Monday, 27 June 2016

Call this advice?...

There is an organisation that calls itself the British Pregnancy Advisory Service.  I wonder what sort of advice they give?...

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Dear BPAS

I am in a relationship with a man whom I love, but who is somewhat controlling. He has always made clear it is up to me not to get pregnant, and that he will throw me out if I do, as he doesn't want to be tied down. Unfortunately, due to contraceptive failure, I am pregnant. What should I do?

Sincerely, A

Dear A,

Abortion is a quick and easy procedure, which will solve all your problems.

BPAS

Dear BPAS

I was raped at a party. Now I am scared to socialise, I suffer from flashbacks, I am pregnant, and I feel suicidal.

Despairingly, B


Dear B,

Abortion is a quick and easy procedure, which will solve all your problems.

BPAS


Dear BPAS

I am so worried. The tests show that my little boy, who I've wanted for so long, has Down Syndrome.

Yours, C


Dear C,

Abortion is a quick and easy procedure, which will solve all your problems.

BPAS


Dear BPAS

I am pregnant by my dad. He says Mum must never know, nor the Social Worker.

Yours, Frightened


Dear Frightened,

Abortion is a quick and easy procedure, which will solve all your problems.

BPAS

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As they say, to a man with a hammer, every problem is a nail... BPAS have a particularly bloody, and lucrative, hammer.

I am not, perhaps, being wholly fair: they also offer vasectomies - the other crucial piece of advice with regard to pregnancy.

Their site is, in fact, completely chilling. From the notion of  'click and collect' abortion, through to the euphemistic language: 'Removes the pregnancy by gentle suction' and The pregnancy is removed using narrow forceps through the neck of the womb (cervix).
They know precisely what they are doing, but it is better if potential clients don't dwell on it.

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Orare et laborare!

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Why Catholics should vote to remain in the EU - according to Dr Rupert Beale

Dr Rupert Beale has asked me to post this article by him in favour of remaining in the EU on my blog. I am happy to do so: he clearly feels passionately about it, and is a clever chap, whose honesty and good intentions are beyond question.

I only preface it by saying that I am not convinced (I find that the more remain stuff I read, the more I am minded to vote to leave - and vice versa....) . However, you will judge for yourself.

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Our earthly rulers falter, our people drift and die;
The walls of gold entomb us, the swords of scorn divide.

I had intended this to be a riposte to the various arguments with a Catholic flavour in favour of the UK leaving the EU, but the words of G.K. Chestertons hymn have been swirling round my brain of late. I fear that what I might have written would have been scornful. Theres been quite enough of that. 

What I ask of all people of good conscience who believe that the EU is not a good thing is this: please do not vote for us to leave.

Many people were upset by the death of Jo Cox despite never having met her. I cannot imagine the shock and anguish that her husband must be feeling. Somehow he found the strength to issue a very dignified and fitting tribute to his wife. One poignant sentence stands out for me: “She would have wanted two things above all else to happen now, one that our precious children are bathed in love and two, that we all unite to fight against the hatred that killed her.”

It is love for one another that defines us as Christians. A love that imitates Christs universal and self-sacrificial love. That is why we defend all human lives, and why we do not try to make different categories of worth between persons – all are infinitely loved by an infinite God. Value to us is the dignity and flourishing of persons; it is not a number of pounds in a bank, even if its the Bank of England.  People to us are equal: born or unborn, young and vigorous or old and dying. They are not different in value for being British or French, Romanian or Bangladeshi.

We can have a debate about the European Union. Its a human political institution, with all the usual faults. I have argued that Britain benefits from membership (it certainly does in narrow monetary terms). I have also argued that British political influence has been a good thing in the EU as regards an area thats personally important to me: scientific research. This scientific excellence fostered by the EU promotes economic growth, as well as the health and wellbeing of Britons, Europeans and all humanity. These, we should agree, are good things. Furthermore, its very hard to see how the UK could get a better deal outside the EU.

The EU is not an unalloyed ode to joy. There is a point of view that the loss of sovereignty entailed by (for example) allowing an international court primacy over a British court is intolerable. Some believe that the EU is remote and less accountable than it should be. The original noble ideals of the predecessor to the EU – which were couched in rather specifically Christian terms – have to some extent been betrayed.

Personally, I do not see that voluntary submission to the judgements of international courts (not confined to the EU of course) is a regrettable loss of sovereignty, but I think you can have a reasonable debate about it.  There is also a very uncomfortable argument that it is in fact Britain that's bad for the EU (our influence is by no means always for the best).

The EU is a collection of 28 separate nation states, one of which is our own decidedly imperfect one. I agree that the EU has done and continues to do things which go against the high ideals of its founders – but imperfection is to be expected, whatever mechanisms are in place to help smooth relationships between our different countries.

Whatever you think about the EU, it cannot be emphasised enough that the merits or otherwise of the EU are not on the ballot paper. Whats on the ballot paper is leaving the EU. The wider context of this vote is not the impassioned but usually polite discourse between committed Christians. The context is fear of immigrants, lies about money, distrust of foreigners, distrust of economists, distrust of politicians, distrust of journalists, distrust of ‘experts’ – distrust of everybody. 

The context is also a national political debate in which we have the love of money played off against the fear of immigrants. Across continental Europe, the context is many national parties that wish their particular country to break off from the EU (and most of those parties make our own Far Right seem pretty tame). 

The context is also the recent horrible killing of an MP doing her job. The suspect has given his name in court as “death to traitors, freedom for Britain”. Inevitably, the motives and state of mind of the suspect have been subject to speculation, and that speculation has varied depending on the particular views of the speculator.

Its illustrative of the poverty of the national debate that this terrible tragedy is being used to score points. Its Jo Coxs husbands words that we should take to heart, and not give way to hatred. That means no hatred of foreigners, and it means no hatred of politicians either – even if they are guilty of rabble-rousing and xenophobia (as some most assuredly are). 

The secular debate around the EU referendum has been conducted in terms which are too often bound by entombing walls of gold and the love of money. They are also being conducted in a way that suggests people – some people at any rate – can be cast adrift.

From all that terror teaches, from lies of tongue and pen,
From all the easy speeches that comfort cruel men;
From sale and profanation of honour and the sword;
From sleep and from damnation, deliver us, good Lord!

In a sea of lies and half-truths there is one particular depth of mendacity that I wish to plunge into: the claim that £350m a week can be spent on the NHS if we leave. It is worse than a deliberate lie. It is specially designed to be a lie, because the Leave camps spin-doctors have realised that if they lie about it, it will be talked about a lot.

The counter-argument is that the real figure is lower: £136m. This is great for the Leave camp: it still sounds like a large number, and cements the broader untruth that the EU costs us money in the minds of voters. The demographic they are especially targeting – older Labour voters – is tickled by the promise to spend all that money on the NHS. They have told us a small lie to make us believe a bigger one – what clever fellows those spin-doctors are!

Mendacity is not the special vice of the Leave campaign. It has long ago infected our whole political discourse. If all truth is relative, a lie can surely be a legitimate tool used in pursuit of a political goal. In those circumstances, where to tell a lie is neither considered wicked nor shameful – and is in fact admired for its ability to shift public opinion – it is little wonder that people have lost trust.

Truth and truth-telling are essential to Christian values. Of course, there is nowadays little or no reference to Christianity in public life. But truth-telling is important to secular humanists and people of other faiths too. Can we not replace Christian values with ‘Enlightenmentvalues? I dont see much evidence of that happening.

The secular debate – even if conducted in terms that dont abandon the concept of truth altogether – is dominated by narrow self-interest. Will Britain be better off? Will I be better off? Will we be able to keep the foreigners out? Its not exactly the universal brotherhood of man. The Enlightenment owes far more of a debt to Christianity than is generally admitted. The philosopher that atheists dont much like to talk about is Nietzsche. Right now, its his abyss thats staring into us.
  
I could see myself voting for Brexit under certain circumstances. For example, if it became a condition of our continued membership that we join the Euro (this would by law be subject to a referendum). The procedure there would be for an elected government to carefully build global alliances and put us in a position to negotiate an orderly withdrawal (we have no such alliance in place, and all our trading partners, allies and EU neighbours are against us leaving). We would need to ensure that any exit did not produce a severe economic shock.

At present, we have no credible scenario to achieve a successful negotiated settlement, and a substantial economic shock is certain if we leave. (I accept that some economists believe we could recover in a decade or so, while others dont – but that there will be an initial shock is agreed by all.) A severe economic shock to Britain and to the EU at this time would give rise to the perfect conditions for bigotry and hatred to flourish. This we must not allow.

If you, like me, believe on balance that Britain is good for the EU and the EU is good for Britain I expect you will vote to remain. If we do vote to leave, we give succour to the very worst elements of our national politics and the national politics of the other EU members, and we must endure the national humiliation that will follow as best we can.


Take not thy thunder from us, but take away our pride.

Monday, 13 June 2016

Grumpy about the referendum...

I realise that I am feeling very grumpy about this whole referendum.

I remember when Wilson called a referendum, my father remarked what a stupid thing it was to do - not part of the way we ran the country. At the time I didn't really understand what he was on about. Today I think I do rather better.

This referendum is costing £142.4m of taxpayers' money. It was called to help Cameron win the last election. It will resolve little - on present showing, about half the population will think it has delivered the wrong answer. It has promoted argument of the worst political kind: demagogues have flourished, and the politics of self-interest and economic benefit have been the dominant lenses through which the debate is framed.

When the vote is cast, vast numbers will be voting on the basis of large swathes of ignorance - my children told me recently they thought it was a vote on whether you were racist or not...

What it conceals, or perhaps reveals, is how broken our parliamentary democracy is. The Tories no longer stand for traditional conservative values - witness Cameron's destruction of traditional marriage, for example. Traditional Labour voters likewise feel that their party does not represent the best traditions of the Labour party. The Lib Dems are a joke in rather poor taste... Again, that opens the path to demagogues of the Farage kind.

The common ground seems to be that the EU is desperately in need of reform - the CAP being a glaring example - yet few seriously believe that we can achieve substantial reform. 

My own professional life would be very much easier if we were out, (it is untrue that the 'red-tape on small business' problem is a fiction) but that seems a very poor reason to cast a vote.

My preferred solution would be for an effectively functioning parliament to make a wise and principled decision. Given that is not going to happen anytime soon, why should I believe that our influence on the EU will be either effective or principled?

I am deeply and profoundly disillusioned with the whole political process.

And I still don't know which way I am going to vote.

Friday, 10 June 2016

Still undecided

I envy so many of my friends. They are clear and resolute in their decision about the forthcoming referendum.  Many, like Rupert Beale, are convinced that we would be mad to leave the EU.  Rupert argues the case here, for example. Others, like Mark Lambert, are equally clear that we are better out; see Mark's facebook page for many arguments. (See Update below!)

And then there are the politicians...

I have found the paucity of the political debate particularly depressing, if I am honest. It is almost all predicated on economics and self interest, as though these are the most important things. 

Rupert Beale, to his credit, makes some appeal to the common good, but I am not wholly convinced.

For me, the choice is difficult, but I see the issues at stake differently. (It's all the others who are wrong, of course, as the mother watching the parade said, when her son was marching out of step...)

But for me, the main reason to consider voting to leave the EU is the relentless ambition to construct a European Empire. I think this an ill-founded and dangerous ambition. I also dislike the profligate waste (typified by the Strasbourg -Brussels-Strasbourg move every month at vast expense - but there are many other examples, and all beyond hope of reform, as far as I can see) and the contempt for tax-payer implicit in that. And I have a natural preference for smaller and more local power structures.

On the other hand, the thought of giving succour to the Little England (and sometimes racist) views of so many on the Out side is wholly repugnant. More serious still is the fear that a UK exit would lead others to seek to leave, and the potential balkanisation of Europe with all the risks implicit in that.

My preference is for a reformed EU - a reversion to a trading group, shedding the ambitions to political and fiscal union. But that seems a pipe dream - and certainly a vote to remain seems to me to be in practice a vote for the direction of travel.

But on the other hand, would a vote to leave give us any influence? It is conceivable that it would: that both the British political establishment and the EU would be so shocked that they would work to cobble together some real reform... But I doubt it.

So what to do?

I really don't know...


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Update

I have clearly misrepresented Mark (albeit inadvertently) - see his comment below.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Chartres 2016 (4)

Having coped very well, physically, with the rigours of the pilgrimage, with a mere few blisters to show for it, I awoke on Tuesday morning feeling very rough, after a somewhat disturbed night. I am still not quite sure why; I suspect I had dehydrated a bit, and seen a bit too much of the sun on the previous afternoon, during the Mass. It had not been bright or hot, so I had not covered my head or ensured I drank lots of water. And then it may have been the addition of having a (small) beer before dinner and two (small) glasses of wine with dinner. Whatever the cause, I felt pretty dreadful and had an upset stomach to boot. What was worse was that I had also wrecked my voice by over-singing in the final miles. The reason that mattered was that I was meant to be teaching and leading the chant for our final High Mass in the crypt of Chartres Cathedral.

Fortunately James Belt and Brother Rosario were quick to learn the double Alleluia, and we all already knew the sequence. We started to learn the Introit (I have a keyboard app on my phone, which was helpful, as I couldn't sing a note to guide them) but ran out of time. For the Mass we were joined by Jamie Bogle, and between us we made a reasonable go of it (though we managed to start the Gloria at the wrong time and had to stop and wait for the Mass to catch up with us - still not quite sure how that happened).

The Mass was sung by Fr Ian Verrier, with Fr Mark Withoos as Deacon, and Fr Gerard Byrne as Sub-Deacon. Fr Withoos preached a powerful sermon on Christ as the Door. A wonderful and fitting end to the pilgrimage.

The crypt at Chartres has some claim to be the oldest Christian shrine, as it is a pre-Christian one! Apparently the Druids had had a revelation and had inscribed an altar with the words virgini pariturae: the virgin who will conceive.... This is one of the wonders of Chartres, and we were very blessed to have a Mass there.  (Amongst the other great treasures of the Cathedral are Our Lady's veil and the statue of the Black Madonna, both of which we had time to visit. ) We concluded the Mass, of course, with the Regina Caeli and the great French Marian Hymn, Chez Nous. 

After Mass, we were privileged to receive First Blessings from Fr Ian Verrier, one of our chaplains, who was ordained in the FSSP just under a year ago.

Then, it was back on the coach, and back to London, via a train that runs under the sea (What will they think of next?). I have to confess that I slept for a lot of the journey, after my rather restless night; but that did mean I was able to bowl up at my London friends' house in a fit state to be a reasonable guest for the night...

And so ended my eighth (I think) Chartres pilgrimage. 

The true highlights, of course, I have not, and cannot, describe: my confession; the reception of Our Lord in Holy Communion; some of the reflections arising from the meditations; some of the conversations with fellow pilgrims. For these, gentle reader, you will have to come to Chartres yourself.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Chartres 2016 (3)

I realise that I left out a couple of important moments on Pentecost. After the Mass we marched on, of course, and eventually ascended a hill, covered in barley fields and some light woodland, until, as we rounded a corner, we got our first glimpse on the horizon of the twin, but asymetric, spires of Chartres Cathedral. That is always a moment of special joy, and we always greet it with the Regina Caeli.

And it was not long after that I noticed what the increasingly boisterous chapter of French girl guides were singing: an old French marching song that I had first heard on the train back to Paris last year. The chorus runs as follows:

Buvons un coup, buvons en deux
A la santé des amoureux
A la santé du roi de France
Et merde pour le roi d'Angleterre
Qui nous a déclaré la guerre!



This was sung with such gusto that I was pretty sure that it was being sung in our direction. But this year we ignored it, and pressed on for the campsite at Gas.

On Monday morning we always get a lie-in. It was 5.30 before they woke us up... It was also slightly less cold than it had been the previous morning: no ice on the tents, though still pretty fresh. And the same routine: breakfast, tents packed, luggage onto the lorry... No! Jerk awake. Luggage goes onto our coach, for those staying in the hotel in Chartres. Those unfortunates who forget this have to trek down to the yard the other side of the station, and lug their luggage back up the hill to the hotel at the end of the day.

And then we march. But the end is in site, and today's march is a mere seventeen and a half miles: hardly worth putting your boots on...

By the lunch stop we are getting positively light-headed, as we realise how close we are to Chartres. And then we are singing one last rosary as we enter the city and wend our way through the outskirts. As we ascend the hill we always sing a quick Requiem aeternam at the war memorial, before launching into some serious singing of Jubilate Deo as a canon, which will take us right up to the Cathedral, until we are drowned out by its tolling bells.

This year, as the Cathedral is still full of scaffolding, as they work on the magnificent restoration project, fewer chapters than usual could fit inside. As we were well down the order of march, we were right at the back of the square outside, so could barely even see the screen. However, we got a fantastic view of the procession entering and leaving, including seeing St Joan of Arc's ring proudly carried by, which has only recently returned to France, after being bought at an auction from its previous English owner. 

And then scores of clergy, many very young, and of course the banners of all the chapters; and then a couple of bishops...  And then the High Mass, the culmination of the pilgrimage. And once again, with all the nationalities filling the square, the eminent good sense, and simple Catholicity of having Latin as a common language was apparent.

After Mass, we gathered for the traditional photo, having already said goodbye, unfortunately, to those who had to rush off for trains in order to get back to England that night. 

Then it was back to our hotel for a celebratory dinner and a glass or two of wine, before retiring to bed - bed, I tell you! For the first time since Friday night!

And just before retiring, I looked at the data captured on my iPhone:

Some Good News

I am going to be a grandfather later this year... 


Please pray for my daughter, her husband and the baby.