Tuesday 29 January 2013

SPUC Conference

As my regular readers may be aware, I am not a wholly uncritical fan of SPUC's.  However, they have asked me to publicise this Conference and I am happy to do so.  A number of the speakers will be well worth hearing, and I am sure that many valuable friendships will also result.

Picture (Device Independent Bitmap)
The SPUC International Youth Conference is the only pro-life conference of its kind in the UK. This conference has proven a huge success every year and without doubt made an important contribution to renewed pro-life efforts by young people around the country. This weekend conference has been a place where the seed for new pro-life groups has been sown and new friendships forged. SPUC has ensured an exciting line-up of expert speakers in their respective fields, along with fun evening entertainment. This is an event not to be missed!

What: SPUC 6th International Pro-Life Youth Conference 2013
SPUC weblink: http://www.spuc.org.uk/youth/international_youth_conference

Where: Hayes Conference Centre, Swanwick, Derbyshire, DE55 1AU
When: Friday 22 - Sunday 24 March 2013Time: registration from 4pm on Friday. The conference ends at 2pm on Sunday
Who: students and young people aged 16 upwards

Cost: £100 (price includes accommodation, meals, conference pack, access to all talks and evening entertainments).
Booking: 1) Book and pay via the SPUC website. Please click on this link http://www.spuc.org.uk/shop/list_products?category=30
2) Once we receive your payment a registration form will be emailed to you. Please fill it in and email it to: conference@spuc.org.uk or post it back to: SPUC Youth Conference, 3 Whitacre Mews, Stannary Street, London, SE11 4AB.

Contact us: If you have a query about the conference please email: conference@spuc.org.uk

Speakers and topics
Professor Patrick Pullicino: Liverpool Care Pathway
Dr Lisa Nolland: Sex Education
John Smeaton: Prolife Campaigns
Ira Winter: Natural Family Planning
James Bogle: Euthanasia
Fiorella Nash: Maternal Mortality
Dr Helen Watt: Pregnancy
Anthony Ozimic: Political Campaigning
Katherine Hampton: SPUC pro-life School’s Talk

Entertainment: Friday night film, Saturday night ceilidh with guest band Jigabit, and of course drinks in the bar (over 18s only) on Friday and Saturday evening.

Reports and photos about last year’s conference

Of Your Charity...

Of your charity, please pray for the repose of the soul of my late aunt, Margaret, whose funeral is tomorrow.

As she was not a Catholic, there may be few of us praying for her at the funeral service: so remote prayers will be particularly valued.

Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis.

Sunday 27 January 2013

The Emetic

Ttony, over at The Muniment Room, has suggested that it would be a good idea to publish a regular corrective to some of the rubbish printed in The Tablet, and is using the working title: The Emetic.  He has posted an example of the kind of stuff that needed correction or comment in just one issue.

Due to the sheer volume of idiocy the Tablet can publish in a single issue, it would clearly need to be a team effort.

This seems a great idea to me, that could develop into a serious apostolate with many benefits; but , if it is to be taken at all seriously, it would need some thought and a lot of work.

Some of the questions that occur to me are:

  • Should we set up a new blog, twitter feed etc dedicated to this important apostolate?
  • Who should be on the team - and who decides - and by what criteria?
  • Should we aim for consistency of style and approach (and if so what) or diversity ranging from satire to legal and theological dissection?
  • Should we strive to fisk every dodgy article every week, or simply pick the more outrageous ones?
  • Who would edit/review articles to ensure that they do in fact accurately express Catholic orthodoxy?
  • Who would be our spiritual director?
  • Is this, in fact, a good idea?

If anyone is interested in getting involved, or in answering any of those questions, or in suggesting further questions that we should address, please comment in the comms box here or at Ttony's place, or on Twitter.

Saturday 26 January 2013

SMUC Volte Face

For those who remember the extraordinary SMUC story, it is interesting to note the latest development, reported here by Fr Finigan.

In brief, in September last year, Dr Towey was halted mid-lecture by security staff at St Mary's University College, and marched off the premises.  He was then suspended.

The way in which this was all done seemed to me, and to many others, to fall well short of the principles by which a Catholic Institution (or indeed any civilised Higher Education institution) should be conducted.

However, it appears that he is now reinstated, and (entirely coincidentally, I am sure) Professor Esler is suddenly on Research Leave until the end of his tenure as Principal.

It is curious that Professor Esler is stepping down before a successor has been identified.

I hope that over time SMUC will settle down, and above all that it will retain its Catholic identity, which, I understand, is very dear to Dr Towey's heart.

In Praise of Equal Marriage

Of course I am in favour of Equal Marriage; that is why I do not want the law changed.

At present, we have a fundamental equality in our marriage laws: any adult may marry any other consenting adult of the opposite sex (providing they are not closely related, already married etc). Marriage is consummated in the marital embrace, in all cases.  That seems pretty equal to me.

There are proposals afoot to mess with that equality. Suddenly, some marriages will be deemed valid without consummation; what constitutes infidelity will be different in different cases, and so on.

Moreover, marriage will no longer be the social institution it has always been before: the foundation of a family on the basis of the mutual love and permanent commitment of a man and a woman to each other, and to their children.  Children will no longer have the equal right and expectation of a mother and a father, each contributing, in their complementarity to the stability and wellbeing of the children. Instead, by design, some children will have different, unequal arrangements which are tantamount to a giant social experiment.

If we are to argue on the basis of equality, I say that marriage should not be further eroded by re-definition, but rather strengthened in our traditional understanding of it.

Tuesday 22 January 2013

New CTS Website

I have just seen the new CTS Website. I have to say it is a huge improvement, on first glance.  It is clearer, easier to navigate and the search function also seems to work well. Go over and have a look, and then tweet them @CTSPublishers to tell them how good it is.

Even more important, of course, is that they now publish such very good books. I have read quite a number recently, and almost without exception have found them excellent.  Even the ones I haven't liked have not bee profoundly wrong, merely poorly written or simply written in a way I was out of sympathy with.  So you really can't go far wrong.

For an independent view of CTS books, there's always Andrew's CTS Reviews site.

So, when you have had a look at both sites, why not support the CTS by ordering a book or several.  Something for your Lenten reading perhaps; and for your friends, your kids, your spouse, your parish priest...

And no, I am not on commission!

Sunday 20 January 2013

The Marian precedes the Petrine...

Today's gospel reading - the Marriage Feast at Cana - has long been one of my favourites.

I well remember a completely inspirational sermon preached at Walsingham on an NACF pilgrimage, in which the water was seen as signifying (inter alia, of course) our human affections in marriage after the first heady wine of romance was finished, and how Our Lord can transform that thin neutral matter into the true Charity that is participation in the Divine Love - the best wine of all.

Today we had another excellent sermon, focusing particularly on Our Lady's role, and her example of prayerfulness.  Today, of course, we see the power of her intercession, but Father also pointed out her prayer of submission, the great fiat ('be it done to me...'), her prayer of silence at the foot of the Cross, and her prayer of praise and adoration, the Magnificat, too.

(Incidentally, whenever I discuss Marian devotion with my non-Catholic friends, I always say there is really no harm in it: whenever you talk to her, her response is invariably 'Do whatever He tells you...')

It was the point about submission that particularly resonated with me today, because I had recently seen quoted a sentence from the Catechism (which I have subsequently looked up and found that I had underlined and put a big marginal exclamation mark by at some point): This is why the 'Marian' dimension of the Church precedes the 'Petrine.' (§773)

I had already been musing on the Petrine office, the issue of Papal Authority, as we enter this week of prayer for Christian Unity, as it is clearly something that our separated brethren often find troublesome. In part, I think, that is because they often misunderstand it, as though it is some sort of privilege sought by (or worse still, power claimed by) an ambitious papacy to subjugate an ignorant laity.

In fact, we see it, of course, as a gift to the Church, not to the Pope; to provide clarity, certainty, authority, and ultimately unity; to save us from error.

But today's reading and reflection made me view it in another fashion.  Authority is a gift, also, because it enables us to practice humility and obedience; to subdue our intellectual, and indeed our spiritual, pride: to emulate Our Lady in her humility: the 'Marian' dimension of the Church precedes the 'Petrine.' 

Saturday 19 January 2013

Messing about on the ice

We have had only a light dusting of snow up here, but the temperatures have been very low for a few days, so the ponds on the common are frozen solid. Here, Ant and Charlie (and Goldie) are messing about, whilst Dominique was putting her ices skates on.  Bernie is at university at present and will be sorry to have missed the chance of outdoor skating.

Reflecting on translating

I was given a great book for Christmas: Is That a Fish in Your Ear?, by David Bellos.  The subtitle (for those unfamiliar with The Hitch-Hiker's Guide) gives a clue: The Amazing Adventure of Translation.

It is both entertaining and thought-provoking, particularly for those who are engaged in the art of translating between languages, but also for anyone with an interest in language, thought, communication or, of course, translation.

Naturally enough, I relate it (inter alia) to the translating of the Missal, and indeed the Bible.  Bellos makes the reasonable point that one cannot say that one translation is correct, and no other can be.  Translating is not a straight-forward substitution of a word in one language with its equivalent word in another.  For a start, there may be no equivalent word; or there may be more than one; further some turns of phrase express a meaning that simply don't translate in that way: try translating How do you do? literally into any other language you can think of: it simply does not work.

On that basis, one might think that the case is made for the 'dynamic equivalence' approach to translating the Missal that landed us with such a poor translation until recently.  In response to that, many, including I myself, have called for a more literal approach to translation.  But a strict formal adherence to word-for-word translation, word order, and syntax does risk a translation being incomprehensible, or indeed meaningless, as in the example I gave above.

I haven't yet got as far as Bellos' comments on Nida (who coined the term 'dynamic equivalence' in the context of translation), and will be fascinated to see what insights he has to offer.

However, one of the points Bellos makes is that the context is very important in translating.  For example, to translate Molière (or Astérix, come to that) into English without realising that the context is humour could result in accurate translating that completely misses the point.  In fact Anthea Bell's translation of Astérix into English is a great example of translating, though it is far from literal. Dogmatix for Idéfix is simply inspired, adding an English pun to the name that describes his character; but consider how difficult it must be to translate all the other names, let alone all the jokes.

And I think that is what ICEL missed in their translation of the Missal. It simply did not reflect what the Latin was trying to do, at the level either of the meaning or of the effect it intended to convey.  It reads to me as though it was done by people who did not share the theology, ecclesiology and so forth that informed the Latin original, nor understand the hieratic nature of language used in formal worship.

Thus the linguistic register of the translation, designed to be instantly accessible to the casual listener, was very far from the register of the Latin, which, among other things, was sonorous and resonant; and the actual meaning was altered to fit a different intellectual framework: so we lost adoration in the Gloria...  In short, the dynamic equivalence was simply not equivalent.

That is why I prefer the new translation.  It is far from perfect, but it does seem to me to reflect much more accurately both the meaning and the tone of the original Latin.

A perfect translation is, I think, impossible.

For that reason, among many others, I believe the Church should return to Latin as the language of formal worship; then the business of translation becomes less important, and changes to it less fraught;  and also we reduce the risk of what I have termed The Heresy of Understanding...

Sunday 13 January 2013

On relics...

I was not able to get to see the relics of St John Bosco, as they came no nearer than Liverpool, but I was able to see St Therese's when they were at Lancaster, and very moving that was.

But in the discussion of the significance of relics, (eg on this morning's Sunday programme on Radio 4 when they were talking to people at Westminster Cathedral) I thought there was a lot missing.

Why are relics so important - and so moving - for Catholics? It is not just about being reminded of the saint and his or her good example.  There is something much more going on here.

Firstly, we are reminded not just of their holiness of life, but also of their achieving their eternal destiny: we are in the presence of a physical reminder that we are all called to be saints, that it is possible to achieve that vocation, and that this individual has indeed done that.

Catholicism is of course the religion of the Incarnation: the collision of the Divine with the created.  Saints are the natural (or rather supernatural) result of that: Christ humbled Himself to partake of our humanity, so that we could become sharers in His Divinity.

So the very physicality of the relic is important: ours is not an ethereal or purely spiritual religion.

Another reason that relics are important is related to this: we are in the presence of something which we know will be - albeit in a transformed state - in Heaven.  For whenever we say the Apostle's Creed, we proclaim that we believe in the resurrection of the body.  So St John Bosco's hand, currently in Southwark Cathedral, is guaranteed to be resurrected at the end of time and to take its place with Our Lord and Our Lady - in their human bodies - in Heaven.  That is truly awesome.

And thinking of the Creed made me reflect also on the Communion of Saints.  There is a mystical connection between us on earth, (the Church militant) and the saints in Heaven, (the Church triumphant) as well as the Church suffering (the Holy Souls in purgatory).  Relics are a tangible point of connection reflecting that spiritual reality.  In a way, they are a type of the Blessed Sacrament itself: it is characteristic of our incarnational religion that matter becomes the means by which the supernatural is communicated to us.

Likewise, the intercession of the saints, which relics prompt us to seek and (I would dare wager) also mystically enable, is typical of Catholicism. Or rather, of Catholicism's God.  For whilst many protestants reject the idea of any intermediary between God and each individual, a brief reflection on how God chooses to operate demonstrates that He rather likes the idea.  He sent Gabriel to Mary; He sent John the Baptist to prepare the way for Christ;  Our Lord Himself sent His apostles out to preach the Kingdom; and very few of us have received the Faith in the way St Paul did - for most it is passed on through (imperfect) human beings.

So let us resist all attempt to characterise our attitude to relics as something medieval or irrational.  It is in the nature of our Faith that we should reverence them as immediate and direct links with Heaven.

St Therese - pray for us,
St John Bosco - pray for us.

Friday 11 January 2013

God bless our bishop

Our bishop, +Michael Campbell, has just sent an excellent letter to the Prime Minister.

In it, he makes several important points, including that marriage was not created by, and therefore does not belong to, either the State or the Church.  Rather it is derived from the natural order, and to try to change its fundamental nature by legislation is simply to lie.

He also points out that laws play a role in determining what is and is not socially acceptable: so the mantra that allowing 'gay marriages' affects nobody else is palpably dishonest: in fact it will mean that very soon, anyone holding to beliefs about marriage which everyone held to till very recently, will be seen as a bigot, with concomitant consequences.

He also points out the Church's teaching and practice that we love people suffering from same sex attraction; and also the fact that 'the Church offers the means to live chastely in all circumstances, as the love and grace of God both obliges and makes possible.'

It is an excellent, measured and well-reasoned letter.  Let us hope and pray that David Cameron pays it some heed.

Tuesday 8 January 2013


Why are some people so hateful towards us Bulimics?

Can't they see it is a life-style choice as valid as theirs?

If we get together and binge and purge as consenting adults or teenagers, why should it be anyone else's concern?

It can't conceivably hurt anyone else and it makes us feel so great.

Yet some people still insist on using hate-language, calling it an 'eating disorder.'  That is so digesto-centric it makes me want to vomit!

Fortunately, more and more of us are coming out, and being proud of our bulimia.  We will no longer tolerate the oppression that means we have to purge in secret.  Why should we deny our God-given identity as purgers?

We are also making common cause with anorexics, and all other queer eaters.

Merely because the majority of people aren't bulimic or anorexic, there's no need to say that we are abnormal. And sure, biologically, eating is meant for nourishment, but it doesn't have to be: we also eat to be sociable, and because it is pleasurable and there is nothing wrong with that.  If we choose to exercise this natural function in ways that give us pleasure and do nobody else any harm, how can that be wrong?

As for suggesting that we can or should be 'cured' or be helped to 'recover'... that is simply a manifestation of your phobia: why should we be 'cured' of, or helped to 'recover' from, our fundamental identity?

And another thing: all this thing about trigger warnings!  I never see anyone worrying about triggering sexual desire of any kind, so why should binge and purge triggers be stigmatised by the need for 'warnings'?

Any possible argument you could make against this has already been refuted by LGBT people in their context...

Friday 4 January 2013

Original Sin

Of all the errors in the modern approaches to teaching and proclaiming the Faith, it strikes me that one of the most foundational is the fear of teaching about Original Sin.

Without understanding this, the Redemption itself makes no sense: if we are not fallen, from what do we need to be saved?  Why should we need to die with Christ in baptism if our unbaptised state is natural blessedness?

Further, how do we understand our experience without a proper understanding of our damaged nature? Why do we experience such conflicts between our desires and what we know to be good; and such difficulty in adhering to our good intentions?  Without realising that we are not as God designed us, this makes little sense.

Finally, how can we begin to understand the glory of Our Lady's Immaculate Conception unless we know what she, uniquely, was preserved from, by the grace of Her Son's love for her?

Original sin seems to me to be the most clearly observable of doctrines.  Betjeman (who often surprises by being so much better than one remembers) caught it well in his poem Original Sin on the Sussex Coast, which concludes:

Does Mum, the Persil-user, still believe
That there's no Devil and that youth is bliss?
As certain as the sun behind the Downs
And quite as plain to see, the Devil walks.

Why then are we so shy of the subject?

I think that there are two reasons.  

One is that, although easy to observe, it is quite difficult to explain. Indeed, the Catechism of the Catholic Church devotes many paragraphs to it, which demonstrates both its importance and its complexity.

The other is that it is against the spirit of the times.  We don't like to talk about negative things.  I seem to remember Archbishop Nichols, for example, saying that talk of sin was a misguided attempt to motivate people.

But without an understanding of sin in general, and Original Sin in particular, we are completely uncatechised: ignorant in our Faith.

As the Catechism says:
God is infinitely good and all his works are good. Yet no one can escape the experience of suffering or the evils in nature which seem to be linked to the limitations proper to creatures: and above all to the question of moral evil. Where does evil come from? (§385)
And further,
Sin is present in human history; any attempt to ignore it or to give this dark reality other names would be futile. (§386)

With regard particularly to Original Sin, the Catechism continues;
The Church, which has the mind of Christ, knows very well that we cannot tamper with the revelation of original sin without undermining the mystery of Christ. (§389)
The Catechism also describes the effects of Original Sin on each one of us:
Although it is proper to each individual, original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam's descendants. It is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin - an inclination to evil that is called "concupiscence". Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ's grace, erases original sin and turns a man back towards God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle. (§405)
Later on, the Catechism goes into this issue of concupiscence in more detail:
Etymologically, "concupiscence" can refer to any intense form of human desire. Christian theology has given it a particular meaning: the movement of the sensitive appetite contrary to the operation of the human reason. The apostle St. Paul identifies it with the rebellion of the "flesh" against the "spirit." Concupiscence stems from the disobedience of the first sin. It unsettles man's moral faculties and, without being in itself an offense, inclines man to commit sins. (§ 2515) 
Because man is a composite being, spirit and body, there already exists a certain tension in him; a certain struggle of tendencies between "spirit" and "flesh" develops. But in fact this struggle belongs to the heritage of sin. It is a consequence of sin and at the same time a confirmation of it. It is part of the daily experience of the spiritual battle: 
For the Apostle it is not a matter of despising and condemning the body which with the spiritual soul constitutes man's nature and personal subjectivity. Rather, he is concerned with the morally good or bad works, or better, the permanent dispositions - virtues and vices - which are the fruit of submission (in the first case) or of resistance (in the second case) to the saving action of the Holy Spirit. For this reason the Apostle writes: "If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit." (§2516)
This is all really important to understand at the present time.  Frequently, one hears people say: oh, it’s the way God made me, to justify various aspects of their personality.  

A proper understanding of Original Sin enables us to see past that, and protects us from drawing false conclusions from what we observe and experience.

Thus I may genuinely have been born with some disorder, whether mental, psychological, emotional, spiritual, or sexual; further that disorder may incline me to certain types of behaviour - over-eating, jealous fantasies, watching pornography or whatever.  But to conclude that these are natural to me (part of my God-given identity) and therefore morally allowable, is a false step.

As long as I do not willingly consent to these aberrant thoughts, or act on them, then I am completely without guilt.  However, I am morally responsible for my reaction, and if I react in ways that are against the law of God, then I am guilty of sin.

At present, that is particularly relevant in the realm of sexual identity.  People are quick to say: God created me a homosexual.  But the logic is no different from saying God created me a voyeur, or a paedophile, or bulimic.  If the state is disordered, then the correct response is to resist the resulting temptations, pray for grace, repent if one falls, and persevere in hope.  The mere fact of the inclination does not excuse or justify any resulting behaviour, and certainly does not tell us anything about the morality of such behaviour.

Wednesday 2 January 2013

About my own sexual disorder

Sometimes people mistakenly think that when we refer to those afflicted by homosexual desires as suffering an intrinsic disorder, we are saying something particularly and specifically nasty about them.

However, the truth is that the Church has long recognised that we all suffer a disorder in our sexuality, resulting from the primeval catastrophe known as the Fall.  We see this all around us, of course, but it is , perhaps, particularly important to look in the mirror occasionally.

The strength of my protestations against the normalisation of homosexuality as an alternative lifestyle choice should not be read as any claim to moral superiority.  My sexuality is also disordered, and I am tempted to sin in many ways in that sphere, and have committed many sins of impurity in my life.

As a heterosexual man, I am naturally tempted in a heterosexual way. And Our Lord is clear that He sets the bar very high: whoever looks on a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart - so by that standard alone I am a serial adulterer, regardless of my many other sins.

Given the clarity of my understanding of the Church's teaching, and the relatively light cross I have to bear compared to those in more difficult circumstances than I face, I have no excuse for such sins, and am therefore the more guilty.

But if only those free from all sin were able to comment on the Church's teaching, we would be truly stymied.  And so I go on...

The Soho Mass Saga...

I am delighted that +Nichols has at last brought an end to the long-running scandal of the Soho Masses (about which I have blogged on more than one occasion, most recently here)

I assume that the original intention of this pastoral provision was to reach out to those experiencing same-sex attraction and other difficulties with their sexual and social life, and better incorporate them into the Church, to help them to face the difficulties they encounter in a truly Christian way: that is, in conformity with the Gospel and the teaching of the Church.

However, in practice, they have deviated far from that ideal.  Terence Weldon, one of the prime movers of the whole set up, runs the blog Queering the Church which gives you some idea of their (or at least his) agenda, and perverted theology.  It is clearly a long way from anything that could be recognisable as according with Catholic teaching.

It is also interesting that he is seeing the move to Farm Street as an opportunity for what he calls 'Catholic LGBT ministry' to be 'strengthened, and expanded.'

However, as his blog reveals, his idea of Catholic LGBT ministry is a long way from Catholic.

So whilst I welcome the end of this particular source of scandal, I will watch what happens at Farm Street with great interest - as will, I am sure, +Nichols, and of course our excellent Nuncio.