Monday, 31 July 2006

Blair to promote Britain as ESCR world capital

An article in today's Scotsman reports is headed Britain 'in strong position' to lead stem-cell work. Quote:
BRITAIN is in an "enormously strong" position to become the world leader in stem-cell research, the government's chief scientific adviser said yesterday.

Sir David King said there were economic and health benefits to making the UK the global hub of the controversial biomolecular research.
Tony Blair is on a four-day visit this week to California to meet US biotechnology firms including Genentech, Gilead Sciences and Cell Genesys. They are then hoping to have a joint UK-California conference in the UK in November. The BBC in Blair to lure US stem cell firms mentions the bottom line:
The UK may benefit from an influx of cash as US stem-cell firms face vocal and politically powerful opposition.
President Bush recently vetoed legislation on embryonic stem cell research. He gave an announcement surrounded by babies who were adopted while they were embryos.

Alex Wong/Getty Images

In his statement, Bush said,
[...] we must also remember that embryonic stem cells come from human embryos that are destroyed for their cells. Each of these human embryos is a unique human life with inherent dignity and matchless value. We see that value in the children who are with us today. Each of these children began his or her life as a frozen embryo that was created for in vitro fertilization, but remained unused after the fertility treatments were complete. Each of these children was adopted while still an embryo, and has been blessed with the chance to grow up in a loving family.

These boys and girls are not spare parts. They remind us that we all begin our lives as a small collection of cells. And they remind us that in our zeal for new treatments and cures, America must never abandon our fundamental morals.
This side of the pond, however, we are happy to abandon any fundamental morals we had left. Doesn't that just make you so proud to be British! We're going to sponge off the Americans so that we can be the world capital of embryo destruction. All together now: Land of hope and glory ...

Sunday, 30 July 2006

Book meme

Not done one of these "memes" before. I gather the idea is to tag other people to do it once you have done it yourself. Well I've not been tagged but saw it on Letters from a Young Catholic and it got me thinking.

1. One book that changed your life:
St Francis de Sales Introduction to the Devout Life

2. One book that you’ve read more than once:
Edward Holloway Catholicism: a new synthesis

3. One book you’d want on a desert island:
De Imitatione Christi

4. One book that made you laugh:
Jerome K Jerome Three Men in a Boat

5. One book that made you cry:
A Bugnini The Reform of the Liturgy 1948-1975

6. One book that you wish had been written:
Bl John Duns Scotus A concise and systematic guide to my principal ideas

7. One book that you wish had never been written:
De Benedictionibus (1984)

8. One book you’re currently reading:
Richard Dawkins River out of Eden

9. One book you’ve been meaning to read:
Colin Harte Changing unjust laws justly. Pro-life solidarity with "the last and least".

OK. I tag Fr John Boyle, Mac McLernon, and Fr Nicholas Schofield

Manly chant

A couple of weeks ago, in his English column Sandro Magister ran the text of an interview conducted by Riccardo Lenzi of L’espresso with Domenico Bartolucci, the director of the Sistine Choir who conducted the recent concert for Pope Benedict in the Sistine Chapel. Bartolucci said many things that we would all agree with on the degeneration of liturgical music. However, I noticed one point that is quite controversial.

Lenzi asked him whether the faithful should participate in singing the chant. Bartolucci distinguished between such chants as the Introit and the Offertory which require a "refined level of artistry", and such chants as the Missa de Angelis, the Te Deum, or the Litanies. Then he added this heartfelt observation:
And furthermore, Gregorian chant has been distorted by the rhythmic and aesthetic theories of the Benedictines of Solesmes. Gregorian chant was born in violent times, and it should be manly and strong, and not like the sweet and comforting adaptations of our own day.
No offence intended to the brothers or sisters of the Solesmes congregation but I like the sound of that. Manly and violent chant, eh? Come on Clapham Park if you think you're hard enough!

Saturday, 29 July 2006

My sister as Lady Bracknell

I drove down to Aylesford this evening after Mass to see my sister Sarah playing Lady Bracknell. Each summer, the Hazlitt Theatre and Changeling Theatre Company put on a programme of open air performances of Shakespeare. Unfortunately, I was not able to get to any of the venues to see Macbeth which is running on the programme alongside The Importance of Being Earnest. As the publicity puts it:
Hard to believe that these two cornerstones of the British theatrical firmament are not regularly presented as a double act. Not hard to believe, however, that the Hazlitt/Changeling combo are the ones to do it.
Biased as I am, I cannot refrain from congratulating Sarah on a superb performance. (The other actors in the company were all very good as well, you understand.) It must be a coveted role to play. Everybody knows the lines "A handbag" and "to lose one parent etc." but the part has many gems. One I particularly like:
I do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance. Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit; touch it and the bloom is gone. The whole theory of modern education is radically unsound. Fortunately in England, at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever. If it did, it would prove a serious danger to the upper classes, and probably lead to acts of violence in Grosvenor Square.

AIDS, condoms and Africa

Crisis Magazine for June 2006 has a good article by Sue Ellin Browder, Dirty Little Secret: Why Condoms Will Never Stop AIDS in Africa. Thanks to Greg Clovis for spotting this one.

Sermon on Mary and participation at Mass

Marco Vervoorst, author of the Traditional Anglo Papist blog put a kind comment on my ordination anniversary post. Surfing through his blogs, I discover a link to a sermon about how Mary teaches us how to offer Mass. That is a theme dear to my own heart so I look it up to discover that it is in fact the sermon that I preached last year at the London Oratory :-)

Bulwer-Lytton contest

My good friend James Corum reminded me today of the Bulwer-Lytton contest, described as follows by the organisers:
Since 1982 the English Department at San Jose State University has sponsored the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, a whimsical literary competition that challenges entrants to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels.
The inspiration for the contest is the writing of the Victorian novelist Edward George Bulwer-Lytton. The opening of Paul Clifford is the model that contestants strive to emulate:
"It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents--except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness."
The site has a page called "Sticks and Stones" featuring examples of bad writing by published authors who are paid for their work.

One of my favourites from the 2006 contest:
It had been a dark and stormy night, but as dawn began to light up the eastern sky, to the west the heavens suddenly cleared, unveiling a pale harvest moon that reposed gently atop the distant mesa like a pumpkin on a toilet with the lid down.
Gerald R. Johnson
Vancouver, WA

Friday, 28 July 2006

22 today

I was ordained on 28 July 1984 at the Church of Our Lady of the Annunciation, Addiscombe, by Bishop John Jukes. This morning at Mass, I told the people of a quip by the late Fr Edward Holloway, founder of the Faith Movement, when he was celebrating his 50th: "I feel that on these occasions, rather than celebrating so wildly, one should make a good act of contrition."

Since it seems to be the custom that people "choose the liturgy" on special occasions like this, we had the preface and the Roman Canon in Latin today. Next year, if I remember to announce it in time, we'll have all the Mass in Latin.

The photos at the ordination were taken by my brother-in-law, Orlando, using some grainy fast black and white film. As a result, they have a pleasantly antique air. Here is a selection (click to enlarge).

Prostration of the ordinand during the Litany of the Saints

The Litany was sung in Latin with all of the canonised saints of the English College included by name.

Porrectio instrumentorum

The Council of Florence taught that the handing-on of the instruments for celebrating Mass (the chalice and paten) was the matter of the sacrament. Pope Pius XII authoritatively determined that for the future, the matter was the laying-on of hands by the Bishop. The new rite of ordination also stipulates that this is the matter but does retain the handing-on of the instruments.

Finigan family
L-R Jane, Joan, Mary, Tim, Mum (Frankie), Sarah, Dad (John)

Missing from the photo but not from the liturgy (which includes the Church militant, the Church suffering and the Church triumphant) is my brother Gerry who died in 1979. Mum and Dad died a few years ago, their funerals both celebrated by me at the same Church. Do remember them in your prayers as you read this.

Holydays: "seeing the positive side"

On the front page of the Universe this week, the main headline is "Bishops see the positive side in Holy Day switch". The article quotes the official statement saying that it is an opportunity to deepen our faith and understanding" etc.

The other day in Ryde, chatting to Peter Clarke of the Isle of Wight LMS, I thought of another "positive side". Why not ask for permission to celebrate Mass in the classical rite (and therefore according to the classical calendar) on the Holy Days that have been moved? This would give people the chance to celebrate those days legitimately if they choose to do so, and at the same time, introduce them to the rite which Pope Benedict and Archbishop Ranjith have said is a point of reference for the reform of the reform.

Spanish bishops show the way forward

The Spanish Bishops have just published a “pastoral instruction,” entitled “Theology and secularization in Spain, forty years after the end of Vatican Council II.” Sandro Magister has some quotations from it in his weekly column (translated into English). The full text of the instruction in Spanish can be read at the website for the Spanish Bishops’ conference.

The document was planned in conjunction with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and has been three years in the making. (i.e. Cardinal Ratzinger was involved.) It is to be given significant publicity by “L’Osservatore Romano” as a model for other episcopal conferences. The document received more than a two-thirds majority of the Spanish Bishops but key figures are Cardinals Antonio Cañizares Lovera, of Toledo, and Antonio María Rouco Varela, of Madrid, as well as Bishop Eugenio Romero Pose who is president of the doctrinal commission.

Here are a few snippets taken from those translated at Sandro Magister’s site.
On Vatican II
2. They are not few who, in the shadow of a nonexistent Council, in terms of both letter and spirit, have sown agitation and disquiet in the hearts of many of the faithful.

Jesus of history and Christ of faith
At the root of these theories there is often found a rupture between the historicity of Jesus and the profession of the Church’s faith: the historical evidence on Jesus Christ provided by the evangelists is considered to be scarce. From this perspective, the Gospels are studied exclusively as a testimony of faith in Jesus, and are thought to say nothing or very little about Jesus himself, so that they need to be reinterpreted. (28)

Key truths of the faith
When doubts and errors are spread about the Church’s faith in the coming of the Lord in glory at the end of time (the parousia), about the resurrection of the body, about the particular and final judgment, about purgatory, about the real possibility of eternal condemnation (hell) or eternal beatitude (paradise), this has a negative effect on the Christian life of all those who are still pilgrims on this earth, because one then remains “in ignorance about those who have died” and falls into the sadness of those who have no hope (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:13). Silence over these truths of our faith, in the area of preaching and catechesis, is a cause of disorientation among the faithful who experience in their own lives the consequences of the division between what is believed and what is celebrated. (41)

Erroneous understanding of shortage of vocations
The lack of clarity with respect to the ordained ministry in the Church is not extraneous to the vocational crisis of recent years. In some cases there even seems to be the intention to provoke a “vocational desert” in order to produce changes within the Church’s internal structure. (45)

Prophetic disobedience “disastrous”
Conceiving of the consecrated life as a “critical presence” within the Church presupposes an ecclesiological reductionism. When hierarchical communion is lived in dialectic terms, with the opposition of the “official or hierarchical Church” to the “Church as the people of God,” one passes in practice from affinity with the Church to antagonism against it. It is then that the “time of the prophets” is invoked, and the attitudes of dissent, which so seriously fragment ecclesial communion, are passed off as “prophetic denunciations.” The consequences of these arguments are disastrous for the entire Christian people, and, in particular, for consecrated men and women. (47)

Dissenting groups
Groups “whose common characteristic is dissent” present an implacable clash between the hierarchy and the people (in English, the expression often used is “the institutional Church”)
The hierarchy, identified with the bishops, is presented with fairly negative traits: it is a source of “imposition,” “condemnation,” and “exclusion.” In comparison, the “people” with which these groups identify is presented with the opposite traits: it is “liberated,” “pluralistic,” and “open.” This way of presenting the Church implies an explicit invitation to break away from the hierarchy and to construct, in practice, a “parallel Church.” (50)

The human dignity of the embryo
We cannot call into doubt the fact that, from the moment of conception, there exists a real and authentic human life, distinct from that of the parents, for which reason interrupting its natural development constitutes an extremely serious attack against life itself. [...] It is contrary to the Church’s teaching to maintain that until the implantation of the fertilized egg one cannot speak of “human life,” thus establishing a rupture in the order of human dignity between the embryo and what is defined, erroneously, as a “pre-embryo.” (64)

Antonia's wedding

Antonia has published a lovely post on her forthcoming wedding. After the wedding, they are going to Rome where they will pick up sposi novelli tickets for the audience to meet Pope Benedict.

Right! Bloggers all - Atteeeeen SHUN!
Prayers a-plenty for this most Catholic wedding! Storm heaven.

Thursday, 27 July 2006

Islam - Christian heresy

Just found this post with a lengthy quotation from St John of Damascus on Islam, written in the early 8th century. Needs to be widely known.

My review of "Opening Up"

From the current issue of Faith Magazine.

Opening Up. Speaking Out in the Church
edited by Julian Filochowski and Peter Stanford, DLT,284pp, £14.95

Opening Up is a collection of twenty articles and two poems. It ‘speaks out in the Church’ numerous profoundly heterodox opinions. It is published to mark the 60th birthday of Martin Pendergast, the partner of one of the editors, Julian Filochowski, director of CAFOD from 1982-2003. In 2001, a special Mass was celebrated by the Rector of Ushaw seminary to celebrate the 25 years of their partnership, with two prominent Bishops in attendance. Not surprisingly the Church’s teaching on homosexuality is the main focus of some of the articles and several others use the question to illustrate various supposed ills in the Church: discrimination (Sobrino, Heymann), confusion in the priesthood (Loftus), the unfairness of Vatican procedures (Gramick) and the recasting of moral theology (Kelly).

However, the collection covers a range of topics. Clague proposes the thesis that the prohibition of women priests runs counter to the value of inclusion that the Church elsewhere defends; Filochowski writes on the option for the poor; O’Neill attacks the idea of Rome requiring that Catholic politicians act and vote to uphold the natural law; Flessati and Kent offer a defence of Christian pacifism, and Gearty proposes a new model of obedience and conscience.

My own candidate for the worst article in the book is Jane Fraser’s “Teenage Pregnancy: Are the Churches to blame?” She is an Anglican priest and has worked with Brook Advisory Centres for 30 years. In the first paragraph, she claims that pregnant teenagers who abort their baby face “fewer long-term consequences” than those who continue with their pregnancy. She asserts that the Teenage Pregnancy Unit has been successful in reducing social exclusion (though not, of course, teenage pregnancy). She makes the conventional (and mistaken) claim that prior to the 20th century, people believed that life began at “quickening” and (again mistakenly) claims that abortion was almost as common prior to 1967 as after. She approves the Brook approach to counselling in contrast to that of SPUC which was “based on a desire to turn people away from abortion”. She also attacks abstinence programmes and favours sex-education which “encourages [young people] to use contraception if they do have sex.”

It is no surprise that these views and attitudes should be espoused by someone who has worked with the Brook for much of her life. What does prompt a raised eyebrow at least is that prominent British Catholics—even those who dissent from the Magisterium in other ways – should find it acceptable to be associated with such a position.

Fr Timothy Radcliffe’s article “Kneading the Dough of the Eucharist” includes some characteristic paradoxes (“One cannot imagine a more solid and, in some ways, traditional Catholic than Martin”) and original imagery. The thesis is that there is a dichotomy in the Church between the centre and the margins and that our work must be like kneading dough which takes the margin and puts it back in the centre. This is helped out by the image of God “whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere”.

Enda McDonagh is the preferred moral theologian in CAFOD’s justification for accepting that condoms are part of the solution to the AIDS problem. His article in this collection makes the astonishing (and false) claim that the manuals of moral theology from 1600-1960 “completely ignored love/friendship”. He suggests that the Church’s recognition of the legitimacy of using the infertile period persuaded moral theologians that contraception was acceptable “and, in a further step, that sexual loving may not be confined to just heterosexual relationships”. Therefore, he proposes that it would be appropriate to give a Christian blessing of the “love and justice” involved in a homosexual union. Conversely, it is against “love and justice” to exclude pro-abortion politicians from communion.

One recurring theme of the articles is what might be called “homosexual ontology”. James Alison makes a heartfelt case for the acceptance of homosexuality in the Church. He asks that his proposal be accepted in the Vatican as a “cry for help”. Basing his argument on Trent’s decree on justification, he argues that the homosexual inclination is not intrinsically evil because that would “fall into the heresy of claiming that there is some part of being human which is intrinsically depraved”. He accepts that one side or the other in this argument must be wrong “Either being gay is a defective form of being heterosexual or it is simply a thing that just is that way.” The answer of the Magisterium has been to speak of disorder, rather than defect, referring to the whole person, rather than accepting that a person could rightly define themselves as “gay”.

Regarding the teaching of the Magisterium, Jordan, defending the principles of Dignity, claims that Persona Humana (1975) “admitted a permanent and unchangeable homosexuality – that is, homosexuality much like nature” and that this was “corrected” in Homosexualitatis Problema (2005). There may be some justification in this. Persona Humana did speak of “homosexuals who are definitively such because of some kind of innate instinct or a pathological constitution judged to be incurable.” whereas Homosexualitatis Problema spoke instead of “deep-seated homosexual tendencies”, avoiding any concession to the idea that homosexuality is “who I am”. In fact, Persona Humana based its fundamental reasoning on the natural law and the “kind of” (specie) qualification saves what might, with hindsight, be considered a loose expression.

The discussion of this point is perhaps the most important challenge to the Magisterium on the question of homosexuality. It is linked with the discussion of ‘gender’. Homosexual ontology proposes that it is erotic ‘orientation’ and not gender which is inherent to ‘the way we are made’. In this brave new world view you can change your gender, or even as in modern Spain self-define whether you are male, female or trans-gender, whereas your very human nature determines whether you are heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual—it’s ‘in the genes’. This would be effectively to re-write Genesis as ‘in the image of God he created him, gay and straight he created them’. It is necessary for the Church to elaborate clearly that ‘nothing was homosexual in the beginning’ (apologies to Tolkein) and that homosexual tendencies and temptations are a contingent aspect of fallen human nature. The distinction between acts and condition was fine as a guide for pastors before the political and theological advance of the gay lobby. Now, it is necessary to tackle the question of the homosexual condition itself as a doctrinal matter. In Faith movement we believe that Edward Holloway has provided a good basis from which to do this for modern culture. Perhaps Fr Editor might consider commissioning something on this ever more crucial subject.

Although I believe that this is the most important question raised in the book, a review would be incomplete without mentioning two other articles which touch on other aspects of the debate. Fuller and Keenan take on the question of condoms and AIDS, promoting the use of condoms, attacking abstinence programmes, and praising the CAFOD policy. The best approach to this debate in my opinion, is to look at the statistics from those countries which have promoted condoms (e.g. Botswana, Thailand), those countries which have refused to do so (e.g. the Philippines, Senegal), and those countries which have had a mixed approach (e.g. Uganda). The figures speak for themselves. Moreover, the statistics published by the Department of Health in the UK show enormous increases from 1995-2004 in those STIs that are supposedly protected against by condoms.

Sr Heymann’s article is one of the most irritating of the collection. We are treated to the story of how she was prejudiced against people who were gay or HIV-positive but learned to overcome her prejudices. She tells us of “pious churchgoers” pointing a finger at a minority and eschews the title “Ten commandments” for her list of “Dreams” because “I know such a title would be counterproductive, especially if suggested by a woman”. She suggests that someone with AIDS should be invited to preach the homily at Sunday Mass. She tells the story of a lady in Crawley who was helped to overcome her prejudices after she was hesitant about helping those with HIV/AIDS, saying “I have never spoken to a gay man in my life”. Sunlight burst through the clouds of her sheltered existence in Crawley, of course, when her interlocutor told her “Well you are doing so right now”.

Close behind was the piece by Ann Smith. This is a poem where the “not simple solution” (i.e. not abstinence or condoms alone) is life-giving. “Roman purse-strings tighten” when the prophetically brave leaders speak out (to promote condoms). The poor people at risk of AIDS are threatened by the “soutaned Goliaths” (who oppose condoms) and the grey-suited Goliaths (who sell condoms): both offer “simple solutions”. The people have colluded with them and kept too quiet and now it is time to speak out in terms of “The Spirit-crafted hymn for life / -A hymn they labelled death”. Is this meant to imply that what Pope John Paul called “the culture of death” is in fact a gift of the Holy Spirit? It would be in keeping with the tenor of much of this book.

Sr Jeannine Gramick makes an appearance. After numerous complaints about her opposition to the teaching of Magisterium on the morality of homosexual acts, she was asked to assent to the teaching of the Church, which she refused to do. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith then prohibited her from pastoral work with homosexuals. Her article largely focuses on justifying her subsequent disobedience to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. She offers a variety of possible models of disobedience (creative circumvention, prophetic disobedience, discernment) and effectively compares the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to the Nazis by suggesting that obedience is like the Eichmann principle (“I was only obeying orders”) and that a person not wishing to follow such a command should meditate on the holocaust.

Worth notice is O’Neill’s attack on Rome’s guidance to Catholics in public life. A QC, he argues that it would be difficult to follow such guidance and be a loyal citizen of one’s country. He characterises Pope John Paul’s position in Memory and Identity to mean that Catholics are “free only to do what the Pope says.” Interestingly, his vision of the democratic society includes people having different views on moral and political questions and “having the right and opportunity to express, publicise and proselytise for those views”. Sir Iqbal Sacranaie or Helen and Joe Roberts might have a perspective on that after being investigated by police for their allegedly “homophobic” views.

The quality of the articles varies quite a bit. Clague’s defence of feminism and McGreal’s article on ecumenism and intercommunion are well-written expositions of what might now be indeed called “traditional” heterodox positions. I would not personally go along with the views of Alan Griffiths on the Liturgy, but his article is thought-provoking and intelligent. However, Kaggwa’s article on the Spirit shows how easily poor theology can lead astray: “The Spirit is the point of contact where the Father and the Son touch history. Maybe we can say that the Spirit is the ‘how’ and Christ is the ‘what’.” Or maybe we can’t since it is heresy.

Also included in the collection is an article by Diarmuid O’Murchu. He believes that “Jesus was a cultural, mystical subversive who was not too worried about his inherited religion”, which makes me wonder if he has read St Matthew’s gospel. He also thinks that it is a “scholastic principle” that action follows thought. Actually, this is a new-age principle of, for example, Hattie Warner’s “Healing Therapy Garden”. The scholastic principle is agere sequitur esse. The article has little to commend it, rehashing various commonplaces such as Trent’s affirmation of “clerical monopoly”, the discovery by the Jesus Seminar of the meaning of the Kingdom which has eluded Christians for 2000 years and the idea that the spirit is plunging the patriarchal priesthood into terminal decline.

What is interesting is that a previous book by O’Murchu called “Reframing Religious Life” was recently the subject of a doctrinal note by the Spanish Bishops. Published in L’Osservatore Romano, the note concluded that the book is “an efficient formula for the progressive distortion and destruction of religious and consecrated life, separating it little by little from the Church, divorcing it from the service of mankind and dissolving it in a world that does not know Christ.” The book had been circulating in the English-speaking world for eight years before the Spanish Bishops responded to its translation. Perhaps we should encourage DLT that there is a big Spanish audience for “Opening Up”.

Published in Faith Magazine July-August 2006

Faith & Tablet online comparison

The policy of Faith Magazine is to make all the content of the Magazine available free of charge online. If people want to have a paper copy, they can order the Magazine by subscription and pay for it. But we are not in the business of making money. The important thing is that the ideas get out to as many people as possible.

I am delighted to see that the new look Tablet website (you didn't expect me to put a link there did you?) still only gives bits of the content of the print edition. This is great. The more barriers there are to people reading it, the better.

Faith Magazine July-August 2006

The Faith Magazine for July-August 2006 is now online. This issue is really outstanding. The editorial is on the impact of infallibility and the future of Catholicism. Fr Linus Clovis has finally got his talk on Slavery and the Gospel of Life onto paper. One of the sisters from St Cecilia's, Ryde has a first-rate article on Guéranger and Mgr Keith Barltrop piece on re-awakening the Catholic imagination is hard-hitting and very much to the point. Lots more - all available for free download.

Accommodation needed for mother

The Good Counsel Network have asked us to advertise the following:
needs accommodation locally for 6 months. She has no right to benefits or housing but will receive a small living allowance.
contact the Good Counsel Network 020 7723 1740 or by email

Mass at St Cecilia's

Having said the old rite at St Mary's, I said the new rite yesterday morning at the Monastery of St Cecilia which is also in Ryde. The photo above is taken from the public part of the chapel. The grille on the right of the sanctuary marks off the enclosure. So the priest saying Mass faces the community with the visitors to his right.

The feast of St Joachim and St Anne is a special day for the community because it is the anniversary of Dom Prosper Guéranger's taking his vows. Guéranger founded the original Ste Cécile community of which St Cecilia's in Ryde is a direct descendant. To be honest, I find it terrifying saying Mass for the sisters. The view from the sanctuary of the community in choir is most impressive: as indeed is their execution of the chant. The standard of their Liturgy is so perfect that I feel a bit like a country bumpkin parish priest lumbering into the Papal Court. They are always very kind, of course but I made an awful hash of intoning the Gloria which was from Mass X.

At St Cecilia's, the entire Office and Mass is chanted in Latin. The enclosure is strictly observed and the way of life of the sisters does not compromise in any way with the "spirit of the age". Hence, as you would expect, they are thriving, with several novices and regular "nibblers" who come to see more of the life.

(If you did not expect this or are in any way surprised, you need to catch up a bit on what has been happening in the last 20 years in the Church.)

The sisters have produced a number of CDs which can be ordered by post. There is a list on their website but it is not easy to find. From the St Cecilia's homepage, click on "Visit the Abbey" and then "Gregorian Chant books and CDs".

After Mass, I get the chance to catch up with one of the sisters who was a contemporary of mine at Oxford. This time, I get the big parlour which has enough room for all the community to gather if someone is giving a retreat conference or a talk.

Sister reminds me that she made her profession in the same year as my ordination. 22 years ago!

In my sermon at the Mass, I referred to Guéranger's description of the monastic life as an image of the incarnation. The religious community makes Christ present in the world through their faithful carrying-out of the work of God in the liturgy, the community life and daily work. I reminded them that it is a consolation to us in the parish to know that there are these communities, "powerhouses of prayer" who are interceding for us constantly.

Mass for Isle of Wight LMS

My visit to Ryde was at the invitation of the Isle of Wight Latin Mass Society. The LMS is thriving on the Island and the members take a very active part in their own parishes. The Mass was at the beautiful Victorian Gothic Church of St Mary's in Ryde. Here is the interior of the Church:

As I mentioned, the Church was founded by the Countess of Clare. In the sacristy, there is a brass plaque asking the priest to remember her at the Mass.

The Mass was for the feast of St James and I took the opportunity to refer to the devotion that the Spanish people had to St James, particularly in relation to the conversion of Muslims. I tried to spell out some of the ways in which Christianity fulfils "anything that is true and holy" (cf Nostra Aetate n.2) in Islam - such as the practice of regular prayer, almsgiving, modesty, and love for the family. I also suggested that we should be less timid about evangelisation of Muslims since every Muslim convert I have spoken to tells of how the message of Christianity was a wonderful discovery for them.

It was a relief to me that Fr Joseph Moukarzel was kind enough to comment favourably on what I had said. Fr Joseph is a Maronite priest from Lebanon who is staying in England in order to do some research and has been helping out at Ryde while the parish priest is away. It was most interesting to talk to him about the Church in Lebanon. He works at the Holy Spirit University at Kaslik and is hoping to return soon.

In the evening, a group from the LMS took myself and Fr Joseph out to the Crab and Lobster pub in Bembridge, overlooking the sea.

Journey to the Isle of Wight

There seems to be something terribly English about the journey to the Isle of Wight. The train from Waterloo to Portsmouth Harbour is mercifully now upgraded stock with air-conditioning but the changes en route are still much as they have been for decades. Starting out, there is a view of the Houses of Parliament, followed quickly by ugly and dilapidated inner-city industrial buildings (brightened up a bit by the imposing MI6 building.) There is a trawl through increasingly well-kept suburbia and then a long haul through countryside punctured only by places like Haslemere and Havant. Finally, Portsmouth passes by with suburbs, industry, tower-blocks and then the harbour in quick succession. Just outside the station is this magnificent vessel:

In the distance, there is the naval part of the harbour. To be honest, the weather was not good for photographs, being impossibly hazy. However it did show quite neatly the camoulflage effect of battleship grey.

I first went to the Isle of Wight on a family holiday when I was seven. I remember it as a very happy fortnight spent with my brothers, sisters and cousins. In those days, I think the crossing was by steamer. Now it is by catermeran. The alternative is to go by small hovercraft which I must try one day but there is no easy link with the station. (Mind you, it must be easy enough to get a taxi.)

Alison Davis on stem cell research

Today's Independent carries a Independent Online Edition >Letter from Alison Davis in reply to a recent article by Stephen Hawking. Her letter concludes:
I am a full-time wheelchair user and have several severely disabling conditions. I would be happy to avail myself of ethical stem-cell treatment, and stem cells from these sources are most likely to provide the treatments and cures I look forward to.

I would never accept embryonic stem-cell treatments, because I would not want it on my conscience to be "helped" at the expense of killing some of the most vulnerable of my fellow human beings.

Tuesday, 25 July 2006

Latin on the Isle of Wight

I am invited today by the Latin Mass Society of the Isle of Wight to celebrate Mass at St Mary's, Ryde, founded by the Countess of Clare in 1842. (She also founded St Mary's in West Croydon.)

Tomorrow morning, I will be celebrating Mass in Latin in the new rite at St Cecilia's Abbey, also in Ryde. This thriving community sings the office in Latin each day and Mass is celebrated in Latin with all the texts sung from the Graduale.

Monday, 24 July 2006

Question about Harry Potter

Via Domenico Bettinelli, a thoughtful post from Melanie Bettinelli of The Wine-Dark Sea on Harry Potter, Anti-hero. She argues principally against the morality of the Harry Potter stories. referring to Scott Peterson, she points out that Harry does the same things as Voldemort but is always assumed to be right whereas Voldemort is wrong.
Harry lies and cheats and steals and seldom gets punished. And this might be ok except this is a kids book and it never questions Harry's morals or even presents him struggling with the moral issues.
The punchline in this discussion is a question asked by another author "Llama Butchers":
If he could obtain it, would Harry use The Ring to defeat Voldemort?
That very neatly illustrates the superiority of Tolkein's story.

Responses for the Classical Rite

For any budding servers who need to learn the responses to the Classical Roman rite, there is a website with sound clips both "fast" and "slow".

As Brook funding goes up, so do STIs

On 19 July, David Amess MP asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
"how much his Department gave to the Belfast Brook Advisory Centre in each year since its opening; and what the rates of sexually transmitted infections were in Northern Ireland in each year over the same period."
The answer said that figures were only available from 1997.

Funding for Brook from Health and Social Services Boards (in £ sterling)
1997-98 - 52,702
1998-99 - 52,596
1999-2000 - 62,786
2000-01 - 83,356
2001-02 - 75,112
2002-03 - 79,347
2003-04 - 88,961
2004-05 - 107,469
2005-06 - 107,831
In addition, the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety has provided one-off funding to the organisation as follows: (in £ sterling)
1997-98 - nil
1998-99 - 1,875
1999-2000 - 10,000
2000-01 - 6,450
2001-02 - 9,000
2002-03 - 4,000
2003-04 - nil
2004-05 - nil
2005-06 - nil
Now all that safe sex funding should have some sort of an outcome. Here are the rates of new treatment episodes of sexually transmitted infections:
1995 - 2,076
1996 - figures not complete
1997 - figures not complete
1998 - 2,650
1999 - 3,118
2000 - 3,504
2001 - 3,494
2002 - 3,741
2003 - 3,873
2004 - 3,930
2005 - 4,393
Source Hansard . Hat tip to SPUC Parliamentary Answers page.

Saturday, 22 July 2006

Catholic bloggers' menu

Bloggers Fr Stephanos and Gerald Augustinus met the other day for dinner at a Bavarian restaurant in San Diego. This makes me think that we have to have a pilgrimage to San Diego to meet these guys. I could think of a number of priests for whom a good evening like this would be a great tonic. Reading the posts on both blogs, I got to wondering what the menu was. Here is my version - a little bit after the style of Private Eye.


Monkfish roulade
Arinzotto alla casa
Gumbleton on toast


Rump de l'Eveque (tenderised)
Duck a l'Oranjith
Selection of vegetables (USCCB)


Chocolate indulgence (40 days)
Melted Todd Brownie

Cotes du Rhine (flowing freshly into the Tiber)
La Chasse du Pape (Tally ho!)
Kool-ade in glass pitchers


Theology of Gender at New Addington

After Mass this evening, I drove round to Fr Stephen Boyle's parish of the Good Shepherd in New Addington to give the first in a series of talks for young adults. The theme was "The male priesthood and the theology of gender". In preparation, I used two previous pieces that I did some years ago. One was a talk in 1992 to the Kings College Catholic Society on the question of women priests. It was interesting to see that it was given shortly after the decision of the Church of England to ordain women priests. The other was an editorial I wrote for Faith Magazine in 1997: Male and Female: does it matter?. (The link takes you to the EWTN library which has stored the article.)

The question has moved on quite a bit in the last nine years. When I wrote the editorial, it would have seemed rather "extreme" to suggest that people would regard "gender" as something merely contingent rather than being a necessary aspect of our created human nature. The question of the theology of gender is now one of the most important challenges to the Church. The women priests question is something of a side-issue in this wider debate. If being male or female has no essential meaning, then the question of women priests is already settled. And if the Church maintains on the contrary that our gender is an intrinsic part of our being a human person, then those who do not accept this will likely rail angrily against this rather then the specific question of women priests.

Excellent company this evening and some lively and helpful discussion. The young people were all eager to promote the teaching of the Church and we were mainly focussed on the most effective way to do this.

(Fr Stephen used the services of Flyerboy to produce promotional postcards for the series of talks. This is something I must get into!)

Friday, 21 July 2006

Vocations page on parish website

People very kindly tell me that my parish website it great etc. Blogging about vocations reminded me that there was one area in which it was woefully lacking. Nothing at all about vocations!

So I have remedied that with a new page about priestly vocations. I would be grateful for any comments or suggestions (especially from Fr Stephen & team.)

(I do realise that there should also be something about vocations to the religious life.)

Southwark Vocations Blog

Fr Stephen writes:
For up to date news on whats happening vocations-wise in Southwark I'd recommend the Southwark Vocations Blog rather than the website.
Sorry - I forgot about that. (And it is even on my own blogroll!) I'm happy to recommend the blog - especially to any lad who may be thinking about the priesthood and wondering where to go next.

(May I offer a suggestion - it would be good to have a prominent link to the blog on the front page of the Southwark Vocations Website.)

Holydays abolished

Yes, I know - they have not been abolished, just moved to Sunday. And in fact, not all of them have been moved: only the feasts of the Lord - Epiphany, Ascension and Corpus Christi. Given the reasoning of the statement from Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor, it is difficult to make sense of this distinction. Why should we need to celebrate the life of Our Lord more profoundly and not the mystery of the Assumption of Our Lady? Is it after all thought that the "hierarchy of truths" means that there is less need to celebrate the communion of Saints profoundly?

Many priests may be concerned at the diminishing observance of Holydays. My parish is probably typical in having about half the Mass attendance that we would have on an average Sunday. However, the people who do come value these days immensely. One parent spoke to me yesterday, concerned at reading in last week's Catholic Herald that the application was being made to Rome. The Holydays are one of those distinctive features of the life of practising Catholic families. They are a bit awkward sometimes, for priests and people alike, but they remind us of our Catholic identity.

The people who don't bother to come to Mass on Holydays will not be much affected by this change. It is the solid practising Catholic families who will be most disappointed.

Here is the Cardinal's statement:
Statement from the president of the Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor 20 July 2006

For some time the Bishops have been considering the celebration of Holy Days of Obligation in England and Wales. We have responded to requests from Diocesan Councils of Priests and many others, deeply concerned at the diminishing observance of these days.

In order to foster the celebration of the rhythm of the liturgical year and to celebrate more profoundly the mysteries of the life and mission of the Lord, the Bishops have decided to transfer to Sunday those Holy Days of Obligation which are Solemnities of the Lord (other than Christmas Day). This means that the Epiphany, the Ascension of the Lord and Corpus Christi will now be celebrated on Sunday.

The Bishops commend this as an opportunity for Catholics to deepen, through catechesis and celebration, their faith and understanding of these mysteries of the life of Christ.

The current practice is retained with regard to other Holy Days of Obligation. In other words, Christmas Day, the Apostles Peter and Paul, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and All Saints will continue to be celebrated as at present. With the exception of Christmas Day, the discipline in England and Wales is that when these days fall on a Saturday or Monday they are transferred to Sunday. The Bishops call on all Catholics to observe their celebration.

The Holy See approved these changes to the calendar on 13 July 2006 and they take effect on 3 December 2006, the First Sunday of Advent.

If dogs could speak ...

Shiela and Pat Connolly of my parish kindly hosted a Garden Party today in aid of the Sunshine International Project. You can see some pictures over at my parish blog. Here's one I thought more suitable for this blog:

click to enlarge

Stephen Colbert Sunday School Teacher

Thanks to Amy Wellborn, I found this clip of Stephen Colbert being interviewed about his voluntary work as a Sunday School teacher. It includes a re-run of his "The King of Glory" dance :-)

Vocations need support

DilexitPrior has an interesting post with a report on a survey by Avvenire. The survey found that 1 in 10 young people feel at some point a call to the priesthood or religious life but most abandoned the idea after a few months.

The reason many gave was the lack of friends who had a similar desire to consecrate themselves to the Lord. The paper pointed to the need for guides to assist and support young people in their vocation.

The survey is a powerful affirmation of the work that Fr Stephen Langridge and his team are doing in the Archdiocese of Southwark. The focus of the team for promoting vocations is on keeping in touch with young people, arranging various events - weekends, retreats, and "come and see" type events. You can find out more at the Southwark Vocations website.

This Sunday: Day of Prayer and Penance for peace in the Middle East

The Holy Father, Pope Benedict, has asked us to observe a day of prayer and penance this coming Sunday to "implore the precious gift of peace" from God in response to the increasing violence that has developed in recent days in the Middle East.
Faced with worsening situation in the Middle East, the Holy See Press Office has been directed to communicate the following:

The Holy Father is following with great concern the destinies of all the peoples involved and has proclaimed this Sunday, July 23, as a special day of prayer and penance, inviting the pastors and faithful of all the particular Churches, and all believers of the world, to implore from God the precious gift of peace.

In particular, the Supreme Pontiff hopes that prayers will be raised to the Lord for an immediate cease-fire between the sides, for humanitarian corridors to be opened in order to bring help to the suffering peoples, and for reasonable and responsible negotiations to begin to put an end to objective situations of injustice that exist in that region; as already indicated by Pope Benedict XVI at the Angelus last Sunday, July 16.

In reality, the Lebanese have the right to see the integrity and sovereignty of their country respected, the Israelis the right to live in peace in their State, and the Palestinians have the right to have their own free and sovereign homeland.

At this sorrowful moment, His Holiness also makes an appeal to charitable organizations to help all the people struck by this pitiless conflict.

Vatican Information Service 20 July 2006

Thursday, 20 July 2006

Faber on Montfort's True Devotion

Writing in 1862 in the preface to his own translation of True Devotion to Mary, Faber said:
Here in England, Mary is not half enough preached. Devotion to her is low and thin and poor. It is frightened out of its wits by the sneer of heresy. It is always invoking human respect and carnal prudence, wishing to make Mary so little of a Mary that Protestants may feel at ease about her. Its ignorance of theology makes it unsubstantial and unworthy. It is not the prominent characteristic of our religion which it ought to be. It has no faith in itself. Hence it is that Jesus is not loved, that heretics are not converted, that the Church is not exalted; that souls which might be saints wither and dwindle; that the Sacraments are not rightly frequented, or souls enthusiastically evangelised.
Now that was in 1862. Nothing to do with today. No relevance at all. Purely an historical observation.

Consecration to Mary

I try to renew my consecration to Mary on 22 August each year, the feast of Our Lady, Queen and Mother. This is convenient for me because it usually falls during my "holiday" in August when I take five days off to go to Lourdes or somewhere.

This year, I will be spending those five days at Parkminster by the kind permission of the novice master. He is keen that I should experience the Carthusian way of life to help out when lecturing to the novices. That's great as far as I am concerned!

So today I begin the preparation, using the very helpful guide Preparation for Total Consecration according to Saint Louis Marie de Montfort, published by Montfort publications. I don't claim to be a great practitioner of this devotion but what I do know is that it is a great help in my spiritual life and in my priesthood.

In the TAN books edition of Montfort's True Devotion to Mary, there is a page of quotes from the Popes. This is greatly enhanced by the explicit recommendation of Pope John Paul who described reading the book as a "decisive turning point" in his life. He affirmed that is was from Montfort that he took his motto Totus Tuus.

Tuesday, 18 July 2006

Liturgical dance by Stephen Colbert

American comedian Stephen Colbert has been attracting quite a bit of comment on his references to faith. One very funny sketch has him reciting the Nicene creed (see Mormon2Catholic for video and comment.) Recently, in his slot, he interviewed Bart Ehrman, an agnostic scripture scholar and author of "Misquoting Jesus". It's not by any means a fair discussion but it is fascinating (for us in England) to see that such an interview could even happen on TV. It is not on YouTube so you have to go to the Comedy Central Colbert Report page to watch it.

The video below of his liturgical dance is one I saw a while back but then infuriatingly couldn't find it again. Many thanks, therefore to Amy Wellborn who referred to it on her blog today. Enjoy!

Sex-ed: pouring petrol on the fire

An article in today's Telegraph Schools get help for 'too sexual' pupils tells how Birmingham Council's "Inappropriate Sexual Behaviour Team" is sending in "teams of experts" to schools to tackle the problem of little children engaging in sexually explicit behaviour. Stephane Breton, a social worker is quoted as saying:
They are seven and eight and they are flirtatious. We go with them and address the issue to make sure they know what they are talking about.
So that's all right then.

Yesterday, the same paper reported on how £150m plan has failed to cut teenage pregnancies. The £150 million has been spent on the notorious Teenage Pregnancy Unit. The headline figures from the TPU show a small decline in teenage pregnancy "rates" - but there is actually an increase in the number of teenage pregnancies. Critics of the figures have pointed out that the rates can fall where there is an increase in population, especially in the population of Muslims "where teenage pregnancy is rare" - i.e. where there is sound moral education for teenagers.

To get some idea of why children are becoming sexualised at an early age and why £150 million has done nothing useful to reduce teenage pregnancy rates, it is worth having a look at another article from the Telegraph about a book for PSHE (Personal, Social and Health Education) produced by Coordination Group Publications. Alternatively, have a look at the unit descriptors for the Channel 4 DVD All about us: Living and Growing - a programme that is used in at least one Catholic school to my knowledge:
Unit 1: For Ages 5-7
* Differences
* How Did I Get Here? (Contains animation of the sexual organs)
* Growing Up

Unit 2: For Ages 7-9
* Changes
* How Babies Are Made (Contains animation of sexual intercourse)
* Growing Up (Contains footage of a live birth)

Unit 3: For Ages 9-11
* Girl Talk
* Boy Talk (Contains information on erections, wet dreams and masturbation. There is an animated sequence showing ejaculation)
If some old bloke on a park bench showed children how to masturbate, he would be lucky if the police got to him before their parents did. Nevertheless, campaigners against this kind of sex-education are routinely dismissed as cranks and extremists. They may begin to find some allies outside the Catholic sector as parents become aware of the actual content of these materials. In 2003, parents of children at a non-Catholic school in Dagenham protested vigorously and got the programme banned, saying it was "virtually pornographic". In Scotland, North Lanarkshire Council, East Renfrewshire Council and the Western Isles Council have all banned the programme as unsuitable for use in schools.

Betjeman and C S Lewis

Oxford Today recently arrived on my doormat. This is a magazine sent (as far as I know) to graduates of the University. The news content is limited but useful, giving notice, for example, of the revamp of the Ashmolean Museum, and a page explaining some of the more recent findings by Oxford scientists.

The rest of the magazine is devoted to a collection of first-rate articles related in one way or another to Oxford life. The latest issue has a fascinating piece on John Betjeman “The dilettante and the dons” by Judith Priestman, a specialist in 20th century literature who works on Western manuscripts at the Bodleian Library.

Frankly, I am not terribly fascinated by the dilettante bit. Betjeman was one of those teddy-bear carrying high Anglicans who went about in a silk dressing-gown, ate plovers’ eggs and corresponded with Oscar Wilde's lover. The attraction of the article is the description of his encounter with C S Lewis who was his tutor in English.

After a term as an undergraduate, Lewis had been sent to Arras where he was wounded. After the war, he returned to Oxford, took a first in Greats and then a degree in English. He was not sympathetic to the effete set of the twenties who had not endured the horrors of the trenches. Priestman describes Lewis’s style of entertainment during this period of his life before he became a Christian. It involved beer and tobacco and the recitation of Norse sagas. She comments:
His teaching style was pugnacious, and with his tweed jacket, pipe and aggressively unpoetic vocabulary (excellence was indicated by a laconic ‘all right’; defaulters were said to need ‘a smack or so’ to get them into line), Jolly Jack Lewis appeared to be the embodiment of everything that was hearty and antithetical to the fey, Anglo-Catholic aesthete Betjeman
On one of the rare occasions when Betjeman did turn up to a tutorial, he was wearing ‘eccentric bedroom slippers’. Lewis recorded in his diary:
[he] said he hoped I didn’t mind them as he had a blister. He seemed so pleased with himself that I couldn’t help replying that I should mind them very much myself but that I had no objection to his wearing them.
Lewis told Betjeman that he would have got a Third but in fact he ended his undergraduate days by obtaining a “pass” degree without honours. His enmity for C S Lewis was bitter and lasting. In a very different age, the University rehabilitated him by awarding him an honorary doctorate in 1974.

Monday, 17 July 2006

Faith Summer Session

It is just two weeks to go before the annual Faith Summer Session at Woldingham School in Surrey. This is a gathering of some 250 people, mostly sixth-formers, students and young working people aged 16-25, but with a good sprinkling of young priests and seminarians and some religious sisters. We spend Monday to Friday listening to high quality lectures on the Catholic faith, there is daily Mass and divine office, confessions, benediction. Great sports facilities (including swimming pool and gym) - and some partying with Scots music, fireworks and general ribaldry in the evening.

If you are thinking of going, it is high time you let Ann McCallion know. You can book via the Faith Website.

Sunday, 16 July 2006

Explosions in Blackfen

Two loud explosions and a plume of black smoke that seems about half a mile from the presbytery to the south a few minutes ago. Say a prayer that nobody is hurt. Lots of sirens starting to converge.

Turns out it was an over-enthusiastic family bonfire involving the disposal of some dodgy fireworks. Neighbours were not terribly amused. Nobody was hurt, thank God.

"Vocations Pastor" appointed seminary Rector

A great interview with Mgr McDonald in today's National Catholic Register. Mgr McDonald has just been appointed as Rector of the seminary of the Immaculate Conception in the Diocese of Rockville. A taster:
How does the immediate short-term look?
Bishop Murphy asked me how we are going to get more priests. I told him, “From the Blessed Mother, who gave us the first priest.”
Hat tip to the Curt Jester.

Rome on parish mergers

Most interesting post from Amy Wellborn. Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy points out in a letter to Bishop Skylstad that the use of canon 123 (parish suppressions) is not appropriate when there is a merging or amalgamation of parishes. One quote:
...only with great difficulty, can one say that a parish becomes extinct. A parish is extinguished by the law itself only if no Catholic community any longer exists in its territory, or if no pastoral activity has taken place for a hundred years (can. 120 #1)
Where in fact it is an amalgamation that has taken place and not a suppression, the consequence is spelt out:
the goods and liabilities should go with the amalgamated juridic person, and not to the diocese.
Canonists and those affected by parish mergers may well want to read the whole letter.

DVD of the life of Mother Teresa

Thanks to the American Papist for news of the release of the new DVD of the life of Mother Teresa. I did have an amazon link here to buy it from Amazon UK. However the link only goes to the NTSC format DVD which is not playable on most DVD players here. I suppose this will be like the film of St Therese - nobody is interested in England.

Compendium of the Catechism online

Fr Stephanos reports that you can now read the Compendium of the Catechism online. This is great news but infuriatingly, the Vatican server seems to be down or something. If you can get the text at this link, I'd be grateful for a short comment. I'll also try again later.

Lord alone knows what that was about. Still, it has prompted me to clean a lot of junk and temporary files, run virus and spyware scans, check the firewall settings, run a few backtrace checks and so on before it spontaneously decided to show up again :-)

Saturday, 15 July 2006

Blessing generator

As a priest, you are occasionally asked to "say a prayer" at some fairly secular occasion. You have two choices here. One is to launch gung-ho into something about the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Holy Angels. People outside the Church usually appreciate this, it being what they would expect anyway from a Catholic priest.

The other choice may be recommended by the cautious: "discretion is the better part of valour". So they urge you to say something conciliatory and non-committal. The trouble is, you may not be too good at doing "bland and wet".

Well help is now at hand with the Worldwide Blessing Generator. Its creators say,
In an effort to balance the negativity of the world, we have created the WBG. It mixes blessings and prayers from all world religions and gives a random hybrid of spiritual goodness.
All you need to do is click on the "bless me" button and a random blessing gets generated for that special occasion when you are lost for words. Here is a sample:

May your prayers be deeper than words,
and all of your relationships be blessed
with balance and harmony.
Let all your things have their places;
let each part of your business have its time.
Move and collaborate.

Just make sure you have a box of tissues ready for anyone who is overcome by the random hybrid of spiritual goodness.

Trad health warning

There has been a line of comment about health warnings on cigarette packets to the effect that they don't really attack the things that people care about. Some light-hearted suggestions for more effective warnings have included "Smoking harms baby seals" or "Smoking contributes to global warming". Here's a health warning that might have more influence in traditional circles:

Friday, 14 July 2006

Fishers of Men video

In the comments box the other day, Kevin of Proud to be Papist recommended this great vocations video produced by the US Bishops Conference.

Respect for human dignity essential to peace

Various blogs have picked up on the news item on Life Site about today's Vatican communiqué announcing the theme of the 2007 World Day of Peace. Interest has focussed particularly on the statement that disordered lifestyles are a threat to peace. The statement was issued in Italian but I think it deserves to be made more widely available. Therefore, gentle reader, my own translation...
The message of His Holiness, Benedict XVI for the 40th World Day of Peace to be celebrated on 1 January 2007 will be dedicated to the following theme “The human person: heart of peace”. The theme of reflection chosen by the Holy Father expresses the conviction that respect for the dignity of the human person is an essential condition for the peace of the human family. Human dignity, in fact, is a seal impressed by God on man, created in His image and likeness (Gen 1.26-27), it is the sign of the common destiny of humanity, it is the foundation of love for God and for neighbour. Only in the awareness of the transcendent dignity of every man and woman is the human family on the path that leads to peace and to communion with God. Indeed, Benedict XVI affirmed in his Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas est: “love for neighbour is a path to encounter God” (16)

Today, perhaps with a more persuasive force and more effective means than in the past, human dignity is menaced by aberrant ideologies, attacked by a distorted use of science and technology, contradicted by various unfitting styles of life. Indeed, ideologies taken from nihilism or from fanaticism (materialistic or religious) profess to negate, or to impose presumed truths on, reality, man or God. Rather than serve the common good of humanity, science and technology (bio-medicine in particular), are often instrumental in an egotistical vision of progress and welfare. In short, propaganda and the growing acceptance of styles of life that are disordered and contrary to human dignity are weakening the hearts and minds of people until they extinguish the desire for an ordered and peaceful way of life. All of this represents a threat for humanity because peace is in danger when human dignity is not respected and when social life does not seek the common good.

The Church has the mission of announcing the Gospel of Life, the centrality of man in the universe and the love of God for humanity. Therefore the Church responds to the challenges of the present time with a christian anthropology founded on the three pillars of human dignity, sociality and action, in the world which is oriented according to the order established by God in the universe. (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 37) and, in the perspective of an integral and co-operative humanism tending to the development of the whole man and of all men. (Paul VI, Populorum progressio)

Indeed, the second Vatican Council underlined how “the Church knows well that its message is in harmony with the most secret longings of the human heart, when it defends the cause of the dignity of the human vocation, and thus restores hope to those who now despair of a higher destiny” (Gaudium et spes 21). Every offence against persons is a threat to peace; every threat to peace is an offence against the truth of the person and of God: “The human person is the heart of peace.
Original Italian text.

Pope Benedict's appointments

Sandro Magister excels himself in his weekly article today. Ratzinger's New Team Trains in the Holy Office offers a good overview and analysis of Pope Benedict's curial appointments with some speculation on possible future moves.

In the past year, I have often discussed the beginning of Pope Benedict's papacy with people who are disillusioned or impatient, wondering when he will do something. My own view is that the opportunity for a thorough reform of the Roman Curia is rare - perhaps only one Pope in a century has the capacity, experience and "inside knowledge" to deliver such a reform. Pope Benedict certainly fits the "person spec" with more than two decades of experience at the CDF. This experience has given him an unparalleled authority within the Vatican and, at the same time, has enabled him to know in considerable detail the particular problems which the Church faces today.

The reform of the Curia is important because of the impact of the Curia on the Church as a whole. To take one example of a line of influence: the Secretariat of State is responsible for the Nuncios who are in turn responsible for recommending candidates for the episcopacy. A Pope can make a few spectacular appointments - as indeed Pope John Paul did - but effective delegation is as essential in the Church as in any large organisation if reform is to be lasting.

If a Pope is able to appoint key personnel according to a clear vision of the needs of the Church, then every stage in the process of making episcopal appointments is reformed in a way that is self-perpetuating. The effects of such a reform are therefore solid and lasting.

None of this is intended in any way as a criticism of Pope John Paul. A part of his papal vocation, one might say, was to use his personal charisma to appeal directly to the populus Dei; something he did with tremendous effect for the future of Eastern Europe, for example. My own view is that Pope Benedict has a different, but also crucially important, vocation which will, in God's providence, benefit the Church for a long time to come.

Rumour of imminent SSPX reconciliation

Following the recent re-election of Bishop Fellay as Superior General of the Society of Saint Pius X, Andrea Tornelli, writing in the Italian daily Il Giornale speculates on the possible reconciliation of the Society. (complete article at Rorate Caeli)
It is possible that, in the past period, with the knowledge that his term was nearing its end, Fellay would have hesitated. Now, however, precise signals are expected in the Vatican. The terms of agreement include the acceptance of the theological agreement already agreed in 1988 by Archbishop Lefebvre and the then Cardinal Ratzinger, the lift of the excommunications decreed by the Holy See after the illegitimate ordination of four bishops by the same Lefebvre, and a canonical structure, similar to that of the military ordinariat, which allows the Fraternity Saint Pius X to preserve its seminaries and to incardinate [its own] priests.

Simultaneously to the agreement, the Holy See will announce a kind of liberalization of the pre-Conciliar Missal of Saint Pius V - a measure very much expected also by Traditionalists in communion with Rome.
Naturally, speculation by Italian vaticanisti always has to be taken with a pinch of salt - but they are often right. A reconciliation with the SSPX would certainly seem to be possible given the groundwork that has already been done. The Una Voce website carries the text, referred to by Tornelli, of the 1988 Protocol of Agreement between the Holy See and the SSPX, signed by Archbishop Lefevbre and Cardinal Ratzinger.

Were the canonical status of the SSPX to be fully regularised, it would be interesting to see the impact of the society on Catholic life. Priests of the SSPX would certainly liven up the average Deanery meeting.

Evangelium - new catechetical resource

Fr Nick Schofield, over at the Roman Miscellany, tells the welcome news of the publication of Evangelium, a catechetical resource published by the CTS. This was prepared by two young priests, recently ordained from the English College in Rome. I saw the draft and commented that it was absolutely excellent - a comment I am delighted that the CTS have used in their publicity.

The package includes powerpoint presentations and material to help group leaders. The use of powerpoint can be helpful but such enhancements do not make a catechetical programme. What makes this programme stand out is the quality of the content. It follows the structure of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, dealing with the creed, the sacraments, the commandments and prayer. The material is pitched at just the right level for the average parish group.

This is yet another great product from the CTS who have been going from strength to strength. I was glad that they got the licence to produce the Compendium of the Catechism in England - and a fine job they made of that too. If the new English missal is to be restricted by copyright, it would be just for the CTS to get the licence to print that in England and Wales. We could then look forward to having a missal that did not fall apart after six months.

Thursday, 13 July 2006

Family soundbites

click for larger version

On this website supporting the 5th World Meeting of Families recently held in Valencia, there are wallpapers, screensavers, articles and soundbites designed to support the family and to campaign for the family. The tab posters/flashes has some quite hard-hitting flash animations. On the ideas page, there are some well-produced posters with inspiring texts on the family such as the one above. Another quote:
The State cannot give you love. Your family can, because it is an intimate community of love, of life shared with real people of your own flesh and blood.

Wednesday, 12 July 2006

From sea to sea

On the way back to the airport this morning, we stopped off at Carn Brea where there is a granite quarry at one level followed by another quarry filled in with a lake a little higher up:

Carn Brea is famous for the fact that on a clear day, you can see both the north and the south coast of Cornwall. Unfortunately, it wasn't all that clear a day but from the trig point at the summit, we could see the coast both sides even if it doesn't show up very clearly in the photos. Here's Fr Chris looking to the North coast (Atlantic):

And here is the view towards the South Coast (English Channel):

And finally, a little scriptural meditation from the top of the Carn:

I will look after the fat and healthy (Ezek 34.16)

Antepenultimate parish in England

My trip to Cornwall was in at the invitation of Fr Chris Findlay-Wilson, to give a talk to his parish of St John the Baptist in Camborne. The audience represented 10% of the mass-going population of his parish! Cornwall is one deanery in the Diocese of Plymouth. After the parish of Camborne, there is St Ives, Penzance and then the sea. The Church was founded by Richard Pike who was a Quaker, married to a Catholic. He was a director of some of the tin mining companies in the area and he had to hire some Irish labourers when many Cornish miners went abroad to the new gold mines. The nearest Catholic Church was in Penzance, 16 miles away. Pike was so impressed by the devotion of the Catholics who would walk this distance on a Sunday to attend Mass that he became a Catholic himself and set up the first Catholic chapel in Camborne.

The Church is fairly small and can scarcely cope with its current Mass attendance. The interior has suffered somewhat from the liturgical reforms of recent decades.

The tabernacle has been removed from the centre of the Church to the side aisle - there can be no practical reason for this in such a small parish Church. The statue of Our Lady is standing on a small plinth between the two aisles and the centre of the Church is marked by an undistinguished modern banner. If he is able to, I'm sure Fr Chris would love to make the obvious improvement of moving the Blessed Sacrament to the centre of the Church and setting up a chapel in the side aisle to house the statue of Our Blessed Lady.

The statue is particularly fine but I had to get down on the floor to get a view of what it is meant to look like.

I was there to speak on AIDS and the Catholic Church. I'm relieved to say that the talk, which covered some controversial areas, was well-received. (You can see a copy at my parish website - controversies page.)

This morning, I concelebrated with Fr Chris at the school Mass. A very well-behaved class of children took part in the liturgy with reverence, read clearly and intelligently, and sang with gusto. A credit to their teacher and to Fr Chris.

Day out to Cornwall

My journey down to Cornwall yesterday was courtesy of Air South West on a Bombardier DHC8-311 (aka "Dash 8") aircraft, powered by two Pratt and Whitney Canada PWC123 turboprop engines. Here is Melanie, kindly appearing at the door, at the request of the ground crew for my photo.

The aircraft seats 50: I must have been the 49th because I had the good fortune to be seated at the back by the window and hence got the chance to take some photos in-flight. Here is a view over Southampton with the Solent and the Isle of Wight in the distance.

A little further on, we got a good view of Portlant Bill - apparently it is now almost out of usable Portland Stone.

Berry Head, near Brixham, with its long jetty, appeared through the clouds:

Then we circled over this place to land and pick up passengers. Any readers from the US of A should get a little lump in their throats right now since this is where the Pilgrim Fathers set sail on 16 September 1620:

A twenty-minute hop over clay pits and tin mines took us to Newquay in the heart of Cornwall.

Monday, 10 July 2006

The Pope and the King

King Juan Carlos: "Just tell them that Zapatero is a dictator of relativism." Pope Benedict: "Ho ho, good one - but I can't put it quite as bluntly as that!"

Pope Benedict in Valencia

On the one hand, Pope Benedict was teaching:
The family is an intermediate institution between the individual and society and nothing can entirely replace it. It is itself founded above all on a profound interpersonal relationship between husband and wife, sustained by affection and mutual understanding. Therefore it receives abundant help from God in the sacrament of matrimony which carreis with it a true vocation to sanctity. May children experience moments of harmony and affecton between their parents more than those of discord or indifference, because the love between father and mother offers to children a great security, and teaches them the beauty of faithful and enduring love.
and on the other hand, protesters were engaged in a naked bicycle ride past the train station to call for "sexual freedom". Yeah - like all these oppressed people round Spain want to engage in sexual freedom but just can't bring themselves to do it unless Pope Benedict changes the teaching of the Catholic Church!

Several people yesterday commented to me on the virtually non-existent television coverage of the Pope's visit to Valencia. Read my lips:

Throw away your television.

Television is yesterday's technology. You do not have to be limited by the news values determined by the BBC, Rupert Murdoch or any other dictator of relativism. The BBC does not care about what about the Catholic Church teaches or values. Do not, as a Catholic, bow down to what the BBC teaches or values. Get your "news" from elsewhere. That way, you get to hear, for example, how the Pope prayed for victims of a tragedy on the underground and met some of their relatives, and how a million Spaniards booed Zapatero when the TV screens showed him in some footage before the Papal Mass.

Just to help you along, here are a few photos culled from the Papa Ratzinger Forum to give you a taste of the emotions in Valencia over the past couple of days. (Click on them to get larger versions.)

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