Tuesday, 29 December 2015

And he was excommunicated...

I picked up a copy of George Tyrrell's "Hard Sayings" from a second hand shop and have been working my way through it.  His prose style is floridly and bombastically Anglo-Irish and the book isn't universally edifying but it is sound. But some of the chapters have left me a bit disturbed because of their beautiful orthodoxy. For those of you that don't know, George Tyrrell was thrown out of the Jesuits and later excommunicated (but did receive the last rites) because of his "Modernist" views ..... it appears he fell foul of Cardinal Merry del Val ..... he died in 1909.

I retype some of his writing on marriage because I've rarely read such a good, pithy, defence of marriage from a Catholic writer.  Had this been put before the Synod on Marriage, I doubt anyone could have put up a counter argument and remained a Catholic.

And so we see that it is precisely because woman has a soul to save, that she is a help fit and worthy of man; a help in the great work of saving the soul first of her husband and then of his children; and that marriage, as God intended it, is not merely a carnal union, but principally a joining of souls; that its end is not to replenish and overpopulate the earth with animals more canino, but to fill Heaven with saints; to multiply bodies for the sake of souls.

and there is more... this bit could  have been written this year, it is darkly prescient...

[Parents should be] conscious and intelligent agents of Christ [in the] engracement and supernatural sanctification [of their children]...

Such being the type, the ideal of Christian marriage, what shall we say of the reality as we see around us in this de-Christianized country, where Catholics find it so hard, so impossible to keep mind or heart free from the infectious pestilence of unbelief, misbelief and moral corruption; a country where the true idea of a sacrament of any sort has been lost to the people at large for three centuries; where the nature of the Church and of her mystical union with Christ is wholly unknown; where the Catholic teaching concerning purity and chastity is simply ridiculed as Manichean in theory and impossible in practice; where the law of the land sanctions an adulterous remarriage of those who have been divorced, and permits marriages which in the Church's eyes are incestuous, null, and void; whose religion despises virginity and celibacy, and holds but lightly to the perpetuity or unity of Christian marriage.

Surely it is only too evident that Protestantism has done its work thoroughly; that it has first rationalised the notion of marriage and robbed it of all its mystical and spiritual import; then secularized what was a sacrament of the Gospel, and betrayed it into the hands of Caesar; and by these means has finally succeeded in degrading and profaning an institution on whose elevation and purity the whole fabric of true civilisation depends. 

It seems to me like George Tyrrell, through being on the wrong side of the debate about the role of Thomism and Scholasticism fell foul of the Church's fear of Modernism and paid the price, and meanwhile whist thinking She was shoring up her defences against Modernism, Holy Mother Church was blind to the devil who used the near universally appalling teaching of Thomism that ensued after Pius X, to sneak in and assist in the havoc of the development of  Nouvelle Theologie where grace and nature are confused and where all soundness and clarity are lost, and where God is so often reduced to sentiment..... I could get sad, if I let myself,...  I may copy out some of his teaching on purity and chastity, it's brilliant.

(Incidentally, the book "Hard Sayings" has an "Imprematur" from Cardinal Vaughan, which is good enough for me.)

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Astronomical reflection

A Happy and Holy Christmas to my loyal reader

I'm recalling the feast of the Immaculate Conception 2014.  Somehow it seemed to be one of those momentous, yet hiddenly significant days.  The church where I went to  Mass that evening was beautiful and Father preached with lightness and joy.  He quoted a French poet who died in WW1 who said "The Immaculate Conception is everything!".  And yes he was/is right.  There is something so spectacularly true, beautiful and good about that feast; about how it manifests God's loving relationship to His creatures.  And the heavens agreed.  Shining through the windows of the small church and providing illumination to my missal was a staggeringly bright, clear full moon.  The moon was utterly resplendent in the reflected light of the sun.  Yes, thought I, this will be the year of the Immaculate Conception for me, she will guide me, she will protect me, she will be my truth in darkness. She who conquers all heresies, she who loves with all tenderness....

And on the way home and for a couple of hours afterwards, I was treated to a crowning of the moon with a 22 degree halo (as shown below, only it was much sharper).  It sealed my resolve to make this the year of the Immaculate Conception. I was high with the beauty of it all.

It is probably wrong to read too much into the heavens.....

On New Year's day, I played the "find me a saint for 2015" game and visited a site that would do just that.  St John Berchmans was chosen for me, and I must admit to knowing nothing about him at the time.  BUT it was he who did much to promote devotion to the Immaculate Conception and he has been my rock this year.  He has been a devoted companion and his resolve to make the ordinary duties of state holy has been my resolve too.  It has been a foul year, but he has been there for me.  I have been fortunate enough to make a journey to a relic of him and receive a blessing with it.  I think he will be a permanent patron, I can't imagine being without him now.

And then things got really bad....
I asked a priest for advice and he suggested that I make a 33 day consecration to Our Lady, as after the Sacraments this should be just about the most powerful source of protection one could have.  A plan was drawn up and the 33 days this would finish on the feast of the Immaculate Conception 2015. After a couple of weeks when I saw far more than usual of the inside of the confessional, things settled down and the consecration was done with little fuss, a lightness of touch, and a deep interior peace.

What about the heavens that night?  Everything was overcast.  No sign of the moon. Father's preaching was far sterner, but it was what we needed to hear.  It was about the Truth.  It was about Mercy in Truth.  There was a tangible weight of exhaustion about the church, about the people, about everything...... but She was there..... only totally hidden.......

The following morning, as if to re-echo this, there appeared the tiniest slither of a moon and what looked to be Mars and Venus, competing with each other in their brightness and boldness.  It felt as if she was most definitely there, but nearly completely hidden..... but that is when she is at her most powerful.....

It is probably wrong to read too much into the heavens.......

Now, tonight, Christmas Eve 2015, the moon is nearly completely full... and Our Lady is fully aglow with the impending birth of her Son.  She is leading us to Him.....

And we so desperately need Him to be born anew in our hearts.  There is so much healing needed, and as one of the antiphons this morning said....

This day you shall know that the Lord is coming, and tomorrow you shall see His glory....


Sunday, 20 December 2015

Early Doors

For those of you unfamiliar with the term "early doors" , it is a Northernism for something happening sooner than expected....

This morning I had one of those moments.  I attend an 8am Mass at some distance from my home at a large and "important" church which has been designated as a place of pilgrimage for the Year of Mercy and so has a Holy Door.

When I arrived at Mass, it was just like any other Sunday; cold dark, nobody around save a jogger and the odd taxi driver.  As usual, after a long journey and post-morning medication, I was in need of the lavatory.  This can only be accessed at that hour from inside the church. I was not thinking about much more than my bladder as I walked towards the church porch.  Post-toilet, I'd get into "worship-zone", bless myself at the stoup, genuflect before the Lord and take my place in my pew of choice.  But lo and behold, the usual door to the church was cordoned off and we were to walk through the Holy Door.

Oh, hang on a minute thought I, this isn't fair!  Essentially this is my door to the lav, I'm going to the loo before I go to Mass. I would like to be able to choose when I make use of the Holy Door, to mediate on what I am doing, and to conform heart, mind and body to God's designs and Holy Mother Church's generosity in being able to grant indulgences. I was hoping for a special first use of the Holy Door, not one thrust upon me with no choice, when nature had the upper hand.

I don't suppose it matters much.  Grace perfects nature, it doesn't override it.  We all have calls of nature, and whilst alive, we always will.

It is a bit like life really.  Things don't happen in the order we want them to.  Things don't happen at times we think would be most suitable.  Sometimes thinking of God is thrust upon us when it is "inconvenient".....

and just perhaps Mercy works in that way..... we may do all we can to seek repentance, to be contrite, to promise God we will do of our best in future, but we keep doing it on our terms, perhaps we have to stop thinking about ourselves completely, perhaps our hopes and desires are nothing more significant than the fullness of our bladders, yet God comes to us.  God meets us in our corrupted nature and maybe we never really "know" when we have been in receipt of His mercy, we could have thought we were just going to the loo, but God had other plans....

I can and will pick up indulgences for myself, sinner that I am, and for the Holy Souls in Purgatory in good time.

Saturday, 5 December 2015


There are some characters in Holy Scripture who are difficult to like, I find Jacob and his favourite son Joseph fall into this category.  For various reasons I’ve been meditating a lot on Jacob and Esau lately and feel I am coming to some sort of understanding of Jacob that I’d like to share with you. Joseph will have to wait.

It is all about trying to see God’s ways, not ours, and it isn’t easy.

Isaac’s wife Rebekah has twins struggling in her womb and it certainly seems like an unpleasant pregnancy.

And the Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two people, born of you, shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger.”

God sets the scene, God is in charge and I have no doubt that as young children whist Esau was doing manly stuff with his dad, Rebekah would dandle Jacob on her knee and tell him of God’s plans for him.  Jacob isn’t slow at coming forward and realising his brother’s weakness so that the elder sells his birthright to the younger “for a plate of mess”. The two nations warring in Rebekah’s womb are nature and grace and nature will always be weaker and succumb to its lusts.  This doesn’t make nature any less lovable, and at this stage grace seems to be somewhat devious, unpleasant and downright unfair. And there is Rebekah, who so may ancient writers see as a prototype of Our Lady, making absolutely sure Jacob gets his due and his father’s blessing, even if it means deceit.

It is too easy to read the story as if it ended there, as if Isaac’s blessing of Jacob was to be some sort of triumph, and if we read it like that, then it leaves a nasty taste in the mouth.  Almost as if Rebekah is the handmaid of a cruel and uncaring God who approves of deceit and trickery to get His way.

What struck me when I read this recently is what Jacob says to his father as he is busy fooling him into thinking that he is his brother Esau
Isaac said: “Are you really my son Esau?” Jacob answered “I am”.

He doesn’t say “yes”, he says “I am”, which is far more potent. In a sense, as twins, “he is” Esau, as Esau is Jacob, there is a unity in twins that defies explanation. In another sense he is about to become his brother, indeed, the life he is about to embark on will sanctify the pair of them.  Jacob has to become as worldly as Esau (wives, children, livestock, that kind of thing) and in something that certainly seems to be divine justice, Jacob is deceived and deceived again by his supremely unlikable kinsman Laban.   And it makes Jacob, he is refined in the refiner’s fire of Laban’s household.  Jacob never forgets God and Grace leads and Nature follows.  After Laban’s treatment of him, Jacob must be even more acutely aware of Esau’s hatred of him.  

 So after he has freed himself from Laban, it is no surprise that Jacob, before the eventful meeting with Esau, wrestles with God. Jacob wants his blessing from God, he’s been through a lot and God seems to have forgotten the promise made to his mother.  Jacob wrestles till he gets his blessing.  He wants to survive his brother’s wrath. The grace in Jacob is made more magnificent in his anger and sense of justice.  Jacob has become a hunter and he knows his quarry, and his quarry is God. Meanwhile, the elder brother has had to have supernatural strength to forgive the younger so that it is only by the Grace of God that they can meet as equals in all humility and the pair of brothers by the end of those verses are almost indistinguishable in their forgiveness, graciousness and wealth. They are not equal, Jacob (Israel) is God’s chosen (through Israel will the salvation of the world be wrought), but that doesn’t deny Esau his due, his God-given dignity.

Had Rebekah not instigated the action, had Esau not been tricked and learnt to overcome his anger, had Jacob not had to suffer Laban, Jacob would not have been half the man he became and nor would his brother.  The elder would have always been the worldly but amiable fool and the younger, the other-worldly layabout and drifter. Rebekah did the best for both her sons.

God’s ways are not ours and somehow it seems worth reminding ourselves of this when we think He is not doing as we think He should.

The birth of Esau and Jacob,
Master of Jean de Mandeville,
French, Paris, about 1360-1370.