Monday, 17 April 2017

Hell's mandarins

The gods of Hell consider themselves to be the most benign  and generous of hosts.  After all they give their "guests" exactly what they want; exactly what they preferred over and above the Love of God. In a parody of the Mansions of the Father, the mandarins of the underworld fit out with excruciating precision and attention to detail, personalised teenage bedrooms of  vice, where their guests will have an eternity forced to entertain their lust, gluttony, avarice or whatever cocktail of vice they chose for themselves.  The claustrophobia and misery are exquisite.  These mandarins are happy in their work, they have devised a Blairite Meritocracy for which they are the overlords and they are in love with their own ingenuity.  They have conveniently forgotten the One who has allowed them to exercise such power.

It wasn't always like this.  For thousands of years, their job was far simpler and they were more like Victorian clerks.  It was all ledgers and ink wells.  Scrupulous records would be kept.  There was an inevitability about the job.  The books always balanced. Actually that isn't entirely true.  The books had not balanced on three occasions.  They conveniently like to forget about Enoch, Moses and Elijah whom they had never welcomed to their realm.  Accounting oversights or gentle reminders that ultimately they had no real power over death.....?  The gods don't like to think about such things.  They had their empire to run.  Mistakes can be erased from the memory and there was much to be busy about making sure their guests were comfortable.

When a man called Abraham checked-in they knew they were dealing with somebody a bit different.  He was almost unbearably polite and gracious and yet all he would do was wait.  He treated their empire like a waiting room.  Waiting for something better.  But what could be better than what they had to offer? Other souls gravitated round Abraham.  The mandarins were unhappy about this but they would not be out-polited by a mere man so they let him be and many grateful souls found their way to his bosom.

It all really went wrong for them when one of their guests disappeared.  It was unheard of that a man whose body had begun to putrefy on earth could go awol from their realm.  But that is what happened to Lazarus.  He wasn't an oversight in the ledger.  His name was there, clearly written by one of the most experienced and well respected of the mandarins, but he had gone.  Something had to be done.  The laws of death had to be obeyed.  He must die again.  They had contacts on earth, it could be arranged.  Then news came through that they might do even better.  The Author of this great travesty Himself might be theirs for the taking.  Yes, forget Lazarus, they thought, the Man responsible for this outrage can balance the books instead.  So every force united to bring about His death.  The singular moment of unity.  A Cosmos shattering upheaval from which there was no return.

When He arrived, it wasn't as they expected.  The tasteful, strong and somewhat lavish doors to their realm lay in splinters.  Clerks were running about in a frenzy, the ledgers were in tatters on the floor.  The machinery of their empire was crumbling.  The Man was preaching to the dead. They listened and many followed Him back out again. The clerks were powerless, though they were pleased that some chose to remain behind and not follow this Brigand.

The gates of the underworld were shattered. The mandarins were a laughing stock. The gods on earth were mocking them about having a glass revolving door fitted. It was all too much, but hurt pride is a great motivator.  Fom now on, they would concentrate on those who freely chose to check-in with them, they would entertain them royally.  No more Abrahams to deal with.  They would have guests over whom they had complete control.  There would be realms for the dead over which they had no jurisdiction.... but they couldn't care less about that.  They had a job to do and they would do it to perfection.

So when That Mere Woman also did not obey the laws of death and went straight to Heaven, the event passed by our mandarins with hardly a second thought. It was the gods of the world who were smarting this time. The implications of the Creator's eternal love for her will always be beyond the comprehension of the gods of the underworld. And whilst souls on earth stubbornly fail to grasp the significance of His love for each of us, these mandarins will have work to do.  Work is always better than thinking.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Holy Saturday and the Dead

I'm thinking about the generation born between 1914 and 1924.  They include my grandparents and my late husband's parents.  The people I am thinking about are all dead.  They would have had no memories of the pre-Pius X church.  That was the world of their parents.  The first real change to the liturgical life of the church that they would have witnessed were the "reforms" to the Triduum instigated under Pius XII.

These changes were enthusiastically embraced by the in-laws and others I knew.  In the 1990s I recall two elderly gentlemen from Salford who had done the Triduum together each year without fail since they left National Service.  Their lives drifted apart but they came back together for the this: especially the watching and the nighttime Easter vigil.  My in-laws loved it too.  They loved the drama of the vigil that the pre-Pius XII liturgy did not have. They loved the emptiness of Holy Saturday and the anticipation of the Vigil.They were active stalwarts of their parish.  I really feel that for them it symbolised a post-war freshness and hope.  These were souls who found the changes really positive and therefore when further changes happened in the 1960s, they absorbed them enthusiastically too. I got to know them when the full consequences of the Novus Ordo and its often disastrous manifestations (along with slum clearances and increasing "individualism") had emptied the parishes.  They genuinely believed (because they'd been told) that the "Old Mass" was wrong.  They would be in horror if they knew we'd ever gone to the Tridentine Mass at the Holy Name in Manchester. I think they would have been happier if we'd embraced Buddhism.  My husband had watched the slow removal of the old liturgy with a more critical eye.  He told me that even in the mid-70s many parishes were still using the '62 for one of their Sunday Masses at least once a month.  Everything was at the discretion of the parish priest and the Bishop, until Bishops decided to engineer a "bright new future" and obliterate the Vetus Ordo completely, and the legacy of Cardinal Heenan too.

Over the other side of the world was my grandfather.  He was very well educated and something of a Latin scholar.  His faith was the faith of a convert and it ran deep.  He had no concept of cultural Catholicism. Malaya was not like that.  Being an active stalwart in a parish meant nothing to him.  Priests said Mass, women (mainly missionary sisters) kept the church nice. Grandfather had the shortest of tempers.  He liked the lowest of Low Masses. If there was any fuss, if he could sense the presence of a person performing at Mass (especially theatrical singers), he'd be cross,.  Mass wasn't theatre. The Pius XII reforms to the Triduum meant nothing to him.  He wouldn't have attended much of it before, he wouldn't be attending much of it after.  He also hated the 1960s liturgical changes.  Once, when he was over in Manchester and we took him to the Holy Name, he really hoped it would be the last Mass he would ever attend.  It was a joy to him, even though it was a High Mass, at least it didn't hurt like the Novus Ordo.

Tonight I've been asked to attend a Novus Ordo Easter Vigil.  I don't want to go. It lost its appeal a few years back when I sat a bit too close to the sanctuary and was horrified by the bad temper and complete lack of reverence of those in the sanctuary: they were putting on a show and it was not going well. I, like my grandfather, dislike Mass as performance.  I too am happiest with the lowest of Low Masses. The person who asked me to go is the mother of a girl for whom I am the sponsor. I feel I ought to go as I won't be around next year.

I will go.  Writing this has decided it for me.  It is not in the church that has bad memories.  Mass is something that is there and that absorbs you when you are there.  It could be behind a dense roodscreen with only a squint to peer through or behind an iconostasis for all I care.  The transcendent is always there and the performance is secondary and by comparison, insignificant.

To all my readers, Paşte fericit!


I'm back from the Vigil.  That was beautiful.  Slightly shambolic but beautiful.  No campness, no clinical precision, no professionalism, just sincere faith and joy!

Hristos a învitat!

Adevărat a învitat!

Monday, 10 April 2017

Main line electrification blues

It was not a good day to be on the trains. Not the worst of days: Cheltenham racegoers and the British weather have produced worse delays for me, but there was an irritating slowness about the line between London and home.  However, delays enabled me to read a small book; basically an essay in book form rather than a book. This book had not found its way into the pile at home marked, "for Oxfam".  It was a book the dear departed had said I must read: I never did, until now.

It is brilliant. It was written in 2000 by the great military historian, Michael Howard.  It is called The Invention of Peace: Reflections on War and International Order. This masterful essay explores Western society from 800 through to 2000 through its warcraft and ideas of "peace". It is timely and at times felt chillingly prescient.  I am a person of sympathies rather than an adherent to a particular ideology. It deals even-handedly with all the all the secular agendas: liberal, nationalist and conservative and the author has a thorough grasp on how technology shapes warfare more than ideology does. It is a book that suits me, though my sympathies are very different from the author's. He is a child of the Enlightenment with considerable fondness for Kant and Non-conformism.

The title of the book is a quote from the 19th Century jurist Sir Henry Maine: War appears to be as old as mankind but peace is a modern invention.

The Enlightenment did seem to produce the concept of peace as something to be achievable through the human project: the great secular myth that humans decoupled from their Creator can do any good at all.  However, neither can theocracies achieve the peace that their religious foundations have at their root.  "Peace" is a myth, and whilst the author does not reach this conclusion, nothing in the book dissuaded me of the truth of this fact. The peace that is to me a myth is the peace that to quote Howard comes "from the forethought of rational human beings who had taken matters into their own hands" and is the "visualisation of a social order from which war had been abolished". It is a concept inherent in Theocracies, Democracies and Totalitarian States, Caliphates and the UN (as well as wretched hippies and the whole dismal peace movement). It needs an awful lot of war (of the most disproportionate and least just kind), slaughter and suffering to maintain its delusion.

So why am I writing this?  I am writing as a Catholic. I am writing in Holy Week.  I am thinking out loud about the madness in the daily newsfeeds. I am thinking about peace and what it really looks like.  It looks like the pierced heart of the Mother of God, it looks like Our Lord mocked and crowned with thorns.  Peace is the absence of sin, not and achievable state of human cooperation/subjugation. Peace can be found in the midst of conflict, it is to be nurtured in our hearts be we priests, warriors, merchants, labourers or useless Physics teachers. God's grace is sufficient for us to find it. God's victory is won. It is a crime not to seek it.

That most gloriously illiberal quote of Newman's springs to mind:  The Catholic Church, holds it better for the sun and moon to drop from heaven, for the earth to fail, and for all the many millions on it to die of starvation in extremest agony, as far as temporal affliction goes, than that one soul, I will not say, should be lost, but should commit one single venial sin, should tell one willful untruth, or should steal one poor farthing without excuse. 

It is there that peace is found, and nobody seems that willing to contemplate its profound and uncomfortable significance.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Catholic Things..

Lent rattles on.  Every year it is obscenely busy.  Every year at this time I just crave time for stillness and recollection.  However, such things are a luxury.  Some things we deny ourselves during Lent, other things are denied us.  I think the latter are of greater spiritual importance. There is no point in craving them.  We seem to have to live the reality, and often at this most starkly holy of seasons, the reality is full immersion in the world.  It is about being still, recollected and focussed on God amidst the insanity and frenzy of daily life and the daily news feeds of misinformation, propaganda, sentimentality and moral outrage.

What am I learning about myself this Lent?
What is God teaching me this Lent? 
Just how inadequate is my response to Him?
How am I responding to those around me, am I giving of myself unconditionally or am I treating others as simply a projection of my own ego; judging their motives and making assessments as to their "worthyness" and sincerity?

These are all Lenten questions and I feel I ought to be addressing them and spending time on them. However now is the time to be wading through the piles of science controlled assessments (last year ever of those), and the piles of school reports that need writing.  Now is the time when my voluntary church duties escalate; there are several loads of washing and complex ironing to do. Now is the time to be contacting my pensions provider about my forthcoming changes in circumstances.  Now is the time to be getting quotes from removal firms.  Now is the time to be finding a notary. Now is the time to be offloading books and making plenty of trips to the local tip. Now is the time to be shredding and burning that which doesn't need keeping.  Now is the time for getting my Irish Passport (just in case).  Now is the time to sort out things that need doing for my tenant now that I have been over and inspected my property. (I loathe being a landlord). Now is the time to be seriously getting stuck into learning the local language.

It is only on this last front, the language learning, where I feel there is a marriage of the worldly and the spiritual.  On one side, I'm trying to decide which local football team to support and I'm looking through their websites and fan pages, picking up the language as I go.  It is fun, but I'm still undecided (none of them play in blue, which is a distinct problem for me). On the other side, I'm trying to memorise the Lord's Prayer,  the Ave Maria, Glory Be and the prayer to St Michael.  I'm also getting a friend to translate the mechanics of going to Confession, but as his French and his Latin is better than his English, I've had to find it in those languages first for him to do the necessary.

What I am learning is that it is only in the ordinary and the humdrum and the dull that the extraordinary will reveal itself. The thing is to praise God at all times. Praise God for it all.....! Elizabeth of the Trinity is ever my surefooted, unsentimental guide into the Abyss.

ps.  I think my team will be the one associated with the railway: they are a team that whilst money seems to have been chucked at them recently, they have the unending capacity for underachievement.  This is similar enough to MCFC for me to be at home. I'm not a glory hunter.

Monday, 3 April 2017


My neighbour's increasingly frail old black Labrador came to inspect the pear tree that climbs up the south facing wall of the cottage.  He likes pears but I don't think he'll be around to see the crop that will arise from the blossom I've photographed.  I won't see them either, I've just signed the contract for my new job and I have to be in my new country of residence for the 1st August.

The pupils at school suggested I just get rid of everything, pack a single suitcase and head off.  It is tempting.  I'm not at all attached to material things in a sentimental way.  However, it is a bit too foolhardy. I might as well move wholesale and take what possessions I need with me rather than start again from scratch. I'm aiming not to have to put anything into storage, either it is coming with me or it is to be re-homed or dumped.

There are plenty of things to get rid of. It is a satisfyingly lenten thing to do, to scythe down what I own. I'm not used to thinking about the things in my possession, it is an interesting exercise. My mum wants my car. I will be in an apartment and I have a shed full of soon to be redundant gardening implements.  There are 6 bookshelves of books and I'm currently sorting through what can be kept and what can go, I want to reduce it to filling just the two smallest bookcases.  What happens to the university standard Physics texts?  What happens to the extensive (but unopened since university days) collection of the writings of Peter Kropotkin?  What happens to the obscure theology books I've read, digested and feel no need to keep. What happens to my cassette collection? The cassette deck is not coming out with me so I presume the tapes will find their way to the tip.  I don't suppose anyone else would be interested in my collection of tapes of Sudanese pop songs sold to me by a travelling Sudanese bathroom fitter in Manchester. Tapes have not kept their sound quality unlike my vinyl which sounds great.  Not everything that will be kept will be kept for reasons of utility.  I'm going to be slightly frivolous. The turntable is going out with me: my little luxury.  I'm hoping that there is a whole wealth of ageing Eastern European vinyl to find, collect and enjoy. The priceless (because they have no monetary value) heirlooms will come out too, my set of 7 Chinese immortals (there should be 8, but one of them wasn't), the old brass jos stick holder from my great grandfather's grave in Ipoh, my grandmother's dented silver teapot and the portrait of a great great aunt from the Wirral, but nobody can remember her name. I also ought not be without my two bears (Pinkers and Oliver) who are most certainly up for the adventure.

It is all slightly ludicrous.  I could forget the lot, but I'm not entering a convent, I'm simply starting a new job, that it happens to be in another time zone is irrelevant.  Life and the things of life are to be enjoyed, but always remembering the source of everything and giving thanks to God for it all and letting go of it all when it is time to do so.

And the weather is glorious and doing it's best to keep me attached to this obscure bit Wessex, but it is time to go.

And if you don't believe me about the possibilities of great Eastern European vinyl, have a look at this: Funked Up East

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

all change....

Confirmation is through, I will be somewhere very different come August. I'll be teaching but somehow this job is something I want to do and I feel it is something I could do well....

Whatever happens next, if it is not of God, I'm not interested.

To get me in the mood, here's a little regional delicacy...

Thursday, 23 March 2017


If I write anything, it may suggest I care about what I am writing and I'm not sure I do. So I've been silent for a while.

This Lent seems to be about some sort of "holy indifference", I can't call it detachment because life is so very real and "full on" and somewhat manic, and everything needs to be done with great care and attention to the smallest of details.  It is impossible to be detached; life is for living fully right now in all its trivia.

For me the "holy indifference" is an indifference to the "why?" questions that float through the mind. Why am I waiting?  Why am I doing what I'm doing?  Why am I at peace with the uncertainty? The manner of my life will change significantly in the near future: I forced that with my resignation in December.  What happens next is still not certain, nothing is yet in writing and I do not know where I will be for sure come August.  I know nothing. And holding that uncertainty with no anxiety, no frustration, no thinking about the future seems to be what is required of me at Lent.

I have been tempted with anger; a colleague has behaved extremely selfishly and unkindly towards me and I have been teetering on the edge of a great chasm of emptyness and "unholy indifference" and a growing sense of separation from the Catholic Church as it manifests itself in those who claim to be Her members. The world could be a very lonely and sick place, and I could be a very bitter individual........

But Faith gives us something more and through a glass darkly, whilst the forms can still not be made out..... there is a goodness and a warmth to the world, a communion of great beauty with those I meet and know, and with those I don't....... Christ is in all things....

And tonight's pale, watery, sunset over the chilly, damp and breezy Wessex fields, accompanied by a delightful flock of starlings, was quite simply one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.

This Lent for me is about my indifference to myself; and learning to discern holy from unholy indifference. God is leading me on quite a journey.

Glory to God for all things.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Some girls....

I work in an institution that prides itself of empowering women.  On Wednesday, it being International Women's Day, there was hype on this very theme.  I hid my feelings. I don't understand. I don't feel part of a common sisterhood.  It was not my day but nor was it my day to rain on somebody elses parade.

Once again it got me thinking about identity.  It got me thinking about how we define ourselves. Indeed in looking for an identity, do we miss some greater truth about ourselves.  Is there not a danger that in trying to forge an identity we miss something fundamental to our being?

I for one can't identify with half the world's population simply on the grounds that I share the same biological tackle as them.  I feel no sense of sisterhood.  No sense of belonging.  Our common experiences in terms of what happens to our bodies are not enough to bind us together with a common sense of belonging.  I think most women would agree with me here.

I could see the positive in much of the rhetoric of International Women's Day in terms of celebrating feminine toughness, resilience and independence of thought.  However the positives in this only lay in their opposition to the unappealing female traits of needyness and emotion-laden manipulation. I didn't  like the promotion of complete independence in the sense that a woman's destiny is her own to decide for herself.  I believe such an idea is decidedly far from the truth. Women will ever go down this path, but it seems to be fantasy to me.  The strength of women is in their interactions not their independence.

Often we identify ourselves through what we are not.  Indeed this can be a gloriously quick and easy way to form a bond of connection.  From Bolton to Borneo I have witnessed that glee smile and sense of belonging within the tribe that identifies itself with the tag: we who don't support Manchester United. Though it has to be remembered that this tribe has no meaning without the presence of Manchester United.  Likewise, identifying as not being a man relies heavily on the presence of men.  This negative identifier is not the essence of womanhood.

Occasionally there is a bond to other women, but it not a bond of identifying with them as such.  It is about a bond due to a common understanding of love.  A quick glance between two women who have read a man in the same way.  However, it only happens in love, it only happens with those who love men and who have no sense of sisterhood either.  It is with those of us who prefer the company of men, those of us who would never parade our shared understanding of men, those of us who know that some things are best hidden and not talked about. Our identity here is not so much about belonging as about knowing.  I suppose this is "my tribe", but it is a very "un-tribe-like tribe" as we don't need each other or seek each other out.

The bottom line is that St Paul is right: Woman was created for man 1Cor 11:9
That is the identity of women; to bring out what is good in men that they can't bring forth for themselves. The goodness comes from God, but we are His handmaids. Simply what more could we want or desire to be?  This is a gift beyond telling.

It is not about rights, empowerment or independence.  It is about unconditional love with the lightest of touches and the humblest of hearts. It is entirely directed towards men and for men.  That is the only feminism I understand.

And here is a link to a track (in a spirit of sisterhood) from The Sisters of Mercy to keep me in good cheer. I was no "goth" but living in the M62 corridor meant throwing yourself round the dancefloor to the Body Electric was just about the most fun you could have in the 1980s.
Some girls wander by mistake....

I've been wandering by mistake all my life....

Saturday, 25 February 2017

the Pokrov

A week ago, someone I trust and who has a habit of giving me timely and unexpected gifts, gave me a Russian icon of the Pokrov. It is a resin copy of an original, but it is very special..... The Pokrov is the Orthodox version of the Western "protection under Our Lady's mantle", but it has many levels and tells many tales. The Baptist, Andrew the Holy Fool, Roman the Melodist and a Byzantine Emperor all feature and indeed the protection of the Virgin seems open to all... and  somehow, I feel like I am living inside the icon, it has "consumed" me....The protection is timely, the friendship greatly appreciated. The shadows lengthen and there is a darkness that keeps trying to bite and it can't.... everything is so light and of good cheer.... and I can say no more until She lets me out!

Or perhaps you should join me... This isn't a journey into Orthodoxy, I am a Catholic, I have no choice, there is no choice, we're not Protestants, we can't "shop around". The Veil of the Theotokos is the Veil of the Theotokos and there are times when it is best not to question and just to accept the help that is given.

 The Pokrov I have looks nothing like this, but the sense is the same.

Sub tuum praesidium confugimus,
Sancta Dei Genetrix.
Nostras deprecationes ne despicias
in necessitatibus nostris,
sed a periculis cunctis
libera nos semper,
Virgo gloriosa et benedicta

Tuesday, 21 February 2017


Lent is approaching  and is starting to scream in my head. If I am honest, there are simply times when I can't face it and it isn't Lent itself that is the problem, it is the Easter that follows.  Each year the silence of Lent marches into Easter and my song of "love unknown" continues. Easter is as hollow as a chocolate egg for me. It is not lack of faith that makes it so.  It is my very faith, hope and love of God that make it so. I can't explain why, other than the sense that I am not where I am meant to be, or doing what I am truly called to do, though it has been expedient to be like this.  God just seems to desire I "hold on" and keep going. 

To focus my mind on what really matters: love of God and love of neighbour... here are an eclectic set of quotes from my notebooks that have got me through in the past....

This year seems different. I am well, for the first time in a decade, I am well.... but for what end I do not know..... some new cross will be coming my way and I will accept it cheerfully.......

Edwin Morgan

Love rules. Love laughs. Love marches. Love
        is the wolf that guards the gate.
Love is the food of music, art, poetry. It
        fills us and fuels us and fires us to create.
Love is terror. Love is sweat.

Hakim Jami: Ordinary human love is capable of raising man to the experience of real love.

El-Ghazali: If one loves someone because it gives pleasure, one should not be regarded as loving that person at all.  The love is, in reality, though this is not perceived, directed towards the pleasure.

Rabia el-Adawia: I will not serve God like a labourer, in expectation of my wages.

Fr Gabriel of St Mary Magdalene OCD: Union of love demands resemblance: love either finds two beings similar or makes them so.

Ven. Raymond Jourdain: By my love for my neighbour I shall know whether I love you, O Lord, for he who is neglectful of loving You, does not know how to love his neighbour either.

St Elizabeth of the Trinity: You will never be commonplace if you are vigilant in love! But in the hours when you feel oppression and lassitude, you will please Him even more if you faithfully believe that He is still working, that He is still loving you just the same, and even more: because His love is free and that is how He wants to be magnified in you: and you will let yourself be loved.

Friday, 17 February 2017

the Chemistry Teacher

Chemistry teachers and Physics teachers are often very different animals.  There are some interesting souls who can teach both and teach both well, but for the most part we like to steer very clear of each others subject.  The bottom line being that we don't quite get it.  Science is not a unified whole.  Science involves models and methods that simply don't transfer from one subject to another.  The models and methods of the Physicist are a universe away from the models and  methods of the Chemist.

Being a Physicist, I will now look at the Chemist through the lens of Physics, I hope to be objective, but I am aware of the limits of my objectivity and the limits of my method.

The Physicist observes the following about the Chemist: (I will use the male pronoun for simplicity):

  • The Chemist lives in a world of reactions.  Reagents come together and conditions are manipulated to produce a variety of outcomes. The Chemist sees himself as a facilitator of outcomes.  He has confidence in his model which describes the reactions because he can be fairly confident as to the outcomes that will be produced.
  • The Chemistry teacher is often a frustrated children's entertainer. He loves the wide eyed enthusiasm and curiosity of his unsuspecting audience as various interesting effects are produced. He loves flirting with danger, making things look more dangerous than they really are to  further enhance the entertainment value of what he is doing.  And he remains confident in his model because it works.
  • However he manipulates everything, his model is all about what and how things can be manipulated.  He constructs.  His model involves building blocks that fit together following known patterns.  They are neat.  There is elegance.  It is Science.  But it is not the whole story.
The wide-eyed child fresh from her Chemistry lesson wearily trundles up the stairs to Physics. (Chemistry is usually confined to the ground floor because it dribbles more than the other sciences). This Physics teacher has an invisible sign above the door that all the pupils know about, it reads: Physics is not fun.  This sign tells them that for pleasing entertainment value, they are not to expect anything from Physics.  The will secretly find it satisfying but not in a way they can admit to their peers.  Physics will entice, but her methods are very different from Chemistry.  Where Chemistry appears as the sweet counter at Woolworths, Physics is the butchers shop or fishmongers. There is something fascinating and dangerous amidst the sharp knives, chain gauntlets and lifeless displays. We rip the carcasses apart as carefully as possible, lay the bits out, prod with as much skill as our previous training will allow ...... and most of the pupils would simply rather not be there. Just occasionally it comes together, we all see something in a new light, something clicks and the routine drudge becomes worthwhile.... something beautiful is revealed.

The thing is, I am never sure the Chemist is seeking deep understanding.  The Chemist sees himself as a facilitator; his models and methods allow a whole field of endeavour to open up.  He simply facilitates and he believes his little atoms and molecules dance to his personal understanding though they are not under his control. The more chaotic it looks, the better. The outcome is assured (he thinks). It isn't about the sharp knives of logic and law, it is about process.  Process is Queen.

The Physicist is far more likely to say that process is subservient to law. Law is not as rigid as others may think it is.  Law is about degrees of freedom, not about total control.  The Physicist finds beauty in the law; law reveals beauty and truth. Models and methods will be cheerfully ditched if a greater understanding of the law is revealed.

As I said, Chemist and Physicist, two very different animals. Let each be. And heaven help us if we ever have a Supreme Pontiff who had once been a Physics teacher.

Monday, 13 February 2017

A Tiger in a Doll's House

Our recollections of our early childhood are always hazy and of we will naturally have absolutely no idea of what we put our parents through.  Like the cuckoo in the blackbird's nest, our demands can be outrageous, selfish, high volume, perhaps even cruel and we just expect  a response.  But we are no imposter chick, and our parents respond out of love as best they can, and family life struggles on. Hopefully we gradually learn what is reasonable and what is not and we learn to give and take, we lean to find pleasure in generosity and perhaps one day, we even learn to appreciate the massive sacrifices our parents made for us.

I am the eldest of three.  Apparently I was a delightful child. My nanny is still alive and still dotes on me, and I feel utterly unworthy of her unconditional love for me. Her own children are in their late sixties and keep in contact with me, they are not jealous, they know she struck up a bond with me that is special and they wish to honour that.  Again, this is humbling. My parents also took great delight in me.  I could happily sit in adult company and behave and not be bored. I could be taken to classical concerts, ballets and to restaurants form a very early age.  I'd always behave impeccably and I can remember the adulation I'd get off complete strangers.

And so the hagiography is already written!  I can't for one moment believe it is anything like the reality.

Then two things happened to change life forever; one natural, one supernatural.  The natural one was the arrival of my middle sister.  She was a kicker, a screamer and a tomboy.  She had no interest in the refined world that I was inhabiting.  I was thrust into childhood, my parents could no longer treat me like a mini adult.  I was now just a big sister.  It made me a little withdrawn, but that was no bad thing.

The other thing that happened was altogether stranger.  I was cursed.  A poor unfortunate boy in the dinner queue at school spoke in a voice that was not his own and uttered this curse: from now on, I'd never be able to have anything I wanted. And he pointed at me and said there would be a mark on my body to act as a permanent reminder of this.  I had no idea that this was not a normal thing to happen and I remember being very calm, going to the bathroom and noticing that I'd developed a mole where he'd pointed.  I still have it.  I told my mum, but it seemed all so ordinary, and I got on with life. Mum did make me change schools.  I loathed my education from then on.  I was a whole series of reading books behind the other children and never caught up.  I was struggling to write and never caught up.  I was struggling to do arithmetic and never caught up.  I could however shine at things nobody else could do so although each year I'd only have a handful of stars on the star chart, whilst every other pupil's star column reached the ceiling (and is some cases even the light fittings), I did enough and was quiet enough that nobody really bothered with me.  And I liked that.

I couldn't quite forget about the curse.  Indeed it seemed to carry some truth so I half decided that it would be best if I didn't want anything.  Besides, minima was screaming the place down, nobody would hear me anyway.

Anyway the upshot of this is I have gone through life not wanting anything.  Not REALLY wanting anything.  I can pretend and that is OK.  I get what I pretend to want.  But what I really want, if I do ever do this, is always taken from me, and it is simply too painful and is best to back away.

Finding priests who understand has been a massive help.  Lightheartedly we work together to ensure the curse becomes a blessing, revoking it would not work.  My total consecration to Our Lady was the main part of this.  I do feel somewhat impervious to the curse, though it is still there.  It still reminds me of its presence and I just have to praise God and not sink into a mire of self-pity.

We can't live in a world without desire, it kills us.  We are meant to desire and we are all broken individuals whose desires are disordered to some extent.  I'm left hanging is some limbo, now nearly pathologically unable to want things for myself but desiring things nevertheless. Knowing also that the curse cannot touch God's desires for me.

I am walking a very strange path, but I would not have it any other way. God's love shines through it all.

The title of the post is the last thing I wanted and got prior to the curse: a tiger in a doll's house. One Christmas Mum obliged and my sister got the rest of the set of plastic zoo animals to chew.  I can picture it very clearly even now and I think the tiger may be me.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

The Hind

I've been re-reading John Dryden after too long an absence. I'd forgotten how much I love the English of the 17th Century.  Dryden's use of language has hardly been surpassed and his Tory sensibilities and Catholic heart give his writings added potency.

The Hind and the Panther is an allegorical work about the Catholic Faith to which he had recently and sincerely converted.  The Hind represents the Catholic Church; the Panther, the Anglicans.  His vision of the Church is what keeps me within the fold.  She is Truth, though you have to seek her out.  She has a light touch and a fleetness of foot, She is beautiful and unchanging......

.... yet She is obscured in a forest of fakery; of polyester, obfuscation, ugliness, bitterness and verbiage.  We all desperately need to desire to connect with Her again.  I'll quote the first 18 lines and trust you get the message. It could have been written for these strange times.

A milk-white Hind, immortal and unchanged,
Fed on the lawns and in the forest ranged;
Without unspotted, innocent within,
She feared no danger, for she knew no sin.
Yet had she oft been chased with horns and hounds
And Scythian shafts, and many winged wounds
Aimed at her heart; was often forced to fly,
And doomed to death, though fated not to die....

Panting and pensive now she ranged alone,
And wandered in the kingdoms once her own.
The common hunt, though from their rage restrained
By sovereign power, her company disdained,
Grinned as they passed, and with glaring eye
Gave gloomy signs of secret enmity.
'Tis true she bounded by, and tripped so light,
They had not time to take a steady sight;
For truth has such a face and mien
As to be loved needs only to be seen.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Open Reply to Dr Shaw

I know I shouldn't have done this till his series of three posts had finished, but next week promises to be very busy and the points I wish to make are general ones. I'm not picking holes in what he is saying.  I just wish to point out some dangers as I see it in the apporach he wishes to take.

In a recent series of blog posts, Joseph Shaw has been musing over what to do in the Church in this current crisis.  I am not about to do a Jim Callaghan and say ‘crisis what crisis?’, I admit that things are somewhat tricky right now. However, I firmly believe that the Church is permanently in a state of crisis.  The barque of Peter has always been a leaky vessel, indeed left to the laws of buoyancy, it probably shouldn’t float.

I am writing to wholeheartedly reject his idea that in order to protect orthodoxy in the Church (something that must be protected at all costs), we must make the Traditional Latin Mass the focus.  There are several points that I wish to make.

Firstly, the older Rites of the Church are to my mind, profoundly more beautiful, edifying, metaphysically more satisfying and closer to heaven than the Novus Ordo.  My arguments are not for or against the Older Rites per se. I am writing because I see something distasteful and also several dangers in doing as he suggest.  

I will turn my attention first to what I consider to be distasteful.  No matter how he dresses up his arguments they politicise attendance at the TLM and that is simply wrong.  Rallying behind a political flag is no guarantee of orthodoxy to what the flag signifies.  To see the TLM as something to rally around is distasteful.  Indeed it is almost Protestant in its assertions of independence from those within the Body of Christ that they consider to be less than orthodox than themselves.  I will admit that  given half a chance I would dearly love to introduce the TLM in places where is has not been seen for nearly 50 years.  How many for a ‘stable group’? 2? A husband and wife who know their Mass and know their chant and are good at befriending priests; missionaries for the TLM in some Novus Ordo stronghold?  Oh yes! People have a right to experience it and come to know its beauty.  However, using the TLM to proclaim orthodoxy or to be a bastion of orthodoxy seems to me to be to deliberately setting it up as ‘other’ and not ‘integral’ to the Church. This is to my mind abhorrent.

The dangers in his way of thinking follow on from this. The TLM has enough enemies as it is.  We deserve what happens to us if we are ever see to use the Mass for such political ends, or even be percieved to be using the Mass for these ends.  What I fear is that perfectly within the power of Church would be the ability to supress the older calendar, she has done smething similar before. [Someone with more knowledge of such matters, tell me I'm wrong, please!] Nobody would dare supress the Older Rite but supressing the calendar is possible, cruel and very detrimental to the re-propagation of the Old Rite.  

The second danger is to believe that orthodoxy only has one stripe; the Traditional one. However, orthodoxy isn’t what people do or even what they profess to believe.  You can fast with pride in your heart, you can be pro-life without charity.  Orthodoxy is being truly “slain in the Spirit”. Orthodoxy is “putting on Christ” and being dead to the world.  Orthodoxy can not be known apart from its fruits. Orthodoxy is not a thing or even a creed. It is Christ. None of us can claim to be perfectly orthodox.

There is one simple test for orthodoxy.  It relates to the promises we make at Confirmation. Can we, do we make the Devil flee? When he obsesses with us because we are doing good, do we know what to do to repulse him? When he wears us down and when we can see his power to cripple others, do we instincively know how to respond? Not by our own strength, no we can never do it alone.  But is our love of God and whole company of heaven such that we know how to call on Them to repulse the attacks of the Enemy.  Heck, we are soldiers for goodness sake! Do we REALLY know how to fight? Do we really know the Enemy? Are we really fearless as Scripture implores us to be? Do we really see him or just the smoke and mirrors he puts up to stoke our fears and prejudices; splintering the Church and breeding discontent?  Do we really root out sin in our own lives? Being in a state of grace is not an optional extra, it is the only way to be fit for duty. Its fruits are the fruits of the Holy Spirit.

There are many, many orthodox souls for whom the TLM means nothing. Vast swathes of the globe are without the TLM and many humble souls therein are orthodox. Some of the most powerfully prayerful people I know are charismatics, but there is no antagonism towards me and my more traditional tendencies, there is a common sense of purpose and a quiet ability to get on with fighting the good fight, in Communion.  If we are to “bring forth Christ” as One Body, then we must go out and look for Him and be prepared to see Him in unexpected places.  We can’t do this if we are unsighted through hiding under the shield of a particular Rite.  Also, this argument applies just as much to the proponents of the Novus Ordo as it does the to the TLM brigade. It isn't one rule for them and one for us.