Sunday 18 December 2016

The Pope at Eighty

As occasionally happens, (see also here), today I host a guest writer on this site. This is to celebrate the Holy Father's 80th birthday, and to offer some insights into his character, from one who knows. And so, without further ado, here's a piece by Ivan Austereigh. (NB for the sake of clarity, brevity and coherence, I have edited it down from the submitted typescript, to about a twelfth of its original length. I assure you that nothing of value or meaning has been lost in the process).

The Pope at Eighty

What a wonderful Holy Father we have. The first in many generations who is a truly humble and pastoral bishop. And today I can cast real light on his greatness, by revealing he is a Sagittarius. Astrology, of course, is founded on the Gospel of St Matthew, in which we read of the prophetic star.

As a Sagittarius, the Holy Father is (along with those born under the signs of Aries and Leo [and what a pontifical name that is!]) part of the Fire Trigon. We can readily detect the Christological aspect of this when we reflect on Luke 12.49: I have come to bring fire... and how I wish it were kindled already. At last, in the fulness of time, we have a pope able and willing to kindle that fire.

But there is more. Sagittarius is, of course, the Centaur who is an archer. That explains so much about Francis. A centaur is both like us and unlike us; with human mind and intellect, yet also animal knowing that transcends mere rigid human thought.  He is a wise healer whose higher intelligence forms a bridge between Earth and Heaven. And as an archer, he is both powerful and purposeful.

The characteristics of a Sagittarius, then, are that he is able to be incredibly violent - or wise, brave -  or mild. Such, then, is the character of our Holy Father, who is the epitome of a Sagittarius. Wise and brave, bringing Heaven and Earth, bringing fire and kindling it, with power and purpose that transcends mere human knowing.

Monday 12 December 2016

Married to the Cross

At the heart of the controversy over Amoris Laetitia, I think, are unclear and probably conflicting understandings of Christian marriage.

So much of the discussion that I have read is about healing the hurt: as though the most important thing that Catholicism has to offer is emotional happiness in this life.

What is not being discussed is the idea of marriage as a vocation. Yet that is surely what it is, in Catholic understanding. It is a call from Our Lord about how we are to spend our lives, and how we are to respond to His grace to seek our own and others' salvation. And as a call from Our Lord, part of that message is: Take up your Cross, and follow me.

For we live in a vale of tears, and our true happiness is not to be found in this world (though we are, nonetheless, to be joyful, but that is something else...). But the modern mind thinks, post-Enlightenment, that the pursuit of happiness is the purpose of life. That of course paves the way for the Deceiver to promise us happiness by way of the flesh or the world.

But the Christian vocation to marriage is a call to suffering; to suffering in union with the Crucified. At the very least, we will suffer because we are uniting ourself, sinful as we are, to another person who is also a sinner; both of us subject to concupiscence, at the very least. We have to mortify our selfishness, and also to regulate our passions, in the service of the vocation we have ben called to follow. We may have to suffer when we see our spouse suffer, when we see our children suffer, when we have to sacrifice careers or advancement in the interests of our family, when we are truly open to life, even though that be at great personal cost, and so on and so on.  We may even be called to suffer when the person whom we love abuses or abandons us.

That is the way of the Cross. But because the Church has failed to teach such hard truths for so long, we have lost our way - we have lost the Way.

And so the requirement that we honour our marriage vows even when that involves suffering is seen as unjust, unmerciful, unthinkable... when in fact, it is precisely where our salvation, and quite possibly that of others, is to be found.


The same principles apply, of course, to the celibate vocation; the priestly and religious vocations, and so on. I am making no special claim for marriage here; in fact I think that marriage has unique joys that are a great blessing and mercy, which others more holy than I are able willingly to sacrifice: celibacy is the higher calling. But in all cases, to be a Christian is to follow Christ, and if He leads us to the Cross, it is not in our interests to turn away - and it is a false mercy for others to support us in doing so.

Sunday 11 December 2016

Victim blaming

When I was small - about 8 years old, I think, I was threatened by a bigger boy at school. He indicated that he would throw a football into my stomach if I did not allow him in front of me in the queue for the drinking fountain. I said: 'You wouldn't dare!' And so, of course, he did.

Clearly, the bullying was wrong; clearly I was the victim in this situation. But would any advice to me on how to react differently have been victim-blaming?

For many years, the link between smoking tobacco and lung cancer was unclear; for many years, the tobacco industry sought to deny it and discredit research. But the researchers continued, and demonstrated the link, resulting in the medical advice with which we are all now familiar: avoid smoking tobacco if you want to reduce the risk of lung cancer. But was such research not victim-blaming, in respect of all of those who had contracted lung cancer so far?

I raise these questions because this weekend, in a discussion about Amoris Laetitia, I mentioned the research (Daly, M. and Wilson, M. (1985) Child abuse and other risks of not living with both parents, Ethology and Sociobiology, 6:196 - 210) that demonstrates (as I mentioned in a previous post)  'exposure to step-parenting is the strongest known predictor of child abuse, and exposure to divorce has measurable detrimental effects on children's outcomes.'

That led to a torrent of accusations of victim-blaming, particularly in respect of people who are abused by their spouse, and leave him or her and 're-marry.'

My point (here) is that the accusation of victim-blaming is often a tactic that results in the cutting short of any consideration of the complexities of real situations. In particular, it consigns some people to victimhood with no respite.  For, by denying any discussion of how they may, however innocently, have contributed to the situation in which they find themselves, we also close the possibility of them learning anything that might help them (or others) to avoid similar situations in the future.

In the case of victims of abuse, that is particularly tragic, as it seems that such people often leave one abusive relationship only to enmesh themselves in another. There are many and varied theories as to why that is the case, ranging from Eric Berne's idea that some people have a life-script in which their only payoff is to be found in being a victim (see his brilliant analysis, Games People Play - though I disagree with him) through to Darwinian evolutionists (such as Nettle) who see it as the particular way in which their inherited genetic personality plays out (again, his Personality is a fascinating read, but as he freely states, only explains, at best, half of personality).

But to deny the possibility of even discussing such things; to dismiss the statistical evidence as less important than one's own experience... that is the path to the post-truth world in which we find ourselves, where political expedience determines what we must think and how we may express our thoughts.

(Note to self, there is a post to be written about how the liberal consensus in the humanities and social sciences in academia (and its intolerance of any other views) contributed to both Brexit and Trump).

Gaudete Sunday

One of the joys of  tradition is that it confronts the need for endless novelty (and therefore ephemera) head on.  Therefore, unashamedly, I can re-post this from a couple of years ago... (and note that it had been previously posted two years before that!)

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

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

Here is the Introit:

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

Benedixísti, Dómine, terram tuam: avertísti captivitátem Jacob.

Glória Patri...

Rejoice in the Lord always: again I say, rejoice. Let your modesty be known to all men: for the Lord is nigh. Be nothing solicitous: but in every thing by prayer let your petitions be made known to God.

Lord, Thou hast blessed Thy land: Thou hast turned away the captivity of Jacob.

Glory be...

Saturday 10 December 2016

Adultery is not a victimless sin...

In a lot of the discussion about admitting the soi-disant 're-married' (as opposed to people who are truly re-married, after the death of a previous spouse) to Holy Communion, one gets the impression that those keen on 'mercy' see the adultery of the new relationship as some kind of technical problem; something only those who are pedantic and legalistic would worry about.

But that is not the case. The problem the Holy Father, Kasper and the rest face is that Our Lord makes it quite clear, both in the Gospel and in the continuous teaching of the Church under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, that adultery is a serious sin; and also that serious sins have serious consequences.

That is quite apart from the culpability of the sinner; even a sin where the subjective culpability is minimal causes harm and is evil.  And adultery is by no means a victimless sin. 

The immediate victims, of course, are the spouses and also any children involved. And I do not just mean the moral danger to which the children are exposed. Academic research shows that 'exposure to step-parenting is the strongest known predictor of child abuse, and exposure to divorce has measurable detrimental effects on children's outcomes.'

But the damage is not limited to those immediately affected. We know both from theory (open systems theory) and from experience (see, for example, the very limited societal approvals given first to contraception and then abortion) that any small relaxation in the moral censure for evil actions in the realm of human sexuality inevitably leads to widespread abuse and an attitudinal shift.

So even a perceived softening of the Church's teaching against divorce will, quite inexorably, contribute further to the already catastrophic rates of divorce and separation we now witness, with all the tragic consequences, both for individuals and for civic society, which that entails.

And then, there is the further harm that is done, by making it ever harder for young people to contract valid marriages; if the last bastion of truth undermines that truth, how are they to believe what it is required that they believe?

These are precisely why the ancient maxim that hard cases make bad law is so important. Of course, there are some people who are in terribly distressing situations, possibly with little subjective fault of their own. But an attempt to be 'merciful' to them, by pretending that adultery is OK in their specific situation, is profoundly misguided - and further imperils their souls too, if they no longer feel the need to address their situation through repentance and amendment.

Finally, there cannot be an irreconcilable conflict between truth and mercy; if we seek to offer mercy at the cost of truth taught us by Christ Himself, we have abandoned both truth and mercy.

Saturday 3 December 2016

Can't teach? Won't teach!

Despite the protestations of Austen Ivereigh, we do not know what the Holy Father is teaching the Church about the admission of 're-married' divorcees to communion.

We may have a good idea what His Holiness's personal view is, and even his personal desire (though I would argue that even that is less clear than many think - intellectual clarity and consistency not being his long suit, and some of his comments indicating a more, and others a less, 'liberal' approach to these and related issues). But the thinking and even wishes of the individual who sits on the throne of Peter are not the same as the teaching of the Pope.  This was something that the Holy Father Emeritus  (whose intellectual clarity and consistency I, for one, miss sadly) always made very clear, and rightly so.

Therefore although we may have clues - strong clues, perhaps - from the Synod, from the footnotes, from a private letter... none of these amount to the exercise of the magisterium. Indeed, I would agree with the estimable Fr Hunwicke that what we are witnessing is the suspense of the magisterium.  That is, the Holy Father, in declining to answer the dubia, is choosing not to exercise his teaching office.  

Perhaps it is ill-advised to speculate as to why that might be the case. But I like to think of myself as a fool (in the Shakespearian tradition, you understand), and therefore will rush in where the angelic might, rightly, fear to tread. So for what it's worth, my guess (or is it just my hope?) is that the Holy Father has realised that he cannot teach what he would like to teach. And my fear is the corollary, that he won't teach what he could and should.

Howsoever that may be, one thing that is clear is that orthodox Catholics have a very definite duty in such difficult times: to love and pray for the Holy Father.

Tuesday 29 November 2016

Ivereigh Tower

It's all a bit confusing. Amoris Laetitia seems to be somewhat ambiguous, and some of its footnotes, more so. 

Clearly, as with any papal document, one reads it in the hermeneutic of continuity: that is to say, one starts from the assumption that it builds on, and does not contradict, previous magisterial teaching, and interprets any ambiguity in line with such teaching.

And yet, it seems that in a private letter, the Holy Father has suggested that the ambiguity is meant to be interpreted in a quite different way - a way that was discussed but not ratified in the two synods that preceded its publication. And as one looks around at the bishops and indeed cardinals of the Church, we find that some are saying it should be interpreted in one way, and others in a contrary way. That is clearly confusing, to say the least.

So some cardinals who are particularly mindful of the need for clarity - and indeed for doctrinal coherence in that very hermeneutic of continuity to which I referred earlier - have submitted five dubia to the Holy Father, so that all may be quite clear precisely what is or is not being taught.

Yet, mysteriously, the Holy Father seems reluctant to clarify: the dubia remain unanswered.  

And then I saw that Austen Ivereigh, one of the founders of Catholic Voices, responded to this tweet on Twitter: Submitting dubia is a standard part of Church life. It’s not unreasonable to expect a clear answer  by @SSBullivant, by saying: But in this case it’s dissent / theological protest masquerading as a dubium. The answer has been given. They just don’t like it.

I found that curious, as I could find no record of such an answer, so I tweeted @austeni So, for the slow on the uptake, like me, what are the Holy Father's answers to the dubia? In Y/N form, for the avoidance of doubt?

But answer was there none.

Of course, there is no particular reason why Austen Ivereigh should (con)descend from his tower to  answer me - although as I also mentioned on Twitter, instructing the ignorant is one of the corporal works of Mercy.

Ivereigh is the author of How to Defend the Faith without Raising Your Voice. Can we expect a second volume: How to Defend the Faith without saying anything at all?

More seriously, though, what are we to make of it when people (whether the Holy Father or the Head of Catholic Voices) refuse to clarify: when the request for clarity is seen as a hostile act, in fact?  That I find a very worrying question.

And what are we to make of it when people (such as close papal aides...) rush to lie: to say all the cardinals are united on this, and that the interpretation was the fruit of the two synods, when we know that to be untrue?  Again, I find the question, and the need to ask it, very worrying indeed.


Pray for our Holy Father, for all our Cardinals and Bishops, and for the whole Church: for we live in strikingly difficult times.

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. 

Sunday 27 November 2016

First Sunday of Advent

Today is the first Sunday of Advent.

Whilst the experts on the Pray,Tell blog are quick to proclaim that Advent is not a time of penance, I demur.   

I understand the concern with my position: that Advent should not be seen as the same as Lent.  I agree: the two are different.  Advent is a time of joyous preparation for the coming of Our Lord (memories of his first coming, and looking forward to his second, of course). But both of these considerations naturally lead us to listen to the words of St John the Baptist: Repent!

We think it important to keep our Advent Celebrations quite distinct from our Christmas Celebrations - though they are related, they are two different seasons of the Church's cycle, with different themes and moods.

So as ever, we will celebrate Advent by saying our prayers around the Advent Wreath, singing O Come O Come Emmanuel and having a reading as we add another character to our Jesse Tree. We will also say the wonderful collect from the traditional Roman rite of the Mass:

Arise in thy strength we beseech thee O Lord and come; from the dangers which threaten us because of our sins, be thy presence our sure defence, be thy deliverance our safety for ever more. 

For those who love Latin, or those who fondly remember my introduction to Liturgical Latin, here is the collect in Latin. too:

Excita, quǽsumus, Dómine, poténtiam tuam, et veni: ut ab imminéntibus peccatórum nostrórum perículis, te mereámur protegénte éripi, te liberánte salvári.

(This, of course, changes with the four Sundays of Advent).

The Marian Antiphon changes today from the Salve Regina to the Alma Redemptoris Mater, which we will sing until the Feast of the Purification (February 2nd).

Alma Redemptoris Mater

Alma redemptoris mater, 
quae pervia caeli porta manes,
et stella maris succurre cadenti
surgere qui curat populo.  
Tu quae genuisti, 
natura mirante, 
tuum sanctum Genitorem.  
Virgo prius, ac posterius, 
Gabrielis ab ore, 
summens illud ave, 
peccatorum miserere.

Mother of the Redeemer, who art ever of heaven
The open gate, and the star of the sea, aid a fallen people, 
Which is trying to rise again; thou who didst give birth, 
While Nature marveled how, to thy Holy Creator, 
Virgin both before and after, from Gabriel's mouth 
Accepting the All hail, be merciful towards sinners.

(Translated by Blessed John Henry Newman)

So today, when we get back from visiting our new grandson, Zachary, we will be out in the frost, collecting holly for the wreath, up in the attic looking for the advent calendars, Jesse Tree book etc, and I will be singing the Alma Redemptoris throughout the day...

Anna's Jesse Tree blog, means that Ant and her family, in the North East, and Bernie, down south in Manchester, and Charlie, at university, can be with us spiritually at the end of each day as we recall Salvation History.  Dominique is currently in residence, for the last year of her sixth form.

Sunday 20 November 2016

Thanks, Bugnini

This Friday's Mass is one of my favourite (?) examples of the supreme illiteracy of those who imposed their new liturgy on us.

The first reading is from the Apocalypse (10: 8-11): the leitmotif is: 'it was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach turned sour.'

Prompted by this, the chosen Psalm is Psalm 118, and the chosen refrain is: 'Your promise is sweet to my taste, O Lord.'

I defy anyone with any literary sensibility not to find himself adding, mentally: 'but when I had eaten it, my stomach turned sour.'

A few things strike me: the first is, that is how literature and performative art work. A theme is established and developed, and the reader or listener is expected (and rightly) to make the links between what has gone before and what follows.

The second is, I do not believe that those who compiled the Lectionary wanted us to make that (almost inevitable) link. Surely they were not wanting us to internalise the notion that the Lord's promise will turn our stomachs.

So the third is, those who compiled the Lectionary simply did not understand (this aspect of) what they were doing.

But then, I am that rigid sort of chap whom the Holy Father excoriates; I strive to make sense of what the Church teaches, and have a preference for clarity and coherence over muddle and mess.

Tuesday 27 September 2016

School of the Annunciation: Foundations in Faith for the New Evangelisation

I have just received this news from the excellent School of the Annunciation, with a request that I publicise it:

Exciting new developments from the School of the Annunciation – the Foundations in Faith for the New Evangelisation (FFNE) course which began in June in Nelson Parish, Salford Diocese has three centres beginning this autumn and winter.

The FFNE course is an 18 month course which takes students systematically through the foundations of Church teaching.  Subjects include the triune God, Jesus Christ, the Church, Our Lady and the saints, introduction to Sacred Scripture, the Liturgy and the Sacraments, the dignity of the human being, Christian moral life, Sacred Art, media and the parish.

The course is for all Catholics who wish to know their faith better, especially those who pass it on to others, such as catechists, parents, grandparents, children’s liturgy leaders, youth workers, parish staff and volunteers, and anyone who has ever fumbled when they have been asked a question about the faith which they have struggled to answer.  As students study the course material they learn how to express it both for themselves and for others.  There are also practical workshops included in the study days and weekends.

After attendance at either the residential weekend at Buckfast or the study days at Ealing and Southwark, students work on their own with constant support by email from their course tutor. 

No prior learning is necessary, no essays or exams to be taken.  Students work at their own level through the course material and send in short 500 word assignments to their tutor every 7-10 days.

The forthcoming centres are:

Buckfast Abbey on 28th October with a residential weekend in the lovely and relaxing setting of the Abbey enjoying excellent accommodation and food, as well as excellent lectures and liturgy of course.

Ealing Abbey on 12th November (the course is run over 2 years at this centre)

Southwark Diocese on 7th January in Tooting Bec (under the title “Diocesan Catechetical Certificate”)

Both the Ealing and the Tooting Bec centres structure the course around 6 days of attendance.

Please forward these details to all your Catholic contacts and encourage them to get in touch with Mrs Carol Ann Harnett if they have any questions. 

Mrs Carol Ann Harnett

School of the Annunciation
Telephone Number (01364) 645660.

Thursday 15 September 2016

The Seven Dolours of the BVM

Today is the feast of the Seven Dolours of the  Blessed Virgin Mary.  It is one of the few occasions that the Mass includes a Sequence: the Stabat Mater. The other Sequences in the Liber Usualis are the Dies Irae, the Lauda Sion, the Veni Sancte Spiritus, and the Victimae Paschali - distinguished company by any standard! Perhaps that is a mark of the importance our forefathers attached to this feast.

Here is the Sequence:

If you are unfamiliar with the Latin text, you may know the English: At the Cross her station keeping, which is often sung at the Stations of the Cross.  I include both below (the translation is by Caswell; the original may well have been written by Jacopo da Todi in the thirteenth century.)

Today's gospel is the one about Our Lady standing at the foot of the Cross - and, in that moment when her heart is being pierced as foretold by Simeon, being given to us as our Mother.

Stabat mater dolorósa
juxta Crucem lacrimósa,
dum pendébat Fílius.

Cuius ánimam geméntem,
contristátam et doléntem
pertransívit gládius.

O quam tristis et afflícta
fuit illa benedícta,
mater Unigéniti!

Quae mœrébat et dolébat,
pia Mater, dum vidébat
nati pœnas ínclyti.

Quis est homo qui non fleret,
matrem Christi si vidéret
in tanto supplício?

Quis non posset contristári
Christi Matrem contemplári
doléntem cum Fílio?

Pro peccátis suæ gentis
vidit Iésum in torméntis,
et flagéllis súbditum.

Vidit suum dulcem Natum
moriéndo desolátum,
dum emísit spíritum.

Eia, Mater, fons amóris
me sentíre vim dolóris
fac, ut tecum lúgeam.

Fac, ut árdeat cor meum
in amándo Christum Deum
ut sibi compláceam.

Sancta Mater, istud agas,
crucifíxi fige plagas
cordi meo válide.

Tui Nati vulneráti,
tam dignáti pro me pati,
pœnas mecum dívide.

Fac me tecum pie flere,
crucifíxo condolére,
donec ego víxero.

Juxta Crucem tecum stare,
et me tibi sociáre
in planctu desídero.

Virgo vírginum præclára,
mihi iam non sis amára,
fac me tecum plángere.

Fac, ut portem Christi mortem,
passiónis fac consórtem,
et plagas recólere.

Fac me plagis vulnerári,
fac me Cruce inebriári,
et cruóre Fílii.

Flammis ne urar succénsus,
per te, Virgo, sim defénsus
in die iudícii.

Christe, cum sit hinc exíre,
da per Matrem me veníre
ad palmam victóriæ.

Quando corpus moriétur,
fac, ut ánimæ donétur
paradísi glória.


At the Cross her station keeping,
stood the mournful Mother weeping,
close to her Son to the last.

Through her heart, His sorrow sharing,
all His bitter anguish bearing,
now at length the sword has passed.

O how sad and sore distressed
was that Mother, highly blest,
of the sole-begotten One.

Christ above in torment hangs,
she beneath beholds the pangs
of her dying glorious Son.

Is there one who would not weep,
whelmed in miseries so deep,
Christ's dear Mother to behold?

Can the human heart refrain
from partaking in her pain,
in that Mother's pain untold?

For the sins of His own nation,
She saw Jesus wracked with torment,
All with scourges rent:

She beheld her tender Child,
Saw Him hang in desolation,
Till His spirit forth He sent.

O thou Mother! fount of love!
Touch my spirit from above,
make my heart with thine accord:

Make me feel as thou hast felt;
make my soul to glow and melt
with the love of Christ my Lord.

Holy Mother! pierce me through,
in my heart each wound renew
of my Savior crucified:

Let me share with thee His pain,
who for all my sins was slain,
who for me in torments died.

Let me mingle tears with thee,
mourning Him who mourned for me,
all the days that I may live:

By the Cross with thee to stay,
there with thee to weep and pray,
is all I ask of thee to give.

Virgin of all virgins blest!,
Listen to my fond request:
let me share thy grief divine;

Let me, to my latest breath,
in my body bear the death
of that dying Son of thine.

Wounded with His every wound,
steep my soul till it hath swooned,
in His very Blood away;

Be to me, O Virgin, nigh,
lest in flames I burn and die,
in His awful Judgment Day.

Christ, when Thou shalt call me hence,
be Thy Mother my defense,
be Thy Cross my victory;

While my body here decays,
may my soul Thy goodness praise,
Safe in Paradise with Thee.

In these troubled times, we should have incessant recourse to our Blessed Mother...--

Sunday 31 July 2016

Having a dig...

Acting on orders received in 2007, and again in 2008, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 and 16, I have used the first two days of my holiday to start to remove the site of our bonfire, and prepare it for grassing over. 

As Dominique has just got back from a week in Cambridge, on an Archaeology summer school, I was paying particular attention to what I found as I dug out the fire pit.

It was my first pit (hereafter Pit 1), and I have to say, I was astonished at the richness it yielded.  The most exciting find, to my mind, is this amazing selection of fossilised calamari, thus demonstrating that the people of Cumbria were trading with Venice far earlier than was heretofore thought. I pictured them with a garden fork for scale, as I do not own a geological hammer. (Mrs T, incidentally, facetiously remarked that she thought they were curtain rings. Charlie's theory, that they were gold bangles from the arm of the Young Woman [Tutankhamun's mother] was not supported by the fact that they are not gold. So the calamari hypothesis remains).

But that was by no means my only find in Pit 1. Perhaps it is not surprising, given that we are relatively near Hadrian's Wall, and very near the old Roman Road, High Street, that we should have found these carefully shaped bricks, clearly designed for crenelations, or battlements, along the Wall. What is more surprising is finding so many together, and in such good condition.

Pit 1 also yielded this intriguing object; my conjecture is that it is a Roman toy catapult. It was found by the battlements, and is remarkably like a modern catapult, but is clearly of great antiquity. I will be sending this to the experts at Vindolanda for further analysis.

And then there was this, which I can only take to be an early barber's shaving blade. I imagine it had an ivory handle, or decorative knob on the end, as the handle end is a hollow tube. Clearly it is very old, as more sophisticated tooling has allowed much less coarse blades to be manufactured for such intimate and intricate work.

Another extraordinary find was this scimitar. I can only assume that this was brought home as a souvenir from the crusades by a previous occupant of the house; and was, perhaps, banished to the flames of a fire following some domestic dispute (?). It has survived well, and I am carefully cleaning the rust, in the hope of finding some inscription on the blade.

I had decided to keep the location of Pit 1 secret, and had indeed installed a guard dog, for obvious reasons. Pit 1 having yielded such treasures, it might have proved tempting to the less scrupulous of my archaeological followers.

However, following further discussions with the landowner ("Don't you leave that like a big mess in the garden; I want it turfed over, not left half-finished like so many of your projects...") Pit 1 has now been filled and is not available for further excavation. I will have to ensure that Mrs T does not disappear in the near future, as I understand the police take a dim view of freshly dug pits in such circumstances. 

Thursday 21 July 2016

Living in a Parable

Reflecting on today's Gospel ('they look but do not see' etc) I was struck by the fact that my life, too, is like a parable. I cannot understand it, unless I listen to Our Lord's explanation. And when I do, 'blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears, because they hear.

Wednesday 20 July 2016

My Lord and My God!

In the end, however, these words send us on a never-ending journey. They are so vast that we can never grasp them completely., and they always surpass us. Throughout her entire history, the pilgrim Church has been exploring them ever more deeply. Only by touching Jesus' wounds and encountering his Resurrection are we able to grasp them, and then they become our mission.

Jesus of Nazareth,  Joseph Ratzinger, p 305


How do I touch his wounds? In others, the wounded; in myself, the wounded...

How do I encounter his Resurrection? In death to self, in re-birth in Him; In sacramental confession.

Sunday 10 July 2016

Loving them to death?...

In an article in The Federalist, it is argued that the very high rate of suicide amongst those who self-identify as transgender is not due to discrimination, bigotry and hatred, as the accepted wisdom has it. Daniel Payne, the writer of the article, points to the fact that the suicide rate amongst black people in America, who suffer higher levels of discrimination, bigotry and hatred than white people, remains lower than the suicide rate for white people.

That resonates with the fact that suicide rates for homosexual people remains stubbornly high in the most liberal societies that are most celebratory of homosexuality. So Payne searches for another explanation, and his hypothesis is that it is because 'transgenderism is a deleterious psychological affliction,' and therefore 'it is wholly unsurprising to find higher rates of suicide among that class of people,' since 'Mental illness ... is very clearly a motivating factor in a great many suicides: the rate of successful suicide is extremely correlative with conditions of mental illness.'

That sounds convincing, and may be the case; but there are other possibilities. One that springs to mind is the phenomenon of peer-group suicide contagion. There seems to be significant evidence (see, for example, here) that those exposed to suicide by others, particularly those who they see as 'like them' are more likely to attempt suicide than those not exposed. So the understandable tendency of those with sexual dysphoria to associate with others who also experience it could also explain some of the high rates of suicide. 

Clearly, what would be valuable is serious research into this area: many lives are being lost. But the likelihood of serious research seems to me to be low. The issue has been so politicised, and not least in academia, that it is nearly impossible to see how, or by whom, such research could be undertaken. Underlying that is the fact that those who study and research gender issues at universities are particularly interested in the topic for a reason - typically their own gender dysphoria.  That is why the whole push from the academy has been to push for theories that normalise and legitimise behaviour and lifestyles that until very recently were widely seen as deviant and perverse.

It is now seen as 'unloving' or more typically, 'hate-crime' even to raise such questions. Rather the 'enlightened' approach is to accept people as they are. But if such acceptance actually results in research not being undertaken that might save lives of people in extreme distress, are we not loving them to death?...

Friday 1 July 2016

A Better Way

In my last post, I highlighted the evils of the BPAS's pushing of abortion. Today, I am delighted to highlight the alternatives.

Life has just launched its new website, following its successful re-launch event, Ignite, last weekend. The site is modern and user-friendly. More importantly, it offers a range of responses to the evil of abortion.

Life is now organised into two main divisions: Pregnancy Matters and Life Matters. Pregnancy Matters offers support of many types,  for women in many different situations. This ranges from pregnancy information and advice, through counselling for women who are pregnant unexpectedly, support for pregnant women who are homeless, post-abortion support, and so on.  Life Matters is the home of the educational and campaigning work: school and university talks, research, campaigns and media work.

On top of all that, there is Life FertilityCare, offering alternatives to IVF, and the Zoë's Place network of hospices, offering respite, palliative and end-of-life care to babies and children.

So go over to Life's new website, and familiarise yourself with their new approach and the wide range of work they do in support of women and children - you never know when you may need to tell someone about it.

And then consider what you are doing for the unborn - and what more you should be doing.

Monday 27 June 2016

Call this advice?...

There is an organisation that calls itself the British Pregnancy Advisory Service.  I wonder what sort of advice they give?...



I am in a relationship with a man whom I love, but who is somewhat controlling. He has always made clear it is up to me not to get pregnant, and that he will throw me out if I do, as he doesn't want to be tied down. Unfortunately, due to contraceptive failure, I am pregnant. What should I do?

Sincerely, A

Dear A,

Abortion is a quick and easy procedure, which will solve all your problems.



I was raped at a party. Now I am scared to socialise, I suffer from flashbacks, I am pregnant, and I feel suicidal.

Despairingly, B

Dear B,

Abortion is a quick and easy procedure, which will solve all your problems.



I am so worried. The tests show that my little boy, who I've wanted for so long, has Down Syndrome.

Yours, C

Dear C,

Abortion is a quick and easy procedure, which will solve all your problems.



I am pregnant by my dad. He says Mum must never know, nor the Social Worker.

Yours, Frightened

Dear Frightened,

Abortion is a quick and easy procedure, which will solve all your problems.



As they say, to a man with a hammer, every problem is a nail... BPAS have a particularly bloody, and lucrative, hammer.

I am not, perhaps, being wholly fair: they also offer vasectomies - the other crucial piece of advice with regard to pregnancy.

Their site is, in fact, completely chilling. From the notion of  'click and collect' abortion, through to the euphemistic language: 'Removes the pregnancy by gentle suction' and The pregnancy is removed using narrow forceps through the neck of the womb (cervix).
They know precisely what they are doing, but it is better if potential clients don't dwell on it.


Orare et laborare!

Sunday 19 June 2016

Why Catholics should vote to remain in the EU - according to Dr Rupert Beale

Dr Rupert Beale has asked me to post this article by him in favour of remaining in the EU on my blog. I am happy to do so: he clearly feels passionately about it, and is a clever chap, whose honesty and good intentions are beyond question.

I only preface it by saying that I am not convinced (I find that the more remain stuff I read, the more I am minded to vote to leave - and vice versa....) . However, you will judge for yourself.


Our earthly rulers falter, our people drift and die;
The walls of gold entomb us, the swords of scorn divide.

I had intended this to be a riposte to the various arguments with a Catholic flavour in favour of the UK leaving the EU, but the words of G.K. Chestertons hymn have been swirling round my brain of late. I fear that what I might have written would have been scornful. Theres been quite enough of that. 

What I ask of all people of good conscience who believe that the EU is not a good thing is this: please do not vote for us to leave.

Many people were upset by the death of Jo Cox despite never having met her. I cannot imagine the shock and anguish that her husband must be feeling. Somehow he found the strength to issue a very dignified and fitting tribute to his wife. One poignant sentence stands out for me: “She would have wanted two things above all else to happen now, one that our precious children are bathed in love and two, that we all unite to fight against the hatred that killed her.”

It is love for one another that defines us as Christians. A love that imitates Christs universal and self-sacrificial love. That is why we defend all human lives, and why we do not try to make different categories of worth between persons – all are infinitely loved by an infinite God. Value to us is the dignity and flourishing of persons; it is not a number of pounds in a bank, even if its the Bank of England.  People to us are equal: born or unborn, young and vigorous or old and dying. They are not different in value for being British or French, Romanian or Bangladeshi.

We can have a debate about the European Union. Its a human political institution, with all the usual faults. I have argued that Britain benefits from membership (it certainly does in narrow monetary terms). I have also argued that British political influence has been a good thing in the EU as regards an area thats personally important to me: scientific research. This scientific excellence fostered by the EU promotes economic growth, as well as the health and wellbeing of Britons, Europeans and all humanity. These, we should agree, are good things. Furthermore, its very hard to see how the UK could get a better deal outside the EU.

The EU is not an unalloyed ode to joy. There is a point of view that the loss of sovereignty entailed by (for example) allowing an international court primacy over a British court is intolerable. Some believe that the EU is remote and less accountable than it should be. The original noble ideals of the predecessor to the EU – which were couched in rather specifically Christian terms – have to some extent been betrayed.

Personally, I do not see that voluntary submission to the judgements of international courts (not confined to the EU of course) is a regrettable loss of sovereignty, but I think you can have a reasonable debate about it.  There is also a very uncomfortable argument that it is in fact Britain that's bad for the EU (our influence is by no means always for the best).

The EU is a collection of 28 separate nation states, one of which is our own decidedly imperfect one. I agree that the EU has done and continues to do things which go against the high ideals of its founders – but imperfection is to be expected, whatever mechanisms are in place to help smooth relationships between our different countries.

Whatever you think about the EU, it cannot be emphasised enough that the merits or otherwise of the EU are not on the ballot paper. Whats on the ballot paper is leaving the EU. The wider context of this vote is not the impassioned but usually polite discourse between committed Christians. The context is fear of immigrants, lies about money, distrust of foreigners, distrust of economists, distrust of politicians, distrust of journalists, distrust of ‘experts’ – distrust of everybody. 

The context is also a national political debate in which we have the love of money played off against the fear of immigrants. Across continental Europe, the context is many national parties that wish their particular country to break off from the EU (and most of those parties make our own Far Right seem pretty tame). 

The context is also the recent horrible killing of an MP doing her job. The suspect has given his name in court as “death to traitors, freedom for Britain”. Inevitably, the motives and state of mind of the suspect have been subject to speculation, and that speculation has varied depending on the particular views of the speculator.

Its illustrative of the poverty of the national debate that this terrible tragedy is being used to score points. Its Jo Coxs husbands words that we should take to heart, and not give way to hatred. That means no hatred of foreigners, and it means no hatred of politicians either – even if they are guilty of rabble-rousing and xenophobia (as some most assuredly are). 

The secular debate around the EU referendum has been conducted in terms which are too often bound by entombing walls of gold and the love of money. They are also being conducted in a way that suggests people – some people at any rate – can be cast adrift.

From all that terror teaches, from lies of tongue and pen,
From all the easy speeches that comfort cruel men;
From sale and profanation of honour and the sword;
From sleep and from damnation, deliver us, good Lord!

In a sea of lies and half-truths there is one particular depth of mendacity that I wish to plunge into: the claim that £350m a week can be spent on the NHS if we leave. It is worse than a deliberate lie. It is specially designed to be a lie, because the Leave camps spin-doctors have realised that if they lie about it, it will be talked about a lot.

The counter-argument is that the real figure is lower: £136m. This is great for the Leave camp: it still sounds like a large number, and cements the broader untruth that the EU costs us money in the minds of voters. The demographic they are especially targeting – older Labour voters – is tickled by the promise to spend all that money on the NHS. They have told us a small lie to make us believe a bigger one – what clever fellows those spin-doctors are!

Mendacity is not the special vice of the Leave campaign. It has long ago infected our whole political discourse. If all truth is relative, a lie can surely be a legitimate tool used in pursuit of a political goal. In those circumstances, where to tell a lie is neither considered wicked nor shameful – and is in fact admired for its ability to shift public opinion – it is little wonder that people have lost trust.

Truth and truth-telling are essential to Christian values. Of course, there is nowadays little or no reference to Christianity in public life. But truth-telling is important to secular humanists and people of other faiths too. Can we not replace Christian values with ‘Enlightenmentvalues? I dont see much evidence of that happening.

The secular debate – even if conducted in terms that dont abandon the concept of truth altogether – is dominated by narrow self-interest. Will Britain be better off? Will I be better off? Will we be able to keep the foreigners out? Its not exactly the universal brotherhood of man. The Enlightenment owes far more of a debt to Christianity than is generally admitted. The philosopher that atheists dont much like to talk about is Nietzsche. Right now, its his abyss thats staring into us.
I could see myself voting for Brexit under certain circumstances. For example, if it became a condition of our continued membership that we join the Euro (this would by law be subject to a referendum). The procedure there would be for an elected government to carefully build global alliances and put us in a position to negotiate an orderly withdrawal (we have no such alliance in place, and all our trading partners, allies and EU neighbours are against us leaving). We would need to ensure that any exit did not produce a severe economic shock.

At present, we have no credible scenario to achieve a successful negotiated settlement, and a substantial economic shock is certain if we leave. (I accept that some economists believe we could recover in a decade or so, while others dont – but that there will be an initial shock is agreed by all.) A severe economic shock to Britain and to the EU at this time would give rise to the perfect conditions for bigotry and hatred to flourish. This we must not allow.

If you, like me, believe on balance that Britain is good for the EU and the EU is good for Britain I expect you will vote to remain. If we do vote to leave, we give succour to the very worst elements of our national politics and the national politics of the other EU members, and we must endure the national humiliation that will follow as best we can.

Take not thy thunder from us, but take away our pride.