LIBERA ME, Domine, Iesu Christe, ab omnibus iniquitatis meis et universis malis,
fac me tuis semper inhærere mandatis et a te numquam separari permittas. Amen.

Thursday, 31 December 2009


I normally see in the New Year with one group of old friends, then, when I wake, after going to Mass, have a lengthy New Year luncheon with another group of old friends.

This year, for entirely legitimate reasons, the first part of the plan sprang a leak, because the dinner I normally go to tonight has had to be transferred to somewhere I simply could not get back from before tomorrow lunchtime, which would then interfere with the second part of the plan . . . and if you have read below, you will know that what I thought was the ideal alternative - a trip to Blackfen - was also prevented force majeure.

As a result, for once in a way, I am spending New Year at home; and without company - except, of course, for Our Lady, and many Holy Angels and Saints - in prayer; and I'm looking forward to it immensely.

I'm hoping that the technology which in theory allows me to write this now, but have it appear on the Web quasi-miraculously at Midnight will work * : but in any event, whether it appears now, or then, or even later still, be assured that you and all those you love are in my prayers this New Year.

May God bless you, and all of us, and give us a happy and Holy 2010 . . . and most particularly, the grace to love Him more and more every day.

(* It didn't; but I'm still getting used to all this technology, so the fault must be mine, not the computer's - forgive me !)


. . . getting to the Oratory this evening very early for the 18:00 OF Latin Mass, only to find an EF Mass about to start, so being able to hear two Masses instead of just one !

. . . having a truly wonderful Holy Hour after Mass, including time for a private Te Deum before the Most Holy in thanksgiving for all God's love, mercy, and generosity to me in 2009;

. . . having lots of quiet time during the Holy Hour to pray for all the people I wanted to pray for : my Godson, my family and friends, my confessor, the many other priests whom I know and admire, the Dominican family . . . and not forgetting everyone who is kind enough to read this blog; and, of course, all those whose blogs I read and enjoy; and

. . . meeting one of the Sisters of the Community of Our Lady of Walsingham at the Crib after the Holy Hour - I've known about them for a while, but never met any of them before. (More about them in due course, I suspect !)


. . . realizing - just too late to do something about it - that I have a headlight out, thus making it unwise (at best) to make the fifty mile trip round the M25 to Blackfen for their Te Deum at midnight.


. . . contenting myself with all the joys I have already had today, and deciding to trust that it is God's will that I stay at home, look at blogs, and after a little supper enjoy midnight alone with Him, rejoicing still more in His infinite love for us all.


If you’ve visited Godzdogz in the last few days, you will probably have seen their collection of truly, splendidly, appalling biblical jokes (some of which, I suspect, have been around since Moses). I notice, though, that one famous chestnut has been missed out : ‘What is the first mention of constipation in the Bible ?’ . . . ‘And Moses took the tablets, and went into the wilderness’ !

I’m probably not alone in having a small selection of tablets which I have to take daily; nothing monstrous, you understand, just the usual things which help us fend off deterioration a little longer.

However, as I was taking my tablets this morning, that old joke came into my mind; and it seemed to fit rather well with what I’ve already written about quite a lot in the last twenty-four hours – penitence and forgiveness.

Pace Fr Tim– for whom the word ‘Tablet’ has a whole different meaning ! – the meaning in the joke is, of course, the Tablets of the Law which Moses brought down from the mountain. In other words, the first definitive expression of God’s Law which His Jewish people were called to obey.

I realise that for Catholic Christians today there are also the Commandments of our Lord, and the Commandments of the Church : but I don’t think that’s it’s stretching matters too far to include them in the same description, so that I can use the phrase ‘keep on taking the tablets’ to include all of it.

If you have to keep on taking the tablets in the medical sense, it means that you have to arrange your life around ensuring that they are not forgotten; if you go away, for example, you have to plan ahead so that you have enough with you – and if you travel abroad, you may (for some countries) even have to take written proof from your doctor that these medicines are prescribed for you, in order to be able to take them into the country.

In other words, although the actual act of taking the tablets is almost certainly an entirely trivial part of your daily life, on another level it is not just something which you can forget about except for those few seconds : it has to inform the whole of your life, even if more at some times than at others.

It seems to me that the Tablets of God’s Law are like that.

At home, obeying the Divine Law is probably not too difficult; at other times, especially when we're out and about, it needs preparation and forethought so that we don’t forget about it. For example, one has to consider the possibility of forgetting to take one’s medicine at the right time next morning if one drinks too much on New Year’s Eve : and I’ve no doubt that there will be many people tonight who will, under the influence of too much drink, end up doing something which – tomorrow – they’ll wish they hadn’t, by ‘forgetting the Tablets’ in some way; and some of them will, no doubt, end up doing something else they’d rather not, by going to a pharmacist for the ‘morning-after Pill’ to try and save them (in one way, at least) from the results of their thoughtlessness.

Of course, the effect of forgetting to take one’s medication varies depending on what it is, and how long one forgets for : and the same is true, to some extent, with ‘God’s Tablets’. At the same time, it is always better for us to take our medication regularly and reliably; and the same is true of obeying God’s commandments. I‘m no pharmacist, but I’m sure that there is medication which, if missed, could lead to an unpleasant death; and the same goes for certain types of sin – which is ultimately due to ‘not taking the Tablets’.

One of the dangers of being Catholic, though, is that we can start to think that it doesn’t matter what we do, because we can always go to confession to sort things out; and on one level, that is true.

At the same time, our ultimate aim should not be to make a good confession when we have done something wrong; it should be not to make a good confession, simply because we haven’t done anything that we need to confess.

And the best way of achieving that ? Well, to ‘keep on taking the Tablets’, reliably, regularly, and conscientiously (and think what that word really means !) : by planning ahead to ensure that we can and do keep God’s Law at all times, so that we don‘t need to use the ‘morning-after Pill’ of the Confessional.

You are invited to let me know what medication you feel is closest in effect / character to ‘The Tablet’ !

No prizes, though, except notoriety.

As one of the Commentors sensibly suggested, a quick check on the internet provided more than enough evidence to show that the Petition referred to below was a very dead duck indeed - if only because the two young men were released in 2001 !

However, I think that it was worth posting, if only as some thoughts about forgiveness at an important time of year for it.

The Jewish practice is to have a period of ten days between Rosh Hashannah ('Jewish New Year') and Yom Kippur ('the Day of Atonement') where one can put straight the things one has done wrong during the year, pay any outstanding debts, and generally try and straighten things up so that one enters the New Year with a fresh start; and I think that is probably a good custom, and one which we Catholics might profitably emulate.

For example, a thorough Examination of Conscience can only be a good thing, and if it is possible to go to confession then that, too, must be beneficial, so that we can enjoy tonight's festivities with the clearest possible conscience.

At the same time, perhaps it's worth considering how we shall spend this evening.

A party is obviously a perfectly normal and proper thing to do; but am I alone in wishing that there were more churches which offered Exposition this evening, ending with Benediction at midnight ?

I realise that there is a clear caveat against turning such services into condemnation of secular merrymaking; but that's not what I was thinking of. It just seems to me that the pleasure of Our Lord's company - if I may put it that way - as one secular year turns into another, an opportunity to thank God for His blessings in the past year, and to pray for His grace in that to come, are quite sufficient reasons for doing this.

I note that Fr Finigan is having a solemn Te Deum at midnight, and also a solemn Veni Creator tomorrow morning; to both of which Plenary Indulgences are attached on these occasions on the usual conditions. I just wish that more churches offered these opportunities; and I am sure that the Holy Souls do too !

As the comment says, prayers for those involved with the Jamie Bulger case - and probably also for those who, for whatever reason, have sought to bring this up again now - are clearly called for; let us pray for them, and all of us, to have - by God's grace - a fresh start tomorrow morning.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009


I've just been sent an email by an old friend, asking me to sign a petition; and I really don't know what to do about it.

The petition is directed to Baroness Butler-Sloss, who (it says) has just directed that the two 10-year old boys who killed Jamie Bulger in 1993 (so now fully adult men) are not only to be released from prison early, but are to remain anonymous for the rest of their lives - and are, incidentally, to be relocated to Australia so that they can 'make a new start'.

The Petition asks for this 'miscarriage of justice' to be remedied; and also for steps to be taken to ensure that such a thing cannot happen again.

My immediate concerns are that I've heard nothing about all this in the news - which would be unusual, given the high profile which anything to do with the Jamie Bulger case usually has - and also that Lady Butler Sloss (who was President of the Family Division until 2005) is now retired from Judicial work (she is 76), and would in any event be a fairly unlikely person to be dealing with what is clearly a criminal matter.

That doesn't, of course, prove that the report on which the Petition is based is wrong; but it undoubtedly raises a question or two in my mind.

That apart, though, my real dilemma is much more a matter of moral theology.

I accept unhesitatingly that what those two boys - they were 10 when they killed Jamie - did was utterly wrong, and utterly loathsome; the full details of what they did have not (as far as I am aware) been fully disclosed even now.

However : as a Catholic Christian, I cannot ignore the reality of contrition - after all, I go to confession and beg God's mercy on the sins which I have committed as an informed, and reasonably intelligent, adult; cannot a mature adult have contrition for something he did when he was 10, and clearly far less informed and intelligent ?

I do not know whether those two young men have contrition for what they did; but I do know that if they have it, then they are as entitled to God's forgiveness as any other sinner - and if God can forgive them, then we certainly ought to.

Obviously early release, and a 'new life', ought not be granted them lightly : but if the report is an accurate one, then I am certain that it is not being - Baroness Butler Sloss is too sensible, and wise, a person to be deceived easily, and I am sure that she would, in any event, have received and considered a great deal of advice and information from people who have had regular contact with the young men for a considerable period.

If they have come to recognise that what they did was ultimately wicked; and if they have come to a state of contrition for that sin, and have begged God's mercy with a firm purpose of amendment; and if the best expert opinion is that there is absolutely no possibility of them reoffending in the future, then I am not sure that I can see grounds for the Petition's criticism of what has, apparently, been decided.

I can fully understand the desire for revenge; I can understand the desire to 'lock them up and throw away the key'; but I can't equate that with Jesus' teaching - and that, ultimately, is what worries me.

S. Philip Neri pointed out that when we pray the Lord's Prayer, we are actually calling down savage judgment on ourselves - 'Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us' : but how often do we forgive ? How willing are we to accept being hurt, and not want to 'get our own back' ? If we are to get the judgment we give to others, who can have any hope of mercy ?

Don't get me wrong; I'm not claiming any virtue here; I'm the last person who should, in reality, be saying all this - I am only too willing to hold a grudge, especially if someone hurts someone I love - but I try to remind myself that this is wrong, and that it is not what Jesus wants from me; and that I ought to make my decision on that basis, and not on the basis of an instinct which is probably wrong, and possibly even sinful.

After all that, I'm not sure that I'm any nearer to deciding what to do about that Petition - except, I suppose, to try and find out whether it is actually factually reliable, before wasting any more time worrying about it - so if you know anything definite, please let me know !

I thought this was going to be a few quiet musings . . . and what happens ? I find myself being recommended by His Illustrious Hermeneuticalness, the indomitable Mulier Fortis, and my favourite Nuns, and acquiring followers !

All I can say is thank you for your support; and promise to try and provide more of the same.

I love this photo by fr Lawrence Lew OP of one his brethren sitting quietly in the afternoon sunshine in Blackfriars, Oxford. Amongst other things, it sums up for me the essence of 'informal' contemplation; those moments one snatches in the middle of the busyness of the world, which 'recharge the batteries', and give one little insights into the love and glory of God.

fr Vincent McNabb OP, a Dominican in London in the first half of the last century, who spoke often at Speakers' Corner, said after a visit to America that 'They never have time for anything; all is rush' (I wonder what he'd have made of today's London ?)

One famous American Catholic, though, learned the secret of rushing effectively; Archbishop Fulton Sheen believed, passionately, in giving an hour a day - preferably the first hour of the day - to God in silent prayer before the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle : the 'Holy Hour'. He started that whilst a Seminarist, just before his ordination, and maintained the practice faithfully until the day of his death. He was convinced that it was that time of quiet and stillness which gave him the ability to pack so much into his days.

I mention this today because it seems to me that today is a quiet day of contemplation as we get towards the end of the Christmas Octave, and also the end of the year - a day with no Saints to celebrate (well, alright : S. Eugene of Milan, perhaps), when we can sit quietly with God, and think back on the year that is closing, and look ahead to the New Year which is so close.

An Examination of Conscience today is probably a good idea, even if not a very attractive one; all those good resolutions forgotten, all those lapses, all those sins which we have tried hard to forget . . . but let us, just for today, not forget them; let us remember them, and learn from them, and pray God that next year we shall do better. We shan't, though, without His grace : so let us also pray for that in the year ahead.

We may not be able to make a Holy Hour before our Lord each day; but we can at least find the odd few minutes, like the brother above, to remember our failings, and His mercies . . . and we can find one day, at the end of the year, to pull all of our life in the past twelve months together, ask His pardon for our innumerable offences against His Divine goodness, and remember, thankfully, how His goodness and love has exceeded even our failure to remember Him.

Since putting up the last post about S. Thomas, I had been thinking a bit about one particular observation in the passage from his letters which occurred in the Office of Readings :

'There are, to be sure, a great many bishops. At our consecration we promised to be continuously and increasingly zealous as teachers and pastors. We repeat the promise every day. Would God our lives made our promises more credible !'

Now; let me make it clear that I was not thinking about Bishops particularly - I was thinking that the passage applies so acutely to each and every one of us, and how it is perhaps fortunate that it comes just before the New Year, when we should at least try to 'turn over a new leaf' . . . and hopefully at least try to make more effort to keep the promises we made to God at our baptism.

At the same time, I was also thinking that we could really do with some more Bishops and leaders like him today, when - increasingly - secular powers are trying to interfere with the prerogative of the Church to teach its people : and then, a few moments ago, I read a new post on The Hermeneutic of Continuity apropos the recent judgment of the European Court of Human Rights that Italian Schools must takedown the crucifixes from their classrooms because they might be offensive to atheists.

It appears that the Italian Courts have said, in effect, that 'up with this they will not put', and that they will not surrender their sovereignty in this way.

I imagine that they will not be martyred for this stand : but that doesn't make it any the less precious; so let us thank God for it, and rejoice that someone, somewhere, apparently still has some common sense, and some grasp of the need to put God before political correctness.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

gloriosus Pontifex Thomas gladiis impiorum occubuit : præsta, quæsumus; ut omnes, qui ejus implorant auxilium, petitionis suæ salutarem consequantur effectum. Per Dominum.

Today is one of those days when the Divine Office goes a little bit odd. Throughout the Octave of Christmas, we say the Office of the Day, but Vespers of Christmas . . . except today, when for some unexplained reason there is a single proper Antiphon provided for Vespers.

OK; that might not be surprising if it was only in The Divine Office, as that is at least primarily for England; but it’s in Liturgia Horarum as well. In other words, S. Thomas of Canterbury (Thomas Becket) is distinguished above S. Stephen, S. John the Evangelist, and the Holy Innocents, by having an element proper to his feast included in the Christmas Vespers.

I don’t know why that should be; but as an Englishman, I’m very touched that it is. (And if anyone does know the reason, I’d be very interested to hear it.)

That apart, I find S. Thomas Becket a very reassuring saint. For much of his life, although admittedly a cleric, he was successful in a very secular milieu; the law : and he went on to become Chancellor of England, and a prominent courtier.

So; what was it that brought him to martyrdom close to the High Altar of Canterbury Cathedral ? Well, put quite shortly, it can only have been the ‘grace of state’.

Having been proposed as Archbishop of Canterbury by his old friend and companion the King, whose interests he had long defended against the Church, everyone – and certainly the King – expected that Becket would continue to support the King against the Church.

However, the Holy Ghost had other ideas; and Becket became, with no apparent prompting, an exemplary and ascetic Archbishop, and a fierce defender of the rights of Holy Mother Church against the King – a defiance which, ultimately, led to his death.

For a lawyer, it’s perhaps reassuring that two Chancellors of England have been canonised (both, interestingly, named Thomas); it goes to show that there must be some hope, even for lawyers : but more importantly, Becket’s death as a martyr proves that, however we start out, we may hope, through the Grace of God, to end well.

May we pray God to give all of us that blessing; and, as S. Thomas is Patron of the English Pastoral Clergy, may we also - especially in this Year of Priests - pray for them, and give Him grateful thanks for their ministry.

And then I realized that I was at the wrong computer for the picture I wanted, yesterday; so forgive my 'Holy Innocent' being a day late !

For those who don't know him, his name is fr Ursus, and he is the youngest member of the community at Blackfriars, Oxford . . . although rumour has it that he's not quite as innocent as he appears to be; he has, after all, been seen deep in conversation with the Bursar (and how innocent can that be ?).
(Thanks to fr Lawrence Lew OP for the photo, and to fr Robert Verill OP for introducing me to fr Ursus !)

Sunday, 27 December 2009


Sorry : nothing yesterday about S. Stephen; and then apparently nothing today about the Holy Family . . . am I slipping ? Well, yes, probably; possibly at least partly due to crowded liturgical commitments - but during Vespers this afternoon, I did start thinking about something which slipped into my mind this morning in the context of both those Feasts : serving.

In the notices on today’s Weekly sheet at Our Lady of the Rosary, Blackfen, Fr Tim Finigan mentions a forthcoming ‘Servers’ Mass’, and asks all regular servers who have not yet joined the Guild of S. Stephen to let him know so that their admission can be arranged for that date.

Fr Tim clearly takes serving seriously; and it is apparent that the men and boys of Blackfen do as well. Regular readers of his blog will be aware that his servers are of a high standard who have collected many compliments, and this morning was no exception; Missa Cantata (EF), with no less than six torchbearers (age range, at a guess, 7 – 57), and beautifully done – even the bell falling apart during the Canon was dealt with smoothly and unobtrusively !

I don’t know how many servers they have in total (there were ten there today); but they are well trained, and very clearly regard serving on the Sanctuary as a great privilege – which, of course, it is.

I don’t know, because I’ve never been there during the week; but I rather suspect that there’s rarely a Mass at Blackfen without a vested server – and I am sure that it because the men and boys of that parish understand what a tremendous privilege it is to be allowed to serve Holy Mass. I’m also sure, from looking around the congregation, that the wives and mothers and sisters all understand that too.

Whilst I don’t want to suggest that Blackfen is alone in this – I’m sure it’s not - what worries me is how many masses, nowadays, one does see without a server; even at Westminster Cathedral, or the London Oratory, there are many Low Masses (and not only ‘private’ ones) said without a server – and yet there are almost always men and boys in the congregation who could serve.

I’m quite sure that it’s not that the priests don’t want a server; so presumably it’s because those men and boys just don’t see it as something they could – still less should – do : and yet, if serving is a great privilege then surely every Catholic man or boy ought to be able to serve – even if it’s only Low Mass in the Ordinary Form in English – and ought to want to do so whenever he is permitted to.

There’s a satirical song about a rather strange parish which contains a telling verse :

‘We’ve started a sodality of John of San Fagondez
Consisting of the five young men who serve High Mass on Sundays;
And though they simply will not come to weekday Mass at seven,
They turn up looking wonderful on Sundays at eleven !’

Maybe I’m wrong; maybe in fact it’s a phenomenon of the big churches which I seem to go to most often that whilst there are plenty of servers for the ‘big events’ you don’t seem to see them serving the ‘ordinary’ Low Masses, and maybe most parishes are like Blackfen, with lots of keen servers of all ages, where Masses without servers are few and far between : I don’t know.

What I’d like to know, though, is why it should be true anywhere; and I wonder whether this is at least partly another casualty of the Novus Ordo, with its more ‘casual’ approach to liturgy than was usual in the Extraordinary Form;

Maybe it’s that that men and boys don’t think that serving the very ‘informal’ Mass which we have seen so often over the last forty years is important; or that it’s a privilege; or that it’s worth getting up early to go and serve early Mass before work or school . . . but perhaps it’s also a bit to do with the changes in family life which we hear so much about nowadays.

I say this because despite the fact that I am certain that a family’s appreciation of this privilege is a very effective force in keeping the family appreciating one another – and thus in keeping the family together (something we should have been praying for today) – as far as I can see Catholic families simply don’t encourage their sons to learn to serve, and to want to serve, the way they obviously used to : and I say that because, if they do still encourage them, it is difficult to understand why some churches seem to have such a problem.

OK; there’s a lot I’m not sure of in all of this; but what I am sure of is that serving Mass is a great privilege, and that every Catholic boy ought to want to serve Mass, and ought to be able to, and ought to be willing to put himself to some trouble to do so . . . and then every parish, big or small, would be like Blackfen, with lots of dedicated servers, and lots of committed families.

Let us pray for all Catholic boys to want to serve; and in this Year for Priests, let us remember how many holy Priests first felt their vocation stirring as they knelt in the Sanctuary serving Holy Mass, and pray for a great growth in vocations too.

Friday, 25 December 2009


In ‘Not the Whole Truth’, the first volume of the late Cardinal Heenan’s autobiography, there is a revealing story of how, immediately after his First Mass, when he wanted to make his Thanksgiving, he was dragged out of Church to greet the guests; and how one social duty after another then claimed him until, hours later, he was able to have the colloquy with God for which he yearned : and how, when he spoke of his anguish at this delay to his mother, she was unsympathetic, and pointed out that he had thereby learned an important lesson very early in his priesthood – that (to use Bishop Sheen’s phrase) ‘the priest is not his own’, and that having to put aside the private gratification of his desire to give thanks to God for the duties of his priesthood was to be the pattern of his life from then on.

I also remember an Israeli mother saying once that every Israeli mother knows the date of her son’s eighteenth birthday from the moment of his birth; because that is the date on which he will start his military service.

Now; you may wonder what these two disparate thoughts have to do with Christmas, and S. Stephen; and the answer is that they came unprompted into my mind this evening when I was reading the chapter on the Incarnation in von Balthasar’s book ‘The Threefold Garland’ as part of a Christmas meditation.

In it, he says ‘In the act of being born there already begins the act of dying; and just a people flee from death, so do mothers cling to their children so that they will not go away from them and draw closer to death. In all truth, already at the birth the mother has been expropriated; she can accompany the fleeing child a piece down the road for as long as the child needs her, but this must happen already in renunciation. Something similar holds for all our works, especially for those that are most spiritual, most personal, most un-selfserving and therefore most fruitful. Once they have been realized they no longer belong to us; they have been handed over to God’s providence for him to administer them.’

I think it will be immediately apparent why reading this brought those two thoughts to my mind; and it was in thinking about them that I began to get an insight into tomorrow’s ‘Feast of Stephen’.

At Easter, nothing interrupts our concentration on the ultimate joy of the Resurrection : for a whole octave, no other liturgical observance occurs – any that do, and that cannot simply be ignored for this year, are transferred to the first free day after Low Sunday, so important is it that nothing distracts us from our celebration – and yet at Christmas, no sooner have we celebrated our Lord’s birth than we start celebrating Saints; and whilst they are, no doubt, very worthy men and women, surely (we say) they aren’t important enough to divert our attention from the wonder of the Incarnation ?

Well, what came into my mind was the thought that perhaps that’s why they’re there; after all, there’s no suggestion in Scripture (as far as I know) that S. Stephen was martyred on the day after Christmas; no suggestion that S. John the Evangelist has any special connection with 27th December.

In fact, as far as I can see, only one Saint is ignored because of Christmas; dear S. Anastasia, who (except in the Extraordinary Form Mass of the Dawn) never gets any sort of celebration at all, because her Feast Day is 25th December !

Is the whole point of this plethora of Feasts straight after Christmas, I wondered, perhaps that, as von Balthasar says, even whilst a mother accompanies her child on his road, she does so ‘already in renunciation’ ? In other words, rather like young Fr Heenan, it is never too soon for us to start to understand that our Lord’s life is one of ultimate renunciation; an abandonment of every part of His life to the will of His heavenly Father; and that our renunciation of the prolongation of our celebration of His Birth is a small token of our willingness to share in that renunciation ?

We too, like the Jewish mother, already know today, as we rejoice in the wonder of the Incarnation, that the Son will be taken from us; indeed, unlike the Jewish mother, we don’t just fear that the Son may die – we know He will : and although we know, too, that in His death we shall have life to the fullest extent, in heaven, it cannot be too soon for us to understand that ‘in our beginning is our ending’, and that we must hand everything straight back to God, Who gives it to us, so that He can do with it as He wills – and that this includes the Saviour Who has, this day, been born for us, and in Whom we rejoice.

First Vespers of Christmas yesterday, at Blackfriars (Oxford), complete with the reading (to a wonderful Dominican chant) of Matthew 1 - and then, after dinner, a splendid Midnight Mass, preceded by a 'Vigil', and followed by cocoa and mince pies in the Refectory - some of us, I have to say, being favoured with 'cocoa plus' (and I'm saying no more than that, as I don't want to encourage jealousy in those not so favoured !)

Once I got home, and said Compline, bed was very welcome . . . for a few hours; but only a few, as my confessor was saying the three masses of Christmas at 09:45 !

I had, in effect, the three masses all to myself . . . other people in and out of the chapel, going to visit the Crib, but I was the only 'congregation' . . . quiet, focused, and (being the extraordinary form) not requiring constant activity on my part : just prayer . . . Wow ! is about all I can say. It was so easy to recognize, in that situation, the ultimate mystery of the Eucharist - that there, before me, on the altar, was the same Holy Child which I could see, in image, in the Crib at the end of the chapel; and in His infinite humility, He was there because man had brought Him there.

The humility of the Holy Child is amazing; that God would become a man, and a man in those circumstances, can really only be described as staggering - and yet that is as nothing compared with His infinite humility in being available to us all, always, and everywhere; being at the 'beck and call' of every priest, to come whenever He is called for; and this morning certainly brought that home to me as never before - that the ultimate Christmas present is Christmas itself; the gift we received then, and now, in the Incarnation.

I'm off shortly to Solemn Benediction; and shall pray for all those I know and love - and also for all those I don't know personally, but who read this blog; and those whose blogs I read, and who also try to witness to the wonder of God. May the Incarnate God bless us all, this Christmas day.

. . . which may raise a smile in those old enough to remember when that was the title of an hit single, and not just the beginning of an Antiphon !

Seriously, many prayers and good wishes for an Happy & Holy Christmas, and a blessed and prosperous New Year.

More later, once the liturgy is over !

Tuesday, 22 December 2009


Today is the 793rd Birthday of the first approval of the Order of Preachers, by Pope Honorius III in 1216; and the Order is already planning for its 800th Birthday in 2016.

Before that, though, there is to be the General Chapter in September next year, when a new Master of the Order will be elected.

Please pray today for all of S. Dominic's family throughout the world.

Monday, 21 December 2009


The weekly sheet of St Dominic's Priory Church in Hampstead focussed, yesterday on 'Bearing the Word'; and in view of my recent reading of Fr Saward's book, I was interested to read what fr Gregory Murphy OP had to say.

He quoted S. Ambrose 'According to the flesh one woman is the mother of Christ, but according to faith, Christ is the fruit of all men', but went on to point the moral more precisely in S. Augustine's words : 'What does it avail me that this birth is always happening, if it does not happen in me ? That it should happen in me is what matters.'

That said something very definite to me, especially after my musings last week about the disappearing Christ of Christmas.

I do believe that we should struggle, in our own quiet way, against the commercialization of Christmas, and its taking over by secular interests : but isn't it also essential for us to remind ourselves that a 'religious Christmas' without the active presence of Christ is, in its own way, just as sterile as one based on shopping and over-eating ?

I'm thinking increasily of what I might be able to do, this Christmas, to show the Word to the world - something which, as fr Gregory points out, we are all called to do by our baptism. My options may be limited - although Oxfam and other international charities have lots of good ideas for wonderful gifts you can give to people who need them - clean drinking water, sanitation, trees : but for various reasons, not all of us can do that.

'What can I give Him, poor as I am ?
If I were a shepherd, I could give a lamb.
If I were a wise man, I could do my part;
But what can I give Him : give my heart.'

We may not be able to do very much for the poor, the underprivileged, the lonely, this Christmas; but just as we always have a heart to give to God, there is one thing we can always, and easily, do for anyone in need - pray. As we kneel before our Lord, lying there little and weak in the manger of Bethlehem, let us try to remind ourselves that in reality we too are just like that; and that as we shall be forgiven in proportion to how we have forgiven, so - I strongly suspect - we shall be blessed with the blessings we have besought for others.

Let us pray, then, that the poor, the voiceless, of the world may recognize that they do have a voice : a voice that is heard at God's throne, even if it's not heard anywhere on earth; and let us remember that we should speak for them here, that they may speak for us there.

The rumour I mentioned last week (see here) turned out to be entirely accurate.

If you are in Oxford between 12:30 - 13:00 today, tomorrow, or Wednesday, go to Blackfriars for seasonal meditations on the Mysteries of the Rosary led by the Dominican Students.

Saturday, 19 December 2009


During Advent I have been reading Fr John Saward's book 'Redeemer in the Womb', a theological meditation on Jesus' life before His birth at Christmas. I can recommend it wholeheartedly; it challenges, informs, and stimulates all sorts of interesting meditations.

'Man is only great because God is infinitely greater. When the Creator is denied, the creature is destroyed. All the heresies of the past and the ideologies of the present claim exhaustive knowledge of man. They reduce the richness of his mysterious nature, scale him down to one or other of his parts or powers . . . Only Catholic Christian faith understands man rightly in the richness of his nature and the dignity of his person.'
~ Redeemer in the Womb, p.154

The book is published by Ignatius, and I would suggest that as well as being wonderful Advent reading (for next year, now, probably !), it would also be a wonderful present for any Catholic couple who are expecting a child.

Friday, 18 December 2009


'Ruysbroek's saying, "Be kind, be kind, and you will be saints" can mean either "If you are always kind you will end by being holy" or 'If you are always kind, this shows that you are already holy" : kindness is a means to holiness, it is also the constant inevitable overflow of holiness - or wholeness - and in fact it is only in the latter sense that the full glory of caritas will be found.'
~ fr Gerald Vann OP, The Eagle's Word, p.91

On My Way, God's Way, fr Peter Clarke OP has an excellent post called 'Mad Money', which discusses the need for Christians to be at least a little bit mad about their celebration of Christmas, and the tremendous gift which God gave us.

I entirely agree with him; but at the same time, his post gave me to think about the question of the commercialization of Christmas.

There's an old comment to the effect that the Devil's greatest achievement is to make people believe that he doesn't exist; and I wonder whether another of his great achievements is to make Christmas so much fun, and so busy and exciting, that people increasingly forget what it's all about.

When I was a child, Christmas was at least as wonderful, and exciting, and enchanting as it is today : but it was very obviously about Jesus Christ, and the gift of His coming. Yes, shops played Christmas music - admittedly only in December, not (as nowadays) from the middle of October - but it wasn't 'I wish it could be Christmas everyday', or 'Do they know it's Christmas ?' : it was carols like 'O Come, All Ye Faithful', or 'Hark ! the Herald Angels Sing', which spoke very clearly of the coming of Christ, and its purpose.

Similarly, the Christmas message - in the shape of Christmas services, 'meditations', and probably a Nativity story for children - was the most important thing (with the Queen's speech) on television on Christmas Day; everything else fitted round those. Nowadays, with I don't know how many channels (I no longer have a TV !), there seems to be less religion on television at Christmas than there was when we only had two.

Thinking about it, I have a horrible suspicion that Charles Dickens probably (and quite inadvertently) started it all off with 'A Christmas Carol', and the description of Christmas at Dingley Dell in 'Pickwick Papers', both of which, although wonderfully evocative of the delights of Christmas, more or less entirely exclude Jesus.

I don't quite know, yet, how I'm going to 'be a little mad' about the joy of the Incarnation on Christmas Day as fr Peter would (I think) have me be (apart from going to all three Masses, of course !); but I'm certainly going to try and find some way of showing that particular joy to a world which appears largely indifferent to it.

Suggestions will be welcomed !

Thursday, 17 December 2009

WORLD DAY OF PEACE ~ New Year's Day 2010

The Vatican website carries the Holy Father's Message for the World Day of Peace on New Year's Day 2010; and on my first reading of it, I find a surprising amount which resonates with the thinking of certain English Dominicans over the last hundred years - perhaps particularly fr Vincent McNabb, who wrote and spoke forcefully on many of the topics included in the Message.

fr Vincent, of course, was an exponent of Distributism; the 'third-way' economic philosophy that was encouraged by Hillaire Belloc and G. K. Chesterton, which expounded the principle that the ownership of the means of production should be distributed as widely as possible amongst the general populace (as opposed to Socialism, which would have it all owned by the State, and Capitalism, which would have it all owned by a small number). The philosophy also involved the other principle of Subsidiarity - a concept which was at least partly introduced by HH Leo XIII in Rerum Novarum, and further developed by HH Pius XI in Quadragesimo Anno.

fr Vincent would certainly have echoed the Holy Father's observation that 'The goods of creation belong to humanity as a whole', and his view of 'big business' would have found unwelcome confirmation in the comment that 'It is not hard to see that environmental degradation is often due to . . . the pursuit of myopic economic interests, which then, tragically, become a serious threat to creation'; but I think that what he would have liked best is the clear statements that 'Suitable strategies for rural development centred on small farmers and their families should be explored', and 'In accordance with the principle of subsidiarity it is important for everyone to be committed at his or her proper level, working to overcome the prevalence of particular interests', as vindicating the principles which he propounded for so long.

At the same time we must not forget that fr Timothy Radcliffe OP has also commented frequently in the last twenty years or so on the dangers of globalisation, and the evils of such things as attempts to patent the genome, and to control agriculture by controlling seed stocks; and I am sure that he will echo the Message's clarion call for fairness and respect for humanity in the acts of mankind - I shall certainly look forward with interest to any comments he makes.

As usual, the Holy Father is informed, informative, and incisive : the question now must be 'who will listen' ?

'That an ape has hands is far less interesting to the philosopher than the fact that having hands he does next to nothing with them; does not play knuckle-bones or the violin; does not carve marble or carve mutton.' - G.K.Chesterton, Orthodoxy

Wednesday, 16 December 2009


'It makes no difference whether our eyes are covered with a golden blindfold or one of lead, or any metal you choose; the value of the metal does not alter the quality of blindness.' - S. John Cassian, Monastic Institutes, Book 8, Ch.6

This post at Rorate Caeli looks interesting, and I certainly hope to take part in some of these Seminars.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009


Rumour has reached me that at lunchtime (12:30 - 13:00) on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of next week, the Students of the English Province of the Order of Preachers will be leading the Joyful Mysteries (Monday & Wednesday) and the Mysteries of Light (Tuesday) of the Rosary.

Sadly I shan't be in Oxford at that time; but I have little doubt that it will be a rewarding experience for anyone who is there, and is free.

‘Do not look forward to what might happen tomorrow; the same everlasting Father who cares for you today will take care of you tomorrow, and every day. Either He will shield you from suffering, or He will give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace then, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations.’ –St. Francis de Sales

You may have seen the Article on the front page of The Catholic Herald, about the proposed Equality Bill being promoted by Harriet Harman.

If you haven't, I don't think I can do better than suggest you go to the Herald website and read it, as I certainly can't explain it any better.

Catholics - and indeed all concerned Christians, and those of any other faith which is affected by it - need to fight this nonsense vigorously NOW. I suggest a letter to your MP might be a start; but also, obviously, PRAY.

Welcome !

This blog is subtitled ' Musings of a Penitent Catholic'; which is just about as accurate as I can be about what I expect to appear on here - my thoughts, whenever I think I have anything to share, mainly about the Faith, but also about anything and everything else; because all is grist to God's mill.

I don't expect that something will appear every day; but I'll try and update it fairly regularly, even if only by directing you to things on other blogs which interest me, and which I hope will interest you.