Monday, 27 June 2011

a land of fiery serpents, scorpions and thirst

Shell has a good post on addiction and the 12 Steps. I'd always say that if someone gets something out of the 12 steps AA approach then they must keep going, however it is not for everyone, in much the same way as Ignatian Sprituality isn't the only "method" for moving to higher levels of holiness.

Where I think the AA approach falls down is that it doesn't necessarily address (in a language of the heart) the needs of an addict who is a devout believer. The higher power is essentially quite vague and nowhere is there the loving, creative genius of the Blessed Trinity. God for a devout Christian is a higher power who made Himself vulnerable, who was wounded, who loves us more than we can ever know, who died for us so that we can be redeemed. With language like that the higher power can just seem too impersonal, too remote. A devout Christian will often want to talk about God (in particular Jesus) in the meetings and have virtually no common ground with the other members of the group.

If this happens AA can leave one big empty hole where help and support ought to be. It is not the fault of the group.

Years ago there was a Catholic AA group called Calyx, I don't think they are still going. I wonder what it was like? Was concupiscence mentioned, were the twin assaults of the world and the Devil on the addict ever touched upon? Was there the chance for frequent Confession? Was there the chance for time before the Blessed Sacrament.

You see, the Catholic addict is just like the rest of us Catholics, only in more vivid technicolour: ever trying to be good, loved by God, deeply feeling God's presence at times, deeply repelled by their own depravity at others, often hopelessly optimistic about the future, mainly chaotic about the present, wounded by the world and teased mercilessly by the Devil, insanley creative, deeply passionate, generous and caring, and maddeningly frustrating to everyone around them.

My worry is that when an addict asks the Church for help, the response often is "have you tried AA?" , just maybe this isn't enough, just maybe we could do so much more in our own spiritual frameworks, with 5000+ years of experience of human suffering (including Old Testament times) and 2000 years experience of Redemptive Sacrificial Love.


This is not nearly as bad as the rejection from the medical profession I fear many alcoholics face. Consider the sex addict who repeatedly picks up venereal disease; are they denied a visit to the clap clinic to pick up some magic brew to soothe their ills? No they are not. Consider the compulsive overeater: are they denied treatment for the type 2 diabetes that has developed as a result of their dreadful affliction? No they are not. Why then is the alcoholic who has become chemically dependent on alcohol to the extent that removal of the drug may be fatal unless medically supervised, denied access to a secure detox? Something is very wrong.

As the most cerebral band* ever to make music out of an angle grinder once ranted:

"Hypocrisy is the greatest luxury: raise the double standard!"

*The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy

The assaults of the world (with all its screwy logic), on the weak and vulnerable can be more deadly than the assaults of the Devil.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Bumble Bees and Tanquerey

A beautiful day for the feast of Corpus Christi. I haven't made it to any processions this year, a bit lonely without my husband's beautiful but loud singing voice at my side. Instead, I'll quote you a bit of Tanquerey because it seems appropriate:

One must not fail to thank God for the lights and the loving sentiments He has vouchsafed to us, to thank Him too for the very darkness and weariness of soul in which He has at times allowed us to remain. Even these are profitable to us unto humility, unto the acknowledgment of our unworthiness to receive divine favours; profitable, becuase they enable us to adhere more frequently by will to Him Who even in the midst of our aridity, pours into us in a hidden and mysterious manner His life and His virtues. We ask Him to communicate to our souls His action and His life. "O Jesus living in Mary, come and live in thy servants." We beg Him to accept and transform the little good within us :"Take Lord, and accept my liberty."

Actualy, the only distress I've seen today are the poor bumble bees that decided to nest in the compost bin. Not a good choice of residence in this heat, they are rather distressed and are fanning the entrance in a frenzy. I've taken the lid off the bin, but they're still not happy.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

What do you do with your husband's side of the bed when he's gone?

That was where he said his prayers, morning and night, but it used to be a mess of shoes and pharmacy products for his skin. They've all gone now. I can't bear to empty his sock drawer, but shoes gatheting dust and stuff form the chemist have all been consigned to the archives of oblivion.

I decided it would be where I'd say my prayers too. That is the drop leaf table I bought with my first wage. The Our Lady of Perpetual Succor was my grandfather's. The prayer card is Bl John Henry, the prayer book is Paul's copy of John Henry's Meditations and Devotions, he was never without it. The Sacred Heart was my mother-in-law's. The other picture is St Thomas Aquinas. Infront of that on a card is the Te Deum, which I say most mornings. There are also some blessed medals that were with Paul when he died and my relic of Bl Elizabeth of the Trinity. Everything has some significance which goes beyond blurring sentimental memory...

It is not a shrine to him. I just felt I needed a strong focus for prayer in the house to remind me to keep praying for him and to hope I can be inspired to match his intense prayer life.

Just thought I'd share that with you.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Modern Fiction

I can't help feeling that with all the publicity over unanswerable questions in our public examinations, everyone will be looking for something wrong in every paper. Exam papers are never perfect. I do however feel the need to draw the reader's attention towards some other issues regarding our examination system. Is it just blatantly anti-truth?

Consider the following A'Level Religion and Philosophy question from a few years back on Celtic Christianity

Examine features of Celtic monasticism.

Somehow the expected answer promotes the black legend that the Celtic Church was somehow cosy, fluffy and good, till Rome went and squashed it. Well, I don't think St Patrick would be able to agree with the answer in the mark scheme. Celtic monasticism was tough, tough, tough. Not that I'm an expert, but what to you think of this for the answer in the mark scheme?

Monasticism was the primary model for the development of Christian communities in the Celtic Church. It replaces the Diocesan model of Roman Christianity. Celtic
monasticism derived from the ideas of Eastern Fathers and adapted well to the needs
of rural tribal communities. Variation in size from small places of retreat and solitude in
remote areas to large communities. Monastic communities open; not closed as in
Roman / Benedictine model; sense of mission; worship and serving community
important features. Sexes mixed freely in some, e.g. mixed monasteries such as
Whitby. Allowed both married and celibate monks. Not governed by any uniform rule
such as Roman models (e.g. Benedictine), local rules under authority of local Abbot.
Physical structure often reflected tribal communities. Small huts and small churches
within circular enclosure. Monks had soul friends or ‘anamchairde’ (idea derived from
druid counsellors). Key centres of learning and mission, and hospitality.

Here's another:

Outline the thoery of evolution AND explain how it challenges religious belief.

What if it doesn't? Hmm....

I was also concerned to see the following rider on the bottom of all questions on an English Literature paper:

Note that you should demonstrate what it means to be considering texts as a modern reader, in a modern context, and that other readers at other times may well have had other responses.

Just how are you supposed to follow that rider when you can write about the Metaphysical Poetry of Donne and Herbert....and when the poetry is explicitly religious surely there is only meant to be one, timeless response? I'm no apologist for the poetry of John Donne, I find his conceits too conceited and his attitude far too liberal and touchy-feely. But religious conviction is religious conviction and just who is this modern reader anyway?

Our poor young people. Can we not come up with something better than this as our "gold standard"?

Sunday, 12 June 2011

My new favourite book ever....

I picked this up for £1 in a bookshop yesterday and have been reluctant to put it down since I started reading it. It is quite simply brilliant.

The Spiritual Life: a treatise on Ascetical and Mystical Theology- Very Rev Adolphe Tanquerey SS, DD

As a scientist, I'm happier reading text books than story books or touchy-feely "my experience" books. This is a text book on the science of the Saints. It is just the best resource I have ever seen for growing into your faith. It puts everything together in a coherent framework, showing the relationships between the Creator and the created and comprehensively goes through your life and your relationship with God.

Book 1: The purification of your soul (the purgative way)
Book 2: Progress in the Christian virtues (the illuminative way)
Book 3: the unitive way - the Holy Spirit and Infused Contemplation

It draws on all the major Catholic contemplative traditions.

A dry read, but an illuminating and beautiful one nevertheless.

I think Tan books have a current edition of this.

My copy has the words "ora pro Mr. Barton" written in the front, and that I will do.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Went to Mass today for the Feast of the Ascension, and glorious it was too, a beautiful and very different sermon from Thursday, based heavily of the Holy Father's latest book on Jesus of Nazareth. It is just a shame they don't extinguish the Paschal candle at the OF Mass for the Ascension like they do at the Tridentine, it is a gesture loaded with symbolism and hope.

Actually I was sat in a little bloggers corner of people who were at the EF on Thursday, but in my self imposed anonimity, they do not know I know who they are......

Lovely too was vespers for the Feast of the Ascension, from which I have recently returned. The vespers hymn has an outstanding final verse:

Tu, dux ad astra, et sémita,
Sis meta nostris córdibus,
Sis lacrimárum gáudium,
Sis dulce vitae praemium.

which translates very roughly as:

Our guide, our way to heavenly rest,
Be thou the aim of every breast;
Be thou the soother of our tears,
Our sweet reward above the spheres.

H/T David Forster for the full text.

Now that's something to have on your tombstone.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Have I done wrong?....

I have been trying to be a daily communicant since my husband died, and for the most part I am succeeding. It involves going to lots of different churches, which in itself is no bad thing. However, it is putting me in some difficult quandries.

Last Friday I attended an OF Mass in honour of St Augustine of Canterbury, I had good reason to attend an EF Mass on the Saturday, many miles from home, but was a little anxious because in the old calendar his feast day was the Saturday, I'm uneasy about doing feast days twice in the same year. With luck (or because the celebrant had previously said the Mass for St Augustine) we had the optional memorial for Blessed Margaret Pole. Excellent and what a good choice, what a fine woman!

This Thursday, I couldn't help but go to the OF Mass for the feast of the Ascension. It felt right to go. It was well attended and very prayerful. I have been in full mourning since the funeral and not wanting to go all Victorian over this, I'd decided that the after the Ascension would be a good time to lighten up my dress a bit. The moving of the feast to Sunday doesn't make any sense in this context, I wanted to "lighten up" after the feast, after the 40 days, and seeing as how my husband's fatal illness had been so linked to Holy Week, I wanted the correct 40 days.

Me want, me want...... I know...what a brat!

Problem is, what to do on Sunday.? I can't miss Mass. But I can't go to the OF Ascension either (can I?).

Does this mean I have to attend an early morning EF low mass on the Sunday? Probably...this will be good for my humility... (I'll say no more than that, but it has nothing to do with the time or the priests involved).

Shop around was a good song by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, but it is no way to treat the Church.

The Ascension and Pentecost window from St Mary the Virgin- Fairford (some of the best surviving pre-reformation stained glass in the UK)- photographed by Eric Hardy.

Thursday, 2 June 2011


...that is not a word I like much.

This may explain why I don't think I'll ever run for anything like a senior management post in a Catholic School. Let me explain, my own very personal view, and may it not detract from those valiant people who are trying to make a go of upholding Catholicism within our education system.

Firstly, there is the compromise of mission. The mission of any Catholic school is to prepare the child for heaven through guiding them to a full life in Christ. The mission is compromised by the needs to fit out the child with examination success and grades. We really do place too high an emphasis on exam grades; what do they really produce other than wage slaves?

Secondly, there is the compromise of quality. Nobody is actually brave enough to say that the content of the vast majority of examinations is poor. It needs many man hours and skilled examiners to mark essays and detailed scientific problems. Most examinations now are "chunked" into markable protions, this means there is a preponderance of fact/vocabulary based questions and little to test real understanding and the development of concepts and ideas. But learning for examination is putting the cart before the horse. Sadly, there is no real alternative to this approach, especially with the dire methodology associated with modular exams "learn this chunk, then forget it and go onto the next module".

Thirdly, there is is a compromise in dignity. The individual and the nurturing their talents is secondary to a conformity and passivity within a group of learners to "get on with the course". The pupils who naturally questions things, who need to learn slowly, who need to read everything aloud, who need to draw pictures, who are precocious and don't like working with their peers, who like to tell stories, who like to create and invent things, who are obsessive in neatness and attention to detail....are all let down. They are all fishes swept up in the same drag net to be sorted on the ship and often to be thrown back into the sea, traumatised and half-dead, becuse they don't meet the right criteria.

Finally, there is a compromise in charity. To be a teacher is to give back everything you have been given in bucket loads. All the hours teachers put into your development, you return with interest. Any iota of enthusiasm and inspiration you had, you try to return to the classroom only more so. Any joy you have for your faith and the Church you also try to intstill in your pupils, sadly, this last one is the hardest, but most important. The compromise comes in that this is made a secondary, often incidental, aim of your teaching rather than the primary aim. Through being Catholic and not being able to say that the Catholic Church IS one, true, and apostolic and that truth, wisdom, beauty and the surest road to salvation can only be really found within her, we are compromising our charity and not doing anyone any favours. But such a message is deemed offensive, we cannot celebrate the Church, its teachings and its relationship with Christ in a way that realy makes us "walk the walk and talk the talk".

Schultz- Charlie Brown

Somehow, I, personally don't find it right for me to accept the money to do a job in senior management that smacks so highly of compromise and political expediency.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Catholic Teachers

If I attend Mass in the Archdiocese of Birmingham, I am confronted by a large poster the church porches asking, imploring Catholic school teachers to put themselves forward for roles in senior management and headship. I have no doubt that there is an ageing of the leadership in Catholic schools and we are heading for a crisis in recruitment of suitably qualified teachers to fit the bill. A crisis not unlike the crisis of the shortage of Physics teachers, a near catastrophic number are due to retire in the next five years and their replacements do not stay in the profession. As both a Catholic and a Physicist I'm probably very well placed in the "job security" stakes.

However, if I were well enough, would I answer the call to leadership in a School?

This is a question I do keep asking myself. Every time I ask it however, the answer in no. This is partly because I do not feel I have any skills in leadership, but as I have never tried to go for even a single promotion, I cannot be certain of this.

The main reason is due to the nature of our Catholic schools themselves. To me (and this is a personal view) they reflect the wider ignorance of the faith amongst the baptized faithful in general. Any Catholic school will have three different "types" of believer as well as assorted unbelievers and antagonists. The types are:
  • The Sadducee: a career Catholic for whom the faith is little more than a stepping stone. They believe the Church is out of step with current thinking, they want a lot of things to change. They are often not regular Mass goers but usually end up being on charge of "Catholicity" within the school as they are seen as an approachable face of Catholicism to the unbelievers and antagonists. Incidentally each board of governors seems to have an antagonist/atheist with an axe to grind.....;
  • The Pharisee: this person will never be promoted or consulted on any policy regarding the Catholic future of the school. They are feared because they know their stuff and make the Sadducee's very uncomfortable. What really annoys the Sadducee is they often have the respect of the children...."go figure" as our friends in the US might say.
  • The "haven't got much of a clue": these are nice, nice people and regular Mass goers. They tend to go along with whatever is being offered, they are a great help at School Masses, where the Pharisees are often inwardly cringing and hiding somewhere and pretending not to know the words to "Shine Jesus Shine", at least the "haven't got much of a clue" teachers make sure mobile phones are confiscated and the children genuflect etc.
School chaplains can fall into any of these categories, though mention needs to be made a a very special form of female school chaplain. She is usually a cat lover, has dangly earrings and seems to be a priestess in some bizarre cultic candle worship. Perhaps the category "lost the plot" would be appropriate here.

This explosive brew is simply not a good recipe for a solid Catholic educational establishment. I may write later on what I think a good Catholic school would be like. In the mean time I think such a vast evangelisation of parents and pupils needs to take place within parish communities that I will probably devote my energies there rather than within the Catholic education system.

A typical school chapel somewere in England