Sunday, 29 March 2015

In support of our priests, our families, and our Church

Guest post

You may have seen the recent letter from more than 450 priests in support of the Church’s teaching on marriage.

We would like to invite you to sign the letter below, to be sent to the press in support of them, and to encourage others to sign it.

To sign, please leave your name and your diocese in the comments box below, or if you prefer email them to me or to one of the coordinators:

Mark Lambert or Andrew Plasom-Scott.

The Letter

Dear Sir,

We, the undersigned, wish to endorse and support the letter signed by over 450 priests in the recent edition of the Catholic Herald.

As laity, we all know from our own family experiences, or those of our friends and neighbours, the harrowing trauma of divorce and separation, and we sympathise with all those in such situations.

It is precisely for that reason that we believe that the Church must continue to proclaim the truth about marriage, given us by Christ in the Gospels, with clarity and charity in a world that struggles to understand it.

For the sake of those in irregular unions, for the sake of those abandoned and living in accordance with the teachings of the Church, and above all for the sake of the next generation, it is essential that the Church continues to make it quite clear that sacramental marriage is indissoluble until death.

We pray, and expect, that our hierarchy will represent us, and the Church’s unwavering teaching, at the Synod this autumn.

Yours faithfully.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

What happened when the bishop's letter fell in the fire?

… It became an ex-communication …

Ahem.

My career in stand-up never did get going.

But seriously, folks, some correspondents have asked my view on the excommunication of Bishop Williamson who illicitly consecrated a bishop in Brazil last Thursday. Regular readers will know my fondness for the old fellow, as well as my aversion. I'm afraid this might seem like some rather fine-grained Church politics to others. He's an excommunicated rebel to some. He's an anti-Semite nutter to many.

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I think the first thing to be said is that this ripple of Church life represented by Williamson has a hundred if not a thousand precedents in Church history. The doctrinal root of his split from the SSPX is nugatory. It is all about strategy, tactics and a breakdown in human trust. That is what happens of course when you go off beating your own path: every twist and turn gets magnified into a paradigm shift. It's a theological and a human hall of mirrors.

He claims to have a mandate from the Roman Church. The fact is he had no more mandate than my grandmother (and I don't say that because he once memorably snubbed her recusant ancestry - ah, the irony!). It's all perfectly logical of course. It just has the utter dottiness of a man putting his underpants on his head and announcing his elevation to the judge's bench. I admire the anarchy. But when all is said and done, it still reminds me of one of my favourite lines from Chesterton, "The mad man is not the one who has lost his reason. He's the one who has lost everything except his reason."

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The SSPX has sought in its official communique to distance itself again from Williamson and, above all, to differentiate between the 1988 consecrations and the 2015 consecration. My first reaction to this was to guffaw. No, you either accept both consecrations or you reject both. Don't come it with some fine distinction between the two, based on their publicity or the size of the crowds (both of which factors are cited in the communique).

But reading the communique took me back to the mandate cited above (and I will paste it below just in case someone fiddles with the link). I called it dotty. But the more I read it, the more hubristic it seems. Two things leap out from the page and give me pause for thought:

1). What use would it be to ask [the Roman] authorities for a Mandate to consecrate a bishop who is going to be profoundly opposed to their most grave error?

Well - to answer this ridiculously loaded question - if nothing else, it ensures for yourself, and it shows to others, that you are not simply taking the law into your own hands. Exceptions test the law. Enduring exceptions become law. The maker of exceptions becomes the law maker. If anyone doubts that this act is schismatic, examine this rhetorical flourish carefully.

Fundamentally, of course, the logic is still Lefebvrian, but its is now shed of any of the Archbishop's fundamental respect for the Church's canonical order. How indeed could Williamson have acquired the habit of a correct respect for the canonical order since he has always lived in a state of exception?

He's not the only one testing that order of course. There are lots of transgressors against it, and it might even be argued that his transgression is minor in comparison with some. May it be so in the eyes of God.

So, while I sympathise with any exasperation with Rome as it currently is, we either believe the Roman See remains or we don't. We cannot plausibly claim allegiance to it and act with this kind of disregard.

2). From where then could these faithful Catholics obtain the bishops essential to the survival of their true faith? In a world making political war day by day more on God and on His Church, the danger for the Faith seems such that its survival can no longer be left to depend on a single fully anti-modernist bishop.

After a while, the Williamson assumptions rack up so quickly that they become invisible, even to a practised reader. "So," said my wife on hearing me read this out, "he's the last Catholic bishop on earth, is he?" Well, yes, I suppose that's what he is really saying. Don't tell me a 'not fully anti-modernist bishop', or, to translate that into good English, 'a semi-modernist bishop', is actually Catholic. Put that to him and he would undoubtedly start making noises about Tissier de Mallerais, and possibly about a range of other 'official' bishops. But - the fact would remain - in Williamson's world, these men are useless as anti-modernists. Indeed, they are so useless that he, Williamson, the last of the anti-modernist line, must ensure there are other anti-modernist bishops around.

More than that, Williamson is essentially claiming that he has just saved the Church's note of indefectibility. If he were to die without consecrating another bishop - and the lack of publicity around the consecration is a measure of his paranoia that he will be bumped off one of these days - then that would be the end of all things. It makes you wonder why a man so keen on seeing the Apocalypse come bothers to get out of bed in the morning. Why didn't he just go back to bed and unleash those four horsemen?

***************

I'm truly sorry this has happened. I don't mean to mock the small number of people who are investing their lives and their faith in this reckless adventure.

But however bad the mainstream becomes, how can one possibly hitch one's wagon to this train? In an image that has become a favourite of mine over the years, these groups are increasingly like the dwarves in Lewis's The Last Battle, utterly convinced of their own logic, cut off from most others and rather disdainful of them.

The excommunication is much to be regretted and I hope that Williamson one day sees sense. But the looniness of it all, the sheer silliness of it, merits a small chapter in the book of human folly.


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MANDTUM APOSTOLICUM

We have a Mandate to consecrate from the Roman Church which in its fidelity to Sacred Tradition received from the Apostles commands us to hand down faithfully that Sacred Tradition – namely the Deposit of the Faith – to all men by reason of their duty to save their souls.

For indeed, on the one hand, the authorities of the Church of Rome from the Second Vatican Council down to today are driven by a spirit of modernism which undermines in depth Sacred Tradition to the point of twisting its very notion: There shall be a time when they will not endure sound doctrine, turning away their hearing from the truth, turning unto fables, as St Paul says to Timothy in his second Epistle (IV, 3,5). What use would it be to ask su ch authorities for a Mandate to consecrate a bishop who is going to be profoundly opposed to their most grave error?

And, on the other hand, to obtain such a bishop the few Catholics who understand his importance might have hoped, even after Vatican II, that he could come from the Society of St Pius X founded by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, like the four consecrated for them in 1988 by a previous emergency Mandate. Alas, when the authorities of that Society showed by their constant turning towards the Roman authorities that they were taking the same modernist road, that hope proved to be vain.

From where then could these faithful Catholics obtain the bishops essential to the survival of their true faith? In a world making political war day by day more on God and on His Church, the danger for the Faith seems such that its survival can no longer be left to depend on a single fully anti-modernist bishop. The Church herself asks him to appoint an associate, who will be Father Jean-Michel Faure.

By this handing down of the episcopal power of Orders, no episcopal power of jurisdiction is assumed or granted, and as soon as God intervenes to save His Church, which has no more human hope of rescue, the effects of this consecration and of its emergency Mandate will be without delay put back in the hands of a Pope once more wholly Catholic.

Friday, 13 March 2015

Two years on

I know exactly where I was two years ago when Pope Francis was elected. I was gathered with my wife and parents - all of us post-stomach bug - wrapped up in cushions and blankets around the infernal goggle box, watching the feverish crowds in Rome and listening to the stilted, ignorant blather of the BBC's journalists. I feasted on pizza, I believe, that night; and we booed Regina Caeli for their virulent anti-Francis post. We could deal with all that tomorrow, we thought. Just for two minutes, could we not rejoice in the enjoyment of a common father again?

Two year's down the line, I feel somewhat different in a number of ways. First, I applaud Rorate Caeli for their prescience. Their negativity was of the Puddleglum kind. Unwelcome, ungracious, perhaps even unjust: I mean, what kind of condemnation does 'demotic language' really entail? But they were searingly right in the essentials. Francis has been a disaster, and don't let any glad-handing liberal or brown-nosed chattering serf tell you any different.

Another feeling that is somehow different since those days is the now deeply embedded conviction that in human terms you and I are a total irrelevance. I used to think this blog did some good somehow beyond the scope of its usual readership. I knew it had been read in Rome. I used to think I had something to tell them.

I no longer make that error. We're whistling in the dark mostly. I'm just here to keep you company - and I'm not even particularly good at that.

But that is all fine. Like I said in my last post, we should take consolation from our irrelevance. God knows what we do, and its importance is not measured in human terms but in those of divine love. We can sing, dance, do penance and what you will, in the full knowledge that the value of our actions is beyond calculation, as long as they belong to Christ. Most of what we say will be a dead footnote in history. It is our child raising and prayer muttering that threaten to make a difference, if not on this earth, then at least in Purgatory or Heaven.

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So, what do I think we will see in the next couple of years? Well, more of the same undoubtedly. Nothing that was said or done by the defenders of the faith at the Synod has made much of a difference to the agendas being pursued by the current management. So, here is what I expect (for what it's worth):

2015: the letter of the law over Communion for the divorced and remarried will be maintained but this will be surrounded by enough pastoral shilly-shallying that those who already admit the practice will be able to pursue their current course uninterrupted, and those who would want to block change will not have sufficient grounds to question the authority of the decision. The orthodox are desperate for a clear clash of positions. We will be offered instead a morass of accommodations and special pleading.

2016: Pope Francis will 'do something' about priestly celibacy which he regards as an archaic rule, contrary to God's plan for most of us. He won't make some blanket change. He will devolve the decision to lower bodies who he knows will take control of the situation. And once that horse has bolted, it won't be coming back. Simple as.

2017: Pope Francis will probably resign. Leaving room for a successor of who knows what calibre; I dread to think.

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I'm a cheery soul, n'est-ce pas? Dear readers, here's the bottom line. Find your consolations other than in the "human health" of the Church. We are not wrong to be so scandalised by the current management. We just have to take the pain. It's our cross. We have to bear it.

Our love is love unknown. And there is nothing particularly new in that.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

The consolations of irrelevance

I have just come back from a few days in Beverley. Beverley, you say? Where on earth is that? Well, quite.

Beverley is one of those interesting towns that was quite important in its medieval heyday. Even now, as you approach it coming downhill through what is called the Westwood, the tree tops and roofs of the town spread out like a cloak around the shoulders of the wonderful minster. Two minutes later - by car at least - you are rattling around medieval streets, dodging pedestrians and gawping up at what is as fine a piece of gothic architecture as any I can think of on the east coast of Britain.

Here, the typical spats of medieval England were played out in the stones and carvings of the choir stalls. The Augustinian canons who were so annoyed by the success of the recently arrived Dominican friars in the town, had them carved as foxes into the minister's misericords. That's one way to sit on your enemy!

King Henry V attributed his victory at Agincourt to the intercession of St John of Beverley, a first millennium bishop of the area, since the battle was fought on the feast associated with the translation of his relics. I understand a solemn Te Deum was sung in the minster to mark the king's triumph! For more information, there is a rather interesting entry here on the blog Once I was a clever boy

But what does all this matter now? Beverley is another obscure little outpost of civilisation, figuratively a million miles away from the nation's power centres. Oddly enough, however, it is this that attracts me to it. Beverley is no longer important, nor is it likely to become so again. It stands now surrounded on all sides by the massive wind turbines that pock the landscape like some giant's discarded lolly sticks. The scenery is wild and yet somehow bland. The area is flat like Lincolnshire or Cambridgeshire but somehow less welcoming. To put it baldly, it's all rather bleak.

But again, I say, this is its strange attraction. Beverley with its surrounding countryside is pregnant with a promise that it refuses to disclose to the shallow observer. It is not fashionable. It refuses to be powerful. Its glories are faded and the moneymen and developers are too close for comfort for some of its inhabitants.

I don't know if the people of Beverley are busy doing their duty. Chances are that they are stuck in front of their TVs most evenings gulping in the propaganda of the consumerist cattle farm - never mind the udder suckers, here comes the alfalfa - that is now UK PLC.

And yet, if it is true that anything really worth doing tends to take a long time, then Beverley might be the sort of place you would choose to do it. One can imagine doing slow things beneath Beverley's leaden sky. There is nothing about its haphazard bus services that urges the commuter on. Its markets - for it is still really a market town - are unlikely to have a 'ten items or less' stall for the expediting of customers in a rush. Beverley is slow, inconvenient and utterly characterful. Beverley - I hate to admit it as a Lancastrian, but admit it I must - is grimly, doggedly, awkwardly Yorkshire at its bloody-minded, flat-capped, sod-the-lot-of-you best.

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I sing the praise of irrelevance. Nobody cares about Beverley except for a few ... this happy few. It's rather like the Old Mass in fact. While some like to admire the hordes attracted to the Mass in France or elsewhere, here in Britain Traditionalists are as plentiful as an amputee's toes. A friend of ours hot-footed it up to York recently to catch the Sunday 12pm Extraordinary Form Mass at St Wildred's close to the Minster, and later reported a congregation of a mere dozen. It must be the only Old Mass for miles, possibly the only one in the entire county. Readers Gregory the Eremite and Yorkmum (see the comments below) contest the figures and put them nearer to between 60 and 100 depending on the week. What can I say? Our friend is French and her 'dozen' might have been an expression of Gallic scorn rather than genuine guestimation.

But in a way, none of this really matters. We do not have control of the wheels of history. All we can do is plough the furrows and fulfil the canons of fruitfulness. If no tangible fruitfulness results, our efforts are not wasted; they will merely bear seed in some way unknown to us.

That is a hard lesson to learn. It is not easy to swallow the dread sentence of our own utter, apparent irrelevance. But perhaps, in the shadow of Beverley, with its rich past and its apparently bleak future, it is a lesson more easily embraced.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Et in absentia ego

I had a lovely email from a reader the other day wondering if I was okay and telling me to cheer up! The message was very welcome and I duly thanked the correspondent. This depersonalised beast called the Internet occasionally throws up flotsam of the genuine kind on a sea of digital phoniness.

I have - as so often in recent years - been forced away from the blogging coalface by duties professional and familial. I need not rehearse the un-rehearsable or perhaps I should say the over-rehearsed! But my correspondent was right to tell me to cheer up. It's not that I have been glum or discouraged as such in recent weeks. It is just that I have saved my peace of soul by studiously ignoring most things beyond my front door.

I can definitely recommend the tactic. Nothing bad happens. The world does not go to hell in a handcart for want of reading one's dubious bloggalia. A couple of readers feel a bit deprived, but most just move on to something else. The blogging world is as ephemeral as the passing floats of a thousand May Day parades.

It is a tragic dilemma for a blogger to find not that he has nothing to say, but that he would rather say nothing - if tragic and blogger can be used in the same sentence (paragraph?). But something inside me says our current situation has become literally unspeakable. That does not prevent many people from still saying a lot about it. Since I too am a child of the ephemeral Internet, I might change my mind tomorrow and decide I do have something to say about it.

In short, I suppose I'm feeling a bit Wittgensteinian when faced with the passing parade of folly that we behold. I have said all I need to say in the past. Why let fall another blow upon a bruise?

************

But that isn't very cheering, is it? So let me tell you a little joke which has come my way. We can doing nothing about the imminent arrival of Lent in less that 45 minutes by my watch. But we can go laughing into that good night. For the full effect, you must read the bits in italics below in a strong Scots accent.

Now, go anoint your faces and smile a bit.

************

"Prince Charles is visiting an Edinburgh hospital. He enters a ward full of patients with no obvious sign of injury or illness and greets one.

The patient replies:
"Fair fa your honest sonsie face,
Great chieftain o the puddin race,
Aboon them a ye take yer place,
Painch, tripe or thairm,
As langs my airm."


His Royal Highness is confused, but he just smiles and moves on to the next patient.
When greeted, however, the patient responds:

"Some hae meat an canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it,
But we hae meat an we can eat,
So let the Lord be thankit."


Even more confused, the Prince moves on to the next patient, who immediately begins to chant:

"Wee sleekit, cowerin, timrous beasty,
O the panic in thy breasty,
Thou needna start awa sae hastie,
Wi bickering brattle."


Now seriously troubled, Charles turns to the accompanying doctor and asks, "Is this a psychiatric ward?"

"No," replies the doctor. "This is the serious Burns unit."

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Et si on parlait de la fraternité?

The "weblogatron" has rolled into action on the appalling massacre of journalists and Jewish hostages in Paris over the last two days. The essential message of Fr Ray Blake (who gets half an hour detention for his atrocious mangling of the French negative!), Lawrence England and Dr Joseph Shaw is that it is possible to deplore the sins of Charlie Hebdo without approving of their callous murder by jihadi terrorists. This position has been caricatured as if it meant that 'Charlie Hebdo deserved it / asked for it', but the argument is more subtle than that. Still, in a week of such tremendous emotion, of such tempestuous secular mysticism, the subtleties of any dissenting argument are likely to get crushed.

The most interesting comment of the week that I read comes from Andrew Hussey, recently the author of a book called The French Intifada: the long war between France and its Arabs. What I like about the Hussey piece is that (a) it brings to light what a crappy little rag Charlie Hebdo had actually become and (b) it gives a better account of how hard it is for outsiders now to distinguish between the French establishment and crappy little rags.

As I have said here many times recently, myths spring up around human affairs like 'lard on a pig' (to misquote Solzhenitsyn). The myth now growing around Charlie Hebdo is that its journalists were edgy revolutionaries serving the purposes of satire as established by Voltaire and others. This in fact is quoted as the justification for their exercise of the liberty of expression; if you question this exercise in these heroes of satire, you are questioning democracy!

Where I come from, we call such views 'tosh'. As Hussey argues, Charlie Hebdo was half staffed by elderly statesmen from the riots/revolution of 1968. Revolutionaries in their day, they lived to see many of their ideals enshrined or easily accommodated within French society, although they habitually toyed with the myth that there were still many authoritarian hegemonies to break. Their drift into the centre ground (through the leftward drift of French society) has been in many ways disguised from their own eyes and those of many liberal commentators. Because nobody is a good judge of himself, right? But - again, argues Hussey - as far as the disenfranchised ethnic minorities living in France's appalling city suburbs (les banlieues) are concerned, Charlie Hebdo stands shoulder to shoulder with the unfeeling, hypocritical establishment. The wonderful clarity of this argument had me hooting with laughter last night. After watching the BBC's touching interview with Jeanette Bougrab, the mourning widow of Sébastien Charbonnier, chief editor of Charlie Hebdo, I looked her up only to discover that she had been a minister in France's last right-wing government under Nicolas Sarkozy. Yes, the grand hero of freedom of expression was sleeping with the equivalent of a Tory grandee! Freedom indeed!

I'm reminded of Belloc's wonderful poem which I quote probably inaccurately:

The accursed regime which stands on privilege,
And goes with women and champagne and Bridge
Broke! And democracy resumed her reign,
(Which goes with women and Bridge and champagne).


So, if Charlie Hebdo's satire was not serving to break authorities and tyrants, what on earth was it doing? Bizarrely, this 'cutting edge' satirical magazine was stuck in the past, treating religion like it was still the source of all political misrule. As a result, its needless satire was simply frittering away the stock of solidarity - the very possibility of fellow feeling - which makes it possible for people to live together. Of course they were not the only ones. The simmering discontents of the milieux which bred these jihadists owe as much to paranoia and ideology as to any supposed slights coming from the establishment. If one comes with a large chip on one's shoulder, one shouldn't expect to ever fit in.

But here's the thing. The freedom of expression for which Charlie Hebdo is now lionised is only one of the three values on which Republican France is built. The third value - the forgotten value according to Régis Debray in his essay Le moment fraternité - is brotherliness. Some people are saying that one should not be offended by a cartoon - it's only a cartoon. Some people are saying that we should not satirise what other hold sacred - which is fine until someone relaunches the phallic religion of Priapus. But surely, from within the Republican tradition - to which I do not belong incidentally - what you do not wish to do is wound your brother. Put aside the stupid bravado which claims a right to offend and think it through. Satire in the democratic tradition means you wound your father for not being your brother. It doesn't mean you can wound your brother for not being your brother. That is not freedom: it is simply coercion! I'm not arguing here that solidarity with jihadists is a republican ideal. I am saying that many jihadists get recruited out of a penumbra of dissatisfaction and discontent that is not only religious but social and political in origin.

That does not mean incidentally that we cannot laugh at people, perhaps should laugh at people who make themselves ridiculous. But it does mean that if you sacrifice everything on the burning altar of liberty, you should not be surprised to find nobody left to share the inferno with you.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

On the sources of joy

I think I might be suffering from "funereal face". Those who know what I'm talking about will recognise the diagnosis instantly. I take but one example to make my point. The other day I was getting my youngest son (22 months) dressed. He was sat on the edge of the nappy table with his legs dangling over the side. My mind was - I readily admit - not wholly on my job. In fact, I was preoccupied, as I frequently am these days, by something ecclesiological that had annoyed me and left me feeling discombobulated. (Discombobulation, by the way, is not recommended, especially not at this season of the year. But I digress …)

All of a sudden I became aware of a change in my son's face. He was looking at me with some kind of expression I had not seen before: something between fear and horror, mixed with a scintilla of sadness. What on earth is wrong, I wondered, as I looked more closely at him. But his steady gaze was so eloquent, his increasing frown so expressive, that I suddenly realised that what was wrong was me. Then, in a gesture which will long remain in my mind, he turned his head sideways and started to lean in to me with the unmistakeable anxiety of a child in search of a snuggle. Having seen the paternal mien,

the bold ferocious mien

he was, poor fellow, seeking consolation in the paternal embrace. What else was there to do but to scoop him up and offer what consolation I could?

I don't know what my son would say if he could talk. Currently, he shows no interest in it, beside occasional babbling. As long as he can speak by the time he leaves home, we're not so worried. I rather fancy, though, that, had he been able to speak, he might have told me to stop carrying the world around on my shoulders.

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I wonder if there is something about the internet age that leads me - and not only me - into that kind of attitude. I spotted and skimmed an article by Will Self earlier today about exposure to the pornography of global conflict and violence - an exposure that, Self argues, leads people into passivity. In the constant stream of the news feed, atrocities pass before our eyes like a parade of advertisements, and we become as indifferent to most of them as to the next advertisement for soap powder.

So, the argument might go, the internet exposes us to a pornography of ecclesial controversy. So many atrocities pass before our eyes, so many dead-eyed sermons, so much leaden-hearted advice, so much bully-boy, wearisome moralising, that eventually we become - some of us become? (I become?) - well, what? Not passive before it, surely not. But disgusted, discouraged, alienated. Our charity is solicited, because charity is universal, right? But it encounters all too often only a badly drawn representation of something, a half-ass analysis, an illiterate reading, a tin pot version. We encounter yet another "twelve facts to know and share", knowing that they are bit part players in a whirlwind of ideology, rather than reliable reference points for orientation. We skim through another grandiloquent jeremiad and dreamily wonder about the proliferation of soapboxes. Far removed from the sources of the facts, we are left with competing and contradictory accounts. The stars are troubled and our telescopes are warped. So much talk, so much baloney.

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My sources of joy in all the kerfuffle? It's disconcertingly easy. A crib, some straw, a star and a silent night. A few carols half remembered but lovingly sung and hummed around the now uneven candles of the Advent Wreath. Quietly decorating the hall and playroom. The last presents wrapped. The fridge door finally wedged shut. A frisson of booze wafting down the corridor.

Here tonight, when we have finished Vespers in a short while, I shall toast all the readers of The Sensible Bond: all those who have followed this blog faithfully or unfaithfully, all those who read with a friendly eye or a hostile glower.

All the sturm und drang of the last twelve months seem to matter not one whit on this, the silent night. It all goes to show how prescient Bernanos was when he declared:

"Being able to find one's joy in the joy of another: that is the secret of happiness."

Our happiness is to find our joy in the joy of God himself.

Happy Christmas, one and all. And God bless us every one.