Friday, 24 December 2010

Tonight the wind gnaws
With teeth of glass,
The jackdaw shivers
In caged branches of iron,
The stars have talons.

There is hunger in the mouth
Of vole and badger,
Silver agonies of breath
In the nostril of the fox,
Ice on the rabbit’s paw.

Tonight has no moon,
No food for the pilgrim;
The fruit tree is bare,
The rose bush a thorn
And the ground is bitter with stones.

But the mole sleeps, and the hedgehog
Lies curled in a womb of leaves,
The bean and the wheat-seed
Hug their germs in the earth
And the stream moves under the ice.

Tonight there is no moon,
But a new star opens
Like a silver trumpet over the dead.
Tonight in a nest of ruins
The blessed babe is laid.
And the fir tree warms to a bloom of candles,
And the child lights his lantern,
Stares at his tinselled toy;
And our hearts and hearths
Smoulder with live ashes.

In the blood of our grief
The cold earth is suckled,
In our agony the womb
Convulses its seed;
In the first cry of anguish
The child’s first breath is born.

Christmas Landscape: Laurie Lee

A Happy Christmas to you all. May the Peace of Christ rest in your hearts.

The unloved village cat has come into our house for the night and it is so cold, I think if I found a rat in the house, I wouldn't throw it out.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010


As a result of the fall, what exactly did God say would happen to Eve and her descendants?

To the woman also he said: I will multiply thy sorrows and thy conceptions. In sorrow shalt thou bring forth children, and thou shalt be under thy husband’s power, and he shall have dominion over thee? Gen 3:16

Some biological observations spring to mind. Firstly, no other moderately intelligent mammal, has such a short (28 days) cycle for fertility, correct me if I’m wrong but I’m sure the elephant only comes into season once every 4 years (lucky elephant). Is this our multiplication of conceptions? Who knows? Secondly, childbirth can be considerably more traumatic and painful for women than for any other animal, or are we just more rubbish about pain? Is this the sorrow of childbirth? I’m not convinced, surely the real sorrow is entailed in helplessly watching our children when they themselves are suffering or are making bad choices.

I know someone who won’t buy large sized eggs because of the pain the hen must have gone through to lay them. However, I can’t say I’ve seen a hen strain to lay an egg so bad that they looked like they needed gas and air.

There are perhaps 3 types of pain we can feel: pain caused by hurt to the body (a hammer dropped on the toe, for example), the pain caused by our suffering due to our own misdeeds (an injury or illness caused by our poor lifestyles) and the pain caused in us through the fallen state of the world (a childhood victim of abuse, for example, or more controversially perhaps, as a sufferer of an inherited disease or mental illness or mode of living).

One of my favourite bloggers, Taylor Marshall, has published a comprehensive list of master theologians and doctors of the Church who categorically state that Our Lady did not feel pain during the birth of Our Lord. This may or may not be the case, I’m just wary about linking the pain of childbirth to Original Sin or sinfulness in general. I’d say there was plenty of pain we can feel that has nothing to do with our own sinfulness. We are also left with the unanswered, linked, but somewhat distasteful conundrum of whether Our Lady menstruated, if menstruation is a result of Original Sin.

There is, for me, a far more important meditation that can be drawn from this. The fact that the body of Our Lady was for God and God alone. She was perfect for God’s purpose and therefore quite naturally hidden from us. Every artistic representation of Our Lady, every icon, every devotional picture is different, she is hidden from us in direct contrast to her Son. Perhaps we are just not meant to speculate about her body, despite our curiosity.

There is a big contrast here to the controversy that raged during the papacy of Alexander VI; the controversy as to whether Our Lady swooned at the foot of the cross, or whether she stood firm. The pope had to intervene to stop the burgeoning feast of Our Lady’s Swoon and categorically state that Our Lady stood at the foot of the cross; a decision reached through ancient tradition and deep meditation. ( A decision that led to a great number of staggeringly beautiful musical Stabat Maters .)

What Our Lady did, is important. She consented to the will of God. She stored things in her immaculate heart, and she could draw on the supernatural strength needed to stand at the foot of the cross. This is why she is the source of our hope and our mother. This has far more significance than whether she felt pain during childbirth.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

As someone who braved sheet ice and foul weather to attend the Rorate Mass at the Oxford Oratory, I know that you know that I love the older form. However, I feel the need to comment on the following, I remain to be convinced that the older form ad orientem is a panacea for the world’s ills. My comments in red.

What are the advantages of standing at the altar ad orientem, as I have experienced them over the past two years? I can think of ten straight off:

1. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is experienced as having a theocentric direction and focus.

What other direction should the Mass have? It is just easier to be theocentric ad orientem.

2. The faithful are spared the tiresome clerocentrism that has so overtaken the celebration of Holy Mass in the past forty years.

Not necessarily. Unnecessarily ponderous bowing and laboured movements by the priest, deacon and sub-deacon can render High Mass a little too theatrical and “puffed up”.

3. It has once again become evident that the Canon of the Mass (Prex Eucharistica) is addressed to the Father, by the priest, in the name of all.

I personally, like to hear it sometimes, it is such a rich and beautiful thing.

4. The sacrificial character of the Mass is wonderfully expressed and affirmed.

Yes, yes, yes….

5. Almost imperceptibly one discovers the rightness of praying silently at certain moments, of reciting certain parts of the Mass softly, and of cantillating others.

Now put this into practice versus populum in the Ordinary Form of the Mass. Make the Ordinary beautiful, she ain’t no ugly sister.

6. It affords the priest celebrant the boon of a holy modesty.


7. I find myself more and more identified with Christ, Eternal High Priest and Hostia perpetua, in the liturgy of the heavenly sanctuary, beyond the veil, before the Face of the Father.

How about some holy humility too? Domine non sum dignus, isn’t coming through here.

8. During the Canon of the Mass I am graced with a profound recollection.

So can the humble pew sitters, so ought the humble pew sitters…

9. The people have become more reverent in their demeanour.

How can you tell? You’re transfixed in the Mass and you have your back to them. What about the odd assortment of random kneelers, sitters and the confused? What about the Missal russlers, the response whisperers and the mantilla fiddlers? And even when the congregation comprises of little miss and mr perfect, can we not be tinged with hubris and esotericism?

10. The entire celebration of Holy Mass has gained in reverence, attention and devotion.

We all desire this. But we ought to desire it both ad orientem and versus populum.

Pre-fisk H-T to Joseph Shaw, who is quoting Fr Mark Kirby courtesy of the Rorate Caeli blog.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Picture this

Have I ever told you how much I dislike portrait photographs.

We get seduced into thinking we have a true image, an icon.

St Therese of Lisieux

Perhaps sometimes we do....

Most of the time we don't have an icon, yet we fail to see the distinction between an icon and the iconic.

Mrs Ashtiani

Myra Hindley

Our feelings and moral assessments are based on photographs; half truths, tricks of the light, fleeting expressions caught at random instances. The portrait photographer's art is a sham. Yet we make so many judgments based on the media images we are bombarded with. I mean to say; I've never heard the boy, but purely on image, this is so blinking ridiculous, false, Jimmy Osmond cheesy, there can't be any talent there, can there?

Justin Bieber

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Wish list

Mrs P aka Autumn has been encouraging us to do a Christmas Wish List. Keeping it light hearted and steering away from wanting a full diagnosis and treatment for my increasingly weary frame, here is a list of delectable consumer products that would be well received in my clammy paws on a Christmas morn:

Firstly, a country girl needs a good pair of waterproof boots and these are beauties, then I’ll want good waxed jacket and hat to match……..

Secondly, some music. I’ve recently been converted to the luxuriant, flamboyant yet unsentimental conducting of Leopold Stokowski: is there a complete recording by him of Smetana’s Ma Vlast? If so, me want…..

I’ve recently discovered this website. Among the eyepopping must haves is this twin cylinder Stirling engine; what a beauty.

Oh and if your not bankrupt after that lot, how about some really juicy, thin skinned, proper tangerines (not your tasteless satsuma and clementine imposters).

Sunday, 12 December 2010


Advice for someone who reads this blog, perhaps it is advice for myself:

When you feel the life sapping presence of the enemy, call on St Michael, he hates being reminded of his former nature, he will soon slink away, it is too much like pain and hard work to put up a fight, especially over you, you don’t really matter.

Most of all call on Our Lady. Nothing repulses him more than the gentle reminder that his head is crushed by the feet of a mere creature.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Text books

For reasons too complicated to go into, I’ve been loaned some current Russian Science text books. Even for a language dunce like myself, they make for fascinating reading (I can read Cyrillic but my Russian vocabulary consists of no more than about 40 words). What interests me is comparing them to the Science text books for our teenagers, it is a depressing comparison.

Firstly, nowhere in the Russian books are there pictures of children. Science is allowed to speak for itself, it isn’t incessantly related to “my body”, “my food” or “my trip to the supermarket”.

Secondly, there is sumptuous detail. There seems to be a real sense that it is in the detail that that scientific method can be found. The books even make botany look interesting (believe me for a physicist to admit to this is unusual). I can’t understand enough of the Russian, but in reading them like a child who can barely read, I’m fascinated and want to learn more.

Thirdly they are applied to the “real world”, there are constant links to geology, astronomy, manufacturing and chemical engineering in detail. A real world that exists beyond the narrow confines of the life of a teenager, a grown-up real world.

Fourthly, they are proud of their scientific heritage and the pages are brimming with historical context and pictures on men with sumptuous beards who were responsible for this or that discovery. In the UK we shy away from this, it is believed it will put pupils off science.

I don’t know anything about the education system in Russia, I don’t even know how successful it is, but I just find it refreshing that there are still countries that don’t patronise their young by presenting them with text books that have all the depth and brash sensitivity of Kids TV..

I’m grumpy. Today I was doing a moderately good job of trying to instill in my 12 year olds the wonders of biological cells, their infinite variety and specialisms. Then the darned text book goes and introduces, quite unnecessarily CANCER. Young people in panic mode, wanting to tell anecdotes about dying or dead relatives, asking questions that most doctors would struggle with, teacher wanting to scream “I’m a physicist, get me out of here”, teacher desperately trying to protect the feelings of one pupil whose mother died of cancer last year (but the other pupils don’t know), all beauty and fascination in the subject lost.

Trust me, to actually try to use a text book to teach from…mustn’t do that again, well not in the UK.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Communication and Good Words

I do wonder if there has been something a bit wrong from the very beginning. Something that was never allowed to grow and be right because of the Fall. Let me explain:

Adam walked with God in the garden, Adam was created without blemish yet he felt a certain lack of wholeness, even in paradise, even walking with God. God saw to his needs and created Eve. Adam instantly recognised that there was a wholeness about him now that this new creature walked and dynamically interacted with him as his best mate. Yet before he really got to know her (he was still learning) he went off on his own, going after one of his own hobbies, not involving his mate. She, being intelligent and therefore bored, went off on her own too, met a wiley serpent and the rest is history.

Has it not been the same ever since: men and women not really understanding each other, not ever really getting to know the true worth of their relationship? Of course the arrival of sin made the whole thing worse, work in progress stopped in its tracks.

This is a bit of a preamble to a musing I had after reading Terry Nelson’s blogpost on the holy woman Margery Kempe. I dug out her writing again (not opened since my undergraduate days) and perused.

In the section towards the end, she is hauled before an Archbishop and accused of preaching, this is part of her feisty account of the proceedings:

Then the Archbishop said to her, “Thou shalt swear that thou shalt not teach nor challenge the people in my diocese.” “Nay sir, I shall not swear,” she said, “for I shall speak of God and undernim them that swear great oaths…unto the time the Pope and Holy Church hath ordained that no man shall be so hardy to speak of God, for God almighty forbids not that we shall speak of him”

A great clerk brought forth a book and laid St Paul for his party against her that no woman should preach. She answering thereto said, “ I preach not, sir, I come in no pulpit, I use but communication and good words, and that I will do while I live”

I’d like to think that Paul’s teaching in 1 Tim 2:12, preventing women from teaching/preaching was rooted in some deep truth and not some embarrassing aspect of sexist history. I’d like to suggest that it shouldn’t be viewed without Matthew 23:8-12 where Christ forbids us to call men Father, Master and Teacher. This is clearly because our Father is in Heaven, and Christ is our Master and Teacher. Men can only teach within the Priesthood (in persona Christi): I just wish they did more of it, I’m sick of lame sermons.

Women can’t be priests so women can’t preach or teach (I mean really, deeply, as Christ teaches us, not the crass stuff I do for a living). Though by our actions and words women (and lay men) should be the best heralds and leaders to the gospels, the best missionaries in the fullest sense of the word.

What is perhaps really forbidden for women (and what was worrying Margery’s Archbishop) is women attracting followers (disciples). Priests have to preach in season and out of season, inspired or not, it is part of their discipline. Women, can and are inspired, but in our default setting we are often laid low with hormones, conflicting emotions, less than inspired feelings, rages and tempers and a gentle insanity unknown to men (who have their own insanities). God appreciates our fragility for what it is, maybe one day the world will wake up to it too.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Windows malfunction

I recall that John XXIII made a comment about the Church “opening its windows” onto the world which largely shaped the debate in and around Vatican II. Charitable commentators said he was seeing the Church as a lighthouse and the “window opening” as a metaphor for getting the Church’s message (Lumen Christi) across to the world. Other less charitable commentators had mentioned all the nasty niffs that entered the Vatican as a result of opening those windows.

I’d just like to say that there were many malodorous presences in the Church prior to VII, they were not just a product of its engagement with modernism. I also feel that our current pontiff is doing a very good job of continuing this lighthouse mission of John XXIIIs. People listen to what he says. We must remember that those who have no concept of church teaching and the Magisterium will take note of the man who is pope. The cult of personality is alive and well. The Seewald book that is about to be released is meant to engage with those who are interested in the person of the current pontiff. If through this book people gain a favourable appreciation of the mission of the Church then all fine and dandy. Catholics are not the primary audience for this book. We ought to be more interested in the official encyclicals, letters and apostolic exhortations from the Church that help guide us to a clearer understanding of the mission and being of Our Lord and Saviour, than in the musings of a pontiff. We do not need to be dragged into the cult of personality too, it will not strengthen our faith.

By the way, there are two framed pictures of Pope Benedict XVI in our house, and we pray for his intentions together every night. I do hope you understand what I’m saying.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Latex latest

There is a natural, good, common sense that is inherent in all people. It will, I feel, mean nobody of sound mind would contradict the following statement; “Nobody ever masturbated their way into heaven”. People may disagree about the existence of or need for heaven but people are not going to disagree about how to get there (whether or not “there” has any real meaning for them).

Let me take this further. Surely the statement “fornication won’t get you into heaven” is unlikely to be contradicted by anyone, even the most ardent liberal.

Now there are some statements that may have supporters, these statements are less clear cut, but it should be clear however that they are both wrong:

“Wearing a condom will get you to heaven”
“Never using a condom will get you to heaven”

There is a statement that we can make about condoms that is true, and which we should never forget:

“Condoms can never be used in the context of real, divinely ordained, loving intercourse”

Personally, I wish we had the attitude of the Orthodox Jews to the sin of Onan. They are quite clear that the “spilling of seed” outside of a woman’s vagina (and not in direct contact with same) is always wrong. (Though it needs to be added that it is not always right either.) For them condoms are a near blasphemy.

This whole hoo haa in the press is an ideal time to engage with our non-Catholic brethren and our luke warm Catholic brethren, what an excellent opportunity for evangelisation!

Remember folks, we are all Catholic Voices, we don’t need to be Oxbridge educated and from the home counties to speak the Truth.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

I Write Like by Mémoires, journal software. Analyze your writing!

Vanity, vanity, this is my forth attempt! Previously, it was Dan Brown, Rudyard Kipling and James Joyce. Am I incapable of writing like a woman!!!?

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Remembering the Dead

The frangipani trees with white flowers are popular in cemeteries all over the Far East. White is more commonly seen as the colour for death than black.

In the north of Malaysia is a town called Alor Star. I remember driving through there with my grandfather many years ago. It is a dusty town, full of thundering lorries traveling between Thailand and the Malay peninsular. The main street is lined with frangipani. My grandfather told me about the appalling shambles of the battle of Alor Star as the British lost control of the town to the advancing Japanese in 1941.

I picture the frangipani blossom as I remember the dead today. I used to work in a school where there was a memorial plaque to the war dead from the school, two of the boys remembered are cited as “lost, fallen in Alor Star”, a million miles away from the cathedral cities of the West Country. I wonder if their bodies now lie rattled and shaken close to those thundering lorries and luminous white blossom.

I remember also, JW a Chinese-Malay and friend of the family who enlisted with the Chindits. He served and survived Burma, went to live in England, anglicized his name, married a local girl and marriage didn’t work out. By the time I met him, he lived in a condemned Victorian terrace backing onto a major railway line. He was living in poverty, with only his accordion, his calendar of Cantonese beauties, a stone sink and a one ring electric hot plate for company. Maybe not strictly a casualty of war, but a casualty of Empire and broken dreams, nevertheless.

I remember also, civilian casualties, in particular the many Eurasians (mixed-race people- like myself- on the Malay peninsular) who were singled out for exceptional cruelty at the hands of the Japanese. When you’re mixed race, nobody instinctively runs to your aid as a brother, many will assume you are a spy.

I also remember a later conflict out in Malaya and Borneo as the British and her allies fought the Communists in the 1950s. One man who served out there with the Royal Marines, ended his days homeless on the streets of Manchester; taciturn, dignified and haunted. He was not alone and it still breaks my heart when I see ex-service men in destitution on the streets of our major cities.

I pray for the forgotten, especially those involved in conflicts that could disappear off the radar of our memories.

Sunday, 31 October 2010


Suffering from schoolitis. This job would be OK if I were well, but I'm not.

My God, let me never forget that seasons of consolations are refreshments here, and nothing more. Here they are only intended to prepare us for doing and suffering. I pray you, my God, to give them to me from time to time, lest I go about my daily work in a dry spirit; but let me not rest in them. Let me use them for the purpose for which you gave them. Let them carry me forward to the thought and desire of heaven.
Blessed John Henry Newman, pray for us

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Scary old bat

To the girl in the supermarket all excited about her impending Halloween party, who said to her mum, “I love Halloween, its tonnes better than Christmas!”

Oh how I’d love to have done my scary old bat routine and said the following to you:

Let me tell you about those men and women who have gone to “die to the world”. They have given up all ambitions, career choices and material goods to spend each day and night praying for your soul. When you can’t sleep because you’ve been watching that film of your brothers that gives you nightmares. Or when you can’t sleep because of those nasty texts your “best friend” sent you. Or when you are just scared at what the world holds in store for you; your fear of failure, not living up to the expectations of your parents, and your ambiguity about the so called pleasures of this world. They are awake, praying for you, fighting for you and what lies buried deep within your heart.

Have your Halloween fun. I’m not here to stop that. Just stop and think about the promises of Halloween. What does it promise?

It promises a fun evening with some good fun planning what to wear and what to do and what to eat.

Anything else?

It promises the chance to let go and admit that there may be a supernatural element to this world.

Anything else?

It promises mischief and misrule and a few laughs.

Anything else?

It glories in the dark, in the scary, in the cold, in the secret and in the fearful.

Anything else?

No, not really.

That’s right, it is empty and it won’t sustain your life or provide you with lasting happiness or peace. It won’t help when the terrors of the night really do come calling. That is when you will have need of those friends you never knew you had, those praying for you here on earth and those praying for you in heaven. Without their help, there are only the promises of Halloween.

Thursday, 28 October 2010


Left Footer has posted the following moral conundrum:

If I had a button on my desk, and every time I pressed it a child would be saved from abortion, and lightning would strike and kill an abortionist, or pro-abortion legislator, or facilitator, or vociferous and effectual promoter, or someone who legislates or agitates to forcibly teach my grandchildren the rightness of intrinsically immoral acts, then what would I do?

I feel the need to add my penn'orth to this:

Some years back someone close to me wanted to have an abortion, she was 24 weeks pregnant and had "just" decided she didn't want the baby. I was scandalised and offered to take the child as my own, she wouldn't do this and procured the abortion, getting her mother to pay for it. I sought some advice and solace from an enclosed nun I knew. She told me there was no choice, life must always be saved, it is never a matter of choice.

This has stayed with me, some things are not a matter of choice; life is one of these things.

Is it not the case that it is the Devil's tactic to offer us choices? Are choices really that far removed from temptations? OK, choosing whether to go to Edinburgh or Glasgow university was a choice I made and not a diabolically instigated choice at that, but there are so often in life choices that affect others and these are the ones that I think should be looked at with caution. If you are faced with a choice and that choice affects others who have no real opportunity to remove themselves from the influence of your choice, then my guess is that choice is not a real choice and is actually diabolically inspired.

Your decision when faced with that choice will be based on your feelings and feelings are very unreliable.

Could it not be the case that those that stayed with Our Lord on Calvary did so because they could not do anything else, it was not an active choice? Those that thought about what was happening chose to flee.

I'd argue that Our Lady never made a choice in her life by weighing up pros and cons, she was always motivated by the desire to serve the Lord.

So there is my view; desire should always trump feelings and choice must be avoided where possible. The original philosophical proposal stinks as do most of this genre because they presuppose we can rationally make decisions and choices (and that some of these may even be correct), when really it would be better if we never did anything of the sort.

Post script: please read Joe's interesting and more disciplined philosophical musings on this theme here

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Not much to say today apart from the fact my latest trip to the consultants has left me with a black eye. My husband is mortified and keeps worrying people will think he did it.

The only other thing to add to this is that there is a very definite battle going on in this house with him who shall be given the least amount of publicity other that to acknowledge his deviousness, pettyness and small mindedness. To arm oneself against this foe the only recourse is the Eucharist, but in the dead of the night and in the stultifying bleakness of the early evening when we seem to be at our weakest, Blessed John Henry Newman is a powerful intercessor. Read his prayers and buy a book of his devotions and meditations if you don't believe me.

Monday, 25 October 2010


Our school librarian has informed me that the school inspectors do not like to see books in the school library that are over 5 years old, apparently the children have no interest in "old" books.

Well how about jolly well fostering an interest in old books, eh?!!!!

I'll leave it to Louis MacNeice to put this into words:

To Posterity

When books have all seized up like the books in graveyards
And reading and even speaking have been replaced
By other, less difficult, media, we wonder if you
Will find in flowers and fruit the same colour and taste
They held for us for whom they were framed in words,
And will your grass be green, your sky be blue,
Or will your birds be always wingless birds?

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Meet Hannah....

Those of you who have this Sunday's "Sunday Plus" newsletter courtesy of the Redemptorists will have met Hannah. She is the photogenic young woman being used to plug the work of CYMFED, the Catholic Youth Ministries Federation on the newsletter.

I have no doubt she is a lovely young woman and I'm very pleased she is willing to stand up for her faith and proclaim she is a Catholic. The problem is: is the faith she is proclaiming actually Catholic? Let's take a look.

She says "I think belief is a really personal're the only person who can decide what's right for you."

Somewhat Existentialist, methinks and no mention of God.

The article continues

She's not sure about the need for organised religion, but she likes to know that God loves her.

So she doesn't see the need to go to Mass; she has obviously never found Mass beautiful, profound, mysterious. Yet she likes to experience God's love. Yes, God loves her no one will deny that.

Shall we continue?

While she does read the Bible and pray on her own, she feels she can experience God in lots of ways....she is happy to pick and mix the bits of her Catholic upbringing which still make sense to her, and to blend with different cultural elements she has encountered.

So, Hannah is founding the church of Hannah; her own blend of nice and cosy things that make her feel good, and that she can rationalise. Doesn't sound very Catholic to me.

Shall we continue?

Something which might surprise you about Hannah: Like 32% of young Catholics, Hannah believes Jesus was a very holy/wise man.

This is just bizarre. Who wrote it and what are they trying to say. What do the other 68% of Catholic young people think? I hope they believe Jesus Christ is the Son of the Father and the Second Person of the Trinity. I hope they know their Creed and love their Faith. However, these 32% need help. Jesus Christ cannot be just one wise and holy guy among many other gurus throughout the ages. The position is untenable. If you read scripture, Jesus is either the Son of God or he is a dangerous, deceitful blasphemer. You don't get crucified by Pontius Pilate at the behest of the Jews of Jerusalem, for being a nice/wise/holy guy.

I do hope the entire piece about Hannah is ironic. I hope it is showing how much work needs to be done with the young people of this country to make them know, love and serve God through their faith and devotion to Christ in the Eucharist. I hope it is showing that our young are lost sheep and in need of good pastors to channel their energies and enthusiasm.

Sadly, I fear the article is celebrating young people like Hannah. One feels that the Bishop's Conference feels Hannah and her friends are the future of the Church. They very well may be the future of the Church, but not without some pretty urgent catechisis and contact with the Fullness of Faith in all its beauty, majesty, humility and love.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Wholesome wheat....

Dear Religious who make Altar Breads,

My dear sisters, can I make a small request that when you make the breads, they are made with the finest white flour? Surely the Lamb of God should be made present in the finest white bread? Surely, when Blessed Juliana of Mt Cornillon saw her vision of the moon as the Host and was given her duty to propagate the Feast of Corpus Christi, it was a clean, white moon, not a sludgy harvest moon with the light obscured and refracted through dense dust?

You see, sisters, it doesn't feel right to have these unbleached, brownish altar breads and I have to make another point. It is so hard, actually impossible, to see the Host at the elevation. This is quite upsetting. Nor can the Blessed Sacrament in the monstrance be seen clearly. I want to see my Adorer at Adoration, is this too much to ask?

As for those communities that add spices, please just stop, just stop.

Thank you.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

et lux in tenebris lucet

Finding and going to low Mass in the EF is becoming extremely important to us both. It is not easy to give reasons why, though you don’t need a reason to search after beauty and truth. It is not that the newer rite, when celebrated and prayed devoutly, isn’t also very beautiful, it is just so much harder to pray.

Maybe this is to do with the preparation of the priest. For the EF he will definitely say his vesting prayers as he puts on the “armour of Christ”, he is given every opportunity to lose himself and align to the Divine. Then there is the statement of the priest at the foot of the altar “Introibo ad altare Dei”, “ I will go to the altar of God”; a statement of intent and unworthyness. So often in the newer rite, approaching the altar is like going onto the stage, a greeting to the audience, a quick joke or reference to the weather or the state of the car park. The newer rite Mass starts to seem as if it is about us and our relationships with each other, rather than our relationship with Christ.

Maybe it is about the discipline of the “choreography”. The priest is so wholly engrossed with every muscle, nerve and fibre of his body, he ought not become distracted by worldly things.

What about the congregation? Perhaps we can appear to be a bunch of uncommunicative, crusty losers. Perhaps we don’t care. We feel we have nothing to be self-orientated about, we don’t want to be talking with each other, we are there to re-order our lives to God. We do not deserve what we are about to partake in, but for our sins and the sins of the world, we are there and we pray. There is solidarity in the singleness of purpose, cementing friendships seems much less important.

Finally, there is a very personal reason, it is the fact that we can listen to the Last Gospel, after the Angels have done their bit and the Sacrifice of the Mass has been taken up to Heaven. Hearing the Last Gospel (the beginning of St John’s Gospel) then becomes the first communal act after the reception of Holy Communion and after the Dismissal “Go the Mass is ended”. What more fitting thing can we do, having communicated so intimately with Our Lord and having said our personal prayers of thanksgiving? It is a communal act like no other. It shows us our position in the great scheme of things. It is an affirmation of our relationship to the Light now enveloping our hearts post-Communion. It is our first gift.

The Last Gospel encapsulates all the Physics it is possible to study, it also marries matter and spirit like no other piece of writing. The Incarnation is seen in cosmic terms.

For me it is like a caress, a loving gesture to take out into the world. It is the Truth encapsulated in a few short paragraphs. Where else should we be, what else could we do but hear it after Mass?

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Not much to say, really....

Chez Rita, we are going through a somewhat liminal period. DHs health is appalling and the docs are worse than useless; with Rheumatoid Arthritis, Emphysema and several other issues, everybody is saying he is the problem of someone else. After today's Gospel, I've been left wondering whether this is a good definition of being poor; being in need but having no help from your fellow men who have the talent but not the balls to provide the necessary help.

I have a diagnosis! I also have some weird pills that are keeping me going till the next stage of the saga; more detailed diagnostic tests and hopefully an operation. Please, of your charity, pray for us both. We are in fine form spiritually, we are praying for you, but it would be nice for a change to have a little less cr*p in the day to day survival and mundane, insultingly stupid world of "patient care".

Some other thoughts:

Please do not use the phrase Taliban Catholic: it sucks.
Catholic is Catholic is Catholic, all adjectives are superfluous.

I've been lucky enough to attend some EF low Masses recently. I have a big blog entry brewing on "the Last Gospel". Oh, how I wish it was at the end of all Masses, it reduces me to tears....but that must wait.

If you are in Gloucestershire or its environs, the tea rooms at Prinknash Abbey have books for sale from their library. I picked up some good, holy reading; The Life of Gemma Galgani (1913) and Reminiscences of Sister Elizabeth of the Trinity (1921). These books for sale are a fascinating historical trawl through what Catholics have considered important over the years and what some see fit to discard. It will be interesting to see if books from the late 1960s and 1970s prove the hardest to shift.

I wish the blackberries would hurry up and ripen. According to Joanna Bogle, in one of her books, you can't eat them after the feast of St Michael, because the devil spits on them in disgust. He'll have a lot of spitting to do this year.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

What to say....?

The visit of the Holy Father has been such a blessing, and such an undeserved blessing at that!.

Let us not now forget Blessed John Henry Newman’s desire for an educated Catholic laity that should engage with society at all levels with grace and civility. That is you and me folks, we have work to do.

In many ways we are stronger than the Bishops, because we get the Holy Father’s message more clearly than the Bishops, because we have found it easier to cast off the baggage of liberal, modernist theology, something that defines them but does not define us. The Bishops must be puzzled at how much support the Holy Father has from ordinary Catholics, how much they want to listen to him, how much genuine warmth there is for him. They have had the rug pulled from under their feet, pray they have the grace to respond as shepherds of their flock.

As the priest whose sermon I heard on Sunday said, when John Paul II came, we blew it, we never capitalized on the euphoria of the event. This time round we have no excuse, we have the Catechism, we can easily access the answers to questions of Faith and morals that the curious will throw at us. We have access to the internet and if used wisely it means, I suspect, more of us are saying the office, more of us are picking up the teachings of the Church Fathers, we are able to experience more of the beauty of the liturgy and the beauty of our heritage.

I do not want the rest of this piece to sound like a criticism of the Cofton part liturgy, however I do think we could have had better. These are just the opines of someone forced to watch it in TV due to illness. Lots of it suggested a somewhat patronizing attitude on the part of the liturgists towards the congregation. Did the laity really need a cleric to tell them to be quiet and pray at certain points in the liturgy? A bit of an insult to their intelligence, I thought. Why was the Creed turned into a cantor, response thing? (It ruined the point of the Creed for the sake of making it more “tuneful”, like we can’t cope with that much Latin). After the “non sum dignus” a server should not move onto an altar till after the priest has received from the Chalice. When the priest is the Pope, and being watched by millions, fussing servers at this point was very poor. Finally, are we too stupid to have the Te Deum as part of the liturgy? Haydn’s magnificent Te Deum was reduced to the status of some noodly organ music after the recessional hymn. It was being beautifully sung too, but it was just there as background music; no way to treat such an ancient and powerful prayer. Then there were the deliberate, confrontational symbols, girls for holding the Papal cross and mitre, girls in cassocks and cottas at that! Then there was the dreadful rendition of the Papal coat of arms on the back of Benedict’s chair, the Negro with crown in the coat of arms symbolizes the treating of slaves as kings. On the back of the chair, the Negro had become decidedly Caucasian. Political correctness, surely not?

None of this stops it being a moving, beautiful and historic occasion. It just suggests that much of the hardest and smartest work of the laity will have to be done inside the Church.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Holding vs Close 1976

Cricket is the finest of all sports, provided both teams want to win or at least wish to prevent the other side from winning. The tragedy of the recent Pakistan/England test is that allegations suggest players were more interested in money than tactics, shame on them.

Even if you have never watched any cricket in your life before, watch the following clip from the infamous England/W. Indies test in 1976. The West Indian bowler is Michael Holding and what he is doing is barely legal. It is intimidatory, it is nasty, it is dangerous and it is blinking fast. The batsman is Brian Close. He is playing in his last test, he is in his mid forties and is to my mind the best player to ever come from Yorkshire. Watch how he takes the strikes to his body. He will not give Holding the satisfaction of seeing him in pain or in fear. Look how little protection he is wearing. Notice how he doesn't go wingeing to the umpire claiming he is not being treated fairly.

I see a parallel with the onslaught of cr*p in recent months from from the press towards the Church and the Holy Father. I see Brain Close's response as the only one we can take. We have to take the bruises and take them with style, but perhaps it is worth remembering there is no body in the Catholic-bashing media who has the flair, style or brutal talent of Michael Holding.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

The wolf's priest tale

Once upon a time in a land far away from everywhere, there lived a big nasty wolf. This wolf was keen to break into the houses of all the priests of that place and so he set about systematically attacking their defences.

The first priest had built himself a house of beautiful faux-baroque splendour. The house had a good lock on its door, but the lock was rarely used. The priest was so busy showing people round his home, boasting about this and that, that all the wolf had to do was enter through the front door with the hoards of drooling sycophants.

The second priest had built himself a home of noble simplicity. It was a good home but there was only a plain latch on the door. The priest himself was rarely at home. The wolf let himself in and found the house was a little too cluttered with junk from the sixties for his liking. When the priest returned, the wolf said to him “Oh my what a stupid priest you are!”. The priest replied “Oh my, what a stupid wolf you are!”.

The third priest had found a disused home of some antiquity. He lovingly restored it to exact specifications, taking care to make sure nothing was out of place. His attention to detail meant that others mocked him, for he seemed to do everything at a plod like a country policeman, lacking humour and lacking flexibility. When the wolf arrived here he found several other wolves all with the same idea. None of them could get in, though they could all smell blood (for the priest was carrying many wounds) and it was driving them crazy.

The fourth priest was busy busy busy, he had all the latest security gadgets and was pleased with his home which he constantly updated. Unfortunately, in his hurry he left an upstairs window open. The wolf came to visit him one night with terrible ferocity.

The fifth priest was very ill, much more ill than he ever let on to anyone. Everybody loved him and he took great pleasure in being with people. He was a wise fellow but when his illness flared up he found himself in great need to distractions and liked to socialise to take his mind off things. The wolf found him a hard case to crack, indeed his house seemed a veritable fortress. Then the wolf spied some of his “friends”, ladies who liked to be seen with their “trophy priest”. The priest was fighting for their souls, but they were more keen on shallow intellectual discourse and free flowing Chablis. The wolf decided to work on the ladies, it would certainly exhaust the priest, if not break him entirely.

In the same town was a young man who knew God was calling him to be a priest. The young man just couldn’t understand why he felt so alone and why none of the priests (all of whom he had served for as an altar boy) were able to offer paternal support and freely let him enter under their roofs. The wolf saw this as his finest victory.

Thursday, 2 September 2010


This is the state of things. I am totally detached from everything. It is my illness, but can it be a blessing?

I’m detached from my senses; my hearing because tinitus is a big problem, my sight because it can get very blurred and objects that move make me a little dizzy ,and smell and taste because they are unreliable.

I’m detached from my illness, I can’t fight the doctors. This is a blessing because if I wasn’t it would be seething annoyance verging on violent hatred of the medical profession for leaving me stranded like this, and for their total lack of consideration for those who may have some reliance on me. I’ve done everything they have asked of me including subjecting myself to psychological assessment, but still no answers.

I’m detached from the fact I’m back at work very soon. I can’t be anything else. It doesn’t feel right, but then nothing feels right.

That legendary feminine passivity comes into play. Everything I do has to be a reaction to what others want/need. I feel like a puppet made of lead, only able to respond to the impulses of others. There is joy in this, there is interaction with others, there is humour, there is peace. I let the world flood over me like a high tide and somehow I keep on resurfacing.

The worst of it is being detached from spiritual things. Things fall into focus best in an empty church (luckily there are many to choose from around here). I mean a really empty church, where the Blessed Sacrament hasn’t been present for nearly 500 years where just the broken remains of the machinery of the liturgy are present. Leave me among the butchered effigies of the faithful departed, worn memorial brasses and jumbled fragments of stained glass, leave me to peer through a squint to where the high altar used to stand and there I can pray. Find me a full church and let the Mass start and I’m underwater again, not quite able to hang onto anything.

So, is this detachment a blessing? Yes, it most certainly is. I’m so very aware of just what is and what isn’t possible. I’m so very far from worrying about it all too.

Am I detached from blogging? Yes and no. Yes, in that I don’t really care much for blogland and much of it’s present fiddle faddle hysteria. No, in that increasingly, I find that mentally I need the discipline of writing things down in order to get them to make sense. Blogging, when it works for me, feels like I’m writing a love letter to the world and the Church. If you fall out of love, you fall out of life.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Disappointed with your A'level results?

Tired of your Dad saying A'levels are so much easier now than they used to be?
Well, I'm about the same age as your dad and I say they are much much harder now. Why? Well the run-in time you have to any examination is much shorter, there is no time to actually consolidate your learning. You have to "know" a lot more now, ie. memorise things and that is hard because it is boring. The sheer breadth of stuff to get through is frightening. The depth is shallow but you can drown in a few inches of water. The modules were constructed by people who hate teachers. The order of topics is never logical, they prevent a lot of teacher creativity and leave the teachers confused and underwhelmed. You are also under a lot more pressure than your dad.

Didn't get into the university of your choice?
What is all this Uni business about anyway? Few go there to learn anything. Many want a qualification and not in-depth study. They are sad places full of sad young people who have been groomed by the state to believe that a happy hour and a quick shag are the pinnacle of human achievement. I suppose if you are really desperate you could give this lot a call.

The University of Bums on Seats
caveat lector!!

Happiness is more important than grades, the two are not interlinked, in any case in 3 years time nobody will give a monkeys about your A'level results or those of your mates.

Monday, 16 August 2010

sisters in the sanctuary

I’m fairly sure that St Paul somewhere in 1 Corinthians talks about “things that are Lawful but do not edify”. Well, I’d say that women in the sanctuary definitely falls into that category. However the message is clear; women are welcome to a role serving at Mass (in the OF Roman Rite only), but can in no way be ordained as priests.

Is there not a delicious irony here? That in allowing women into the sanctuary in the guise of greater equality, the Church is making one BIG statement reinforcing the divinely ordained inequality between the sexes.

As there are as yet no gender specific rubrics for roles within the sanctuary (and there jolly well should be); here are my suggestions.

1. In recruiting girls and boys to serve, there must be equal numbers of both. If a boy drops out, so must a girl, and vice versa.
2. If girls decide to stay on and serve into womanhood, bearing in mind that many men serve into their dotage, we may in the future be faced with fully grown women actually being sole servers at Mass, they must dress to the smart standard that the men dress. I’ve never seen a layman serve, or read or be an EMHC in anything less than a suit. Ladies, the same applies to you. Rainbow-plaid, elephant’s ar*e trousers and Scholl sandals are not acceptable. Dress like you want to taste the banquet of heaven not like you’re about to down two pints of scrumpy at a Folk Festival.
3. Modesty is essential, men can not show cleavage or muffin tops, neither can women. And whilst you sisters are think about this, DISCRETELY cover your heads in the sanctuary, you are praying in a very holy space. If you can’t do that, shave all the hair off your head, you know it makes sense.
4. No woman or girl can wear a cassock and cotta, ever. Yes, I know the cream polyester hooded garment you have to wear as servers is revolting. IMHO it should be banned, it is an insult to monks and their vows. Might I suggest a tabard style garment over your modest clothes, like dinner ladies wear only not nylon and not in pink. Might I suggest starched grey linen. The tabard is the best sign of servitude and humility I can think of. And linen is a pain to keep looking good, so it will make you think about what and why you are doing what you do. Strict punishments for a crumpled tabard.
5. Ask yourself sisters, if with all your excellent feminine talents, this really is the best use of them in the service of the Church.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

The trouble with girls

In a male environment, the games that are played out in parallel with puberty are about control and dominance; achieving goals, breaking rules, finding boundaries and testing strengths. Having spent a long time working in a boys’ school, I have made the following observations about the types of boy therein. There are the boys who retreat behind increasingly greasy hair, unwilling to play the games in public and struggling to communicate, they set targets of their own, but their world is very secretive. There are the sportsmen and “babe magnets” (and their hangers-on) who seem self-assured, are achieving the goals they have set themselves and are proud enough to show off their successes. There are also the boys who never really get a chance to play any games, old before their time, usually as a result of difficult family circumstances, they plod on through, bored by their contemporaries and oozing practical common sense. Finally there is the odd Tod in Venedig character; alabaster perfection, feline grace and totally unaware of the effect they have on the adult population of the school, male and female (strangely they are often totally unappreciated by their peers). Let me assure you that this isn’t about sexual lust, but about the astounding effect of physical human beauty on adults. It is something we should be aware of even if we can’t talk about it much, it isn’t grubby but it can soon become grubby. We are terrified of admitting the power of the human form, and as a result cheapen our feelings with endless celebrity mags, beauty products and plastic surgery, obsessed nevertheless, but in a grubby way.

The trouble with teenage girls is that so many of them fall into this “shatteringly beautiful” group. I can only imagine what the fathers of teenage girls must go through, one day they have a loveable but wonky goofball for a daughter, the next they wake up to find a fragile but powerful assortment of perfect curves and Sabatier sharp attitude.

We have to admit to our incapacity when faced with such fearful beauty (it blinds us to the fact they are really just extremely vulnerable humans). We should also do our best to encourage our daughters (and sons) to shield themselves from possible injury through being comfortable with modesty (a near impossible task, I know). Surely, however, the ideal is for young women to be somehow self-shielding from the glare of appreciative eyes.

This was supposed to be a post about female altar servers, my Catholic Times informs me that L’Osservatore Romano has given them a full thumbs up and if the reporting of the article is correct, their reasoning is loopy and dangerous. However, as posts are not to be more than a page of A4 (my own rules), I’ll stop here but leave you with one question. When does a girl serving at the altar cease serving? …. When she gets her curves?… When she becomes a woman?….If she becomes pregnant?…Never?

You see, the reason why I ask this is the Vatican has already made it clear there is no room for homosexual tendencies in the priesthood so the chances of being stunned by a beautiful altar boy and sexual feelings developing should be limited. This will not be the case for a heterosexual priest and a female server. The church is burying its head in the sand over the fact young people can be beautiful and that that such beauty can sometimes seriously destabilize some who thought they were immune to such things. Why subject the vulnerable to the risk?

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

matter and spirit

This post is prompted by too much time spent in waiting rooms and hospitals reading my copies of Faith Magazine. As much as I appreciate their thoughtful and mostly well researched articles, I can not buy into their philosophy and some aspects of it are really beginning to trouble me. I’ve posted on this before. This post deals with their insistence on saying that humans are creatures of matter and spirit. I can’t find this anywhere in the catechism and as a physicist I have real issues with “matter” as a distinct thing in itself. All will be explained if you care to read on….

Sandwiched as we are between the feasts of the Transfiguration and the Assumption, it seem a worthwhile exercise to devote some time to meditation on our fallen, human nature.

It is legitimate to refer to humans as being both body and soul. To avoid any dualistic interpretations, the separation between body and soul only occurs with our death; that ultimate expression of our fallen nature. It is not correct to refer to body and soul as two separate entities outside of this context. I do wonder if one of the reasons Moses and Elijah were able to appear with our Lord and the Transfiguration is that this separation never happened with them, Moses left no earthly remains and Elijah was seen to go to heaven in a chariot. For whatever reasons, and despite their entirely human nature, the scandal of the separation of body and soul never took place with these two. It is less of a mystery that the Immaculate Conception was also assumed into heaven, body and soul.

The Catechism (404-409) refers to our fallen nature when talking about Original Sin, in doing so, our nature is not sub-divided into body and soul.

What about referring to our nature as being made of matter and spirit? At first glance it may appear to be saying the same thing as saying we are body and soul. However, it is a much sharper distinction and those who divide us in this way see matter and spirit as two separate elements in our composition. Two relevant quotes from the Faith Movement (who like the matter/spirit distinction) are at the bottom of this piece and the rest of my blog makes some reference to their claims.

Firstly, it is important to say that matter isn’t body, because spirit isn’t soul. St Paul makes the distinction between spirit and soul in 1 Thess 5:23. This means that body/soul or matter/spirit distinctions are not simply a matter of language.

So, is it plausible to divide us into distinct elements of matter and spirit when it is so implausible to divide us into distinct body and soul? It is certainly necessary for the Faith Movement’s philosophy which says that Original Sin is transmitted via “material laws”. My big problem with this is that as a physicist I don’t actually find matter all that “mattery”. Each individual atom is mostly empty space, with a gap equivalent in size to the distance between the sun and the earth between the nucleus of the atom and its orbiting electrons (whatever they are). That we actually experience the solidity of sold matter is all to do with how we see it and how we feel it and these experiences are actually down to electromagnetic phenomena (waves and fields wherein forces are felt) and have nothing to do with the particle nature of the matter. I will also strongly attack the claim that matter is deterministic. If, when playing snooker, you knew everything about your cue, the force with which you struck the cue ball and the subsequent spin and momentum of that ball you could still NOT determine how the balls would break on the table. Determinism is decidedly limited and indeed ends up being probabilistic, you can only say that given certain original conditions, there are various probabilities associated with the possible outcomes.

This limited sense of determinism that actually exists for material objects could also apply to the spirit. Indeed the spirit is even more deterministic than matter, it either tends towards God or away from God and the environment (spiritual or material) in which one’s spirit finds itself may very much influence the direction in which it goes. In other words I’d say matter and spirit very much influence each other and making them separate elements serves no purpose. Spirit then ceases to be totally free, it is only the act of the will combined with the grace of God, that frees it totally. The act of will on its own enslaves the spirit to worship of self and evil.

One final meditation: think about St Peter, walking towards Our Lord across the water. This is a total, willful act of Faith. When his faith fails him “he begins to sink”. This, to me is a much neglected but remarkable phrase. If physics took over as his faith failed, he would sink like a stone and flail about. “Beginning to sink” for a man walking on water shows that there is a very fuzzy dividing line between things of the spirit and things of matter, if indeed there is a line at all.

Quotes from the Faith Movement below:

FAITH movement offers a new synthesis of science and the Catholic faith as proclaimed by the Church's teaching authority (Magisterium). In a perspective of creation through evolution we can show clearly the transcendent existence of God and the essential distinction of matter and spirit. Within this perspective we can also understand more clearly the disaster of sin and its wounding effect. We offer a vision of God as the true Environment of human beings, in whom we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28); of his unfolding purpose in the relationship of Word and grace through the prophets; and of Jesus Christ - the Son of God and Son of Man - as Lord of creation, Heir of the Ages and the one who redeems and fulfils our humanity.

The Wound Of Sin: Original And Personal
Matter is by nature programmed and deterministic. Spirit is by nature free to accept or refuse the good. Human beings are both body and soul. According to the biblical tradition the first generation of mankind tragically introduced into our nature a wound to our natural integration into control and direction, by the deliberate choice of evil. This wound is then passed on by the material laws of inheritance to every generation. Original sin disorientates the 'life-sense' of mankind by which we naturally seek fulfilment in God and harmony with one another. It alienates us from the goodness of God and frustrates our natural desire for communion with our Creator and gives us a tendency to sin, disordering our desires. Personal choices for evil further damage our nature and distance us from the perfection God intends for us. The answer to the confusion and conflict within ourselves caused by sin must be both an act of merciful forgiveness and a work of healing.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Secular Priests and their Patron

I have met more than one parish priest who “doesn’t have much time” for St Jean Marie Vianney. More than one priest has let slip that they find him an impossible role model for the priesthood and would rather there were some other saint as their patron.

There is a real problem here, I think, that too often we want to see saints as role models, but we confuse what made their lives holy with the “accidents” of their personal circumstances and personalities.

There may even be a genuine fear among priests that they are supposed to behave like him: spend whole days in the confessional, run an orphanage, eat meager food, run ragged at everybody’s beck and call, suffer breakdowns, and be in constant battle with the Devil. The fear of being totally run into the ground, exhausted and isolated does sadly become a reality for some priests. It is not a good advert for the priesthood and it is not a good model for how priests should live.

On the other hand, I would argue, that if a priest isn’t locked in combat with the Devil then he is not fulfilling his vocation. The Devil hates good priests but is quite happy to let the slackers carry on their merry little way. A good, holy priest who is also an isolated and overworked figure is going to need to all the spiritual armour he can muster. He will be assailed with doubt, anxiety, fatigue, irritability, pride (nobody works harder than me) and temptations. The tragedy being that a priest alone and isolated is probably the easiest to tempt: the bottles of scotch given as Christmas presents, the internet, the cookie jar.

In really caring for our priests, I do think it is important that their protection is taken seriously. I read, and enjoyed the book by Fr Jerome Bertram (Cong Orat) called Vita Communis (published by Gracewing), it is an important study of the various mechanisms for secular clergy living in community that have been in existence since the earliest days of the Catholic priesthood. The most important point raised in the book is that secular clergy were never meant to live on their own. To do so entails the self-discipline of a hermit and few are called to the life of a hermit. Since near enough the French Revolution, clergy living alone and isolated have been the norm rather than the exception and very few forced to live like that have found it has enhanced their vocation. Sadly, models for living in community dating from the early days of the 20th Century, were largely models for bullying and the abuse of curates, leading to generations of priests who couldn’t wait to get a parish of their own. This is all so sad and without arguing for the current vogue of “parish clustering”, a holy and prayerful solution to make the lives of our beloved priests holier and healthier is desperately needed.

This neatly returns us to St Jean Vianney. He is a powerful intercessor for toady’s priest because he is the archetypal isolated priest: self-doubting, overworked, academically inferior to his contemporaries and above all a frail man. It is his hours before the Blessed Sacrament and it is his total reliance on God, allowing His grace to work through him that preserved him. We shouldn’t treat our priests the way St Jean Vianney was treated, but we do, and yes, perhaps he is very nearly impossible to follow. That is why his intercession is so necessary and so powerful.

Monday, 2 August 2010


What follows is my own personal view of why Europe seems so sick and tired and why Islam is NOT the threat to the continent that some would have us think.

Europe is tired because Europe is bland. Every major town contains the same shops selling much the same food and the same clothes, and whilst there may be some regional differences, for instance as to the acceptability of male facial hair and manbags, the people have become bland. Europe, like a child’s experiment with chalk pastels, has smudged its boundaries so much, nothing is really identifiable. Into this mess creeps petty little tribalisms, trying to find identity, small factions with a point to prove. The many far-right groups throughout Europe demonstrate this aptly, though they are not the only tribes.

Europe is simply a region for banking, commerce and media outlets and as these all exist on a global scale, nothing can be said to be truly European.

The people of Europe have no ambition left. Colonialism is a dirty word and learning is global, Europe has nothing special to add. Art and culture are shallow and rootless and again nothing in these fields has a particularly European identity. Is the Wormtongue whispering poisonous nothings into the soul of Europe and sending it into a premature, paranoid and depressive old age some bastard child of Calvin or Zwingli: Protestantism with a lobotomy, Protestantism devoid of God? It is all work, efficiency, targets, business, wealth creation, protectionism and self-righteousness, nothing else matters. Europe has stopped believing in salvation and in the wake of this, gradually, comes the inability to comprehend the need for mystery, beauty, truth and love.

How can Islam be a threat to Europe? Firstly, Europe is doing a good job of destroying itself and secondly Islam is so divided against itself. Third or even fourth generation migrants from the Indian sub-continent have little in common with more recent Somali or Kurdish refugees. If they are all forced into the same corner, they will unite within the brotherhood and this is what is happening. It has very little to do with Islam and everything to do with identity. Because European culture sucks (the only rites of passage being getting drunk and getting screwed), young people will look else where for a more meaningful identity and radical Islam is just one of many possibilities, no more or less dangerous than fascism or trotskyism or nihilism. All will destroy souls if they take root. Indeed at the heart of radical Islam is a faith where mystery, meditation, beauty and any sense of the “unseen” has been amputated. It is simply incomprehensible to the vast majority of Moslems, who find it as bewildering and fearsome as the militant secularism engulfing Europe.

The Moslem population of Europe is not some other, check out the shopping trolleys of an ADSA in a town with a large Moselm population, the dress may be Pakistani but the trolley will contain the same ketchup, frozen pizza and oven chips as the overweight redneck queuing behind them. Look at their young, just as mad on football and as hooked to the next suckle from their iPaps as any of their contemporaries.

The problem facing Islam across the world is the growth of the assertion of power of the Wahhabis, their culture is imperialist and alien to the old tribal groupings, social orders and cultural traditions of most other Moslems. This may ultimately but indirectly be a threat to European Christianity, but it isn’t OUR enemy. Our only enemy is Sin, and we have to root that out of ourselves if Europe is going to survive.

Friday, 30 July 2010

Status Update

Thank you dear readers for your prayers and concern.

That was a much nastier test than the one I had in January probably because I'm so much less well in myself. Still no signs of any results, but then this is the strange world of endocrinology and biochemistry (you go to hospital in order to have your body pushed to the limits to see how it responds). It all seems like "tinker tinker fiddle fiddle" science, to quote Dr Bunsen Honeydew (from Muppet Labs). It takes ages for any results to come through and then there is even more fiddling and more tinkering.

I probably shouldn't have tried to re-read The Leopard by Giuseppe di Lampedusa during this ordeal. Most of you know by now I'm a rubbish reader of novels but I'll make an exception for this sumptious, sensual and wise book. The only problem is that it left me dreaming of large dishes of macaroni, peaches, beautiful light biscuits made in convents, rabbit and game birds whilst I was fasting...and whether I should develop a taste for Bourbons to balance out all the Garibaldi's I'd munched as a kid.

My blood sugar nosedived and I wasn't able to read much more.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

What profit is there in my blood...

I won't be online for about a week. Time once again to go stay in hospital and be a human pincushion (no food, just water for 3 whole days). Let's hope they do it properly this time and get some meaningful results.

J Gillray (London 1804)

I'm hoping the doctors involved are a little more skilled than the last lot. 7 attempts to get a cannula into my arm is not acceptable. Not that it's used to take any samples, the cannula is in case I go hypo and they have to get some glucose into me fast.

Me no like.

Friday, 23 July 2010

The trouble with tribbles

Infinity is a bit big too big for us to handle. It may be best if we just marvel at it rather than it become common place in our lives. If we divide 1 by infinity the answer is zero, an emptiness that is also quite intangible. A mathematician would say the reciprocal of infinity is zero. Reciprocal meaning here, turning any number into 1 divided by that number, turning our view of it on its head.

Physicists are used to working with reciprocals that aren’t just for numbers. A crystal is essentially an repeating arrangement of an extremely large number of particles. It has a certain symmetry, but the sheer number of particles involved makes it an unwieldy beast to handle. So the physicist spends her time working in the reciprocal space of the crystal, making something very large into something chunky and manageable. The reason she can do this is because the symmetry of the object is preserved when flip it over in this way. The reciprocal (usually called a diffraction) pattern for a crystal is shown below.

There are certain “things” that really only have a “substance” in this reciprocal space. They are strung out and nebulous in real space but are a definite something in reciprocal space. We can observe the effects they have on matter in our own real space but their identity is best quantified in reciprocal space. In a crystal they are called “quasi-particles”. I spent some post-graduate years chasing these things.

Now, dear reader, about this Higgs Boson. The reciprocal space to the “space” occupied by a quantum object like an electron or a quark (the fundamental building blocks of matter) is called “momentum space”. The Higgs Boson really only has “essence” in this momentum space. Below is a momentum space diagram showing how a Higgs (H) may be formed from 2 gluons (g). Incidentally gluons are another type of virtual boson that only really has essence in momentum space.

I am telling you this (if you didn’t already know) so that you will correct people who go around calling it a particle. It isn’t a matter based particle as we would commonly understand this. It is a theoretical entity, which may turn out to be real but a particle it isn’t. We will never capture one because it isn’t an entity in our space to capture. If found, it will be virtual in our world but it will be real.

Does it matter? Yes, IMHO it does matter whilst it has been given the moniker of the “God Particle”. This is a stupid name and I don’t want anyone having ideas that somehow the discovery of the Higgs will upset our daily lives or open up a Pandora’s box of nasties. Nor do I like the way it has become like some esoteric or even Gnostic truth only to be revealed to a few. Some scientists will look at you with that pained expression on their face and say “well, it isn’t really a particle you know, but it is too hard to explain”, and I don’t like it when scientists do that.

Hmm, is there a theological analogy to all this? On second thoughts, don’t go there.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

meme thing

Patricius has tagged me with the "favourite prayer" meme. I've decided to interpret "favourite" as in "favourite food", something you love but don't necessarily have every day, as opposed to "favourite cardigan" something reassuring, habitual and comforting. I think our "cardigan prayers" are all much the same. The rules for this meme appear at the end of the post.

In no particular order:

(1) This is a stunner, for quiet devotional prayer. Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity's prayer to the Trinity. (here)

(2) This one if for saying out loud, very loud, especially when the chips are down. It is so ancient and so wonderful: the Te Deum. (here)

(3) The stations of the cross (to be said privately or in a group, always profound, genuflect aswell, and kneel, make it hurt, this is prayer with discipline of the body too): (here)

Most bloggers I know have already been tagged, but I would like to know how Ttony, Deb, Shell, Tom and Autumn would respond to this. But I fully understand if you've taken your bat home for now.

I was tempted to include my misappropriation of Psalm 143, often said when teaching "Deliver me Lord, from the hands of strange children"

The rules, which need to be posted: Name your three most favourite prayers, and explain why they're your favourites. Then tag five bloggers - give them a link, and then go and tell them they have been tagged. Finally, tell the person who tagged you that you've completed the meme... The Liturgy and the Sacraments are off limits here. I'm more interested in people's favourite devotional prayers.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010


Through the lens of continuity, I do find myself looking at books inspired by the Second Vatican Council. Material written around the late 1960s is of particular interest as it can show considerable orthodoxy almost in spite of its desire to seem radically different in its approach. The Jerome Biblical Commentary (1968) is one such example.

I’m currently immersed in Genesis, with Adam and Eve at the Fall, this is because I may be doing some work with Confirmation classes this Autumn and I think it is so important the Fall is dealt with engagingly and properly. I never feel I do it justice. This is the passage I’m currently up against.

Genesis Chapter 3 vs 16
To the woman also he said: I will multiply thy sorrows and thy conceptions. In sorrow shalt thou bring forth children, and thou shalt be under thy husband’s power, and he shall have dominion over thee.

This is the assistance we get from The Jerome Biblical Commentary (1968) :
The present condition of woman as wife and mother is seen as punishment of the first sin…. man dominates woman in the domestic and social order. Man’s domination, although part of the order of creation is intensified by sin beyond the divinely willed measure.

What is missing from the commentary is any concept that verse 16 is prophesying Eve’s sorrows over the death of her second born at the hands of her first born (and many mothers’ subsequent sorrow over their children). But that doesn’t bother me here. What is of interest is the whole framework into which “Man’s domination” of women is put.

God mentions man “shall have dominion over thee” as a matter of fact (divinely willed), it is NOT a commandment. The Jerome commentary makes it clear that the manner of this dominion depends on the level to which those involved sin. It is giving us an order for society.

I can live with that, surely we can all live with that. Also there is no contradiction with 1 Peter 3, 1 Timothy 2:9-15, Colossians 3:17-19, Ephesians 5:21-28 and 1 Corinthians 11.

Seeking equality is an act of rebellion to this order, and in doing so perpetuates that first sin.

Women can have no authority over men in their teaching and other visible hierarchies within the church. There can be no female priesthood because that would imply equality in the social ordering of the Church on earth where it can’t exist. That our souls are of equal worth in the eyes of God is of no doubt. That women can be and are often more powerful soldiers in the Church Militant is not in question either.

Men rule, for women it is ordained to remain somewhat anonymous and spread the gospel quietly, unobtrusively, submissively and under the eyes of the radar (devastatingly brilliant stuff if done correctly).

Deal with it my feminist friends, the answers are all there in scriptures and commentaries inspired by Pius XII’s modernizing tendencies and the clean breeze blowing through Vatican II!

Eve - Jan Van Eyck

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Topical Ramblings

Some subjects are best approached sideways. In this way the side that is right may be able to work with the side that thinks it is right. The drivel that follows is an attempt to do just that with regards to the role of women in the Church.

There is a generation of church goer that holds out considerable fascination for me, those loyal Catholics in their late 80s and 90s. It is amongst these people that you often find considerably lax views with regards to the Church’s teaching. Views you’d expect from the recently retired baby boomers who found the sixties fun and fab. These older Catholics had a level of maturity during the 1960s which would lead you to presume a grounding in faith and morals that would see them through any crisis. In other words these people were the age I currently am when the cr*p hit the fan. It is amongst this older generation that you will find considerable support for married clergy and even female clergy.

Listen to them and find out their reasons for supporting these views. Firstly, they can have a certain level of clericalism that makes them say “If Father says it is good, then it must be good”. Afterall, had they not had this clericalism and deference to their priests that would not have survived the liturgical rupture fostered upon them in the early 1970s. They would have ended up like my Chinese grandfather and many like him; tragically clutching his Padre Pio prayer card, his Missale Romanum and doggedly saying his rosary in Latin long after he “felt any need” to attend a Mass he couldn’t recognise.

Secondly, there are a whole string of reasons that have little to do with Church teaching but throw considerable light on attitudes to sex. A very elderly lady I know who thinks priests should marry gives the reason that “well men need their comfort, don’t they”. In getting to know her, it becomes apparent that when she was married men got their “con-joo-gulls” when they wanted them. Indeed some priests would encourage wives to see to the needs of their husbands in this way. Having sexual intercourse because “men need it”. Perhaps it is no surprise a tolerant attitude to contraception is then not far behind. Nor is it a surprise that a drop in vocations to the priesthood is put down to men feeling lonely and needing the comfort of women. An elderly gentleman, in talking about his late wife said to my husband “you know, she never refused me, she was so good to me”. His wife was on the contraceptive pill as soon as it came out, and the poor man was left floundering like a child when is wife died, he’d never even washed himself in the bath, let alone washed a tea cup during his married life.

Thirdly, in the twilight of their years, many are not interested in church politics (as they see it) and if they get more attention from the local Anglican vicaress than off their Catholic priest, so be it. They’ll convince themselves “sacramental grace” isn’t what it used to be and a Christian is a Christian is a Christian.

So, back to where I started. Men: shape up, talk about chastity (make it masculine once again) and live chastely with your wives. Women: don’t pander to every need of your man (or your son), don’t turn him into a big needy kid. Priests: desire heaven for all your flock. The Holy Father will approve and it may quieten down Tina Beattie .

Thursday, 15 July 2010

The One with the Squeaky Orange

Six years ago, somewhat desperate to find Sunday Mass whilst on holiday in Spain (a harder task than we’d anticipated) we stumbled into a neat, new but reassuringly classically designed church that seemed to be under the care of the Passionists. My heart leaps for joy when I see the Passionist badge and a cassocked priest with said badge greeted us at the door, I felt reassured.

The rest of the congregation were all German ex-pats; well dressed, well groomed and monied. We were made to feel at home, though perhaps they were too friendly as before we’d even sat down we’d been co-opted to read at the Mass. The readings would be in English but the rest of the Mass would be in German. The next outburst of friendliness came when one of the parish helpers came round with what can only be described as a box of toys (I was the youngest in the congregation). From this box was produced a squeaky plastic orange for my husband, I was given two well polished blocks of wood and my intrepid mother-in-law was given a maraca. Every member of the congregation had some such object.

Mass started. The “toys” were for shaking/banging/squeezing during the Gloria and the Sanctus. It was probably one of the most bizarre liturgical experiences of my life.

It was obviously a parish where (for what ever reason) every subtlety and nuance had been beaten out of the phrase “active participation” with a large assortment of noisy plastic fruit.

Staggeringly, I still felt like I’d been to Mass and did not feel I could not attend that church again. Mother-in-law had the casting vote however and as the timing of their Mass meant some discomfort due to her taking of “water tablets”, we managed to find a Spanish, Spanish Catholic church the following Sunday evening to suit her bladder.

Sadly, I feel that these days with my more refined view of the liturgy, I’d have been outraged by that Mass. Has all this searching for liturgical perfection done anything but make me intolerant; too easily shocked, too easily offended and too dissatisfied with the Mass as I find it. Indeed, is intolerance and outrage ever the right response, even to indefensible puppet, teddy bear, football and clown masses? What is the point self-righteous indignation? I will end up worse than a dog chasing its own tail, at least the dog derives some pleasure from its activities.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Holy Mass

Some memorable masses (memorable for the right reasons).

Malaga- Iglesia Santo Cristo de la Salud (10 years ago)
Aged and frail priest on two sticks, sat perched on a bench for the entire Mass. Beautiful, dignified vernacular, lunchtime Novus Ordo Mass. Can’t understand Spanish, but it didn’t matter. The congregation all over the place, standing, kneeling and sitting seemingly at random (as happens a lot in Spain), but there was something special in the level of concentration both of the priest and us his rag-bag congregation of smart dressed business people, dusty tourists and toothless old ladies in black.

Santo Cristo de la Salud

Manchester- Holy Name (15 years ago)
Tridentine Mass, never have I been so far from the sanctuary but so fully absorbed in the consecration that I was left breathless. The church was packed with young people, shabby people, joyful people from all over the world. It was my first Mass where a deacon and sub-deacon were used. I felt holy fear approaching the altar rails for communion.

Salford- (15 years ago)
When I was unemployed, I’d often attend daily Mass at the one of the local churches (4 and a convent all in easy walking distance), especially if there was a funeral on, it meant we may be able to muster a choir together, singing the deceased’s requested hymns with a gusto the congregation could not muster. This particular Requiem Mass, there was no congregation, just the undertaker and 5 of us in the choir loft. How small the Church Militant seemed, but how great the Church felt that day.

Oxford- St Aloysius (1 year ago)
After a difficult, sickness-filled and hard lent, and an exhausting Triduum, Easter Sunday, solemn sung Novus Ordo Mass in Latin left me in tears. It really felt like the first day of a new life. Tangible joy in disciplined reverence. I’d always struggled with “feeling” the resurrection, and this was an answer to my prayers. Thank you, Oratory Fathers your self-discipline and reverence are infectious.

What do they all have in common? It was not the ability to understand the words. It was not the charisma (or otherwise) of the priests. It was not the direction in which the priest was facing. It wasn’t how well I’d prepared myself for Mass. It was not the friendliness or the self-discipline of the congregations. It was a sense of closeness to the ineffable, beautiful, boundless love and mercy of God. There’s no one magic formula for that. It is an unmerited gift from God.