Saturday, 27 August 2011


The Benedictine's at East Hendred have a good post about widowhood for today's feast in honour of St Monica and Richard Collins has also excelled himself with his musings on St Monica.

I did perhaps overdo the amount of widowhood (and alcohol) in my choice of patrons; choosing both St Monica and St Rita. Then again, they chose me, I did not choose them, and they have been the most loyal of friends. And indeed, a third widow, St Jane Frances de Chantal has recently come into my life. Whilst wandering throught the convent where I was staying, I found her relic and prayed before it. I then get back to Blighty on her feast day and find myself at Mass in her honour, I am just beginning to get to know her too.

One thing is certain, there is a great apostolate of prayer involved in widowhood. This is possibly, because in the loss there is a greater identity with God as the Infinite Solitude (see Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity's famous prayer). The Infinite Solitude isn't a concept our two most recent Holy Fathers have had much time for, but they are shepherds trying to bring home the flock, they have to stress the solidarity of God rather than the solitude of God. The "pious widow" is already in the sheep pen and waiting, she has stared into the abyss of unfathomable love and knows something of the solitude. Solitude isn't isolation or even lonliness in the sentimental sense, nor is it some existential crisis, it is a realisation that outside of God, there is nothing. Through the death of your partner, the unity of the marriage is broken, yet strangely made more whole. Widowhood is about allowing the Infinite Solitude to reach inwards and open up great fissures in your heart and soul so that one day you too may, in your own small, insignificant way have a soul that can magnify the Lord.

And if that wasn't enough, there's illness, there's bills and rent to pay, there's cooking, cleaning & ironing and there's teaching the drivel that passes as a science curriculum to uninterested teenagers.

The Young Widow - Edward Killingworth Johnson (1877), a bit sentimental for my tastes but it makes the point.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Here we go again...

With apologies to the memory of Salford's finest, Al Read

Dad, dad, have you seen that dad...that priest over there, have you seen that priest over there. Dad I know you can see him, well he's wearing a polyseter chasubule,, are you listening, you don't like polyester chasubules do you dad, why don't you go and tell him dad? Do you want me to tell him? Dad do you want me to tell him....ooh and what about that lady over there, she's received Communion standing up and in the hand, you don't ike that do you dad, you don't like that do you? Dad, why don't you say something, it's disprsepctful intit dad, intit, intit? What aren't you listening, you could tell 'em where to go, couldn't you dad? You could tell 'em where to get off, I know you could. You've got that authorittitiy thing haven't you dad, that authorittity thing means you have power, dunt it dad, dunt it, dunt, dad you can tell em where to get off, I know you can. Dad, dad, why don't you do something....

Perhaps the Pope isn't a fan of Ultramontanism either.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Caesarea Philippi

Today's Gospel is Peter's declaration of faith at Caesarea Philippi. If you're a Catholic, reading this is one of those rather triumphalist moments we (occasionally) allow ourselves: the supremacy of Peter, the binding and loosing, the gates of Hell not prevailing. Today it feels good to be a Catholic.

I have always been a bit of a fascination with the place where Our Lord chose to ask Peter to make this profession of faith. Caesarea Philippi is way oop north, on the same latitude as the coastal port of Tyre, but way inland on the lower slopes of Mt Hermon and on the boarders with Lebanon. It is well known that Caeseria Philippi was also called Panias/Banias and had been settled by Hellenests since about 300BC when Alexander the Great had conquered these eastern provinces. Its alternative name gives a clue to the pagan worship of Pan that took place there. Whatever went on, it was probably highly sexualised and scandalous and just what every good Jewish person whould bring their children up to abhor. By the time of Christ, on top of the sites dedicated to Pan, was a temple dedicated to the emperor Augustus. This place was so just the right spot for the events between Our Lord and Peter to happen. The Church would destroy the twin evils of pagan worship of idols and the deification of earthly emperors. Oh, and look at that cave, it is the very mouth of hell, the locals referred to it as that, what a setting! Oh, and the place is also one of the sources of the River Jordan. Talk about theatrics, talk about perfection. Referring back to my Rahner rant from yesterday, using his logic, there has only been one "epoch" for the Chruch, it is the "epoch centred on Caeserea Philippi", we're still living this momentous event.

The "rocky outcrop" at Caesarea Philippi.

None of this will be news to any of you, you are much better read than I. But on coming home from Mass today I got to thinking how Christ's disciples must have felt, schlepping all that way to Caeseria Philippi from Galilee. They were heading deep into Gentile territory, it must have felt very threatening, they were well out of their comfort zone. What could they dredge from their knowledge of sacred scripture about the place?

So I got my bible lands maps out and tried to find what was there before Panias. Less than two miles from where they were (ie. roughly in the same spot) had stood the city of Dan (founded about 1200 BC). I'm sure the disciples would have been awareof this. Let us go back to the Book of Judges and see what went on there.

It is not an edifying tale (Judges 17 & 18). A man called Micah and his mother make a graven image out of silver for their home. Even the writer of Judges squirms a bit saying "In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes". A dodgy Levite from Bethlehem comes into town and Micah persuades him to stay and be his priest. Meanwhile the Danites are looking for somewhere to settle, and come across Micah and his household and his priest. Eventually they persuade the priest to go off with them, taking the graven image with them to the town of Laish way up north, where they slaughter the "quiet and unsuspecting " people of the city, claim it as their own and rename it Dan.

So as much as the disciples may wish to pour scorn on the idoatory in the place where they find themselves, they will have to check themselves as, to their shame, their ancestors (fellow sons of Jacob) had graven images at that site too. It would have surely added to Simon Peter's humility at becoming the rock.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Anonymous Catholics

I don't like this concept of Karl Rahner's, the Anonymous Christian, read wikipedia's synopsis of it here. More especially I have heard three sermons from different Catholic priests that have referred to Rahner's idea, and perhaps it is their interpretations of Rahner's idea that I find so objectionable.

The stock sermon goes someting like this:
  • Humanity is full of great people
  • I (the priest) met some realy great people the other day who would probably never go inside a church, but they're really great because of all the good work they do.
  • Rahner would call these people Anonymous Christians
  • They'll get to heaven, Rahner says so.

You can see the problem for the pew sitter is not so much Rahner but the interpretation of Rahner which has the world populated with really great people, much better than the ones sitting inside the church, doing much better things than the people sitting inside the church. Pew sitter really left wondering, why do I bother coming to church. It is punishment for not being some really great person? Wouldn't I be better if I just upped sticks, forgot about the Sacraments, and try to become a really great person out there in the real world?

This is dangerous stuff, very dangerous.

Now let us look at Rahner and his fascinating interpretation of Vatican II as expounded in the Catholic Times by him whose name we musn't mention. Actually, I congratulate him whose name we mustn't mention for bringing Rahner's ideas to my attention. I'd never heard of them before, and I trust the interpretation provided in the Catholic Times is a fair and accurate synopsis of Rahner's ideas.

Basically, according to you know who (no not Voldemort, you know who) Rahner bypasses the Hermeneutic of Rupture/Continuity interpretations of the Council to stress the continuity of the Church founded by Christ on Peter as moving through epochs. The Second Vatican Council representing the dawning of a new third epoch. The first epoch was centred in Jerusalem, the second in Rome, the third "will be centred on the world". This is strange; the first "epoch" lasted less than the time of Peter's active ministry, it was hardly an epoch. The "centre of gravity" of the early church was always Rome, both Peter and Paul were desperate to get there, get into the heart of the biggest empire the world had seen, and take on the world. AND they never intended it to move from Rome, the blood of the martyr popes has sanctified the place, nobody has ever suggeste that in future generations, due to the shifting power of empires, the Chruch should be centred in Ulan Bator or London, or Washington. Respectfully, Rahner, your "epoch" theory is no good.

Rahner sees this third epoch as a "self-actuation as a world-wide Church". I presume he is suggesting that at all levels, it will take into account all peoples and sort of self-organise itself to do what it is meant to do, a bit like a flock of starlings, I suppose with each starling being a "Eucharistic community". I'm realy not sure what "self-actuation" is, in a dictionary the synonym suggested was "self-stimulation", and that is just plain wrong.

Perhaps Rahner just gets lost in translation. But in the mean time, faced with a choice between hermeneutics of rupture and continuity, I'll pick continuity.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Patronal meme

A dumb meme is doing the rounds courtesy of some very nice people, it goes something like this:

Assuming you are a saint, and your cause has been executed, your miracles confirmed, your date on the calendar established, all that is required is to select that of which Holy Mother Church will name you Patron(ess) of.

For this meme, you must name your patronage and then tag 5 other people who would like to play along.

Linking your answer to your nominator's post would make it easier to get

your answers.

I'm not going to pass this onto anyone, it is just too silly. But for the record, and if they are not already taken, my choice for me would be:

(1) People who dislike cats
(2) People who don't like school
(3) Toilet attendents
(4) People who have to fight the medical profession

and one that hasn't happened yet, so God willing it will happen

(5) for the conversion/reversion of parents.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Marian post (3)

Our Lady, St Monica and St Augustine

This is the third and last of my Marian posts to celebrate the Assumption. It concerns Our Lady of Consolation.

Most years I do my "back to school novena" to Our Lady of Consolation. The Augustinians celebrate this feast on the 4th September so the novena starts on the 27th August, for others the feast day is the 20th June. I know about the novena thanks to the Augustinian Recollects in Devon, you can find more out about them here. Once you are on their mailing list, they notify you about various novenas they support throughout the year, for each one you can have your petitions placed at the foot of their altar. They also do the "piety lists" for Holy Souls in November, I'm staggered how many parishes have stopped doing this, if your parish has stoppped this then why not support the Augustinians? I'm very fond of them, in particular for their simple and effective promotion of popular piety. Anyway I'm way off topic.....

Back to Our Lady of Consolation.

I have read that "we are not on this earth to pick the flowers of consolation" and I agree whole heartedly with this statement. The sense of consolation in this life consists of brief moments of respite, each one somewhat transient, but with grace at work, you know that the real flowers of consolation await in heaven. This allows you to enjoy the sensation of consolation while it lasts and move on to face the next battle, we are the Church Militant afterall, knowing the consolation is still there even when you can't feel it.

The Augustinian tradition has Our Lady of Consolation giving St Monica a leather cincture which she gave to her son. Augustinians still wear it today. The cincture signifies chastity and I have the feeling that nothing would have given St Augustine more consolation than chastity, he spent so much of his life engaged in and fighting the voluptuous pleasures.

And isn't this the point of the appeal of praying to Our Lady of Consolation? She knows what is best for us and it will involve hard discipline (like chastity). Consolation isn't about warm cosy feelings, big hugs and hot chocolate, it is about the grace to uphold a vrituous life. It is about our willful ordering of ourselves to the will of our Creator and this is a tall order but who better to assist than the Mother of God?

Have I ever told you how difficult I find teaching?

Our Lady of Consolation, pray for us.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Ave Maria (2)

Whilst away, I went on a "chruch crawl" of the nearest big city. One of the churches was a dark and uninviting affair by the banks of the river. Like many places in southern France, there is a shrine there to the "Black Madonna" and there can be no denying that despite the garish early 20th century surroundings of this statue, there was an atmosphere and a reverence around it that certainly isn't in proportion to its beauty. Invariably these statues are primitive at best and ugly at worst.

Picture from Wiki Commons

I was left wondering what this cult was all about. For starters, it is important to reclaim these statues from the occultists who see them as relating to some pre-Christian fertility goddess. These statues are Catholic, they are in Catholic churches and the Catholic faithful can attest to the intercession of various regional Black Madonnas over the centuries.

Then I was reminded of the words of Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, that most scientific of mysitics. She gives a hypothesis, states the evidence, explains it and draws conclusions. Her style is succinct; some say dry, but I find it staggeringly beautiful.

After Jesus Christ, of course, and as far away as the infinite is from the finite, there exists a created being who was also the great "Praise of Glory" of the Most Holy Trinity. She correspondes fully to the divine vocation of which the Apostle speaks; she was always holy, unspotted, blameless in the sight of the thrice-holy God.

From the 15th day of her last retreat.

As far away as the infinite is from the finite, that is just it. These small Black Madonnas say just that, they are, if you like, a profound meditation on the smallness of the Incarnation and the infinity of what it contains. The black but beautiful in the Song of Songs springs to mind aswell. They are the humility of Our Lady before the majesty of the Blessed Trinity. They cannot be dismissed as "primitive".

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Ave Maria

I did write a post nearly 4 years ago when I was a wide eyed innocent in the ways of the bloggerdom, about my difficult realtionship with Our Lady. Difficult on my part, not hers. I had this feeling of inadequacy as a Catholic because my hyperdulia was never hyper enough, or atleast never as hyper as most other Catholics I knew.

Since then, I've just decided to let go, pray and stop trying to intellectualise it all. As a way of celebrating the Assumption, my next few posts will be Marian in flavour.


There is a church many many miles from where I am now dedicated to the Immaculate Conception. At the rear of the sanctuary is some stained glass featuring, among other things, the Immaculata herself. Due to the ridiculously high (in stature not orthodoxy) sanctuary, a gift of the "modern liturgical reforms", this window is now extremely visible during Mass. What is disconcerting is that Our Lady has no face. I don't know whether the glass depicting her face fell out and was never replaced or whether the details simply wore away. It is a trifle disconcerting, but it has taken on a great significance to me, it has become soemthing of a genuine icon for me.

Then again, no artist can truly depict her beauty, though the more divinely inspired can produce great devotional pieces. Our Lady whose face I can't see, pray for us.

With this in mind, it came as no surprise to find that the first bit to wear off my brown scapula was the face of Our Lady, everything else is still clearly visibe. When I put on the scapula, Our Lady goes between my shoulders and Our Lord to my heart. Our Lady whose face I can't see, pray for us

Now there is an indelible set of images before me, of a mother helping her toddler take the first baby steps. A mother has two ways of doing this, she can either crouch before the child at a distance with arms open, welcoming the child into her arms or she can stand behind the child reassuring her that she won't fall as she totters forwards, there is a sense of a stabilising arm there if it is needed. Many will relate to the first image, I think it is particularly pertinent to priests as their path is so treacherous and their steps so shaky. I relate to the second. There is a motherly "go on keep trying" from behind me, we are facing the same way, that is why I can't see her, she knows what I'm doing even if I don't. Our Lady whose face I can't see, pray for us

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Il ne marche pas

I'm back from the land of the long lunch and dismal apples. I have to say it is quite nice to be back to my coffee and garlic free cuisine, but there is so much I miss from my stay with the sisters.

I miss having a bedroon 4m from the Blessed Sacrament, I miss the sung Office, I miss the good company, I miss my evening walks saying the rosary as the sun sets, I miss my devotional reading and note taking (it is so much harder to do when everything else crowds in). I knew it would only be for a short time and I knew I'd miss these things when I returned to Wessex, this just makes them all the sweeter; a real rest with God.

Before I went out, I thought I'd get organised and buy myself an adaptor for the 2-pin French plugs, this would enable me to charge my phone, charge the batteries for my camera and use my hairdryer. Well, on opening said adapter in France, the small print with the "instructions" said that it may not work on older French sockets. Too right! I was nearly filled with indignation. My camera batteres were flat, I hadn't had time to charge them up before I went, my phone was in a similar state and I do need to wash and dry my hair every 6 days or so....

I willed myself not to get irritated and just to accept that I would have no pictures of my stay and only select contact with the outside world by text. Hair drying was a challenge, but no worse than the challenge I faced (which incidentally made me feel very British) about just how do you keep yourself clean for 10 days with only a bidet and a bucket.

"Not getting irritated" starts to take on a spiritual dimension, it calms the heart, it prevents frustration that my spoken French is so lousy and means that communication is done generously, with love and with very few words. All this means that even the little things become time with God and "time with God" itself takes on a transcendent quality (as it realy ought to); something stored up for eternity that can never be taken away from you, unlike photographs, phone calls and the taste of strong black coffee.

Monday, 1 August 2011

I'm off for some much needed rest and recuperation with the sisters who live here. You remain in my prayers, and no fighting whilst I'm away.....