Friday 31 December 2010

The Rosary and the Unexpected Joys of the Gospel

Praying the Rosary can be a bit of a slog, I find. I am so easily distracted that I have had to devise various cunning ways of occupying my entire attention. I use the beads, of course, keeping them in my right hand. I go through the prayers at a brisk pace, phrase by phrase, by tapping out the rhythm with the fingers of my left hand. (If you think this is a bit sad, as they say, please allow for the fact that my elderly brain needs all the help it can get.) And I have brief keywords or phrases for each Mystery, on little home-made cards that fit into my prayerbook; I concentrate on each of these in turn, one keyword for each Hail Mary, which I find - on account of the many repetitions - to be the prayer where my attention is most likely to drift off.

This afternoon I spent a little time going through the Birth narratives in Luke and Matthew, with a view to refreshing or improving the keywords. My goodness, isn't it wonderful the way one receives a new insight, or a sudden surge of spiritual joy, when reading the Gospels! This was my experience today.

St Luke refers on a number of occasions in his Gospel to the distress and worry and perplexity which, despite being full of grace, Our Lady suffered at times. After the visit of the Angel Gabriel she was, in earthly terms, completely alone in her situation, keeping this staggering knowledge locked in her heart during all that long journey from Nazareth to Judea.

And then suddenly, after no more than the mere sound of her voice calling out a greeting, her beloved kinswoman Elizabeth welled up with a torrent of astonishment and joy and prophecy. Mary had said nothing about it, and yet Elizabeth knew. In sheer human terms, what must that realization have felt like, for Mary?

Thursday 30 December 2010

2011 Epiphany celebration is not on the nearest Sunday

Hello – I am awake again after my brief hibernation. I hope all my readers have had a very happy Christmas.

Now then, about this Epiphany business. If a Holy Day of Obligation is to be moved to the Sunday, it is reasonable to assume that this means the nearest Sunday. The nearest Sunday to Thursday 6th January 2011 is Sunday 9th January.

Here is the press release from the English and Welsh Bishops at the time of the original decision, in 2006, to move the Solemnities of the Lord. Rather cleverly, it does not say “the nearest Sunday” but simply “Sunday”.

Shall we assume that there is a very good pastoral reason for bringing the Feast forward to the day after New Year’s Day?

Thursday 16 December 2010

No further posts likely until the new year

I don't feel able to write anything just at present. I wish my readers a very happy Christmas, and I hope to resume blogging in the new year.

God bless.

Monday 29 November 2010

Sri Lanka: A splendid welcome home for Cardinal Ranjith

Crowds thronged the new Cardinal's route in an outpouring of joy and love. And what fun it seems to have been!

I don’t need to say anything more, except that this wonderful scene has gladdened my heart.

Sources acknowledged, with thanks: White Monks at Sri Lanka, via The Eponymous Flower, via Messa in Latino.

Friday 26 November 2010

A day for nascent human life, without the nascent?

The English and Welsh Bishops’ Conference website informs us that, in calling for a day of prayer for all nascent human life, the Holy Father expressed his general intention for the day as follows:

The purpose according to the Holy See is to “thank the Lord for his total self-giving to the world and for his Incarnation which gave every human life its real worth and dignity,” and to “invoke the Lord's protection over every human being called into existence.”

It can, I think, safely be assumed that, leading on from this general intention, the Pope envisaged that the prayers themselves should refer specifically to such examples of nascent life as the human embryo, and the child in the womb.

Here, in magnificent response, are the US Bishops’ worship resources for prayers of supplication, most helpfully linked from the E&W Bishops’ site:

Supplications for Vigil for All Nascent Human Life

Let us pray to God, the Father of Life and Font of all Mercy:
Lord, have mercy on all who have sinned against life.

You knit us in our mother’s womb,
— Preserve all children from bodily harm
From the moment of conception.

Your Son ennobled all human life when he became flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary,
— Enlighten our minds to see the dignity of every human life
From its earliest embryonic beginnings.

You are author of science and knowledge,
— Bring an end to the destruction of human embryos
In research facilities and IVF clinics.

You are the law-giver and ruler of the world,
— Help us to overturn unjust laws that permit the destruction of innocent lives,
And guide our public officials to defend the littlest among us.

You love those who are afflicted,
— Help parents of unborn children with disabilities
To cherish the baby you have entrusted to their care.

Your Son, Jesus, healed the sick,
— Guide all doctors to be guardians of life,
Especially the lives of unborn children with serious health conditions.

Lord, you are love and mercy itself,
— Draw all who have acted against innocent human life
To repentance and forgiveness,
And heal them through an outpouring of grace.

The US Bishops’ prayers, beautiful and comprehensive as they are, have been composed for a vigil service, and might need some trimming for use in the bidding prayers at parish Masses. I mention this because the English Diocese of Clifton has announced its own plan for the day: an hour of quiet vigil in the cathedral before the 6.00 pm Mass, and a bidding prayer at every parish Mass that weekend.

A vigil of quiet prayer will be held in the Cathedral at 5.00 pm on Saturday, before the celebration of the First Mass of Sunday.

Bishop Declan has written to all our parishes. He said: “I would like to ask you to include the following prayer in your intercessions at Masses that weekend:

‘In union with the Holy Father we thank the Lord for his total self-giving to the world and for his Incarnation which gave every human life its real worth and dignity. Let us ask the Lord's protection over every human being called into existence. Lord hear us.’”

This is, just about word for word, the Holy Father’s general intention. Since Bishop Lang has omitted any specific reference to nascent human life, which is after all what the day is about, I very much hope that the clergy of the individual parishes will insert their own references to it.

Update, Sunday 28th November: The bidding prayer was included at the Mass I attended, using the exact wording requested by the Bishop. No explanation or context was given. There was no mention of nascent life, the embryo, the unborn child, or the child in the womb. There has been no mention of the day of prayer in the weekly newsletter, either last Sunday or this.

Tuesday 23 November 2010

Pope Benedict and the Graham Greene Scenario

I had hoped to draw this analogy out in more detail: the soul, apparently lost in sin, and yet, the glimmer of hope for salvation ...

But, do you know, I think I'll give it a miss. Except to say one thing: that it will be an appalling thing if, as a result of the maelstrom of false interpretation, vulnerable wives who have so far managed to resist the overtures of their HIV-infected husbands, find themselves under pressure to give way, on the false claim that condoms are both "approved" and "safe".

I don't intend to repeat what is well known about the incomplete security of condoms. We're not talking simply about "accidents" here, or "taking a chance": we are talking about death, and about orphans. Yes, it would be an appalling thing.

Amidst all the confusion spread by the secular media and, as I am led to believe (Sorry, I can't bear to read them), by one or two Catholic commentators and spokesmen, there have been shining examples of robust defence and clarification. I can't approach their quality. You can find most of them as links from that ever-useful listing-site, British Catholic Blogs, but here is a selection:

A loyal but frank critique, from Fr Boyle of Caritas in Veritate:
Did the Pope say it's okay to use condoms?

Detailed background, from Fr Finigan of The Hermeneutic of Continuity:
Can we disagree?
Catholic Reactions
Divisions at the Vatican
"Do you think that's wise, Sir?"

A clear analysis and defence from Fr Hunwicke, the Anglo-Catholic (and, I hope and pray, Ordinariate-bound) priest whose blog is entitled Fr Hunwicke's Liturgical Notes.

And, to conclude the list, a short but very clear post from Ben Trovato, the Countercultural Father. I particularly liked this:
What he [the Pope] actually said was very specific: in the case of somebody who is in a very bad place, then the intention of minimising harm to others might be the start of a moral awakening.

Valiant as these and others have been, it is surely, to use the modern idiom, "down to" the Holy Father to sort this out personally, not only because the misunderstandings have sprung from his own words, but because he is the only person with the authority to do so. Do you remember the searing letter he wrote at the time of the Williamson controversy? Is this now the time for another such letter? If so, his words will somehow have to be heard above the din of the media storm.

My brain feels as if someone has been polishing it with sandpaper. I'm going to give it a rest for a few days. ITV3 is repeating episodes of Foyle's War all this week. A diet of bombs, murder and mayhem is just what I need to soothe my frazzled nerves.

Thursday 18 November 2010

Times gone by: Iconoclasm in an English village church

The pretty village of Aldbourne, in Wiltshire, is near enough to our home to make a pleasant day out, with a good lunch at one of the village pubs. The picture is courtesy of Wiltshire County Council.

The village, and the exterior of the church, came to fame in 1971 as the location of one of Doctor Who ’s adventures; for it was here, as enthusiasts will recall, that Jon Pertwee encountered The Daemons. If you are nervous, perhaps it’s best not to open the link !

There are two family monuments in the church. One, which includes two kneeling figures, is here:

The other, designed originally for two people, contains a group of six figures:

According to the parish leaflet, the figures appear to be unrelated to the family for whom the monument was built. Whether this is the case or not, someone evidently thought them worth keeping; and thank goodness, because they are very fine.

They are arranged as a family of father, mother, three sons and a daughter. As was customary, the little figures of the sons, however young they were when they died, are complete with full moustaches and beards.

It is not unusual to find in pre-Reformation English churches that iconoclasts have been at work, either during the Protestant Reformation or during Oliver Cromwell's Commonwealth. Here you can see a particularly distressing example.

On each monument, every figure’s hands, originally joined in prayer, have been hacked away. Judging by the costumes, which date, I think, from the late 16th century, the damage appears to have been perpetrated during the Commonwealth, or perhaps earlier, during the Civil War, which the county of Wiltshire did not escape.

What sort of spirit would possess any kind of Christian, that he or she could do such a thing? That they should be so convinced of the evils of popery that the sight of hands joined in prayer should so enrage them?

I hope you will find this interesting. I think these mutilated figures speak to us, in their poignant state, of a far better faith than that of their attackers. In this respect, the iconoclasts did not succeed.

Tuesday 9 November 2010

The Ordinariate, and a happy memory of Anglican pilgrims in Rome

As many readers know, the Holy Father’s General Audiences, on Wednesdays in St Peter’s Square, are delightful occasions. I particularly love the series of introductions, listing the groups attending that day. Those who are introduced may sing a song; or produce musical instruments and play a tune; but most of them simply leap from their chairs to cheer and wave. It is all very unsophisticated and innocent and happy.

At the audience my husband and I attended, on 7th May, 2008, there came a point in the introductions when the priest announced a group from England, saying: “We welcome a group of Anglican pilgrims from the parish of …”. They jumped up from their seats and waved to the Holy Father, and cheered him with great excitement. He looked for them and saw them, and smiled, and waved back, and blessed them. And they sank back onto their chairs, their faces shining with pleasure.

It was beautiful. My eyes filled up, as they do when a thing of spiritual beauty washes over me; and as they are doing now as I remember the scene.

I wonder how that little group has fared since then? And whether, at some date in the near or distant future, one or more of them may make their way along the path to the Ordinariate? By far the majority of Anglicans will not, I am sure. But those Anglican pilgrims had the desire to be there in Rome, to see Pope Benedict, and to take part in this wonderful, familial gathering; and they experienced, by the look of things, all the joy and gladness of the day. Who knows what the good Lord has in store for them?

It is a fine thing that the five Anglican bishops have announced their intention to be a part of this grand adventure. They are a vanguard of experienced men, of considerable seniority. This is just what the embryonic body needs. Their presence and leadership, whether in an official capacity or simply by virtue of their moral status, will help to give it a sense of shape and strength, which can only serve to encourage those who are at an earlier, more tentative stage of the journey. May God bless them each step of the way.

Monday 1 November 2010

The Blessed Cardinal's Robes at Birmingham Museum

A small but fascinating exhibition is currently on display at Birmingham Museums and Art Galleries. It consists of items on loan from the Birmingham Oratory, relating to the life of Blessed John Henry Newman.

Most particularly, and touchingly, it includes his cardinal’s robes.

A friend and I saw the exhibition recently. I can heartily recommend it. It continues until 6th January 2011. The museum is situated within comfortable walking distance of Birmingham New Street Station.

Thursday 28 October 2010

Of doves and serpents: the road to the Ordinariate

Pastor Emeritus and others have drawn readers’ attention to this article about the Ordinariate, which appeared in The Daily Telegraph on 21 Oct 2010, under the name of the paper’s Religious Affairs Editor, Tim Ross. The source for the article was an interview with Dr Rowan Williams, Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, in The Hindu newspaper.

In a surprise announcement, Dr Rowan Williams said he wanted to establish a new joint group of Roman Catholic and Church of England figures to oversee the conversion process.

The proposed group would be designed to enable smooth and less painful transition for those who want to leave the Church of England to become Roman Catholics in protest at the ordination of women bishops. …….

“As this is now being implemented, we are trying to make sure that there is a joint group which will keep an eye on how it's going to happen. In England, the relations between the Church of England and Roman Catholic Bishops are very warm and very close. I think we are able to work together on this and not find it a difficulty.”

It is understood that neither the Church of England nor the Roman Catholic authorities in England and Wales have yet agreed to Dr Williams’s proposal for a joint group to oversee the Ordinariate.

"Come into my parlour, said the spider to the fly", wrote Pastor Emeritus, which made me laugh. Far be it from me to hint (perish the thought!) that any such thing is in their minds, or will be part of the remit of the proposed ecumenical group. I very much hope that the E&W bishops are not, either alone or in combination with the CofE bishops, attempting to take control of the Ordinariate. I’ve no doubt that helpful things can be contributed by all parties; but there is a limit.

As I understand it, the Anglican-Catholic Ordinary will have as direct and unmediated a right of access to Rome as any Latin-rite English or Welsh bishop. Neither the Ordinary nor any other bishop is subordinate to the Bishops’ Conference. And certainly not to a joint Catholic-Church of England group which seeks to “work together on this”.

Charity in all things, of course. I have no doubt that this will be the watchword of many if not all of those involved. Nonetheless, I am reassured by the thought that those who are approaching the banks of the Tiber on this beautiful and grace-filled journey are both as gentle as doves and as intelligent as serpents. I have confidence that they know how many beans make five.

Friday 22 October 2010

The SSPX: Vatican recognition de facto and ad hoc

Here is a fascinating article by Brian McCall in The Remnant newspaper, dated 20th October. My source, acknowledged with thanks: Rorate Caeli.

The occasion was an Angelus Press conference held from 12th – 17th October this year to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the Founding of the Society of St. Pius X. Bishop Bernard Fellay of the SSPX gave an address to the conference, at the end of which he provided “a survey of the SSPX’s political and legal relations with the authorities in Rome”.

Bishop Fellay referred to what he termed the “principle of action” in his explanation of the Vatican’s present dealings with the SSPX. He said: “The Holy See has been pursuing a two-pronged policy – an official de jure policy contradicted by de facto actions.”

I strongly recommend the entire article; but for the general whetting of appetites I have extracted the following extraordinary details.


According to the standard understanding, the priests of the SSPX cannot validly hear confessions or grant absolution. However:
“As most Catholics know, there are certain grave sins, the remittance of which is reserved to the Holy See alone. Under Church law if a priest hears the confession of a person who has committed one of these reserved sins, he is obligated to report the matter to the Holy See …” [Bishop Fellay went on to say] “that from time to time Society priests have heard such confessions, and that, in every case, the required notification was sent to the Holy See. In each of these cases, the response received from the Vatican was that “all was good and licit” and that the permission for the SSPX priest to absolve was granted.”

The SSPX had arranged to ordain a number of priests in Germany in March 2009. This provoked great tensions between the German hierarchy and the Vatican.
“The Vatican asked Bishop Fellay to move the ordinations out of the jurisdiction of the German bishops. If Bishop Fellay would do so, the Vatican Cardinal bargained, the Society “would be legally recognized until Easter.” This was to cover the two-week period in which the ordinations would occur. Bishop Fellay explained that he had asked the Cardinal why this was being requested since, according to a recent document of the Secretary of State, the SSPX does not “even exist legally.” The Cardinal replied that “the Pope does not believe that.” “
Truly, we live in adventurous times.

Tuesday 19 October 2010

Contacting the Catholic Times about the Mildew/Loftus matter

Solidarity with dear Fr Clifton! I'm very sorry he has felt it necessary to close his Fr Mildew blog. He doesn't deserve this treatment.

Catholic and Loving it! has provided this helpful link to The Catholic Times's Contact the Editor page. The CT will no doubt receive eloquent and detailed messages from many correspondents, which will say all that needs to be said on the subject. I don't feel I could add any useful detail, but I think it is important to swell the numbers. I have therefore sent the following:
Would you please add my name to the list of those who write to you in support of Fr Michael Clifton (Fr Mildew) in the matter of the action threatened against him by Mgr Loftus.
The more messages they receive, however brief, the better.

Sunday 17 October 2010

The Bishops' Conference: Is unity more important than truth?

Reflections from the lounge bar of “The Four Horsemen”:

I have been trying to think of an appropriate word for the degree of authority which supports anything I write on this blog. It is only right to say that I am Mrs Nobody-in-Particular. So the answer is: Nil. However, in the free-for-all spirit of the blogosphere, why should that stop any of us? Nevertheless, I promise to try to keep on the doctrinal strait and narrow, and I will aim to be charitable.

Imagine me, therefore, sitting in a comfortable chair in my local, in the company of like-minded friends, saying: “What I can’t understand is … “, or “Why can’t they just …”, or “Have they all got something on one another? Like that film - what was it called? Oh yes: I know what you did last summer.” We are somewhat inclined to conspiracy theories, my chums and I; but then again, there’s no smoke without fire …

That excellent blog, Protect the Pope, published a post on 26 August concerning the recollections of Daphne McLeod, head of Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, of her conversations with Archbishop Nichols of Westminster. Here are some choice extracts:
… he admitted that he couldn’t speak out against the homosexual movement’s agenda promoted in the UK because of fears that it would create disunity among the bishops …

‘We must have unity at all price. If I speak out against it, there’ll be disunity among the bishops, and we can’t have that’.

My post is not specifically concerned with questions relating to the homosexual movement. The import of the words attributed to Archbishop Nichols applies across the whole range of the Church’s teaching on matters that go against the grain of the way people want to live their lives.

I think it has been assumed that the Archbishop himself would like to speak up for the teachings of the Church, if he were not so afraid of the episcopal heavies who would come round with their pit-bulls. I too am very willing to assume this. However, the words as quoted are “If I speak out …”, and not “I want to speak out, but …”. They are therefore rather more impersonal than a quick reading would suggest. I look forward to hearing clear statements of all the teachings of the Church, including the unpopular ones, together with encouragement to follow them or to return to their observance.

According to the Penny Catechism, one of the ways in which we may either cause or share in the guilt of another’s sin, is by silence. This applies to all of us, including bishops. How much more so, in addition, does it apply to the successors of the Apostles, who are commissioned to teach the truth and to refute error?

“They” (to use a catch-all word that has the advantage of not pointing a finger) appear to be hiding behind a falsely inflated representation of the powers of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. On this subject, here is a fine article by Bishop Robert F Vasa, taken from the Catholic Culture website, on the role - and the limitations - of bishops’ conferences. It is written in the context of the USA, but it applies equally in other countries. Here are some salient quotations from a long but important document:
Episcopal Conferences must keep in mind the good of the Church, that is, the service of unity and the inalienable responsibility of each bishop in relation to the universal Church and to his particular Church. (Pope John Paul II, Apostolos Suos, 7)

We must not forget that the episcopal conferences have no theological basis, they do not belong to the structure of the Church, as willed by Christ, that cannot be eliminated; they have only a practical, concrete function. (The Ratzinger Report, 59-61)
The national level is not an ecclesial dimension. It must once again become clear that in each diocese there is only one shepherd and teacher of the faith in communion with the other pastors and teachers and with the Vicar of Christ. (The Ratzinger Report, 59-61)
The bishops’ authority to speak out and to preach the truth is laid upon each of them, individually, in direct union with the successor of Peter, under our Lord Jesus Christ. The Bishops’ Conference has no power to obstruct that authority. Each bishop has his own charge and his own flock; and each has the continuing and imperative duty to examine his own conscience and his own faithfulness of mind and heart and will to the teaching of Christ’s Church, in all its fullness. He then has the duty to go out and teach that fullness, neither adding to it, nor - which is most pertinent in these days - subtracting from it.

If, in consequence, we see differences emerging in the witness given by the various members of the Bishops’ Conference, so much the better. We shall know exactly where each of them stands. And so will Rome.

Thursday 7 October 2010

A Story about the Intercession of Blessed Cardinal Newman

As mentioned in my post on 24th September, I have started to ask for the intercessory prayers of Blessed Cardinal Newman, for the “thoughtful apostates”, that they may return to the fullness of the Faith.

Here is a little thing that happened this morning. I had just said my prayer, when I suddenly began to feel rather embarrassed, as though I were being importunate in bothering him over this intention, when he had so many others to intercede for.

Rather as one might say to someone, “If it’s not inconvenient”, I felt impelled to add, rather timidly, “If it is the Lord’s will”.

Immediately there came into my mind the following words: “It is not the Father’s will that any of them should be lost”.

You may like to read Matthew 18:10-14, the Parable of the Lost Sheep, at the end of which, almost word for word, is the sentence that came to me.

God is goodness.

Monday 4 October 2010

Wearing the Badge of our Faith

Archbishop Nichols, of Westminster, has encouraged Catholics to witness to their faith in small but significant ways: for example, by saying “God bless you” or by making the Sign of the Cross in public. These may seem like little things, but they are important, particularly in the social and legislative climate of our country these days.

I have a beautiful lapel pin, which I bought when I joined the Latin Mass Society of England and Wales. It shows their logo, which I have pasted at the head of this post. The chasuble is red, and everything else is white, with all the outlines, and the Cross, in gold. In the light of Archbishop Nichols’s exhortation, I will try to make sure that I wear the badge on my coat as a regular thing. It could be a real conversation piece, and it is full of teaching possibilities.

Having said that, of course, the question arises: am I up to the task of dealing with the questions and challenges - to say nothing of anything more adversarial - which may be directed at me when those I meet realise I am a Catholic? Those of us who may be unfamiliar with the work of presenting or defending our faith, or who may be rusty in these skills, may be rather daunted at the prospect of explaining it. On a practical note, I think it’s important to gain confidence, and not to feel one must waffle when responding to enquirers. It’s perfectly all right to admit that we can’t do justice to this or that question, but that we will try to find out all we can for the next occasion.

There is a major and urgent need to plug the gaps in Catholics’ knowledge of the Faith. And there is also the problem that the poor catechesis many people have received will result in some eccentric versions (no, I’m beating about the bush here; we all know I mean false versions) of our faith finding their way into the unsuspecting ears of enquirers.

Most glaringly, there is that all-excusing misrepresentation of the idea of “following one’s conscience”, which seems to have become fixed in the minds of so many Catholics. The more knowledgeable kind of non-Catholic will not be at all impressed if a Catholic tells him that “We don’t have to follow the Church’s teachings; we can follow our own consciences and decide for ourselves”.

There is another thing to consider. While allowing that we are all sinners, and without beating myself up about it, I’m going to have to do my best to practise the virtues, and to be seen to be trying to do so. Otherwise the behaviour that is seen won’t match the words that are heard, or the Catholic symbols that are worn. There have been some glaring examples of this in the media recently. We will be held to very high standards.

To sum up: the Archbishop’s words, which are ostensibly quite simple and restricted, are really full of potential; but they must be built on. If each of us, and our bishops and clergy, make the effort, it will be to the intellectual and spiritual benefit of all concerned.

Friday 24 September 2010

Praying to Blessed John Henry for the Return of "Thoughtful Apostates"

On 20th September The Very Revd Gerard Deighan preached on the subject of Blessed John Henry Newman, in Newman’s own church, the Catholic University Church in Dublin, on the occasion of a Mass in honour of Newman’s beatification.

If you have not yet been able to read this brilliant sermon, posted on 23rd September on the Rorate Caeli blog, I urge you to make the time to do so. It is absolutely wonderful.

Unfortunately Rorate Caeli doesn’t seem to have a facility to link to the specific posting. Please follow the link to the blog, and scroll down to 23rd September.

As you would expect, the sermon covers the broad range of Newman’s life and thought, including the true understanding of his writings on conscience, and his implacable opposition to liberalism in religion. It also reflects on his work as a pastor of souls, and his gift for friendship. But in my present post I would like to tell you what happened when I read the following passage from the sermon, which deals with his faithfulness, as a priest and as a friend, in praying for others:

“I have in mind that prayer for which Newman is best remembered: his prayer of intercession. As a man of prayer he had no pretensions. He was no St Teresa or St John of the Cross. When he prayed, it generally involved poring over long lists which he made out, and kept scrupulously up to date, of the people he wished to pray for. In this he is a model to us. Firstly, a model of caring for others so much as to keep them in our thoughts, and in our hearts; but also a model of bringing our loving thoughts of others before God, and asking Him to care for them, and bless them, and heal them, or forgive them, or grant them eternal rest. Newman was a faithful intercessor while here on earth; and now that he is in heaven we can be sure his power of intercession is even greater. So here is my second concrete exhortation to you this evening: Pray to Blessed John Henry! Pray for all your needs, and for those of your friends and foes!”

Isn’t that beautiful? I smiled at the reference to the long lists he used to keep; how endearingly human that sounds! But as I read this passage, I was suddenly filled with tearful thoughts of loved ones (and I am often in tears when I think of them) who have moved away from the fullness of the Church to worship elsewhere; or who have ceased to be Christian, while retaining a firm belief in God. I long so much for them to return! And as I read, I was moved to pray to Blessed Cardinal Newman, to ask his intercession for those who are in that particular category of the lapsed or gone-astray. Until I can think of a better term, I will refer to them as the “thoughtful apostates”. They have thought, they have reflected, they have seen and been dismayed at the state of the Catholic Church, at the examples of banality and casual irreverence. At this stage or that in their reflections, they have made a false step in their thinking, and have continued to apply their reasoning along the erroneous path they have unwittingly taken. And this is where they are today: absolutely sincere; reverent and even prayerful; but separated from the fullness of the Church, or from the personal consciousness that the Lord Jesus Christ, who loves them with infinite love, is waiting patiently, so very close to them.

I will pray for the intercession of Blessed John Henry Newman, whose intellectual powers are so much a feature of his sanctity, for the return of the “thoughtful apostates”.

Wednesday 22 September 2010

A Conversion Opportunity for all of us, including our Bishops

Breadgirl’s recent comment has helped me to clarify my thoughts somewhat on an important aspect of the Holy Father’s visit. Specifically, it feels as if we have been offered a conversion opportunity.

I remember the reported words of one of the Polish bishops, in the early 1980s, who said “We all need conversion.” By which, of course, he meant not only those who did not believe, but everyone, whatever their position in the Church, whatever the stage they had reached in their spiritual journey. That has stuck in my mind as something simple and yet profound. None of us has yet arrived where God wants us to be.

This brings me to our bishops. Their conversion opportunity has arrived too. They are not a single, corporate entity; each of them, as a child of God, is on his own individual spiritual path, and only God knows how far they have progressed. What will they make of this moment of grace?

To state it very simply, the call to conversion is the call to repent and believe. Or, if we are already on the Christian journey, to detach ourselves more comprehensively from sin, and to believe more profoundly; and this both in our words and in our actions.

As John the Baptist said: “If you are repentant, produce the appropriate fruits.” The “Light of the World” initiative is, I believe, a simple but rather wonderful conversion-fruit. Who knows what fruits it will itself give rise to? I am sure more good things will come; but there will be resistance, there will be closed minds and amused indifference, even, dare I say it, among the hierarchy and clergy. But I very much hope not. I plan to be realistic, but optimistic. And I will be joining my prayers to those of many others, in praying for our bishops and priests in this new Benedictine era.

Tuesday 21 September 2010

"Light of the World" for Every Parish in England and Wales

Here is some very interesting news, courtesy of the Catholic Herald website. Every parish in England and Wales is to receive a framed copy of William Holman Hunt’s “Light of the World”, together with a candle. All have been blessed by the Holy Father at the Hyde Park vigil.

Monday 20 September 2010

Three moments of tearfulness ...

... When the Pope completed his proclamation of Cardinal Newman as Blessed.

... When those fine young seminarians at Oscott sang "Ad multos annos" as their farewell to their dear Holy Father.

... When our wonderful Pope Benedict climbed the steps to the plane that would take him safely home, after his packed and exhausting visit.

And a moment of thankfulness and relief, as the plane rose into the sky and gently disappeared into the low cloud.

Happy days, so poignant, and, please God, so rich in fruit.

Tuesday 14 September 2010

The Construction Work at Cofton Park

Here are some pictures from BBC Midlands of the preparations at Cofton Park for Cardinal Newman’s beatification Mass.

Saturday 11 September 2010

An Empty Husk?

I hope the Altar-cave for the Cofton Park beatification Mass turns out to be more dignified on the day than the artist’s impression suggests. Messa in Latino has come up with this rather extravagant description of it: “Like the fearsome interior of the carapace of some enormous dead grub”. Perhaps it’s not as bad as that, but we shall see! We can’t always judge from a drawing what the reality will look like. This is why I’ve held back from adding my two-penn’orth to the reactions that have appeared in the Catholic blogosphere. All I will say is: that’s an optimistically blue sky for 19th September …

However, I think MiL has hit very close to the mark with its evocation of the idea of an empty carapace. It feels to me like an uncomfortably accurate metaphor for the current condition of the Church in England and Wales. I’m sorry to say that I’ve thought for some time that our part of the Catholic Church demonstrates, in some respects, the deceptive attributes of an empty or nearly empty husk.

A great part of the illusion of health comes from our Catholic education system. School after school refers to itself as having a “Catholic ethos”. If this ethos does not express itself in the form of sound Catholic teaching, does it have any reality, or is it just a fuzzy feeling?

The post-school lapsation rate appears to be catastrophically high. This cannot all be due to adolescent rebellion against devout parents. A large percentage of the pupils must surely belong either to non-believing and non-practising families, or to church-going families who quite sincerely but misguidedly follow the Cherie Blair variety of “Catholicism”, not knowing any better.

I wonder also how many families attend Mass as a form of school fees, as the price to be paid just until their youngest child leaves school, and then they are off. Parish clergy must surely be aware of this phenomenon. However, one never knows: the good habit may be formed, at least in the parents, even if their children lapse. God takes His opportunities to find a way into the most unsuspecting hearts.

Do our parochial and diocesan schools, then, create a great illusion of health in the local Church, and indeed in parish churches? A deceptive impression of fullness, when there is, in large part, only emptiness?

While lamenting these signs of hollowness within the external appearance of the Church in E&W, I must say how much I admire those truly Catholic families, in which the parents know the Church’s teachings and are fully committed to them, in spite of our current adversities; and all credit and honour to them, and to their children who are properly taught by their parents, and who hang on to the true Faith, and come out at the end of their school years with their belief intact.

So, I’ll try not to be too bothered about the physical appearance of the Altar-hood, because there are far worse things, seriously so, swirling around in the English and Welsh Catholic scene. It may well be that a number of things are biding their time to emerge when the Holy Father is safely back in Rome. Will we then see the claws unsheathed? I have a heart-sinking feeling that this may be so.

Dear Heavenly Father, please keep Pope Benedict safe, and may his visit bear the good fruit which we so desperately need.

Friday 10 September 2010

Mark Dowd to give a talk tonight at a Catholic church in Bath

Mark Dowd, maker of the BBC's radio and television programmes about the Holy Father, is giving a talk tonight at St John’s Parish Hall, South Parade, Bath, BA2 4AF. It is advertised on the Diocese of Clifton’s website, and has also appeared in parish newsletters.

Thursday 2 September 2010

Gregorian chant at the papal events? Over to you!

Two weeks to go. They have signed the contracts and published the programmes. It looks as though we can't do anything more to influence things, either at the Beatification Mass or at the Hyde Park vigil. I'm sure His Holiness understands the situation, and will do his very best for us all.

And yet ... there may be a pause in the music and other entertainment, now and then. Wouldn't it be good if groups of pilgrims, here and there, were to add a little Gregorian chant to the proceedings? One or two pieces from the Missa de Angelis, for example, or the Salve Regina? Go on, you know you want to ...

Friday 20 August 2010

O Sing to the Lord an Old Song ...

Sorry to contradict Psalm 96, but just this once ... Now that the music has been announced for the Hyde Park vigil, can I say first of all how glad I am that they're not going to sing "Our God Reigns". Back in 1982, I was very soon reduced to turning the television volume down to mute.

Certain tunes have a habit of lodging in one's head, and even when it's a good one, enough is as good as a feast. We have been watching the daily repeats of The Onedin Line, and the Spartacus theme has been haunting our brains. Yesterday, thanks to YouTube, I heard for the first time the famous worship song Shine, Jesus, Shine. It has been floating through my head ever since, even this morning in Waitrose. I must find some other music to listen to, to drive it out.

Now for a non-expert review of it. I thought the tune was quite pleasant. I could imagine swaying about and waving my arms in the air, if I were inclined to attend the more charismatic kind of Mass or service of praise. The combination of music and lyrics is warm and emotional, both of which feelings have a place in our love of God.

There were some good points about the lyrics. They refer to the awesomeness of God. They are trinitarian. They recall St John's words about Christ, the Word, as the light shining in the darkness. They bring to mind Christ's words that "the truth will set you free". "Blaze, Spirit, blaze" reminds me of the Holy Spirit coming down as tongues of fire. The flowing river makes me think of Luke 4:14: "The water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life". The last verse says "May our lives tell your story", which is very much a statement of "let's get out there and give witness" - which is good.

I think its limitation is that it stays within the range of belief which the Catholic Church shares with the average evangelical Protestant. The glorious patrimony of Catholic chant, and of our hymns - even the more sentimental ones - teaches these good things and so much more; because it draws on the Christian faith in its fullness.

Some months ago - for a reason which I have now forgotten - I borrowed a hymn book from church for a couple of days, and went through the index, writing down the titles of those hymns whose words and tunes I particularly like. I came across this list only yesterday, and it was lovely to read it again; it lifted my heart as the old favourites, with their touching words and sweet melodies, came flooding back. Leaving aside for the present the beautiful hymns to our Lady, here are just a few:

Hail, Redeemer
Crown Him with many crowns
Alleluia, sing to Jesus
To Jesus' Heart, all burning
Jesus, my Lord, my God, my all
Soul of my Saviour

Now for a tentative suggestion for the vigil. There may be opportunities for small groups to take advantage of the occasional hiatus to sing, quietly but noticeably, one or two of the fine old Catholic hymns, or a piece of Gregorian chant such as the Salve Regina. It may be that the hearts of those who hear them will be moved and attracted by what they hear. One never knows ...

Friday 13 August 2010

Looking forward to hearing all about Downside

Events conspired to keep me from attending any of the public Masses at this week's LMS training conference at Downside. I was very much looking forward to it, but something cropped up that had to take precedence over everything else. I'm now eagerly awaiting the first reports, both of the conference itself and of the Masses.

Saturday 7 August 2010

LMS Training Conference, 10th-13th August 2010: Bus Service from Bath to Downside

For those who are interested in travelling by public transport to attend the public Masses at Downside Abbey in Somerset, during the Latin Mass Society's training conference for priests, here is a link to the timetable for the number 184 bus service from Bath to Frome, which leaves from Bay 7 at Bath bus station, at half past the hour. The journey takes about 55 minutes, and the bus passes Downside Abbey on its way into Stratton-on-the Fosse. I understand there is a bus stop just by the entrance to the abbey grounds.

If you travel to Bath by train, you should leave Bath Spa station at the exit leading to the town centre, then turn left, and you will very quickly arrive at the bus station, which is a large glass-walled building, on the same side of the road as the railway station.

The 9.30 bus from Bath arrives at Downside in comfortable time to attend the Masses, which are scheduled for 11.00 or 11.15. The return buses leave Stratton at 24 minutes past the hour.

For those of us who can manage it, there will be a beautiful and inspiring Mass, and also a delightful tour of the lovely Somerset countryside.

Sunday 1 August 2010

The CDF on doctrine, authority, assent and dissent

The Italian-language blog Messa in Latino, which is always an interesting read, had a particularly interesting post yesterday. It was the text of a doctrinal commentary by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, dating from 1998. You may already be familiar with the document, but I thought it was worth publishing here, for those of us who were not aware of it.

The document was linked to the publication of a new Profession of Faith and Oath of Fidelity, which were to be made by those assuming any office that is to be exercised in the name of the Church. The profession and oath, which superseded earlier forms, were issued to conform to Pope John Paul II’s Ad tuendam fidem.

This may at first sight seem a little dry, but in fact it was a treasure trove. It set out - in a remarkably concise way for so complex a subject - the sources of the Church’s teaching, and of Her authority to teach, the various categories of Her teaching, the assent that is required on the part of all the faithful, and the position of those who do not assent.

My initial dismay at the thought of battling through such a long translation was soon dispelled when I realised that an English version must already exist somewhere on the internet. And so it does, thanks to EWTN.

Here is the doctrinal commentary.

Here are the Profession of Faith and the Oath of Fidelity.

This is a very helpful summary of the categories of belief, prepared – I think – by EWTN.

And finally, Ad tuendam fidem.

There is a good deal of reading matter here, for those of you who are interested; but fortunately it is broken up into quite manageable chunks. Take your time; no rush! I hope you will find it useful.

Thursday 22 July 2010

One of the Joys of Reading the Old Testament

In furtherance of my resolution to try to link a plenary indulgence work to every Holy Communion I receive, I am now working my way through the Old Testament for, I think, the third time. Tonight I finished Deuteronomy and began to read Joshua.

Some of the Old Testament is wonderful; but parts of it can sometimes be rather hard going. However, it is worth all the toil of trudging through the repetitions, and the lists of names of the tribal leaders and their descendants, and the detailed measurements; it is worth it all, to come across a phrase here and there, which is familiar and well-loved from its use in the New Testament.

There are other phrases too, which have passed into the richness of our language, and touch the heart. I thought I would share today's with you, from Deuteronomy 33:27 -

The eternal God is your dwelling place,
and underneath are the everlasting arms.

Tuesday 20 July 2010

Favourite Prayers Meme

Thank you to Athanasius of Suffering World and to Breadgirl of Last Welsh Martyr , for inviting me to join in the fun of doing a Catholic meme. I will try to follow Mulier Fortis’s rules:

Name your three favourite prayers, and explain why.

Tag five bloggers - give them a link, and then go and tell them they have been tagged.

Finally, tell the person who tagged you that you've completed the meme.

The Liturgy and the Sacraments are off limits here. MF is more interested in people's favourite devotional prayers.

I could make it more than three. If I were to do this, I would include the prayers incorporated in St Alphonsus Liguori’s meditations at the Stations of the Cross. Some are addressed to Jesus, and some to our Lady, and I find them quite haunting. I’d also include the Prayer to St Michael the Archangel, which seems to have such power within it. But these are my three, for the purposes of this meme:

The Our Father: because the Lord Himself gave it to us, therefore it is the best and most powerful prayer of all. The Holy Spirit inspires us to say it, and we speak our Lord Jesus’s own words, to our Father in Heaven. Perfect!

The prayer at the end of each Station’s meditation, which I often say as a separate prayer: “I love Thee, Jesus, my love above all things. I repent with my whole heart of having offended Thee. Never permit me to separate myself from Thee again. Grant that I may love Thee always; and then do with me what Thou wilt.”

Finally, I’d like to include a prayer that is so short and simple that it would, I suppose, be called an aspiration: simply the words, “Heavenly Father”. This is a prayer for times of extremity, as well as for those little expressions of love, those turnings toward the Lord that we make during the day. And I can attest that it’s just the thing when one is heavily sedated and being wheeled to the operating theatre; it is a lovely thing to go to sleep to.

I have managed to tag four bloggers, as follows, but I may be beaten to it:

Bob, of Bob’s Blog;

A Reluctant Sinner;

Paulinus from In Hoc Signo Vinces;

Fr Hunwicke, priest-in-charge of the Anglican church of S. Thomas the Martyr, Oxford, who has a most erudite blog. It is a joy to cheer him on, silently, from the wings, as he makes his journey in these momentous times.

Since so many bloggers have already been tagged, I think I should excuse my tag victims from finding any others, if they find they are struggling with it.

Friday 16 July 2010

The Person in the Womb

John Smeaton, the Director of SPUC, has drawn the attention of his readers to an interesting and very encouraging Zenit interview with Monsignor Ignacio Carrasco de Paula, the new head of the Pontifical Academy for Life. In the course of the interview Mgr Carrasco said the following:

One of the problems we have with regard to the embryo is that it isn't seen. Instead of embryo we should speak of a child who is in the initial phase of development. Because we cannot see him, he is in a situation of tremendous danger, at tremendous risk.

The words we use are indeed extremely important. Further on in this post I'll record a few thoughts on the word "child"; but before doing so I'd like to refer to the general use of the term "unborn".

While it is of course a statement of fact, I have always felt there was a certain insufficiency in the word. My slight discomfort arises from a phrase which occasionally used to crop up in the loftier kind of political speech, when the politician wanted to inspire his listeners with a vision of the faraway sunlit uplands to which his party’s policies would undoubtedly lead the nation. He would refer to “generations as yet unborn”.

In that example the generations did not in fact exist at the time of the speech. Might the term “unborn” convey something of that same sense of non-existence - or of not yet existing - when used in reference to the child in the womb? Not to us, of course; but does its use miss an opportunity to impress upon a wider and less informed audience the reality, the totality, the existence here and now, of an actual human being, from the instant of his or her conception?

Returning to the word "child", I’d love to hear it used, as Mgr Carrasco recommends; and used as the standard term. “Baby” would be good too; but I feel that the use of “child” emphasises even more strongly the individuality, the humanity, the personhood, the sense of continuity with all stages of a person's development and growth to adulthood. So for me, it is “the embryonic child”, “the gestating child” or "the child in the womb" which fits the bill better than any other phrase.

Friday 2 July 2010

No posts for a few weeks

This is to let my readers know that it will be a few weeks before a new post can be added to this blog. Life is extremely busy just now. Nothing bad, just a lot of hard work.

Friday 25 June 2010

The Richness of Catholic Prayer and Devotions

It's hard to believe I started this blog one year ago today. Time goes by so quickly!

I have been thinking a good deal about my mother-in-law, who is in her nineties, almost blind and quite frail, though mentally alert. She is not a Catholic. One of her uncles was enthusiastically involved in the local Orange Lodge, which gives a good indication of the religious "flavour" of her family. She herself has never been a church-goer during her adult life, as far as I know.
The only prayer resource she has seems to be the Lord's Prayer; and what could be better that that? But it has struck me, by contrast, what a wealth of prayer, meditation and devotions would be accessible by the averagely devout Catholic of a similar age. What a treasure we have!

So, in addition to my recent postings about the value of teaching the Virtues, here is another rich seam of Catholic life which it would be wonderful for our priests to encourage from the pulpit. Perhaps some members of their congregations might even be persuaded to stay behind occasionally after Mass, while their priests lead them in Benediction or in some of the old, familiar and life-enhancing prayers. Just a thought; no pressure ...

Wednesday 23 June 2010

Good news following the recent health scare.

Thank you so much to my kind readers for the prayers you have said in response to my recent post. We have now seen the consultant, who gave us the good news that he does not consider that the latest test results are an indication of cancer. He is fairly confident that antibiotics followed by various tests will identify and solve the current problem. However, it seems as if it will always be necessary to monitor the situation with periodic blood tests. At least this will alert us to any further concerns, of whatever kind. For the time being, relief all round!

Sunday 20 June 2010

The Holy Father on Clerical Careerism

Here is an interesting article, published today in Paolo Rodari’s Diario Apostolico. The Holy Father is speaking about the contrast between clerical careerism and the true spirit of the priesthood.

Careerism, the seeking after power, present in the Church (above all among the clergy), was - more than so many other things - the evil which Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger denounced in his meditations on the Way of the Cross in 2005, when, a few weeks before succeeding John Paul II, he said: “How much filth there is in the Church, and indeed even among those who, within the priesthood, should belong completely to Him!”

Read it here: Ratzinger’s meditation at the Ninth Station.

Benedict XVI has returned to this theme on other occasions, for example when he said on 3rd February 2010: “One’s career, the exercise of power: are these not a temptation? A temptation from which even those who have a role of activity and governance in the Church are not immune.”

Read it here: the General Audience.

The Pope had spoken about it in a more forceful manner on 12 September 2009, when he listed the characteristics which must not be lacking in the life of the priest. At a certain point he said: “We do not bind men to us; we do not seek power, prestige, esteem for ourselves. We lead men toward Jesus Christ and thus toward the living God. By this we lead them into truth, and into freedom, which has its origin in truth. Faithfulness is altruism, and precisely because of this it is liberating for the minister himself and for those who are entrusted to him. We know how things in civil society and, not infrequently, also in the Church, suffer from the fact that many of those upon whom a responsibility has been conferred, work for themselves and not for the community, for the common good.”

Read it here: the homily for the Episcopal ordination of five new priests.

Today, once again, during the Mass for the priestly ordination of fourteen new priests, a few hours after the news that Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, Archbishop of Naples, an important man in the engine-room of the Wojtyla pontificate, ex-Secretary of the Congregation for Priests, ex-Prefect of Propaganda Fide, has been included in the register of those under scrutiny at Perugia in the public works investigation*, the Pope has reaffirmed the constant idea: “The priesthood can never represent a means of attaining security in life, or of achieving for oneself a position in society. A man who aspires to the priesthood in order to increase his own personal prestige and his own power has radically misunderstood the meaning of this ministry.

“He who wishes above all to fulfil his own ambition, to achieve his own success, will always be a slave to himself and to public opinion. In order to be esteemed, he will have to flatter; he will have to say what pleases people; he will have to adapt himself to the changeability of fashions and opinions, and he will thus deprive himself of the vital relationship with truth, reducing himself to condemning tomorrow what he has praised today. A man who plans out his life like this, a priest who sees his own ministry in these terms, does not truly love God and others, but only himself, and, paradoxically, ends by losing himself. The priesthood – let us always remember – is founded upon the courage to say yes to another Will, in the awareness – which he should nurture so that it grows stronger every day - that in truly conforming ourselves to the Will of God, “immersed” in this Will, not only will our individuality not be rubbed out, but on the contrary, we shall enter ever more deeply into the truth of our being and of our ministry.”

Read the entire homily here.

*An investigation into possible criminality in the letting of public works contracts.

Thursday 17 June 2010

A Surprisingly Comforting Platitude

Here is a platitude, and a surprisingly comforting one, when one has been jolted into appreciating it: it is that this life is only temporary.

There comes a time when health scares of one kind or another become a feature of life, always there in the background, and sometimes flaring up with all the consequent distress. Up to now, there has always been a release of that distress, a relief when tests produce a negative result. Until the next time, when the worry and the uncertainty surface again.

I know how sweet God's comfort is when the tears come, and it seems - quite vividly - as though I am resting my head on His shoulder. God is beautiful, and God is good. He is more than good: He is Goodness. It is a most strengthening thing to experience this.

After the first scare, then the second and third, a certain resilience emerges. We are beginning to seize the day; time is precious. I have started to de-clutter our house. Just in case; one never knows. Please God, may my husband and I have many more years together.

The latest worry may, once again, be no more than that. But the odd prayer, now and then, would be much appreciated.

Thursday 3 June 2010

Natural Family Planning: Some Useful Links

There is always a caveat when finding a reliable source of NFP teaching, because the moral and spiritual foundation of it makes all the difference, and it is very important to seek out a teacher who understands these things. In the 1980s my friends and I started our NFP work from a strongly Catholic motivation. However, the understandable desire to make NFP “respectable” in NHS family planning circles led to the training of a number of NHS family planning nurses, who did not have the religious underpinning which matters so much to a Catholic user.

It is not always possible to find a Catholic teacher of Natural Family Planning in one’s area, but it would be a very good idea to contact your local parish to see if they know of someone who is properly trained. In addition, readers who wish to be sure that they have all the latest information about NFP, and the means to practise it effectively, may find the following links of interest:

The Natural Family Planning Teachers’ Association.

I think this may formerly have been called the National Association of Natural Family Planning Teachers, but I’m open to correction on that.

The Fertility Education Trust.

The Couple to Couple League for Natural Family Planning
(Double A* as far as I am concerned!):

International website

UK website

I was particularly impressed with this organisation when I came across its work. In particular, its founders, John and Sheila Kippley, wrote some excellent books – thoroughly Catholic - which are still available on Amazon. The two I have read are The Art of Natural Family Planning, and Birth Control and the Marriage Covenant, but you can see from the Amazon list that there are other good things too.

The second book in particular draws a most interesting scriptural analogy relating to the illicitness of contraception. Whereas most writers go for the “sin of Onan” text, John Kippley draws on the passage in Acts (Chapter 5, verses 1 to 11) which tells of the fraud of Ananias and his wife Sapphira. They had promised to give the fledgling Church the proceeds of the sale of a property, but agreed secretly to withhold part of it while claiming to the Apostles that they were giving the full amount. John Kippley likens this pretence of total giving while in fact withholding something, to the inherent statement of total self-giving in the sexual act in marriage, that is given the lie by the withholding of one’s power of generating a new life. I was very much struck by this fresh analogy, and I remain convinced of its aptness.

I hope my readers will find this post, and the links, helpful and encouraging.

Tuesday 1 June 2010

The Glory of the Olive

Good old St Malachy! He – or the ones who applied his name to those curious “prophecies” – came up with many intriguing little phrases, which may or may not be applicable to particular popes. Not Holy Writ, and not Holy Tradition. Just great fun. Probably.

However, I received something of a jolt, early one morning in 1978, when I was feeding my baby son, and switched on the Today programme to be greeted by the news that the first Pope John Paul (“De medietate lunae”) had died, after a reign of only 33 days. The cryptic phrase supposedly applicable to him, “Concerning the middle of the moon” had suddenly turned into “The interval of a month”.

And, as most of us probably know, the “prophecies” are running out. Our present Holy Father, supposedly “De gloria olivae” (Concerning the glory of the olive”), is allegedly to be followed by “Petrus Romanus” ……… and then? The destruction of Rome? The end of the world? Or did the compiler of these epithets simply run out of ideas?

It’s interesting to try to find links which seem to make sense of our present Holy Father’s “prophecy”. Some have mentioned the Olivetans, a branch of the Benedictine Order. That seems a bit tortuous. Others wonder if peace will be a strong theme of this pontificate. This is rather vague. In any case, we can only really judge by looking back at the end of a pontificate; and I hope this one continues for many more years. Despite all our travails,“Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive…”

But here is another possibility. The Holy Father is taking all the steps he can to reunite Christendom, by which it appears he is thinking both of the Eastern Orthodox and of all those members of the post-Reformation ecclesial bodies who are of Catholic mind and heart. And this he does, undaunted by the ragged edges of the process, or by what the management gurus call the “difficult people” (to put it mildly!) to whom his hand has been held out in friendship at the start of this path of uncertain length.

He is trying to begin the work of re-grafting as many as possible onto the tree which is the source of all truth and life. It would be easy to think of the “tree” as the vine. We often hear Christ’s words: “I am the vine; you are the branches.” But there is another tree: the olive; and this is the tree to which the image of grafting – and, most importantly at present, of re-grafting – is applied in the New Testament.

And I think he has an even greater ambition, stretching beyond his own pontificate.

You may like to read these words of the Holy Father on 15th May 2009, at Ben Gurion Airport, at the end of his visit to Israel. I think his words - very simple and courteous and diplomatic - give an insight into his hopes:

Mr President, you and I planted an olive tree at your residence on the day that I arrived in Israel. The olive tree, as you know, is an image used by Saint Paul to describe the very close relations between Christians and Jews. Paul describes in his Letter to the Romans how the Church of the Gentiles is like a wild olive shoot, grafted onto the cultivated olive tree which is the People of the Covenant (cf. 11:17-24). We are nourished from the same spiritual roots.

And this - with thanks to EWTN - is from Chapter 11 of St Paul’s Letter to the Romans:

15 For if their rejection [that is, Israel’s rejection of the Messiah] means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?
16 If the dough offered as first fruits is holy, so is the whole lump; and if the root is holy, so are the branches.
17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, a wild olive shoot, were grafted in their place to share the richness of the olive tree,
18 do not boast over the branches. If you do boast, remember it is not you that support the root, but the root that supports you.
19 You will say, "Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in."
20 That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast only through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe.
21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you.
22 Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you too will be cut off.
23 And even the others, if they do not persist in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again.
24 For if you have been cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these natural branches be grafted back into their own olive tree.

More and more, I feel that this phrase, “The glory of the olive”, applies to our dear Pope Benedict.

Monday 17 May 2010

Virtue in the Life of Mankind: Part 2 of 2

Here is the continuation of yesterday’s post.

From The Penny Catechism:


Envy....................Brotherly Love
Sloth or Acedia*........Diligence

*The Compendium adds Acedia to Sloth. It describes Acedia as “a form of spiritual laziness due to relaxed vigilance and a lack of custody of the heart”.

The Penny Catechism says:

They are called capital sins because they are the sources from which all other sins take their rise.


Fear of the Lord

The Compendium says:

The gifts of the Holy Spirit are permanent dispositions which make us docile in following divine inspirations.

I wasn't sure how to understand Counsel. Here is a helpful article on the subject, by the Reverend William G Most, on the EWTN website. A key sentence in the article is: "The gift of counsel perfects prudence."



The Compendium says:

The fruits of the Holy Spirit are perfections formed in us as the first fruits of eternal glory.

This is all good, nourishing spiritual food, really positive and, I think, very inspiring.

Virtue in the Life of Mankind: Part 1 of 2

How wonderful it would be if all the teachings of the Church could be presented to us each Sunday from the pulpit, systematically, over a period of time, in all their strength and beauty!

Such as, for example, the virtues.

Using the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and my copy - a 1970s reprint of a much older text - of the Catholic Truth Society’s Catechism of Christian Doctrine (the old Penny Catechism), I thought it might be useful to gather some of the basic teaching, and set it out here.

Since I am thinking at present of the virtues as they relate to our dealings with our neighbour, I have concentrated on the so-called human virtues, leaving aside the theological virtues. I have included:

The cardinal virtues.
The Penny Catechism’s list of the seven capital, or deadly, sins, alongside which, most helpfully, it lists their contrasting virtues.
The Gifts and Fruits of the Holy Spirit.

This is quite a lot to cover: I think I will split it into two posts, over two days. At the end of each post, please let me know if I have missed anything out. It is such a beautiful and important subject that I’d like to do it justice as best I can.



The Compendium says:

A virtue is an habitual and firm disposition to do the good.

The human virtues are habitual and stable perfections of the intellect and will that govern our actions, order our passions and guide our conduct according to reason and faith. They are acquired and strengthened by the repetition of morally good acts and they are purified and elevated by divine grace.

The principal human virtues are called the cardinal virtues, under which all the other virtues are grouped and which are the hinges of a virtuous life.

What is prudence? Prudence disposes reason to discern in every circumstance our true good and to choose the right means for achieving it. Prudence guides the other virtues by pointing out their rule and measure.

What is justice? Justice consists in the firm and constant will to give to others their due. Justice toward God is called “the virtue of religion.”

What is fortitude? Fortitude assures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. It reaches even to the ability of possibly sacrificing one’s own life for a just cause.

What is temperance? Temperance moderates the attraction of pleasures, assures the mastery of the will over instincts and provides balance in the use of created goods.

I think that will do for now; the remainder will appear in the next post.

Thursday 13 May 2010

An academic, thinking aloud ...

I saw this interesting item in the Daily Telegraph of 12/05/10. It was short enough to re-type here, but you can see a longer and slightly different version of the story in the online Telegraph.

The Suicide Generation
by Stephen Adams

People will choose when to end their lives in the future, because anti-ageing drugs that extend lifespans by many years are likely to become commonplace, an expert on longevity has claimed.

Dr David Gems, of University College, London, told the Royal Society that it was reasonable to expect drugs would soon be developed that dramatically extended lifespans. He said birth rates might have to be centrally controlled, and that people would have to make the choice about when to “switch off” their own life.

Wednesday 12 May 2010

A Bavarian Parish Church

A weekday lunchtime. A young man prays in the church of MariƤ Himmelfahrt - or, as we would say, Our Lady of the Assumption - in the small spa town of Bad Aibling, Bavaria. We were spending a few days there as part of a touring holiday of Gemany.

Set within this grandeur - to which the photograph does not do justice - there is a modest-sized free-standing altar, fully draped, and a fairly inconspicuous lectern. Not undignified, but rather overwhelmed by the splendour that surrounds them.

Suspended several feet above the North wall, a huge and apparently unused pulpit looms over the pews.

From time to time, Catholic bloggers post pictures of the continental churches they have visited; and the churches are usually very splendid and gleaming. The beauty of this church remained intact; but it reminded me of one of those television programmes about the rescue of fine old houses, whose owners are now in reduced circumstances. They seem to make shift as best they can in these well-loved homes, filled with the ghosts of past glories. It is as though they are camping amid the memories of what once was.

That is the impression I received in this fine old church. Above all, however, I felt completely at home there. Like every other Catholic church I have known, whether a glorious basilica or a humble Nissen hut, it had that unique warmth of the Presence.

Friday 23 April 2010

Third Post of Friday: The Bishops and Public Penance

The Bishops of England and Wales have urged all Catholics to set aside the four Fridays in May 2010 as special days of prayer (See Fr Blake’s blog, here). In particular, the bishops say:

We invite Catholics on these days to come before the Blessed Sacrament in our parishes to pray to God for healing, forgiveness and a renewed dedication.

It would certainly be a good thing to undertake prayers of reparation for the sins of others. Since, however, it was hardly ever the case that these horrific acts of abuse against children and adolescents were perpetrated by members of the laity, I am concerned that the bishops have not mentioned themselves in connection with this proposal. They must surely be seen to be joining in.

I’d very much like to know how they, together with other senior figures in the clergy and in religious congregations and orders – both current and retired - intend to take part in these days of repentant prayer.

An excellent suggestion was made recently on Beliefnet, which I read via Fr Zuhlsdorf’s blog. A deacon from Alaska has written very well on the subject, making, in particular, the following challenging but warm-hearted proposal:

So here is my question for you. What if our bishops chose to do public penance? What if they lay prostrate or knelt in front of their cathedrals as penitents before each Mass on the weekend closest to the feast of St.Peter and Paul or on the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus or some other appropriate day or days? Or, even better, on the first Friday of every month for the next year starting with the feast of the Sacred Heart or Sts.Peter and Paul? And what if we, as their deacons, as an order in the Church, in all humility, not only called on our bishops to do public penance, but offered to join them in it?
What a wonderful suggestion.

Second Post of Friday: The Bishops and the Recognition of Dissent

On 1st February, the Holy Father said to our bishops:

In a social milieu that encourages the expression of a variety of opinions on every question that arises, it is important to recognize dissent for what it is, and not to mistake it for a mature contribution to a balanced and wide-ranging debate.

I’d be very interested to know what the bishops of England and Wales are planning in response to this exhortation. I very much look forward to hearing what steps they are going to take to guide the faithful in this respect.

First Post of Friday: That CES Appointment, in the Light of the Ad Limina

It was as recently as 1st February that the Holy Father told the Bishops of England and Wales, during their Ad Limina visit:

Make it your concern, then, to draw on the considerable gifts of the lay faithful in England and Wales and see that they are equipped to hand on the faith to new generations comprehensively, accurately, and with a keen awareness that in so doing they are playing their part in the Church’s mission.

Now we have the appointment of retiring Labour MP, Greg Pope, with his voting record on life issues, to be the deputy director of the organisation that calls itself the Catholic Education Service. Fr Finigan's account of it, with many useful links, is here.

What does this say about our bishops’ desire to carry out Pope Benedict’s wishes? And not only his wishes, but to carry out their solemn duty as teachers of the whole truth, and as facilitators of those they appoint to teach the whole truth on their behalf?

Monday 19 April 2010

Benedict to write no more books?

From on Monday 19 April 2010 (My translation – including any mistakes):

Ratzinger will not write anything more

The second part of the book on Jesus of Nazareth, due to be published in the next few months, will be Benedict XVI’s last book. After this, the theologian Pope will not write anything more.

This is the most interesting item of news to have appeared in the newspapers this weekend. Rabbi Jacob Neusner wrote it in Corriere della Sera. In an article inside a special feature for the five-year anniversary of Joseph Ratzinger’s pontificate, Neusner writes as follows:

Last January, when I met the Pope in Rome, I asked him what he intended to do when, within about six months, he would have completed the second volume of his Jesus of Nazareth. With a smile, he replied: “Nothing else. This is my last book. I have other matters to expedite.”

A scholar who gives up writing books does not keep the title of scholar for long. Benedict XVI did not have to add: “After all, I am the Pope”. But the academic in me whispered: “At what a price”."

Read Jacob Neusner’s La forza della ragione nel confronto con le altre religioni here.

Sunday 18 April 2010

SSPX Rosary Crusade for Russia: Provisional Total

Some figures have still to be received, but it appears that in response to its request for a crusade of 12 million rosaries for the intention of the consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the Society of St Pius X has received, to date, more than 18 million.

I can’t quite take the news in.

Thursday 15 April 2010

Well Done, "Flying Bishop" Burnham

Earlier this week I attended a talk which was given to the North Gloucestershire Newman Circle by Bishop Andrew Burnham, Bishop of Ebbsfleet. He is one of the Anglican Provincial Episcopal Visitors known colloquially as flying bishops, originally appointed to minister to the spiritual needs of those Anglicans who do not accept the priestly ordination of women in the Church of England. As we know, events have developed a good deal beyond that issue alone.

His theme was, as one might expect, the implications of Anglicanorum Coetibus. This is not a full account of the talk: followers of the Catholic blogosphere are no doubt already well informed on the subject. But I thought I would record here a few snippets.


It was interesting to hear about the pilgrimage he made to Rome in 2008 with his colleague, the Bishop of Richborough. They made a tentative enquiry as to whether they might be able to call in for a brief visit at the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity. The idea was welcomed. They were then referred on for a visit to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which was the appropriate office in regard to individuals and groups as distinct from entire ecclesial bodies. On their return to England they informed the Archbishop of Canterbury of their meetings and of the matters discussed. Quite independently, the Traditional Anglican Communion had made its own approach to Rome. No one, either in the C of E or among the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales, seems to have known until a short time before the issue of Anglicanorum Coetibus, that its provisions would be of such generous extent that they could be applied to Anglicans within the Church of England. I had read somewhere that our bishops seemed to have been kept out of the loop, but it was fascinating to hear it from such a prominent person involved in the matter.


Touching briefly on the subject of the Church’s teaching on sexual matters, he asserted very clearly that we are all called to the virtue of continence, and that this applies to married people as well as to the unmarried. I am of course aware of this teaching, and fully accept it; but my agreement comes from my own study of the subject, and personal reflection on the teaching. I think I read it, some years ago, in Pope John Paul II’s book Love and Responsibility. I can’t think when I ever heard it said anywhere else, and certainly not from a Catholic pulpit. I was very pleased to hear Bishop Burnham say it.

The following is my own reflection: There is an unappreciated richness about the application of this virtue to the married state. It seems to be implicit in St Paul’s exhortation to husbands in Ephesians 5:25. From his even-handed teaching to married couples, the call to wives to obey their husbands tends to be emphasised – usually by critics– to the neglect of the other half of the text:

"Husbands should love their wives as Christ loved the Church, and sacrificed Himself for Her, to make Her holy.”

I’m a great supporter of the idea of wifely obedience, not as a slavish thing, but as one of the great keys to unity in marriage. In addition, sacrifice is an inevitable part of the life of a wife and mother. But I think we should also honour the sacrificial elements of the life of a good husband, who will incorporate many virtues into his married life, including that great manly virtue, continence.


Lastly, I will give a brief mention to a most interesting observation which Bishop Burnham made on another aspect of this great adventure we are all engaged in with our Anglo-Catholic brethren. He had found that Catholic clergy seemed to be very much impressed with how well-taught the Anglo-Catholics were in the truths of the Catholic Faith.

Step by step, we are on a most inspiring journey.

Sunday 11 April 2010

Why was the CDF's Kiesle letter leaked on its own?

As Catholic World News reports, there was no context. We have no knowledge as to what background information was provided in support of this priest's petition for laicisation. Is this perhaps a significant omission?

Still experiencing a strange mood in reaction to all the attacks on the Holy Father. Anything may happen next. It is as though his adversaries are slowly circling him, flinging first one thing and then another at him. They do not achieve the primary success they desire, but they are making do with good deal of collateral damage from the falsehoods which are sticking, here and there, like mud, in the minds of the less well-informed among the spectators of this blood-sport.

Sunday 4 April 2010

Grief is Transformed into Joy

A very sweet and simple little picture, painted by an unknown illustrator for a children’s book of Bible stories. Mary Magdalen weeps at the tomb of her Master. She sees the angels, and speaks with them, but she does not seem to realise who they are. She is disorientated and inconsolable.

She strikes me as a rather fragile person. But whatever her temperament, whatever her state of health, everything that she is, everything, is filled with devoted love for Jesus. She has been His faithful disciple through thick and thin, to death and beyond.

And then she sees, as she supposes, the gardener, who says to her

“Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?” Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have taken Him away, tell me where you have put Him, and I will go and remove Him.” Jesus said, ”Mary!” She knew Him then and said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabbuni!” – which means Master.
(John 20: 15-16)

And grief is transformed into a joy greater than any of us can imagine.

May we all have that joy at this time, which in earthly terms is very fraught and difficult, but in heavenly terms is the time of the victory of God’s love for us. He has loved us to death and beyond, and has shown us that His love and power are without limit.