Thursday, 24 September 2015

The sickliness of self-deceit

When sanity seems to be leaving me, I turn to Faber.

I'm tired. 
I'm ill and physical illness can make inroads into our spiritual life, there is noting intrinsically good or edifying about being ill.

I do hold with Faber that self-deceit is a real enemy to our salvation and one we never completely conquer this side of death.  So for personal reasons I post the following from Faber on self-deceit, but as this is something that affects us all and as these days are bonkers beyond belief, perhaps he can say something to you too. I sense that we actually want to be spiritually ill, or we want to diagnose everyone around us as ill.  We want to dissect every utterance made by everyone, we want to read our delusions into every speech made by every figure in the media.  And we want to come up with the conclusion that the only solution is for everyone to be as sick as we are.  Surely this is the height of self-deceit?  We are ill with self-deceit and the sterile sick room that we are living in is hell's own waiting room.

The power of the kingdom of sin rests simply in self-deceit.  The picture, you think is gloomy. I grant it.  Yet not disheartening.  It is the old story.  You will not serve God out of love, and then you abuse preachers for unsettling you.  You want unsettling.  I wish I could unsettle you. I wish you had the grace to be unsettled.  Digging does good.  It loosens the roots, lets in the sun and rain.  What can be more vexatious than an obstinate shrub which will not grow?  It always reminds me of souls, - so stiff, and concentrated, and dull, and pert, and self-satisfied in its yellow primness.

A simple childlike love of Jesus always goes safely through these dangers of self-deceit, almost without being aware of their existence.  

There is something intensely sickly about the spiritual life.  It is nothing but unbandaging, examining sores, bandaging them up again, smelling salts, rooms with blinds down, and I know not what dishounourable invalidisms and tottering convalsecences.

And Faber's remedy.....

It seems to me no slight temptation to love God with a headlong love, in order that one's soul may not be sickened with these degrading symptoms or valetudinarian sensations of the spiritual life, but live a robust, out-of-doors kind of religious experince.  Yet many people like to be ill.  It shows how little the thought of God is in them; for that thought, grave, kindly, sober, earnest, is an inexorable exorcism of all sickliness.

So let us seek that thought of God, and let us strive for that robust, manly outdoors kind of faith, the faith you can take anywhere.  We will still be sick, but atleast there is some chance of improvement.... and let us get away from the stifling sickroom that social media has become. It seems to do little but feed our self-deceit.

Some dead shrubs for your edification.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Poor Jephtha

It appears that today’s OT reading in the Novus Ordo is the sorry tale of Jephtha the Gileadite. It is a strange choice as Fr Bede Rowe implies on his blog.  However, as all scripture can be used to instruct and is inspired by God [2Tim 3:16], here is my attempt to extract some wisdom from the narrative.  I am very against the idea that since this is unpleasant and in the OT, it can be glossed over with a “phew, thank goodness we don’t live like that anymore”.  In many ways, the more society forgets the sovereignty of Christ, the more we are living in the time of the Judges and the refrain throughout that book is “in those days the was no king in Israel”, and it always precludes something dreadful happening because people take matters into their own hands. 

My theory is that often the naturally good men of this world are Jephthas; they are despised (he was the son of a harlot and denied father’s inheritance), they are noble (he was a mighty warrior), they trust God and know their faith and are reasonable when treating the enemy (see Judges 11:12-28 where he send messages to the king of the Ammonites explaining the legitimate right of Israel to the land), and their hearts are broken.

The Spirit of the Lord inspires him to decide to fight the Ammonites and then he makes his terrible vow, that if God grants him victory, then he will sacrifice to the Lord, the first from his house who comes to meet him when he returns victorious.  And as we know this is his only child, his daughter.  She calmly accepts her fate but asks to go into the hills to bewail her virginity for a while before he kills her. Then poor old Jephtha acts as Judge over Israel for six years and has to deal with infighting amongst the children of Israel, he really must have wondered if it was all worth it.  I see him as a good man but a broken man (as Millais’ depiction shows with astonishing clarity- see below). Jephtha is no fool.

What about that vow?  Did God inspire him to make it?  I’d argue that vows are freely offered to God, they come from within the creature to glorify God, but they have to rise up in a soul who is broken, the vow is meant to strengthen the bond between the Creator and the creature to make the creature more at one with God.  I’d argue that vows may or may not be flawed (this one is certainly flawed) but that they must be executed*. This vow was not a direct inspiration from God, its price is too high, after all God spared Isaac from Abraham’s knife, God does not want holocaust.  And here sorry old Jephtha knows that he has to do that which fate and his ego have conspired together to give the Lord. The story must have been a great inspiration to David as the psalms over and over again say how the Lord does not want sacrifice and holocaust, but that He wants our humility and our love. Poor Jephtha, I really do think he was just a victim of his own pride and a pride that wasn’t in itself seriously sinful. 

And then then there is the shocking irony; those Ammonites that he fought and was victorious over were known to offer child sacrifices to their god, Moloch.  And here is Jephtha sacrificing his own daughter to the Lord, the God if Israel. It is enough to make you weep.  But there is a lesson in this, that sin causes the destruction of the innocent.  Does Jephtha’s daughter prefigure Christ?  Do we not see here that ultimately victory is extracted at a terrible price.

And what of Jephtha’s daughter herself?  She bewails her virginity as all good daughters of Israel would do.  They would see their ultimate fulfilment as giving birth to the Messiah, so dying a virgin is not a good thing for them.  But the Messiah was truly born of a virgin.  The virgin state is something that is exalted in the New Testament.  The virgin state was precious under the old dispensation but only as a precursor to marriage.  In these last times virginity itself is prized.  But that doesn’t mean that the mourning has stopped.  We should weep for the state of the world that we actually need consecrated virgins.  There would be no need for consecrated virgins if there was no sin, and sin should make us weep.  So now unlike Jephtha’s daughter who had no choice, we can freely give ourselves to God as virgins and there is no further need for the annual remembrance of her fate that the daughters of Israel used to enact.  And isn’t she righteous?  If she had wanted to experience to pleasure of sexual intercourse, there was nothing stopping her from doing so, her sin could have gone unnoticed by the world.  What was stopping her was chastity and continence and those are fruits of the Spirit of the Lord.

Jephtha and his daughter are two heroic and tragic figures in the Old Testament, but how many these days come close to them in their ardent righteousness and love of the Lord?

* Any vow we make is in imitation of the covenant God makes with His people.  God never breaks His covenant, so we ought not to break our vows.  That is why making a vow is such a serious matter and ought not to be attempted lightly.  I suppose we only learn what frustratingly hard work we must be for God through sticking to a vow, and that ought to make us love Him so much more and ought to humble us in the knowledge that we can do nothing good without Him.

Monday, 17 August 2015

Liturgy liturgy liturgy...

Father said something in his homily for the Assumption that got me sifting through the various scripture readings from Mass for this feast.  I have put together the readings from the 1924 Missale Romanum, the 1962 and the Novus Ordo.  I have used Dr Challoner's English throughout to make comparisons fairer and I am not going to give much comment as I think there is a thesis in this and my Mariology is not up to scratch.  I'll just say what strikes me most about each version and leave you, dear reader, to your own thoughts.

Firstly from my grandfather's 1924 Missal.  The first reading is beautiful.  I like the emphasis on Our Lady's power.  It links to the protoevangelium where God promises that through one of His creatures, a daughter of Eve, the serpent will be vanquished: I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head Gen 3:15. The Gospel reading came as a bit of a shock.  I wasn't expecting to read about Our Lord in the house of Mary and Martha.  It is not a reading that has (at first glance) anything to do with Our Lady.  However it is nice to have a Gospel reading that contains the spoken words of Our Lord (this has subsequently been lost). And the words are full of promise.  If the Word indwells in us, then then this cannot be taken from us.  What is promised to the Mary Magdalene (and therefore to us) is fulfilled TOTALLY in the Immaculate Conception and reaches its earthly climax in her Assumption.

The readings are gentle and intimate.

Pre Pius XII 
Eccli 24, 11-13, 15-20
And by my power I have trodden under my feet the hearts of all the high and low: and in all these I sought rest, and I shall abide in the inheritance of the Lord. Then the creator of all things commanded, and said to me: and he that made me, rested in my tabernacle, And he said to me: Let thy dwelling be in Jacob, and thy inheritance in Israel, and take root in my elect. And so was I established in Sion, and in the holy city likewise I rested, and my power was in Jerusalem.
And I took root in an honourable people, and in the portion of my God his inheritance, and my abode is in the full assembly of saints. I was exalted like a cedar in Libanus, and as a cypress tree on mount Sion. I was exalted like a palm tree in Cades, and as a rose plant in Jericho: As a fair olive tree in the plains, and as a plane tree by the water in the streets, was I exalted. I gave a sweet smell like cinnamon. and aromatical balm: I yielded a sweet odour like the best myrrh: 

Luc 10:38-42
Now it came to pass as they went, that he entered into a certain town: and a certain woman named Martha, received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sitting also at the Lord' s feet, heard his word. But Martha was busy about much serving. Who stood and said: Lord, hast thou no care that my sister hath left me alone to serve? speak to her therefore, that she help me.
And the Lord answering, said to her: Martha, Martha, thou art careful, and art troubled about many things: But one thing is necessary. Mary hath chosen the best part, which shall not be taken away from her. 

Secondly, here is the pre VII text dating from after the proclamation of the Dogma of the Assumption.
I do like hearing Judith's story.  She is a type of Our Lady and again this links beautifully to the protoevangelium. The feast of the Assumption should be a day of great rejoicing and perhaps the full triumphant  nature of the feast could not have been brought out till after the proclamation of the dogma. The Gospel reading comes as no surprise, though there is no real link to the Assumption.  The link that was so subtly there in the Martha and Mary narrative. There is much in both readings about the humble submission of the creature to the direction and desire of the Creator.  And there is much in that to make us all leap for joy.

1962 Missal
Jud 13:22-25, 15:10 
And they all adored the Lord, and said to her: The Lord hath blessed thee by his power, because by thee he hath brought our enemies to nought. And Ozias the prince of the people of Israel, said to her: Blessed art thou, O daughter, by the Lord the most high God, above all women upon the earth. Blessed be the Lord who made heaven and earth, who hath directed thee to the cutting off the head of the prince of our enemies. Because he hath so magnified thy name this day, that thy praise shall not depart out of the mouth of men who shall be mindful of the power of the Lord for ever, for that thou hast not spared thy life, by reason of the distress and tribulation of thy people, but hast prevented our ruin in the presence of our God. Thou art the glory of Jerusalem, thou art the joy of Israel, thou art the honour of our people: 

Luke 1: 41-50
 And it came to pass, that when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the infant leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: And she cried out with a loud voice, and said: Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed art thou that hast believed, because those things shall be accomplished that were spoken to thee by the Lord.
  And Mary said: My soul doth magnify the Lord. And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. Because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid; for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. Because he that is mighty, hath done great things to me; and holy is his name. And his mercy is from generation unto generations, to them that fear him. 

And lastly here is the Novus Ordo.  There is so much text! And I'm afraid, I'll start with a criticism: why does the reading from the Apocalypse not finish at the end of verse 10 of chapter 6?  I have included it in square brackets.  It would have been nice if these words had been included as they would have linked nicely to the protoevangelium.  The participation of His creature in the desires of God is more passive here. Though she is at her most glorious (clothed with the sun), things are happening to the Woman and she reacts: she is crying, she is in pain, she flees into the wilderness. The Apocalypse reading is not essentially about the "fiat" or Our Lady's victory, it is about the effects of sin on the sinless, it is either the most appropriate reading for the Assumption or the least, I can't quite decide. The second reading from 1 Corinthians continues with this new theme.  It is about Christ's victory over death and God's covenant to all who remain faithful. This is a fine reading, but it does not cover the creature's participation in the work of salvation that is so significantly Our Lady's work. Her work in crushing the serpent that lead to His victory.  It is  probably there to down play the protoevangelium and be in tune with modern biblical scholarship which says "it shall crush" the serpent's head rather than "she".  There is nothing explicitly female in the role of vanquishing the serpent in the modern translations.

The Gospel reading is as the 1962 (only longer......).

Novus Ordo
Rev 11:19, 12:1-6.10
 And the temple of God was opened in heaven: and the ark of his testament was seen in his temple.
 And a great sign appeared in heaven: A woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars: And being with child, she cried travailing in birth, and was in pain to be delivered. And there was seen another sign in heaven: and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads, and ten horns: and on his head seven diadems: And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to be delivered; that, when she should be delivered, he might devour her son. And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with an iron rod: and her son was taken up to God, and to his throne. And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she had a place prepared by God.And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying: Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: [because the accuser of our brethren is cast forth, who accused them before our God day and night.] 

1 Cor 15:20-26
 But now Christ is risen from the dead, the firstfruits of them that sleep:
For by a man came death, and by a man the resurrection of the dead. And as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive. But every one in his own order: the firstfruits Christ, then they that are of Christ, who have believed in his coming. Afterwards the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God and the Father, when he shall have brought to nought all principality, and power, and virtue. For he must reign, until he hath put all his enemies under his feet.
And the enemy death shall be destroyed last: For he hath put all things under his feet.

Luke 1:39-56
 And Mary rising up in those days, went into the hill country with haste into a city of Juda. And she entered into the house of Zachary, and saluted Elizabeth.
And it came to pass, that when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the infant leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: And she cried out with a loud voice, and said: Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.  And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?  For behold as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed art thou that hast believed, because those things shall be accomplished that were spoken to thee by the Lord.
And Mary said: My soul doth magnify the Lord. And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.  Because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid; for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. Because he that is mighty, hath done great things to me; and holy is his name. And his mercy is from generation unto generations, to them that fear him.  He hath shewed might in his arm: he hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart. He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble. He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away. He hath received Israel his servant, being mindful of his mercy: As he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed for ever. And Mary abode with her about three months; and she returned to her own house.

Monday, 27 July 2015


It is the appetite incontinence of our adult years I wish to write about and not any toilet related use of the word.

Aristotle in the Nichomachean Ethics explains the difference between the continent and the incontinent thus: Again, the incontinent man acts with appetite, but not with choice; while the continent man on the contrary acts with choice [will or purpose], but not with appetite. Ethics III 2.

Incontinence is a stage beyond sin.  Sin has to be a wilful transgression of the Law of God, to quote Tanquerey.  It has to be an act of disobedience.  If the incontinent man is somehow beyond making a choice over his actions, then he is not sinning.  The drug addict, the alcoholic, the compulsive masturbator, the glutton and others have probably all moved beyond sin into an incontinent state where they have no choice of how to act. A state where they are a complete slave to a particular appetite.  This is wretched, this is surely a living hell.

How do people arrive at this state?  One would like to think that the all powerful efficacy of the Sacrament of Confession would protect the sinner from such a horrid fall.  An initial sin is confessed, it is done as sincerely as the penitent knows how.... and yet this fall into a state of complete wretchedness ensues. What went wrong?  Was God so petty as to not "like" the sincerity of the confession and to punish the sinner accordingly?  No, this can not be the reason.  Perhaps it is best not to analyse the reasons why things go wrong, but to understand the charity that is needed in helping these souls reach a point where they can be continent again.  We ought to desire their continence; it is only the continent that can grow in virtue, it is only the continent that fully respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit,  it is only the continent that can truly sing the praise of God.  There is no real happiness in incontinence.  It is not a state God wants us to be in.

And this is where I feel the Church could be doing a lot more, this is where I feel the Church has in some quarters lost her way....

1Peter 4:15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or a railer or a coveter of other men's things.

And I will quote this in the Latin of the Vulgate too, because there is something about the Vulgate that no translation seems to do justice.

Nemo autem vestrum patiatur ut homicidi, aut fur, aut maledictus, aut alienorum appetitor.

That phrase "alienorum appetitor" is the key to all of this, methinks.  "Foreign appetites" is perhaps a better translation, certainly it is about appetites that did not come from God,  it is about "foreign tastes", "lusts"; things contrary to God's designs and God's plans for our happiness.

But there is Peter telling us not to suffer for these things.  Peter in both his letters makes it clear that all suffering must be conformed to the suffering of Christ.  He says that true suffering is suffering or bearing the burden of another's transgressions, like Christ, who was without sin suffered the consequences of all our sin.  Therefore we should not suffer for our sin, we must recognise it and manfully stare it in the face, but we must not suffer for it. We must be become like Christ and if some future suffering comes our way, then we can glory in it, because it is the life of Christ Our King... It is not rocket science... it is our Faith.

Yet, how often do we hear from the Church that those with an "alienorum appetitor" must unite their sufferings to the cross.  BUT their suffering is NOT like Christ's..... how can you unite to the cross your misery at having a "foreign appetite", or your misery at not being able to consummate your "foreign appetites"? The Church says your appetites are intrinsically disordered and then tells you to "suffer" them... but this seems to contrary to Peter. I worry about the Church.

We all have some "alienorum appetitor", and sooner or later we will give in to it... and maybe it will lead to incontinence and complete wretchedness. I suppose the thing to do is not to nurture it in the first place, not to even think about developing a taste for it.... yet we do, and the Church has ceased in many quarters to insist in the necessity that we have control of our "tongue, genitals and stomach"...

And what to do with our incontinent? I feel even the Devil can't be bothered with them. And maybe that is the key, God still loves them, some light can still fall on them, some extraordinary act of grace can still fall upon them,  and if they can respond with even the slightest flicker of recognition, then astounding things can happen.  And for the rest of us, we must just pray, with all lightness of heart, with the faith that can move mountains, glorifying the Lord in our hearts and our deeds.... and then the incontinent can be lifted out of the pit they fell into all for the greater glory of God.

It still remains a tragedy that we let so many fall down there in the first place.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Magdalene, Manning and Neri

This is a post about the Resurrection.

I am currently reading Cardinal Manning's "Glories of the Sacred Heart", it is a decidedly unflowery book about the Sacred Heart, unlike anything else I've read on the subject.  However it is typically Manning: zealous in his love for the Lord, steeped in the Church Fathers, forthright, pastoral, clear and unsentimental.

He writes about the "Transforming Power of the Sacred Heart" and quotes this rather wonderful phrase that apparently is used by spiritual writers whose names he (sadly) doesn't mention.

Deformata reformare, reformata transformare, transformata conformare

All of this is only made possible through the outpouring of Love on the cross,  through the living Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Hence this is a post about the Resurrection.

To reform the deformed is the nature of Baptism. In Baptism we die with Christ.  And on this day, the Feast of St Mary Magdalene, 500 years ago, an infant was brought to the Baptistery of St Giovanni in Florence, born in the early hours of that morning and recorded in the register of the Baptisery with the following words: Filippo e Romolo di Ser Francesco di Filippo da Castel Franco, popolo San Pier Gattolini, nato di 21 luglio 1515, a ore 6. And had that infant died there and then, his sainthood would have been assured, though perhaps largely unremarked.  But God had other plans.  Reforming the deformed is not enough and the singular degree with which that boy submitted to the actions of grace led him onwards: the reformed was transformed through love and the transformed so wondrously conformed to the Sacred Heart of Jesus that St Philip Neri, with much labour, anxiety and peril, reconverted Rome. He is the saint of Joy.

Our Joy comes from the Resurrection.  As St John writes:That which we have seen and have heard, we declare unto you; that you also may have fellowship with us, and our fellowship may be with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you, that you may rejoice and your joy may be full.

This is a post about the Resurrection.

This brings me to St Mary Magdalene.  Her story only makes sense if she was the woman from whom seven devils were removed, because her story only makes sense if she is the one who anointed Christ with oil.  Perhaps she anointed Him twice (as the scriptures seem to suggest), once for His Priesthood and once for His Kingship. Nobody was worthy (not even John the Baptist) to anoint the King of Kings or the Great High Priest.  But anointing was necessary, just as Baptism in the Jordan was necessary. No, only a redeemed sinner whose sins were scarlet could anoint the Priest and King. It is our total redemption, our complete salvation from sin which is wrought through our reformation, transformation and conformation to the Sacred Heart which is the very reason why we need a great High Priest and King. St Mary Magdalene was amongst the first fruits of this (Dismas may have been the first fruit, but Mary Magdalene ripened more slowly and more lavishly), ripening from her tearful penitence, through her witness of the Crucifixion, through her bravery and steadfast love in going to the tomb, through her hidden and most gloriously joyful life which followed.

She was not some misery ridden penitent, crying over her sins for the rest of her life.  No, she was redeemed and redemption is joy and it is the joy of being conformed to the Sacred Heart.  The joyful tears of one that pours sweet smelling oils over the sorrows and sufferings caused by sin and the joy which binds our bruises, mends our broken hearts and finds its rest in the Sacred Heart of Jesus, because it IS the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

I'm tired of joylessness, so much of the piety around is little more than titillation at scandal, an outpouring of moral indignation masquerading as charity but lacking the one thing essential to charity and that is joy. Prayer without joy is quite simply mean and stingy.

How many of you actually believe in the Resurrection, I mean REALLY believe....?

What does "go and sin no more" mean?  What does "your sins are forgiven" mean?  Do we not mock these words with our high moral tone and our false humility.

Surely holiness is like climbing a mountain?  You learn what to do as you traverse the lower slopes, you learn how to train you body and learn the sensible way to do things.  But near the summit, your belief in the rules alone goes out of the window, you can no longer rely on them, your learning and your skills count for nothing.  The path disappears, the sides are steep and full of scree, you are helpless, totally liable to go plunging into a ravine at any moment and that is what you will do if you are not conformed to Christ and totally distrustful of self. Though the paths they took were very different, this is where St Mary Magdalene found herself, this is where St Philip found himself, and that is where we ought to be going too.

The Baptistery of San Giovanni in Florence


Wednesday, 15 July 2015

£££££s Sterling

What on earth! WHY?  WHY?

Still, I hope Liverpool spend that money wisely.  None of you lot will have any sympathy for me, but I'm often left wondering why I support MCFC .... I can't help it, it runs deep, being kicked in the playground by a bunch of Manc reds as a child, turns you blue to your core... but, oh, it was all so simple when we were crap and the only pleasure we had as City fans was watching our team get thrashed by Liverpool.

I still wince when I think of the money we spent on Trevor Francis way back when......

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

The Oldest Profession

The oldest profession is being a Taxonomist. It is what Adam was doing in the Garden.  Naming things isn't just some random game. Naming puts significance into something, it in some ways makes it more real.  It insists on a hierarchy, as it will relate one named creature to another in relation to how they behave with each other. Naming gives us patronage but not control.  To name something isn't to seek mastery of it, the creature retains its freedom but it gains an identity and a protection it wouldn't have otherwise had.

And God has given us each a name from the very beginning; the "white stone name" we all long to hear Him call personally and intimately to each and every one of us.

When we name things it ought to be with this in mind.  It ought to be in imitation of the Divine Life.

And so human "progress" spirals ever onwards and inwards, in ever tighter and more self-referential circles. We have names for thing, and either the thing itself or its name has no clear significance, no clear definition and the names have some bastardised entomology.  Take the word "paedophile" for example; what it should mean if we consider its entomology and what it stands for are complete opposites.  There is something ugly about this.  Something which suggests only the unguided human at work in the naming of the "thing". The human who has forgotten God. The human has created the paedophile through naming it.  God will have another name for him and will still call him His child until such time as he totally rejects His Divine love and mercy.

And to forget God is to make oneself easy prey to the Devil.  In our desire to name things without reference to God, do we not fall prey to the Devil's own Taxonomy?  A Taxonomy which mocks everything Adam was doing in the Garden.  A classification system which confuses, divides and creates false relationships.  The "science" of politics falls into this category.  The "science" of "sexuality" falls into this category. The "science" of education also sadly falls into this category.  Each of these "sciences" has its own empirical, evidence-based system of measurement and "pigeonholing".  But each of these "sciences" isn't a science, it is a fashion, and the "fashionistas" make damn sure that in excluding their "definitions of the day", you exclude yourself from society, you become part of the untermensch....

And it is happening already that many are having to make great sacrifices to stand apart from this mockery of all that is good.  To say "I do not recognise your definition of marriage",  "I do not recognise the categories "homosexual", "heterosexual" or "bisexual", I only recognise love and sin", even to say "the child is not thick, passing exams is not a measure of intelligence", to say these things makes us children of God and enemies of the world and there are consequences to this.....

Science ought to open our eyes and make God more apparent.  Many theologians argue about what Adam was doing when Eve was tempted by the serpent; whether he was with her and ought to have protected her, or whether he'd gone off chasing butterflies or something.  Recalling the Adam was older than Eve, that his science was more developed, perhaps he simply didn't recognise the serpent.  His science (and his innocence) meant he couldn't engage with its perfidy, he couldn't classify it, he didn't see it coming, the creature in the tree was not on his radar, he had no sense of danger.  Eve had no sense of danger either, but she engaged in its conversation, she could see it.  Perhaps in many ways the medieval images of a  human female-like serpent are correct, Eve recognised something Adam could not see (he had his life partner, before any procreation had taken place, why should he even recognise another human female), in the same way Eve would not have recognised a male figure that wasn't her husband.... but there was the Devil, pretending to be something he wasn't, distorting the human image, distorting our notions of self, blurring the lines, confusing us......

We ought to be very careful about what we recognise and categorise and what we name.

Eve tempted by the "female" serpent from Notre Dame Cathedral

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Bloggers Block (2)

When you are in love, you're senses are heightened and there is delight in all things creative; you love music, poetry and art and the pattern and movement of every aspect of your life is poetic, the mundane is transcended, a song echoes from every corner and it sings of the highest of things. In joy and in sorrow, the song rings out the same, there is beauty in everything.

Well, dear reader, I think I'm totally out of love for the Catholic Church.  This is not the same as not loving and being loved by God.  God's love is ring-fenced, it is solid, it is unshakable and the poetry sounds out, deep unto deep...

But the Catholic Church is like a lover I no longer recognise. I hear her voice and it doesn't make my heart leap for joy, indeed it seems to have a sibilance to it I don't remember hearing before.  I witness her liturgy and anything higher than the lowest of low Masses sounds like sounding brass and clashing symbol, I want the noise to cease as it seems like nothing but distraction. Indeed, I wish she'd shut up.  I wish she was silent.  Her staggering beauty is still there in her persecuted and forgotten, but all that is done in public that is meant to enhance her beauty, or simply promote her, just looks and sounds plain wrong. It is a bit like one of those child beauty pageants, the child would simply be more beautiful is she weren't on the stage and if she weren't wearing make-up.

So basically, without an infatuation with the Catholic Church, I've lost my creativity, I've lost my drive... and because I'm kinda married to her, I've nowhere else to go....

I'm not in love, but hopefully it is as those nice boys from Sale Grammar School once sung "it's just a silly phase I'm going through"

Wednesday, 24 June 2015


According to the Catholic Herald the working document for the forthcoming Synod of the Family has been released in Italian.  One of the main areas up for discussion is the "Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and Contemporary World".  Since reading this title (hoping it is just a bad translation of the Italian) I have been getting very frustrated by its utter lack of sense.  If it is not a bad translation of a naff modern foreign language, then to me this title is deeply worrying.

Consider the idea of "family" for a moment.  We have two immediate families, our biological family and our spiritual family. We also have many extended families of intertwined relationships crossing classes, generations and national borders. The biological family consists of two parents whose gametes formed the zyogtes that became the children of that family.  There may be substitutes; a man, woman or child standing in for the true genetic relationship for a myriad of licit and illicit reasons.

Consider the concept of "mission" for a moment. A mission is a reaching out to the world, it is a public thing.  One would hope that the spiritual family we find ourselves part of does have a common mission based round some common spiritual understanding of God and salvation.  Should one expect one's biological family to share that spiritual mission? No, that is surely an impossibility.  A biological family unit will have a very different mission, rooted round its own survival, it is only if the biological family all share the same spiritual baggage that a common spiritual mission will exist.  A spiritual mission can not be forced upon it. The mission of a biological family is actually an irrelevance in the spiritual domain; it can be good or bad, but it is purely natural, it has no supernatural element, goodness should be fostered within it, but in itself it is not a source of sanctification. However, if for example a biological family has several devout Catholics, receiving the sacraments and loving Our Lord, then their mission is supernaturalised, BUT for this to happen, the members must have freely chosen that path.  If a biological family contains only one devout Catholic, then mission in the family is also supernaturalised by the faith of the one believer, but this is hardly a "family mission". It is a mission of an individual towards souls he loves deeply.

Consider now the concept of "vocation".  A vocation is a calling from God to married life or the priesthood. It is usually less dramatic and romantic than we are led to believe.  It is a small voice that guides our path and keeps us grounded and surefooted.  There being only two vocations is why only these two have Sacraments associated with them.  Consecrated life, I'd argue is not a vocation, rather the absence of a vocation, recognised as such but given to God nevertheless.  The alternative is to remain chaste and celibate irrespective of whether a vocation materialises. Like everything else, this can be an immense source of grace, but it is not a vocation, it is a way of life.

My point is that a family cannot have a vocation. A husband and wife who have been Sacramentally married have a vocation.  An ordained priest has a vocation.  A family cannot have a vocation, because the children must be free to reject the family unit. A vocation is a "bringing forth of Christ", if a husband and wife do this effectively, then the children will likely as not respond favourably, but they don't have to. They must be free to stick two fingers up at their family, to walk away. Only if a family has this freedom within it will it be an imitation of the Divine Life. Likewise, a priest "brings forth Christ" in his ministry, and those he meets are free to accept or reject what he offers.

We have raised the biological family to ideological heights that it simply cannot live up to.  It puts tremendous and unnecessary strain and misery into its members.  It puts untold pressures on children.  It can never be perfect.  We seem to be desiring its perfection, but all we manage to do is sentimentalise and romanticise it which will only increase its chances of sorrowful brokenness.

The biological family is simply too precious to place on such a plinth. Surely, the whole point about it is that its mission in the contemporary world is an irrelevance and it can't have a vocation.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Are they now extinct...?

Are true Conservatives a thing of distant memory?  Have they died out completely?  Where are men like Baron Hailsham who wrote in 1963:

Our country is being destroyed before our eyes by a conspiracy of intellectuals without faith, delinquents without honour, muckrackers without charity or compassion, young men who are incapable of dreaming dreams, and old men who have never known what it is to see visions.  In the  public life of today a public man is mocked when he speaks about patriotism....

A cynical sneer greets references to honour and integrity in political as in business affairs.... And if someone by any chance says he believes in a healthy family life as the foundation of civilisation or backs the traditional Christian ethic on sex and morals we hear an awful lot of nonsense about the need for tolerance and charity in allowing the young to be taught to do as they please, and in allowing them to be kept in ignorance about the inevitable and disastrous consequences of doing so, when the squalid consequences  of their doing so are being played out daily in Parliament and the Courts.

Quintin Hogg: 'National Excellence' (Conservative Political Centre, 1963)


We plod on, staggering ever forward into the nightmare around us. Somehow I'm reminded of Joshua and Caleb when they set out with the other spies to see the Promised Land.  Only they came back with anything approaching optimism and trust in the Lord, the other spies were overwhelmed with what they saw before them in the tribes of Canaan that were inhabiting their land.  And as the tribes of Canaan, in the spiritual sense of scripture, can represent the seven deadly sins, then we too must take heart :

Be not rebellious against the Lord: and fear ye not the people of this land, for we are able to eat them up as bread. All aid is gone from them: the Lord is with us, fear ye not. 

Numbers 14:9

There is no politics on this earth that can save us.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Song of Songs

Whilst it is still available, I recommend that you listen to John Berger talking about "song" on Radio 3. The programme has been just about the best thing I've heard in years and the relevant bit that I want to write about starts 6 minutes in and lasts for about 24 minutes.

It should be available on the following link for another week or so:

The piece is about how song is experienced; its timelessness, the way it takes over the body, the way songs "lean forward" into the future in a way that poetry, prose and painting cannot.  As I was driving home listening to this and utterly mesmerised by Berger's beautiful prose, I couldn't help thinking that what he could have been describing was the Mass.  Now Berger is a Marxist Humanist and was certainly not describing the Mass, but to write so beautifully about "common" song, so much so that he could have been describing the Mass has inspired in me a week of idle thoughts and deeper meditations, which due to tiredness on my part are only half formed.

Is not the Mass our ultimate "Song of Songs"?  Is not the essence of Mass a timeless love song between the Lover and the beloved?  It is not a narrative.  It is not a piece of prose.  It is certainly more than poetry. Let me present to you a few of the ideas in John Berger's piece [with my thoughts in square brackets] and I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions....

  • To be successful, prose requires a shared language.  Sadly, too often this is something  that we no longer have, it is almost the defining element of our age that we cannot communicate with each other in prose because at a deep level because we've lost a common heritage.  Song transcends this.  We can be in communion with each other whilst experiencing the same song even if we do not understand the language of the song or its context.
  • The rich listen to song, the poor cling to it and make it their own.  [Blessed be the poor in spirit... we have to get away from the "rich" experience of the Mass which is little more than listening "and cling to" the Mass "and make it our own".... surely this is genuine "active participation"]
  • Pictures contain a presence.  Songs contain an absence, a separation, and as we listen we experience a shared absence.  Yet this absence becomes a triumph, usually mild, usually covert... the song takes us over and "encloses" us. [Isn't this the essence of our Judaic heritage?]
  • Song is not primarily intellectual or emotive but organic.  We find ourselves inside the message of the song, the song wraps its arms around us.  We become self-contained. Songs are about "being and becoming", they are part of the body.
  • Each song is like a river and all rivers flow into the sea; the "immense elsewhere" as Berger calls it.  Where the river meets the sea is called the mouth of the river. Berger makes the comparison to the importance of the mouth in a song. [And I can't help thinking of the importance of the mouth in Communion]

Monday, 20 April 2015

6th Sunday of Easter 2048

Because of the state sanctioned media blackout for the Catholic Church due their failure to promote homosexual marriage, it is proving impossible to get some idea of the liturgical life of faithful Catholics in 2048.  The State in its wisdom has set up its own version of the Catholic Church called the New Catholic Church.  As they never seem to say the Mass, I don't suppose we should worry too much about them.

This is how the 6th Sunday After Easter looks in the Diocese of Media City for the New Catholics.  I think the colours refer to lapel ribbons, but I will have to investigate further. Note the reinstatement of the Ascension on its correct day.

10 Sunday (white) Family Feast Day sponsored by Burger McTuckys
11 Monday (blue) Blue Whale Awareness day (optional)
12 Tuesday feria
13 Wednesday (rainbow) Elton and David day (first class)
14 Thursday (white)  ASCENSION -special Churches Together event at Media City Cathedral.  "WORSHIP LIKE its 1870" with the Old Catholics
15 Friday feria
16 Saturday (team colour) FA Cup semi final (semi-double)

Does anything grab your fancy at the Paris Centre at St Pelagius, Whitefield?

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Are we ready to be merciful?

Do we really understand the cost of the "balm of mercy"?

Those receiving mercy (and we all do), do not like to consider the cost of this balm.  Some are even totally unaware it has been applied.  Most of the rest of us are keenly aware that we do not deserve such grace and kindness, yet even we canot count the cost fully. After all, we've not paid for it.  It is as if our healing process involves a certain forgetfulness of the depth of the agony from which we have been rescued from.

It is only possible to count the cost of mercy if you yourself are merciful.  And if you are truly merciful be prepared to have your heart pierced by swords, your skin lacerated by malicious men, your body weakened by the toil of love and your intellect pummelled and derided... and be prepared to weep.

And if the "balm of mercy" has been applied, then isn't this the least we can do in return?

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Education: empowerment and slavery

This post is prompted by a certain anxiety I have about homeschooling.  Home schoolers are often the nicest of people and they often have the nicest, most well rounded, articulate of children. My anxiety is not so much about the right to educate one's children at home (a right that I will always defend), it is about the very Catholicity of homeschooling.  In my heart, I am not convinced that it is Catholic and I'd like to make my views known to a wider audience, hence my blogging about it.  The fact that so many home educated children are such grounded and holy individuals stems simply from the fact that God is the "unum necessarium" in their lives and actually has very little to do with their education as such.

I do not believe that the world is any more developed or any less modern than when Pius XI wrote his excellent encyclical on education: Divini Illius Magistri in 1929.  It is and always will be a relevant document worthy of study by anyone who cares about education. Much of what I have to say is inspired by his writings.

Pius XI makes it clear that the last end of education is God, and fitting the children of God for heaven.  He also says that three organisations bear the responsibility for the education of children: the home, society and the Church.  He makes it clear that the home cannot provide everything, nor can society, nor can the Church.  He makes it clear that education is "a social and not merely an individual activity", and that the home and society provide the natural framework for this and the Church the supernatural framework.

What will be difficult for homeschooling families to swallow is that he says that family is imperfect "since it has not in itself all the means for its own complete development", it is a unit amongst other units, divinely ordained, beautiful but utterly dependent on society and the Church.  However the family has priority over civil society because of its God given sanctity, hence the importance of defence of the family at all costs.  BUT civil society is perfect in its own sense, with its own agenda, and because families subsist within society, civil society has some pre-eminence over the family because of the common good.  Families can not cut themselves off from society any more than humans can cut themselves off from eating and sleeping. Families work within civil society or they cannot shape civil society.

So civil society is a sphere in which education OUGHT to take place, not in isolation, but as part of a wider package.  One ought not to expect any awareness of the "last end" of education from civil society as the function of civil society is purely temporal and earth bound.  BUT that doesn't make it any less fitting that children should be educated within civil society.  It has its role.

There are more good teachers than bad teachers, it is a thing of nature imbued with natural virtues, I have been utterly inspired and humbled by the care and dedication of many teachers, most of whom are humanists at heart and more often than not committed atheists   Most teachers love their subjects and would probably be doing anything else other than teaching unless they didn't genuinely wish to enthuse young people and share the treasures they have found.  Most teachers genuinely have a solid and disinterested love for children.  They care and they care deeply but they can be dispassionate as they have no vested interest in a particular child in their care.  In this sense teachers can provide things parents may struggle to do:  consistency, rigour, expertise and patience. Essentially teachers do not have the overwhelming burden of responsibility for any one of their charges that a parent may feel for their child and I believe this makes us better educators than parents in the purely academic field.  

I haven't time to go into Pius XI's prophetic warning about the dangers of leaving sex-education to the state.  Sex education ought to happen within the family.  I do however wish to raise one last point, something I feel very keenly as an educator; it is about the meaning of "education".

The entymology of the word "education" means to "draw out".  Pius XI argues that there is a tendency to reduce education to its entymological root and that this is wrong.  He argues that education is about much more than "drawing out" that which lies within the child.  If we consider education simply as drawing out, it leads to a kind of self-absorption and a dangerous belief in one's own ability.  If any teachers reading this have had the pleasure of teaching someone who has been through a Steiner school, they will know exactly what he means.

To learn involves humility.  You have to place youself in a position of trusting your teachers and working within the civil systems where you live (fully aware of their faults).  This isn't blind submission, you must learn to challenge your teachers and be critical of the agenda of society.  You must also humbly submit to the other learners around you, knowing that they too are on a journey.  Part of your learning experience always involes guiding others and patiently helping them with things you understand. Trying to provide an atmosphere where education can happen solely within the family at the expense of civil society, no matter how God-fearing the family may be, is perhaps a strain many families can do without.

So I ask again:is homeschooling Catholic? I hold that it has an undeniable right to exist within society, but is it Catholic?

Saturday, 28 March 2015

weary and disagreeable wisdom

My first guide in all things theological and the writer of the world's finest bibliography*, Adolphe "the Tank" Tanquerey, described the writings of  Fr Faber thus:

Faber, F. W (1814-1863) wrote very many ascetical works noteworthy for their unction and accurate psychology.

That about sums him up, I think.  Faber's near unparallelled understanding of the human condition and his genuine sympathy for his fellow creatures is what appeals so much to me in his writings.

It is a foul day outside and I thought this blog needed a new post, so for your edification, here are some exerts from the first chapter of Faber's "Creator and the Creature" in which he examines the grave errors that befall us when we forget we are creatures and we forget our Creator.

They [Christians in name only] have not taken pains to formulise a positive disbelief: but they do not see how progress, and perfectibility, and modern discovery, psychological or otherwise, comport with that collection of ancient dogmas which make up the Christian religion, and their instinct would be to give up the dogmas rather than the discoveries, and that with a promptitude worthy of the enlightenment.  With such persons the dignity of man is a matter of prime consideration, while in their view, his assent to the doctrines and practices of the Church is as degrading to his intellectual nobility, as his obedience to them is superstitious and debasing.

That was written in 1856 and goes a long way to prove that we are not creatures who make progress, not creatures who evolve in understanding and wisdom generation by generation, because it is sadly all too relevant today, especially with regard to the response of some to the upcoming Synod on the Family.

Here is some more....

This forgetfulness that we are creatures, which prevails in that energetically bad portion of the world which is scripturally called "the world", affects multiutdes of persons... It leads them to form a sort of religion for themselves which singularly falls in with all the most corrupt propensities of our hearts... such persons consider that religion has its own sphere and worldly interests their sphere also, and that one must not interfere with the other. .....  They enjoy all the practical laxity of unbelievers, without the responsibility of disbelieving; and besides that, they enjoy a certain good-humour of conscience of the outward respect they pay, in due season and fitting place, to the ceremonies of religion.

And perhaps as a warning to those of us who think we are OK but can see the faults in others....

Almost every popular fallacy has its representatives even among the children of faith; and when a pestilence is raging, many are feeble and languid though they have no plague-spot, so it is in matters of religion.  The contagion of the world does us a mischief in many ways of which we are hardly conscious; and we often injure ourselves in our best and highest interest by views and practices, to which we cling with fatal obstinacy, little suspecting the relationship in which they stand to widely spread evils, which we behold in their naked deformity in other sections of society, and hold up to constant reprobation.  The forgetfulness that we are creatures.... is an error which is less obviously hateful than a direct forgetfulness of God, and consequently it wins its way into holy places where the other would find no admittance, or scant hospitality.

And how to right the wrong ....

But whatever differences there may be in the amount done for God, or the manner of doing it, or the obligations under which it is done, there can be no difference in the principle on which it is done.  God must be served out of love.  This is the first and great commandment.  No one is condemned except for mortal sin; but any man who starts professedly on the principle that he will do no more than avoid mortal sin, and that God shall have no more out of him, will infallibly not succeed in his single object; that is to say he will not avoid mortal sin..... Love is the sole principle of the creature's service of his Creator, however remiss that love may be. ... the doctrines and practices of Christian perfection are simply based on God's love of us and our love of Him, that is the relation between the creature and the Creator.

And all this from a chapter that Faber himself calls "weary and disagreeable"...

* The Bibliography at the front of Tanquerey's The Spiritual Life: A Treatise on Ascetical and Mystical Theology. (1923)

Friday, 13 March 2015

once a physicist....

This video found itself in my e-mail and has reminded me why I am a Physicist.  Nobody else could have so much fun with some blobs of fluid, some food colouring, a sheet of glass and a sharpie.

Watch and marvel!

I tip my poshest trilby in the direction of those clever folk at Stanford.....

Sunday, 8 March 2015

the reform of the reform

50 years on from the first Masses in regional tongues, if feel the need to pass some comment on how I see the "reform of the reform" is progressing.  I do not hold a candle for any particular view on this reform, I only know that it is happening, as organically these things do.  Also perhaps I am in a singularly gifted position to have within a short driving distance such a wide variety of liturgical experiences.  I will start by saying I have a marked preference for Low Mass in the old rite, and this is something I will seek out, but this is personal and I wish to make my comments general and objective.  I will also say that as I've only been hanging around this planet for 45 years, I have no first hand experience of the pre-conciliar world.

Is the old rite "flourishing" since Benedict's Summorun Pontificum?  I don't think it is.  I can and do attend the old rite across 3 counties and it is the same old faces I see where ever I go.  It is a darn small world.  Yes, there are plenty of young enthusiasts and lots of young families at these Masses.  Yes, there are plenty of good and holy priests involved but it all feels like a fringe activity.  It feels like a self-help group for a disenfranchised minority and what is worse I fear it is led by the intellect rather than the heart. Yes, they are well educated people with all the answers, but that isn’t enough.  I just wish I knew who they loved the most.  It isn't obvious and it ought to be.  I was talking to a priest recently, saying that I was dismayed that the number of parishioners who were routinely bi-ritual was so small.  I named a few, he said he could add a few more to the list, but the numbers are still small. The preference for a particular Mass is essentially factional; a lifestyle choice, a statement of allegiance.  And the two sides of the OF/EF debate loathe each other at some quite fundamental level.  I have perfectly rational and solid friends on both sides but I really don’t think I could invite them to the same tea-party at my house, it would be extremely uncomfortable.  So to the OF/EF debate I reverse the letters and say politely, “ef-of”.

What is missing is what Benedict pleaded so much for: MUTUAL ENRICHMENT.  The old rite lovers are so convinced in the superiority of their own brand that they can’t see how the new rite could possibly enrich their experience.  New rite lovers who at heart are clericalists and have been sorely influenced by priests who were only too keen to ditch the old rite 45 years ago feel much the same in the opposite sense.  Younger attendees at the new rite often have such a poor grasp of the faith that it really is genuine encounter with Christ that is needed and arguments over the liturgy are essentially meaningless in this case.

Much has been written on how the old rite could enrich the newer rite.  I want to end this post by saying how the newer rite could enrich the old rite, which is what must happen.

Where I worship, it is possible to find a Holy Day Mass in the old rite virtually entirely populated by souls who don’t normally experience this.  They are there because it is Mass and the time is convenient.  They are not tut-tutting and horrified by what they see.  There is a prayerful, reverential atmosphere, but I will add a note of caution; these irregulars rarely stay after communion, it seems like they have had enough at that point.
So here are my suggestions for enrichment of the old rite with a nod to what happens in the newer; it must flow, it must be coherent but it must not be regimented and it must not be linear (like a cookery show- raw ingredients to meal) as it was never intended to be:

  •  Scripture readings in the regional tongue, either by the priest or simultaneously delivered from the lectern whilst the priest says the readings in Latin.
  • Get rid of all the hand kissing in the old rite High Mass.  In these days of scandal the gesture looks offensive.
  •  The bowing in the old rite so often looks like Daleks having a pow-wow, somehow the humility has been lost.
  • There is a younger generation of priests and servers who are saying the old rite who have been very effectively “Bugninnid” but don’t realise that they are.  They see the Mass as performance and they perform;  Fortescue, Fortescue, Fortescue.  It can be quite unpleasant to watch, indeed it is no better than a Clown Mass.  The priest and the servers ought to be invisible in the Mass, or atleast not bringing attention upon themselves.  Once again, it is a humility thing and manifests itself best when a Mass is just a wee bit shambolic, a wee bit less than perfectly executed, a wee bit more realising that our sacrifice is ALWAYS unworthy.
  • There are perhaps some words that need to be said more clearly so that the congregation can hear them, the “introibo” and the dismissal and the Last Gospel must all be said slowly and audibly.

I remain convinced that the loss of the vulgar tongue for Mass to be replaced by regional tongues was a mistake, however I remain equally convinced that preserving the Mass of 1962 just as it is, to have it there like a fly in amber, a moment in time caught for eternity, is quite simply a nonsense.  The Holy Sacrifice of Calvary is THE moment in time caught for Eternity, and this is not anything to do with the liturgy but everything to do with our faith and ultimately if our faith doesn’t  breathe this reality any liturgical reform is a dead duck.

 A group of liturgical pedants learning to serve the old rite (or Daleks in 1963)

Sunday, 22 February 2015

In praise of monotony

More Fr Faber for you, as he is proving so popular with my loyal readership:

The spiritual life is the progress of the finite creature towards union with the Infinite.  In all its stages the process of being conformed to God is going on in the soul.  Nothing is indifferent.  Every moment of time may be made to bear the burden of something which is eternal.  Each separate action, no matter how trivial, is capable of holding a supernatural intensity.  The grace, which enables us to do supernatural things, is coming to us constantly in ways that are imperceptible except to the greatest vigilance, and operating in us with such fineness and delicacy as require heavenly discernment, in order that we may perceive them, and cooperate with them.  On the other hand, the unworthiness of our nature is almost unbounded, and its manifold unfitness for such a divine union is disabling us at every turn.  .... Moreover nature to the last draws one way, and grace from the first draws another.  Thus the three leading characteristics of the spiritual life must always be effort, detail and slowness, all three things monotonous, and all three almost insufferable monotony.

If you think that last sentence does not seem to follow directly from what precedes it, the following may help:

EFFORT: this is the perseverance to keep all our actions and thoughts fixed on God.  It is an act of the will, and it can have a severely weakening effect on the body.  It is an act of love. It is more like the slow patient effort of a needlewoman rather than the energetic effort of a sprinter. Also, if the effort is some sort of constipated straining then it is wrong.  Such effort is desirous of a particular outcome, comes from self and is directed towards the pleasures of self. No matter how "religious" its motivation it is little more than the desire for release from painful verstopfung for relief's sake.

DETAIL: recall Faber says "nothing is indifferent".  Everything has significance.  This includes your dress, your breathing, your tidiness, your deportment, how you read words and how you read people, even how your fork approaches your food. (A fasting person can still be a glutton). This is not introspection, detailed self-awarness, when the focus isn't self but mastery of self and ultimately forgetfulness of self is an important step to see if your motives for dressing up/down, fast/careful talking, food likes/dislikes are actually all simply pride. Understanding detail requires mastery of simplicity.  This is a lifetime's work.

SLOWNESS:  effort and detail require nothing is hasty.  Even if you are called to pull someone from a fire, there must be a slowness and stillness in you that are the opposite of panic and feeling like a hero.  Let God work through you, that is the only heroism that counts.

This is the monotony that we must embrace, the monotony of the desert into which we plunge ourselves during Lent, to be alone with the Infinite Solitude.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Random Numbers

To me, one of the dangers of Lent is self-absorption.  If one focusses too much on one's own sin, wretchedness and general crapitude one can easily fog the presence of the Almighty who is doing His best to raise you from you that dunghill that is so uniquely yours.  So whilst some focus on our failings is vital, if the primary focus isn't on those two Great Commandments, then Lent will be another disappointment.

What I find helps is to be extra specially open to randomness at this time.  This involves the giving of self and a great deal of discernment (ie. talking to God) to work out just how much one should give and how.  Random acts of kindness.  Random smiles (until they become habitual and completely sincere)....random intensive listening, feeling the presence of complete strangers around you, allowing random discomfort (thirst in particular), stopping to listen to the geese, watching a random spider, being still at random times.... and then it starts to dawn that randomness isn't all that random, it certainly isn't chaos.......

And as for Lenten reading. This year I decided to opt for a random number generator method: there are 73 books of the Bible, so I typed in the upper and lower limits into this random number generator to see which book it would give me:

And 2Esdras here I come.  Actually it is already bearing fruit (somewhat unexpectedly).  And this is where discernment has to come in, I could be wasting my time.... but somehow, I'm not.... if you try it may be fruitless, what works for me may not work for you....

Actually all the books of Babylonian exile have a resonance about them right now.... I wonder why?

You could type in 1 and 150 and do the same with the Psalms..... this could be 30 mins well spent in a random kind of way.