Saturday, 20 February 2016


With a nod to popuar culture and the Big Bang Theory's coupling of

Sheldon + Amy = Shamy

How about

Trump + Pope = Trope


Troublesome Questions + Pope = Trope

A trope being a figure of speech where meaning goes from literal to non-literal.  Tropes cannot be taken literally and ought not be analysed too severely.  They do not form part of theological, scientific or philosophical discourse, they are used for emphasis, they are very human..... tropes are about feelings and passion. That the Holy Father's tropes are elongated and last for several paragraphs is fine, that is how he speaks, that is how he loves God. Never decry a man for truly loving God, or his means of doing so. Tropes do not stand up to having meanings nailed to them by the ever helpful Lombardi. Spend more time with Sacred Scripture, spend more time with the Divine Office than with the words of any one man..... find God there and listen to Him first.

And there is always

Flight + Pope = Plight

which can be defined as an unfortunate situation.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Thorns (2)

Once upon a time, thorns could be fun.  I remember the old rose bushes in the garden would produce them with abundance and they could be easily snapped off and being sticky you could put them on your skin.  So in those impossibly warm and innocent summers of the mid 70s, we'd be running through the gardens, thorns on noses or thumbs pretending to be a Triceratops or an Iguanadon (or a some strange hybrid of the two).

me in the garden circa 1976 with thorns on thumbs

As a rule, however, thorns aren't fun.  Nobody makes jokes about thorns.  Nobody lovingly cares for a plant to nurture its thorns (or do they?).  Thorns don't do irony or parody either.  They are too straight talking, too clear about their own purpose, too unsubtle...

And they've led me to the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13).  Seed is scattered on different types of ground, with different results.  The seed that falls on thorny ground is choked by the thorns.

Our Lord explains, saying that the seed than fell amongst thorns "is he who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the delight in riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful".

There is nothing to suggest that the seed isn't in good soil.  I think this seed has depth and security for its roots.  But the seed is choked.  This suggests an above-ground phenomenon. The germinating seed has nutrients (good education, ample access to the Sacraments, access to intelligent priests and pious literature) but progress is blocked by that which is impregnable, an attack on the senses and the intelligence of man, an attack from his greatest enemy, that which is in complete opposition to the Christian life: the cares of the world and delight in riches.

And the problem is we will see thorns everywhere, if we start to look, and the whole Church seems to be choking with them (if you read certain blogs).  But the problem, I think, is engaging with them in the first place. They are battles we can't win. Thorns, remember don't do humour, subtlety, irony, gentleness or beauty.... and if you start seeing Holy Mother Church trapped in a Masonic conspiracy of thorny badness, then basically you are the one who is being choked, and that is one less solider fit for active duty in the Church Militant. Indeed if we take too much delight in the riches of our Catholic culture over and above delight in the good soil of the solid teaching and love of Our Lord, and that which has been handed down through His apostles and the Church Fathers, then we too come up against thorns.  We see everything as "under attack".  We see enemies everywhere, and basically we are screwed.

Now this doesn't mean denying that there are issues.  It means KNOWING that we can't solve them.  It means knowing we are helpless.  It means concentrating on the unum necessarium.  Leave the Lord to apply the systemic weedkiller, all you need to do in concentrate on your own growth in that lovely rich soil that He has so generously provided for you.

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Thorns (1)

I've been meaning to write a series of Lenten reflections on thorns for some years now. I think the time has come.  Even my words of wisdom from St Philip Neri on the sidebar are thorn related, I had intended to pick something far more up-beat from his Maxims for 2016, but that saying of his stuck out and stuck to me and won't let go.

I will start with Jothan's parable in the Book of Judges.

The back story is that Israel had had Gideon as Judge.  He was a humble man and fearless in battle. Israel was toying with the idea of having a king and said to him "Rule over us, you and your son and your grandson also; for you have delivered us out of the hand of Midian." Gideon replied to them, "I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the Lord will rule over you." (Judges 8:22) That Gideon then goes and messes up by making and object for idolatry, is typical of the tales in the book of Judges and one of the reasons why I love the book so much.  Gideon may not have been king in name, but he lived with the trappings of kingship. After Gideon's death, the son of Gideon by a concubine then stirs up his mother's people in Shechem against his 70 children by his various wives. All but one are ritually slaughtered (upon one stone), the youngest Jothan escapes and his parable is the tale he tells atop Mount Gerizim addressed to the people of Shechem.

I can't imagine he gathered the townsfolk together to tell them this parable.  Rather, I see him standing in some natural auditorium in the hillside speaking to the wind. I see him hoping his voice will carry to Shechem, and perhaps carry down the centuries; it is a prophetic tale about the nature of kingship.  He leaves his words to future generations and disappears into obscurity, like any good prophet. It is his message to us all that interests me, rather than his immediate curse-like prophecy regarding the destruction of Shechem at the hands of Abimelech.

Listen to me you men of Shechem, that God may listen to you.
Ahh, Shechem with its chequered history and chequered future; where Abraham built his altar in recognition of God's covenant, where the son's of Israel, Simeon and Levi massacred the inhabitants in revenge for the rape of their sister, where in a few short years after Jothan's prophecy, the self-proclaimed king, Abimelech massacres its inhabitants, where for a short while after the death of Solomon , the kings of Israel held their investitures  and finally where Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well of Jacob. Yes, Shechem has a lot to say to us about Kingship.  Jothan is speaking down the ages, he is the rightful heir of Gideon and a rightful king of Israel (if he so desired).

The trees once went forth to anoint a king over them; and they said to the olive tree, 'Reign over us.' But the olive tree said to them, 'Shall I leave my fatness, by which the gods and men are honoured, and go to sway over the trees?'
The oil from the olive is the oil that ran down Aaron's beard to the hem of his garment, it is the oil of anointing, the oil of the priesthood. It has humbler uses too as a food staple. The tree has utility to men and gods.  I think Jothan is telling us that Kingship is not about utility.

And the trees said to the fig tree, 'Come you and reign over us.' But the fig tree said to them, 'Shall I leave my sweetness and my good fruit, and go sway over the trees?'
The trees are still looking for a king amongst those trees that are useful. And the fig tree, like the olive tree seems to have a distorted view of kingship.  It sees kingship as lording it over the other trees.  The fig, like the olive, knows its place and knows it isn't destined for kingship.

And the trees said to the vine, 'Come you and reign over us.' But the vine said to them, 'Shall I leave my wine which cheers gods and men, and go sway over the other trees?.
As with any good parable, there needs to be triple failure to drill home the point.  Trees of utility can not be kings, kingship is not a "useful" thing. BUT neither is kingship about "swaying over the other trees" in superiority.

Then the trees said to the bramble, 'Come you, and reign over us.' And the bramble said to the trees, 'If in good faith you are anointing me king over you, then come and take refuge in my shade; but if not, let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon.'
Is it not strange that the trees never asked the mighty cedar to be their king?  Too scared perhaps.  So they approach the bramble who is humble and honest. He understands the nature of kingship. Firstly, he knows kingship is about protection and he knows he can make an impenetrable fortress with his thorns.  But you will have to get very low yourself to make use of it.  You will have to be humble and sincere or he can offer you no protection. And in the heat of the summer is is possible for tinder dry bramble to cause the most awesome of fires that will consume all the other trees, including the mighty cedar. So secondly and not actually paradoxically, the bramble knows that having a king has consequences; a king can also destroy as well as save.


.....And The King was mocked as a crown of brambles was placed on His Sacred Head.  His Kingship was not taken in good faith, and we've been mocking it ever since.  

But the bramble was raised up with the King, to sit upon His Head as He reigns from Calvary. A sign of His Glory and our protection.

Monday, 8 February 2016

many waters

A mad weir of tigerish waters
Prism of delight and pain

There are times when I wish I could bump into a middle aged Louis MacNeice (whose words those are, the full poem can be found here), find some slightly run down tea room, stain a cup with lipstick, hang on his every word, smoke seductively in stockings and tweed and observe the ordinariness and complexity of complete strangers that pass by......  I've been reading his poetry again, those waters I inhabit seem particularly tigerish at the moment.

The pews at church even joined in, they too looked tigerish this Sunday.  Wood grain is funny stuff, it is almost impossible to recall a pattern once you've seen it.  It seems so fluid. The delight and pain dance round each other: complementary not adversarial.

And I'm tired of the pain.  Very tired.  And this makes me weary of the delights.  I could shake my fist at God and tell Him to stop.  The delights all seems like a cruel joke: holy things and the comfort of scripture, feeling consolation in prayers, the peace in my soul, birds singing at Lauds.... when all the while, the burden of plodding on, the weariness of bearing up, being ill, being there for others, being unable to communicate to another that which is in my heart..... and add to this the cruelty of the enemy and God's steadying hand to "be patient", "bear with"....... and I'm just screaming out "how long Lord?  How long?"

But this is our path.  The path is never right entirely because even if it were, we are too broken to walk it as we should.  Indeed it is the mistakes, the crazy mixed up, unknown, mathematically unpredictable, shambolic mess of our faults and failings that is our very path to heaven (or to hell). Indeed the path becomes our hell if we at any stage think we are making progress and we start to rely on our own strength and forget the God who loves us.

Solomon is right: (Song of Solomon 8:7)

Many waters cannot quench charity, neither can the floods drown it: if a man should give all the substance of his house for love, he shall despise it as nothing.

We are just asked to love and know that God loves us and has given ALL for us, even as flooding looms and the waters are baring their teeth and snarling pitilessly.