Sunday 29 September 2013

Prayer to St Michael

Sancte Michael Archangele,
defende nos in proelio;
contra nequitiam et insidias diaboli esto praesidium.
Imperet illi Deus, supplices deprecamur:
tuque, Princeps militiae Caelestis,
satanam aliosque spiritus malignos,
qui ad perditionem animarum pervagantur in mundo,
divina virtute in infernum detrude.

Holy Michael, Archangel,
Defend us in the day of battle;
Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the Devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, 
And do thou, Prince of the Heavenly Host, 
By the power of God,
Thrust down to Hell Satan and all wicked spirits
Who wander through the world for the ruin of souls.


This prayer seems to me particularly important in these times.

I wish all my readers a happy and holy Feast Day.

My Papolatry

I read this post at Ches's blog, and the following one, and as so often, found his musings very thought provoking. He makes his case cogently, and I have a lot of sympathy for it.  He may well be right, but I find myself resisting agreement.  Why is that?

Then in one of the comments on the post, in answer to someone else, he wrote: 'I comfort myself with this thought: unless the pope is issuing solemnly binding teaching, you simply don't even need to bother reading what Francis says. Oh, how the papolators will howl!'

I don't know about howl, but I do disagree. And that realisation made me wonder about my papolatry.

There was much discussion around the time of the Holy Father's election about whether the election was necessarily guided by the Holy Spirit.

My take on this is that it clearly is: but that the cardinal electors may resist such guidance. It would be folly and show a complete lack of theology and history to imagine that that could never happen (the cardinals have free will, after all) or that it had never happened.  So it is certainly a possibility, though I would hope a remote one on that occasion.

I likewise believe that once elected, a new Pope is offered every grace necessary for him to fulfil the office to which he is appointed.  But being a fallible man, his response may be partial, or even wholly resistant to such graces.

So where am I on all this?  As I said, I disagree with Ches that we don't need to bother with what the Holy Father says unless he is issuing solemnly binding teaching.  I think that is an over-reaction to the kind of ultra-montanism to which I may be tempted.

Surely where we must stand is in that place of tension that recognises that, on the one hand the Holy Father is the Holy Father, and on the other, that a Pope may (in extremis) be both a scoundrel and a fool. But we also have duties of both submission and charity.  Our starting point - our hermeneutic, if you like - should be one that assumes wisdom and holiness in our Holy Father. So deciding simply to ignore him until one can't seems a very minimalist, and frankly rather unCatholic, approach. We owe him more than that.

That is where I try to stand, at any rate.  Of course there may be things that any Pope does and says which I think are, at least, prudential errors.  How could there not be?  But that is very different from looking with a critical eye at everything he does and says.

The discipline is to seek how to interpret all he does and says in the most orthodox way we can; and hope and pray that we are right to do so.  Not least because it is at least a theoretical possibility that my judgement may be wrong on occasion (a remote contingency in my case, of course, but as for you, gentle reader....)

One thinks also of Pope Paul Vl; easily demonised by traditional Catholics for allowing the implementation of the Second Vatican Council to be effected in ways that went far beyond what was mandated by the Council: yet he had both the wisdom and the courage to resist catastrophic advice and give us the truly prophetic Humanae Vitae.

So I for one will continue to read Pope Francis' words through lenses of hope, and seek to interpret them in ways which sit squarely in continuity with his great predecessor, even when that may seem difficult at times.

Moreover, I will take as a working assumption that his different style is inspired by the Holy Spirit, and that in so far as it discomforts me, that is because I have lessons to learn and growth to accomplish.

That may seem like a counsel of naivety - indeed it may be so.  But I think it is better, for us and for others, than an attitude of suspicion.

Saturday 28 September 2013

Spinning the Holy Father

Earlier today, I responded to a tweet by Deacon Nick Donnelly (@protectthepope) by saying 'Plus ça change.' That was in response to Nick tweeting 'The Tablet’s Paul Vallely spins Pope Francis as criticising Church’s small minded rules on abortion, gay marriage...'

To be honest, I hadn't read Nick's article, still less Vallely's on which he was commenting. My tweet was simply a 'Queen Anne's dead' comment. That may betray a terrible prejudice on my part against The Tablet, but discerning readers will already have noticed that prejudice, and will no doubt have their own views on the validity or otherwise of it.

However, Paul Vallely tweeted me to say: The spin is yours. That is not what I say. Read what I actually say in the Tablet - not someone else's precis of it. Fair point, I suppose, though I don't think I had spun anything, in fact.  So I went to the Tablet's site, but it was down.

But with that intellectual tenacity for which I am renowned amongst the cognoscenti, I found another piece by Paul Vallely in The Independent. Here, I think, Vallely is demonstrably spinning that Holy Father; and to be clear, what I mean by spinning is presenting a narrative that fits a pre-determined position, and presenting it in such a way as to support that position, ignoring or glossing counter-evidence.  Vallely's thesis here is that the Holy Father is a revolutionary, in marked contrast to his conservative (boo, hiss) predecessors.  

Apart from the problem, to which most commentators seem to succumb, of trying to fit popes into political frames that don't work (and here I can exclusively reveal that the 'conservative' John Paul ll is one and the same chap as that Karol Wojtyla who supported Solidarity - honest, no drill!) he also makes his case very poorly.

To take just one example, he writes:  His softening of Rome’s attitudes to gay people – “Who am I to judge?” – grabbed the headlines.

Here he contrasts a specific quotation made by a specific individual with 'Rome's attitudes'.  The implication is that Francis is saying something nicer than either of his conservative (boo, hiss) predecessors.

I would find this more convincing if he were able to quote anything said by either about gay people that was less kind.

In fact, if one tries to find what 'Rome' says, I suppose one could turn to the Catechism: 'They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. ' (CCC § 2358) Harsh words indeed!

Actually, I think the Holy Father's 'who am I to judge,' may be, if anything, less kind than the Catechism.  It is reminiscent of Our Lord's rhetorical approach. Whilst He refused to be drawn into the debate on the woman taken in adultery in the terms it was put to Him, in private He was quite clear: Go and sin no more! 

I think that may be where our Holy Father is.  He does not want to answer the questions journalists pose on their terms. He knows how that goes; and he has different priorities.  But he is also very clear: the Church has taught and he is a son of the Church (somehow that didn't make it into Paul Vallely's article).

However, he is also clear that the first message, the foundational message, is the redemptive love of Christ. That is what he wants to preach first: it is even more important than the moral law, and it is only in the light of God's love for us that the moral law is truly comprehensible.  So he will say that we should not obsess about abortion (for example) as though it were the most important thing (it is not) but (and this is another example of the counter evidence that Paul Vallely seems to overlook in his piece) the very next day issue the most passionate appeal to those to whom it is truly relevant to have nothing to do with that great evil.

He really doesn't fit the simple narratives of left or right. Deo gratias!

Wednesday 25 September 2013

Perdita's Fragment

One of the stranger things in the Trovato family archive is a manuscript written (we think) by my late great-aunt Perdita.

She is a bit of a skeleton in the family closet, having been regarded as bonkers from a fairly early age.

This early example of stream-of-consciousness is undated, and unsigned. However, on the verso is written Perdita E Trovata, over and over again.

Jus’ wee! Let any prole, er, faff lank on Solway.
Let prance Tacky Tan Allah Tour happily....
Masseur, let Wally, Mort, Eamonn loot Cons telly.
Porter! Less holly ‘n’ wired lamb!  A long collie. 
Dom, land-weed! Tom, boat! Whack him a consul.  Hey 
Renoir! lap posy leap a lamb air did alley
Laugh, lurk hip lazy tanatamount curd hazy lay

and here the fragment ends, as the lines have filled the page. The lack of final punctuation may suggest that it was unfinished.

Many's the evening we have discussed this oddity; and the following suggestions have been made which throw light on some of the individual items.  But the meaning (if any) of the whole remains obscure (to say the least).

Jus' wee - Uncle Frank thinks this may be a reference to Perdita's renowned incontinence: perhaps it was willful, not involuntary as she always maintained.

prole - the use of this derogatory word for the working classes (from proletarian) confirms the dreadful snobbery for which the family was renowned (in those days only, of course!)

Solway - There is no record of Perdita having visited the Solway Firth.

Tacky Tan was the nickname of Perdita's brother's horse; he was in a mounted regiment, and did a tour of duty in the middle east, which he always referred to as the Allah Tour.

Masseur, Porter - Perdita had a habit of addressing the domestic staff by inappropriate titles.

Wally, Mort, Eamonn, Con, Dom and Tom - we can find nobody in Perdita's circle of family or friends corresponding to any of these names.  Various hypotheses have been advanced: secret lovers, private nicknames, or a rich fantasy life.  The debate continues.

After this, the fragment seems to descend even further into gibberish: many ideas have been discussed about various terms, but nothing convincing has emerged.

And then, one day, I heard Donald Swann singing it, at the drop of a hat...

Sunday 22 September 2013

I hate to say this, but...

...CAFOD are yet again calling their right to be associated with the Church into question.

Is it ignorance or incompetence? Or worse?

Did nobody there have the {sense/guts/wisdom} to tell their Head of Media and PR, Damian McBride, that to publish the kind of book he has just published sits rather ill with CAFOD's published values.

I don't know Mr McBride, and have no insight into his motivation, so I pass no comment on that. But I do think that CAFOD, who regularly ask Catholics in this country to put their hands in their pockets and support them as a Catholic Charity, should - and indeed must - do much better than this.

If this were the only question mark over CAFOD, I would almost certainly draw a veil over it. But it seems to be part of a pattern of playing fast and loose with their proclaimed Catholic values that I think is profoundly problematic, as I have mentioned before...

But am I not as guilty of detraction myself, in publishing this post?

I have thought long and hard about this, but do believe that it is necessary, as CAFOD (and its trustees, including, alas, some bishops) have been immune to previous calls to clean up their act; and there is a real risk that many will give money to them on the basis of a misunderstanding (I had almost said misrepresentation), that they are trustworthy and competent.  I think the evidence suggests that is not a safe assumption, and it behoves people to look closely at them and make an informed decision.

For myself, I think there are other more reliably Catholic organisations which merit support, such as Aid to the Church in Need.

Sunday 15 September 2013

The Pope's Astronomer

I listened to a fascinating interview with the Pope's Astronomer this morning, on the Sunday programme on Radio 4.

Ed Stourton did his best, of course (Galileo, yawn, yawn...) but was no match for the Jesuit he was interviewing.

When challenged on why the Pope needed an astronomer, he addressed the larger question of why anyone needs an astronomer.

He answered this by telling of his own crisis of conscience on the issue: how as a young astronomer, he wondered how he could justify such an occupation when there are people starving in the world.

So he quit, and joined the Peace Corps.  He went to Africa, and in a spirit of service, he asked the villagers, as they got to know him, what he could do for them.

They asked him to build them a telescope. Then they looked through it, at the stars, the rings and moons about other planets in the universe, and were both delighted and awestruck.

The point he was making was that there is something profoundly important to us as human beings to expand our knowledge and understanding.

Astronomy is a worthy occupation; as is any role in the sciences (or elsewhere of course) that expands human knowledge in ways that in keeping with the dignity of man, and the truth.

He also addressed the false dichotomy between science and faith very eloquently: once the programme is available on iPlayer, I commend it to you.


The interview is here at 5 min 20 secs (h/t @Londiniensis on Twitter)

Friday 13 September 2013

Aid to the Church in Need: Persecuted But Never Forgotten Event

I have been asked to publicise this event, on Saturday 19th October, and am happy to do so.

Aid to the Church in Need: Persecuted But Never Forgotten Event

The day begins with a sung Mass at Westminster Cathedral at 10.30am. This will be followed by talks in the cathedral hall.

To mark the launch of the latest edition of our Persecuted and Forgotten? report on Christians suffering for the Faith, Aid to the Church in Need is privileged to welcome two important guests from the persecuted and suffering Church – His Beatitude, Patriarch Gregorios III, head of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, and Sister Hanan of the Good Shepherd Sisters, Lebanon.

Patriarch Gregorios III will give a personal account of the day-to-day reality facing Christians in war-torn Syria, where he is based, and his assessment of what lies ahead for Christianity in this troubled region.

Sister Hanan and her community are offering crisis help to refugees flooding over the border from Syria and long-term help to Iraqi refugees. She will share stories of hope amid the sorrow and give us a vivid understanding of how the generosity of ACN’s benefactors is making a difference.

Also speaking will be Aid to the Church in Need’s Neville Kyrke-Smith and John Pontifex who will describe their respective project trips to the Middle East and Nigeria.

Tickets for talks are £5.00. For further details and to book tickets please go to ACN’s website.

Misleading my readers

A few days ago, I tweeted that Autumn was here, as there was mist in the valley, and the swallows had left.

I accompanied it with a rather beautiful picture of the valley filled with mist: and not a swallow in sight.

However, since then, I have noticed that, although there are no swallows or house martins dipping around the house, as they have been doing all summer, there are large numbers of them just up the hill on the lane to the common.

Taken this morning, about 50 metres higher than our house.

They are gathering on the phone wires, clearly chatting about the onset of September, and the need to fly South soon. But they haven't gone.

Taken this morning, another few metres higher

Which raises interesting questions in my mind. Is that just chance?  Is it that our swallows have moved up the hill, and if so is that preparatory to flying south?  Will it give them a better start?  Or is it that our swallows have gone, but their hardier cousins, who have been living at a (slightly) higher altitude all summer, are still around?

Are there any ornithologists out there able to enlighten me?

(I see there is published research on this, but my curiosity doesn't extend to the £30 price tag to read it...)

Tuesday 10 September 2013

Sex Education

I used to have a fairly clear view on sex education: it is the role of parents.

I am moving away from that a bit.

I think that we need to consider what we mean by Sex Education, and break it down into different component parts, in order to answer the question a little more intelligently.

So I would draw a distinction between: the biological facts of human reproduction; an education in love and relationships; the practical reality of physical and emotional intimacy; and growing up in a world of disordered messages and behaviours.

The first thing I want to say here is that I believe the correct teacher of the practical reality of physical and emotional intimacy is one's spouse. There are some things that one need not (and I believe should not) learn from others, second hand; or from theory, or from books, but from experience, and I believe that marital (sexual) love is one of those things.

That is not to say that we should keep kids in ignorance of the basic biological facts of human reproduction; but rather that we should treat anything beyond those facts as a sacred mystery, to which the correct initiation is the marriage bed.

(Incidentally, that is one of the reasons I prefer traditional worship to modern: the sense that some mysteries are sacred.  I love the idea of the iconastasis, of the silent canon, and so on, for those reasons. Not everything should be on public display; just as I choose not to use the Holy Name of Jesus in casual conversation... but I digress.)

But it is important that children understand that the privacy surrounding such intimate love is not because it is something bad or dirty, but precisely because it is something good, holy, and supremely intimate.  

The best teachers of the biological facts are the child's parents, in the first instance, as they should have the sensitivity and the intimacy of relationship with the child to judge when and how to explain these things.  Schools may legitimately teach them as part of biology at an appropriate age and with parental knowledge, but only if they are very clear about the limits of their remit here.

The current trend, to stimulate and then gratify children's curiosity in the class room, allowing the most daring to ask the most outrageous questions, often allowing anonymity to shield them from shame, (as described by a head teacher and an 'expert' on the Today programme last Friday morning: 'why are condoms flavoured?' was an example given of a question that was answered 'honestly, factually and without embarrassment'),  is profoundly wrong. The corrupted kids will steal the innocence of the others.

What children need most, of course, as they grow up, is an education in love an relationships.  Again, the parents and natural family are the primary teachers here. But school teachers also have a very important role.  However, the key issue here, I believe, is that such things are best taught not by being talked about, but by being experienced.  Kids learn to love if they are loved, and witness their parents and teachers loving others; to respect others if those around them respect others, and so on.  Remedial classes in Relationships will have little or no purchase if they do not build on such foundations; and if those foundations are in place, there will be little need for them.

Of course, it is sometimes necessary to discuss such issues; particularly when something goes wrong and a child needs either correction or comforting (or both). But words are the smallest part of such an education.

The other issue is educating children who are growing up in a world of disordered messages and behaviours.  This, too, is primarily the parents' role, though schools may support it, always recognising the limits of their role and the boundaries of chaste discussion.

Voyeurism has rightly been seen by most cultures as aberrant. We need to teach our kids that; rather than exposing them to text books, cartoons, movies or magazines which, whether ostensibly for educative purposes, or for entertainment or for straightforward titillation, parade private human behaviour in public.

What kids need to know about pornography is that it is bad, and why; that it is to be shunned, as it is a strong and corrupting temptation for us in our fallen state, and has addictive qualities and does terrible harm in many ways.  Some limited discussion of the issues here is probably important, given the culture we live in, but always avoiding anything that is in itself likely to stimulate either impure thoughts or inappropriate curiosity.

The traditional notion of custody of the eyes is very important here. And again, example is the best teacher. I cannot go along with those who say that kids are going to see it all around them anyway, so it is best to inure them to it. I think we do better to help them school themselves to avoid it: Let such things not even be named amongst you, as becomes Saints.

Then of course, there is the whole issue of contraception and abortion.  Kids readily understand the purpose of human love: to bind a couple and to bring forth children.  They understand how it is disordered to eat and then make oneself sick, thus having the pleasure of the taste of food without the good of nourishment; so they get the perversity of contraception.

Teaching about abortion is harder, of course, not because they don't understand how evil it is; they see that immediately. Rather, it is such a dreadful thing that they are (rightly) appalled by it, and teaching them how to regard those who are involved in it with charity is the challenge.

But again, all this teaching is founded first and foremost on their experience of their parent's love, for them and for each other, and beyond the family as well.  Get that right (no small challenge, I realise) and most of the rest will be much easier.

Friday 6 September 2013

Mots d'Heures: Gousse, Rames

One of the delights of our holiday, which I forgot to mention in my previous post, was that the cottage in which we were staying had a copy of Mots d'Heures: Gousse, Rames.

For anyone who has not come across it, this is an extraordinary collection of early French Poetry (or so it seems).

For example, the first poem in the collection is:

Un petit d'un petit
S'étonne aux Halles
Un petit d'un petit
Ah! degrés te fallent
Indolent qui ne sort cesse
Indolent qui ne se mène
Qu'importe un petit d'un petit
Tout Gai de Reguennes

If your French is a little rusty, or if you find the archaic and poetic language a little obscure, there are helpful footnotes: eg 'Un petit d'un petit - The inevitable result of a child marriage.' The other footnotes may be read here.

To enjoy these poems as they should be enjoyed, you really need to get somebody else to read them to you - ideally a French person (who will be completely mystified).

You will fall about laughing.

Failing that, try reading it to somebody else, and watch him or her fall about laughing (assuming you have a tolerable ability to read French).

For, on hearing the above poem, one hears something entirely familiar, in a beautiful French accent: and the net result is hilarity.   The rest are just as good.


I have found that four of the poems are online, and can be accessed from here.

Further Update:

Thanks to the irrepressible Bruvver Eccles, who found some more online here.

Sunday 1 September 2013

A Family Holiday

Anna, the redoubtable Mrs T., had found an isolated cottage, on the coast path near Strumble Head, in Pembrokeshire; and all the kids had arranged their summer jobs and other activities to make sure we could all be together for our family holiday.

A path on Strumble Head

 The cottage was not only remote, it also had no electricity, let alone internet, so we had a very peaceful week: the whole family together, enjoying each other's company with no distractions.

 A remote cottage...

So we walked the coast path, swam with the seals, visited St David's, which boasts a fantastic Cathedral and fascinating remains of the Bishop's Palace, and the extraordinary iron age burial chamber at Pentre Ifan (which looked remarkably like the cottage, above) surfed, explored caves in sea kayaks, walked more of the coast path, sketched and painted... and in the evenings, we played music (the cottage had a honky tonk piano, and the kids had taken various instruments) and sang, and read, and did jigsaws; all by candle light (plus a few paraffin lamps).

On Friday night we treated ourselves to fish and chips, which we ate on the cliffs above Porthgain, as we watched the sun set.

A stock photo of Sunset from Porthgain (ours was more stunning, but the kids have the camera)

I wouldn't particularly recommend the Sunday Mass in Fishguard. The best bit was having the Kyrie in Greek); the music was lamentable and the sermon extraordinary: the priest appeared angry, and seemed to be saying we are saved by Faith alone; and that the Church now is in a much better state in every way than it was in the 'good old days,' which he remembered well, being 70. And we had EP2.

Other than that, it was a great week: the pace of life relaxed, and there was plenty of time for each other - and much merriment as a result.