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Friday, 18 August 2006

Post-modernism, Priesthood, and Soldiering

I was up in town today (that's London, England!) and visited the St Paul's and CTS bookshops after the obligatory visit to light candles to St John Southworth in Westminster Cathedral. While I was there, I picked up a hard copy of On the Way to Life. This is an influential study, published by the Catholic Education Service. The full title is:
On the Way to Life: Contemporary Culture and Theological Development as a Framework for Catholic Education, Catechesis and Formation. A Study by the Heythrop Institute for Religion, Ethics and Public Life.
I have read this online and listened to a lecture on the theme by the principal author, Fr James Hanvey SJ. I wanted to have a printed copy to annotate because I am intending to review it for Faith Magazine.

Whenever I visit St Paul's Bookshop, I always look in the priesthood section. Along with Donald Cozzens, Richard Sipe and Andrew Greeley etc., there are a few TAN books, including one I have not seen before: The Priest, the Man of God, his dignity and his duties by St Joseph Cafasso. To my shame, I must admit that this is the first time I have come across this saint. He lived from 1811 to 1860 and was known as the "gallows priest" because of his work with condemned prisoners. He advised several founders of religious orders, including St John Bosco. The book is a collection of his conferences to the clergy. There is a whole chapter on "Flight from the World". He says:
The ecclesiastic who has decided to be, who really wishes to be the temple of God, must come of necessity to this severing, this divorce, this separation from the world; separation of the heart by detachment from, and contempt for, its follies; separation of body and of person, as far as is possible, by flight, by seclusion and by solitude.
This is a different perspective from On the Way to Life.

I usually have something light to read on the train or at meals. At the moment, this is Rules of Engagement. A life in conflict. by Tim Collins He commanded the 1st Royal Irish battalion in Northern Ireland, the fireman's strike (!) and the second Gulf War. He became well known because of his magnificent speech to the troops in Iraq. It began:
We go to liberate, not to conquer.
We will not fly our flags in their country
We are entering Iraq to free a people and the only flag which will be flown in that ancient land is their own.
Show respect for them.

There are some who are alive at this moment who will not be alive shortly.
Those who do not wish to go on that journey, we will not send.
As for the others, I expect you to rock their world.
Wipe them out if that is what they choose.
But if you are ferocious in battle remember to be magnanimous in victory.

Iraq is steeped in history.
It is the site of the Garden of Eden, of the Great Flood and the birthplace of Abraham.
Tread lightly there.
[...]
Here is a link to the whole text of the speech and links to various news reports about it. Sadly, after the end of hostilities, an American officer made allegations of war crimes against Collins. He was entirely cleared of the charges, awarded the OBE and promoted to Colonel. Sadly, he left the army, disillusioned by the lack of support he had received.

I'm a third of the way through this fascinating and well written book. As usual with books about military campaigns, it offers insights that do not form part of the received view of events handed down by the media.
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