside the basilica of St John Lateran to the memory of Papa Wojtyla; no doubt its use suggested itself to Papa Bergoglio as being appropriate for the occasion.

Saturday 6 April 2013

A Patron Saint for drug addicts?

I have been carefully trawling through the Martyrology recently—well, the night life scene in the Valle Adurni isn't exactly hopping—and, in the entry for 7th July have come across one Saint Mark Ji Tianxiang. He lived in a town that the Martyrology optimistically renders as Ueihœivénse in the Hebei province of China and, though Catholic, he was prohibited from the sacraments for thirty years on account of his unbreakable addiction to opium. He perished with many others in 1900 as a result of the Boxer rebellion; given a chance to renounce his faith and live, he refused and was duly martyred. Having been excluded from the table of the Lord on earth, the Martyrology points out, he was thus found worthy of the eternal banquet.

Saint Mark Ji, pray for all those who are held in the bonds of addiction.

Thursday 4 April 2013

Officially even commoner than a pleb

I took the BBC's 'how posh are you?' test and have discovered that I belong to a class of people which is so plebbish that I never knew it existed. Even chavs decline to leave their cards at my home! Apparently I belong to something known as the 'Precariat' because I have a low income and do not own my home (the only options according to the BBC are to own or rent, so I selected rent; in fact, I am a tenant); I also know, like, and frequently associate with a lot of people the BBC presumably considers very common plebs.

Who drew up this thing? I've no problem with being a member of this Precariat (apparently representing the absolute dregs of society), but somehow I feel that it doesn't quite identify a lot of other characteristics which might be important. Yes, I know and associate with cleaners, manual workers and others, but I also would count some posh people among my friends.

Sometimes I think that the perceived class-ridden nature of UK society is a nonsense. At other times I'm not so sure. I'm especially intrigued that the (supposedly egalitarian) BBC seem to think it needs highlighting.

Saturday 30 March 2013

All ready

Monday 25 March 2013

Chilean Priorities

The First Lady of Chile, Señora Piñera, meets our new Holy Father. And while you're here, Holy Father, would you mind………

I've got a parishioner just like this. She brings me bucketloads literally bucketloads of miraculous medals and rosaries for blessing every couple of weeks.

It's wonderful to see a faith-full First Lady.

A reassuring Palm Sunday

Yesterday, being a fourth Sunday of the month, we had our Extraordinary Form Mass in Steyning. Afterwards, outside, there was a little (it was very cold!) discussion about our new Holy Father: we all agreed that we felt very positive about him.

This seems to be the general opinion. On all the important things, we think he will be solid. He does not appear to be a theological tinkerer, or to want to turn the liturgical clock back to 1970, but he does seem to be addressing some other issues that are really important for the faith, not least charity.

I have seen around on the net opinions suggesting that he might sell off some of the Church's worldly treasures. I'm not so sure that disposing of patrimony is a completely good idea, but I wouldn't shed any tears. St Ambrose was very clear that when people are starving even the chalices should be melted down. And it would do a great deal of good for the credibility of our message.

One person yesterday commented that Pope John Paul had taught us to hope, Pope Benedict taught us to think, and perhaps Pope Francis will teach us to love.

Here are a couple of photographs of yesterday's celebration in St Peter's Square. I call them very reassuring.

These pictures are copyright, belonging to Fotografia Felici, so I hope the good Signori won't mind me giving their excellent service a little advertisement by putting screenshots of the pics here. Needless to say, I will remove them if required.

Monday 18 March 2013

Stop the snarking!

Yes, yes, yes, I get it, and I feel it too. He isn't Pope Benedict, and I badly miss the Pope Emeritus. But everyone has strong points and weak points, and surely Pope Francis must be given a chance to contribute his many gifts? I am quite upset at the snarky comments circulating around, especially from those who should know better. Do people think that by undermining the Holy Father, by stirring up bad feeling, they are somehow helping the situation, or are they hoping for a recount of the votes in the conclave? Whatever happens, he will be our principle of unity for the next several years; so let's be unified, and back the man until (highly unlikely) he does something that we cannot back. I hate this backstabbing just in case, finding fault and almost hoping for the man to put a foot wrong just to prove us right.

Remember, grace builds on nature; the Holy Father is a man of his generation; that does not make him a heretic, though it might colour his expressions of the faith. Had I been a Jesuit ordained in 1969, no doubt I would have looked at the Church and the world differently. Things will look very different again to a Holy Father ordained in, say, 2000.

And secondly, I personally would not like to be judged on every ill-considered remark I have made in the course of my life. No doubt I have made lots. Pope Francis needs to be judged on what he does as Pope Francis, not on the things he might or might not have said to his mates in Argentina over a couple of beers, when such comments did not matter so much. That they retell them now says more about them than about the Holy Father.

He seems to be making the New Evangelization his priority. And, looking around me, I can't see a stronger need.

Sunday 17 March 2013

A couple of thoughtful posts on our new Holy Father

H/T Pittsburgh Post
Here on the blog B***foot and (ahem, excuse celibate blushes) P******t.

and, in his inimitable way, Eccles.

and Fr Zee, here.

We really need to get over the idea that all you need to to solve the Church's problems is to swing a thurible or sing an antiphon in Gregorian chant. Or, on the other hand, that if we do good works we have no need or use for orthodoxy or decent liturgy. Good liturgy, solid doctrine and lively, real, charity are all things that go to make up our faith. It is lamentable that some who hold one must needs despise others.

Have a look at the menu for the Holy Father's coming plumbing-in on Tuesday. To my mind it is one of the finest Papal liturgies that has been planned in recent decades. Thanks to Mgr Marini and Pope Benedict, of course, but I have no doubt that Pope Francis would have tinkered with it if he had wanted to. In fact, I think that he has; there are no chant responses for the Preface. If the Holy Father does not sing, it is probably because he cannot, and is someone who knows he cannot. Too many people who can't sing think they can and thus penance the rest of us. And if he struggles with the Latin, that's probably because he has almost never used it. But it doesn't mean that he won't do his best now that he is the supreme pastor of the Universal Church.  I'm sure he will already have a least a reading knowledge of it.

Yes, I'd be happier if he felt as easy as Pope Benedict did in a fanon. But I already like the fact that he talks a lot about Jesus, without whom fanons would be pretty redundant.

In summa: oremus pro Pontifice nostro Francisco.

Thursday 14 March 2013

And what now?

Pope Pius XI
Well, it's one of those situations when we don't know what the future will hold. When his name was announced last night, there was none of the excitement that was attendant on the naming of Ratzinger, just puzzlement. Who?

Pope Francis
At first glance he reminded me of Pope Pius XI in appearance; shortish, stoutish and with glasses. But we can't judge a book by its cover. What was apparent was that none of the bling laid out in the Room of Tears came out. Not even a rochet, let alone a mozzetta. His pectoral cross was the one he wore as Archbishop of Buenos Aires.

And those opening words; 'Buona sera', the equivalent of 'Hello'. Bathos indeed, after all the fuss. And then he just stood there, with barely a wave, looking a bit like a rabbit in the headlights. Time will show whether this was simply sheer fright or part of his calm, unhistrionic, style.

I was rather impressed with his words, if only because they were so artless. This was not a man who had memorised his acceptance speech, like a luvvie at the Oscars. The words came from the heart, and this made up for what he lacked in eloquence. Asking that people pray with and for him was a genuine good idea —meaning both genuine and good. And a good beginning, especially as there was no extempore ramblings, but simply the traditional Our Father and Hail Mary. I would have been happier had these been in Latin, but he was, I think, stressing that he is first and foremost the Bishop of Rome. Indeed, he used no other title.

Back home in Argentina he would appear to be a controversial figure. Many love him for his unfeigned charity, some (especially both the Kirchners) detest him for his firm stand on Catholic teaching. I gather that many of his Jesuit brothers are not keen on him, firstly for the firm way he administered their province when he was in charge, secondly for his refusal to support Liberation Theology, which some of them interpreted as support for an oppressive military dictatorship.

Somebody in the UK is bound to spot soon that he has spoken in favour of Argentina's claim to the Falkland Islands—but then he is Argentinian, and perhaps this is to be expected. And perhaps if asked he might say that indeed the Malvinas should be 'returned' to Argentina, but when Patagonia is given back its independence, and the lands taken from Chile and Uruguay returned. For now, I noticed that the BBC last night interpreted his taking of the name Francis as meaning that he was 'an animal lover.' Which tells you all you need to know about the BBC, anyway, but nothing about Pope Francis.

Some on the net have been horrid (really horrid—so horrid and uncharitable that I'm not posting links) about his lack of liturgical style. Yup, I don't imagine we will be seeing the return of the tiara any time soon. He's not a fan of the Extraordinary Form, but he does appear to be a genuine fan of Pope Benedict, so I don't think he'll be reversing any of his liturgical decrees. Just don't expect red shoes or white Paschal mozzettas. Still less a deal with the Society of St Pius X.

As for what everyone seems to think necessary, will he reform the Curia? Reform of the Curia is something that has been a kind of a mantra since the 1960s. The 'Vatileaks' scandal has suggested very powerfully that now something badly needs to be done; it may well have been the event that precipitated the resignation of Pope Benedict. Pope Francis is not a curial insider, but he has served on several Curial commissions as Cardinal and showed himself an able leader of one of the Synods in, I think, 2001. His time as Jesuit Provincial has showed that he is no push-over and, while unquestionably kindly, he is capable of firm, though unshowy, action. If I had to guess, I would say that there will be no heads rolling, but we should expect a gradual clear-out over the next five years or so. Even if what has come to be known as the Sodano party is right in thinking that little needs to be changed, the worldwide perception is that change is essential, and this is important for the credibility of the Holy See and the Church more widely. At the very least there needs to be a proper and transparent mechanism for dealing with the abuse cases around the world. As Tim Stanley wrote, the trouble is that the Curia function much like the Italian Government, and the Italian Government doesn't even work in Italy!

A friend on Facebook alerted me to this article from the Catholic Herald at the time of the last conclave; it is about the then second-placed Cardinal Bergoglio, and tells us more than most other sources.

Quiet thunder in Argentina

This profile of Cardinal Bergoglio first appeared in The Catholic Herald on October 7 2005
By  on Wednesday, 13 March 2013
Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires (Photo: CNS)
Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires (Photo: CNS)
José Mariá Poirier explains why the self-effacing Archbishop of Buenos Aires may well be the next pope
What a surprise: it turns out that the main opponent to the unstoppable Joseph Ratzinger in the April conclave was none other than the severe, shy figure of the Archbishop of Buenos Aires. The revelation comes in the “secret diary” of one of their colleagues in the Casa Santa Marta – a cardinal’s account of the election published recently in an Italian magazine.
The spotlight the news has placed on Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio – whether or not it is true – will be agony for this notoriously media-shy Jesuit, whose face will have gone even redder with the speculation by vaticanisti that Bergoglio should now be seen as the leading contender to replace Benedict XVI when his time comes: the first Jesuit, and the first Latin American, in Church history to occupy the See of St Peter.
For Bergoglio’s enemies, the revelation will come as no surprise. It only proves, they will say, what we thought all along: that behind all that humility what Bergoglio really cares about is ambition.
But for almost everyone else it does seem remarkable that a relatively obscure South American cardinal should have been an obstacle in the path of the great German theologian and former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The “secret diary” suggests that Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, the former Archbishop of Milan and the standard-bearer for the progressive cardinals, asked not to be taken into consideration for reasons of age and health. His votes (around 40, according to the diary) went instead to Bergoglio, who was seen as the best hope for those who wanted, for whatever reason, to stop Ratzinger. Although the Bergoglio vote was not enough to stop Ratzinger, it prevented the German sweeping the board in the first two rounds.
Bergoglio as Pope? Perhaps it is not so surprising. There was much talk, in John Paul II’s final years, that his successor should be a Latin American; the feeling was widespread that the continent’s hour was near. Bergoglio would be a safe bet: at 69 he is relatively young, and comes with many virtues: he is austere, doctrinally solid, and with a proven track record in Church governance, as Jesuit provincial, then auxiliary bishop and Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires.
Bergoglio’s star shone in Rome when he replaced Cardinal Edward Egan as relator for the September 2001 synod after the Archbishop of New York had to dash back to his traumatised city. The Argentinian moved easily and with great confidence into the role, leaving a favourable impression as a man open to communion and dialogue.
But there is little else in public view, the modest glimpses of Bergoglio only serving to heighten his enigmatic profile. The newspapers have rightly stressed that he is modest, dressing mostly as a simple priest; that he always travels on the bus or metro rather than by taxi or with a chauffeur; and that he regularly travels to the furthest ends of his three million-strong diocese, preferably to visit the poor.
And then, of course, there is that Trappist silence. His press secretary, a young priest, spends his time interpreting what the Cardinal does not say. The other part of his job is to turn down, on Bergoglio’s behalf, interviews or invitations to write articles. The Archbishop of Buenos Aires has almost no published work, and seems to become less visible with each passing year.
When he does speak, however – in the annual Te Deums preached from the cathedral – it is dramatic. Bergoglio thunders like an Old Testament prophet; the government quakes in its boots.
What is certain is that he is not loved by most of his Jesuit companions. They remember him as their provincial during the violence of the 1970s, when the army came to power amid a breakdown in the political system after the death of General Peron. Apart of the Church in Argentina was involved in the theology of liberation and opposed the military government. Bergoglio was not. “After a war,” he was heard to say, “you have to act firmly.”
He exercised his authority as provincial with an iron fist, calmly demanding strict obedience and clamping down on critical voices. Many Jesuits complained that he considered himself the sole interpreter of St Ignatius of Loyola, and to this day speak of him warily.
The secular clergy of his diocese, however, love their archbishop. As auxiliary bishop in Buenos Aires in the 1990s, he managed always to be with his priests, keeping them company through crises and difficulties and showing his great capacity for listening sympathetically (I have heard many stories of Bergoglio spending hours with elderly sick priests.) He also continued to show his option for the poor by encouraging priests to step out into the deep in intellectual and artistic areas: Bergoglio has never hidden a passion for literature.
Ironically, it is the same Bergoglio who, as Jesuit provincial, demanded absolute obedience and political neutrality, as the Archbishop of Buenos Aires wants his priests to be “out on the frontiers”, as he puts 

Cardinal Bergoglio regularly travels to the furthest ends of his three million-strong diocese to visit the poor 

it. He wants them in the neediest barrios, in the hospitals accompanying Aids sufferers, in the popular kitchens for children.
To take one example: when, last year, a number of young people died in a fire in a rock club tragedy, Bergoglio went to their aid in the middle of the night, arriving before the police and fire service, and long before the city authorities. Since the tragedy, one of his auxiliaries has a ministry to the family and friends of the victims, and has not been backward in criticising the government for its response to the tragedy.
Bergoglio is admired as being far from the powers of this world, indifferent to his media image, preoccupied by 

the future of society, and a man looking always for new forms of social solidarity and justice in a country where 15 per cent are unemployed and thousands rummage through the bins at night looking for something to eat.
The media do not punish him for his silence, but speak of him with awe and respect. Many, including agnostic critics of the Church, regard him as the most credible social leader in a country in which, it ought to be said, politicians, union leaders and businessmen are regarded with considerable scepticism.
Where do his political sympathies lie? Certainly not on the Left. Those who know him best would consider him on the moderate Right, close to that strand of popular
Peronism which is hostile to liberal capitalism. In the economic crisis of 2001-2002, when Argentina defaulted on its debt, people came out on to the streets and supermarkets were looted, Bergoglio was quick to denounce the neo-liberal banking system which had left Argentina with an unpayable debt.
The same people who would say he was apolitical would be quick to add that he can move pieces along with the best chess-player. Soon after his appointment to lead his diocese he appointed six new auxiliary bishops, all people well-known to him and loyal. His style of government is discreet, but decisive.
A chemist by training, born to a working family of
Italian origin in a traditional middle-class quarter of Buenos Aires, he was for many years in charge of the formation of young Jesuits.
He is without doubt the strong man of the Argentinian Church, almost certain to be elected president of the bishops’conference at its next meeting.
With his suave manners and gentle voice, Bergoglio is not a theologian or an outstanding intellectual nor a polyglot (although he can cope with foreign languages), but he moves in all milieux securely and ably, especially in Rome.
Whenever I have met him, I have been struck by his astonishing paucity of words – even more remarkable in an Argentinian – and his hieratic gestures, but also by his intelligent gaze, his obvious spirituality, and his constant preoccupation with the poor.
If he were Pope? Everything suggests that his approach would be above all pastoral, which is what a number of the cardinals were looking for in the conclave. He would govern the Curia with a sure hand, as he does his diocese. He would likely take a firm stand with the powerful of this world. But the modern-day media demands on the papacy would be a torture for this most retiring of Church leaders. 

José Mariá Poirier is editor of the Argentinian Catholic magazine Criterio