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.

Sunday, 31 January 2010

Welcome or Unwelcome

2 Timothy 4, 2-3
2 Proclaim the message and, welcome or unwelcome, insist on it. Refute falsehood, correct error, give encouragement - but do all with patience and with care to instruct. 3 The time is sure to come when people will not accept sound teaching . . . [NJB]

Today’s Gospel (Sunday 4 OT, year C) tells of Our Lord in the Synagogue at Nazareth; and in his homily this morning at the Oratory, Fr Fordham made the point that people are always happy to listen to you when you say what they want to hear . . . it’s when you start saying things that they don’t want to hear - when, as S. Paul says, they ‘refuse to accept sound teaching’ - that, as happened to Our Lord in this morning's Gospel, they run you out of town, and try and push you over the cliff.

Father made no specific mention of anyone or anything in particular : but I think it unlikely that I was the only person in the Church whose thoughts turned to a topic which has been conspicuous in UK Catholic blogs in recent weeks – the issue of the Catholic Education Service’s reaction to the Government’s plans for compulsory Sex Education in all non-private schools. To give but one example, Fr Ray Blake of S. Mary Magdalene, Brighton, has a good post on it here; although many other people have also posted on it in the recent past.

CES has made comments which are almost laudatory of the Government’s plans; comments which have not been disavowed by the Bishops, under whose control CES falls, and who are presumably ultimately responsible for its opinions.

I am sure that – to use S. Paul’s word in 2 Timothy (above), all this is very ‘welcome’ to the Government, as they can present it as effectively amounting to ‘official endorsement’ by the Catholic Church of their proposals.

However, I think it would be true to say that it is extremely ‘unwelcome’ to many Catholics.

If one looks at the blogs, it is painfully clear that many of the Catholic faithful – and the clergy – are extremely uncomfortable with the fact that the Bishops have not, as one man, risen in their pulpits to denounce the plan forthrightly, and make abundantly clear to the Government that Catholics cannot in good conscience support a party which attacks Christian values in this way – verb. sap. with a General Election due within the next six months.

Now : I fully accept that my Bishop has been set over the Diocese of which I am a part by the Holy Father, and that it is his job to lead the Church in that Diocese, and that – as a matter of holy obedience – I am expected to submit to him.

However, as I understand it, there is no guarantee that the Bishop cannot make mistakes; and there is also the point that (to the best of my knowledge and belief) I am not bound to follow a superior in any matter which is contrary to the teachings of the Church – and as far as I can see, what the Government proposes is (like their previous nonsense about Adoption Agencies) completely contrary to the teaching of the Church.

I’m sure that if the Bishops did publicly denounce the Government’s plans they would be criticised in all sorts of places – including within the Church, very probably – and no doubt the National Secular Society would suggest that this was evidence that religion was retrograde, and determined to interfere with the right of the population to enjoy the best possible life, and all that sort of bilge.

Indeed, I think it is likely that the Bishops would become quite unpopular with the Government, and that they might very well lose influence with Ministers, and support in parliament, and the civil service, and the media . . .

All I can say, in response to those no doubt excellent reasons for holding their peace, and dealing with things in whatever other way they have chosen (as I am sure they have) to adopt, is ‘What would S. Paul have said they should do ?’

I think, having read 1 & 2 Timothy, the answer is quite clear. Have the lessons of last year - the ‘Year of S. Paul’ - faded so quickly ?

And just to prove it's not uniquely an English problem, shadowlands has just posted this clip from the US !

Saturday, 30 January 2010

People I Don’t Like

There are plenty of people I don’t like; people whom for one reason or another I find personally antipathetic, and whom I would go out of my way to avoid on a social occasion : people whom I don’t like, and whom I am sure don’t like me.

However, at the risk of offending them all dreadfully, let me say this unhesitatingly : there is no-one whom I don’t love enough to be excited at the prospect of attending their Reception into Full Communion with the Catholic Church; and although I might well not actually do so, that would only be because I thought they would rather I did not, and not for any antipathy whatever on my part.

Why ? Well, because I cannot imagine hating anyone enough to want to see them excluded from the Church.

I think (I can’t now find the reference) that it may have been a friend of Ronnie Knox’s who said that his first thought on his Reception was ‘Now I belong to the same Church as Judas Iscariot’; and I know exactly what he meant. As I know I’ve said before, the Catholic Church is the Church of ‘All Sorts’ – or, as Mgr Robert Hugh Benson splendidly put it :

‘It [the Catholic Church] is not a select society of perfected souls; it is rather a huge vessel that sweeps into itself good and bad, saints and sinners, ethereal souls and deformed monsters of carnality. To point to outcasts of society within the Church’s borders is no more than to demonstrate that the charity of God is larger than the charity of man . . . The kingdom of heaven is not an aristocracy of saintliness, or an exhibition of prize souls; it is not even a sieve which separates; it is a net which gathers and includes.’ 1

When you look at it like that, how can we not welcome, with open arms and joyful hearts, any and all who seek to come home to the Church of Christ ?

Prayer for ‘the Conversion of England’ used to be a great feature of the Catholic Church in England; but for reasons which are not entirely obscure, this rather disappeared in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Whether that development was a wise one or not, though, it seems to me that it has had one knock-on effect which may not have been foreseen at the time – namely, that the Catholic faithful have rather forgotten that it is God’s desire that they should spread His word, and the blessings of His Church, to their fellow-citizens : and, as a result, they are perhaps less enthusiastic than they once were in proclaiming the joy of the Faith. (Let me make it clear that there are very many Catholics, priests and people alike, whom I know to be exceptional in this regard; my point is about the overall attitude, not the splendid achievements of the enthusiasts.)

We have to recognize, though, that as it is God’s will that all men know of His love so that they may be saved, it must be His will that, as far as possible, all men belong to His Church : and that, even if we are not under a positive duty to take active steps to try and convert people, we are undoubtedly under a positive duty not to do anything which may discourage them from conversion – and I think it must be apparent that the remarks I referred to in last evening’s post (from two ex-Anglican clergy to one who has not yet 'come home') fall into that category.

It may be that I should not say this : but I would have thought that such conduct amounted to a sin, and being (as it clearly was) deliberate, presumably a mortal sin. If I am right on that, then I hope that these gentlemen go to confession before Mass tomorrow.

However; it’s not only a sin – it’s also no advertisement for the Catholic Church; and that’s not good news, either.

F. Faber wrote a splendid hymn ‘Souls of men, why will ye scatter’ (though it is more usually sung in a ‘cut-down’ version under the title ‘There’s a wideness in God’s mercy’) which I think is worth setting out in full :

Souls of men, why will ye scatter
like a crowd of frightened sheep?
Foolish hearts, why will ye wander
from a love so true and deep?
Was there ever kindest shepherd
half so gentle, half so sweet,
as the Saviour who would have us
come and gather round His feet?

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
like the wideness of the sea;
there’s a kindness in His justice,
which is more than liberty.
There is no place where earth’s sorrows
are more felt than up in heaven;
there is no place where earth’s failings
have such kindly judgment given.

There is welcome for the sinner,
and more graces for the good;
there is mercy with the Saviour;
there is healing in His blood.
There is plentiful redemption
in the blood that has been shed;
there is joy for all the members
in the sorrows of the Head.

For the love of God is broader
than the measure of man’s mind.
and the heart of the Eternal
is most wonderfully kind.
But we make His love too narrow
by false limits of our own;
and we magnify its strictness
with a zeal He will not own.

Pining souls, come nearer Jesus,
and O come not doubting thus,
but with faith that trusts more bravely
His great tenderness for us.
If our love were but more simple,
we should take Him at His word:
and our lives would be all sunshine
in the sweetness of our Lord.

Obviously it is intended to be a ‘Mission’ hymn; one has only to look at the first and last verses to realize that F. Faber was seeking – in accordance with S. Francis de Sales’ maxim – to use a ‘spoonful of honey’ to convey to those outside the Church the inestimable joys to be found within it.

However, I think maybe some of us (and I am certainly one of them) need to remember that quatrain at the end of the penultimate verse :

But we make His love too narrow
by false limits of our own;
and we magnify its strictness
with a zeal He will not own.

Isn’t that exactly right ? We are so keen on making our judgements that we forget that we are sinners too, and just as dependent as everyone else on God’s incredible mercy and grace ? We are so keen on ‘belonging’ that we sometimes feel that we must define our loyalty to the Church by ‘keeping out’ those whom we feel are ‘unworthy’ in various ways, without even bothering to consider our own horrible unworthiness and inadequacy ?

The title of this blog may explain why I try2 not to do that : I am a sinner, I know it, and I know that it is only by the Grace of God that I have come home to the Catholic Church, and the joy – and the hope of salvation – that I have found in it. I know, too, that God wants me to share that joy with everyone; that the Saviour wants all men to ‘come and gather round His feet’. It may be3 excusable for me to do nothing to achieve that; but it certainly isn’t excusable for me to hinder God’s will in that regard.

Our Lord said ‘Knock, and it shall be opened to you’ : let us pray that we may never ignore – still less reject – the knocking of a faithful heart seeking to come home; and let us pray constantly for all those whom we know, that they may come to rejoice, with us, in the Catholic Church.

1 The Religion of the Plain Man, 2, II, b : Robert Hugh Benson, orig. London, 1906
2 I say ‘try’; I make no claim to being successful.
3 I don’t think it is – one of the reasons for this blog – but it’s a theological point
I haven’t got space to go into here.

Friday, 29 January 2010

Equality Bill Defeat

It's not the end of the struggle to prevent the Government imposing its shortsighted and bigoted opinions on the Churches; but this week's defeat of the Equality Bill in the House of Lords is, at least, a valuable battle won.

Anna Arco has an excellent piece about it in The Catholic Herald.

'There's a Welcome for you'

I am quite seriously upset : or, rather, saddened.

I was looking on the blog of Fr Jones, priest of the Anglican church of S. Peter’s, London Docks – a famous church, with a long history of devoted ministry in an area which was, if it is not now, very deprived indeed.

His post for today – ‘of Mazes and meetings’ – contained a passage which I found almost incredible :
‘In the past few days I have had two rather nasty attacking emails, both, I think, from FAC's (former Anglican clergy now within the Roman Catholic Church) telling me in rounded and fulsome terms that they will use every means they can to ensure that I would never be ordained if I joined an Ordinariate under the terms of the recent Apostolic Constitutions. There's a welcome for you.’

Obviously, I have no idea who these ‘FACs’ might be; nor their motives for such a gratuitous attack on someone who (apparently) was their brother in the Anglican priesthood : but it seems to me that, regardless of these things, such conduct is simply un-Christian. Further, it is judgemental – and we know what Our Blessed Lord said about that !

Mgr Ronald Knox once asserted that the Church of God was composed – like Gaul – of three parts : the Church Triumphant in Heaven – ‘All Saints’; the Church Suffering in Purgatory – ‘All Souls’; and ‘the Church Militant here in earth’ – ‘All Sorts’.

For me, one of the joys of coming home to the Catholic Church was exactly that : that it is the Church of ‘All Sorts’; good and bad alike, where ALL God’s children are welcome - and as I have never ceased to say, ‘coming home’ was, for me, exactly what it was; and I have never for one instant regretted it.

The Catholic Church is also the rightful home of all Christians; and if we are good (or at least faithful) Catholics, we should surely do all in our power to assist our separated brethren to find their way home – an obligation which, you might think, would weigh all the more heavily on those who have already been granted the grace to make that journey themselves.

Further, a deliberate attempt to prevent someone possessing a Divine Vocation from being ordained amounts to a calculated attempt to thwart the Divine Will – and apart from being rash, I must assume that that would be a grave sin.

As I say : I do not know who has made this deplorable comment to Fr Jones; nor do I know why it has been made, and I can have no sort of confidence that they will ever read my remarks. However, if they do, I would ask them to remember S. Philip Neri’s comment that when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we are calling down a heavy vengeance upon us – ‘Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

Fr Jones’ two correspondents seem to have forgotten that point : I hope and pray they will not have to regret their attitude on Judgement Day.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

A Thought

'It is not enough to see that God wishes the good we aim at, but that He wishes it through our instrumentality, in our manner, and in our time; and we may come to discern all this by true obedience.'
S. Philip Neri

Doctor Universalis

I had intended to post something about S. Thomas Aquinas, whose Feast it is.

He is, after all, not only the 'Angelic Doctor', and 'Doctor of the Eucharist', but also the 'Common', or 'Universal' Doctor of the Church.

However, I'm not going to; because it is the act of a fool to gild refined gold, and fr Lawrence Lew OP has, on Godzdogz, done it far better than I ever could.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Keep It Simple

In yesterday’s post, I referred to fr Timothy Radcliffe’s comment that the Hail Mary encompasses the only three moments in human life of which we can be absolutely certain : that we were born, that we must die, and now; and I observed that the effect of this truth on human aspiration, and especially on the current belief in human control of life, is often – perhaps perversely – seen as belittling, rather than empowering.

Now in one sense it is, of course, belittling; it makes us recognize that we are not omnipotent, and that in reality we have little or no control over anything very much at all (and certainly not the world in which we live – think Tsunami, think Haiti)) – but in another sense it is supremely empowering, if we can find the humility to accept it.

The empowerment it gives us, it seems to me, is that of understanding that God’s world is actually a very simple place, and one which does not require the cleverness and complexity which we as a human race love so much.

A friend made a powerful point to me recently : that ultimately there’s only ever one choice for any of us – is it ‘Thy will’, or ‘my will’ be done ? – and surely, there can’t get any simpler choice than that.

Jesus said that we had to become like little children if we wanted to enter the kingdom of heaven; and what He means, of course, is that we much cultivate just those virtues which, in a child, do not need to be cultivated, because they are inherent – but in most people disappear all too swiftly, and finally, as we grow older.

Dom Hubert van Zeller explains it thus : ‘The aim for us who are grown up will be twofold. On the negative side it assumes the avoidance of tendencies not normally associated with small children : suspicion of others, double dealing, taking malicious advantage, giving scandal and rejoicing in scandals, resentment against God’s will, gloating over the failures of others, pride, self-pity, despair. Infants who showed such inclinations would be monsters. On the positive side it tries to develop habits, instinctive in children, or trust, undiscriminating love, acceptance of life as it presents itself from day to day, taking happiness for granted and not questioning it, looking out for the good which is enjoyed with unselfconscious pleasure.’ 1

He continues that Our Lord is not seeking to make us imagine ourselves back into the state of innocence which we had before we reached the ago of reason : ‘it is not innocence so much as integrity that has to be aimed at’.

Ultimately, he maintains, the problem is that we are cluttered up with the ‘complexity of secular, rationalistic, hedonistic thought’; and that freeing ourselves from that will give us a great advance in simplicity, which in turn will lead us towards God, Who is ultimately simple.

S. Therése of Lisieux, who was an introspective child, ready to burst into tears at the slightest snub, real or imagined, might have become a hypersensitive woman who lurched from breakdown to breakdown, had she not entered Carmel. There, taking herself in hand, she found the famous ‘way of spiritual childhood’ – a way founded in increasing simplicity of life and prayer : the self subjected to the will, the will subjected to, and dependent upon God – exactly that ‘spiritual childhood’ of which Our Lord makes mention.

Children depend on others : it never occurs to them not to. They willingly – indeed naturally – depend on their parents and relatives, their teachers, their friends . . . indeed, in recent years, the readiness of children to depend on adults in particular has been the cause of problems, as pædophile ‘grooming’ has abused exactly this willingness.

When Jesus tells us to become as little children, this too is what he means : not only simplicity, but also dependence – and yet dependence is in its own way a part of simplicity, because dependence is, essentially, simple . . . it creates no concerns, and arouses no fears – in children. Adults fear dependency, because they fear what might go wrong : children have no fear, because they ‘know’ that all will be well.

If we love God, we need have no fear, and we can depend on Him entirely : ‘in love there is no room for fear, but perfect love drives out fear’. 2

So : if we simply accept that we aren’t so clever, depend on God, and then enjoy the wonders of the world He gives us, rather than trying to control them – which we can’t’ do anyway – we shall not only have a happier and more fulfilling life here; we shall also, by God’s grace, share eternity with Him in His kingdom.

1 Leave Your Life Alone : Dom Hubert van Zeller (Sheed & Ward, London, 1973)
2 1 John 4 : 18

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

God wants our will

All Spiritual progress is about a battle between our Godly selves and our ‘earthly’ selves – that is, the ‘original sin’ part of us, warring against the Grace of God which is leading us home. Humility may or may not mean becoming small; what it does mean is recognizing our own frailty, our own utter inability to do anything good without God’s grace – and then accepting the need to ask for that, constantly, if we are to do God's will.

In today’s world mankind has gone mad with arrogance, so that pride is not only common, but officially encouraged – even the climate of the globe has to be the result of mankind’s actions; it can’t possibly be natural, or outside our control. OK, it’s a good thing that mankind is waking up to taking some sort of care of the world; but it would be no bad thing it we could also develop a healthy dose of reality about just how insignificant we are – a thought which is at the centre of Christian humility, and which S. Philip Neri was very keen to encourage in his followers.

In the context of eternity, all human intentions are ‘fleeting sentiments’ – ‘Vanity, vanity, cries the Preacher; all is Vanity’ : as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be – such is the pattern of human endeavour. If we could really pray the ‘Our Father’, we might get there . . . . ‘give us this day our daily bread’ – in other words, stop worrying about tomorrow, about things over which, in reality, we have no control, and simply take God’s love for today. Think, too, of the ‘Hail Mary’ – ‘now, and at the hour of our death’ : as fr Timothy Radcliffe says, it encompasses the only three moments of which we can be certain – that we were born, that we must die, and now – the only other moment of which we can be certain; a fact which (for many, at least) belittles, rather than empowers, us.

So few days after Haiti, with so much of the island still a scene of utter devastation, and yet we seem to have lost sight already how utterly insignificant man is compared with nature in this world . . . and then we look through even a small telescope, and realize that this world is but a minute part of the Universe . . . and who knows whether there are other universes out there ?

There are all sorts of ways this modern compulsion to intense spiritual pride manifests itself : but when you look closely, so much of it is about the ‘me, me, me’ attitude, and a rejection of spiritual self-discipline – the determination to make choices for ourselves, (even pointless ones) and to insist upon an individuality which is frequently as futile as it is fugitive. In reality, we ultimately have to come to accept that we are nothing without God : can do nothing without Him, and indeed have nothing save what He gives us - and certainly not individuality. The only thing which we can give Him which he has not already given us directly is our love; and and to give Him our love fully and effectively means giving Him our will, so that we may do His.

S. Philip believed firmly that regular recourse to a good Spiritual Director was a fundamental element of sanctification; because he believed that obedience to a Spiritual Director was a crucial element in achieving humility; the surrender of our own will to God's.

He also said that ‘It is well to choose one good devotion, and to stick to it, and never to abandon it’; pointing out that the humility involved in accepting the discipline of not chopping and changing all the time, but rather adhering to a fixed and regular pattern, was itself a precious stepping-stone on the path to holiness : though he did, of course, also point out that ‘the good works which we do of our own will are not so meritorious as those which are done under obedience’, so that even our choice of devotion, and our practice of it, should to gain its maximum effect be done under obedience to a Spiritual Director.

Sometimes we have to do violence to our own inclinations if we want to grow in holiness, and love, and closeness to God; but such violence done alone, and without guidance, may well do more harm than good. God give us grace to recognize that accepting the discipline of obedience to our Spiritual Director, or even just to a Rule of Life agreed with a holy priest, is a major step in the humility which will, God willing, bring us at last to heaven.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Bl Karl Leisner - THE Priest of Dachau

'Christ in Dachau' is a remarkable book about the priestly life in what may be the worst of all conditions, at least in the last hundred years – in the infamous Dachau Concentration Camp, written by one of those priests, Fr John Lenz.

Here is just one of the many memorable – and sometimes scarcely credible – stories it contains :

"Incredible though it seems, a priest was actually ordained in Dachau concentration camp. On December 17, 1944, our young comrade, the German Deacon Karl Leisner, was ordained a priest of Christ by Bishop Gabriel Piguet in the chapel of a Nazi prison camp run by the SS. It really seemed nothing short of another miracle of Christ in Dachau.

Karl Leisner, who had had some lung trouble while at the seminary, was sent to St Blasien in the Black Forest on the recommendation of his Bishop for a few weeks convalescence shortly before he was due for ordination in 1939. A few unguarded remarks about the Nazi regime had sufficed for his arrest and subsequent internment in Dachau. After five years in the concentration camp he was no dying of tuberculosis in the isolation block. He knew how things stood with him, and it was his dearest wish to be ordained as a priest before the end came.

Fortunately we still had a bishop in our community at that time (on January 22, 1945, the Bishop was removed from our block and placed under special arrest with the other ‘distinguished prisoners’), and permission was duly obtained in all secrecy from the diocesan authorities in Munich and in Münster. It was also necessary to obtain certain items of the Bishop’s insignia from Munich, although much of the regalia was made ‘on the side’ in the camp itself by the many fine craftsmen among the prisoners. The alb, the slippers and the mitre, for instance, as well as the ‘gold’ pectoral cross and crozier, were actually made in Dachau.

It was a memorable occasion that winter Sunday morning, as the Bishop made his way in slow procession from the hut across to the chapel. His episcopal vestments were worn over his striped prison uniform and his mitre covered his shaved head. Instead of some great cathedral he was entering a humble chapel in a concentration camp. More than a thousand priests had crowded into the chapel for this unique ceremony. The choir provided music worthy of the occasion.

Nine days later Fr Leisner celebrated his first and only Mass. A dying man, he had achieved his goal on earth. Five days after the camp was liberated by the Americans he was taken to the convent hospital in Planegg near Munich where he died that summer. The last comment in his diary might well have been written for all his priest comrades in Dachau : ‘Love – charity – atonement. O God, bless my enemies !’ May his soul rest in peace."

Fr Leisner was beatified by Pope John Paul II on June 23 1996.
His Feast day is 12 August, the anniversary of his death.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Christian Unity ? Catholic Unity comes first !

Last week I put up a post suggesting that whilst Christian Unity was important, the internal Unity of the Church was perhaps more so – or rather, was at least within our power to control, and was also something of a stumbling block if we are trying to persuade other Christians that they should find their way home to the Catholic Church. One or two friends suggested to me that my words might have been a little on the strong side – especially for a convert !

In his homily this morning at the Oratory, F. Creighton-Jobe preached on the subject of Christian Unity; and I was heartened to hear him raise the subject of disunity within the Church, and say, without equivocation ‘these divisions are sinful; of course, they’re the work of the Devil !’

I was delighted to hear him say it, because it is what I feel, but would not have dared say; and then I remembered – F. Creighton-Jobe is a convert too ! . . . and if he can, perhaps I can as well.
Accordingly, relying on his authority, I would like to say a little more about this topic as the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity comes to an end : particularly, perhaps, because we in England are, at present, being looked at closely by many outsiders who are seeking to discern whether the Holy Ghost is leading them, with the assistance of the Holy Father’s initiative, to come home to join us.

My problem is that I quite understand the things which cause divisions in the Church; I understand that people can feel strongly about things that matter to them, and I too would like the whole Church to view everything the same way that I do . . . I love plainsong, and heartily dislike ‘worship songs’, for example; but I try to accept that there are those, almost certainly better Catholics than I, whose tastes are exactly the opposite, and that it’s their Church too . . . so I have, above all, to be tolerant.

S. Augustine said ‘In necessariis unitas, In dubiis libertas, In omnibus autem caritas (‘In essentials, unity; in inessentials, liberty; in all things charity’); and I think that perhaps many of us need to take that message to heart today. If the mass is valid, then it’s valid – it doesn’t matter whether it’s 1962 in cloth-of-gold, or EP2 in polyester; it’s valid, and it confects the same Blessed Sacrament – it brings amongst us the same saving ‘Body, Blood, Soul, & Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ’ : and it seems to me, as I’ve suggested before, that those who would disagree with that are, at best, in schism.

The Faith – the Creeds, the teaching of the Magisterium – is essential; and we must be united in belief in it, or we cannot properly call ourselves Catholic.

The externals of the Rites, and matters of Church furnishing and ordering, are, on the whole, inessential; and we are therefore at liberty to hold what opinions we choose . . .

. . . except that, if we want to be Christian, we are not at liberty to serve the Devil by deciding (and probably announcing loudly) that those who disagree with us about such inessentials are ‘mad, bad, or dangerous to know’. Providing they are in good faith – and that is for God to judge, not us, unless it is palpable that they are not (and whatever the circumstances, I’d be very reluctant to make that call) – then they are as entitled to their views as we are, and it is our Christian duty to accept that – ‘in all things, charity’.

Lord; grant us the grace to accept this, and to make Your Church the home of loving Unity which You want it to be . . . because if we can’t obey Our Lord’s command Ut Unum sint in His own Church, how can we ever expect it to be obeyed anywhere else ?

Be the 'Soul' of the Web, says the Holy Father

Yesterday, the Holy Father delivered his Message for World Communications Day, which is actually today, the Memorial of S. Francis de Sales, patron saint of journalists (and apparently, by extension, of bloggers !).

In it, His Holiness explicitly commended priestly use of the internet in general, and blogs in particular; and although not explicitly, clearly supported the growing Catholic presence on the Web - reassuring for Catholic bloggers everywhere !

Fr Tim has, inevitably, got a splendid post about it all, and as I can't possibly do better, I just advise you to read it without further delay.

I would, though, like to make one particular comment.

There's an old saying - 'If you want to get something done, ask a busy man'; and experience shows that is also true for priests - the busy priest, busy about the Lord's work, will always manage to do what is needed, and do it well . . . it is (as Archbishop Sheen and other so forcibly observe) the priest who cares only for his own interests who loses sight of the Word he is meant to proclaim.

The Holy Father points out that 'priests present in the world of digital communications should be less notable for their media savvy than for their priestly heart, their closeness to Christ' - in other words, don't let your blog take over your life so that you neglect your pastoral duties.

Well, I don't claim to know every priestly blogger in the UK, still less the world : but I know at least one who has a very successful and popular blog, and multitudinous external commitments, and yet still manages to be the heart and centre of a notably devout and active parish - a parish which is also home to several other notable Catholic bloggers. Thus his activity, being nourished and inspired by the love of God, is fruitful; not sterile as it would be if it was founded only on his own interests.

The Holy Father continues with the hope that this will 'not only enliven [the priests'] pastoral outreach, but also will give a "soul" to the fabric of communications that makes up the "Web"' : and it seems to me that this is something which applies to all of us Catholics who blog - we are meant to be the 'soul' of the 'Web', and try and ensure that, in an increasingly secular age, the truth of God does not disappear from sight in a haze of technology.

As I mentioned; today is the Memorial of S. Francis de Sales. I am lucky enough to have a relic of him; and I pray today that, with his help, the Web may increasingly be an effective means of grace for many, and a channel for the knowledge of God's love to spread throughout the world.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Lent Books

S. Benedict, in his Rule (Ch.48, 15) directs that ‘During this time of Lent each one is to receive a book from the library, and is to read the whole of it straight through’.

I think that most of us feel that the reading of at least one ‘Lent Book’ is a good thing to do, providing us with spiritual material for meditations, and also helping us to focus our minds on appropriate topics during the holy season.

I thought that I might perhaps suggest a few of my own favourites, some of them well-known, one or two I suspect rather less so, which you may like to consider for Lenten reading. I'm sorry that several of them are not currently in print; but Abebooks will probably be able to help, or the excellent S. Philip's Books in Oxford ( may well have copies.
(The order is not significant; it's just how they came to hand as I looked over my shelves.)

Journal of a Soul ~ John XXIII
My copy is an old one; but it is readily available second-hand, if not new.
Pope John XXIII began his ‘spiritual journal when a seminarian, and kept it throughout his life. It tells frankly of his trials, temptations, and concerns; and provides wonderful meditations and prayers as well as much of comfort when life becomes almost unbearable.

Letters to a Non-Believer ~ Thomas Crean OP
Family Publications
fr Thomas deals with many ‘objections’ to the Faith, or problems with it, in a series of letters written to a Muslim friend. It makes this a very useful handbook of apologetics for today’s world, as well as being stimulating reading.

The Creed in Slow Motion ~ Ronald Knox
My copy is an old one; I suspect it may only be available second-hand, but I know that S. Philip's Books in Oxford had several good copies the last time I was there.
Mgr Knox takes a detailed look at the Apostle’s Creed, in simple, informative, amusing, yet exceptionally thought-provoking terms. I read this every year during Lent.

Seven Last Words ~ Timothy Radcliffe OP
Burns & Oates
fr Timothy’s meditations on Jesus’ ‘seven last words from the cross’ will lead your mind in all sorts of ways; and stimulate you to find significances which you had never before considered.

The Spirit of Place : Carthusian Reflections ~ A Carthusian
Darton, Longman, & Todd
This is a collection of Homilies and addresses for significant occasions in the life of S. Hugh’s Charterhouse, Parkminster dealing with solitude, stillness, silence, and expectancy; they challenge, but at the same time support.

Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy ~ J. Neville Ward
Epworth Press
A splendid book of extended meditations on the Mysteries of the Rosary. Written by a Methodist, by used – and loved – by many Catholics (including Pope Paul VI) for the last forty years.

The Priest is Not His Own ~ Fulton Sheen
Ignatius Press
This is primarily aimed at priests, of course; but there is much in it of interest and value to the laity. Abp Sheen provides solid scriptural authority for his remarks, and paints a picture of the type of priest that all of us would like to find in the presbytery of our parish – and then explains to Father just how he can become that priest !

‘A Drink Called Happiness’ The New Wine of Dominican Spirituality ~ Paul Murray OP
Burns & Oates
An examination of Dominican Spirituality, and in particular their readiness to ‘drink deep’ at God’s Word, and find in that a way of life that is truly open to God’s world, and is thus full of joy.

The Monastic Institutes ~ John Cassian
St Austin Press
This wonderful translation by F Jerome Bertram of the Oxford Oratory includes his consideration of ‘The Eight Deadly Sins’ which is particularly appropriate for Lent; and his thoughtful – and realistic – recommendations for dealing with them are still as applicable now as they were in the Thebaid.

Leave Your Life Alone ~ Dom Hubert van Zeller
I don’t think it’s still in print; originally pub. by Sheed & Ward
A book for the worried, fearful, and perplexed . . . in other words, all of us ! Dom Hubert identifies some of the greatest problems of modern life, and then suggests a practical way out of them – recognize that we are in God’s hands, and leave it to Him !

. . . and finally, a book for Passiontide :

A Doctor at Calvary ~ Pierre Barbet
My copy is an old American one from Kenedy, but I think it is now available in paperback, although I don’t have details to hand.
Dr Barbet considers the practical realities of the Passion and Crucifixion in light of his medical training and extensive experience. It is a moving, and deeply religious book, particularly the last chapter which is an extended – and graphic – Meditation on the Passion; but you should be aware that Dr Barbet pulls absolutely no punches, and conceals nothing – it makes ‘The Passion of the Christ’ (which is apparently not all that accurate) look like ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ in comparison !

I hope that some of these books may interest you; and I should be very glad to know of books which you find helpful in Lent.

Friday, 22 January 2010

re : The Divine Office

A couple of days ago I put up a post called 're: Apostolate for the Divine Office', based on a post on New Liturgical Movement about Lay recitation of the Divine Office; and I suggested that this was a very good thing, to be encouraged . . . so this is the first of an 'occasional series' of posts about the Office, in the hope that it will stimulate people to say the Office.

One of the things which the NLM post highlighted was that people were concerned about the time it takes to say the Office; and another was knowing how to say it.

Obviously both of these are important issues; but obviously how to do it is potentially quite a complex topic : so as a quick starter, let me just try and give some idea about the time involved : and at this point I'm specifically talking about the time involved in saying 'The Divine Office'.

(That's the UK version of the modern Office in English; although in fact the US version wouldn't be very different, and the Latin version - which is what I use now - is also very much the same.)

The Divine Office for any given day consists of six parts :

The Invitatory
this is just a single psalm, with a repeated Antiphon, said before the first Office of the day

The Office of Readings
this is usually said first thing in the morning; but can be said at any time after noon the previous day, or (as many Monasteries do) during the night

Morning Prayer (Lauds)

Prayer during the Day

Evening Prayer (Vespers)

this is sometimes called 'Night Prayer', and is said before bed - which may make it after midnight

Thinking of time, the question of how you say the Office is obviously important. If you say it all aloud, then it will take longer; if you literally just read it, then much less time. Traditionally, one said the Office, but without vocalising it; your lips had to form the words, but they were not meant to be audible. As that is how I have always said it when alone, those are the timings I know . . . adjust to suit your own technique. (Equally, some people say the Office quite quickly, others want to linger over every verse of every psalm. My timings are for a reverent, but continuous, recitation . . . again, adjust to suit.)

For me, the Invitatory takes about a minute and a half; and the Office of Readings for an average day takes about 20 minutes.

Lauds and Vespers (which have the same format) take about ten minutes each, Prayer during the Day not much over five (sometimes less); and Compline perhaps a little over five.

Now : I bought my first copy of The Divine Office in (I think) 1974 - so I'm fairly familiar not only with my way about the books, but also with the words - I have, after all, said every psalm many times; all of which may mean that my timings are a little faster than yours will be (at least to start with) . . . but it gives you an idea of the scale of the commitment.

May I say, finally, that if you have not done it before, I would start off with Lauds and Vespers, with or without Compline; and then add in Readings (perhaps only at weekends to start with), and finally Prayer during the Day. Lauds and Vespers are probably the most important bits of the Office, and provide a good starting point; and once you're used to them, the rest of it really will follow quite easily.

As you will see, even saying the whole Office should take a total of (say) an hour a day; which is hardly an unreasonable commitment - especially when you think that it is providing the best possible bedrock of prayer for the rest of your spiritual and devotional life.

Next Time . . . I don't know; whatever you'd like to know seems quite a good idea !

The Road to Hell . . .

. . . is (they say) paved with good intentions !

Now; whether or not that adage be true, there is one thing that I know I am not always very good about, and I suspect that many others share my problem; and that is Intentions.

Every prayer we say, every Mass we attend, every Holy Communion we make, has clear spiritual fruits; and not only the simple one of helping us towards holiness, but also those which can be applied for others . . . be it the Holy Souls in Purgatory, or some other virtuous purpose. The trouble is that we don't always remember to make the fullest use of this wonderful treasury of Grace, either for ourselves or for others.

Seriously : how often do you go to Mass, or say your Office, or your Rosary, or anything else, without a firm and settled Intention in your minds before you do so ?

Also, how often has someone said to you 'say one for me' ? . . . and how often have you then forgotten to ? (And we should not forget that, if you have actually explicitly agreed to do so, then your omission is at least a venial sin against justice !)

It is precisely because many of us are less than well-organized in these ways that I thought it worth posting a few suggestions which may be of some us - not least, to me !

One useful idea is what Priests learn when they in Seminary : that they should, for the proper performance of their priestly duties, have certain 'Habitual Intentions', which they form at the start of their priesthood, and renew from time to time thereafter* - for instance, they should have a fixed and permanent Intention that in the administration of all the Sacraments they always intend to do what the Church intends them to do - and there used to be (I do not know if it still taught) a suggestion that one should have an Habitual Intention that, in the absence of any other specific Intention, one's Mass was offered for the Holy Souls.

It seems to me that there is something in this from which all of us could benefit.

For example, we could formulate, and periodically repeat, an Habitual Intention that our Holy Communions, unless we formulate some other specific Intention, are for the good of the Holy Souls, or of our family and friends, or some other suitable aim; and do the same, perhaps for a selection of different Intentions, for our other regular devotional practices.

That way, even if we do not formulate a specific Intention every time we go to Mass, every time we say our Rosary, we can be sure that we are doing some concrete good with it quite apart from the benefits we personally derive from it.

Similarly, if we formulate an Habitual Intention to gain whatever Indulgences are available to us each day, and at the start of each day say at least some short prayers for the Holy Father's Intentions (and, of course, make regular Confession and Holy Communion), then we can be sure that we are not 'wasting' the opportunities for Grace which Holy Church provides for us.

Also, if we have an Habitual Intention that some part of our regular prayer life is offered 'for all those who have been commended to my prayers, or have just call on them', then there is less of a worry about forgetting to mention someone for whom you have been asked - and have agreed - to pray.

I don't know, by the way, if there is any formal teaching about how often one ought to renew an Habitual Intention; but I should have thought (unless anyone better informed can correct me) repeating it at least annually would be sufficient - perhaps on one's Name Day ?

Finally, may I offer a couple of charitable suggestions ?

An Anglican priest of my acquaintance habitually includes in his prayers 'One Our Father for all those who have made no prayer or act of worship this day' - which seems to me to be a very good and Christian thing to do.

Similarly, an at least occasional Intention 'for the dying' - as opposed to those already dead - is a very good one. Apart from anything else, we shall all one day need such prayers, by which time it may be a little late to offer them for others . . . let us do it now, whilst we have time. Our loving care for them will not be forgotten.

* I do realize that an Habitual Intention is not per se sufficient for the efficacy of the Sacraments, and that an at least Virtual Intention is required; but as this post is primarily directed towards the laity, I have tried to keep it simple, relying on the clergy's specialized knowledge of these matters to ensure that they satisfy the requirements laid upon them for the effective performance of their ministry.

A Time for Lists

Lent is getting nearer. . .

I remember, a year or two ago, hearing an excellent Sermon at the Oratory by F. Ronald Creighton-Jobe, in which he drew attention to the fact that the fashion of his youth for making a 'Lent List' - in which one set down the Lenten penances and disciplines one was going to follow, the Lent book(s) one was going to read, and the Spiritual Graces one was praying to achieve - seemed to have gone; and he suggested that it was a fashion which was overdue for a comeback.

. . . and that is the only purpose of this very short post : to suggest that in these last weeks before Lent we can prepare ourselves by thinking on these things, perhaps writing them down, but generally being ready so that Ash Wednesday does not find us unprepared, and our keeping of the Holy Fast does not get off to an uncertain start.

(May I also suggest that one element of that preparation might be checking on confession times, so that you can be sure to make your confession immediately before the start of Lent, and not end up having to delay until the first weekend !)

Thursday, 21 January 2010

A Land of Pure Delight

I don’t know if you know the hymn by Isaac Watts ‘There is a land of pure delight’ ? Well, it was much in my mind this morning at Mgr Graham Leonard's Funeral Requiem at the Oxford Oratory.

The hymn goes :

There is a land of pure delight,
Where saints immortal reign,
Infinite day excludes the night,
And pleasures banish pain.

There everlasting spring abides,
And never withering flowers:
Death, like a narrow sea, divides
This heav’nly land from ours.

Sweet fields beyond the swelling flood
Stand dressed in living green:
So to the Jews old Canaan stood,
While Jordan rolled between.

But timorous mortals start and shrink
To cross this narrow sea;
And linger, shivering on the brink,
And fear to launch away.

O could we make our doubts remove,
Those gloomy thoughts that rise,
And see the Canaan that we love
With unbeclouded eyes!

Could we but climb where Moses stood,
And view the landscape o’er,
Not Jordan’s stream, nor death’s cold flood,
Should fright us from the shore.

To start with, apart from the fact that it is an hymn very appropriate to funerals, I couldn’t work out why it kept on coming into my mind; but meditating after Communion I realized that – today, particularly – it had a two-fold significance.

Look at the last verse : it is surely obvious that if those of us there this morning could stand where, we hope and believe, Mgr Graham is now, seeing – even if still from the shores of Purgatory – the heavenly land, then none of us would want other than to be there with him.

Although we are all well aware that the reality often appears to be otherwise, our Christian Faith teaches us that this ‘narrow sea’ is all that separates us from our heavenly Home; and that it is, ultimately, only our fears which make us fearful of crossing it – that make us so afraid of death.

However, this morning, in a crowded Church, I recognized another dimension; one which I am sure Mgr Graham would have recognized.

That is that there was, this morning, another ‘narrow sea’ involved; in this case (in Anglican parlance), the Tiber. Everyone there was united in affection and respect for Mgr Graham; yet as well as the division which death had wrought between him and us, there was also a division amongst us which cried aloud of a sorrow almost greater than our sorrow at his death – the sorrow (which I’m sure I was not alone in feeling) that so many of those close to him for so many years could not receive their Holy Communion at his Funeral Mass – could not in that way support Priscilla and the family; and could not be united with him in Christ on this momentous occasion.

There were, of course, official Anglican representatives present; the Bishop of London was represented by the Area Bishop of Edmonton, and others were mentioned : but there were also many others, mainly familiar faces from Mgr Graham’s ministry in London and before, who made the journey to Oxford out of the love they bore him – I saw, for example, one of his former Chaplains, who had made the horrendous journey from Ipswich simply so that he could support Mgr Graham for the last time.

At the same time, there were many other familiar faces there, part of Mgr Graham’s life in the Church of England, who were able to share in the Mass to the fullest extent – Bishop Alan Hopes, for instance, the principal Celebrant, spoke movingly of how Bishop Leonard (as he then was) took part in his Ordination as an Anglican; and there were several other concelebrants whom I know to have started their ministry under Mgr Graham when he was Anglican Bishop of either Truro or London, but who, like him ‘launched away’ and crossed the ‘narrow sea’, to find home in full communion with the Apostolic See, and who were today able to share in full measure in saying farewell to a good man, a fine teacher, and a holy priest.

I don’t think I am being fanciful if I say that, today perhaps of all days, the last verse of that hymn could well have been viewed as relating not only to the Christian’s journey through death to life eternal, but also to the short journey across the Tiber from the uncertainty of the Church of England to the enormous relief, and security, of the Holy Catholic Church.

Mgr Graham found great peace and joy in the Catholic Church, as many others – both before and since – have done too – myself amongst them. Let us pray that those many men and women of goodwill who shared this morning in our farewell to Mgr Graham may come to get rid of their doubts and ‘gloomy thoughts’ and – like him in 1993 – at last ‘see the Canaan that they love with unbeclouded eyes’ and ‘launch away’ to find, like him, an earthly home in the Catholic Church which will we trust, lead them at last to Heaven.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

re : Apostolate for The Divine Office

Shawn Tribe, on New Liturgical Movement, has today posted the results of two recent surveys on lay use of The Divine Office (in any form), and on the basis of those results has put forward some very valuable suggestions for the establishment of a lay 'Apostolate for the Divine Office'.

I think that anything that encourages the greater saying of the Office, in whatever form, is a truly excellent thing, and I shall certainly be offering Shawn my services, as well as doing whatever I can on this blog to support his initiative.

Please let me encourage anyone who feels s/he can help with this work to contact Shawn (the details are on NLM), and also to encourage the use of the Office by the laity in whatever ways you can.

Eliminationism - a crime for our times ?

Last evening I was listening to 'Night Waves' on Radio 3, and someone (whose name I didn't catch) was talking about his latest book, which is basically about genocide.

He was saying that it has become increasingly common in recent years; if I understood correctly, he was suggesting that it has become a more common 'problem-solving' tool - get rid of the group of people who cause all the trouble, and you won't have trouble. Certainly the Twentieth Century provides plenty of examples of people who believed that idea was workable - Hitler, Stalin, Mao Zedong, Pol Pot, Mugabe . . .

What worried me was that, as he was talking, I recognized so many correlations between the thought processes he was discussing, and the issue I discussed in yesterday's post : because since Vatican II, particularly, there has been an apparent determination in various parts of the Church to exclude those who disagree with various things to the extent of driving them out or even destroying them - despite the fact that the things they disagree about are not de fide, but are largely matters of taste, or praxis, or even personality.

Whether you agree with the Inquisition or not, that was about Faith, and the possibility of a person not only losing heaven for him/herself, but also endangering other people's chance of getting there : so you might make a case for the drastic actions which took place, especially given the culture of the time.

The fact that, in recent years, people (on both sides, I must make clear) have been prepared to adopt an alarmingly similar posture in relation to such things as the orientation of Mass, liturgical language, and the like, seriously made me wonder whether the speaker was right, and that the human mindset had developed alarmingly in recent generations, leading to this perception that 'eliminationism' was not only an effective, but also an appropriate, solution to every problem of dissent.

I hope not.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Catholic Unity Week ?

The inimitable ‘living in the shadowlands’ blog has done it again, with a post today called ‘Christian (how about starting with Catholic) Unity Week' : and I have to say that – IMHO – it hits the nail precisely on the head.

Anyone who spends any amount of time looking about the Catholic blogs of the UK and US cannot fail to be aware that there is a tremendous amount of infighting going on all the time – much (though by no means all) of it between the Novus Ordo and Summorum Pontifium camps. Similarly, the debate over the new English translation of the Missale Romanum seems to be gathering momentum, given the Bitter Pill’s willingness to give space to Fr Michael Ryan’s attempts to prevent its implementation, and the enthusiasm of ‘Stand Up for Vatican II’ for ensuring that nothing shall ever change, providing only that it does not pre-date Vatican II.

Now; if you think I’m revealing a point of view, you’d be right. I am firmly of the belief that His Holiness’ commitment to the Hermeneutic of Continuity is the right approach for the Catholic Church – and, indeed, that it always was.

However, I am even more firmly of the belief that there’s something even more important out there; which is that His Church obeys Our Lord’s ultimate request : ‘Ut unum sint’ – that they may all be one.

I became a Catholic for exactly that reason; that I might belong to the One Church which can show an unbroken existence from the beginning, and which has only developed, never changed, the Faith which Christ gave to the Apostles. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised when I find as much division inside the Catholic Church as I ever found outside it : but perhaps it saddens me more.

We are ONE Church – but that doesn’t mean that we all have to be identical, and have identical opinions and tastes; we just have to believe the same things. The Creeds say nothing about the use of Latin in the liturgy; nothing about whether the priest celebrates versus populum or ad Orientem. Those are not essentials; and as far as I can see (and I am wide open to criticism/correction from suitably informed and authoritative sources) anyone who tries to make them essentials of the faith is simply fomenting schism.

In last Sunday’s Second Lesson we listened to Paul writing to the Corinthians, saying that ‘There is a variety of gifts but always the same spirit; there are all sorts of service to be done, but always to the same Lord; working in all sorts of ways in different people, it is the same God Who is working in all of them.’ Why is it that we can say these things in the Lessons, but not put them into practice in the daily life of the Church ?

Don’t mistake me; I’m not perfect, and I’m sure that I’ve contributed my share to the wounds which we impose on Jesus by our disunity – but I want all this to stop; I want everyone in the Catholic Church (including myself) to accept, and respect, that everyone in good faith is entitled to have his or her own opinion on things like liturgy, and then, as long as we are not disobedient to the Magisterium, to satisfy his or her own tastes.

What I don’t think we’re entitled to do is to say is that our tastes are ‘right’, and that all those who disagree with us are ‘wrong’, whether it be about liturgy, or devotion, or anything else which is a matter of opinion : only the Church is entitled to do that – which in practice means the Pope - and then it's no longer a matter of opinion, but a matter of fact.

One of the best things about being Catholic is that we can have certainty on fundamental matters; and they cause quite enough divisions within Christendom by themselves - divisions which the Holy Father is striving in so many ways to heal. Can't we at least avoid adding to his burdens by creating internal dissension within his own Church about things that aren’t fundamental ?

If we do that, then perhaps – and only perhaps – we may be able to persuade the world that, despite our previous bad showing (at least in worldly terms), what we offer, in our unity, really IS what Jesus offered; and that Ubi Petrus, Ibi Ecclesia.

Monday, 18 January 2010

When the Battle looms ever nearer . . .

If you do a check round the various UK Catholic blogs today, there is quite a lot to worry about, one way or another - and I admit that I've contributed my fair share in the past, so please don't think I'm complaining : I'm not; that's exactly what Catholic blogging is all about - encouraging, informing, and generally supporting each other in the Faith.

However : we have a good deal of angst about Bishop Malcolm McMahon's recent remarks in The Bitter Pill, not to mention ongoing stress about the Equality Bill, and the question of mandatory education in the 'normality' of same-sex relationships . . . all matters which quite rightly cause concern amongst Catholics.

What can we do ? Well, I'm sure you know what I'm going to say; but I'm going to say it again anyway . . . pray : pray the Rosary.

If it could work against the Turks at Lepanto, it can work against today's enemies of the Faith.

As S. Philip Neri correctly pointed out, 'If God be with us, there is no-one else left to fear'.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

HAITI - Dominican Update

I've now managed to get what appears to be comprehensive information on the effect of the earthquake on the Dominican Family in Haiti.

I'm delighted to say that all the Friars and Sisters survived; and, indeed, apart from one injured Sister, basically unscathed. Sadly, there was apparently one child killed in the school the Sisters ran; but that would appear to be all.

Further, all the members of the Dominican Secular Institute there have also survived; although sadly the two adult daughters of the Group's Moderator were both killed. Please pray for them, and for all those who have died.

At the same time, though, we must thank God, and S. Dominic, that all his sons and daughters in Haiti - his own island - are safe, and are able to continue their work for the good of their brothers and sisters there : an effort in which I am sure the rest of the Dominican Family worldwide will also play their part.

The 'Bank of Prayer'

Next week is, as I have already mentioned, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity – an important cause, and one for which we all ought to be praying hard. At the same time, though, it is overshadowed by the appalling consequences of the earthquake in Haiti, and (at least for most of us) the sad fact that apart from giving money we can do little except pray . . . and then, of course, we all have other legitimate – and important – calls on our prayers.

So what can we do, not only about these two desperately urgent things, but about all the other things which come along every day – and if you’ve been reading my musings over the last few weeks, you will realize that I think there are quite a lot of them – about which we really ought to be praying ?

The trouble is, you see, that at a time like this when there are several major demands on one’s prayers, one’s mind inevitably asks ‘but who should I pray for ?' Obviously you ought to pray for Christian Unity : but you can’t get those images of Haiti out of your mind . . . and then there’s Aunt Maude who’s so ill, and that little girl that someone else mentioned, and . . .

Well, I think there’s a very simple answer.

You know how, when you send money to a big charity in response to an Appeal when something happens like Haiti you let them decide what the best thing to do with it is – whether it’s to send doctors, or to ship food and water, or to rebuild hospitals, you let them decide, because the needs change from day to day, and you have no idea ?

Well, you can do the same with prayers; a fact which (surprisingly) we tend to forget.

(I say ‘surprisingly’ because we all say at least a couple of prayers every day (at least, I hope we do) ‘for the Holy Father’s Intentions’, and we don’t usually know exactly what he wants to do with those prayers at that moment; we just know that he and God together will make proper use of them – which is what matters : so at least in theory we already know that we have the solution for times like this.)

Just say your Rosary (or, indeed, anything else you prefer), but offer it directly to Our Lady for her to make use of as God wills. If you want, you can even say to her privately, before you start ‘Mother, God knows that I care about Christian Unity and bringing our separated Brethren back home; but also that I am deeply distressed about Haiti and want to help them, (and whatever else occurs to you) – please, just make whatever use of these prayers God wants’.

In other words, you put your prayers into a ‘Bank’, which Our Lady can draw on for whatever God wants; and you can stop worrying, and get on with your prayers in the knowledge that you really will make a difference.

If you do that then you can (I believe) be sure of three things : first, Our Lady will be very pleased to receive your prayers and apply them for you; secondly, that they will do much good – the good that God wants them to do; and thirdly, that God will be very pleased with our trust in Him and His love.

Get praying !

(The picture at the top, by the way, is the Madonna del Popolo, showing Our Lady doing exactly what I have described above !)

Saturday, 16 January 2010

How Hard It Is

Living in the Shadowlands has just posted this account of her thoughts about the situation in Haiti, and our responses to it, whilst sitting outside Mass this evening.

It is moving, and thought-provoking : I urge you to read it.

After reading the above, Shadowlands emailed me to express a concern about what people might think of her post. It seemed to me then - as I replied - that it was a very clear and honest insight into the working of prayer in the human mind. She might not believe me, but it's the sort of honesty which you find in the writings of some of the Saints, and certainly has parallels in the 'Journal of a Soul' of Blessed John XXIII.

Of course it feels hopeless to pray at such times; but surely the very acceptance of one's hopelessness is (a) precious to God, and therefore beneficial to those for whom you pray; and (b) beneficial to you, as helping you deepen your insight into your own inadequacy, and God's love. Similarly, the acknowledgement of one's selfishness, and lack of spiritual commitment, is painful to achieve; the ability to recognize it is of great value; the honesty of posting it on the web, even if anonymously, is tremendous.

I make no claim to being an expert; but we're all called to be Saints; and I'd have thought that Shadowlands is teaching us all something valuable about recognizing our failings, and admitting them, which can only help us in that ambition. I for one shall try and profit from her comments.

Knowing What We Believe

Next week is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity; and at Mass at the Oratory this evening, Fr Harrison made the point that, this year, the Holy Father has taken a major step in that direction by offering the possibility of 'corporate reunion' to Anglicans and ex-Anglicans throughout the world, who can now come into full communion with the Church whilst retaining much of their own patrimony of liturgy and spirituality.

As Fr Harrison is himself - like me - an ex-Anglican, he knows of what he speaks; and undoubtedly the Anglican tradition does have things to offer the Catholic Church; things for which the Church will undoubtedly be grateful, even if only 'in time'.

However, pondering what he had said reminded me of a point which many - if not most - 'cradle Catholics' perhaps do not realise, and which is beautifully summed up by Ann Widdecombe in her Foreword to 'The Path to Rome' :

'The convert is in a very different position from the cradle Catholic. Someone who is born into the Church and who later develops doubts about its doctrines remains a Catholic, but the convert has to state at the point of reception that he or she believes that what the Church teaches is revealed truth. That, saving a significant act of perjury, leaves no room for any lingering doubts at all.'

The fact is that, in common with every other convert, when I was received I not only had to recite the Creed, as a statement of my belief : I also had to make a very clear Profession of Faith in the Church and its authority - and whilst the Creed formed part of the Mass, and I might have fudged some part of that with which I had problems, the Profession of Faith was my 'solo spot', with everyone listening to me; so no possibility of any sort of equivocation at all. (I might say that I almost, inadvertently, did what Ms Widdecombe apparently did, and recited the extended Profession of Faith which is required for those to be consecrated as Bishops . . . fortunately I was warned in time that I didn't need to go quite that far, at least yet !)

Ms Widdecombe continues 'Thus it is possible to feel utterly in communion with the Holy See but to be obliged to remain out of communion on the basis of some doctrinal difficulty.'

For me, happily, there were no such problems - one of the benefits of being prepared by a Dominican, probably ! - but I know of others who have exactly that problem, and who face an increasingly uncomfortable future torn between where they want to be, and where they feel 'stuck' by some (probably quite minor) perceived theological problem.

During this coming week, let us pray that the Holy Father's generosity in offering this accommodation to Anglicans will be rewarded by many new members of the Church; many more who, as I - and Fr Harrison - have already done, 'find their way home'.

Our Lady of Walsingham, pray for them.

Holy Father Dominic, pray for them !

My memory was just jogged into recollection that Haiti was originally known as Santo Domingo, and the first capital was Santo Domingo de Guzman . . . so the members of the Dominican Family throughout the world have a very special connection with Haiti.

Let us ask S. Dominic to have all the people of Haiti in his prayers at this time.

Friday, 15 January 2010

More Helping Haiti

A short while ago I received an email from an old friend, mentioning another excellent channel for providing immediate assistance to Haiti; with the added bonus that whatever you give will be doubled. I quote it more or less in full :

Medair brings life-saving relief and rehabilitation to disasters and conflict areas. They are currently working in Afghanistan, Congo, Madagascar, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda - and already have a team en route to Haiti. I worked for Medair in Kosovo ten years ago and am now a UK board member, so I can vouch for their expertise and integrity. And thanks to match funding from The Big Give, donating online at will mean that your donation is doubled immediately.

I appreciate that Medair is not a Catholic charity - it is a Swiss NGO - but it does excellent work, and in view of the match funding offer, it must be worth at least looking at. You can find out more about Medair here.

The Search for 'Normal' Family Life

Some month or two ago now, I signed the Manhattan Declaration – a document which was originally aimed at the US Government, but which now seems to have taken on international status as a proclamation of the belief of the Leaders and Faithful of Christian Churches everywhere in :

+ the Sanctity of Human Life;

+ the Dignity of Marriage as the Conjugal Union of Husband & Wife;

+ the Rights of Conscience and Religious Liberty.

If you believe in these fundamental concepts – and every Catholic obviously ought to – then I do encourage you to sign the Declaration – which you can do here. (If you wish to, you can also look at the list of Religious Leaders who signed the Declaration originally; and it is notable that almost the entire Catholic Hierarchy of the US are featured, as well as a staggering selection of other Christian leaders)

Now : I was already proposing to post on this sometime in the next day or two anyway; but then, this morning, I saw this on His Hermeneuticalness’ blog; the proposal of Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, that not only should children in State Schools be taught that same-sex relationships are 'normal and harmless', but that Faith Schools should be compelled to teach the same thing - regardless of the beliefs and teachings of the faith in question.

I think it must be apparent that this is exactly the sort of thing which the Manhattan Declaration is set up to counter . . . and here it is, now appearing in the UK, as well as the US.

‘For evil to triumph it is only necessary for good men to do nothing’; and although Edmund Burke almost certainly didn't say it, it is still absolutely true. These things are being put forward as ‘normal and harmless’; but those are not the words which the Church would use . . . the Church would rather things were called by their right names; indeed, the Church would rather ‘call a spade a b***** shovel’, if it will prevent people confusing innocent silliness with mortal sin.

Nick Clegg is, I believe, a generally decent man, and I can only assume that, as someone suggested, this is a bid for the ‘Pink Vote’ – the votes of the Gay & Lesbian community.

As Mr Clegg claims not to believe in God, there is clearly no point trying to make him see the error of his ways theologically; but perhaps he would like to consider a pragmatic argument based upon simple electoral mathematics.

I don’t know exactly how big the ‘Pink Vote’ is in the UK, so how many votes he might gain by this scheme : but I am quite certain that the total of the ‘Catholic Vote’, and the ‘Anglican Vote’, and the ‘Methodist / Baptist / URC Vote’, and the ‘Orthodox Vote’, and the ‘Muslim Vote’, and all the other ‘Faith Votes’, will greatly outnumber it . . . and those are the votes he will lose for his party if he does not withdraw this idea.

I have many Gay friends; and one of the most notable things about almost all of them is their enormous tolerance of almost all aspects of personal opinion. I am sure that even if they applaud the concept of this being taught in State Schools, they would be horrified to think that people with deep-seated religious convictions could be forced to teach it, against their consciences and the tenets of their religions, in Faith Schools.

Please, let me urge you not only to sign the Manhattan Declaration, to show your opposition to this sort of thing, and your support for real Human Rights, on a global level; let me also urge my Readers in the UK to notify your Liberal Democrat MP / Candidate that s/he will not receive your vote unless this idea is quashed totally. (If you want, you can also contact the Party Headquarters by email, and let them know what you think of this idea . . . and if every Catholic in England did so, I suspect it would die very quickly.)

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Helping Haiti

Whilst the Red Cross is, of course, always a safe pair of hands for making sure that money reaches disaster areas quickly, safely, and effectively, I am aware that some people prefer to make use of a Catholic charity for this purpose; and there are those who, for all sorts of reasons, do not choose to use CAFOD.

US-based Catholic Relief Services has set up a special website to handle urgent donations for Haiti, and as they already have some 300 staff on the ground there you can be sure that the money will be making a difference quickly.

If you are considering a donation, and don't know how to deal with it, you may wish to have a look at the website and see if CRS meets your particular criteria : I understand from a US News site that Bill Gates (of Microsoft) has already sent them $1 million for starters !

Fr Tim has recently posted this, about the work of Missio in Haiti; and as you will see, it provides details for donating to them as well.

As they quite clearly say, this isn't 'disaster relief'; this is about long-term support for putting the country back together : but both are important, so do please think about supporting Missio.

Fr Tim has now posted further details which have become available of ways of supporting the immediate work of disaster relief through Catholic charities.

Getting the Words Right

As you probably know, there has been a good deal of debate about the new English translations of the Missal. For some, who would claim to be fiercely pro-Vatican II, the new translations are a betrayal of the achievements of the Council, because they go back to the original, and expect the English translation to reproduce faithfully what the Latin Missal says, instead of paraphrasing it in all sorts of 'contemporary' ways, some of them far from theologically satisfactory.

For others - which includes, of course, those who seek the 'Reform of the Reform' (which most notably includes His Holiness) - the divergence of the wording, and thus the theology, of the vernacular translations is a source of grave concern, which was never envisaged by the Conciliar Fathers, and which must now be put right.

It seems to me a 'no brainer', to use a modern phrase. If any translation doesn't translate accurately, then there must be a risk that the hearer doesn't know what is actually being said; and whilst it may not matter if - eg - a discussion about train times with a French booking clerk is merely a paraphrase, when you are dealing with the subtleties of theology it is surely imperative that the translation is perfectly accurate.

To give a single example - and not relying primarily on the English version - the original response to the 'Orate Fratres' reads 'Suscipiat Dominus sacrificium de manibus tuis, ad laudem et gloriam nominis sui, ad utilitatem quoque nostram totiusque Ecclesiae suae sanctae', which is translated as 'May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands, for the praise and glory of his name, for our good, and the good of all the Church'.

Now; apart from the absence of any real translation of 'suae sanctae', this is actually pretty good : but what about the French version. That reads 'Pour la gloire de Dieu, et le salut du monde' ('For the glory of God, and the salvation of the world').

Now I know this sounds wholly unlikely; and yet it is true - that IS the current French version of that response, even though it clearly doesn't even have close to the correct meaning - and yet that 'translation' has been in use for the last forty years. How can anyone suggest that this sort of travesty must not have had an effect upon the understanding of the faithful of the theology of the Mass ?

I suspect I shall come back to this whole issue in the future; but for the moment, an informed and informative article on it in 'America' (the 'National Catholic Weekly' in the US), written by the inimitable Fr Peter Stravinskas, came to my attention earlier today, and I heartily recommend it. The local allusions to American bishops may not be much help, but that apart it is very interesting reading.

(If you are interested, Bishop Trautman is - as far as one can tell from the numerous reports of his speeches and actions - determined to a point of obsession prevent any changes which seek to restore dignity and sound theology to the liturgy which, he appears to believe, was rescued from I know not what by the Novus Ordo, and finally given relevance, contemporary value, and all that sort of thing !)

H/T to New Liturgical Movement for the information, of course.

A Letter to Priests

My lovely friends the (contemplative) Dominican Nuns at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary in Summit, NJ (USA) have put a wonderful post on their blog 'A Letter to All Priests'.

It was originally written by the Dominican Nuns in Bogota, Colombia, and the Summit Sisters felt it should be shared as widely as possible.

I wholeheartedly agree with them; it is a splendid letter, and it is my very great pleasure to encourage you to read it.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

The Equality Bill

Only the second Post on this blog was titled 'A Challenge to Us All', and was about the Equality Bill which the Government is currently proposing.

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.

I was delighted to see a few moments ago on Fr Finigan's blog that someone has now decided to start a Petition to the Prime Minister against this nonsense.

Do follow the link, and sign the Petition !

A Precursor of S. Dominic ?

Today is the Memorial of S. Hilary, Bishop of Poitiers from 350; and I was struck this morning by the passage from his treatise ‘On the Trinity’ which formed part of the Office of Readings.

He says 'The gift of speech which Thou hast bestowed can bring me no higher reward than the opportunity of service in preaching Thee and displaying Thee as Thou art, as Father and Father of God the Only-begotten, to the world in its blindness and the heretic in his rebellion’ – a comment which I am sure that S. Dominic would have echoed wholeheartedly..

Earlier this evening I was reading a recent post on Fr Paul Johnson’s blog, where he was commenting on another priest’s post about the need for priests to continue to study, because it was important to their preaching; and I made a comment that whilst this was undoubtedly true – as was the need for proper preparation – I thought that there was also much value in contemplation as an element of good preaching, as evidenced by the Dominican motto ‘Contemplata Aliis Tradere’ – to contemplate, and pass on the fruits of that contemplation to others.

When I wrote that comment, I’d obviously forgotten this morning’s Reading, despite already having made a note to use it as the basis of a post this evening : what a fickle thing memory is ! However, I’m making up for it now.

Preaching is, of course, something which - in one sense - the clergy do at Mass : but in fact it's not only that, but also everything which any Catholic does to pass on the Word to the world. The Dominican aim is for every part of life to be 'a holy preaching'; and that is not exclusive to clergy, or religious, but applies to us all. In order to do that, though, we have to be informed about our Faith; but we must also continue to study it throughout our lives, and continually contemplate both it and the world in which we live, so that we can relate the two.

The passage from S. Hilary ends with a prayer which, in light of that thought, I believe not only preachers, but all Catholics who want to be able to explain and defend their Faith - which ought to be all of us - could well make their own (and which includes quite a lot of things which are important in addition to study, prayer, and preparation) :

‘Grant us, therefore, precision of language, soundness of argument, grace of style, loyalty to truth. Enable us to utter the things that we believe, that so we may confess, as Prophets and Apostles have taught us, Thee, One God our Father, and One Lord Jesus Christ’.


Pray for Haiti and its People

The terrible news from Haiti of the earthquake there has shocked us all; and you may know that the Archbishop is amongst the dead.

Rorate Caeli has a photo of what I presume is the Cathedral in ruins, which gives some idea of the scale of the disaster.

On a more personal note, though, I also received an email a short time ago asking for prayers for the members of the Dominican Secular Institute in Haiti :

'There are five of them, and we will be very anxious until we have heard what has happened to them. They are all in key situations, working with children mostly. Much will be asked of them in these tragic circumstances; we just pray that they will find the strength once more to respond to others, and that the world will help them. They need our support badly.'

If you've never been in an earthquake, I can only say that it is truly a unique experience. I've been in several - none of them particularly serious - in California and Japan, and I've seen a tarmac road ripple before my eyes like the surface of water; in a severe one, such as that in Haiti, the earth can literally tear apart, change shape, and then close again - all in a few seconds. As you may imagine, such an experience can be tremendously psychologically damaging; not only because of the obvious physical effects of the earthquake, but also because you are suddenly faced with the unarguable fact that the most basic of all premises - the idea that we live on 'solid ground' - is baseless, and that the earth is not actually stable at all; an experience which must, certainly in traumatic circumstances, be something of a challenge to one's faith in the whole order of things.

Please pray for the people of Haiti : not only for the dead, that they may rest in peace, but also for the living, that God may help them at this terrible time, and that they may not lose their faith in His love and mercy through the experience which they have suffered.