Sunday, 31 July 2011

Keep Bishop Crispian in your prayers

Bishop Crispian Hollis has sent the following letter to the clergy of the Diocese of Portsmouth.

Dear Brothers,

You will all know that I have been struggling a bit this year with health problems and I seem to have been spending a great deal of time in surgery waiting rooms and the QA hospital.

To cut a long story short, I was given a CT scan at the QA in the middle of June and I have now received the results, which are not very good.

The scan has revealed cancer of the bowel, which is probably malignant, though that has yet to be definitively confirmed by biopsy on Monday August 1st and an MRI scan on August 2nd.

Whatever the results of the tests may be, it is likely that I will have to face major surgery sometime in September. Between now and then, I will be spending my time between Portsmouth and Somerset though I hope to join the Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes from August 21st till August 27th.

I will, of course, keep you as informed as I can about what is happening, but, in the meantime, I would be very grateful for your support and prayers, together with the prayers of all in the diocese.

With my love and blessings to you all,

Bishop Crispian

Friday, 29 July 2011

Holy Hour

It hadn't ever occurred to me, until it was mentioned in a sermon recently that the supreme example of the Evangelical Counsels (Poverty, Chastity and Obedience) is Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. I found myself meditating on this during Holy Hour today....and if Christ himself lives by these counsels, we ought to aswell (to the extent that our state of life will permit). They aren't just for the consecrated religious.

Poverty: The poverty of the host, the poverty of the surroundings, no matter how beautiful the church or the monstrance, the poverty of the company Our Lord is keeping during Holy Hour....Holy Poverty is infinitely generous and beautifully simple.

Chastity: The chaste love Our Lord has for each of us. The love that never imposes itself, but patiently waits for us to draw closer to it, only desiring our good....Holy Chastity is passive and demure (the candles and the sunlight through the windows outshine the Host).

Obedience: Our Lord is obedient to the prayers of the priest as He is made present at Mass and becomes our Divine Prisoner in the tabernacle. Our Lord is obedient to us as he listens to our fumbling prayers and sees our unworthy devotion. ...Holy Obedience is humble to the point of nakedness and totally underserved by those who are being obeyed.

What have we done to deserve any of this?

painting by Jan van Kessel (17th century)

Sunday, 24 July 2011

A gallery of fake tapestries

Clerics have opined here and here that a lot of the problems in Ireland at the moment are certainly not helped by the calibre of their Bishops. There are many in this country, myself included, with considerable emotional attachements to Ireland who really grieve over what is happening and the unimaginable pain of many of the Irish priests who feel so scandalously scapegoated.

From the perspective of a lay person, I wish to add my voice to the discussion and say that I'm fairly convinced finger-pointing is just as much an Irish trait as an English one and that it is perhaps time to move away from all that and not blame the Bishops, the Vatican, the Irish government or even the laity (thought their silent complicity and two facedness is staggering). Everyone has some guilt in this, the penance needed is nation (and diaspora) wide.

So much of this, to me, boils down to concepts of nationhood. The Irish Republic is a mess because it still divides into the Pale and beyond the Pale. My folks were Dublin people, beyond the Pale was where you went for a holiday, romancing the poverty in your own little holiday bothy with no modern conveniences. Back in Dublin, you were cosmopolitan, you looked East, to the rest of Europe, you cultivated friendships with the Jesuits and the more "educated" of the clerical caste, you were proud many of your friends were drawn from Ireland's Jewish, Church of Ireland communities or claimed ancestry from Dublin's Hugenots. The rest of Ireland seemed ever so slightly phoney. I don't think the history of my people will be too different from the history of others from the upwardly mobile, nice suburbs of Dublin. It is a world away from so much of the rest of the country.

The Irish as a nation are a people of superlatives. I only have to think of the many Irish priests I have known; they are the kindest, most generous, the most zealous, the most firey, most lazy, most ignorant, most willfully truculant, most articulate, most charismatic, most will meet.

Perhaps the biggest national trait is an unwillingness to face the truth. Ireland's past is too painful, Ireland's present too messy, Ireland's future too uncertain. So everyone is colouring everyone else to weave a tapestry of half-truths and obfuscation, to conceal the collective guilt and collective trauma of a people desperate to forge their own identity and reinvent their history.

Apologies for this, I've been reading MacNeice again, and him a son of an Ulster clergyman, his poem Valediction says a lot about why my folks left Ireland and it articulates some of my feelings for the place.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Magdalene collage

Below is a picture essay of some of the best and worst depictions of today's saint. Personally, I prefer the penitent Magdalene to be modestly dressed with no allusions to her alleged past misdeeds. Pentitence through prayerful study would seem to be most fitting for someone who spent so much of her time at the feet of Christ. Any other "penitence of the body" stuff ought to be totally private and depicting it in art makes us little better than voyeurs. If I'm trying to say anything at all with this picture essay it is that the centuries of objectification of this particular woman detract from the real power of her story.

Below is one of my favourites: Roger van der Weyden's Magdalene reading

good posts see here and here

Thursday, 21 July 2011

thoughts at morning Mass

The readings at daily Mass recently have been following Moses from the beginning of Exodus onwards. They have been long, they are difficult to take in and priests seem reluctant to preach on them. So why include them? It is always good and fitting to hear of the triumphal routing of Pharoah in the Red Sea at the Easter Vigil, why does it make any more sense to include it again during "Ordinary" time?

Is there some mysterious link to the Gospel readings for the day I haven't yet fathomed? Exodous does not make for easy teaching material and left out of context as a somewhat disjointed first reading at Mass seems so pointless.

I have a personal problem with this too. A good five years ago I was involved in the preparing a young woman for Confirmation who was as intelligent and articulate as I was inexperienced. The story of the parting of the Red sea came up in our lessons. It is seen as a prefiguring of baptism. Now I love analysing the Old Testament in this way, seeing how it points to the New, and far be it for me to criticise Chruch Fathers and Doctors but this young woman came up with the following and I remain a little stumped. She said:

This is not right. This is not the infinitely merciful God I want to believe in and grow to love. How can he treat the Egyptians so badly? Yes Pharoah was bad and stubborn but there was no need to rout his forces so completely. These Egyptians had souls, there would be good and bad amongst them, why did he treat them worse than the town of Sodom (at least he let Lot escape from there). What has this to do with baptism?

I had no answer at the time and it has been bugging me ever since.

Here are a few thoughts of my own:

The sons of Israel did not get wet going through the Red Sea, how does this prefigure Baptism? The routing of the Egyptians "just" shows the greatness of God, and greatness must include here "ineffableness".

Surely, the twelve springs at Elim in the next chapter are a better prefiguring of Baptism? God makes a statute for Israel before they get to the springs saying "If you will diligently listen to the voice of the Lord your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give heed to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases upon you which I put upon the Egyptians; for I am the Lord, your healer."

I'm left with the uncomfortable feeling that if the parting of the Red Sea is a prefiguring of baptism, then it is the Egyptians who are getting baptised, they certainly died by the power of God, which certainly meant they were unable to do anymore bad things. They would certainly have been aware of the power of God and some of them may have felt contrition for their treatment of the Israelites. Now, for a take on salvation history that might just have met with the approval of this young woman; was it possible then for the some of the Egyptians then to enter Sheol and await the coming of the Lord?

Friday, 8 July 2011


Well, I seem to have got to the end of another school year. There have been times during this one when I really thought I wasn't going to make it.

Below are a sample of the random musings from my sugar-lite brain.

I found an article recently in a reputable journal detailing the effects of induced hypoglycemia in healthy individuals. The doctors found that intellectual function was not significantly impaired, but that ability to concentrate, respond to multiple stimuli and react at speed, all were. I find this to be true of the state I'm in too, yet my specialists say I don't exhibit "normal" signs of hypoglycemia. I'm sick of having to justify how ill I am. All I know is that I find my job increasingly difficult to do becuase of its resemblance to herding kittens, there are just too many things going on, my mind starts to freeze. If the doctors don't come up with something soon, I'm going to have to seriously consider a career change, I love my job, but I no longer have the faculties to do it well. I have serious issues with the protocols in the UK for measuring insulin concentration. Basically, it is expensive so they only send samples off to be analysed having first checked your blood glucose levels. This is daft, it is not measuring glucose concentration in the brain and is not done for medical reasons, it has meant every test I've had has been inconclusive, because there has not been enough insulin monitoring in each test to rule anything in or out. It ends up costing the NHS more because they keep having to repeat each test. Meanwhile, I'm growing old.

Visited a Russian Orthodox church recently, I was overwhelmed at its beauty and the fact that the priest graciously drew back the curtain in the iconostasis so we could see the altar and tabernacle. It was profoundly moving and so kind of our host.

Visited an Anglican cathedral recently. A party of school children were being encouraged to sit on the steps of the high altar, whilst one of their classmates was being dressed as a bishop and sat in the cathedra for a giggle and some pictures.

I'm summoning up the courage to cut my own hair. I hate going to hairdressers. Husband used to give it a trim every few is beginning to get a bit of a mess. I don't quite trust all the self-help guides on youtube for cutting your own hair.

Why is it so difficult to buy soap-flakes from a shop? There 20 different kinds of fabric softener and I don't know how many different aromas for water in your steam iron, but nothing useful like soap. So many things just wash better in soap than more modern washing products. Yes, I'm definitely getting old.

Why can't I buy this stuff either?

Why does everything have to be minty? Who said minty means you mouth is clean? Minty is yeuch, and leaves me with an aftertaste, the original was best (but to be used sparingly).

Actually blogging leaves a bit of an aftertaste when such a deep tragedy is welling up in the Horn of Africa.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Don't Fall

I can't quite work out why, but I've been musing about minor orders: lamenting their demise, lamenting the fact I can't find an English translation of Paul VIs Motu Proprio Ministeria Quaedam, which was interpreted so as to sound the death knell for them (surely they still exist?), and wondering more generally if there was some much needed way of de-clericalizing the laity who have roles within our houses of God.

My musings have led me down the following path; there is a lay equivalent to minor orders which are necessary progressive steps towards fulfilling our commandments to love God and neighbour, this lay equivalent has no relationship to lay ministries within the Church, and indeed should make all such "ministries" dubious. Let me explain:

Tonsure the first minor order, an outward non-permanent sign of commitment to God and detachment from the world. Lay equivalent:an outward visible sign of commitment to the Church (like wearing a crucifix meaningfully).

Porter , the custodian of the House of God. Lay equivalent: making our own homes and ourselves welcoming to our neighbours and making homes where God is welcome with space for prayer, holy pictures, holy water and such like.

Reader. Self explanatory really. Lay equivalent: making time for study of the scriptures and an openness to finding God within the scriptures NOT reading at Mass.

Exorcist now we all know this doesn't mean Exorcist as in a priest with the sanctity to cast out demons, but what it does mean is an acknowlgement of the reality of Satan's power and the determination to fight it by loathing sin and taming our concupiscence. This really ought to be much the same for adult laity.

Acolyte, developing the purity to serve at the altar. Lay equivalent: growing in love for our Eucharistic Lord and a desire for purity and worthy reception of Communion. A growing sense of the reality of the sacrificial nature of our love of God and neighbour. It is NOT about serving at the altar for the laity.

Is it just possible to see the steps present in the non-sacramental, non-liturgically instituted minor orders as necessary steps in the holiness of all God's people? But that there are two distinct routes, one for those men called to the priesthood and who have to go even higher to be an alter Christus, and one for the lay faithfull, who can never be readers and acolytes in the priesthood route. Any serving or reading the lay are allowed to do is given them by a priest in recognition of their commitment to God, but it is not a "ministry" or a calling, the calling lies in following the "minor orders" in the state in which God desires of you.

Onwards and upwards, whatever step you're on, don't fall off.


Thanks to Andrew, I now have a translation of Paul VI's Motu Proprio. At first glance it is a depressing doucment, however, I do think that 40 years down the line, his envisaged reforms and institution of "lay ministries" simply hasn't happened. These are the guidelines for the opening up of Acolyte and Reader to the lay faithful:

7. In accordance with the ancient tradition of the Church, institution to the ministries of reader and acolyte is reserved to men.

8. The following are requirements for admission to the ministries:

(a) the presentation of a petition that has been freely made out and signed by the aspirant to the Ordinary (the bishop and, in clerical institutes, the major superior) who has the right to accept the petition;
(b) a suitable age and special qualities to be determined by the conference of bishops;
(c) a firm will to give faithful service to God and the Christian people.

9. The ministries are conferred by the Ordinary (the bishop and, in clerical institutes, the major superior) through the liturgical rite De institutione lectoris and De institutione acolythi as revised by the Apostolic See.

Has this happened anywhere? Certainly in not in the West, but possibly in mission territory where it no doubt has produced fruit.

All those who think they are lay ministers of the word, involved in the lay ministry of flower arranging, lay minsitry of greeting and handing out hymn books, lay ministry of choosing inappropriate hymns...etc etc...are simply mistaken. None of that is contained within this MP. Is there some other Motu Proprio that legitimises these lay ministries?