Contact E-mail

For if that which was done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Patience and Purpose

Whatever people at the top might say or emphasise or try to commend, without the like will in the masses there is inertia. A lot of people were rightly excited, from 2005 onwards, about the hermeneutic of continuity, Summorum Pontificium, etc. The Rorate Caeli writers, to whom I have a permanent link on the right hand side in my "Sites to Follow" list, were never quite carried away, and one of them made a very astute remark recently. Papa Bergoglio is the first of the Popes to have received formation in the post-conciliar Church: John Paul II and Benedict XVI were formed and shaped before the Council. In other words, if conservatively-minded people think that the abuses and muddle associated with Vatican II have played themselves out because that generation are slowly being displaced, then this is not the case. Prelates now in their fifties and sixties, many of them not known to be "continuity" supporters, are going to be in charge for the next two decades, and in charge of a bunch the majority of whom aren't that bothered about theology and councils at all. Remember that the resistance to Vatican II as "rupture" didn't really get underway until the 90s, and then consider that the many of the fruits of that renewal will not begin to appear until a full generation later.

My point is this: that the current climate that the conservative folks are observing is not a blip. It is the forecast of the likely weather conditions for 20 years, I would imagine.

My thoughts on what would be good in the meantime. They aren't very original, nor are they easy, nor have I started very well on this recommended path. Some of this is a mental note to myself. Some of this, you will see - like house groups - is subversive in the sense that I think the kind of strategy associated with e.g. pentecostal Christianity should be put to use.

1) Cultivate a personal love for Jesus through daily prayer and lectio divina, and look to the mystics of the Church for what an authentic relationship with Him looks like. I think that if discernment is needed for the times ahead, if dogmatic theology doesn't give one an automatic cut-and-dried answer to every situation, then the authenticity of a life lived close to Christ's will shine through and give that discernment.

2) Get on with providing homes for pregnant mothers about to abort their children for want of concrete help; find out who is choosing between heating and food and give them a hand; don't leave the old and the poor to the impersonal bureaucracy of the welfare state. Give alms and aim for Benedictine simplicity as much as possible.

3) Catechise, and through every means possible, but especially stories - the Bible and the saints. There aren't good, affordable, beautiful books for children about the Life of Christ, or the stories of the Old Testament, or the lives of the saints. Teach the Psalms. And there is a wonderful thing called Sunday School - half an hour per week, for every child, every Sunday, not just coming up to the sacraments. Don't leave it up to someone who will talk about compassion and love etc. The child needs clear, bright, rapier sharp examples in its memory of what holy love and compassion look like. And if possible start schools, proper ones.

4) Make things: books, art, music, even if it isn't top class. Somebody will produce something that is real art, from an imagination formed by the above in (3). If possible, build.

5) Form house groups for the Daily Office and devotion. Not everyone can get to the parish church everyday, but if every Christian and their neighbours met regularly for prayer in their own homes it would fortify their faith and sanctify the home as a house of prayer.

6) Know history, know philosophy, and know the history of liturgy, of the Orthodox East, of the pre-conciliar rites, of the popular devotions now forgotten, of the Church Fathers and the Middle Ages, and the theology of the modern era from 1500 onwards. A lot of claims may be made: one needs to be saturated in the context of what has always been believed, and how it has always been believed. That will carry weight eventually, although probably not to people who are bent on fuzziness.

7) This needs clarification: avoid the clergy, and don't tell them what you are doing. What I mean is, that there is no point in waiting for, or asking, an overworked curate to give a hand with any of these projects. And if you do ask if you can use the parish hall for catechesis, and a reason is invented for why you shouldn't, then use your living room instead.

8) Stop talking and thinking (but not writing, and discussing in the right place) about sexuality, and whether people look gay or not, and resolutely cut out all speculating and gossiping. Put such thoughts and questions utterly away, and meet each person as they come in the spirit of St Patrick's Breastplate, as innocent as a four-year-old. People are desperately needed in the world, for whom all that does not matter - in the sense of it being a lens through which everyone is seen. It is no one's business but one's own how one feels, and a very, very few other people's, and part of the problem with the  need for an immediate "solution" to the problem in the Church is that we are all talking shamelessly, endlessly, without decorum, about things that should be worked through in discreet pastoral care on an individual basis. People, whether they realise or not, need space and privacy here, and not to parade around - willingly or unwillingly - on public display in a big cage marked "LGBT" or whatever the latest acronym is.

9) Wherever possible, make the liturgy a thing of beauty, but with simplicity. There is no reason why the thing can't be done well, but with graceful though simple and austere vestments and vessels, and lowliness of manner. Gorgeousness isn't needed.

10) Enjoy building a civic life out of Christian custom, enjoy the fish and the fasts and the ember days, enjoy the soul cakes and the things festival, as things which give relish and pull the life of God's creation into the yearly round of the liturgy.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

The Ordinariate Rite: Some More News

I had heard - and feared - that it might take another two or three years to have an Ordinariate Rite for the Eucharist approved for the use of my beloved Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham: but, no. The only website that seems to be reporting on this is the The Friends of the Ordinariate, which says that it is being "launched" (is that a playful metaphor to refer to the people standing in the nave?) on 10th October in Our Lady of the Assumption, Warwick Street, but there isn't an awful lot of new detail in there about the exact text of the Rite. There isn't even anything about the launch on the Ordinariate website itself apart from a laconic note in the events calendar.

Monsignor Burnham's paper at the Sacra Liturgia conference gave a good guide as to what to expect of the Rite, but there is still nothing in print anywhere. Is the lack of a text because there isn't a published version available yet, and they need to safeguard copyright? Because the detail isn't finally decided? And if it simply a tweak here and there to the Book of Divine Worship from the Anglican Use parishes in the United States, why not say so? I'll have to ask around and find out, and probably just have to wait.

I hope our blessed patron, dear John Henry, doesn't mind about that poster advertising the Votive Mass. He looks disconsolate and spectral, and one can see the fatal knife slash on his right upper chest, just within the frame.

In the Inferno (A Shopping Trip)

A brief note on Hell.

I was forced - not by my spouse, but by my own necessity - to go into a shopping centre to buy a pair of shoes today. It was one of those oblong "malls", I think they are called, with storeys of shops built around a central covered courtyard. There are no windows into the blessed outdoors, as all the shops open towards the central cavern: indeed, the few doors are off down side alleys, and are distressingly difficult to find. One travels up and down between the floors in a glass lift (if one has a buggy), so that one can writhe in discomfort at the hideous panorama.

As I was nearing the exit door in some relief, the tide of vicious anger that always takes me in these places already beginning to abate in anticipation, I stopped for a moment beside a chemist's shop. It was horribly, artificially bright, like as if some kind of pale pink lightening was perpetually and unblinkingly discharged within. There was a female singer reaching a fake emotional crescendo over the loudspeakers, the words so wretchedly sentimental they would make one squirm. There were lots of shiny pink and metal booths scattered about with no particular path through them, women all dressed the same with the same make-up moving aimlessly around beneath the same advertisements with pictures of models who looked the same advertising the same kind of products. I turned to my wife - who lagged behind dangerously like Lot's wife - and made some remark about this place resembling the Infernal Regions, then hastily generalised the remark to the whole place.

Then I realised something. All of those diagrams and explanations in helpful little Prefaces and Introductions to Dante's Inferno, difficult to get one's head around - there is need for them no longer. Simply introduce La Divina Commedia with the sentence: "To understand Hell, imagine a modern shopping centre". Circles under circles, each with their own selection of wearingly similar punishments as you descend from one circle to another with weeping and gnashing of teeth.

As I write, a satire presents itself to me: a modern Inferno set in a nine storey shopping centre that descends from the ground floor downwards, with only one entrance. A well-stocked Waterstones at ground level (yes, that's limbo), Floor -1 with an Ann Summers shop, Floor -2 containing Burger King and MacDonalds, etc. It's waiting to be written.

Friday, 27 September 2013

The Big Interview and the Fuss

Since the papal interview was published - that interview, with Fr Spadaro - there hasn't half been a fuss. A couple of thoughts have surfaced in my mind in the last few days. I am finally getting around to putting pen to paper. (My time to write this web diary has been terribly squeezed over the last month: it isn't so easy as it seemed at the beginning, in the less busy summer.)

The first thing is that the main point made was largely lost by the initial welcoming liberal reaction and conservative counter-reaction. That is, that the simple Gospel should be the centre and substance, and the motive force of every word and deed of Christians. This is quite true, necessary, vital also, and vital in the very literal sense of being the life-blood of the Church. But there are a couple of questions stirring in my mind, which I think might get to the heart of what the conservatives and traditionalists are uneasy about.

Shall we say that Papa Bergoglio is emphasising what our concern should be for the world outside the Church? In one sense, it doesn't matter what laws are passed in the land, what slippage there is in civic life into un-Christian forms of living, for the proclamation and living out of the Gospel of God's grace in Jesus Christ is and remains the first duty of the Church Militant. One's primary concern oughtn't to be wielding legal machinery and the like, but to bring and to be Christ's light. Members of the Church are perfectly right to campaign against great evils, vast ignorance of natural law, and bad legislation: but this is not what the Church qua Church is about. One shouldn't fall for the anti-Nazi fallacy: abortion is a great and unseen social evil, like the Holocaust, and therefore the Church must make it its overriding mission to bring it to everyone's attention. We cannot allow such an evil to be perpetrated silently. True, but this isn't the primary meaning of the Church's existence. It must confront the world with its ruler, Christ crucified and risen, and as the One who takes away its sins. And of course abortion is one of the world's sins.

[Perhaps, even when the Christian approaches a matter like abortion (as he will be obliged to sooner or later), he must do so in an evangelical way: there isn't anything very Christian about e.g. denouncing abortion and then not lifting a finger to help a frightened girl who is being browbeaten into having an abortion by her boyfriend. The point is not to denounce simply, but to manifest the kind of life, together with one's fellow Christians, that witnesses to another kingdom. That is, a kingdom where one's goods and one's body are gifts from God, given to be enjoyed by being given firstly back to God. And in concrete terms, perhaps a homosexual person wouldn't feel rejected by the Church if he found the living and positive virtue of chastity in the life of young unmarried - and married - Christians around him, and lifted into God's service permanently in the vows of the consecrated. He would rather find a Christ-like image of what sexuality is for.]

That is my understanding of the thrust of the interview, but it does raise a further question. What about those within the Church? If our zeal and love towards those outside is to be evangelical, then what about those inside who don't quite agree with her teaching, don't - what is that phrase? - sentire con la chiesa, have a heart beating with her maternal heart? Of course, here also a love ignited by the Gospel is needed for wisdom in bringing them back to truth. But there is a problem with public scandal: not just Catholic politicians and public figures making ambiguous remarks or doing hostile acts against the clear teaching of Christ , but with people in one's parish whose lives manifest an open contradiction which they are in no hurry to correct. No-one seems too bothered. One would like to know what the Pope thinks of these internal disciplinary matters. Should the Church just muddle through, and never really confront the scandal within? There is a way of dealing with these things that is pastoral and charitable but clear (and not merely bureaucratic); but often confrontation of scandal is avoided through fear, confusion masquerading as tender love, or downright connivance. And what does the Bishop of Rome think of that? Because the two questions i.e. the need for an evangelical priority towards those without, and the need for holiness in those within, seem to me to be distinct. I am not sure that the answer to the second question comes across very clearly. We don't need to talk about the issues of communion for divorced-and-remarried people and homosexual people, about Catholic politicians who support abortion, all the time... but we are doing something about them, all the time, within the Church. And here is the problem: is vague, and contradictory, and nothing in particular, the right thing?

There a couple of other things that I wondered about in the interview.

What does the Pope mean by "ideologising" the Vetus Ordo? It seems that to create a good ideology out of the old rite would be a very good thing to do, if one actually compares what has been developed out of the Novus Ordo in some places. One might even call such an ideology theology. I sometimes wonder if anyone who dislikes the Traditional Rite and favours the Novus Ordo has the slightest notion about e.g. what the Orthodox view of the liturgy is, and why they think it shouldn't be fiddled with. I've spent a little time trying explain that in a previous post, Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi (I might as well shamelessly plug my most popular post by far). I can only give some idea of their conception by saying that paring down the liturgy for an Orthodox Christian is almost like chopping a few books out of the canon of Holy Writ. Might one say that what the Church has suffered from in the last 40 years has been an ideologising of the Novus Ordo to the detriment of the our worship of a Most Holy God and our belief in Him? I am not saying that it is justified to see in the Novus Ordo as the sole reason for Christian decline (or is that a bad word?) in the West, but rather that there has been an "ideologising", a bad theology that has grown up with it that is linked to the bad liturgy that has been permitted under its umbrella. And on Vatican II: people talk, said Pope Francis, about a hermeneutic of continuity or discontinuity. Yes, they do, but it seems that he certainly doesn't want to. Again, the question looms - is a certain reading of Vatican II to be allowed to become an ideology that will cut off the children of the Church from its past?

I should point out that the Pope's literary interests were anticipated on this blog: if you look back over the last few months I have penned posts on Dostoevsky and Hölderlin. What an oversight that he didn't mention the book I have written about most recently, The Wind in the Willows.

I don't know if all the fuss is helpful anytime Pope Francis says something that irritates traditionalists. The point about the Eucharist as the source and centre of Christian life is that Christianity isn't a personal cult of Pontifex Maximus. It is for the Incarnate Christ and the feeding of His flock that the See of Peter is there at all. Anglo-Catholics, even those for whom the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham was a God-send, have I think developed in their wilderness a quite strongly spiritual and Eucharistic sense of unity with the Petrine see. They (how shall I put this?) probably don't invest too much in desperate readings of every papal pronouncement to see if things are "going their way". Things didn't go their way for so long in the Church of England, the faculty of seriously hopeful wishing that things would go their way atrophied like a vestigial organ. There are better things to get on with, anyhow: as we are reminded in the interview, things like being a faithful and joyful Christian, serving the poor, living and speaking the Gospel in a direct and simple way, and reaching out in hope for God's promises.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

What Larks

The passage below is from Dickens' Great Expectations - which book a judicious friend once settled upon as the greatest English novel, and which I am reading again after many a long year. Pip, come into his fortune and got up as a gentleman, is embarrassed by the expected arrival of his old friend the blacksmith, the large-hearted, awkward and untutored Joe Gargery in his new lodgings in London:
I had little objection to his [Joe's] being seen by Herbert or his father, for both of whom I had a respect; but I had the sharpest sensitiveness as to his being seen by Drummle, whom I held in contempt. So throughout life, our worst weaknesses and meannesses are usually committed for the sake of the people whom we most despise.
To which one can but say O me miserum! O me infelicem!