Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Tenebrae Responsory: "O Vos Omnes" - Tomas Luis de Victoria

Information not misinformation

There's been a great deal of unbalanced, prejudiced, misinformed and startlingly hostile reporting of the Catholic Church's response to the sex abuse scandal, and in particular the role of Pope Benedict himself.
The confused and opportunistic nature of the attacks on the Pope is highlighted by the unedifying sight of the atheist and homosexual lobbies getting into bed with one another, with such folk as Richard Dawkins, Philip Pullman and Peter Tatchell (and all the other usual suspects) vying with one another to produce the most vituperatively offensive anti-papal and, indeed, anti-religious propaganda. Over the last few weeks it's almost as if the secular "liberal" media (it's news editors anyway) have been taking lessons from Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. One can only hope that by overstepping the mark in such a spectacularly unsubtle not to say somewhat stupid way they have done damage in the eyes of more fair-minded people to the causes they are trying to promote. So at last it's good to see the balance being slowly redressed in favour of more accurate reporting on the subject. For a particularly good source of information go here:

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Tuesday of Holy Week

A scene from the film 'The Passion of the Christ.'

Each year on Ash Wednesday at our Mass for the beginning of Lent we are always reminded both of our human frailty and the fact that our lives have a limit set upon them. The words “remember you are dust, and to dust you will return,” together with the application of a cross of ashes to our heads, is a fairly stark reminder of human vulnerability and weakness, not only in terms of health and lifespan but also our tendency to drift away from the things of God, our seeming inability to keep focused on the things which really matter.

Holy Week itself in many ways reinforces this sense of human weakness; today’s Gospel forcibly reminds us of our inconstancy and our tendency to turn away from God as St John shows us Jesus predicting both Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial of him.
Whatever the psychological reasons may have been for what he did, the Gospels don’t let us forget the fact that Judas was a deeply flawed character, dishonest, defensive, judgemental. In many ways we can see his betrayal of Jesus as an act of evil, pure and simple. Satan entered him, St John says, but it is equally clear that in the battle being fought out during the course of this Holy Week Judas chooses evil over good and willingly lines up with the enemies of Jesus. Many people over the centuries have speculated as to his reasons; anger, jealousy, disappointment over the refusal of Jesus to use his popularity with the crowds to seize power, despair about the inevitability of disaster, the wish to save his own skin at any price, even blackmail on the part of the worldly-wise and cynical religious leaders. We don’t know. But Judas clearly at least for a time - the crucial time - becomes the willing tool of evil. It is St Matthew (27.7) who gives us the information that Judas didn’t intend things to go so far as Jesus being condemned to death, but that when he comes to his right mind, realises what he has done and tries to return the thirty pieces of silver to the high priests who laugh in his face. Perhaps we can say that Judas, as so many people do, for a time becomes a willing accomplice in events which escalate and get out of hand, and that his ultimate sin may not even be in itself the betrayal of the Lord, but the final despair which leads him to kill himself; by that act he turns his back on even the possibility of redemption. Hell, they say, is populated by those who definitively and categorically in this turn their back on even the possibility of God's love and forgiveness.

Peter’s circumstances and his character are very different. The Gospels see him as uncomplicated, straightforward with tendencies towards both impulsiveness and fearfulness which often lead him astray. He is the opposite of Judas, whose brooding leads him to betrayal; Peter rarely seems to reflect at all before he responds, so much so that he simply doesn’t know how he will react in any given circumstance. But his repentance when it comes - and it comes immediately after he denies Jesus in the courtyard of the High Priest - is real and heartfelt and keeps him open him to the possibility of life and hope and redemption.

But whatever the characters and psychological make up of these two men may have been, we can say with certainty that they found themselves caught up in a situation which would test us all severely. Who can say how we ourselves would respond?

For those who lived through the terrible events of this week, on the first Easter Sunday comes an experience of hope we can only begin to imagine; for Peter himself but also for the other apostles and disciples who ran away in fear and desperation their first experience of the pascal mystery is overwhelmingly one of forgiveness and a new beginning. Their frailty and weakness, our frailty and weakness, is not only understood but is assumed, taken on, by the Lord who takes our human vulnerability to the cross and the grave, but who bursts out of the tomb, having triumphed over the darkness of a fallen world and of a human nature partially if not wholly cut off from the source of its life and freedom. Crucifixus pro nobis. He dies - and rises - for us all.
In Holy Week we see Jesus as he walks the via crucis fulfilling the role of the servant of God we see predicted by the prophet Isaiah in the first reading. And as we walk with him along the way of the cross this week we pray that our own participation in these events of our salvation may lead us to a deeper understanding of our human conflicts and inner divisions and weaknesses so that we can bring them to the foot of the cross and to the light of the real forgiveness and redemption which we will see there.
The darkness does not prevail.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Publication of new book by the Bishop of Ebbsfleet

Bishop Andrew at his Chrism Mass in Bristol last Saturday

Forward in Faith has announced today the publication of 'Heaven and Earth in Little Space, The Re-enchantment of Liturgy'  written by the Bishop of Ebbsfleet, Bishop Andrew Burnham SSC.

"This timely and significant book asks whether the declining appeal of religious worship is connected with the simplification of liturgical practice in recent decades. Has a well-meant policy of making worship more accessible resulted in a loss of the sense of mystery - and has this accelerated the decline? To answer this question, Andrew Burnham surveys five centuries of change in the Anglican church, as well as the wider Catholic and Orthodox traditions. He suggests what  renewal of the liturgy for today’s church might look like and how re-enchantment would work in practice."

The book is published by Canterbury Press with a foreword by Fr Aidan Nichols OP and an introduction by Fr Jonathan Baker SSC, the Principal of Pusey House, Oxford.
Full details of how to order it, and how to take advantage of a discount on the recommended price, here.

That's some of my Eastertide reading sorted out then!

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Do they think we were born yesterday?

There was news coverage both on Sky and the BBC tonight of a protest outside Westminster Cathedral of a small group of protestors calling for the resignation of the Holy Father. One of those interviwed was a certain Peter Tatchell. That tells me all I need to know about their motivation ( not to mention the editorial judgement of the broadcasters concerned.) Modern memories are notoriously short, but some of you may recall a protest a few years ago in the pulpit of Canterbury Cathedral.
This has nothing to do with the horrific scandal of child abuse and everything to do with another agenda altogether. One can tell the calibre of a man, the saying goes, by the kind of enemies he makes.
"Brethren, be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour : whom resist, steadfast in the faith."

Palm branches and a crown of thorns

After the Palm Procession, the dramatic reading of the Passion Gospel and everyone had gone home, I knelt in church before the Blessed Sacrament for my thanksgiving after mass. The building seemed more than usually full of echoes of music and heartfelt prayers, lingering with the wisps of incense clinging to the roof beams of the nave.

As Holy Week begins we pray for ourselves who are all sinful members of his Church and who, in ways beyond understanding, by our words, our thoughts, and our actions crucify the Lord anew.

Perhaps this year, as we meditate on our divisions and on the uncertainties of our present and future, more than ever we should meditate on the Crown of Thorns and pray to him who by his cross and resurrection has won the victory over all those things which alienate us from God and one another, which twist us out of shape and embitter us and destroy us and lead to death.

The beautiful and moving crown of thorns made by our parish sunday school

Saturday, 27 March 2010

“Blest by the Sun, the olive tree…”

Holy Nativity, Knowle

Some thirty or so Welsh priests (and a deacon) and several coach loads of the faithful braved varying degrees of celtic episcopal displeasure and joined the Bishop of Ebbsfleet for his Chrism Mass at Holy Nativity, Knowle in Bristol today. It was wonderful, too, to see Bishop David Thomas, the irreplaceable and, of course, not replaced, former Provincial Assistant Bishop, recovered enough after his recent illness to take part in the Mass with Bishop Andrew.
Over the last few years the chrism masses have become  rather bitter sweet occasions for many of us, not simply because we have been denied a Chrism Mass 'of our own' in Wales (one presided over by an orthodox bishop, that is), although there is a great deal to be said anyway for uniting with our brethren in England for this and, indeed, other gatherings of importance, liturgical or non-litugical. No, they are bitter sweet because they are also reminders of the uncertainty hanging over us in the deepening crisis of faith and belief which now has our part of the Church firmly in its grip. “Will this be our last Ebbsfleet Chrism Mass?” was the unspoken question hovering on many people’s lips today. What will the future hold for Anglican Catholics, and for us as individuals within the catholic movement? Where will we be this time next year?
But with our priestly and diaconal vows renewed in the presence of a bishop who actually believes in the apostolic ministry, and the holy oils consecrated and renewed in our aumbries for another year, we are now able to join with the Lord and set our faces towards Jerusalem as another Holy Week begins.
And we take with us to the foot of the cross the gathering crisis, the provisionality of all that we now do, our doubts and fears and hopes for the future, as we experience the saving events of next week. And we can do so in the knowledge that the victory has been won and that the new life of the resurrection is promised us. The Lord will bring us to a new experience of resurrection and a new ecclesial life as members of his Body. In the meantime, while our sojourn in 'the house of bondage' continues and before the waters of the Red Sea are parted before us, we must keep faith and not despair. Despair - some say, the real sin of Judas Iscariot-  is the only unforgiveable sin, the sin against the Holy Spirit himself.

An ancient  olive tree (it's thought to be about 2,000 years old) in the 'Garden of  Gethsemene'
This is a season when the olive in various ways plays a significant part in what we do. Olive oil is blessed at the Mass of the Chrism and used for the holy oils of Chrism, of the Sick and of Catechumens.
As the liturgy says:
“In the beginning, at your command,
the earth produced fruit-bearing trees.
From the fruit of the olive tree
you have provided us with oil for holy chrism.
The prophet David sang of the life and joy
that the oil would bring us in the sacraments of your love.
After the avenging flood,
the dove returning to Noah with an olive branch
annouced your gift of peace.
This was a sign of a greater gift to come.
Now the waters of baptism wash away the sins of men,
and by the anointing with olive oil
you make us radiant with your joy....”

Later, on Maundy Thursday, the Lord will pray with his apostles in a garden of olive trees (the word Gethsemene means ‘olive press.’) and one would like to think that at the garden tomb when the pascal mystery was first revealed the rays of the rising sun were filtered through the branches of the olive, a tree of peace and of hope and of life.
There is an intriguing, if not provable, theory that some of the ancient olives now growing in the garden many believe to have been Gethsemene were young trees at the time of the first Holy Week and may have been silent witnesses to the Lord’s agony in the garden before he was given into the hands of wicked men.

Tomorrow Holy Week begins.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

After all this, we need some music

On this Solemnity of the Annunciation, in the midst of the storm raging around us, perhaps we need some music to give us a sense of perspective.

Balance and objectivity? Not here, not now.

There has been another quite astonishing attack on the Pope on BBC Radio 4’s Six O’clock News this evening. The report centred on a less than convincing allegation against Pope Benedict concerning the truly horrifying activities of a child-abusing American priest, [link here ] lambasting the then Cardinal Ratzinger with taking no action when it seems very clear both that the Vatican had no knowledge of the allegations until the late 1990s and also that the charges against the alleged abuser were, in fact, dropped by the civil authorities for lack of the kind of evidence which would readily secure a conviction. But not content with that, the reporter, the (this is beyond parody) rather appropriately named David Willey, began a recitation of the Holy Father’s supposed gaffes and mistakes, including the Regensburg address and the “rehabilitation” of “holocaust denying” Bishop Williamson of the SSPX, and even ending with speculation about the likelihood of Pope Benedict’s enforced resignation from office due to pressure from the faithful.

Naively I admit, I still imagined there to be a valid distinction between reporting the news and commenting upon it. Silly of me, wasn't it? The BBC is now clearly the unrestrained voice of the zeitgeist. For their sake I hope the wind doesn’t change any time soon.
But if I hear another commentator suggesting that the real problem is that of celibacy itself I think I will abandon all faith in human reason. The idea that not enough sex is at the heart of the Church’s current troubles is somewhat counter-intuitive, to say the least. Or, of course, we are at the same time being told that one of the remedies to the ills of the Roman Catholic Church is to go down the western Anglican route and proceed to the ordination of women and those in gay relationships. Well, we all know that women and homosexuals never abuse children so, obviously, that is the answer.
No. If , like Pope Benedict XVI, you stick your neck above the parapet of the modern culture wars and say unpopular and counter-cultural things about contemporary society and, most unforgiveably of all,  you say them in a way which is both impeccably logical, reasonable and intellectually persuasive, then the enemies of the Gospel will try to get you, one way or another, by fair means or foul. And the problem is compounded, in true totalitarian fashion, if, when one defends the Pope as a victim of misrepresentation and innuendo, one is depicted as being oneself soft on the horrific and bestial crimes which have lead to this controversy in the first place.
The Devil is making all the running at the moment. Please pray for Pope Benedict that he will be given the grace and courage to withstand these one-sided and diabolical attacks on his character. He needs our prayers more than ever.

Survivals from the wreckage: "Lady Day" and “Flowering Sunday?”

Today, the feast of the Annunciation, called Lady Day in England and Wales, although stripped of its religious meaning for most of our compatriots, still has a significance for the rural community, in that by long-established custom it is one of the quarter days on which rents are due for those in traditional agricultural tenancies.
It’s many hundreds of years, of course, and something which has completely faded from ancestral memory, since the Cistercians of nearby Tintern Abbey would have held their agricultural courts and collected their rents at Porthcasseg on the hillside overlooking the village here.
It’s interesting, though, to note just how many medieval customs - in a non-liturgical form - have survived the Tudor State’s “nationalisation” of religion and its eventual imposition of an ambiguous and royalist reworking of continental Protestantism, and its illegitimate offspring, secularism and rationalism, marking the beginning of a process which has lead inexorably to the post-modern cultural experiment of ‘culturelessness.’

If it ever comes about, the islamification of the west (predicted by the more alarmist commentators out there) will only take place because of a process of cultural suicide mirroring the physical culture of death which pervades our society. Is it honestly preferable for Muslim immigrants to western countries and their offspring to abandon their cherished traditions, customs and beliefs and exchange them for assimilation into - what?
A quasi-fundamentalist superstition about the long march of scientific progress which for most people is translated into a meaningless lifestyle constructed around a diet of Hollywood–style entertainment and celebrity worship, T.V. dinners and endless shopping trips. If it's that interesting. Admittedly, for those with intellectual pretensions there is the somewhat uncritical use of the arts as a religion-substitute but freed from  those worrying connotations of transendence traditionally associated with spiritual matters.
Frankly, I’d rather be what the French, rather anachronistically to our ears, still call a “musilman.” I’d also very much prefer it if the Church (my part of the Church, as an Anglican if only for the time being - as long as the time being lasts) wasn’t part of the lemming-like rush over the precipice of cultural oblivion. Hope - and there is hope - lies elsewhere.

However, in this part of the world among the older inhabitants of Monmouthshire (at least those born and brought up here or hereabouts), Palm Sunday is still known as “Flowering Sunday.” Even now in our highly secularised society families will still come to our churchyards over the approaching weekend to lay flowers on their family graves, taking time also to tidy things up generally after the winter. Although I’m not sure they know why they do it.
Rather stupidly, I’ve always assumed that this was simply a local custom, a kind of displaced tradition here on the borders of Wales after the ending in the sixteenth century of the practice of decorating graves on All Souls Day.
But not so, the custom exists throughout Wales (where next Sunday is known as Sul y Blodau – again, “Flowering Sunday.”)
But far from being a product of the forcible ending of the Catholic culture of the middle ages, it seems that “Flowering Sunday” is another remarkable survival of at least one aspect of a widespread European pre-Reformation Passiontide tradition. In Spain, for example, the term Pascua Florida, later used to describe the Easter celebrations themselves, originally meant just Palm Sunday.
The Palm Sunday procession (an Anglo-Catholic restoration here as in many parts of modern Britain), which, of course, would originally have included the Blessed Sacrament to represent Christ himself, would have proceeded around the parish church and halt at the churchyard crucifix, which would have been richly decorated with flowers. While the clergy sang the appointed hymns and antiphons, the congregation would disperse among the tombs, each family kneeling to pray and lay flowers at the grave of their relatives. The celebrant would then sprinkle holy water over the graveyard, and the procession would re-form and enter the church for the rest of the liturgy.
[Incidentally, Eamon Duffy in 'The Stripping of the Altars' gives us a vivid description of the traditional Palm Sunday liturgy, of which our modern, simplified rites are in many ways only a pale imitation.]
Flowering Sunday, then, in the Welsh borders is a witness not only to the disappearance of a culture of  joy, innocence and enchantment in people's practice of their faith (and possessing a coherence and an “interconnectedness” of which we can only begin to appreciate) but to that culture’s tenacity and survival in hidden and unexpected ways.
“Re-enchantment” was always a part of the Anglo-Catholic apostolate; wherever we hope our current “Exodus experience” leads us, we should not give up on it.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Music for Lent: Allegri Miserere for Cello Ensemble

Recently posted on You Tube, this is an edited recording of a performance for cello ensemble of the Allegri Miserere by twelve of Kate's students at the Matisse Summer School of Music in the Basilica of El Escorial  in July 2009. The musical arrangement is Kate's.
A welcome break from all the controversies which surround us.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Dog bites man, sun rises in the east (again)

I don't know about you, but I am rapidly running out of things to say about all this and, equally rapidly, feeling this has less and less to do with me at all...........

from the Daily Telegraph
"Episcopal Church approves consecration of first lesbian bishop
America’s Anglican church has approved the consecration of its first openly lesbian bishop, in a move likely to worsen divisions over homosexuality.
The Episcopal Church of the USA, the most liberal province within the Anglican Communion, had been under pressure not to allow the Rev Mary Glasspool to become Assistant Bishop of Los Angeles.
Its leaders had been warned personally by Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, not to take any decisions that would deepen the crisis over sexuality within the worldwide church."

A prayer for the Papal Visit

One of the consequences of being part of a Church in the midst of an unbelieving world, seemingly surrounded by its enemies and beset with divisions and problems of all kinds, is that we can so easily forget the joy and hope of the Gospel and the very real signs of progress towards the unity of all Catholic Christians.

The following prayer of preparation for the visit of Pope Benedict to Britain has been recommended to us by the Bishop of Ebbsfleet. We should pray it daily

God of truth and love,
your Son, Jesus Christ, stands as the light
to all who seek you with a sincere heart.
As we strive with your grace
to be faithful in word and deed,
may we reflect the kindly light of Christ
and offer a witness of hope and peace to all.
We pray for Pope Benedict
and look forward with joy
to his forthcoming visit to our countries.
May he be a witness to the unity and hope
which is your will for all people.
We make our prayer through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Our Lady, Mother of the Church — pray for us.
St Andrew — pray for us.
St George — pray for us.
St David — pray for us.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

To admit the problem isn’t necessarily to agree with the proposed “solution.”

One doesn’t have to agree with Cranmer’s colourful, OTT, and quite repugnant diatribe against Pope Benedict and the Catholic Church to see the very real danger the Church is facing and the need not to allow this kind of attack to go unanswered. He writes:
“If the ever-threatened schism within the Church of England is deemed to constitute a ‘wreckage’ from which Christians must be saved by swimming the Tiber, who will rescue the saints from the purple intoxication, the scarlet deviancy and the priestly blasphemy of the reeking ruins of Rome? Who will save the children from those perverted priests, debased bishops and corrupt cardinals who have robbed them of their innocence, relieved them of their holiness and ‘interfered’ with their purity?”
In fact, he here all but restates the Whore of Babylon and Anti-Christ imagery beloved of the sixteenth century "Reformer" himself - that is, after he had received papal confirmation of his primatial office and perjured himself in the process.
But it is clear that the Catholic Church (and those of us who, at present, support her from the outside) has a huge issue to deal with, in the words of Pope Benedict himself, in confronting and rooting out a culture of “filth” in the Church itself. The attempts to associate Pope Benedict personally with the attempted cover-up of some of these monstrous and appalling crimes (cf St Matthew 18.6) are despicable, but they will, like it or not, continue to cast something of a pall over the now officially announced Papal Visit to Britain later this year.  There will be those who will make it their business that it does.
It’s also clear that, as traditional Anglicans seeking to heal the breach of centuries with our Mother Church, we will now have a more uphill struggle in trying to persuade our as yet unconvinced laity and the general public (most of whom understandably do not think theologically and who won’t separate this one issue from all the others confronting us) that, indeed, Rome is the answer.
In terms of the outrage of abuse itself, the question which willl be asked again and again is whether the structures of the church itself still make it easier for such things to remain undetected.
It would be absurd to suggest that adequate reparation could ever be made towards those who have suffered at the hands of child molesting clergy (how did that disgustingly misleading word “paedophile” come into common currency?) The victims, understandably in many cases, want to bring the whole edifice crashing down. Who can blame them? Would our reaction be any different if we had suffered in the same way?
But the response from the Church (any ecclesial body – we all know this isn’t a problem unique to celibate Roman Catholic clergy by any means) is always going to be perceived as too late and wholly insufficient. The only course of action the Church can take is to make sure, as far as is humanly possible, that crimes of this kind can never be tacitly condoned or covered up in the future.
Inevitably there have been those who have suggested as a solution to the scandal the wholesale adoption of our own much-loved liberal agenda: the abolition of compulsory celibacy, the ordination of women and of  non-celibate homosexuals and everything else on the radical wish list. But it's hard to see how simply extending the clericalism of the Church and, given the nature of secular society, adopting a more "secularist" agenda can be a solution to anything; it hasn't been for Anglicans - "the cure was successsful, unfortunately the patient died." No, child abuse is as much a problem of the "world" as it is of the Church.
But there is one observation we can make from the Anglican patrimony (and, as we need to state, Anglicans are by no means unaffected by these kind of scandals and our past record is far from unblemished) and that is the need for the reality (as opposed to the theological ideal) of the Church as the Body of Christ, consisting not only of the clergy but of all the baptised, the Plebs Sancta Dei. It is when we forget this essential truth in our praxis that, as Newman very clearly pointed out in another context,  we end up in trouble. This will inevitably mean the strengthening, in certain respects, of the role of  lay officers and parish committees (churchwardens and PCCs in the British, Anglican, context) and the involvement of suitably qualified lay people at every tier of authority and, administrative decision-making within the Church’s structures.
Synodical government (in the Anglican sense) has been nothing less than an unmitigated disaster, turning the Church into a political battleground and making matters of doctrine a subject for often unqualified and ill-informed debate and subject to majority vote, but an increased lay involvement in administrative decision-making (something which I know is already taking place to an extent) may well import a much needed degree of openness and common sense which is sometimes a casualty of an exclusively clerical system of ecclesial government. Controversial? Undoubtedly for many, but human nature being what it is, it would be a necessary corrective to the tendency for a worrying culture of secrecy, concealing the kind of behaviour which is repugnant to all sane human beings. It would also call the bluff of all those who specialise in a particularly unpleasant form of anti-Catholic propaganda.
However, the issue of clerical child abuse (actually, child abuse committed by anyone in any institution and walk of life) can’t easily be divorced from the sea-change in the attitude to sexuality in our society. The normative celibacy of the Latin rite clergy itself is not actually the problem at all (it has to be stated forcibly that the overwhelming majority of  celibate clergy - or married clergy for that matter - are neither actual nor potential abusers of children, and that the priesthood simply cannot function as it should in an atmosphere of distrust and suspicion), but a mature attitude to one’s own sexuality is certainly harder to achieve in a culture where it is regarded as a virtue “to let it all hang out,” and where the overt sexualisation of children and younger teenagers is an increasing worry even to the most convinced of secularists. I hesitate as a complete outsider to comment on this at all in the Catholic context, but the selection and formation of candidates for the priesthood surely needs to (in fact already does) take place consciously within the wider context of a contemporary culture which is worryingly immature and incontinent in its attitudes to sex; candidates for ordination (in any tradition) should only be those who, as far as can be assessed, are able to cope psychologically with the absence (or chaste limitation in the case of the married) of sexual expression in a world where sex sells and such images are all around us, and then who are not left alone to either sink or swim in a parish setting without being given adequate pastoral support.
But we are not talking about loneliness here; from my own observations in the Anglican ecclesial setting, those clergy who have been found guilty of sexual offences against the young are those who have displayed a terrifying lack of maturity in their interpersonal relationships, not to mention a degree of arrested development which seems to have resulted in an inappropriate attraction to children and young people. These are complex issues and not conducive to easy solutions, but safeguards can be put in place.
Far from liberating us from unhealthy sexual repression, our present culture - the culture which, like it or not, has an effect on us all - has become markedly less grown up and responsible as regards the socially disruptive effects of uninhibited sexual behaviour on adults and children alike. In fact there has been a news report only today stating that most child sex abuse is perpetrated by other children -  truly frightening information particularly for those of us who are parents.
This may or may not have much of a bearing on the scandal breaking all around the world, but it would be dangerous and dishonest to allow this debate to become just another means of discrediting religious belief and practice as such, without also dealing with the problems caused by the breakdown of traditional values and patterns of behaviour in our society as a whole over the last forty or fifty years. It’s far easier to let the genie out of the bottle than to get him back in again.
But first the Church has to be seen to be putting its own house in order, so the Holy Father's welcome and much needed visit here in September and his beatification of John Henry Newman can truly be seen as the beginning of a period of renewal and hope for the future.

Papal Visit officially announced today

"Pope Benedict XVI will visit England and Scotland on a four-day state visit from 16-19 September 2010.

The Holy Father will fly to Scotland where he will be received at the Palace of Holyroodhouse by Her Majesty The Queen. He will also celebrate a public Mass in Glasgow. In England, amongst other things, His Holiness will make a speech to British civil society at Westminster Hall, meet with the leaders of other Christian traditions, take part in a service of Evening Prayer with the Archbishop of Canterbury, lead a prayer vigil and beatify the nineteenth century theologian and educationalist Cardinal John Henry Newman."

For more details and to sign up for updates follow this link:

“Banishing Eve?”

Here we go again?
I have a great deal of residual affection for the BBC. Probably, like many of my generation, I look back with gratitude to the Radio 4 and Radio 3 programmes of my youth which helped introduce me to a wider world of culture and ideas than would otherwise have been possible. For that reason alone I don’t begrudge paying the licence fee.
But times have changed, and the BBC now seems totally, and in an increasingly unbalanced way, committed to the promotion of experimental social liberalism and to the mere reflection of the cultural status quo it has over recent years helped to engineer.
So I’m not sure what to make of this: I'm pretty sure what I am going to make of this:
Banishing Eve.
“Historian Bettany Hughes uses the latest scholarship to examine the 2nd century AD, as pagan Europe began to embrace Christianity and the role of women in worship changed forever”
Episode 1goes out on Sunday, 21st March13:30 on BBC Radio 4 FM
Largely due to the rather sensationalist Radio 4 trailers for the programme, I’m inclined to think this may, just possibly, be overstepping that rather blurred boundary between scholarship and propaganda.
Unless, of course, I'm being unfair and this broadcast isn’t simply going to be a rehash of all the old, tired, and largely exploded, feminist theories of the “suppression” of women in the early years of the Church, but actually does have something new and startling to say.
I'm afraid that’s as open minded as I get these days. As with the makers of these kind of programmes,we all usually discover only what we were hoping to find.
So, we’ll just have to listen and find out – with gritted teeth, hoping it won’t spoil our lunch. But then, of course, we’ll be able to look forward eagerly to hearing the follow-up series putting the other point of view.
Just kidding!

Monday, 15 March 2010


An interesting report from the BBC here: Incense blamed for Chichester church-goer's collapse
I have a great deal of sympathy for those who have respiratory conditions which make it difficult for them to worship in a church which uses incense. Imagine having to find a spiritual home in a parish which doesn’t! I don't think I would complain to the local authority, though.
But I can't find much sympathy for those whose problems seem to be theological rather than medical. As Anglicans we come across them from time to time.
I completely agree with the Warden of my old theological college (alas, both no longer with us – again, one for medical reasons, the other theological) who characteristically pronounced that in the next life one has to get used to one of two smells, incense or sulphur.
Isn't it a shame the health and safety industry is such a recent invention? What a easy time the Reformers would have had banishing from our churches such dangerous and life threatening stuff as candles, incense and charcoal, not to mention insanitary things like holy water, and the veneration of images - no need for Royal Commissioners or axes and hammers (and the occasional public execution pour encourager les autres), just a ruling from the local council.
And, today, it can only be a matter of time before someone finds the crucifix, not idolatrous but so psychologically traumatising that it, too, has to go.
Idolatry isn’t the use of the material as a vehicle to see beyond ourselves to the Divine, it’s the refusal to see beyond ourselves at all.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Abroad thoughts from home…?

I’ve been in France for a few days to check up on the damage done by the recent hurricane. All seems well apart from a couple of missing roof tiles; those who built farmhouses a couple of hundred years ago knew how to read the landscape in order to protect themselves against the prevailing weather, however extreme.
As in Britain, it’s obviously been an unusually cold winter in Western France; there has been no snow in this part of the Vendee, but consistently dry, Siberian winds and hard frosts. The daffodils are not yet in flower in the garden, and the buds on the roses bushes are tightly closed against the cold. It will be a late spring this year in the west – not a lizard in sight!
I am amazed, though, at the toughness of our young olive trees, only planted five or so years ago and barely above head height, which have come through the winter completely unscathed. It’s too far north for much fruit but they look fantastic.

But while in the Vendee I’ve made the mistake of tuning into BBC Radio 4 on long wave to catch up on the news from Britain.
From the “other” side of the channel, the British media seems particularly focussed in this pre-election period on the criminal justice system.
There’s an understandable concern (although to what extent orchestrated by the tabloid media, I’m not sure) over the safety of the public in the wake of the possible re-offending of one of the child killers of the toddler James Bulger, and the chilling and murderous activities of a previously convicted sex offender who lured his latest victim to her death via Facebook.
There’s also a vital debate continuing about the desire of the present government to hold on to the DNA records of potential offenders or to store those of the entire population (has anyone seen the Tom Cruise film Minority Report – perhaps not so far fetched as when it was first made?)
But to cap it all there was a report on the preposterous and unenforceable proposals for all dog owners to be forced by law to microchip and insure their animals in case they attack someone. We are told this is aimed primarily at those who keep and train dogs for the purpose of intimidation; obviously they are precisely those who will be law abiding enough to comply with any new regulations.
All in all, we have a snapshot of a highly confused and anxious society, and a State convinced it has a duty to intervene more and more minutely into the lives of its citizens, as we know from the current equality bill.
That would be less worrying (or would it?) if we could trust our elected rulers and representatives to be balanced, sane, tolerant paragons of justice and civic virtue. The fundamentally stupid and politically illiterate question that is being asked more and more frequently is this: if you haven’t done anything wrong, what do you have to fear? The leaders of the Soviet Union and its satellites could have posed the same question to those they oppressed for generations.
What makes representative, “democratic,” government civilised is the system of constitutional and legal checks and balances which provide the means of preserving our traditional liberties both in the face of an over mighty executive and the oppressive expression of majority opinion, together with the basic assumption upon which those freedoms depend that the law exists for the innocent and the guilty alike and that one is innocent unless one can be proved guilty after open and due process of law. Not in today’s Britain for much longer if the surveillance society has come to stay. If the prevention of crime (whether it is an infringement of the criminal law or "security related") is considered to be of overriding importance, then our freedoms are inevitably at risk from the consequent trade-off.
The modern secular 'liberal' culture assumes, as a mysterious and inexplicable act of faith, the basic goodness of human beings and is therefore profoundly shocked to the point of disastrous overreaction when it discovers we might not all be so good after all and, accordingly, in order to save us from ourselves, seeks to open windows into our minds to control not only our wrong actions but also our “wrong” thoughts.
The Christian society (or at least the society influenced by Christianity - I'm not sure the former has ever existed or can ever exist)) assumes that the image of God in humanity has been to a degree obscured by original sin and puts in place the moral and social sanctions to guard against the perversity of our desires and the deceitfulness of our hearts, whilst insisting that our conscience and our thoughts belong to ourselves and to God and not to the State.
What do we do now? Traditional social constraints on bad behaviour have largely disappeared – laughed into oblivion by the liberal secularists. All that we have left is the increasingly heavy hand of the law, formulated by the panic- driven control freaks who are our contemporary politicians.

Out here in the French countryside all this seems very far away, as do the troubles of Anglicanism and the imminent exodus (or extinction) of its Anglo-Catholics. I’m more than half tempted to keep it that way

A casualty of the storm

Thursday, 4 March 2010


Another French "
cloudburst" from a few years ago taken on a mobile phone from a moving vehicle!

A decidedly "secular" entry on the blog today.
The You Tube video is Eric Whitacre's "Cloudburst."
 I'm posting it in honour (if that's the right word - no, it obviously isn't) of the storm, called Tempete Xynthia,  which hit the Vendee last weekend. There may be no posts for a few days next week as I take some leave to go to investigate the damage & put things in order!


Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Perceptions, dreams, and reality

No report on the SSC Synod yesterday in Cardiff. Without being any more pompous than I can help,  it is very important (indeed the statutes of SSC demand) that proceedings of the Society can be held in the knowledge that they won't be reported upon, even in the sympathetic blogosphere. Although one positive (and - I hope -  reportable) outcome was that we are being asked to organise a study day on the Ordinariates in Wales. Watch this space. But yesterday was worthwhile, hopeful and constructive and it was useful and helpful to get the perspective of Fr David Houlding, the Master-General, on the issues facing us.

On a related but separate matter, quite a few people have commented, here and elsewhere, on the perceived silence in Wales generally on the subject of the Apostolic Constitution. My own feeling is that many lay people and clergy, too,  are still very much in shock at the attitude displayed towards them by the Welsh hierarchy and are simply too bereaved at the loss of "their" Church to be able to respond positively to very much at all at present. The task in hand would have been difficult enough without outside interventions which really do turn the world upside down! There is also a good deal of honest and understandable puzzlement around as to how the Ordinariates can possibly apply to their own personal circumstances and, in a small province, garner enough support in order to be viable. But these are perfectly reasonable questions, and they are ones which will have to be addressed as a matter of priority by those of us who wish to make a positive response to Anglicanorum Coetibus.

Having said that, and without going into too much detail, today after mass I had a sharp reminder of how indelibly anti-Roman some Anglican layfolk can be. I wasn't shocked; I'm too long in the tooth for that to surprise me, but I was left wondering for an hour or so about my own future. Anyone old enough to remember the catchphrase of 'Yosser Hughes' in Alan Bleasdales's T.V. series, 'Boys from the Blackstuff?'

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Good Lord, deliver us!

Thank you, to Bishop Richard Harries, formerly of Oxford  (Lord Harries of Somewhere or Other now,) for reminding us that, no, we're not just being difficult, THIS
is why we despair of the current direction of the Church of England. Ah, the glories of contemporary Anglicanism!
Or as the MCJ puts it: "What Harries means, of course, is that of all Christian churches, only the Church of England and its offshoots are capable of coming up with new ways to eviscerate the Christian faith while simultaneously sucking up to a secular culture that despises it."
Ironically, speaking of being "stuck in the past," The Times could well have printed this kind of anti-Catholic claptrap 150 years ago - taking into account alterations in the zeitgeist, naturally.
Off to the Welsh SSC Synod in the morning!

Monday, 1 March 2010

St David, Patron of Wales: "zeal for the whole Gospel of Christ"

A bright and sunny St David's Day morning in Wales: a good time to reflect both on the present state and on  the future of the Christian traditions here. May the Lord lead us to that unity which is his will for his Church.
St David, pray for us.

"According to tradition, St. David was the son of King Sant of South Wales and St. Non. He was ordained a priest and later studied under St. Paulinus. Later, he was involved in missionary work and founded a number of monasteries. The monastery he founded at Menevia in Southwestern Wales was noted for extreme asceticism. David and his monks drank neither wine nor beer - only water - while putting in a full day of heavy manual labor and intense study. Around the year 550, David attended a synod at Brevi in Cardiganshire. His contributions at the synod are said to have been the major cause for his election as primate of the Cambrian Church. He was reportedly consecrated archbishop by the patriarch of Jerusalem while on a visit to the Holy Land. He also is said to have invoked a council that ended the last vestiges of Pelagianism. David died at his monastery in Menevia around the year 589, and his cult was approved in 1120 by Pope Callistus II. He is revered as the patron of Wales. Undoubtedly, St. David was endowed with substantial qualities of spiritual leadership. What is more, many monasteries flourished as a result of his leadership and good example. His staunch adherence to monastic piety bespeaks a fine example for modern Christians seeking order and form in their prayer life.His feast day is March 1." 
Catholic Online "Saint of the Day"

God our Father,
you gave the bishop David
to the Welsh Church to uphold the faith
and to be an example of Christian perfection.
In this changing world may he help us to hold fast
to the values which bring eternal life.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen 
[The Roman Missal]                             

Almighty God,
who in love towards thy people called thy servant David
to be a faithful and wise steward of thy mysteries:
mercifully grant that, following his purity of life
and zeal for the whole Gospel of Christ,
we may with him receive thy heavenly reward;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
to whom with thee and the Holy Spirit
be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen
[The Church in Wales' Book of Common Prayer 1984]