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.