Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Education: empowerment and slavery

This post is prompted by a certain anxiety I have about homeschooling.  Home schoolers are often the nicest of people and they often have the nicest, most well rounded, articulate of children. My anxiety is not so much about the right to educate one's children at home (a right that I will always defend), it is about the very Catholicity of homeschooling.  In my heart, I am not convinced that it is Catholic and I'd like to make my views known to a wider audience, hence my blogging about it.  The fact that so many home educated children are such grounded and holy individuals stems simply from the fact that God is the "unum necessarium" in their lives and actually has very little to do with their education as such.

I do not believe that the world is any more developed or any less modern than when Pius XI wrote his excellent encyclical on education: Divini Illius Magistri in 1929.  It is and always will be a relevant document worthy of study by anyone who cares about education. Much of what I have to say is inspired by his writings.

Pius XI makes it clear that the last end of education is God, and fitting the children of God for heaven.  He also says that three organisations bear the responsibility for the education of children: the home, society and the Church.  He makes it clear that the home cannot provide everything, nor can society, nor can the Church.  He makes it clear that education is "a social and not merely an individual activity", and that the home and society provide the natural framework for this and the Church the supernatural framework.

What will be difficult for homeschooling families to swallow is that he says that family is imperfect "since it has not in itself all the means for its own complete development", it is a unit amongst other units, divinely ordained, beautiful but utterly dependent on society and the Church.  However the family has priority over civil society because of its God given sanctity, hence the importance of defence of the family at all costs.  BUT civil society is perfect in its own sense, with its own agenda, and because families subsist within society, civil society has some pre-eminence over the family because of the common good.  Families can not cut themselves off from society any more than humans can cut themselves off from eating and sleeping. Families work within civil society or they cannot shape civil society.

So civil society is a sphere in which education OUGHT to take place, not in isolation, but as part of a wider package.  One ought not to expect any awareness of the "last end" of education from civil society as the function of civil society is purely temporal and earth bound.  BUT that doesn't make it any less fitting that children should be educated within civil society.  It has its role.

There are more good teachers than bad teachers, it is a thing of nature imbued with natural virtues, I have been utterly inspired and humbled by the care and dedication of many teachers, most of whom are humanists at heart and more often than not committed atheists   Most teachers love their subjects and would probably be doing anything else other than teaching unless they didn't genuinely wish to enthuse young people and share the treasures they have found.  Most teachers genuinely have a solid and disinterested love for children.  They care and they care deeply but they can be dispassionate as they have no vested interest in a particular child in their care.  In this sense teachers can provide things parents may struggle to do:  consistency, rigour, expertise and patience. Essentially teachers do not have the overwhelming burden of responsibility for any one of their charges that a parent may feel for their child and I believe this makes us better educators than parents in the purely academic field.  

I haven't time to go into Pius XI's prophetic warning about the dangers of leaving sex-education to the state.  Sex education ought to happen within the family.  I do however wish to raise one last point, something I feel very keenly as an educator; it is about the meaning of "education".

The entymology of the word "education" means to "draw out".  Pius XI argues that there is a tendency to reduce education to its entymological root and that this is wrong.  He argues that education is about much more than "drawing out" that which lies within the child.  If we consider education simply as drawing out, it leads to a kind of self-absorption and a dangerous belief in one's own ability.  If any teachers reading this have had the pleasure of teaching someone who has been through a Steiner school, they will know exactly what he means.

To learn involves humility.  You have to place youself in a position of trusting your teachers and working within the civil systems where you live (fully aware of their faults).  This isn't blind submission, you must learn to challenge your teachers and be critical of the agenda of society.  You must also humbly submit to the other learners around you, knowing that they too are on a journey.  Part of your learning experience always involes guiding others and patiently helping them with things you understand. Trying to provide an atmosphere where education can happen solely within the family at the expense of civil society, no matter how God-fearing the family may be, is perhaps a strain many families can do without.

So I ask again:is homeschooling Catholic? I hold that it has an undeniable right to exist within society, but is it Catholic?

Saturday, 28 March 2015

weary and disagreeable wisdom

My first guide in all things theological and the writer of the world's finest bibliography*, Adolphe "the Tank" Tanquerey, described the writings of  Fr Faber thus:

Faber, F. W (1814-1863) wrote very many ascetical works noteworthy for their unction and accurate psychology.

That about sums him up, I think.  Faber's near unparallelled understanding of the human condition and his genuine sympathy for his fellow creatures is what appeals so much to me in his writings.

It is a foul day outside and I thought this blog needed a new post, so for your edification, here are some exerts from the first chapter of Faber's "Creator and the Creature" in which he examines the grave errors that befall us when we forget we are creatures and we forget our Creator.

They [Christians in name only] have not taken pains to formulise a positive disbelief: but they do not see how progress, and perfectibility, and modern discovery, psychological or otherwise, comport with that collection of ancient dogmas which make up the Christian religion, and their instinct would be to give up the dogmas rather than the discoveries, and that with a promptitude worthy of the enlightenment.  With such persons the dignity of man is a matter of prime consideration, while in their view, his assent to the doctrines and practices of the Church is as degrading to his intellectual nobility, as his obedience to them is superstitious and debasing.

That was written in 1856 and goes a long way to prove that we are not creatures who make progress, not creatures who evolve in understanding and wisdom generation by generation, because it is sadly all too relevant today, especially with regard to the response of some to the upcoming Synod on the Family.

Here is some more....

This forgetfulness that we are creatures, which prevails in that energetically bad portion of the world which is scripturally called "the world", affects multiutdes of persons... It leads them to form a sort of religion for themselves which singularly falls in with all the most corrupt propensities of our hearts... such persons consider that religion has its own sphere and worldly interests their sphere also, and that one must not interfere with the other. .....  They enjoy all the practical laxity of unbelievers, without the responsibility of disbelieving; and besides that, they enjoy a certain good-humour of conscience of the outward respect they pay, in due season and fitting place, to the ceremonies of religion.

And perhaps as a warning to those of us who think we are OK but can see the faults in others....

Almost every popular fallacy has its representatives even among the children of faith; and when a pestilence is raging, many are feeble and languid though they have no plague-spot, so it is in matters of religion.  The contagion of the world does us a mischief in many ways of which we are hardly conscious; and we often injure ourselves in our best and highest interest by views and practices, to which we cling with fatal obstinacy, little suspecting the relationship in which they stand to widely spread evils, which we behold in their naked deformity in other sections of society, and hold up to constant reprobation.  The forgetfulness that we are creatures.... is an error which is less obviously hateful than a direct forgetfulness of God, and consequently it wins its way into holy places where the other would find no admittance, or scant hospitality.

And how to right the wrong ....

But whatever differences there may be in the amount done for God, or the manner of doing it, or the obligations under which it is done, there can be no difference in the principle on which it is done.  God must be served out of love.  This is the first and great commandment.  No one is condemned except for mortal sin; but any man who starts professedly on the principle that he will do no more than avoid mortal sin, and that God shall have no more out of him, will infallibly not succeed in his single object; that is to say he will not avoid mortal sin..... Love is the sole principle of the creature's service of his Creator, however remiss that love may be. ... the doctrines and practices of Christian perfection are simply based on God's love of us and our love of Him, that is the relation between the creature and the Creator.

And all this from a chapter that Faber himself calls "weary and disagreeable"...

* The Bibliography at the front of Tanquerey's The Spiritual Life: A Treatise on Ascetical and Mystical Theology. (1923)

Friday, 13 March 2015

once a physicist....

This video found itself in my e-mail and has reminded me why I am a Physicist.  Nobody else could have so much fun with some blobs of fluid, some food colouring, a sheet of glass and a sharpie.

Watch and marvel!

I tip my poshest trilby in the direction of those clever folk at Stanford.....

Sunday, 8 March 2015

the reform of the reform

50 years on from the first Masses in regional tongues, if feel the need to pass some comment on how I see the "reform of the reform" is progressing.  I do not hold a candle for any particular view on this reform, I only know that it is happening, as organically these things do.  Also perhaps I am in a singularly gifted position to have within a short driving distance such a wide variety of liturgical experiences.  I will start by saying I have a marked preference for Low Mass in the old rite, and this is something I will seek out, but this is personal and I wish to make my comments general and objective.  I will also say that as I've only been hanging around this planet for 45 years, I have no first hand experience of the pre-conciliar world.

Is the old rite "flourishing" since Benedict's Summorun Pontificum?  I don't think it is.  I can and do attend the old rite across 3 counties and it is the same old faces I see where ever I go.  It is a darn small world.  Yes, there are plenty of young enthusiasts and lots of young families at these Masses.  Yes, there are plenty of good and holy priests involved but it all feels like a fringe activity.  It feels like a self-help group for a disenfranchised minority and what is worse I fear it is led by the intellect rather than the heart. Yes, they are well educated people with all the answers, but that isn’t enough.  I just wish I knew who they loved the most.  It isn't obvious and it ought to be.  I was talking to a priest recently, saying that I was dismayed that the number of parishioners who were routinely bi-ritual was so small.  I named a few, he said he could add a few more to the list, but the numbers are still small. The preference for a particular Mass is essentially factional; a lifestyle choice, a statement of allegiance.  And the two sides of the OF/EF debate loathe each other at some quite fundamental level.  I have perfectly rational and solid friends on both sides but I really don’t think I could invite them to the same tea-party at my house, it would be extremely uncomfortable.  So to the OF/EF debate I reverse the letters and say politely, “ef-of”.

What is missing is what Benedict pleaded so much for: MUTUAL ENRICHMENT.  The old rite lovers are so convinced in the superiority of their own brand that they can’t see how the new rite could possibly enrich their experience.  New rite lovers who at heart are clericalists and have been sorely influenced by priests who were only too keen to ditch the old rite 45 years ago feel much the same in the opposite sense.  Younger attendees at the new rite often have such a poor grasp of the faith that it really is genuine encounter with Christ that is needed and arguments over the liturgy are essentially meaningless in this case.

Much has been written on how the old rite could enrich the newer rite.  I want to end this post by saying how the newer rite could enrich the old rite, which is what must happen.

Where I worship, it is possible to find a Holy Day Mass in the old rite virtually entirely populated by souls who don’t normally experience this.  They are there because it is Mass and the time is convenient.  They are not tut-tutting and horrified by what they see.  There is a prayerful, reverential atmosphere, but I will add a note of caution; these irregulars rarely stay after communion, it seems like they have had enough at that point.
So here are my suggestions for enrichment of the old rite with a nod to what happens in the newer; it must flow, it must be coherent but it must not be regimented and it must not be linear (like a cookery show- raw ingredients to meal) as it was never intended to be:

  •  Scripture readings in the regional tongue, either by the priest or simultaneously delivered from the lectern whilst the priest says the readings in Latin.
  • Get rid of all the hand kissing in the old rite High Mass.  In these days of scandal the gesture looks offensive.
  •  The bowing in the old rite so often looks like Daleks having a pow-wow, somehow the humility has been lost.
  • There is a younger generation of priests and servers who are saying the old rite who have been very effectively “Bugninnid” but don’t realise that they are.  They see the Mass as performance and they perform;  Fortescue, Fortescue, Fortescue.  It can be quite unpleasant to watch, indeed it is no better than a Clown Mass.  The priest and the servers ought to be invisible in the Mass, or atleast not bringing attention upon themselves.  Once again, it is a humility thing and manifests itself best when a Mass is just a wee bit shambolic, a wee bit less than perfectly executed, a wee bit more realising that our sacrifice is ALWAYS unworthy.
  • There are perhaps some words that need to be said more clearly so that the congregation can hear them, the “introibo” and the dismissal and the Last Gospel must all be said slowly and audibly.

I remain convinced that the loss of the vulgar tongue for Mass to be replaced by regional tongues was a mistake, however I remain equally convinced that preserving the Mass of 1962 just as it is, to have it there like a fly in amber, a moment in time caught for eternity, is quite simply a nonsense.  The Holy Sacrifice of Calvary is THE moment in time caught for Eternity, and this is not anything to do with the liturgy but everything to do with our faith and ultimately if our faith doesn’t  breathe this reality any liturgical reform is a dead duck.

 A group of liturgical pedants learning to serve the old rite (or Daleks in 1963)