Monday 29 June 2015

Adrian Pabst at Porta Fidei

The first speaker at the excellent Porta Fidei conference was Adrian Pabst. He set the context for the whole day with a wide ranging survey of the context within which we need to consider Catholic Education in this country.

He started by exploring contemporary society and in particular contemporary liberalism.  He traced an interesting convergence between the new left and the new right, with social liberty and economic liberty converging  to promote a view of freedom that means one can do just as one likes. Equality, he pointed out, has come to mean a new form of sameness: we are all subject to the same societal norms, and these are often the norms of minorities.

Behind the modern liberal individualism, then, lurks social cultural conformism: we are all consumers.  He also mentioned that this is nothing new, citing de Tocqueville’s observation in the US in the 18th century: the most free, yet the most conformist of countries…

Thus we have choices, but the conditions of those choices are never debated. And that is where the new left and the new right are most similar, not least as they ignore inherited ethics and the associated customs of society.

At the heart of this liberal tradition is indifference to notions of truth and goodness; and so ‘rights’ replace the Common Good, and as objective fact is separated from subjective reality, people become mere cogs in the system. All values are seen as subjective as we collectively slide into sophistry, with truth at the service of power, giving rise to artificial constructs like the ‘Social Contract.’

This results in a world view that is contrary to Catholic tradition, being fragmented and atomised; and that is no accident. But this world view flows from decisions, not knowledge; whether it is Rousseau’s decision to be pessimistic about social life, or Hobbes’ to be pessimistic about the individual; or Protestantism’s view that we are depraved by the Fall (rejecting the Catholic notion of the transformative impact of the Incarnation which now operates through the Sacraments and gives us the power to do good works). All those strands of thought lead to the same place, the liberal assumption that both society and individuals need to be saved by their political philosophy – that we need a Social Contract.

He then sketched out some of the implications of this liberal philosophy. In the first place, Liberalism redefines how we understand life; it is no longer a gift but a choice; therefore will and artifice dominate the idea of a telos, a meaning or purpose beyond our own wills.

That in turn leads to a focus on individual rights and on social utility.  Education is not seen merely as a benefit to the individual, but also to the State, pursuing a utilitarian calculus. So education is no longer about truth, character and virtues; the Social and Natural Sciences are all utilitarian, and the arts and humanities have no value (and this is reflected in current policy trends…)

And so we are left with a mass education that doesn’t benefit individuals or society, but is full of half-truths and propaganda, creating fake desires to fuel the hedonism on which our society is increasingly based. If you don’t buy into the popular culture, you are not only seen as weird, but as someone who may need to be constrained.

The emergent ‘multicultural meritocracy’ leads to a self-righteous moralism, in which people imagine they have got whatever they have through merit, and therefore deserve what they get. The natural fruit of this is an elite that is so self-assured that it can justify whatever rewards it can gain for itself.

A Catholic Education, Pabst maintains, should be different. It should seek to link soul, brain and body, to be about truth and goodness, to promote virtue, and to teach how universal truths may be applied in particular ways.

A key question for Catholic Education is How do we form Virtue? A first step is to do away with false dualisms. For example, we should blend the hierarchy of the wise and learned, with equality of participation of the learners (who may, of course, in the fullness of time become the wise and the learned) with the intention of transmitting wisdom.

Likewise the government should not direct education in its minutiae, but nor should it abdicate its responsibility, but rather uphold the common good, by providing guidelines and promoting true subsidiarity.

At tertiary level, the relentless specialisation needs to end, so that scientists study the arts, too; and that we recognise the value of vocational training and education over Micky Mouse degrees that leave students with nothing except a huge debt.

At secondary level, a restrictive and prescriptive curriculum is very problematic; guidelines and local decisions would be a better model. Recruitment, training and employment conditions for teachers all need to be improved. And a key question for Faith Schools is How can we be a model that others will want to follow?

In short,  Liberalism is not oriented to the Common Good: that should be our distinctive contribution.

Inevitably, I have reconstructed the themes of this presentation from my notes and my memory, so apologise now for over-simplifying what was a very rich presentation, and particularly if I have inadvertently misrepresented it in any way.

I understand it may be published in due course and will certainly link to that.

But I did find it a very thoughtful analysis, which provided an excellent context for the rest of the day’s discussions – to which I will return in future posts.


Update: Michael Merrick has now posted the talk to Youtube

Sts Peter and Paul

Here is the Alleluia for today's Feast:

And here are three contrasting polyphonic versions of Tu Es Petrus.  The first is possibly the most famous, by Palestrina.

The second is by one of my favourite modern composers, Maurice Duruflé.  The third is by James Macmillan, at the Papal Mass in Westminster Cathedral.

Happy Feast Day!




Tu es Petrus et super hanc petram ædificabo ecclesiam meam et portæ inferi non prævalebunt adversus eam. Et tibi dabo claves regni cælorum.

Thou art Peter and upon this rock, I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against her; and I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.

Remember to pray for our Holy Father, Pope Francis today - and every day.

Thursday 25 June 2015

Cardinal Kasper pontificates

OK, let's look at this...

Christopher Lamb of The Tablet has written the following, which I thought worthy of comment (my comments interpolated in red).

The Catholic Church has behaved like Pontius Pilate with regards to Catholics who are divorced and remarried, a prominent cardinal has said.

Cardinal Walter Kasper, who has called for remarried divorcees to be admitted to Communion, told the French daily Le Figaro that the Church has sought to “wash its hands of a difficult problem”.

Strangely, the Church has not sought to 'wash its hands' of this problem. That would imply a refusal to offer clear judgement, and passing the decision on to others. The Church, in fact, has clearly and consistently taught on this issue, cf (for example) Familiaris Consortio.

In an interview that was published on the same day as the Vatican released the working document for October’s Synod on the Family, the cardinal said: “if God is merciful, then the Church must be.”

Indeed: and the Church must be merciful in the same way that God is merciful. The Church follows Christ: naming sin for what it is, loving sinners, and calling them to repentance.

Cardinal Kasper explained that a lot of bishops who don’t make “much noise” have told him they are in favour of a shift in church teaching regarding the treatment of civilly remarried Catholics.

'A shift in teaching regarding the treatment of...' Weasel words. Why doesn't he say what really means, which is a shift in teaching regarding the indissolubility of marriage? 

He said the key question for the remarried divorcees receiving Communion was whether there was “grave sin”, and to clarify this, a dialogue with the individual was needed, he said.

He is correct in the first proposition: that is the key question; and the answer is yes. He is incorrect in the second proposition: no amount of dialogue can convert sin into not-sin. He is failing to distinguish between the objective and the subjective.

The cardinal added that the Church had been given the power by Christ to decide whether this was the case.

He is correct again: the Church has been given that power and has decided, in line with Christ's clear teaching. What the Church cannot do is reverse such a decision.

This has echoes with an interview the Archbishop of Accra, Charles Palmer-Buckle, gave earlier this year where he reflected on Matthew 16:19, in which Jesus says to Peter: “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven,” and pronounces: “Whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

“The Church can therefore loose or bind because this lawful power has been given it by Christ,” Kasper said.

And the Church has exercised that power. What Kasper and his followers want is in fact to reverse what the Church, using that power, has already decided and taught for centuries, based on the clear teachings of Christ and St Paul.

Archbishop Palmer-Buckle cited a Protestant friend who interpreted this passage to show that Christ gave them the power to unbind people in some marriages.

When they seek Protestant interpretations of the Bible to inform Catholic teaching in ways contrary to Catholic Tradition, we know they are scraping the barrel.

“I think we are going to look at what ‘the power of the keys’ could mean in this context,” the Ghanaian prelate told the Aletelia news website.

Good luck with that...

Ahead of last year’s synod Cardinal Kasper put forward proposals for admitting the divorced and remarried to Communion, and Pope Francis has praised a book the cardinal has written on mercy.

But reports of the Holy Father's support for Cardinal Kasper's proposals appear to have been greatly exaggerated. I have a feeling that ++Kasper, his fellow travellers and the Tablet will all be disappointed by the outcomes of the Synod.


But don't rely on that; remember SPES: Supplication and Penance for the Episcopal Synod.

Wednesday 24 June 2015

Reasons I Oppose the Kasperite Adultery Proposals

There are many reasons I am profoundly opposed to the proposals to allow 'the divorced and civilly remarried' to be invited to receive Holy Communion whilst living in a public state of mortal sin.

Here are a few. I had intended to write a brief paragraph about each of them, but on reflection, I think that they are pretty self explanatory.

Our Lord's word

Constant Tradition of the Church

Bad for them

Bad for abandoned spouse

Bad for abandoned children

Bad for new partner

Bad for children of new relationship

Bad for other Couples

Bad for other Catholics

Bad for non-Catholics

Bad for the Church

Bad for Evangelisation

Bad for Successive Generations

Dishonest Content of Proposals

Dishonest Process

Bad Precedent: Embeds False Ideas in Praxis

Driven by the World, the Flesh and the Devil...


See also: The Mythology of Re-Marriage

and: Underestimating the Love and Compassion of God 

Sunday 7 June 2015


It was, I suppose, inevitable. I posted some critical comments about the choir at Thursday's Mass. Jonathan and I had already arranged to sing tonight's. You can probably write the rest of the story yourself, in outline.

The detail was that firstly, Jonathan was delayed, so not only did we not have time for the planned final run-through, but also I sang the Asperges on my own. And that was fine.

But for some reason, I then launched confidently into the Gradual, rather than the Introit. I have never done such a thing before, and hope never to do so again. Jonathan was understandably puzzled, but sang along until I realised my mistake, when we stopped and sang the Introit.

Then I managed to play the intonation for the Gloria so badly that Father was thrown, got off to a false start, stopped, and then waited for me to give him the intonation again... (in fairness, playing the keyboard on an iPad is never that comfortable).

Then when we got to the Gradual in its proper place, I managed to wander all over the place in the verse (which I had learned well and practiced assiduously).  Providentially, I managed to get back towards something of a stable key and recognisable melody in time to cue Jonathan's entry at the end, but it was not my finest hour.

The Alleluia went all right, and after that we settled down a bit and the rest of the Mass was sung without further major mishap.

Nonetheless, it did feel like a severe dose of Murphy's Law... 

More Chartres Reflections

One of the many great things about the Chartres pilgrimage is that three days away from ordinary life, with none of the usual distractions, provides a great opportunity to reflect.

Given the nature of the pilgrimage, which is arduous by most modern standards, it is perhaps not surprising that one reflects on the link between discomfort and the spiritual life.

Why is it good to make oneself uncomfortable? I am sure that I say more recollected rosaries in a warm church, or at home, than I do during the ninth hour of a ten hour march.  I am sure that I am more attentive at many Masses than at the final Mass in Chartres Cathedral, when exhaustion catches up with me.

And yet, both theory and experience teach us that mortification of the senses is essential to the spiritual life.

In the first instance, of course, it is simply a matter of the Imitation of Christ. Particularly walking through the countryside, and sleeping in a field (albeit under canvas) is immediately reminiscent of Our Lord's journeyings and nights spent (for example) in the Garden of Olives.

But there is something else, too. It so easy, when comfortable, to accommodate oneself, bit by bit, to the world; to feel at home there. The world, the flesh... the devil...

The rigours and discomforts of a pilgrimage scrape away that veneer of comfort, so that afterwards:

We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods. 

Saturday 6 June 2015

Is Our Liturgy Focused on God or Man?

On Corpus Christi (the Holy Father's version, not ++Nichols') there was the second of the Faith on Tap series of meetings in Carlisle.

This one featured the Dominican, Fr Lawrence Lew, talking on Is Our Liturgy Focused on God or Man?

I was unavoidably late (due to attending the Corpus Christi Mass down the road), and missed the first 15 minutes or so of his address.  Nonetheless, what I did hear was excellent.

Some of the snippets I remember are his talking about a Marian approach to liturgy: contemplative, pondering in our heart, humility to accept what the Church gives us; and recognising the power of liturgy to overcome the poisoned air of the world, like the nard, which was almost a type of Our Lord: filling the atmosphere with sweetness.

He also quoted Cardinal Sarah, on the fact that it is not up to us to change the liturgy to suit ourselves. And then he asked why Cardinal Sarah even had to say that, given that Vatican 2 says it, and every subsequent pope (with the exception of John Paul I for the obvious reason) had repeated the same idea. 

He also discussed the place of beauty in the liturgy: not mere decoration, but essential as communicative of the truth that God is beauty. He cited St Francis of Assisi, who told his friars to dress themselves in rags, but never Christ; and the Oxford movement, who recognised that the poor need beauty too.  He went on to distinguish that from the kind of aestheticism that Dietrich von Hildebrand warned against - which might be typified by the person who looks at the music list at various Churches every week, before deciding which one to favour with his presence...

In fact, he pointed out, the liturgy requires not aestheticism, but asceticism: we must die to ourselves.

He also cited Pope Francis, who sees Idolatry as the opposite of Faith, and reminds us that we must conform ourselves to Christ, not vice versa. Fr Lew even said that in choosing hymns, rather than singing the proper Introit, Offertory and Communion texts given us by the Church is somewhat self-indulgent. A Marian dimension, he suggested, means that we must ponder in our hearts the given text (and music) not impose our own preferences. To celebrate the liturgy properly is to make ourselves open to what God wants to teach us, not to select what we want to sing...

He also touched on Orientation, and reminded us that the current Missal assumes that the priest faces East - which, of course, is not because God is 'over there' but for our benefit: to remind us that we all face East in the expectation of Christ's Second Coming.

He recalled his childhood: raised in the Plymouth Brethren, and later attending Pentecostal services: where spontaneity (at least on the part of those in charge) was the order of the day. And he highlighted how foreign that was to Christ's experience and the formation of the Jewish people - and the early Christians, as we can see from the writings of St Justin Martyr, and, of course, St Paul.

So all in all, an excellent evening, and kudos to Fr Michael Docherty for organinsing it.

The next in this excellent series is on 2nd July, when Dr Caroline Hull, of Aid to the Church in Need, will talk on: Christianity in the Middle East: How long will it last?

Corpus Christi Mass

On Thursday, it being Corpus Christi in the traditional calendar (and indeed in the new calendar except where the collective idiocy of certain conferences has decreed otherwise) Fr Millar celebrated Mass according to the traditional Missal at Our Lady and St Joseph's in Carlisle.

It was a magnificent occasion, complete with a fine homily from Fr Millar, and a procession and exposition afterwards.

We had the same choir as on the occasion of the bishop's visit last June, though I think there were just three of them this time. They sang a Lotti Mass for three voices (which I hadn't previously known, and which was very enjoyable), and the chant propers.  As last time, they were clearly skilled singers, but equally clearly under-rehearsed.

Last year I wrote: 'there were some dodgy moments, and with a little practice it could have been truly excellent.  For some reason, people imagine that chant is easy, because it is monophonic: then when they sing it, they realise that it is not, and that each person is interpreting certain neumes differently...'

This year it was not just the chant that had some dodgy moments, most notably in the Gradual, but also throughout, where occasional misreadings led to unexpected polyphony. But the Lotti also suffered. In the Kyrie, in particular, they almost lost it all together in the Christe section, but managed to salvage it for the final Kyries.

They also got some things wrong, through lack of knowledge: for the Alleluia, the cantor intoned it, and the rest joined in with the jubilus, rather than singing the Alleluia again, plus jubilus. That is fairly basic, really... Had I not had to dash away after Mass, I would have mentioned this to them. As it is, I will have a word with Fr Millar, whom, I assume, knows how to contact them.  Mysteriously, they didn't sing the Credo, nor the responses to Dominus vobiscum, sursum corda, ite Missa est, etc: if I had not been there it would have been very odd indeed...

As it happened, I had arrived at the Church very early, and heard them rehearsing. It was clear that this, some 40 minutes before the start of the Mass, was their first rehearsal together. They are clearly talented musicians: I could not sight-read such music to such a high level at first go.  But nonetheless, they simply had not left themselves enough time to iron out any problems, and they are not good enough to sight-read to performance standard.

Given Fr Millar's comments in the homily on the need to give the very best to God, I think they should learn from this: it is not, after all, the first time...

After Mass I rushed over to the second celebration of the night, at the nearby parish hall of St Margaret Mary's, where the Dominican, Fr Lawrence Lew, was giving a talk on the liturgy.  I will post about that separately.

Friday 5 June 2015

Chartres Meditation 12: He Ascended into Heaven

 Our Lord’s Ascension: both visible and mysterious

Forty days after Easter, Christ ascended to Heaven. The scene is described in The Acts and in the Gospels of St Mark and St Matthew. It is described in a very sober fashion. Here is how Dom Delatte, abbot of Solesmes, summarises it in his commentary on the Gospels: ‘The Lord set out towards Bethany, with His apostles and disciples, and got as far as the Mount of Olives. There, He raised His arms and blessed them; and as He was blessing them, He left them and was raised up into the sky, in their presence; and soon a cloud hid Him from their sight.’

This Ascension is accompanied with the promise of the coming of the Holy Spirt at Pentecost, and also the promise of the return of Christ at the end of time. ‘They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven.”’
(Acts 1, 10 – 11)

St Matthew ends his Gospel with the Divine Master’s final admonition:  “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Here we find several things affirmed:
  •      The divine origin of all authority;
  •      The universal (that is to say, Catholic) vocation of the Church. All men, whatever their ethnic origin, or the civilisation to which they belong, are called to be saved by the merits of the Passion and Resurrection of Christ;
  •      The importance of baptism, in the name of God, one and three: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in order to be saved;
  •      The power to teach and govern the people of Christ and their successors;
  •      The divine help of Christ for the Church, until the end of time.

In raising His eyes to Heaven, Jesus opens the way to us, and shows us the path. He reminds us that the vocation of man is first of all supernatural, that it is to join Him in Heaven.

The Christian’s desire for Heaven ought to be the primary motivation of his earthly life.

Man is not simply one more step in a materialist evolution, an unlikely juncture of chance and necessity. If he were, what would be the origin of his dignity, which sets him apart from, and raises him above, all other created species? Man was created by God, in order to share in His eternal happiness, as St Ignatius of Loyola wrote in the ‘Principles and Foundations’ of his acclaimed Spiritual Exercises. ‘Man is created to praise, honour and serve God, our Lord, and by that means, to save his soul. And all the other things on earth were created because of man, to help him in the pursuit of the end for which God had destined him, at the time of his creation.’

In the fable of the fox and the goat, La Fontaine suggests this moral to his readers: ‘In all things, consider your ultimate goal.’ After having allowed the fox to climb on his horns, in order to escape the well into which they had both descended to quench their thirst, the goat finds himself abandoned there by his companion. Whoever simply satisfies the desires of a moment, without looking further than the nose on his face, risks paying for it with a tragic death.

Let us never forget the goal for which we are put on this earth. We are here in order to gain heaven. The end goal of earthly life, for each and every one of us, is to gain access to heaven.

That is why St Ignatius continues: ‘Desire and choose only those things which will lead us most surely to the end for which we were created.’

God, who created us out of love, and wants us to share in the Trinity’s life of love, has given us this earthly life so that we may freely respond to His love. That love, after an often necessary period of purification in Purgatory, will be enjoyed throughout eternity.

This supernatural vocation of man explains why the simple satisfaction of his social and political needs always leaves him unsatisfied. ‘You made us for yourself, O my God, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.’ St Augustine exclaimed; and he had experimented with the abuse of both flesh and spirit. The frenetic search for the satisfaction of the senses, for the exercise of power, or for celebrity status, constitute and endless path which often leads to moral and physical dissolution, bitterness, remorse and even suicide. For it is true that the destiny of man is far above this earthly life, which is no more, finally, than a fleeting journey, a vale of tears, as we sing in the Salve Regina.

One of the paradoxes of this earthly sojourn, however, is that despite its brevity, the eternal destiny of each man depends on it. If it is important not to attach ourselves excessively to this ephemeral phase, we must also not lose sight of the fact that the eternal destiny of each and every one of us depends on it. The 20, 30, 40… 90 or 100 years of our earthly life set the terms for our life in eternity, about which a lyrical preacher had this to say on a spiritual retreat: Imagine that once a century, an eagle brushed a mountain with the very tip of his wing; When, as a result of this delicate brushing, the mountain had been totally worn away, eternity would not, in fact, even have started properly

That shows us the importance of our time on earth, and how much attention we should pay to the organisation of civic society, the City of Man, in order to prepare ourselves for entry into the City of God.

City of Man and City of God

God, who loves each one of us individually, awaits our personal response to His love. The political organisation of society ought to favour the peaceful observance of what Christ commanded, the essentials of which are summarised in the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes. The role of laws which regulate civil society are essential in this regard. Pius XII was fully justified when he wrote, on the fiftieth anniversary of  Rerum Novarum, in 1941: The good or harm of souls is affected by the form society takes, and the degree to which it conforms, or fails to do so, to the Divine Law. That is to say, it is a fact that men, called to be vivified by the grace of Chirst, either breathe in their everyday lives the healthy and life-giving air of the moral virtues, or the morbid and often fatal atmosphere of error and depravity.’

The Church, which has a care for the health of souls, must always take an interest in the organisation of civil society. She strives to reduce the ‘structures of sin’ (John Paul II) which turn people away from observing the natural law, and thus place the health of all in grave danger. When abortion is free, and the morning after pill given out freely, it takes great generosity and great faith to welcome an unplanned birth, which typically represents a reduction of 20% of the economic standard of living of each family.

In the face of modern society, and the deadly dreams of utopia which animate it, or rather undermine it, the Church recalls three essential truths:

1          Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matthew, 4: 4) To reduce man simply to a producer or consumer, denying both his spiritual and his supernatural dimensions, is to deform reality, and risk grave consequences. Centuries ago, Aristotle was already teaching: ‘We misunderstand man, if we only allow him to be human.

2          Salvation is personal, and is the responsibility of each individual. The Socialist state, which seeks to make all men happy, almost automatically, by promising to meet his material needs if he will only surrender his personal freedom, is by its nature, the basis for a totalitarian society, which we can confirm by a simple observation of the reality. ‘No liberty for the enemies of liberty’ as St Just said in his own time…

3          Even when animated by the spirit of the Gospel, the City of Man, made up of sinful men, will always be sullied by original sin and by personal sins. Even in Christendom, evil exists. Gilles de Rais, Marshall of France, condemned to death in 1440 by an ecclesiastical court, on charges of heresy, sodomy, and the murder of ‘140 children or more’ was a brave and loyal companion of Saint Joan of Arc. Pretending to make the City of Men into a new paradise is always an imposture, and often an open door to the very worst horrors. ‘Society becomes Hell, the minute we try to make a Paradise out of it’ wrote Gustave Thibon, the wise peasant-philosopher of the Ardèche. Nonetheless, that should not discourage Christians from seeking to, as Bossuet put it, ‘widen the road to heaven.’ When the growing flood of injustices permitted, and even at times encouraged, by the civil law, seems to carry all before it, forcing each person who is faithful to his vocation as a man and as a baptised Christian to humble heroism in domestic and daily virtues, when our cup seems full, we take refuge in the reflections of that holy religious, who suffered so much for the Church, Padre Pio, St Pio of Pietrelcina: ‘Be careful that the sad spectacle of human injustice doesn’t trouble your soul; it too has a place in the economy of things. It is over human injustice that you will see the certain triumph, one day, of the Justice of God.

Building a Christian City, the better to prepare souls for eternal life
The construction of a Christian society which will help souls to gain eternal life rests on three foundations:

           Willingness: Do we or do we not want civil law to conform to the natural law, which is another name for the divine law?  Have we made our own, that resolution of the psalmist, which the Church gives us to pray on the occasion of the commemoration of the beheading of John the Baptist? He was killed for reminding Herod of the scandal of his union with his sister-in-law Herodias, while her husband was still alive, and the psalm at Mass that day is “I will speak of thy testimonies also before kings, and will not be ashamed.  And I will delight myself in thy commandments, which I have loved.”

           A real knowledge of what we are seeking to promote, as well as knowing the teachings, organizations and people who are opposed to the genuine common good of society. In his first encyclical, on 4 October 1903, ‘E supremi apostolatus’ St Pius X denounced (and this was a century ago – what would he say today?) religious ignorance. ‘The principal means of bringing souls to God’s empire, is religious instruction. How many are hostile to, or horrified by, the Church and the Gospel more out of ignorance than out of malice.’ Pius XII, (in his Allocution to Italian Catholic Action, 29 April 1945) affirmed of the Social Doctrine of the Church: ‘It is clear in all its aspects; it is obligatory; nothing can be removed from it without danger both to the Faith and to the moral order.’ Yet what do we know of that social doctrine of the Church, even though it has been explicated by numerous pontifical texts, from Rerum Novarum (Leo Xlll – 1891) to Caritas in Veritate (Benedict XVl – 2009)?

           a true political prudence which, making an effort, according to the formula of Cardinal Richelieu “to make possible what is necessary” will take into account the reality of contemporary society to gradually extricate it from the ruts into which modern ideologies have condemned it: ideologies such as liberalism, socialism, ecologism, consumerism… The objective of the (sometimes necessary) horse medicine is not to kill the horse!

The conformity to natural law of our laws and institutions constitutes the oxygen which our lungs need in order to accomplish their function, the landscape in which the flowers of Christianity may bloom: Christian families, priestly and religious vocations; works of the spirit, such as literature, painting, music; works of charity in service of the poorest and weakest, for it is a Utopian dream to imagine that they will not always be with us, and in addition  - economic prosperity.

That is the high calling to which the laity of the 21st century are summoned. And we would do well to meditate on the prophecy of the Dante, in the Divine Comedy: ‘The hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who, in a time of moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.

Let us not fail to respond to the call of the Church and the Popes, so that France may flourish, and Christendom rise again!

Chartres Meditation 11: The Risen Christ: Our Hope

‘On the third day, He rose again.’

As we meditate on the Way of the Cross, as we follow that long, sad path up to Calvary, as we contemplate, and adore, Jesus the Son of God, suffering and dying on the Cross, our soul is filled with what Our Lord Himself experienced, along with Mary, John and the holy women.

The first words that spring to our lips are ‘I’m sorry!’ And almost immediately afterwards: ‘Thank you!’ First a profound sorrow for having offended God by our sins, and a firm resolution never to offend Him again. Then an enormous outpouring of gratitude to this same God, who, through His Son, has redeemed all those faults for which we are saying sorry.

That same Sorry, and that same Thank you are also directed at Our Lady, whom we have so wounded, through her Son, and who has taken such a part in our redemption: by giving Jesus to us, by accompanying Him to Calvary, by saying Be it done according to Thy will, all the way from the Annunciation up until to the Cross, and by the adoption of John – and of all of us, therefore – as her own son.

Then we meditate with her on all that is going to happen, on what is happening at that moment, and on all the consequences, both immediate and future, of this Passion and this Death of the Son of God, who is also the Son of Mary.

In man’s eyes, it could have looked as thought Our Lord’s enemies finally triumphed at the moment of the Saviour’s death on the Cross. The Evangelists limit themselves to telling in a few words about the calm and solemn ceremony of the placing of His body in the tomb, in the presence of Mary, and under her instruction. They conclude that part of their narrative by telling how Joseph of Arimathea rolled a stone over the entrance of the sepulchre, adding that the Jews took the precaution of asking the Roman Governor for some soldiers to guard the tomb, ‘for fear that His disciples might come and steal the body.’

The witnesses did not suspect that the judicial error which had led to the infamous execution of one of their own people would be at the centre of the universe, would be the principle of its being made anew, would be the instrument of reconciliation with God. They did not suspect that this gibbet, on which this man died would be the central pivot of the world, the living heart at the centre of every pulse of history.

The Appearance to the Virgin Mary

Mary is the only one, perhaps, that Holy Saturday, to have kept both Faith and Hope alive. But how can we doubt that she did not have the right to be the first to meet the Risen One in the early hours of Easter. She did not even see the need to go with Mary Magdalen and the holy women to the tomb: since she knew that the tomb would be empty. Her delicacy and her discretion are once more demonstrated: her Faith and her Hope did not waver for an instant. She waited. How could she not have been the first to receive a visit from her Resurrected Son?

The Moment of the Resurrection

I believe in the resurrection of the body, and in eternal life.
The analyses done on the Holy Shroud of Turin seem to attest that the Body of the Lord could not be so imprinted upon it, unless it were irradiated by a dazzling light for an instant: that moment when the body was resurrected, and the Shroud collapsed upon itself.

The glorified body had no need that the stone should be rolled from the mouth of the tomb, for it to leave. It shot up in an instant, and rose to Heaven to throw itself into the Father’s arms. It was at that moment, doubtless, that there was a great earthquake: and the Angel of the Lord came down from Heaven to roll the stone aside. He had a face like lightning, and his robe was as white as snow. On seeing him, the guards were overcome by fear and became like the dead.

On coming back to themselves, they fled, after having noticed that the tomb was empty, and they went back to the city and told the high priests all that had happened.

The First Visits to the Tomb

Mary Magdalen is the first to run to the tomb. She arrived just after the guards had fled, along with the other faithful women: Mary, the mother of James and Salome, and the other Mary, who had bought spices with which to anoint the body. (cf Mark 16, 3)

Filled with awe and great joy’ as St Matthew tells us, ‘they ran to take the news to His disciples’ who, moreover ‘did not believe them.’

What is extraordinary, in the Gospel accounts, what stands out with a startling clarity, is that the first reaction was incredulity; and that amongst the disciples, the women, the apostles, those who loved Jesus the most; those who, tomorrow, and as a result of the experience of their senses and a renewed understanding, would be transformed into the witnesses of the reality of the Resurrection.

The women don’t believe the Angel, the apostles don’t believe Mary Magdalen, Thomas will not believe the other apostles.  That is why ‘He showed Himself to the Eleven themselves while they were at table. He reproached them for their incredulity and obstinacy, because they had refused to believe those who had seen Him after He had risen from the dead.’ (Mark 16, 14)

Curiously it was the enemies of Jesus who believed in His resurrection more quickly than His friends. With the seals placed on the tomb and the guard they had put in place, they were quicker than the apostles to establish the facts.

The Appearance to Mary Magdalen

This is where we place Our Lord’s appearance to Mary Magdalen; she had run, distraught trembling with fright, with shock, to tell Peter and John of her discovery of the empty tomb, she didn’t know what to think, she dared not hope for the resurrection, however wonderful that would be, and she returns, in haste, looking for the first apostles, and seeking to understand. Then Jesus appears to her. ‘Mary!’ He says, simply. At this word, said by His voice, Mary recognised her Lord. She turned immediately: ‘Rabboni!’ she cried, in Hebrew, which means ‘Master.’ She threw herself at His feet, clinging to them, kissing them, weeping, but with joy this time, and emotion.

‘Jesus said to her, ‘Do not cling to me, because I have not yet ascended to my Father. But go and find the brothers and tell them: I am ascending to my Father and to your Father, to my God and your God. So Mary of Magdala’, St John concludes, ‘went and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord and that He had said these things to her.’

The Appearance to the Holy Women

St Matthew assures us that the Lord appeared likewise to the other women who had gone to the tomb, and who had left ‘filled with awe and great joy’ after hearing the Angel’s words.  And there coming to meet them was Jesus. Greetings, He said. And the women came up to Him and, falling down before Him, clasped His feet. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers that they must leave for Galilee: they will see me there. ‘

These faithful handmaids truly deserved that the Lord should console them directly by His presence. Their fervour and their faith made them very apt to receive such divine favours, which they had earned by their commitment to perform those final duties for Our Lord, and by their courage in braving the night, the guards, and the insults. But when the holy women went to tell the apostles what they had seen, ‘this story of theirs seemed pure nonsense, and they did not believe them.’

In all this coming and going, from the very dawn of Easter day, between the tomb and the various places where the apostles and the women had taken refuge, events overlap. There is a lot of to-and-fro, by different paths. There is the feeling of an unbelievable event, incredible but true, undeniably true and real, but which nobody dares to believe, and yet which cannot be denied.

Mary Magdalen clearly occupies a place apart in the midst of these women. It was she who, at Bethany, sat at Jesus’ feet, so as to hear His words, whilst Martha was cooking and preparing the meal. It was she who intervened so that Jesus would resuscitate her brother, Lazarus. It was she who, later, by her anointing at Bethany, prompted the prophecy of the coming burial of Jesus. Mary of Magdala, then, was going to tell the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that He had said these words to her. Jesus entrusted a mission to the reformed sinner who became, in her turn, an apostle, as it were, profoundly incorporated into the mystery of our salvation. She has even been called ‘the Apostle to the Apostles,’ for having been the first to proclaim to the Apostles that news which, by their mouths, was soon to be proclaimed to the whole world: Christ is Risen! She was to be the patron of the Crusades, and of the knights of France, because of her prediction of the burial of Christ, because of her fidelity to the tomb of Christ, and also, perhaps, because of her courteous understanding of love.

Mary Magdalen has been subject to plenty of misunderstanding, and jealousy; she provoked the hatred of the ‘free thinkers’ along with their most vile and most unhealthy calumnies. Why? Because she is too great. Because she is too close to Christ. Because she loved too much, and in too pure a fashion. Because she understood Him better than anyone else did. Because she provokes admiration – and therefore the jealousy of the small-minded, the mediocre, and the Pharisees in every age.

Those who understand her best are, perhaps, the great sinners who have also repented. It is true, this woman was a courtesan, a ‘sinner in the City’ as her detractors pointed out.  But it was not her past, wiped out and pardoned, that attracted Jesus to her. It is her whole self that was moved by the most ardent love for the risen body of her Lord. And in that movement, even her very body starts to be transformed into a love that is above that of this world. There is nothing there which is not pure, healthy and holy.

Our bodies can be purified; they can be transformed by the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ; and then they are worthy to enter into glory. That is the meaning of that moving encounter between the Risen Jesus, appearing as a gardener, and Mary Magdalen, overcome by love.

The Appearance to the Pilgrims of Emmaus
Before even showing Himself to the apostles, Jesus appears to two unknown people on the road to the village called Emmaus; we only know the name of one of them: Cleophas.

Every detail of that day was so poignant, that we are overcome afresh each time we re-read St Luke’s account of it. Two disciples are fleeing from Jerusalem, for fear of reprisals on the part of the Jews, and are discussing, in hushed voices, what has just come to pass, when a stranger joins them. Deep in their despair, they don’t even look at Him; but the Risen Christ, for it is He, questions them, just like the good teacher that He is. ‘What matters are you discussing as you walk along?’ What else would they have been talking about, but the latest events that had just taken place in Jerusalem over the last few days? How could this stranger possibly not have heard about it all?... Jesus of Nazareth, the prophet who was mighty in words and deeds before God and the people… given over… condemned to death… crucified… Did you know nothing of all this?... And now, there are some brave women who claim to have seen angels, who found the tomb empty… What are we to believe about it all?....

The Lord takes pity on these poor faithful people who were suffering – just as He takes pity on the suffering faithful of all times – and opens their minds to the Scriptures. But He begins with a good sermon: ‘You foolish men! So slow to believe the full message of the Prophets! Was it not ordained that the Christ should suffer and so enter into His glory?’ He said.

When we are tempted by discouragement, by the sadness of seeing that our dearest prayers do not seem to be answered, let us ask the Lord to draw near, to accompany us on our journey.  And as He accompanies us He will explain that it was for us that He climbed Calvary; that it was for us that He died, so as to fulfil the Scriptures. The sorrowful event of the Crucifixion, which we have been contemplating, will thus become a lesson that speaks to each one of us. In our own time, once again, man needs to meet the crucified and risen Christ.

Who, more than this God who was condemned, can fully understand the pain of the person who submits to unjust condemnation?

Who, more than this King who was ridiculed and humiliated, can understand the suffering and the loneliness of so many lives damaged and with no future?

If we open our heart to Christ, He will answer our deepest desires. He Himself will unfold the mysteries of His Passion and His death on the Cross, as He did to the pilgrims on the road to Emmaus.

The pilgrims of Emmaus, silent, captivated by His words, invited the Master to stay with them, for night was falling, and to share in their meal. ‘Mane nobiscum, Domine.’ Should we not frequently ask that of the Lord? Especially after Holy Communion? ‘Stay with us, Lord, above all when shadows are falling on our soul, when we are sad, when we are tempted by the devils of the night. Manete. Stay!”

“Then, once at the table with them, He took the bread, said the blessing, broke it and gave it to them. Their eyes were opened and they recognised Him… but He had disappeared from their sight. And they said to each other: ‘Did not our hearts burn within us as He talked to us on the road and explained the Scripture to us?’

How could we not make the connection with the Last Supper, the Blessing of the bread that consecrates it as His Body, the breaking of the bread, the Holy Communion of the guests?…

May we, like those travellers, better recognise in the mystery of the Eucharist, in the breaking of the Bread, the presence of our Risen Saviour! May we better encounter Him in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, and welcome Him as our companion on our journey! ‘Ego sum Via.’ He will know how to listen to us and how to comfort us. He will know how to be our guide, so as to lead us throughout our life on the paths of life that lead to the Father’s House. Remember what Pascal wrote in the Pensées, which he places in Our Lord’s mouth: ‘ You would not be looking for Me, if you had not already found Me.’

At that moment, the Pilgrims of Emmaus, although night had fallen, set out on the road once again and returned to Jerusalem. Their speed was quite different now compared to their earlier departure; they flew back to tell the apostles of the great favour which they had been blessed to receive. They found them all together – except for Thomas – with various companions, and in a state of internal turmoil, of unusual excitement. Yes, they had already heard tell of the resurrection, and the appearance to Peter had been confirmed: but they wanted to see for themselves before they could believe that it was really true! It just seemed too beautiful an idea!

First Appearance to the Apostles

They were still talking, St Luke tells us. The Apostles had suffered great desolation and violent storms: their sadness had been excessive, as they had no Faith in the Resurrection yet. The Lord was to reproach them severely for this. ‘He reproached them for their incredulity and for the hardness of their heart, because they had refused to believe those who had seen Him after He had risen from the dead.’ Nor had they remembered the predictions that Jesus Himself had made about this.

They were duly abashed, of course, by this well-merited tirade… But fascinated, enthused and moved, they experienced an intense spiritual joy, just as their Saviour had promised them, in the Upper Room. Their hearts overflowed with joy, a joy which nobody could take away from them.

He said to them a second time, ‘Peace be with you!

Jesus wanted to prove His identity, and the reality of His body. He allowed them to touch Him, He truly ate, a real piece of fish, which could be seen and touched. He assured them that hHe was no ghost or phantom. But on the other hand, His body was different, in ways that a materialist could not accept. He could pass through closed and locked doors, just as He could pass through the stone of the Sepulchre. He could conceal His appearance at will: Mary Magdalen and the pilgrims of Emmaus did not recognise Him at first; He could appear and disappear as He chose. Later He would do the same, as at the overwhelming appearance by the Sea of Tiberias.

Then, He opened their eyes to understand the Scriptures, St Luke tells us, just as He did on the road to Emmaus.

St John tells us, He continued: ‘As the Father sent me, so am I sending you. After saying this, he breathed on them and said: Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained.’

On that Easter evening, Jesus instituted the Sacrament of Penance, and gave His apostles (and their successors) the power, the inestimable gift of the divine goodness and mercy. That gift was solemnly given on the day of His triumph over the powers of Hell and over Death.

One cannot imagine a more complete outpouring of divine love: complete forgiveness of sins, absolute remission of all faults. And He entrusts this inestimable gift to sinful men, just like any other sinners. And men who, moreover, had doubted Him and even abandoned Him, just a few hours earlier.

Now that the sacrifice of the Cross is consummated, that the Resurrection is accomplished, God breathes the breath of life on man. So that is when the Sacrament of Penance is instituted. Our Lord had already promised it, but to institute it, He chose to wait until the sacrifice of the Cross was consummated, the Resurrection was accomplished, and the Church was established. He wanted the prerogatives of the apostolic ministry to be proclaimed. The gift is given to the apostles, therefore, for the good of souls, and until the end of the world. An incredible way to crown the very first Easter day! An extraordinary gift that the Saviour wanted to give to His very young Church, before the end of the very first day!

This day of Resurrection comes to an end with this intimate reunion of the Master with His apostles, the last appearance of the day, which, perhaps, had included others.

It is in the proclamation of the forgiveness of sins, the ultimate goal of the Incarnation, that Jesus addresses His last words of the day to his first Bishops.

‘Peace be with you… Sins will be forgiven…’

Appearance to St Thomas

St John also tells us of another appearance, eight days after Easter. ‘Thomas, called the Twin, who was one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. When the disciples told him “We have seen the Lord’ he replied; ‘ Unless I see the holes that the nails made in His hands and can put my hand in His side, I will not believe.’ We can understand him, this poor doubting Thomas… How would he not doubt, just like the others, until he had seen.  Then Jesus, who saw and heard everything, of course, had pity on him, and eight days later, as St John tells us, ‘the disciples were in the house again and Thomas was with them. The doors were closed, but Jesus came in and stood among them. “Peace be with you,” He said. Then He spoke to Thomas: ‘Put your finger here; look here are my hands. Give me your hand; put it in my side. Doubt no longer, but believe.’

Let us admire the mercy of the Son of God, always at the service of the little ones, the sinners, the unbelievers, coming to each of us to save us – almost in spite of ourselves, all the while leaving us with our liberty completely intact, as God wills it.  Thomas, like St Mary Magdalen, threw himself at His feet: ‘My Lord and my God!’ Everything is said in that Act of Faith. He sees, he touches the holy Humanity of the Saviour, and he believes that Jesus truly is the Son of God. But Jesus draws one more lesson from this, being the perfect teacher: ‘You believe because you can see more; Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.’

St Gregory the Great says that there was, in this incredulity of St Thomas, a mysterious working of Divine Providence. St Thomas confirms the truth of the Resurrection by the very fact that although he was so resolute, initially, not to believe his fellow apostles, he ended up adding his witness to theirs.  Thank you, St Thomas, for your scepticism! Had you not displayed it, our Faith would be less assured. Thanks to you, we too can almost touch the wounds of the Risen Lord. That truly is a human body, that we could touch as we could our own. Those truly are open wounds, certain signs of the Passion He endured. It is truly Him.

And that ‘Him’ is God. My Lord and my God! An incredible declaration. It is not just the long-awaited Messiah, not just the Master and Lord, it is more than the Son of Man,  more even than the Son of God; it is God Himself, proclaimed by doubting Thomas, with nobody dissenting. That is the very best profession of faith in Jesus Christ, which we too must proclaim.

Our Faith in the Resurrection

It was not just for them, it was for all men, for the whole human race, for all generations, that Jesus Christ died, that He rose, before going back up to Heaven to be with God, His Father and our Father, His God and our God. Each of us has been chosen, called, formed and especially qualified to preach the Gospel of God, as St Paul says: “Segregatus in Evangelium Dei.”

The Word of God perfectly accomplished the mission that His Father had entrusted to Him. The Kingdom of God was established, the Sacraments were instituted: Baptism, Penance, the Eucharist,  (translator addition: Matrimony), Holy Orders, the Sacrament of the Sick; Confirmation had been announced, and would follow on the day of Pentecost. The universe was reconciled with God.

The Institution of the Church

The Institution of the Church would come next, and Jesus gave his final instructions to His apostles. ‘He then opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them: ‘So you see how it is written that the Christ would suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that, in His name, repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses to this.’

It is clear: the foundation of the Church is the apostolic testimony. The mission, the duty of the Christian apostolate is essentially to witness to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. This witness is the foundation of our Christian Faith. We adhere to a well-established testimony: this faith is not essentially and emotional affair. On the contrary, in fact. Emotion, in such matters, is suspect, and we should not leave our judgement at the mercy of our emotions. If Christ is not risen, we must consider ourselves, along with St Paul, as the most unfortunate of men; and moreover, as fools. Truly!

But our faith is based on an authentic and historical testimony, and has nothing to do with credulity – credulity taken in its usual pejorative sense, of course, for Our Lord reproached the Apostles for their in-credulity.

On the strength of ancient documents and authentic accounts, we certainly believe in the conquests of Alexander or of Napoleon. The Church preserves the apostolic witness. She is a channel, a web of communication to transport and diffuse the Good News of Salvation; an umbilical cord, one could also say, through which nourishment, blood and life are passed: the knowledge of the Kingdom of God. We are, in the bosom of the Church, like a new-born child at his mother’s breast. She carries us to Heaven, where the Risen Jesus has gone before us.

The Church is Jesus Christ, spread and communicated, said Bossuet.

The Church is Jesus Christ Himself, continuing to incorporate into Himself the universe, now absolved and reconciled.

The Church is the mystery of Easter, spread and communicated, just as the repeated physical evidence of the living and glorified Body dazzled the Apostles, solidifying their Faith, their Hope, their Love; just so this mystery of a Risen Body sums up and implies all the other mysteries of our religion, and becomes the very foundation of the Church.

The Church is the transmission of the Gospel to all men. The Good News of the Salvation brought by Jesus Christ, and of which He is the centre.

It is the coming of the Kingdom of God, awaited by the Jews since the time of Abraham, initiated by the Incarnation of Jesus, and accomplished by His Resurrection from the dead, and His bodily return to glory, with His Father.

The Church is the absolute extension of this Kingdom of God, the proclamation of this extraordinary news to all men, by the preaching of the Apostolic testimony. Its fulfilment will be at the end of the world, when Jesus Christ, absolutely triumphant, will return the Kingdom to His Father, and God will be all in all.

Our own Resurrection

In our own time, whether they acknowledge it or not, men are searching, beyond the world, for a source of purity and reconciliation; for our modern civilisation makes it very clear that such a source is not to be found in this world. The hour of truth will always come upon us. It is that hour when we realise that we are not of this world, that we truly do not belong to this world.

That hour comes for all men at the time of their death. May it come long before death! The earlier, the better…

What will be the circumstances of our own particular resurrection? The wisest thing is to trust in God, without exercising our imagination. What we must believe it that we will be resurrected, that our souls will be reunited with our bodies, and that we will appear before the Judgement Throne of God, there to be judged, according to the measure of our charity, the measure of our love, in truth.

The Saviour has already ascended to the heavens to make us, through Him and in Him, into citizens of Heaven. In His Resurrection and in His Ascension, He did not rise alone, and He did not ascend alone.

Everything springs from this mystery of Redemption: Passion, Resurrection, Ascension, Pentecost. And all that in the space of fifty days!
The Presence of the Blessed Virgin Mary
The Blessed Virgin Mary was present in the Upper Room on Maundy Thursday, according to the most ancient traditions. The Blessed Virgin Mary was present during the Way of the Cross. The Blessed Virgin Mary was present at the foot of the Cross. She was present once more to receive the Body of the tortured victim and to bury it. We have discussed how she would have been the very first to be visited by the Risen Christ on Easter morning. The Acts of the Apostles assure us that she was likewise present with the Apostles at the time of the Ascension, and again on the day of Pentecost.

There can be no doubt that Mary, Mater Apostolorum, Mater misericordiae, who herself went up, body and soul, into heaven on the day of her Assumption, continues her intercession at the throne of God on behalf of the Apostles of all ages, and on behalf of all those who invoke her as their Mother.  Woman here is your son. – Here is your Mother.

To sum up:

Firstly, the Resurrection of Christ is a historic fact. It is not a legend or a myth, or merely a mystical or religious truth, as some imply, in order to deny its historic reality.

It is a historic fact whose authenticity is seen in the testimony of witnesses, and in the critical study of that testimony.

Whilst a historic fact, as undeniably proven, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is also, and no less, a miraculous fact, completely inexplicable by natural forces alone.

A unique fact, with irreversible and universal consequences and significance, the Resurrection engages the whole of humanity in a solidarity with this universal fact.

By His Death and Resurrection, Jesus has gained for all the remission of all our sins, and our participation in the glory of Heaven, with God, for eternity.

It is up to us to bear witness, along with the Apostles, and to ‘be witnesses,’ even if that means martyrdom – for the word martyr means a witness.