Thursday 29 January 2015

Chant Meeting at the Oratory

There will be a meeting of  the  Gregorian Chant Network at the London Oratory, on  Saturday 14th March 

The meeting will be addressed by Daniel Saulnier, former choirmaster at St Peter's Abbey, Solesmes, and one of the most influential chant experts in the world, and Giovanni Varelli, the Cambridge researcher who discovered the manuscript of the earliest written polyphonic music, which will be performed at the meeting.


10.30   Registration
11.00   Talk by Daniel Saulnier
12.00   Angelus and talk by Giovanni Varelli
1.00     Lunch
2.30    Joseph Shaw on the GCN
2.45    Rehearsal for Vespers with Daniel Saulnier
4.15    Vespers in the Little Oratory
5.00   Tea

You can book your tickets and find out more details here.

The Gregorian Chant Network is sponsored by the Latin Mass Society and other groups - notably the Ordinariate, the Schola Gregoriana of Cambridge, and the Newman Institute of Sacred Music

Sunday 25 January 2015

A Church for Sinners or Saints?

I get a bit fed up, from time to time, when people respond to any reaffirmation of basic Christian teaching with a comment to the effect that we are meant to be a Church for sinners; and if we insist on such standards we will become a very small Church indeed, and one exclusively of people who think themselves better than everyone else.

I detect Screwtape's whispering behind such nonsense.

Of course the Church is a Church for sinners - apart from Our Lord and Our Lady, who else is there? Sinners are the raw material for the Church, and the substance of the Church Militant (the wot?). 

But when we look at the Church Triumphant (wot's 'e say?) what do we see? Saints, nothing but saints.

And the clue is in that intermediary stage, the Church Suffering (eh?). The Holy Souls are those who are near the end of the journey, that journey to sanctity, which is the only state in which we can inhabit Heaven.

The very fact that we rarely hear about the Church as Militant, Suffering or Triumphant is a clue to the problem. People seem to have forgotten what the Church is. It is a saint-making body. Or rather, it is a saint-making Body. It is the Person to whom we mystically unite ourselves so that we may come to share in His Divinity, Who humbled Himself to share in our humanity.

So of course it is a collection of sinners; but it is a collection of sinners who aspire to be saints.

That is, sinners seeking to be changed to conform to Christ and His Church, not seeking to change His Church to conform to us.

That is why we are called to repent, so that we may be born again in Christ, from Whom we separate ourselves each time we sin. That is why sacramental confession is so essential to the spiritual life; and the fact that it is largely ignored and forgotten is another indicator that people have lost sight of what (or more importantly, Who) the Church is.

Another of Screwtape's great deceptions is to dull our sense of sin, a  topic on which I have blogged before. Whilst I have never bugged a confessional, I would wager a substantial amount that those who confess rarely confess the kinds of 'social sin' beloved of the soi-disant reformers.

Bless me, Father, for it is twenty years since my last confession, and since then I have left the landing light on several times, failed to share my bath water on four occasions, missed numerous demos in favour of Charlie Hebdo, and bought Israeli produce. Somehow I think not...


Sub tuum praesidium confugimus, Sancta Dei Genetrix.
Nostras deprecationes ne despicias in necessitatibus nostris,
sed a periculis cunctis libera nos semper,
Virgo gloriosa et benedicta.

Tuesday 20 January 2015


Seeing Chris Bryant MP (Mansfield College, Oxford) having a dig at someone else for their privilege is good comedy, of course.

But as an avowed homosexual in public life, he might do well to think twice about raising questions of under-representation of certain categories.

For it strikes me that the homosexual representation in many fields of our public life seems rather higher than their statistical distribution in the general population would suggest. In particular, I am thinking of  politics, the arts, the media, and higher education.

There are of course reasons for that. Politics is a natural home for people who want to change the system, and I understand why many homosexuals have sought to do that, and indeed they have had some resounding successes.

The other cases, arts, media and higher education, may be for a different reason. The air of liberal tolerance in such milieux is, I imagine, much more welcoming than in many other environments. Nonetheless, the cumulative impact of the over-representation of homosexuals in such places has a significant impact. At the simplest level, it is interesting that people typically over-estimate the numbers of homosexuals in society at large, by a very significant factor.  More worryingly, for those who don't buy into the Gay Agenda, these are places where much of the opinion-forming in our society occurs.

The predominance of homosexual, lesbian and other variants in our academic sociology departments' specialist Gender Theory research groups provides only one discourse when it comes to an intellectual framework for considering the morality of such variant lifestyles, or the reasons for the terrible prognosis for health and well-being of which they are, in fact, indicators. They also provided an intellectual fig-leaf for the politicians who (for reasons still unclear to me, though I suspect they included a futile attempt to de-toxify the Tory brand in the minds of their ideological enemies) pushed through laws that re-defined marriage in ways wholly outside the competence of parliament.

As it happens, I am not a great fan of numerical representation arguments, and still less of contrived solutions to them. My hope is that the system will provide its own correctives to these aberrations, as people without a personal interest in the issue recognise, for example, the need for more robust research into the reasons so many homosexuals kill themselves. 

On a wider level, I wonder if the opinion of the population at large will eventually swing back the other way, as revulsion at the excesses of the increasingly 'liberated' kicks in. It is a moot point: it seems relatively rare for societies to move from more to less permissive, and when they do it is not pleasant.

Saturday 10 January 2015

Suis-je Charlie?

In the wake of the dreadful events in Paris, it is hard to know how to react. In the first instance, of course, we pray for the dead. We pray that grace was triumphant at the moment of their death, and that on meeting the Risen Lord, no doubt to the surprise of many of them, they find it in themselves to recognise Him and accept the forgiveness He offers, and for which He took flesh and surrendered His life.

An immediate emotional response, of course, is one of sympathy and solidarity with the victims. In its easiest form, that is with the police officers, one a Muslim, and one defending a Jewish school, who were murdered in the course of their duties, and the people in the supermarket murdered for being Jews.

And then there are the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists. The huge outpouring of solidarity that was exemplified by the #JeSuisCharlie hashtag that swamped Twitter and other social media was a completely understandable response. The idea of being murdered for drawing cartoons, and the associated idea that free speech is under attack, clearly - and rightly - struck a nerve with vast numbers of people.

Then there has been a small backlash, not least from Catholics, of people busily pointing out that they do not identify with Charlie Hebdo, as it has viciously blasphemed the Blessed Trinity, and attacked the Holy Father, the Catholic Church - and also Jews and anyone else whose beliefs they did not like.

In truth, I don't recall having been aware of Charlie Hebdo before this week; I may have seen their stuff, but am likely to have wiped it from my memory as distasteful. The more I see of it, the less I like it. But that is not, of course, to say that they should be murdered for drawing or publishing it.  It may be that I would not die for their right to trample on the sensitivities of others in a brutish and largely humourless way, but that may be a moral failing in myself. There are probably far more worthy causes I would not die for, and that may say more about my lack of moral vision, and my cowardice, than anything else.

However, it does strike me that in one respect - and one respect only - the people who drew such cartoons and the people who murdered them had something in common; and that is a complete failure either to sympathise with, or to see the legitimacy of, a worldview that differed from their own.  That lack of perspective is truly dangerous: the Other becomes the Enemy. And whilst I think it is probably right that society tolerates a publication predicated on such an offensive approach as Charlie Hebdo's, (as the alternative of censorship of ideas is far worse) I do not think that people should necessarily avail themselves of such rights.

Our instinct, quite naturally, is to distance ourselves from the outrage of the murders; quite rightly and understandably. That, I think, lies behind the #JeSuisCharlie outpouring. For some our secondary instinct is also to distance ourselves from the bile of the cartoons. That is also understandable.

But for the Christian, and indeed for the true humanist (and I am not using those words as mutually exclusive, of course) I think the responsibility is to look in the mirror.

If it is wrong, as I believe it is, to trample on the sensitivities of others, I must look to myself: do I ever do that?  If it is wrong to cultivate a system of thinking that is predicated on the hatred of the Other, do I ever do that? 

Suis-je Charlie Hebdo? 

Suis-je Said ou Cherif?


Pray for them all.

Thursday 8 January 2015

The Imitation Game

I blogged recently about Sexuality and Suicide.

I have been continuing to think about this, as I find suicide very troubling.

Of course, the accepted wisdom is that the reason for the very high rates of suicide and attempted suicide among people who self-identify as transgendered is the discrimination they face.

However, reading some of the research that highlights this as a factor, one also finds that whilst such experiences increase the risk of suicide (as one would expect) that increase is from a very high base level.

That of course raises the question about a direct link between self-identifying as transgendered and increased likelihood of attempting suicide. Given the established link between psychological disorder and suicide, that again raises the question whether being transgendered is a psychological disorder.

If it is, if thinking oneself to be 'in the wrong body' is delusional, that raises serious questions about the best help and support: I think it is unlikely to be affirming the delusion. It is certainly not likely to be any kind of persecution, either. But when LGBTQetc groups and their sympathisers teach people that any refusal to affirm is ipso facto persecution, things get very difficult.

There is of course at least one other very obvious possibility. The phenomenon of suicide epidemics within particular groups is well-documented.

So it could be that it is associating with other LGBTQetc people that is (at least in part) an explanation for the high suicide rate.

Of course, if people are prepared to imitate others in something as serious as suicide, as it seems they are, there is also the possibility that they imitate others in defining their sexuality.

One way or the other, young impressionable people associating with LGBTQetc people could well be a high-risk activity.

What is troubling is that none of this is being debated, or researched, because of the political position that we must 'accept' such abnormalities as positive.

Indeed, the research landscape is particularly interesting: guess who is most likely to dedicate their career to researching LGBTQetc issues?...

Sunday 4 January 2015

Chez nous translated

You know how you sometimes say things, hoping nobody will take you up on them.  Back in February, I said that if anyone was interested, I'd translate Chez Nous.  And guess what: a request has just turned up for me to do just that. So here goes - a very literal (rather than literary) translation: 

Chez nous soyez Reine, nous sommes à vous
Régnez en souveraine, chez nous, chez nous
Soyez la madone qu'on prie à genoux,
Qui sourit et pardonne, chez nous, chez nous.

Be queen of our home: we belong to you
Reign as our sovereign, in our home, in our home,
Be the madonna to whom we pray on our knees,
Who smiles and forgives, in our home, in our home.

Salut, ô Notre-Dame,
Nous voici devant Vous,
Pour confier nos âmes
A votre coeur si doux.

Hail, O Our Lady
Here we are in front of you,
To entrust our souls 
To your so gentle heart

Vous êtes notre Mère,
Portez à votre Fils
La fervente prière
De vos enfants chéris.

You are our mother,
Present to your Son
The fervent prayer
Of your dear children.

L'Archange qui s'incline
Vous loue au nom du ciel.
Donnez la paix divine
A notre coeur mortel.

The Archangel who bowed down
Praises you in the name of Heaven
Give divine peace 
To our mortal heart.

Gardez, ô Vierge pure,
O Coeur doux entre tous
Nos âmes sans souillure,
Nos coeurs vaillants et doux.

Keep, O Pure Virgin,
O sweetest heart of all,
Our souls free from stain,
Our hearts brave and gentle.

Dites à ceux qui peinent
Et souffrent sans savoir
Combien lourde est la haine,
Combien doux est l'espoir.

Tell all those in pain
Who suffer without knowing
How heavy hate is,
How sweet hope is.

Lorsque la nuit paisible
Nous invite au sommeil,
Près de nous, invisible,
Restez jusqu'au réveil.

When peaceful night
Invites us to sleep
Stay near us, invisible,
Until we awake.

Soyez pour nous la Reine
De douce charité,
Et bannissez la haine
De toute la cité.

Be for us the Queen
Of sweet charity
And banish hatred
From the whole city.

A notre heure dernière
Accueillez dans les cieux
A la maison du Père
Notre retour joyeux.

At our last hour
Welcome into heaven
Into the house of the Father
Our joyful return.

Chez Nous starts c.40'' in.

Which reminds me: now is a good time to book a long Pentecost weekend so that you are free to come to Chartres.

For vivid descriptions of the pilgrimage, and some photos, click on the Chartres tag in the sidebar.

Saturday 3 January 2015

Sexuality and suicide

Suicide is a terrible thing. 

I have known a few people who have taken their own lives, and it is always unbelievably distressing for all involved, and indicative of extreme distress.

Whilst I fully understand, and indeed agree with, the Church's condemnation of suicide, I am also strongly of the view that in many cases, the notion that someone took his or her life 'while of unsound mind' is the most accurate description; and that of course reduces the moral culpability of the person concerned, so that I hope that we may hope for his or her eternal salvation.

All of which is by way of preamble to what I really want to write about. A young man who identified himself as a woman, and therefore as transgendered, recently committed suicide. He left a note, blaming, inter alia, the fact that his parents could not accept that he was a woman.

The LGBTQetc activists, their ideological allies, and many of sympathetic mind, all hurried to seize and control the narrative. Twitter and other media have been awash with comments to the effect that his parents effectively killed him.  They point to the high incidence of suicides among transgendered people, and some are calling for the prosecution of his parents for referring him to Christian counsellors who tried to help him reconcile with the fact that he was a boy, not a girl.

There are, of course, conflicting views of reality here. On the one hand, his parents subscribe to the view that if you are born a boy and believe yourself to be 'really' a girl, the problem is a psychological (or even spiritual) one.

On the other hand, the LGBTQetc lobby and their allies believe that one's natural sex is irrelevant, a social construct based on the flimsy evidence of biological difference, and that what really counts is how one self-identifies.

What is apparent to me is that neither view is provable empirically, from evidence. Each rests on certain anthropological and philosophical assumptions.

According to the first theory, the high level of suicides amongst people who identify as transgender is most likely to be because such people are psychologically disturbed, and are living with an irreconcilable contradiction about their very identity.

According to the second theory (whose advocates will certainly see me as 'part of the problem' because I have used masculine pronouns about someone who identified himself as a woman) the suicide rate is most likely to be attributable to the persecution transgendered people suffer in a society that systematically oppresses them.

Thus those in the second camp are clear that the parents of the poor young man who killed himself are responsible for his death as they did not affirm his chosen identity, but rather persecuted him, as they sought to solve what they saw as his psychological problem.

But from the other perspective, one could as well say that it is precisely the LGBTQetc lobby who bear some moral responsibility for this young man's death. By affirming that he was right (and had a right) to identify as a woman, and further that the appropriate way to interpret his parents' concern was that they were hateful and oppressive, they could equally be said to have contributed to the dreadful despair that led to his suicide.

Of course, those who accept the whole intellectual framework of victimhood which is an integral part of the LGBTQetc movement will point to my privilege and my lack of personal experience of the issues involved here, and conclude not only that my arguments are invalid, but also that I have no right to comment.

I reject that approach to thinking and discourse. Indeed, there is a strong case to be made for the fact that we are not alway the best judges in our own cases; that someone disinterested may often have a valuable perspective to bring to bear.  The fact that this poor young person genuinely felt oppressed by his parents' behaviour does not mean that such behaviour was necessarily oppressive (it may have been of course: I am talking about the logic of the argument, not the facts of this case - not least because I mistrust all the reporting I have seen from both sides of the argument).  By the same token, my arguments may be valid or invalid: but that should be proven by addressing them, not by writing them off a priori.

I will also, doubtless, be branded as transphobic, and probably as a hater, for writing this; though in fact I have no ill-will towards people who identify as transgendered. I simply think that they are acting on a false set of assumptions and beliefs.

But the problem remains: how can one decide which account of the variations in human sexuality is correct? One can't appeal to the evidence, as all evidence is subject to interpretation according to one's philosophy. So the argument is a philosophical one; but that is glossed over in the media, and the cumulative effect of repeated assertions about 'equality' and 'inclusiveness' and 'acceptance' have so deadened the intellectual attentiveness of so many that most do not realise that there is an argument to be had.

Which is why I wrote this.


As ever, I am open to correction and discussion if I have misunderstood or misrepresented anything in this post.


Please remember to pray for all those suffering from disordered sexuality - which, let's face it, is all of us -  and particularly for parents and children who are struggling to understand and respond to such difficult issues; and for the repose of the souls of all who have taken their lives while of unsound mind.

Entering the controversy

Actually, there should be no debate about this. Bertie Wooster went to Magdalen. He says so quite clearly in the Code of the Woosters. 

Yes, I know what Chuffy said (that once after a bump supper, Bertie 'insisted that he was a mermaid and wanted to dive into the college fountain and play the harp.')  And I know, of course, that there is no fountain in Magdalen.

But if you are going to take the word of Chuffy, who was undoubtedly pie-eyed on the occasion and has almost certainly got confused in the detail of the affair - well, you might as well doubt that Peter Wimsey was a Balliol man.

The case is closed and I will tolerate no further discussion.