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, 28 February 2010

The Good Shepherd

Reading a collection of Mgr Ronnie Knox's ‘sermonettes’ (originally published in the Sunday Times over a period of years in the 1940s and 1950s), I came across this passage :

‘The word “pastor” has been accepted by almost every denomination as a ministerial title. It conveys the sense of a terrifying responsibility; he who would be a good shepherd must be ready to suffer, die if necessary, on behalf of the sheep. Failure at that test convicts you of being a “hireling”; of having taken over the shepherd's duty from some hidden motive of self-love.’

Is it me, or does that seem a particularly apt reflection just at present ?

Resolving Uncertainties

Recently, on Fr Michael Brown's blog 'Forest Murmurs' there was a short post about the problem of Catholic Schools being required to provide advice on how and where to obtain abortions : which provoked, perhaps not surprisingly, a high volume of comments.

The ones which interested me were from someone using the name 'Thomas More', who said, at one point :

'The Catholic bishops are content with the Government's proposals; the Catholic Education Service has endorsed them. Surely that concludes the matter for loyal Catholics. The Magisterium has spoken. To argue further is mere dissent.'

Now; apart from enjoying Fr Michael's response to that comment ('Wasn't there another time when all but one of the Catholic bishops of England were content with what the government had to say which seemed quite unorthodox and a certain Thomas More gave his life rather than accept what they said and is now a saint while the others are mostly forgotten?'), and ignoring for the present the fact that by no stretch of the imagination can the Catholic Education Service be seen as part of the Magisterium, it seems to me that Thomas More's comments are more than a little foolish.

As Fr Michael quite properly pointed out, 'Not everything a bishop says is infallible. Not every thing the Pope says is infallible. People can get things wrong on the level of prudential judgements.' : and he then highlighted exactly the point which I - and many others - have been making for some little time now, namely that we would like the Bishops to explain to us exactly how they resolve what appears to be a contradiction between the Teaching of the Church (the 'Magisterium'), and their conduct.

I appreciate, of course, that the Bishops could perfectly reasonably say 'Yes; but we're your spiritual fathers, and we say it's OK, so you should just accept it'; and I also recognize that anyone who did accept it on that basis would not sin, because you can't sin by obeying your Bishop - even if he's wrong (it is, after all, ultimately the basis of the whole Magisterium !) : and indeed that appears to be the line which the Editor of The Universe is taking in the current edition.

At the same time, when one's spiritual fathers at least appear to be saying something which is inconsistent with the Church's historic teaching, I do think that there is a very strong case for them explaining exactly how they justify it, if only so that their flocks aren't left in a state of doubt and bad conscience . . .

Further, in these days, one has to say that the apparent inconsistency has quite possibly struck non-Catholics too; and it's probably even more important that they understand the Bishops' position - otherwise their confusion will lead them to grave doubt about the Church's teaching and position.

Given the current level of unease amidst many Catholics - and presumably confusion amongst non-Catholics - one can only hope that the Bishops put this one to bed sooner, rather than later.


Just occasionally, something appears before you at the perfeclt appropriate moment.

Here are some parts of the second Reading from the Office of Readings for yesterday. Does it sound even vaguely familiar ?

‘The modern world shows itself at one and the same time both powerful and weak, capable of the noblest deeds or of the foulest. Before it lies the path to freedom or to slavery, to progress or decline, to brotherhood or hatred . . .
Many, it is true, fail to see the dramatic nature of this state of affairs in all its clarity for their vision is blurred on the practical level by materialism, or they are prevented from even thinking about it by the wretchedness of their plight.
Others delude themselves that they have found peace in a world-view now fashionable.
There are still others whose hopes are set on a genuine and total emancipation of mankind through human effort alone and look forward to some future paradise where all the desires of their hearts will be fulfilled . . .’

That passage is another extract, as it happens, from Gaudium & Spes to which I referred yesterday. . . a product of Vatican II. As I said the other day, plus ça change !

Thought for Today - Lent II

‘The more one prays, the more one wishes to pray.’
S. Jean-Marie Vianney, Curé d’Ars

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Limo Mirifico, Limo Mirifico . . .

Well, the Godzdogz team did their best in very trying circumstances; but yet again they went down to a younger and fitter side . . . but at least they stuck it manfully, to the very end; and when you look at the circumstances, I think you will agree with me that both teams deserve applause for being prepared even to try and play football in those conditions.
(And a small prize to anyone who can properly explain the title . . !)

The Things You Find . . .

Looking something else up yesterday evening, I found a passage in Gaudium & Spes (The Pastoral Constitution of Vatican II on ‘The Church in the Modern World’ – Chapter 4, para.76) which I found very interesting reading.

You may do too :
‘The Church herself makes use of temporal things insofar as her own mission requires it. She, for her part, does not place her trust in the privileges offered by civil authority. She will even give up the exercise of certain rights which have been legitimately acquired, if it becomes clear that their use will cast doubt on the sincerity of her witness or that new ways of life demand new methods. It is only right, however, that at all times and in all places, the Church should have true freedom to preach the faith, to teach her social doctrine, to exercise her role freely among men, and also to pass moral judgment in those matters which regard public order when the fundamental rights of a person or the salvation of souls require it. In this, she should make use of all the means – but only those – which accord with the Gospel and which correspond to the general good according to the diversity of times and circumstances.’
(Emphases Added)

Reading it, I wondered whether the Bishops have read it recently : and if they have, to what extent they believe it remains applicable ?

‘The Church should have true freedom to pass moral judgment in those matters which regard public order when the fundamental rights of a person or the salvation of souls require it.’

What have we seen recently ? In England & Wales, at least, the Bishops have quietly ignored the opportunity to pass any sort of moral judgment on the moral bankruptcy of the Government’s legislation and policies : indeed, they have apparently been involved in the formulation of them, and have even appeared to support them.

Yet the issues involved include abortion and ‘assisted suicide’ - issues which one might reasonably have thought came into the category of matters in which ‘the fundamental rights of a person or the salvation of souls’ might require - even demand - that they speak out.

Why have they stayed silent ? We don’t know . . .

I just hope that they do.

Thought for Today

‘When a man is in an occasion of sin, let him look what he is doing, get himself out of the occasion, and avoid the sin.’
S. Philip Neri

Friday, 26 February 2010

Dying In-dignity

The new Government guidelines on ‘assisted suicide’ are nothing short of a disgrace.

Instead of taking the opportunity to say – as they ought – that anyone involved, in any way, in assisting someone to end his or her life will be prosecuted (not just investigated), and further, that no such person shall be permitted to benefit in any way from such a death – the Government has ‘copped out’ and given in to the Devil's ‘culture of death’ which seems to have taken over our modern world, in the interests of a so-called ‘dignity’ which is really only the ultimate indignity.

At this point someone will no doubt tell me that I don’t understand, and that if I knew what it was like to suffer from an incurable disease, and to be dying slowly in hideous pain, I would be more sympathetic.

Sadly, that argument is as fatuous as it is inaccurate.

I agree that I haven’t done it myself; but then neither has anyone who might put that point to me : but two people of the most tremendous importance to me have died in horrible ways, with a great deal of mental and physical suffering : and neither of them asked for a ‘mercy killing’ to shorten their sufferings; although one of them was compos mentis until shortly before the end, and the other one throughout – and indeed even rejected analgesia.

My wife would have scorned to ask for an ‘easy way out’; and she would certainly never have thought of it as ‘dignified’ to seek an early death, despite the weeks of mental anguish, not to mention the physical pain involved. Indeed, when someone asked if she was afraid of dying she said ‘Of course; but it’s like Easter, isn’t it – you can’t have Easter Day without Good Friday, and I can’t have the Resurrection without the Passion.’

Alright, in the event (and when she was barely conscious) she was given pain relief at the end; but ultimately she died in the knowledge – and the confidence – that (to quote the hymn)

‘Long years ago, when earth lay dark and still;
Rose a loud cry, upon a lonely hill :
When, in the frailty of our human clay,
Christ, our redeemer, passed the self-same way.’

She accepted that to die was only to go where Jesus had gone before her; and that there was nothing about it to be afraid of, except the fear itself : and the legacy she left behind of patient trust in God touched many people. Would they have been as impressed if she’d said ‘Oh well, if I have to die, I might as well do it now – give me the injection’ ? I very much doubt it.

And the other person ? Well, Jesus Himself, of course : and He even rejected the primitive painkiller of wine mixed with myrrh, so that He could drain the cup of suffering to its very dregs.

If you haven’t read ‘A Doctor at Calvary’, by Dr Pierre Barbet, I suggest you do; and once you have, I am convinced you will readily accept his conclusion that the death that Our Lord died was, if not (possibly) the most painful death anyone can die, at least the most painful death that it is possible for one human to inflict on another . . . and yet all he said was ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’.

On Remembrance Sunday, the politicians will all line up at the Cenotaph to pay tribute to the thousands who have given their lives for this country. When they do so, perhaps they might bear in mind that they did so because they believed that there were worse things than pain and death. Violette Szabo met her death before a Ravensbruck firing squad; others died in the cells of the Gestapo, in unimaginable agony; or of typhoid fever in the squalor of Belsen or Dachau . . . but they died in dignity; the dignity of human beings who have faced the worst the world could do to them, and triumphed, remembering the words of Scripture : ‘He that endures to the end shall be saved’.

The politicians have obviously forgotten that lesson : and if another war comes, I trust they will not be surprised to find the youth of England queuing up for lethal injections, so that they have ‘dignity in death’, rather than taking up arms to fight for their countries; or volunteering to leave their children at home in order to serve in the Special Forces in enemy territory.

All that is shameful : but perhaps that is no more than one expects of politicians.

What saddens me is that the official reaction of the Bishop’s Conference makes no attempt to stand up for Catholic teaching about suicide, as set out in the Catechism of the Catholic Church :

2280 Everyone is responsible for his life before God who has given it to him. It is God who remains the sovereign Master of life. We are obliged to accept life gratefully and preserve it for his honour and the salvation of our souls. We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of.
2281 Suicide contradicts the natural inclination of the human being to preserve and perpetuate his life. It is gravely contrary to the just love of self. It likewise offends love of neighbour because it unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity with family, nation, and other human societies to which we continue to have obligations. Suicide is contrary to love for the living God.
2282 If suicide is committed with the intention of setting an example, especially to the young, it also takes on the gravity of scandal. Voluntary co-operation in suicide is contrary to the moral law. Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide.’

Instead, its Press Release is almost laudatory of the Government, and notes that ‘the new Guidelines . . . now give greater protection to some of the most vulnerable people in our society.’

With respect to the Bishops, that is fudging the issue.

I’m not going to wear out the internet by repeating Paul to Timothy yet again; but the Catholic position on suicide doesn’t just ‘give greater protection’ to certain people : it gives absolute protection to all, by making it clear that suicide is never acceptable, so that assisting people to do it is never acceptable.

What I want to know is why the Bishop’s Conference won’t say that : because I know many priests and religious – yes, and laypeople, who will; gladly, and whatever the cost.

England has a long tradition of Catholic clergy who have cheerfully given their lives for the Faith. I accept that the present Government seems to believe that it is Almighty; but it has not yet sought to reintroduce the death penalty for disagreeing with it – so what are the Hierarchy afraid of ?

I can only assume that the Bishops concluded that ‘co-operating’ with the Government might in some way allow them to safeguard Catholic interests for the benefit of the nation : but I have to tell them that, on the evidence of the last few days, it hasn’t worked.

Will they now, please, abandon this futile policy, and start standing up proudly and publicly for the Faith of which they are the custodians, and for which the English Martyrs died ? Alternatively, if they don’t want the embarrassment and opprobrium, will they please move over and allow someone else to do so ?

Meanwhile, it seems to me that the appropriate thing to say is ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’.

Thought for Today

‘Unless one resists habit, it compels one.’
S. Thomas Aquinas

Thursday, 25 February 2010

How to Lose Friends . . .

Yesterday I posted a quote from Mgr Ronald Knox's book 'The Belief of Catholics' - published in 1927; and the title was intended to suggest that little appears to have changed in the more than eighty years since then.

I think it is quite apparent from the blogs that there are plenty of Catholics out there wanting to defend the Faith, and doing so vociferously as far as they are able : and yet not one Bishop of England and Wales has stood up and explicitly told the Government that what it is doing is wrong, and that if it continues to do so it must necessarily forfeit any hope of Catholic support.

Worse still, if what the Government says is true - and I am realistic enough to recognize that the fact that the Government says something gives no accurate indication of whether it is true or not - then the Hierarchy has apparently supported this abominable piece of legislation.

There can, simply, be no excuse for this. These men accept the office, and all the good things that go with it : they must also accept the obligation to defend the Faith - usque ad mortem, if necessary, and however unpopular that may make them.

It is not the first time I have quoted 2 Timothy 4, 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'- and I don't think that there can be much doubt that this is exactly what is needed just at the moment.

However : I would add to that now another quote from S. Paul to Timothy : this time from 1 Timothy 4, 1-2 :

'The Spirit has explicitly said that during the last times some will desert the faith and pay attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines that come from devils, 2 seduced by the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are branded as though with a red-hot iron'.

Whether these are 'the last times' or not is, of course, not for me to say; but it would be hard to deny that a good case could be made for suggesting that some of the policies of the current Government come into the category of 'doctrines that come from devils' . . . I leave it to you to decide whether the remainder of the quotation is an accurate description of the members of that Government !

What's to be done about the new law ? Well, I obviously can't answer that, if only because it's not yet a fait accompli, so we don't yet know the exact problem we have to solve : but at worst I suppose it may be that the only solution is to follow the example of Judas and throw the Government's thirty pieces of silver back at them, and for Catholics in the UK to fund their own educational system which teaches the truth, rather than being complicit in the demonic ideas of the Father of Lies . . . or maybe the wording of the Act will prove to be as sloppy as so much else of this Government's legislation, and the problem can be dealt with in that way.

I do know, though, that there is still a chance of saving our Catholic Schools from this abomination; and that we must all pray that the House of Lords rejects the Bill; which will in effect mean that it is dead, as there will be no realistic chance of getting it through before the General Election.

Of course that doesn't answer the question of why the Bishops apparently won't do anything about it. Perhaps they feel that it's best dealt with discreetly, in a quiet chat with Sir Humphrey at the Athenaeum ? I don't know . . . but I do know that their apparent silence provides no sort of public witness to the Catholic Faith which they swore at their consecrations to uphold; which is set forth in the Book of Gospels at that moment held over their heads; and which they were so very recently adjured by the Holy Father to proclaim fearlessly and without hesitation.

Politicians may work effectively in smoke-filled rooms; but Bishops should stand proudly in the marketplace and proclaim the truth of Christ - even as the rope is put around their necks, if necessary.

Are our Bishops doing that today ? I'm sorry, but I see no sign of it.

Moving back, though, to the politicians, and what is happening in Westminster, it seems to me that everything is not yet lost. Do you know G. K. Chesterton's poem 'The Secret People' ? It has a verse which seems to me to be very appropriate at the moment :

'They have given us into the hand of new unhappy lords,
Lords without anger and honour, who dare not carry their swords.
They fight by shuffling papers; they have bright dead alien eyes;
They look at our labour and laughter as a tired man looks at flies.
And the load of their loveless pity is worse than the ancient wrongs,
Their doors are shut in the evening; and they know no songs. '

If this rings a bell with you; if this seems to portray the current state of affairs in Westminster; well, do not despair of this matter being solved by the will of the Catholic population of our country, supported by many other people of goodwill who see this legislation for what it is - just remember the first lines of that same poem :

'Smile at us, pay us, pass us; but do not quite forget.
For we are the people of England, that never have spoken yet. '

It's alarming to think that it may ultimately be down to the people of God to stand up to this godless Government, without the support of their Shepherds : but if that is the case, so be it. I am - Deo Gratias - sure that there are plenty of priests and people in the parishes who will by the Grace of God stand firm in the Faith, and fight for it, whatever the Bishops do : and I would draw your attention to my post on Tuesday, which pointed out that crises are often a means of drawing us closer to God : let us hope that is the case with this, and that, whatever may happen, the Catholic Church in the United Kingdom is strengthened and blessed by our current trials.

Thought for Today

‘It belongs to penance to detest one’s past sins, and to purpose, at the same time, to change one’s life for the better, which is the end, so to speak, of penance.’
S. Thomas Aquinas

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Plus ca Change !

'I do not mean to suggest that the desire to meet infidelity half-way is the sole or even the main cause responsible for the loose theology of our time. No preacher would deliberately judge the credibility of his message by the credulity of his audience. But the prevalent irreligion of the age does exercise a continual unconscious pressure upon the pulpit; it makes preachers hesitate to affirm doctrines whose affirmation would be unpopular. And a doctrine which has ceased to be affirmed is doomed, like a disused organ, to atrophy.'

Mgr Ronald Knox - 'The Belief of Catholics' (1927)

Thought for Today

'The things that we pray for, good Lord, give us grace to labour for.'
S. Thomas More

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Dominus Est

The Most Reverend Athanasius Schneider is the Auxiliary Bishop of Karaganda in Kazakhstan, and titular bishop of Celerina.

He is also the author of a very slim booklet 'Dominus Est' - It is the Lord !

It bears the subtitle 'Reflections of a Bishop of Central Asia on Holy Communion'; and - to use a phrase - it contains exactly what it says on the tin.

It is available in an English version published by Newman House Press, and I urge you to read it carefully and prayerfully.

+ Schneider is uncompromising in his belief in reverence for the Most Holy Sacrament as a fundamental element of Catholic life and devotion; and in pursuit of this he argues persuasively for a return to the reception of Holy Communion directly onto the tongue of the kneeling communicant.

He quotes an exhortation of HH Pope Pius XI, who wrote :

'In the administration of the Eucharistic Sacrament, one must demonstrate a particular zeal, so that no fragments of the consecrated Hosts be lost since in each particle is present the entire Body of Christ. Therefore, one should take the greatest care that fragments do not easily separate from the Host and fall to the ground where - horribile dictu - they could become mixed with the garbage and be trampled underfoot.'

As Catholics we believe that the whole of Christ - Body , Blood, Soul, and Divinity - is present even in the very smallest particle of the Most Holy Sacrament.

Is it really so unreasonable to suggest that we take proper care of It ?

(For those fond of liturgical minutiae, yes, + Schneider holds a Doctorate in Patrology from the Augustinianum in Rome, and so is fully entitled to wear a biretta with four horns !)

Moving Ever Closer . . .

‘Crises are not to be feared. It is through repeated crises that God drew closer to His people. Israel’s worst crisis was the destruction of the Temple and the monarchy, and exile to Babylon . . . Israel lost everything that gave her identity : her worship, her nationhood. Then she discovered God closer to her than ever before. God was present in the law, in their mouths and hearts, wherever they were, however far from Jerusalem. They lost God only to receive Him more closely than they could have imagined.

Then that difficult cross-grained man, Jesus, turned up, breaking the beloved law, eating on the Sabbath, touching the unclean, hanging out with prostitutes. He seemed to smash all that they loved, the very way that God was present in their lives. But that was only because God wished to be present even more intimately, as one of us, with a human face. And at every Eucharist, we remember how we had to lose Him on the Cross, but again only to receive Him more closely, not as a Man among us but as our very Life.’

fr Timothy Radcliffe, OP

Thought for Today

‘There is nothing the Devil fears so much, or so much tries to hinder, as prayer.’
S. Philip Neri

Monday, 22 February 2010

Pondering a Psalm

Today is one of the very few Feasts which interrupt Lent : the Chair of S. Peter – the day on which the Church celebrates the Petrine Office.

As a result, the Divine Office for today is not of a penitential character, as even the psalmody is proper to the Feast; but during Vespers this evening I was struck by the appropriateness of one of the psalms to Lent, and it led me to ponder further.

The psalm in question was Psalm 125 (126) :

1 When the Lord delivered Zion from bondage :
it seemed like a dream.
2 Then was our mouth filled with laughter,
on our lips there were songs :
The heathens themselves said
‘What marvels the Lord worked for them !’
3 What marvels the Lord worked for us ! : Indeed we were glad.
4 Deliver us, O Lord, from our bondage : as streams in dry land.
5 Those who are sowing in tears : will sing when they reap.
6 They go out, they go out, full of tears,
carrying seed for the sowing :
they come back, they come back, full of song,
carrying their sheaves.

Now : taking the liberty of turning the psalm round – that is, putting vv.4-6 first, followed by vv.1-3 – you find yourself considering Lent and Easter in a very apt way, and within a very small space.

4 Deliver us, O Lord, from our bondage : as streams in dry land.
The psalmist, who speaks of the restoration of Israel after its exile, begs God to deliver them from the bondage of doubt and despair which must have beset them when they returned to their native land. He thinks of the amazing speed with which the desert flowers when rain eventually falls; the incredible effect which God’s generous providence has, even in what seems to be completely dead.

In the same way we, at the beginning of Lent, turn and consider ourselves : ‘Remember, O Man, that you are dust : and unto dust you shall return’.

We, like the desert, are dry, dead, ground; and we can do nothing without the bountiful mercy of God, which can release us from our bondage to sin, by giving life to the goodness which He has hidden deep within us.

5 Those who are sowing in tears : will sing when they reap.
The psalmist is thinking of the labour of the Israelites in rebuilding their nation; and promising that their labours will be rewarded in joy.

For us, the ‘labour’ of Lent in self-discipline, in penance, prayer, and almsgiving, will be rewarded by the recognition at Easter of God’s unbounded love for us.

6 They go out, they go out, full of tears,
carrying seed for the sowing :

they come back, they come back, full of song,
carrying their sheaves.

The psalmist’s metaphor reinforces this, the most important point in the psalm : that our acceptance of the toils before us provide the seed which will be watered by God’s love, and grow – in time – to spiritual fruitfulness and joy at Easter

1 When the Lord delivered Zion from bondage :
it seemed like a dream.

2 Then was our mouth filled with laughter,
on our lips there were songs :

The heathens themselves said
‘What marvels the Lord worked for them !’

3 What marvels the Lord worked for us ! : Indeed we were glad.
So, as the psalmist rejoices in the Lord’s deliverance of His people from their bondage in exile, and reminds us that their joy was so great that all who saw them recognized God’s glory and generosity from their lives, we remind ourselves that He will work marvels for us, if we accept the discipline of Lent, so that at Easter – and most particularly at the Paschal Vigil, ‘our mouths will be filled with laughter, and on our lips there will be songs’.

In other words, we nust constantly tell ourselves, even now, that Lent is but a short time; a workshop in which to prepare for Easter, and for eternity, by accepting the toils which are set before us. We must take up the good seed which God offers us, and go forth, sowing it, in preparation for Easter.

Bishop Christopher Wordsworth used a similar ‘harvest’ metaphor for Easter in one verse of his famous hymn:

‘Christ is risen, Christ the first-fruits
Of the holy harvest field,
Which will all its full abundance
At His second coming yield;
Then the golden ears of harvest
Will their heads before Him wave,
Ripened by His glorious sunshine
From the furrows of the grave.’

We pray, then, that at the end of Lent we too will ‘come back, full of song, carrying our sheaves’; and rejoicing for a time here as we pray that one day we shall rejoice for ever in Heaven.

A Lenten Retreat

Mea Culpa : I ought to have mentioned this on Ash Wednesday, and simply forgot to do so.

The Dominican Studentate at Blackfriars, Oxford, run - as you are probably well aware by now - an excellent blog called Godzdogz.

During Lent they are offering a 'Lenten Retreat', consisting of a Meditation for every day of Lent; and although short they are thoughtul, thought-provoking, and generally ideal for including in your Lenten Rule.

Do let me recommend you to read them each day, here.

Thought for Today

‘God commands you to pray, but He forbids you to worry.’
S. Jean-Marie Vianney, Curé d’Ars

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Pray for his soul . . .

Two years ago today a Priest,* under who-knows-what stress, took his own life. He had apparently had a ‘drink problem’ for some time; but that itself was, of course, symptomatic of the stresses of his life.

I didn’t know him personally, and there is obviously much I don’t know about him now; not least what exactly led him to do what he did – indeed as far as I know no-one actually knows the answer to that question.

What I do know is that he was a sensitive man, with some talent for poetry which could touch hearts, and I do believe he had a real spirit of prayer : I have read some of his prayers and am sure that they came from a prayerful soul., and I certainly know of one family to whom he ministered whose lives were very definitely – and significantly – touched by his prayerful exercise of his priesthood, and who remember him with great love.

I fully appreciate that Suicide is of itself a mortal sin; and at least one person, to whom he ministered to great effect, has therefore spent the last two years in great anguish of soul, convinced that he must have gone to Hell because he died by his own hand.

As I said above; I don’t know – and I don’t think anyone does – why he did it; but I am convinced in my own mind that a good priest would only do such a thing if he was under such stress, and in such mental distress, that he was not truly ‘in his right mind’; and that, accordingly, it is highly unlikely that it was a mortal sin.

The old formula in Coroners’ Courts was ‘suicide whilst the balance of the mind was disturbed’; and in my experience, that is true – few (if any) fully rational people commit suicide, and certainly not on the spur of the moment. Even many of those who plan for, and make, the journey to Switzerland for that purpose (which obviously implies quite a lot of forward planning) do so, I believe, under one or more significant misapprehensions which mean that their decision is not a fully informed one.

Further, of course, even with suicide there is nothing to prevent the possibility of a final Act of Contrition, in that last instant of conscious though, to cheat the Devil of his prey and bring the soul at last to Heaven. ‘Betwixt the stirrup and the ground, mercy I sought, mercy I found’; and I think every priest with pastoral experience knows that, even in the last instants of conscious life, true repentance is so often to be found that one can never assume that it was not there; not even in the most depraved of sinners.

Suicide is, of course, only a product of the Devil’s ‘culture of death’, and has nothing to do with the promise of Eternal Life which we have through the Resurrection of Our Blessed Lord : but I think there are probably few of us who have not at least once in our lives felt depressed and desperate enough to have at least glimpsed the possibility of ‘ending it all’; and even if we would never do it, understanding that possibility also allows us to comprehend how someone whose grasp on reality is impaired might just do it.

I do not know what agony of spirit caused that young priest to end his life two years ago; but I find it hard to believe that he hated God and sought to sin : rather, I think that whatever the problems were that he could no longer cope with, he believed and trusted, at least subconsciously, that his Blessed Lord could, and would, understand, and show him greater mercy than life apparently had.

‘To understand all is to forgive all’, the French say : God alone knows and understands everything about that priest’s life and priesthood; and we may pray that He, in that infinite understanding, will forgive him; and that in God’s love and mercy he may come at last to Heaven.

Please; of your charity in this Year for Priests, I ask you to say a prayer for his soul, and also to pray for any other priests who may be tempted to do likewise.

Requiescat in Pace.

(* I do not give his name only because I have no wish to hurt his family, his former parishioners, or his brother priests – several of whom I know were absolutely devastated by what happened.)

Thought for Today - Lent I

'Whenever you ask for mercy, you shall receive it, provided you ask with repentance for your sin . . . Every sinner who is contrite and confesses his sins receives mercy.'
S. Thomas Aquinas

Saturday, 20 February 2010

All I Ask . . .

‘All I ask is that you remember me at the Altar of God.’

As you will have noticed, today there is a High Mass of Requiem being sung in Blackfriars, Oxford, for the repose of the soul of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, who died on 23 February 1447.

Now why, you may ask, should one have a Requiem for someone who has been dead for well over 550 years ?

Well, largely because however long or short a time someone has been dead, until we know they’re in Heaven, we must assume that they are still in Purgatory, and need our prayers – and the only people of whom we know they’re in Heaven are the Saints, of whose presence in Heaven God has given us proof.

Humphrey, sometime Duke of Gloucester, was probably a good man : he had a wide range of academic and intellectual interests, but at the same time served both his God and his country well. History shows clear evidence of his commitment to the good of England : Regent of England, Warden of the Cinque Ports – and there was nothing honorary about the appointment in those days, when the French enemy stood across the narrow seas – Constable of Calais, and Lord Justice in Eyre; and his (incredibly lengthy) Epitaph says much about his devotion to his God – a devotion which, we can only assume, must have been well known for the authorities for them to have allowed his body to have been buried actually in the Shrine Chapel of S. Alban’s Abbey, right next to the Saint’s Shrine.

His death, whether it was due to poison – as some said, and as some still believe – or to natural causes, robbed England of a man who had done much for it in many ways, and whom had he lived would no doubt have done much more.

Nevertheless, his legacy remains : not least because the collection of books which he left to the University of Oxford remains to this day in ‘Duke Humfrey’s Library’, itself the basis of the Bodleian, one of the great libraries of the World.

However, all that is now unimportant : the question is ‘why pray for his soul ?’ : and I suspect that he would have valued the continuing prayers for his soul more than being remembered for what he had done, or given, in his life.

Why ? Well because of the quotation begun in the Title of this post : ‘All I ask is that you remember me at the Altar of God’.

They were the dying words of S. Monica, his holy and long-suffering mother, to S. Augustine of Hippo and his brother; and since her day endless Christians have felt the same, in their last hours – that what they really want from those who love them is that they will be remembered before God in prayer : and as the greatest of all prayers is the sacrifice of the Mass, so remembrance at the Altar of God is the most special, and most precious, thing one can do for anyone.

Through the sacrifice of Calvary, renewed on the altars of the Church day after day, year after year, the needs of the mankind – the dead as well as the living – are laid before God, and his mercy sought for all who have need of it – and that is all of us, whether we choose to admit it or not.

The only difference between us and Duke Humphrey is that we still have the chance to do things for the good of our own souls; whereas he – in common with all the holy dead – is dependent entirely upon the mercy of God, and the generosity of those still living to pray for him.

It was for exactly that reason that those who could, in Humphrey’s day, had Chantry Chapels built, and left money to pay for priests to celebrate Requiems for them; because those Masses are the way of remembering before God those who have died; and the way which works constantly towards their eventual entry into the glory of God in paradise.

Of course it may be – it well may be – that Duke Humphrey has, by now, entered into the joy of Heaven; but without evidence of his sanctity, we cannot know that, and so we continue to pray for him, as we ought for all those who have died, and of whose presence in Heaven we have, as yet, no evidence : and the best way to do that is to ‘remember them at the Altar of God’.

If Humphrey has joined his Saviour in Heaven, though, we are not wasting our time, as some would have us believe; because the merits which flow from the Altar today do not disappear – they are not like a present sent by post to someone who has ‘Gone Away’, which cannot be delivered, and just languishes in the sorting office ! Instead, they become a small – but an important – part of the Treasury of Grace which God can use for the benefit of all His servants – and in this case, the Catholic Faith teaches, principally for the benefit of those other souls, as yet outside paradise, who have need of our prayers.

So, whether Humphrey needs our prayers or not, whether he will benefit directly from today’s Mass or not, it is good that this Requiem is being celebrated, and that prayer is being offered for the repose of his soul. If he does have need of it, then what we do here today is helping that great Renaissance Man towards his eternal reward; and if he no longer needs it, then there will be someone who does, and Humphrey will gain great pleasure from seeing them benefit from what we have done for him.

They say that the Holy Dead have no illusions; and I am sure that that is true.

Duke Humphrey, certainly, has none now; and whatever his state, he is deeply, and eternally, grateful that he is remembered today ‘at the Altar of God’, whether for his own benefit, or that of others less fortunate than him.

So today’s Mass, as well as remembering Humphrey – recollecting, and giving thanks for, all he did for England – also proclaims the truth of the Faith which he believed during his life, and which he now knows to be the ultimate Truth.

So; we remember today before God His servant Humphrey, sometime Duke of Gloucester; and we pray for the repose of his soul, as of all Christian souls, in that best of all ways – ‘at the Altar of God’.

May his soul, and the souls of all the Faithful Departed, rest in peace and rise once more in glory.

Duke Humphrey's Requiem - TODAY !

Thought for Today

'When we go to confession we should accuse ourselves of our worst sins first, and of those things of which we are most ashamed; because by this means we put the Devil to greater confusion, and reap more fruit from our confession.'
S. Philip Neri

Friday, 19 February 2010

Hypocrisy ?

I was chatting the other day with someone who has quite a well-known Catholic blog, and who was in some distress of mind. The cause of this distress was a fear that it was hypocritical to be posting on a Catholic blog when one was aware of one’s own sins, and painfully conscious (for various reasons) of one’s human frailty.

I tried to suggest that this was not a valid argument; because we are all – and always – human and sinful; and that if consciousness of sin was a disqualification for blogging, then there would be no blogs posted at all . . . and I tried to draw a comparison with the priest, the efficacy of whose ministry is not affected by the state of his soul . . .

Whether or not my friend agreed with me I don’t really know; but it made me think quite deeply about the whole question . . . and led me to realize that even since starting this blog I have tried not only to reflect, and pass on my reflections; but also – albeit I fear not very successfully – to reshape my own life in light of what I have recognized; and I am sure that this is true of most Catholic bloggers - that they try to relate their Faith to their everyday lives, so as to inspire and challenge themselves and other people.

This was, of course, one of S. Dominic’s original ideas when he formed the Friars Preachers : that the puffed-up and pompous bishops of the day (who basically were the only people who then preached) with their lavish lifestyles were not getting through to the Albigensians (and quite a lot of other people, come to that) whose ideas were heavily influenced by the conviction that poverty and sanctity of life went together, so that what was needed was preachers who lived a life of poverty, and spoke to people at a human level, rather than dealing in pronouncements delivered from on high.

As we know, the Holy Father supports the use of the internet as a tool for evangelization; and I believe that the (thankfully numerous) Catholic blogs are a splendid updating of S. Dominic’s concept – because they are the thoughts and ideas, the experiences and aspirations, of ordinary Catholics – priests, religious, and laity alike; so they relate to ordinary life, and are therefore more likely to touch a chord in the heart of an enquirer than learned theological expositions : and I would think that the view of someone who is convinced of his/her sinfulness can only be of value to most of us.

Obviously a blogger who deliberately says one thing and does another, with casual contempt for the example s/he sets (or rather, would if anyone knew), is a rank hypocrite; and will no doubt answer for it at the last day – but I am convinced that such people are few and far between, and that the rest of the Catholic blogosphere is serving a valuable purpose - and I pray that God will make great use of it in spreading His Word.

Lenten Almsgiving ii

Yesterday I suggested that one valuable Alms we can give during Lent is prayer for the Holy Souls.

Today, I'd like to suggest another category for whom prayer is a valuable form of Alms; and so one which we can all, regardless of our financial circumstances, give.

I refer to the poor : not the financially poor, but to the 'poor in spirit' - although I accept that not infrequently the two things go together. When you see someone begging on a street corner, there is a good chance that s/he is not going to be going to Church anytime soon.

I know a fine Anglican priest who always concludes Benediction with the invocation 'And now, let us say the Our Father for all those who have made no prayer or act of worship this day' : and I also know a teenager who carries cheap rosaries with him to give to beggars who ask him for money - 'Sorry; I haven't got any - but have a rosary !' Surprisingly often, it is much appreciated. I am sure that gifts such as these are dear to God's heart.

As with the Holy Souls, if each of us can just say one prayer each day of this Lent for those who will not say a prayer for themselves, we are giving them something very precious : and we are giving an Alms which will not go unnoticed by God.

Thought for Today

'Our greatest cross is the fear of crosses.'
S. Jean-Marie Vianney, Curé d’Ars

Duke Humphrey's Requiem

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Lenten Almsgiving

As I’m sure we were all told yesterday, one of the three key aspects of Lent is Almsgiving; and, of course, we can all think of a huge number of excellent causes to which we can profitably give alms . . . indeed, even were we all as rich as Bill Gates, we would never run out of deserving charities to support.

However, there’s one ‘charity’ which one doesn’t hear mentioned very often, but which is nonetheless a valuable destination for any alms you may care to give; and with the added benefit that you don’t necessarily need plastic – or even cash – to do so.

I refer, of course, to the Holy Souls.

Their need is just a great as that of anyone on earth; and one can give so much to them for so little . . . a single Hail Mary, or Requiem Aeternam is a priceless treasure when it’s all that stands between a Soul and its entry into glory – and, of course, when they get to Heaven, they are then praying for us, and repaying our generosity to them many times over.

Of course, you could always fund a stipend for a Mass for the Holy Souls – whether in general, or specifically for particular ones known to you – and I’d obviously urge you to do that if you can : but even without that, surely we can all say at least one extra prayer every day of this Lent for them . . . especially for all those whom we loved so much when they were alive ?

This takes so little in terms of your time, and your effort . . . even a Decade of the Rosary for the Holy Souls each day is hardly much to ask – yet it means so much; and think how much difference we could make if every Catholic said just one extra prayer for the Holy Souls every day of this Lent.

Will you think about giving an Alms to the Holy Souls this Lent ?

Thought for Today

'To preserve Purity, three things are necessary : the practice of the Presence of God, prayer, and the Sacraments; and again, the reading of holy books – this nourishes the soul.'
S. Jean-Marie Vianney, Curé d’Ars

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

The Promise of Things to Come

Going back to what I was saying yesterday about picking up things for Lent, instead of just giving up things, the first reading in the Office of Readings for today is a very salutary passage from Isaiah, where the Prophet speaks of the nature of fasting, and reflects on what really pleases God :

5 Is that the sort of fast that pleases me, a day when a person inflicts pain on himself ? Hanging your head like a reed, spreading out sackcloth and ashes ? Is that what you call fasting, a day acceptable to the Lord ?
6 Is not this the sort of fast that pleases me : to break unjust fetters, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break all yokes ?
7 Is it not sharing your food with the hungry, and sheltering the homeless poor; if you see someone lacking clothes, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own kin ?

It seems to me that this is making the point that, whilst depriving yourself may be beneficial as a way of conquering one's self-centredness, what the Lord wants is for us to make His world a better place during Lent - and just look what He promises to those who do that :

8 Then your light will blaze out like the dawn and your wound be quickly healed over. Saving justice will go ahead of you and the Lord’s glory come behind you.
9 Then you will cry for help and the Lord will answer; you will call and he will say, ‘I am here.’ If you do away with the yoke, the clenched fist and malicious words,
10 if you deprive yourself for the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, your light will rise in the darkness, and your darkest hour will be like noon.
11 The Lord will always guide you, will satisfy your needs in the scorched land; he will give strength to your bones and you will be like a watered garden, like a flowing spring whose waters never run dry.

At some point today most (I hope) of us will feel the grittiness of ash on our heads, and hear the words ‘Remember, Man, that you are dust, and to dust will you return’; a sacramental which is intended to remind us of the transient nature of earthly life, and the need to change our lives whilst - as I said yesterday - there is yet time.

The Lord offers us the promise not only of eternal life, but of Paradise - the ‘watered garden’- if we ‘Repent, and believe the Gospel’, and make His world the world He wants it to be : and however much of a drag we may find the forty days of Lent, for making a new self - let alone a new world - there is scarcely time enough.

Today, then, and for the next forty days, let us take the words of Isaiah to heart and try to ensure that at the end of this Lent, at least, the world is a little bit better for our fast.

Thought for Today - Ash Wednesday

'We must often remember what Christ said : that not he who begins, but he who perseveres to the end, shall be saved.'
S. Philip Neri

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Give Up, or Pick Up ?

We all know about ‘giving it up for Lent’; and no doubt most of us will try and give something that we enjoy up as part of our Lenten discipline. It may be food; but then, if we live with others, that may not be very practical : so perhaps we sleep a little less and pray a little more, or do without smoking, or eating between meals . . .

The effect of this self-denial is to irritate; but at the same time to gratify us with the feeling that it’s ‘doing us good’.

Similarly, working hard to eliminate – or, more realistically – to reduce some particular vice to which we are prone is also, in its own way, a form of ‘self denial’; and again, it produces both the irritation of what we do, but also the gratification that we are doing it.

The trouble is that the human condition is one in which such mortifications grow in intensity very quickly; and – inversely – make their duration seem incredibly long . . . so Lent drags on – will Easter never come ?

The only thing is that I don’t think this is quite what the Church had in mind when it instituted Lent. I think the idea was that it should take on a character of desperate rush . . . helter-skelter towards Easter : ‘Heavens – Lætare already, and nothing to show for it !’

Lent is, I believe, intended to make us think about the very transient life we have on earth; a life ‘on probation’, in which we cannot, really, afford to waste a single instant. That, I think, is why, on Ash Wednesday, we hear S. Paul’s metaphor of an ambassador delivering an ultimatum – ‘be reconciled to God’. He reminds us that we have only a few days of grace, in which to make our peace with God : Ash Wednesday recalls our earthly origin, and our earthly destiny . . . Easter looks forward to our eternal home in heaven; but the gap between them is not a huge tranquil space : it is, rather, a mad dash to fit everything in ‘whilst there is yet time’.

I’ve mentioned S. Joseph Cafasso before : and one of his beliefs was that one should always be ready to die . . . never go to bed with a letter unanswered, or a task undone; so that whenever death comes, one is as fully prepared for it as one can be.

Similarly, our Jewish brethren, during the time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, do not so much fast, and mortify themselves, as go to great lengths to pay their debts, seek pardon from those they have offended, and generally ‘spring clean’ their lives so that when the Shofar blows to end the Day of Atonement, they can feel that they have put right the wrongs they have done.

Mgr Ronald Knox always used to encourage people not so much to give things up for Lent, as to pick things up for Lent – to get things done that need doing, so that at Easter there is a joyous sense of having less to do. As he said ‘For many of us, it would be something if that pile of unanswered letters on the writing table – with all their background of disappointment, distress, and inconvenience – could disappear by the time Easter comes. The manuscript we promised to read, the aunts we promised to visit – if only we could cheat ourselves into the feeling that these forty days were our last chance, how quickly they would run their course !’

Perhaps we should heed his advice this Lent; and without ignoring the demand to give more time and commitment to God by ‘giving up’ things, also spend more time ‘picking up’, and doing the things which we have failed to do during the last year, so that on Easter Day we, too, can rejoice that at the moment of Resurrection we are truly ready to meet our Creator, Redeemer, and Judge.

I wish you all a Holy and Blessed Lent.

Thought for Today - Shrove Tuesday

'Repentance consists of three parts. Firstly, of grief of the heart . . . secondly, of confession by the mouth . . . thirdly, in fulfilling the commands of God and the priest.'
S. Thomas Aquinas

Monday, 15 February 2010

An Unusual Photo

I'd like to direct your attention to Moniales OP, the splendid blog of the Dominican Nuns of the Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary in Summit, NJ, USA, and to today's post in particular.

Over the weekend, they celebrated the First Profession of Sr Joseph Maria OP; and clearly a good time was had by all, as one can clearly see from the splendid photos.

Today, by contrast, there is a single photo of a type that is (shall we say) somewhat rarely seen on blogs : a photo of the Choir of the Monastery, with the body of Sr Mary Rose Dominic OP (who died last Wednesday) lying in the midst of the Choir where for over fifty years she praised God.

Now you may think that I am macabre to find this photo wonderful : but I don't think that's true. Sr Mary Rose Dominic lived a long life in the Order, and in the service of God, and I think it is absolutely right that she spend her last twenty-four hours on earth before the Altar.

More particularly, though, I think it is absolutely right for the Summit Nuns to put this photo of their much loved Sister there, immediately after the photos of Sr Joseph Maria's party . . . because they are two faces of the same coin; two faces of the joy and love of God which one so often sees in the photos from Summit; the two ends of the journey, made in faith, and love, and hope . . . I believe that Sr Joseph Maria will rejoice in the memory of Sr Mary Rose Dominic throughout her life in the Order; and I pray that Sr Mary Rose Dominic will be waiting to greet Sr Joseph Maria when she, at last, goes home to heaven in her turn.

May Sr Mary Rose Dominic rest in peace, and rise in glory : and may Sr Joseph Maria live joyfully in the Order for many years.

The Justice of God

The theme of the Holy Father's Lenten Message this year is 'The Justice of God'; and I urge you to read it here.

His Holiness makes the point that 'Conversion to Christ, believing in the Gospel, ultimately means this: to exit the illusion of self-sufficiency in order to discover and accept one’s own need – the need of others and God, the need of His forgiveness and His friendship'.

There can be nothing that more clearly emphasizes our inability to be self-sufficient than the Cross : for nothing we could do could ever have paid the debt due to God as a result of Original Sin - only Christ, the Son of God, could do that; and He did.

Let us, during this Lent now so close at hand, consider the Holy Father's words, and recognize our own inability to achieve anything without His grace - grace which is 'a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by His blood, to be received by faith'. (Romans 3, 24-25)

Godparents & Spiritual Parents

fr Lawrence Lew OP has this lovely ‘family group’ up on flickr of his new Godson with his parents and fr Lawrence following his Baptism at Westminster Cathedral on Saturday.

Seeing it reminded me of my own Godson; and of the obligations which we enter into as Godparents : to make sure that our Godchildren are brought up to know and love God, and walk in the path of truth.

As we get nearer to Lent, it occurred to me that for all of us who are Godparents, that is something we can well do during Lent; make a point of praying, daily, for our Godchildren, that they may receive much grace from God.

And then I was thinking about other ‘spiritual relationships’ : and it dawned on me that Lent is a good time for them too. We all know about ‘Spiritual Mothers of Priests’, and how they support priests by their loving prayers : but there is something similar to that which we can – and should – all do, but all too often don’t : support our priests and religious by our prayers.

So, for Lent, why not identify a Priest, or a Church, or a Religious Community, and make a point of praying for them, every day. It may be your own priest or Church; or one you know of that is having a tough time, or just one you think could do with a prayer . . . but pray for him/it/them, every day in Lent.

Finally, there’s another aspect of Spiritual Parentage which you might like to think of, and which I have mentioned before. Pray, at least occasionally, ‘for those who will make no prayer of their own today’. They – the spiritually lost, lonely, and forlorn – need our prayers more than anyone; and your concern for them will not be forgotten by God.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

The World, The Flesh, and The Devil

With due diffidence - because someone has been excessively complimentary to me in the ComBox - I draw your attention to Fr Dwight Longenecker's excellent post yesterday 'The Unholy Trinity' about the World, the Flesh, and the Devil - a very good thing to ponder just before Lent and, in my opinion, very well explained.

From Happiness to Doom . . .

As we get towards Lent we should be thinking about what used to be called our ‘Lent Rule’; and as F. Harrison said this morning in his Homily at the Oratory, it shouldn’t only be about what we give up (in the sense of self-denial), but also about what we pick up (in the sense of what additional devotion or activity we take on) as part of our attempt to grow in holiness during Lent, in preparation for Easter.

Now, one possible aspect of that is choosing a ‘Lent Book’ to read and meditate upon during the Holy Season – perhaps by way of dessert after dinner, for example, instead of more carnal fare – and one can see from quite a number of blogs that there is plenty of choice.

I myself make a point of choosing catechetical works for Lent Reading, as a way of making sure that I get a ‘refresher’ every year in the fundamentals of the Faith, in order to prepare me better to explain them to people who ask me questions, and to allow me, also, to deal better with things which come up in conversation – because it’s surprising (and sometimes rather worrying) how often quite serious misconceptions arise in conversation with Catholics whom one would have assumed to be well instructed, but who – for whatever reason, perhaps just a lack of Lent Reading (!) – have lost track in some way of the Faith, and now have an inaccurate, and in some cases positively misleading, understanding of it.

I was recently discussing various aspects of the ‘Four Last Things’ with a friend; and it was something of a shock to me to discover just how little understanding of this topic – and, incidentally, of the nature of mortal sin, inextricably linked with Hell as it is – my friend, who is a well-educated cradle Catholic, actually had.

This shock had, not I think unexpectedly, led me to ponder this whole question; so I was entirely receptive to the relevance of today’s Responsorial Psalm : Psalm 1.

Psalm 1 : Beatus vir qui non abiit

1 Happy indeed is the man
who follows not the counsel of the wicked,
nor lingers in the way of sinners
nor sits in the company of scorners,

2but whose delight is the law of the Lord
and who ponders his law day and night.

3He is like a tree that is planted
beside the flowing waters,
that yields its fruit in due season
and whose leaves shall never fade;
and all that he does shall prosper.

4Not so are the wicked, not so!
For they like winnowed chaff
shall be driven away by the wind.

5When the wicked are judged they shall not stand,
nor find room among those who are just;

6for the Lord guards the way of the just
but the way of the wicked leads to doom.

Psalm 1 is placed at the beginning of the Book of Psalms for a good reason; because it summarises the whole content of the Psalms generally – and also, by the sort of device enjoyed by the classical Jewish mind, encompasses the possibilities of the Human condition.

‘Happy is the man . . .’ it begins; and the word ‘Happy’ begins with the Hebrew character Aleph; in other words, the beginning of the alphabet, and thus metaphorically of all things – and the psalm goes on to consider the state of the ‘Happy’ man, who enjoys life; who is blessed in the sight of God.

It ends up by saying ‘. . . the way of the wicked leads to doom’; or in the original, that it leads him ‘to perish’ – and the word ‘to perish’ begins with the Hebrew character Tav – the last letter in the Hebrew alphabet, and thus metaphorically of everything.

The six verses of the psalm, then, span the distance between the Happy man, who enjoys eternal life, and the Wicked man, who perishes – and between the first and last, the beginning and the end, of all things as represented by the characters Aleph and Tav.

Now, of course, this all sounds very well; but it is by no means realistic – after all, we are all only-too-well aware of the fact that the righteous don’t, on the whole, flourish; contemporary experience suggests that it tends to be the wicked who do well in life, and whose ways are ‘guarded’ by God, whilst it is the righteous who seem to draw the short straw, and to lose out, at almost every turn.

However, this is to misunderstand the scriptural understanding of righteousness, as set out in the first half of the psalm. The righteous man is not shown as being successful, rich, or comfortable – he is shown as delighting in the law of the lord, which he ‘ponders day and night’. He avoids the wicked, the sinners, and the scorners, and prefers the law of God to the things of men; and his reward is that ‘all that he does shall prosper’.

‘All that he does shall prosper’; but notice that he is not doing things which are wicked, or sinful; not scoffing at the law of God, but rather being observant of it, and attentive to it – and it is that attention and observance which shall prosper.

fr Gregory Murphy OP, in today’s Notice Sheet at S. Dominic’s in London, sums the lesson up beautifully :

‘The “happy” or “righteous” person, then, is anything but self-righteous. Rather, he or she is consistently open to God’s teaching and direction. Such openness is what for the psalm constitutes happiness, prosperity, life. Like trees planted by a stream as both the psalm and Jeremiah [in today’s first lesson] tell us, those who are open to God’s teaching are never without a resource to sustain their lives.

In contrast, the wicked have no such foundation : they are rootless. That the wicked perish, however, is not so much a punishment as it is the inevitable outcome of their own choice not to be related to God. They refuse to be connected to the source of life.’

Of course, this willingness to be open to God and His Word does not mean that the ‘righteous’ will be safe from trouble, persecution, and distress : nothing of the kind. Jesus promised that His followers would be ‘blessed’ (or ‘happy’, in the language of the psalm); not that they would be free from persecution or suffering. The happiness which Jesus offers us is not an assurance that we shall be free from these things in this life – indeed, very probably far otherwise – but that we shall be blessed with Him hereafter; because our openness to God means that He knows us, and offers us a refuge in Himself and His love whatever life can throw at us.

In other words, when we are called to ‘delight in the law of the Lord’, we are being called to ignore this world’s wisdom, and to consider what God wants. To quote fr Gregory again :

‘Things are not what they seem. Those who seem to be prospering just now may not be, in God’s sight. Those who seem to be suffering my be blessed, at least in God’s sight. Whatever our circumstances, we are called to open ourselves to God, to rise to the challenge of discipleship, even if it means our being fools by the standards of the rich, power, and successful of this world. Fools, yes; but fools for Christ’s sake.’

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Bl. Jordan of Saxony

Blessed Jordan of Saxony, whose Feast Day is today, was S. Dominic's successor as Master of the Order - to which he was elected when he had only been a Dominican for about two years . . . talk about rapid promotion !

However, he proved to be an inspired choice, and in his time he apparently attracted over 1,000 men to join the Friars Preachers. Indeed, he was apparently so successful in encouraging vocations to the Order that people actually became rather afraid of him !

Sr Mary Jean Dorcy, who wrote a splendid book some years ago called 'St Dominic's Family' said of Jordan :

'Men prayed for strength to resist his burning eloquence, and mothers hid their sons when Master Jordan came to town. Students and masters warned each other of the fatal magnetism of his sermons. The sweetness of his character and the holiness of his life shone through his most casual words in a flame that drew youth irresistibly to the ideal to which he had dedicated his own life. In his sixteen years of preaching, Jordan is said to have drawn more than a thousand novices to the Order, among whom were two future popes, two canonized saints, numerous blessed, and countless intellectual lights of his dazzling century.'

He is, not surprisingly, the Patron of Dominican Vocations. May he continue to draw men to God in the Order of Preachers.

(You may recognize the photo as another one of fr Lawrence Lew's splendid photos of the statues at Calaruega; and he has posted a remarkable essay on Bl. Jordan's letters to Bl. Diana de Andalo on Godzdogz today.)

You Can't Win 'Em All !

Well, as they say, it was a game of two halves.

Half-time score - Godzdogz 2 : CathSoc 0.

Full-time score - Godzdogz 2 : CathSoc 5.

So, as fr Timothy Radcliffe said at Mass this evening 'It was a sort of draw : we won the first half, they won the second !'

Being quite honest, youth was on CathSoc's side - and possibly, just possibly, a little help from their friends; inasmuch as one of their 'guest' players turned out to be an U21 International !

However, it was a good, friendly, and closely fought match, enjoyed by everyone - including a welcome number of spectators who turned out to support the two teams - and pizza and beer at Blackfriars afterwards allowed some new friendships to be made, as well as a lot of good humoured banter. All in all, a good day.

For those who are interested, Godzdogz are playing again, in two weeks time, when they play the University of London Catholic Society in London. Further details in due course.

(However; Godzdogz also really need some sponsorship to cope with the costs of their campaign; so anyone who feels able to help should contact them, via their blog.)

Friday, 12 February 2010

Short Cut to Heaven

We know, from the teaching of Holy Mother Church, that there are a great multitude of citizens of Heaven : the Saints.

However, of that huge number – and with the possible exception of S. Peter, whom we may say we know of by implication – there is only one of whom we can say that we know he is in Heaven by the express statement of our Blessed Lord : and that is S. Dismas, the ‘Penitent Thief’, to whom Our Lord Himself, on the Cross, said ‘this day you shall be with Me in paradise’.

S. Dismas’ claim to paradise was his contrition, and his acceptance of the punishment he was suffering : and it was this example that S. Joseph Cafasso used to such great effect in his ministry to the condemned which earned him the title ‘the Priest of the Gallows’.

S. Joseph used to urge on the condemned the fact that, by their willing acceptance of their fate, and their offering it to God out of love, and in reparation for their sins, they too could find their way to the joys of Heaven; and his successes with the condemned in this way were legendary.

The fact is that accepting whatever God brings you willingly, out of love for Him, is a short-cut to Heaven : and it is a path which his open to far more of us than we may realize.

The drug addict or the alcoholic, for example, facing the horrors of withdrawal; the person suffering years of chronic lower back pain; the elderly lady crippled by arthritis; the dying patient in the agonies of terminal cancer : all of them can, perhaps, gain some comfort from recognizing that they are sharing in some little way in Christ’s suffering. More than that, though, if they can manage – even if only in prospect – to accept their sufferings out of love for God, and in reparation for their sins (as well as for whatever good Intentions they may choose), then – as S. Joseph made very clear to those he guided – Our Lord will treasure that acceptance, and use it to sanctify them so that He will in due course welcome His suffering servants into paradise.

Footie Update !

The Godzdogz v Catholic Chaplaincy 'Oxford Derby' is being played tomorrow (Saturday 13th February) at 11:30 am at the Trinity College Sports Ground on Marston Road !

Bl. Reginald of Orleans

Today is the Feast of Bl. Reginald of Orleans, one of the early disciples of S. Dominic.

His particular claim to remembrance is that he joined the Order of Preachers after Our Lady not only appeared to him in a vision and told him to do so, but also showed him a black-and-white habit, and told him that this was what the members of the Order were to wear henceforward . . . as they have done ever since !

This statue of Bl. Reginald from Calaruega in Spain is splendidly photographed by fr Lawrence Lew OP, whose flickr pages are always well worth a visit.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Odds & Ends

A few little things in the middle of the day . . .

Fr John Boyle over at Caritas in Veritate has an interesting post about an Early Day Motion being proposed by MP Ann Winterton about the BBC's alleged pro-euthanasia bias.
Godzdogz has a charming article about fr Vincent Cook, OP, a great stalwart of the community at Blackfriars, Oxford - and over sixty years in Religion !
Finally, although the venue is yet to be confirmed, I am told that the Godzdogz football match on Saturday is at 11:30 am.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Not a jot or tittle . . .

OK : I know that we're actually not talking about text, so the title is slightly misleading; but I was involved in a conversation with a group of very devout people over the weekend, at which the question of Holy Communion was discussed - hand, or tongue ?

Well, Fr Allan Macdonald over at 'Southern Orders' has put up an excellent post on the topic, particularly with reference to the reverence due to the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, which I mightily recommend : and bear in mind that he is coming up to thirty years a priest, so has some knowledge of that of which he speaks !

Diary Date - This Saturday !

Although I don't yet know the time and place, this is just to let you know - in case you don't already - that the Dominican Students of Blackfriars, Oxford, are playing football against the Oxford University Catholic Society on Saturday.

I'll post more information as soon as I get it, but hope to see a good turnout supporting Godzdogz !

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Snow on the Ground

Snow . . . love it or hate it, but you can't ignore it.

This splendid photo of the bicycle rack outside the Ashmolean was taken by fr Lawrence Lew OP during the recent heavy snow; and as you can see, it made Oxford look really quite delightful . . . for a while.

The problem with snow is that, whilst it covers things up and looks lovely to start with, it rapidly gets marked, and dirty, and horrible - doesn't it ? Of course, seen from a distance it looks wonderful for quite a while; but when you get close, you can see the dirt, and the grime - even, in some places, the dirt it has collected falling through the atmosphere !

Our souls are like that.

Seen from a distance, they don't look so bad. People we meet in public probably think we're quite decent, really. Our friends, of course, know us a bit better, and see some of the grubbiness . . . some of the footmarks; but it's still not too bad.

Our families, the people we live with, see us closest of all; and they see every footstep in the snow . . . even the birds' tiny delicate little footmarks . . . they see every little bit of grime and dirt.

But God : God sees through it all - He doesn't just see the grubby, messy, untidy snow on top - He sees the REAL world underneath the snow - the rubbish in the gutter, the dog mess on the pavements, the vomit from last night's drunk . . .

Lent is our chance to tidy up the city of our Soul; to give it all a 'spring clean' before Easter, so that, when the snow melts, what is exposed is that bright, shining, City of which S. John spoke in the Apocalypse.

As we get closer to Lent, let us start to prepare for it, to make it well, so that it may be for us an occasion of Grace, and a time for true conversion : a Blessing which I wish you all.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Ronneee . . !

I learn from Fr Mildew that a new Biography of Mgr Ronald Knox has just been published by Gracewing.

Titled 'Ronald Knox and English Catholicism', it is written by Fr Terry Tastard of the Archdiocese of Westminster, published by Gracewing, and priced at £12.99.

If you want a copy without broken bones, you would be wise not to get in front of me in the queue !

I admit to a great penchant for Knoxiana; and I am quite clear that he is one of the three people - the other two of whom remain alive - to whom, under God, I owe my conversion. Somewhat surprisngly, even the time it took me actually helped me, because it allowed me to recognize within myself some of the truths which he found and discussed in 'A Spritual Aeneid', but which don't come to everyone at the same stage of life . . . but once they do, they are (in my experience, at least) irresistible.

I make an annual Pilgrimage to Mells, to visit his grave, usually as close to his Anniversary as possible; and it is amazing what a wide variety of people I have, over the years, met there. The fascinating thing, though, is that although many of them have heard of him, few of them seem to know much about him beyond his having been a good and holy man and scholar . . . strange, but at the same time rather touching.

A former Parish Priest of mine was present at Ronnie's farewell 'performance' at Oxford : the Romanes Lecture, given in the Sheldonian, 'On English Translation'. He said that when Ronnie - who was already dying - read what he said was one of the greatest of all English translations - Cory's 'They told me, Heraclitus . . .' - there wasn't a dry eye in the Theatre.

I can well believe it : for fifty years, almost exactly, he had entertained, instructed, and above all entranced Oxford; and now he was going away, leaving it with nothing but memories : 'for Death he taketh all away; but them he cannot take.'

I doubt that he will ever have a Cause opened; but I am very far from certain that he does not deserve one. Requiescat in Pace.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Standing Up for Vatican II . . .

There’s been a lot about ‘Catholics for a Changing Church’ (CCC), and other similar, bodies on the blogs recently; not least in the context of ‘Stand Up for Vatican II’. This appears to be an umbrella body which, it seems to me, could almost be prosecuted for misleading advertising, given that almost none of the things they want to stand up for were no part of the teaching of the Council, but were instead products of gross subsequent misrepresentation and lawlessness.

However : I have a very simple suggestion, which might solve a lot of problems in a wide variety of directions.

These people apparently want a whole list of things, all of which are available in the Church of England – so why don’t they go there ?

First, that would give them what they want.

Secondly, as the Church of England has been suffering falling numbers for many years, it would be of benefit to it – even if only temporarily, given the age of many of those involved.

Thirdly, a sizable proportion of those falling numbers have been Anglicans converting to the Catholic Church to escape exactly things which CCC & Co think are so wonderful; so they’d be spared having to cope with them.

Of course, they will say ‘Yes; but we’re CATHOLICS : we couldn’t possibly go and join a Protestant Church !’

However, in recent years, it has been very carefully – and on the whole kindly – explained to them (and everyone else) exactly what is wrong with the things they are seeking; and exactly why they are not compatible with the Magisterium of the Catholic Church : not least in the liturgical and doctrinal writings of one Josef Cardinal Ratzinger, sometime Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith . . . of course, he’s moved on since then . . . now where exactly did he go ?

Now : Canon 751 of the Codex Iuris Canonici reads :

‘Heresy is the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith; apostasy is the total repudiation of the Christian faith;’

No-one (as far as I know) is suggesting that they have, at least en masse and ‘officially’, done either of those.

However, it continues :

‘schism is the refusal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.’

Now; our friends at CCC basically say ‘we know what Vatican II was about, and if you don’t agree, you’re wrong’. Josef Cardinal Ratzinger (who earlier in life was a peritus at VatII) has clearly and courteously – but nonetheless firmly – disagreed with them on more or less every point, observing that it is their version of Vatican II that is wrong : and since ascending the Throne of S. Peter has seen no reason to change anything that he has said on that topic. They nonetheless obstinately refuse to submit to his teaching on these matters.

Hhmmm . . . that would make them Schismatics, then ?

It looks like it, certainly : in which case, they already HAVE joined a Protestant Church – or, rather, they have in effect created one all of their own : a Church based on their peculiar concept of what Vatican II taught, with no reference to reality; or to what the Council really said - the 'Stand-up Church of Vatican II' perhaps ?

(Standing up in ecclesiastical circles is always a dicey business. Many years ago now a loyal Anglican wrote a book entitled 'What the Church of England Stands For'. A Catholic wag apparently commented 'Because there's only one seat, and the Holy Father's sitting on it !')

Dealing with this sort of situation officially is a messy business, of course, which tends to hurt people in all sorts of ways in all sorts of directions . . . not to mention the fact that ‘due Judicial Process’ invariably takes an extended period of time . . . so anno Domini will probably resolve this whole affair more effectively, as well as more speedily, than the Curia . . .

Meanwhile, the rest of us will simply get on with trying to implement the teachings of Vatican II in the light of the hermeneutic of continuity which has clearly been indicated by the Holy Father (who unlike the members of CCC was there !) as the way in which it should be interpreted.

Ad Multos Annos, Sancte Pater !