Monday 31 December 2012

The Destruction of Marriage

The institution of marriage has been one of the basic building blocks of our society for centuries.

Leaving all religious aspects to one side, for the moment, one can quickly see that the stability afforded by the marriage of one man to one woman for life, and by the normative restriction of sexual intimacy to such relationships, provides essential social cohesion.

Where marriage in this traditional sense is largely observed, the man is required to provide for his wife and family, to restrain his urges to run after other more desirable women, and so on.  The woman is likewise required to remain faithful, to raise the family and so on.  Children are born into a small society that is dedicated to their nourishment and nurture, with a reasonable degree of stability.  The whole structure moderates the tendencies of all involved to behave in ways that are detrimental to each other and to wider society.  It is not easy for either party: both husband and wife will find that it restricts their freedom of action: that is the point of the vows: not least 'for better or for worse...'  However, it is an institution that benefits all, collectively, not something designed to make the couple feel happy... For that reason, marriage has held a privileged position in law and society.

Of course there have always been people who did not behave according to the civilised norms, but they were a minority, and there was much social stigma attached, which meant that they were likely to remain a minority.  The rich and powerful, of course, have often been able to afford to behave disgracefully, in this sphere as in so many others, but it was recognised as disgraceful.

However, for decades now, we have been de-stabilising the institution of marriage.  Some of that has been done with good intentions.  The dreadful consequences of acrimonious divorce led to the easing of divorce laws.  Along with this went a feeling that if the toffs could get away with divorce, why should we not be able to.  As has been observed, the fish rots from the head...  But as so often, hard cases made bad law, and envy is a poor reason for anything; so we have ended up destroying the presumption of permanence as a feature of marriage: witness pre-nuptial agreements.

The introduction, approval, promotion and eventual near-universality of contraception has also caused untold damage to marriage. By breaking the intrinsic connection between sexual love and procreation, we have so corrupted ourselves, collectively, that (for example) material that until very recently would have been rejected as pornographic is screened in our houses on a daily basis; recreational sex is used as titillation in our entertainment and is seen as normative and a 'right' by our young people in their relationships.

In parallel with these phenomena, there has been the huge increase in self-centred materialism.  In the name of equality, and driven at least in part by a fear that their men cannot be relied on to provide for them, women have been educated to be independent financially, and all of us educated to see economic worth as the only significant measure of value, and personal fulfilment as the only criterion of morality. Consider this from the head of the Girls' Schools Association:
"One of the young entrepreneurs, a lady, dared to say that she had probably put her business ahead of her son, and the sharp intake of breath from all of the girls was audible," she said. 
"They were all absolutely shocked, so yes, we are still creating a generation of girls who think that the whole idea of looking after children is really the most important thing, once you have a child." 
The GSA leader said that was an issue for ethical and moral debate - and a very personal decision. 
"But, what's maybe less personal, and maybe more incumbent on us as leaders in girls' schools, is to try and get girls to see that it is a decision, and that there are options, and that it's not wrong, and that's where society needs to come into play as well," she said. 
"It's not wrong to make a particular decision, whatever it is."

It worries me that a senior educator (of all people) should be worried that children recognise the truth that looking after young human beings is more important than being economically active.  It also worries me that she has no sense of absolute values whatsoever, but has bought the lie that all decisions are equally valid.  How does one reach such a position without any serious understanding of philosophy?  Yet, I fear she is typical of a whole caste of leaders - as the current state of our politics also exemplifies.

This is the context within which we have lost touch with what marriage is, and have bought the superficial romantic myth that it is simply a public declaration of love and sexual intimacy between two people, with a degree of commitment (possibly) and a degree of exclusivity (possibly) until one or other of them feels something different.

If that were all that marriage were, then it might be unjust to deny it to any couple, including same-sex couples.  But that is not all that it is.  That is one of the reasons I oppose the current attempts to re-define marriage: not because they are starting us on a path we should not take, but rather because they are a further step on a path we have already gone too far along.

Likewise, we have lost sight of the human meaning of sexual intimacy and divorced it from both marriage and procreation.  The very contraception that promised to liberate women from their biology has had the result of making them presumed to be sexually available for any man who can win their fancy, with no need for him to offer any commitment beyond honeyed words.  Sex is seen at best as an expression of mutual affection, and often simply as the mutual scratching of a biological urge.

If our society is to have any hope of surviving as a civilised society, we need to re-discover the true meaning of marriage and of human sexual intimacy, and along with that the importance (and possibility) of chastity.  We need to re-establish life-long commitment and fidelity as the norm, to remove the concept of recreational sex (including from our entertainment and media) and re-balance society so that it is normative for children to grow up in stable, functional, nuclear families.

Unless we can start to re-educate ourselves and others to see reality in that light, our fight against same sex marriage is both pointless and doomed to failure.

Local Flooding

When we looked out of the window this morning, we saw that the fields in the valley were flooded.

Naturally, that meant that Ant and Dominique had to build a coracle, (using some old pipe tubing and a tarpaulin) and we then had to go and try it out.

It did very well, and a lot of fun was had by all.

I haven't many photos, as I ran out of memory, but I an assure you that all three of the girls managed to sink it.  Charlie refused to go in it, but still managed to fill a welly with water.

Friday 28 December 2012

Of course it's about homophobia...

One of the reasons that we are so ineffectual in our resistance to the destruction of marriage is that we are running scared.

It must never be thought that it is about homophobia, or that we discriminate in any way against homosexuals...  This fear, it seems to me, has eviscerated the Christian response to the assault on marriage, and left us looking irrational, hypocritical, and irresolute.

But the truth is that it is about homophobia, at least as that term is used by the gay rights lobby.  (It's not only about that, but I shall come back to that in another post).

When I say it is about homophobia, I do not mean an irrational fear or hatred of homosexual people (still less a rational one).  But I do mean a profound belief that the homosexual lifestyle is bad for them, for others and for society; that homosexuality is a disorder; that homosexual sex is a moral evil; that homosexual relationships are not morally equivalent to marriage, and so on.  Such beliefs, I expect, are sufficient for me to be branded homophobic.  But if I let the fear of that label prevent me from speaking the truth, then I really am scared.

I have a number of close relations who suffer from various degrees of autism.  They have done nothing to deserve this, and it would be wrong of anyone to blame them for it. I certainly love them no less because of this affliction.  However, it is an affliction, a disorder; to deny that is to do them no favours at all. Instead, we should seek to help them: a cure would be wonderful, but failing that, helping them to manage the disorder, and (of course) giving them love and support is the next best strategy.

However, occasionally the disorder may incline them to do things that are bad: bad for themselves and bad for others.  We do not say: 'Oh, that's OK: it's an alternative lifestyle,' as they bang their heads repeatedly on the floor, or attack their siblings, or refuse to eat.  We are sophisticated enough to recognise that these are bad behaviours, but they do not mean the person is a bad person, nor that we should withdraw our love and support.  But part of our loving response must be to help them to see that these behaviours are not good, and help them find ways to live that exclude these behaviours.

That is the challenge to Christians facing homosexuality: we are commanded firstly to love, but not in the shallow sense of condoning what is bad; rather in the sense that is motivated by the good of the other, and the good of all.  That good, we know, has been revealed by the God who sent His Son to live and to die for us, who sent His Holy Spirit to animate his Church, and who gave us Holy Matrimony as a sacred vocation, which we have a duty to defend and to pass on to our children in all its truth and beauty.

So we must oppose the destruction of marriage, confront the untruth that homosexuality is simply an alternative lifestyle that does nobody any harm, and tell the truth about these things clearly and without fear, but always in charity, seeking the good of the other.

And so far, we have been very poor at doing that.

Thursday 27 December 2012

In Praise of Discrimination

As my regular reader is well aware, I am something of a pedant when it comes to language.

There is a reason for that: I believe that language has a sacred quality: it can be a vehicle for truth.

It is not unrelated in my mind to the prologue of St John's Gospel: and the Word became flesh.

For that reason, when a word is bandied about as though it is the last word on a subject I always look more closely.

One such word, at the moment, is discrimination.  It is used to close discussions, and more specifically to close thinking.  We know discrimination is bad - evil even - so once that grenade is launched (eg in the context of 'homosexual marriage') everyone runs for cover.

However, even the briefest moment's thought reveals quite how stupid such a reaction is.

If a soldier, entering a village in pursuance (let us say) of a Just War, is shot at by a sniper, and responds by firing indiscriminately, we know that is bad.  He should discriminate between the civilian population and the sniper, and aim his fire only at the sniper.  Such discrimination is good.

Indeed, the word simply means to make a judgement. Every time we buy a product that is fairly traded, or not tested on animals, we are discriminating: in favour of one approach, against another.

As a society, we strive to discriminate between those who keep the law and those who break it: and that too is a good.

Not only that, but we may discriminate against people who have done no wrong, who are indeed victims of misfortune: we do not allow those whose sight does not meet a certain minimum standard to drive a car.

Discrimination, in other words, is not necessarily a bad thing. Why we pay attention to it is that it may be an indicator of a bad thing, and that bad thing is injustice.

Unjust discrimination is a bad thing; not because it is discrimination, but because it is unjust.

That is why the Catechism of the Catholic Church is very precise in its language regarding people afflicted with homosexual desires. 'Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.' §2358

That, of course, is because some discrimination in their regard may in fact be just: just as blind people may justly be discriminated against with regard to driving a car (because it is something that they cannot do) so homosexual people may justly be discriminated against with regard to marrying someone of the same sex: it is something that cannot be done.

That, of course, hangs on another point of language: what we mean by the word marriage.  That argument has been well-rehearsed; but nobody can deny that until very recently there was unanimity about its characteristics of sexual complementarity and potential for generating new life.  That is why the attempt to introduce 'same-sex marriage' is at heart a lie - or at the very least, an attempt to re-define the word to empty it of nearly all of its meaning.

There is one other linguistic trick being played here: the campaign has adopted the slogan equal marriage.  It is no coincidence that equality is a word like discrimination: we know it to be morally loaded and to shut down thought and discussion.

But again a moment's thought reveals that it works in the same way: equality is not a good in itself; however inequality may indicate injustice, so we should attend to that.

But what the proponents of 'same-sex marriage' are trying to do (and this is the real point of the whole campaign) is to say that homosexual partnerships are morally, socially and in every other way equal to marriage.

They are not.


NB the inverted commas around 'same-sex marriage' are not scare quotes (another interesting usage) but rather markers of an oxymoron - an indication that I do not accept the intellectual validity of the term.

Monday 24 December 2012

Christmas Suite in Five Movements

Christmas Suite in Five Movements

1 The Fear

So simple, very few
Can be so bare, be open to the wide
Dark, the starless night, the day’s persistent
Wearing away of time. See, men cast off
Their finery and lay it on the floor,

Here, of a stable. What do they wait for?
Answers to learned questions? No, they have
Been steeped in books and wear the dust of them.

Philosophy breaks all its definitions,
Logic is lost, and here
The Word is silent. This God fears the night,
A child so terrified he asks for us.  
God is the cry we thought came from our own 
Perpetual sense of loss.
Can God be frightened to be so alone?
Does that child dream of the Cross?

2 The Child

Blood on a berry.
Night of frost,
Some make merry, 
Some are lost.

Footsteps crack
On a pool of ice. 
Hope is back.  

This baby lies

Wrapped in rags, 
Is fed by a girl. 
O if God begs, 
Then we all hold

Him in our Power. 
We catch our breath. 
This is the hour
For the terrible truth.

Terrible, yes, 
But sweet also.
God needs us.
Now, through snow,

Tomorrow through heat
We carry him
And hear his heart
And bring him home.

3 A Litany

Mary of solace, take our hope,
Girl untouched, take our hands,
Lady of Heaven, come to our homes,
You bring Heaven down.

Mary of mercy, learn our laws,
Lady of care, take impulse to
Your heart, give us grace, 
More than enough
And a relish for
The renewal of love.

Queen of formal gardens, reach our forests, 
Girl of the fountains, come into our desert.
Mary of broken hearts, help us to keep
Promises. Lady of wakefulness, take our sleep.
You hold God in your arms, and he may weep.

4 The Despair

All night you fought the dream and when you woke
Lay exhausted, blinded by the sun. 
How could you face the day which had begun?
As we do, Christ, but worse for you.  You broke
Into our history. History drives you on.

Love before this was dust, but it was dust
You took upon yourself.  Your empty hands
Have scars upon them. You have made amends
For all wrong acts, for love brought down to lust. 
God, the world is crying and man stands

Upon the brink of worse than tragedy.
That was noble. Now there’s something more
Than careful scenes and acts. Some men make war
On you and we feel helpless, are not free
To struggle for you. God, we’ve seen you poor

And cold. Are stars dispensing light that you
Should find the universe turned... can it be
Away from you? No, no, we cannot see
Far or fully. Christ just born, you go
Back to the blighted, on to the thriving Tree.

5 The Victory

Down to that littleness, down to all that
Crying and hunger, all that tiny flesh
And flickering spirit - down the great stars fall, 
Here the huge kings bow.
Here the farmer sees his fragile lambs,
Here the wise man throws his books away.

This manger is the universe’s cradle,
This singing mother has the words of truth.
Here the ox and ass and sparrow stop, 
Here the hopeless man breaks into trust.
God, you have made a victory for the lost.
Give us this daily Bread, this little Host.

Elizabeth Jennings

Meditation on the Nativity

Meditation on the Nativity

All gods and goddesses, all looked up to
And argued with and threatened. All that fear
Which man shows to the very old and new -
All this, all these have gone. They disappear
In fables coming true.

In acts so simple that we are amazed -
A woman and a child. He trusts, she soothes.
Men see serenity and they are pleased.
Placating prophets talked but here are truths
All men have only praised

Before in dreams. Lost legends here are pressed
Not on to paper but in flesh and blood,
A promise kept. Her modesties divest
Our guilt of shame as she hands him her food
And he smiles on her breast.

Painters' perceptions, visionaries' long
Torments and silence, blossom here and speak.
Listen, our murmurs are a cradle-song,
Look, we are found who seldom dared to seek -
A maid, a child, God young.

Elizabeth Jennings

Sunday 23 December 2012

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Today's collect from the traditional Roman Mass:

Excita, quǽsumus, Dómine, poténtiam tuam, et veni: et magna nobis virtúte succúrre; et per auxílium grátiæ tuæ, quod nostra peccáta præpédiunt, indulgéntia tuæ propitiatiónis accéleret.

Arise in thy strength, we beseech thee O Lord, and come in might to our aid; that by the work of thy grace, that good to which our sins are a sore hindrance may, in the fullness of thy forgiveness, speedily be vouchsafed to us.

And here is the rather wonderful Offertory, which we had sung at the EF Mass at Lancaster Cathedral today:

Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum.  Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui.

Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.

Tuesday 18 December 2012

Alliance of Pro-Life Students - Launch in London

I have been asked to publicise the launch of  The Alliance of Pro-Life Students.

This is a new student initiative which aims to bring prolife students accross the country together and provide them with support and resources to bring the prolife message to students on campus. 

With the increase in the number of student unions that are declaring themselves 'prochoice' and silencing the prolife voice, this is desperately needed. 

The launch event will be held at the Thistle Hotel in Marble Arch on the 16th January at 7.30pm. Lord Alton will be speaking and drinks and canapes are included in the price. 

The tickets are £25 (£15 for students). The tickets can be purchased online from the link below.


This is clearly an important initiative, and I urge everyone to support it, both by attending (particularly if they are students in or near London), and by publicising it and encouraging others to go if they can.  If you can't go, you can support the initiative by subscribing or donating on their www page at the link above.

Monday 17 December 2012

The current crisis...

Am I the only person to see that the exemption of the Church of England from the Same Sex Marriage proposals is somewhat ironic?

I would argue that it would make more sense to impose it on the C of E.  The C of E, after all, has paved the way for this. Consider...:

  • The initial break from Rome removed it from the safeguard of orthodoxy and set a precedent for a State-run Church (and this too was centred on marriage);
  • The 1930 Lambeth Conference attacked the integrity of marriage by moving away from Christianity's previous absolute opposition to contraception, again attacking the integrity of marriage: the two essential goods of love and openness to life;
  • The constant fudging of the issue of divorce and re-marriage, attacking the integrity of marriage with regard to the clear teaching of Our Lord about its indissolubility;
  • The pseudo-ordination of women to the priesthood, lending credence to the superficial view that the difference between man and woman is superficial and irrelevant, rather than profound and full of Divine meaning and intent.
However, that is not to say that the Catholic Church in this country has been blameless.

We too have contributed to allowing the development of a culture in which this is even thinkable (and it it is startling to reflect that it would not have been thinkable till relatively recently).  We should particularly repent of:
  • The dissent, and tolerance of dissent, from Humanae Vitae
  • The collapse of Catholic education
  • The collapse of Catholic evangelisation
  • The scandal of the Soho Masses and other signals sent that suggest homosexual practice is a good (the infamous Filochowski celebratory Mass, for example)
  • The scandal of seeming to approve of Civil Partnerships for homosexual couples.
Perhaps the blame sits more heavily with us: we have the truth, and the guarantee of it, yet still we have colluded with the collapse of moral understanding that provides the context for this reckless attack on civilisation.

The bishops tell us that it is not too late to stop this Bill.  Perhaps they are right, and we should certainly try.  But without a strong moral fightback, even if this Bill fails, another will follow it as night follows day.

There are many people of good will, of many faiths and none, who recognise that re-defining marriage is gravely problematic.

But if we cede the ground on homosexual practice as morally equivalent to married love (eg by approving Civil Partnerships) then we will lose this battle and civilisation will pay a very high price.  The fear of being deemed homophobic should not inhibit us from proclaiming the truth.

What we need to do is find a way to proclaim that truth in love: the truth that human sexuality finds its true expression in chastity; either in marriage, open to life, or in chaste celibacy.  

Most people know that marriage breakdown is an evil: but feel it is inevitable.  Most know that abortion is an evil, but again have given up hope of any better solution.  I suspect most know that homosexuality is intrinsically disordered, but fear even to voice the thought.  Of course we do not seek to persecute people for this affliction, but pretending that it is not an affliction at all has led to where we are today. 

The Church has the right answers to these terrible scourges: it is our duty, in love, to make those answers known.

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of thy faithful
And kindle in them the fire of thy love.
Send forth thy Spirit, and they shall be created,
And thou shalt renew the face of the earth.

Sunday 16 December 2012

Is Advent Penitential?

A few times recently, and today on Twitter from @Part Time Pilgrim, I have come across the question: is Advent penitential?

Occasionally, I have come across the assertion that Advent is not penitential.

I had always taken it as self-evident that Advent is penitential, and seem to recall that I was taught that from my earliest years.

The liturgy seems to suggest as much, not least because of the parallels with Lent (Purple vestments, one Rose Sunday by way of easing the discipline), no Gloria, and so on.

However, in order to answer this question more intelligently I got out my (old, EF) missal (my new OF one has nothing to say on the subject).

Here is what my old missal says:

The Ecclesiastical year is reckoned to begin with the First Sunday of Advent, the Sunday namely which is nearest (either before or after) to the Feast of St Andrew (30 Nov.)

By Advent (Coming) is meant  in the Liturgy of the Catholic Church the season of preparation for the Festival of Christmas.  The services of the Church during Advent (except on Saints' days) are of a penitential character.  The Hymn Gloria in excelsis is not said at Mass; the colour of the sacred vestments is purple or violet; the altar is left unadorned; and the playing of the organ is restricted.

So it seems that traditionally, Advent was seen as a time of penance: and indeed that makes sense.  Just as our celebration of the Holy Eucharist begins with a penitential rite (Confiteor, Kyrie) to help us to make ready for Our Lord's coming, so the Church's year starts with a penitential period, to help us make ready for His birth.

I also note that in our diocese, just as in Lent, our good and holy bishop has arranged for Confession to be made available on every Wednesday evening in every Church and Chapel.  So history, logic, and our local bishop's latest initiative seem to me to support the proposition that Advent is indeed penitential.


@Part Time Pilgrim thought I had only proved that Advent *used to* be penitential in character.  I am not sure I agree.

However, I did a little further research and find in the current General Instruction of the Roman Missal 

§ 346 d)  The colour violet or purple is used in Advent and Lent. It may also be worn in
Offices and Masses for the Dead. 

§ 347. Ritual Masses are celebrated in their proper colour, in white, or in a festive colour; Masses for Various Needs, on the other hand, are celebrated in the colour proper to the day or the time of year or in violet if they have a penitential character, for example, nos. 31, 33 or 38; Votive Masses are celebrated in the colour suited to the Mass itself or even in the colour proper to the day or the time of the year. 

That seems to me to imply that Advent is still regarded as a penitential season.

Gaudete Sunday

Today is Gaudete Sunday,  named after the first word of the Introit in the EF (and retained somewhat simplified in the OF).

As in Lent, with Laetare Sunday, one Sunday in Advent has a slightly less penitential tone.  The Purple vestments may be replaced with Rose and the tone of the Mass is more joyful.

Here is the Introit:

Gaudéte in Dómino semper: íterum dico, gaudéte. Modéstia vestra nota sit ómnibus homínibus: Dóminus enim prope est. Nihil sollíciti sitis: sed in omni oratióne petitiónes vestræ innotéscant apud Deum.
Benedixísti, Dómine, terram tuam: avertísti captivitátem Jacob.

Glória Patri...

Rejoice in the Lord always: again I say, rejoice. Let your modesty be known to all men: for the Lord is nigh. Be nothing solicitous: but in every thing by prayer let your petitions be made known to God.
Lord, Thou hast blessed Thy land: Thou hast turned away the captivity of Jacob.

Glory be...

Our bishop speaks out

I was pleased to hear a Pastoral Letter from our bishop at Mass today, urging us to resist the redefinition of marriage.  He has also blogged on the subject, including both his pastoral letter and some useful links in his blog post, such as the one to his clear and excellent statement issued earlier this week.

He makes the particularly important point that same-sex couples are not 'excluded' from marriage, but simply cannot marry.  What the intended legislation proposes is, in fact, a lie: to call something a marriage that does not meet the meaning of that word.  I blogged on this aspect a while back when the Argentinians did something similar.

He also refers to the government as the Gornment: possibly a typo, but I quite like it and hope it will catch on: not sure of the etymology, but it does sound good.

Saturday 15 December 2012

You know I said we had a bishop...

I posted recently about +Egan of Portsmouth.  He's done it again.  His letter to David Cameron is just what bishops - and indeed the rest of us - should be saying.

I won't quote it here, as I think it would be good if it gets many hits at its home site, which is here

Go straight away: then follow his example, and write to your MP and the PM, say a prayer for +Egan, and possibly even drop him a note of thanks and support.

Poll results just in...

... well, not just in, actually.

We did the poll some time ago, but are publishing the results and the commentary now, because we are a bit concerned at the way things are going.

Anyway, here are the results:

85% of household children preferred the old-style packed lunches of a Mars bar and a bottle of pop to the new healthy lunches. 10% said they always swapped lunches anyway. 5% said they dropped theirs behind the radiator.

90% said they should have been consulted and listened to before any such change was introduced. 10% had left the room before I got around to question 2.

75% felt that the music on their iPods no longer matched the food they were eating, and this caused severe emotional distress.  15% had left by now, and the other 10% had their earphones in and didn't hear the question.

Wondering what this is about?  Well, this and this...

(sample size: 3)

See also Eccles and Ttony: both perceptive in their rather different approaches.

The Slaughter of the Innocents

It is very hard to know how to react to such evil as was visited on a school in Connecticut.

Clearly our first reaction is prayer: prayers for those killed, and for those left bereft; prayers too for the troubled young man at the centre of it all.

But beyond that, I was interested in my own instinctive reaction: which was to distance myself from the tragedy. Oh, it's Americans,... it's their crazy gun laws,...  it is, in some sense, other.

However, that is not true.  It is evil, and evil I know is very close to home.

So rather than create a reassuring distance, perhaps we should look in the mirror.

I do not know, and do not care to guess, the state of mind of a young man who commits such an action.

But what I do know is that I repeatedly choose evil over good; and I have no excuses.  I have the Faith, the availability of Grace through the sacraments; I am surrounded by people who love me, and suffer no serious disadvantage of any kind.  Yet still I sin.  And every time I sin, I put myself on the side of the one behind this latest outrage.

And that is the other key to our reaction, perhaps.  To recognise that behind this, and every evil, there is a malign intent.  From the Devil's point of view, in fact, the slaughter of the innocents may be inherently satisfying, given his hatred of life and innocence.  But it does not win him souls: by their very innocence they are surely safe now.  So perhaps we should consider what his real goals are in such manifestations of evil, and respond accordingly.

It seems to me that the fruits he would like to reap from a tragedy such as this are an increase of despair, of hatred, of human misery leading to sin.  So our response, surely must be to pray for and share hope, to love more, and to comfort and sustain those tempted to hate, to despair or in misery.

Of course, we may be in no position to do that with regard to the people directly affected, but if we look around us, we may well find others who will benefit from such an approach.

It is indeed tempting to despair of the modern world: how have we come to this?  But as the title of this post reminds us, we have always had evil with us, and the Devil has always claimed innocent blood when he can.

So our response must be the one that he does not want; the response of love, infused with hope, inspired by faith.

For the Cross is meaningless without the Resurrection, and human suffering likewise is meaningless unless seen through a perspective of Faith, Hope and Charity.

Friday 14 December 2012

It's that time of year...

Last night we were at another Christmas Concert. Two nights out in one week: how the Trovati live it up!

This one was at the school, so Charlie and Dominique were in the orchestra.  For some reason Grandma chose not to come - can't imagine why...

Actually, the school orchestra are reasonably good: strings stronger than sometimes, brass and flutes good, a bit lacking in confidence in the clarinets, and percussion entertaining.

It was another good mixed programme, though, with soloists and the choir and smaller ensembles all making contributions.  The cheapest music this time was Lennon and McCartney (Michelle), and attentive readers will have detected my weakness for the Beatles, so that was OK, and All I want for Christmas is you, which was lamentable...

Highlights were a lively performance of Gaudete by the Chamber Choir, and the Orchestra's Bizet (Farandole)

The soloists all acquitted themselves well, too, and the punch at the interval was very good!

Thursday 13 December 2012

Christmas Concert

We went to a great concert at the Cathedral yesterday evening.  The Lancaster University Music Society presented a varied programme featuring a number of ensembles as well as the full orchestra.

The programme was varied too, from the sublime, Victoria's O Magnum Mysterium, to (frankly) the cheap: Lloyd Webber's Till I Hear You Sing.  And yes, that is a comment about my taste, but not just my taste: I maintain there is something inherently superior about the one compared to the other, just as Romeo and Juliet is better than Coronation Street, and not merely because I prefer one to the other.  However, Noel Coward was right about cheap music, of course.... But I digress.

The String Orchestra opened the proceedings with the third Brandenburg, which by and  large went well, though the way it passes the melody around the sections did rather expose those that were less confident or competent, and intonation was occasionally suspect.

The choir were on next, and made a good noise, with a set ranging from Handel's And the Glory of the Lord to a version of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas via a couple of Rutter carols and the magnificent Victoria motet.

Last up before the interval were the Brass Band.  I'm not a huge Brass Band fan, but I was very impressed by their playing: very tight, lots of dynamic control and (apart from the unfortunate straying into Lloyd Webber territory) a very interesting and enjoyable programme.

After a welcome break for wine and cheese (I had had to come straight from work without eating, so I wolfed far more than my share of cheese and biscuits) the Wind Band were on.  Again the programme was mixed, with A Cowboy Christmas followed by Purcell's famous Rondeau, and so on.  Again, the playing was good and captured the varying moods of the different pieces well.

Then the full Orchestra took to the stage, and after a spirited performance of Copland's Hoedown, played extracts from Pictures at an Exhibition.  Again the skill and flexibility of the musicians was demonstrated, with the light, deft touches of the Ballet of Unhatched Chicks contrasting with the magnificent finale: the Great Gates of Kiev.

Finally we sang some carols; and what a treat that was: with a choir and orchestra to lead us, complete with the traditional descants.

So Anna, her mum, Charlie, Dominique and I had a great evening out and left very impressed at the standard of musicianship of so many of the students.

Wednesday 12 December 2012

We have a bishop!

We have a bishop in England who is leading as a bishop should.

Just days after his excellent comments on the destruction of marriage, +Egan of Portsmouth has issued a  Pastoral Teaching Message on the Care of the Dying, and his concerns about the Liverpool Care Pathway.

It is excellent; and note also how careful he is to be precise about its level of authority.  This is very important.

Ad multos annos!

Tuesday 11 December 2012

In which I eat my words

I am more than happy to eat my words, with regard to my last post.

Assuming they weren't shamed into it by that post, I have to say that I wronged the bishops in it.

This afternoon they published the following statement:

Statement on the government response to the same sex marriage consultation

Statement by Archbishop Vincent Nichols and Archbishop Peter Smith on the government response to the same sex marriage consultation. Archbishop Nichols is President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales. Archbishop Smith is Vice-President.

The meaning of marriage matters. It derives that meaning from its function as the foundation of the family. The union of one man and one woman for love and mutual support and open to procreation has over the centuries formed a stable unit we call the family. Marriage is the enduring public recognition of this commitment and has been rightly recognised as unique and worthy of legal protection.

The government has chosen to ignore the views of over 600,000 people who signed a petition calling for the current definition of marriage to stay, and we are told legislation to change the definition of marriage will now come to Parliament.

We strongly oppose such a Bill. Furthermore, the process by which this has happened can only be described as shambolic. There was no electoral mandate in any manifesto; no mention in the Queen’s speech; no serious or thorough consultation through a Green or White paper, and a constant shifting of policy before even the government response to the consultation was published today.

We urge everyone who cares about upholding the meaning of marriage in civil law to make their views known to their MPs clearly, calmly and forcefully, and without impugning the motives of others. We urge all parties to ensure their Members have a free vote. It is not too late to stop this Bill.

I am delighted to have to apologise for my unkind - and it proves, unjust -  words of this morning.


It is one of the ironies of history that shortly after he was awarded the title Fidei Defensor by the Pope, Henry Vlll broke with Rome...  It was something to do with an attack on the integrity of marriage.

The true Fidei Defensor then was perhaps St John Fisher, the only member of the hierarchy who stood up to this abuse of power, and paid for it with his life (there were many others, of course, but none among the hierarchy).

Fast forward a few hundred years and we see a new abuse of power; Henry's successor has distanced himself from  the F.D. title by declaring he will instead be a defender of faiths, the government is launching the most comprehensive attack on the integrity of marriage, and the hierarchy...


Doubtless, they are ruminating on their strategy.  Perhaps they are wondering how to respond without compromising their ability to wield some political power and mitigate the worst excesses of the destruction of marriage.  Who knows?  Perhaps St John Fisher's colleagues had similar deliberations.  Who knows?

There is one bishop, +Philip Egan of Portsmouth, who may not have a strategy but has a conscience.  He knows that his duty is to preach the Kingdom in season or out. His now is the title Fidei Defensor.

++Nichols remarked a while back: 'Who knows what's down the road?'

I may be less educated, less holy and less most other things than him, but I can tell him what I learned from my parents, and they from a more robust teaching of the Faith than we get nowadays: death, judgement, heaven or hell.

St John Fisher, pray for us.

Sunday 9 December 2012

And my reply...

Cue the Archers' Theme Music (but not enough to breach copyright, of course)

OK, so here is the exciting story so far.

I wrote to my MP.

He emailed me.

I emailed him.

He emailed me.

Here is my latest reply: 

Thank you for your further reply, and for your kind suggestion to come to a surgery to discuss it further, Unfortunately I was working [away] on Friday, and had family commitments on Saturday.

This issue only gets worse, I fear...

Look how quickly things change: it was only in October that you were able to assure me that 'current proposals would make it illegal for any religious organisation to conduct a same-sex marriage in a place of worship.'

But the much-vaunted distinction between civil and religious marriage has just been comprehensively trashed by the Prime Minister. 

Given all the assurances we were given that religious marriage would be unaffected, this volte-face does not offer us any reasons to trust the Government's statements or intentions on this matter.  I am sure you made your statement in good faith: it is the PM and his colleagues who have made it look so untrustworthy - just as it was they who were trumpeting this very assurance themselves until very recently.

This is shameful politics, unworthy of the Conservative Party.

Your reassurances about religious liberty, I am afraid, carry no weight given this context, and given the fact that it will be judges, probably from foreign countries, who will end up making the law. 

You say the current proposals are simply that: proposals; and you agree that this will be an enormously complex piece of legislation.  Yet for political reasons the PM seems determined not only to go ahead with this reckless legislation, but to do so at high speed, and therefore with increased likelihood of a severely flawed outcome by any standard.

I see no evidence that the government (as opposed to you personally) is taking representations such as mine seriously - unless you mean as a serious threat, which is why they are charging ahead with undue haste.

I also note that you have still not addressed a number of the issues I originally raised, not least with regard to the purpose of this change, since same-sex couples already have all the legal benefits of marriage already.

Please don't feel obliged to reply to this; but once you heave decided which way you are going to vote, I would naturally be very interested to know.

My MP's latest on SSM

Here is my MP's latest, received a while back (before Cameron's latest volte-face). It is interesting to read in the light of that, however; this poor MP has been stitched up by his party leaders, I think:

Thank you for your email. 
Regarding the issue of marriage in church, marriage is defined in law according to how it is conducted. Under the Marriage Act of 1949, marriage can already be conducted in numerous different ways, taking into account religion or lack thereof; and location, be it a religious building, register office or other approved premises. There is therefore already a clear distinction in law between religious and civil marriages. Civil marriages cannot happen inside a church now and this does not change under the Government’s proposals. I agree that religious liberty must be protected in any legislation; no religious place should be discriminated against for its choices in this matter.
On the strengthening of society, I don't believe this is something that can be easily evidenced or quantified; however, I do believe strongly in the general benefits of marriage for couples, children and society as a whole. 
The current proposals are precisely that: proposals. They do not intend, nor can they, to detail the complex legalities that any redefinition would involve. Clearly this would be an enormously complex piece of legislation that needs to take into account the protections of religious sites, and indeed - as you say - any further redefinitions of marriage. As you say, very many people have joined the debate - on both sides - given their strong feelings, and I can assure you that the government is taking representations such as yours very seriously indeed. 
I remain undecided of my voting intentions, but you are very welcome - if you wish to discuss this further - to come to a surgery in the near future. 
With best wishes,

Does anyone else wonder how long the fence will bear the strain?

His first point is a load of bunkum, I think.  Marriage is not defined in law according to how it is conducted.  It is defined in law, as are various ways in which it can legally be conducted.  That is a significant difference.

He concedes that we are witnessing the re-definition of marriage.

Unfortunately, I was not able to get to his surgery, due to other commitments.

I'll post my reply shortly  (cue Archers theme music).

SSM: The Straw Man

Seen on Twitter today (and similar every day....)
If gay marriage weakens your heterosexual marriage, stop complaining about gay people and put some more effort into working on your marriage.
The strange thing is, I have not seen anyone arguing against re-defining and radically altering the Institution of Marriage because he or she believes that it will weaken his or her own marriage.  Likewise, objections to this radical change do not generally involve complaining about gay people.

Odd, that...

That said, working harder on one's own marriage is always good advice.

(For some of my deliberations on why SSM is a bad idea, see here.)

Second Sunday of Advent

Here is the collect for the Second Sunday of Advent, in the Extraordinary Form:

Excita, Dómine, corda nostra ad præparándas Unigéniti tui vias: ut per ejus advéntum, purificátis tibi méntibus servíre mereámur.

Stir up our hearts, O Lord, to make ready the ways of thine only-begotten Son; and with minds undefiled to pay to thee the homage of our service.

This is the prayer we say around our Advent Wreath for the whole of this week.

Saturday 8 December 2012

Offertory for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (EF)

Here is a recording of the Chant Offertory for today's feast in the Extraordinary Form.

Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum.  Benedicta tu in mulieribus. Alleluia.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou amongst women, alleluia.

Wednesday 5 December 2012

Misjudging CTA

In my last post, I said some harsh things about CTA.

However, since then I have read this account of their meeting in October.  I was astonished to read that they feel the bishops have a 'lack of appreciation of how the imposition of the new liturgy has disappointed laity.’  I feel exactly the same way myself.  The imposition of the new liturgy, replacing the time-hallowed Immemorial Mass was certainly disappointing to many of the laity, but I was surprised to hear that voiced in this context.

Another promising quotation was: ‘it’s all very well to talk about Vatican II - but how many Catholics today really know what it said?

Again, my sentiments exactly!  

Some people seem to think that Vatican II authorised, or even ordered, all sorts of things which it did not.  Reading the documents and implementing them (Latin as the primary language of Worship, Chant having pride of place in liturgical music, for starters) would certainly be my idea of progressive action. 

Someone else, apparently, talked about ‘opening up spaces where people can be listened to with respect and gentleness.’  It’s called the confessional, and in our diocese the bishop makes sure it is opened up additionally in Advent and Lent, which is a great initiative.  

Such respect is given in the confessional, of course, that a good priest won’t patronise you by pretending your sins are not sins, but will respect your status as a pilgrim and fortify you for the journey by helping you address your weaknesses, and giving you God’s grace and forgiveness in the Sacrament.

So was I misjudging CTA?

Perhaps not.  For on reflection, I think the first comment may have been a jibe thrown at the new, improved translation of the Mass; the second I suspect is conceived in ignorance of the very teaching of the Council it professes to admire; and the third is less interested in the Church telling him where he’s wrong than in him telling the Church where She is wrong.

As you were.

Tuesday 4 December 2012

Dying Gasps

Deacon Nick Donnelly,  at his Protect the Pope site,  has revealed that the sad old folk of Call to Action have convened meetings in various English dioceses. (I've linked to Call to Action in the US - CTA-USA I tried CTA-UK but that turns out to be the rather more interesting  Cinema Theatre Association).

They maintain ‘there seems a reluctance to listen to the people whose lived reality is so often at odds with the teaching of the institutional Church.’

I think they are nearly right.  What I see is a reluctance to listen by the people whose lived reality is so often at odds with the teaching of the One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

I think these poor deluded souls are quite panicked as their sell-by date has come and gone, and they remain rotting, unwanted, on the back of the shelf...

The days when anybody seriously thought that they could re-create the Church to reflect their own self-centred view of what the Church should be are long past.

With hindsight, one can see that this idea was dying even when it seemed to flourish.  Humanae Vitae and the Credo of the People of God were early signs; Veritatis Splendor was very clear writing on the wall, the Catechism of the Catholic Church was the death-knell for such thinking, and practically everything said or done by Pope Benedict XVI, now gloriously reigning, has confirmed that reality.

True, there has been a lot of noise in the system; and true, that has resulted in the tragedy of many being deceived and losing their Faith.

But Portae inferi non praevalebunt adversus ecclesiam (the gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church), and it was to Peter that Christ said tibi dabo claves regni caelorum (I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven.)

So whilst we should, rightly, be indignant at the noises emanating from these sad Call to Action chaps, and at those who collude when they should know better, we should recognise such noises for what they are: the dying gasps of an ill-conceived and ill-fated movement that, in the fullness of time will barely be a footnote in the history of the Church.



Why the Latin?

1 It annoys the Latin-haters (inc Satan)
2 It adds an appearance of class to an otherwise pedestrian blog
3 It rewards those who persevered through the Liturgical Latin blogs
4 It is the language of the Roman Church