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.


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.


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.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Mancunian Rhapsody

I return to the blogoscope fresh from a trip to Manchester, my ville natale as the French say: my home (birth) town. I'm always happy to go back home, and Manchester itself has improved no end since I were a lad. The regeneration really got going in the mid-1990s when the IRA blew up Marks and Spencer - was it their sandwiches they objected to? - and reinvestment in the centre, doubled by Commonwealth Games money, helped the city upgrade from scruffy provincial town to new-moneyed spiv. It's vastly more pleasant these days than it was in the 1980s. It's also vastly less authentic; a body now suckered with so many parasites, it is hard to know where the parasites end and the host begins.

Some things, however, do not change, not least the Holy Name on Oxford Road. I say it has not changed, but that is actually not quite true. Its former community of priests have now removed to St Chad's across the city, with their embryonic Oratory. The Jesuits have taken repossession of the church, though the only sign of their presence I could detect on Saturday was the newly erected 'ad populum' altar and some colourful if rather pointless banners hanging on the pillars.

But the substance of the church, so beautifully kept under the former management, remains. The church was designed by Joseph Hansom, architect also of the Oxford Oratory, of St Walburge's in Preston and of Arundel cathedral. He knew a thing or two about churches did Hansom. The Holy Name has a vastness that the Oxford Oratory simply cannot boast. It could quite easily pass for a cathedral in many cities. The walls were left unplastered and the brick work remains to this day sharp and clean. The walls practically sparkle in the sunlight. Gothic and neo-gothic architecture is supposed to draw your soul up, and this is exactly what the Holy Name does. The eye cannot resist following the lines of the stone, from floor to ceiling and from nave to apse where the magnificent high altar sits.

As I say, that 'ad populum' altar is a recent addition and looks about as pleasing as - to quote somebody sometime - a carbuncle on the face of a well-beloved friend.

One wonderful thing about the Holy Name is that while it was built for panoramic grandeur, it does not fail to please when we zoom down to the level of detail. One extraordinary detail of the church is its pulpit which surely post-dates Hansom's original work but is magnificent all the same. Five of its hexagonal sides bear mosaics of martyrs of the English Reformation. To the left and right, martyrs from the first fall of Henry VIII, including Sts John Fisher and Thomas More, and then in the centre, St Edmund Campion S.J., one of the glories of the Jesuit order. If you have never read 'Campion's Brag', his plan for bringing back the faith to old England, then stop what you are doing now and go have a read. You will of course find some of the more embarrassing beliefs of his age - proselytism, confutation of error, and that kind of thing - but try your best to look beyond these failings.

My favourite mosaic on the pulpit, however, is that of St Thomas More.
He looks grim and tired. He is unshaven for months. The axeman's tool hangs over his shoulder. And yet he endures and looks out on to the congregation, daring them to be merry. He still wears his chain of office, even though his first indignity was to be stripped of his office. There he is, marked with 'HR' for 'Henricus Rex', a thorn in the side of the English State. How we would all much rather be blooms than thorns!

You might wander around the Holy Name for twenty minutes and never think to pop your head into the discreet row of side chapels that line the epistle side of the church. If you were so thoughtless, however, you would miss one of the church's most beautiful treasures: the chapel of Our Lady of the Strada (or Our Lady of the Way). The image is an imitation of the one in the Gesu in Rome. The restoration of the altar was undertaken in the time of Fr Matus who is now with the community at St Chad's. I call it a restoration but I have no idea what the chapel was like before it had its last makeover, or indeed how it was originally. But however it was, it is now - to my untrained eye - a small piece of heaven.

But I'm talking too much. Just feast your eyes on it for yourself.

Heaven knows who has put that weird book in the middle of the mensa. You can't get the staff these days.

I'm only touching on some of the church's beauties. There is a little French corner where St Bernard and St Joan of Arc guard the way to a Lourdes grotto. There is also a Holy Souls altar with the souls themselves depicted in stone, being drawn from the fires of Purgatory. So much faith; so little flap.

The church is indeed like the faith. You can spend hours there and think it is all about the glorious heights and depths, and then enter the Strada chapel and forget about the rest. You can think you have understood its Counter-Reformation pomp, and then be staggered by the stark courage of the its pre-Counter-Reformation martyrs. There's none of your moralistic didacticism here. Just gentle instruction. None of your symbolism-explained-to-a-state-of-catatonic-boredom. Just mystery, effacement, light and shadow. None of your polyester prosody masquerading as early Christianity. Just mature, humble and confident faith before the transcendent God. Above all, there is no suspicion of the past. The church lives and breathes an atmosphere that surpasses time and the temporal.

My best memories of the church are between me and God, but my enduring mental picture of the place is taken from halfway down the nave, looking up towards the sanctuary where the Blessed Sacrament used to be exposed every lunch time (and may still be for all I know). The life of the noisy city and its nearby university would swirl around the outside of the building, but within all was peace and contemplation. Here was a moment of eternity carved in stone beside the headlong rush of urban pointlessness. Here God's grace was crouched like a tiger waiting to pounce, while the denizens of Manchester slouched past, their spiritual shoes on their uppers and weary of their commercial devotionalism. I've met some of those ambushed by the church over the years. It never lets them go quite fully.

The church was threatened with closure thirty years ago and somehow survived the chop. The Jesuits are back there now, but for how long? Of course, it is all just a pile of brick and mortar, and the universe would not end if it all came tumbling down, got cleared away for some new university development, or else found itself bought and transformed into a student club where'yoof' pursue their own piss-poor version of the transcendent.

But in its precarious situation, under Jesuit management, I cannot help wondering if the fate of the Holy Name is some sort of symbol. Of what exactly? I'll leave it to discerning readers to work that out for themselves.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Bad company

I've been writing this blog for the comfort of the demoralised for over a year now, but if that is what you are in need of, tonight at least, try to find it somewhere else. I am bad company this evening.

I have very little time to follow the latest vagaries of the Church universal, having more than enough to juggle with here in the Church domestic. The bad thing about involvement on social media though is that you get all the headlines without necessarily having the time to look at what is beneath them. It's like having the Daily Mail on a recurrent loop. Why be content when you could be having a crisis?

My apologies, I have begun in a facetious mood but that is only to avoid my other mood tonight - and for a few weeks in fact - which is that of incipient anger. God forgive me! The anger of idiots fills the world, as I am fond of quoting from the ever-quotable Bernanos. I suppose we would all know more peace if we were closer to God.


So, what is annoying me so much? Several things, actually. First, it is all the bleating voices telling us that nothing bad is going to happen in 2015 because the Holy Spirit is looking after the Church. A fine spiritual attitude that is: if I cling to God, nothing bad will happen? What, I think to myself, you mean like crucifixion or anything bad like that? I know God won't fail us, but what makes you think you won't fail God? I usually do. Look, I'm just going to put this in plain language and if you don't like it, skip a line or two. We're in a big puddle of shit and we haven't got the shoes for it. I know God has resolved to bring us to sanctity along this path. If that doesn't trouble you, you haven't understood.

Then, you get those who are telling the rest of us to get a grip. Talk of schism is ridiculous, they affirm. To maintain this line, all you need do is ignore the facts and get a little shirty with those who cause you the most anxiety. And, that's it! You certainly needn't worry about whether those kicking up a stink have got it right or not. You just have to prefer the darkness of your own colon.

And then, there are those who are offering us false hope. I just saw a piece at Rorate about how the priesthood is collapsing in France and the traditionally minded will soon be riding to the rescue. Well, maybe in France …Meanwhile, here in the UK the Birmingham Oratory's Solemn High Mass on a Sunday (Birmingham being the UK's second largest conurbation) is still rather patchily attended in comparison to their 12pm Family Mass.

In the last three weeks I have been to two traditional Masses in the Oxford area to direct the schola. At the first, my family and I made up about half the congregation, and at the second there were only a few more. Except for London where maybe the traditional scene has the momentum of a capital city with around eight million people, I just don't see that much vibrant life in the traditional movement here. The seething crowds at the opening of Institute of Christ the King churches were one-day wonders. I see a small number of traditionally minded people living often heroic lives of generosity, and doubtless God sees and rewards what they do in abundance. But I don't see some vast renaissance. Contrast the Brum Oratory's meagre congregation with the 4,000 charismatics who gather once a month for a convention in West Bromich, fasting and adoring the Blessed Sacrament, spending the day in prayer, queuing for hours for confession, and, yes, probably getting a little giddy during the liturgy.

And, speaking of being annoyed by things, I haven't even read the final document of the Synod yet …


Like I say, the anger of idiots fills the world. I'm calm most of the time. I just begin to grow crimson when exposed to complacency, self deceit, fantasy and what have you. All except my own of course! You can tack so much against the wind, you find yourself going completely the wrong way. You can trim your boat so much, you just ship water and get your feet wet. Your feet and then the rest of you. Then, you can get mired in so many nautical metaphors, you feel it's about time you moved on to the next paragraph. I hope I make myself sufficiently unclear.


I have nothing useful to say really. I told you at the start I was bad company tonight. If you have come with me this far, you've only yourself to blame! I keep telling myself this is all about survival. Prayer is the last revolt which remains standing! There you go: another Bernanos quotation for you.

Scratching around for consolation, I find myself now in a Gillian Welch mood. I reserve this for when things are Tremendously Bad®. As old Gillian sings in one of her finest pieces:

But who could know if I'm a traitor
Time's the Revelator

Time indeed. Time and 2015.

I commend my soul to your prayers. You will be in mine.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Pretty vacant

Yes, sorry, rather busy but back soon. I need a 36 hour day really.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Consolation in the chaos

I have to set out my disclaimer here at the beginning of this post that I have never brought anyone into the Catholic Church; that the few conversations I have had with inquirers have never to my knowledge led anywhere; that the handful of times I might have spoken to those in irregular situations have produced no tangible fruit; and that I greatly fear at my judgment the accusation of having lacked evangelical boldness, rather than having been too harsh on the wayward. But I do not accept that these faults - for faults they are - disbar me from forming an opinion on the bright new age that is being foistered on us. This blog is not a soapbox. It is simply a workshop. With that disclaimer, and a request for your good prayers, I begin my cogitations …


The events of the Synod cast a long shadow across the life of the Church a week ago. It hardly need be said but let it be said anyway. Since then, the long shadow has worked a variety of ills, ranging from gross opportunism to the very worst kind of ostrich-ism and thence to splenetic venting. The analyses vary in their conclusions, from those who declare the Synod to be a triumph, to those who conclude it was a disaster for Francis, and those who consider it was simply a disaster for the Church. Never in the field of human conflict have so many contradictory things been said by so many to the profit of so few.

Paradoxically, however, we don't need to work that hard to know what is going on. The Synod talked about the problems of the family in our day but inexplicably failed to mention some of its key dilemmas, e.g. the collapse of fatherhood into absence or loss of authority, the evisceration of motherhood in a wave of feminine professionalisation, the shattering of marital holiness through the endemic use of contraception, and the epidemic of pornography wrecking the capacity of many to relate in healthy human ways to the opposite sex (where family starts and continues). These problems are near universal in the West; far more frequent than even the divorced and remarried and vastly more common than homosexuality. Instead, the problems on the Synodal agenda looked like a wish list of the worst kind of Tabletista reformer or the biggest kind of liberal contributor.

The myths that subsequently sprang up to protect this little wish list were manifold. We should not be concerned because nobody wants to change doctrine. Oh, and of course indissolubility is beyond dispute. And - I love this one - the doctrine of Humanae Vitae is the authentic teaching of the Church. If you are taking your comfort in such threadbare assurances, well, don't! The people we are talking about here will take a 'doctrinal' defeat, if it means a 'pastoral' victory.

Okay, let me put that more kindly. Never mind what they say; look at what they don't say. Look at what they omit to say. Look at the fact that the Relatio from the halfway point during the Synod was released in several languages, while the final Relatio - the one that was actually voted for by the Synod Fathers and not just cooked up by a committee who were giving each other thumbs up when the most controversial passages were read out - is STILL only available in Italian … a week later.

And please don't tell me this is because someone is carefully working over the translations and polishing them, or they don't want to release them in some languages and not in others, or anything else equally ridiculous.

The corruption threatening the life of the Church is subtle and menacing but wears a friendly, even pious, face. It is prepared to talk high mystical language about the value of collegiality, and then practise ham-fisted chicanery to ensure the 'right' outcome. It is ready to adopt a discourse of orthodoxy but then spin every human problem in such a way that prevents pastors ever saying anything remotely admonitory or cautious about anything whatsoever, unless it is a scruple sanctioned by public opinion I suppose. Sin? Well, we know how little the mid-term Relatio mentioned that, and if you want the mind of those who desired to steer the Synod, read the mid-term Relatio… Unless you understand Italian, that's the only one you can read anyway!

The Catholic Faith requires us to pray for the pope and love him as our shepherd in Christ. I don't mind saying for the record here that his complicity in the dark side of the Synod has destroyed the tiny sliver-like vestiges of human faith I had left in him. I consider this a good thing, for it means that if I hope for something from him now, it is solely by virtue of his office, solely by virtue of his ministry as Vicar of Christ. Whatever we think of him, we cannot simply rationalise what he might do; he is a man but he is also a mystery, as a man and as the Successor of Peter. God's promises reside in men, and the Church is not a machine that runs without free human cooperation. All that said, quite simply I expect nothing from Jorge Bergoglio. But I expect everything from our Lord Jesus Christ whose instrument Pope Francis is. Spare me, please, your accusations of impiety.


And so we must look for consolation in the chaos, and, you know, it is to be had abundantly just by looking around us.
Last weekend we spent some time in Oxford visiting a friend who showed us the chapel of the Dominican Priory of the Holy Ghost. Devotion to the Holy Ghost is a tender thing, and the subtle carvings around the chapel communicate something of the peace that such a devotion bespeaks.

It is a fascinating chapel in many ways. Dominican chapels tend to be very discrete about their devotions, hiding them in quiet corners or unadorned niches (though there are some exceptions to this, like Saint Dominic's in London). On the epistle side of the Oxford chapel is an altar dedicated to St Thomas, though you would hardly know it unless you were looking for it. Not long ago someone came in and knocked the head off the statue.

'We don't know who,' said our friend sadly. 'Surely a Franciscan I said,' darkly, 'or maybe a Jesuit!'

At the next altar along, we came face to face with Saint Dominic. Here, we were told, J. R. R. Tolkien used to serve daily Mass, presumably when he was a student, though possibly when he was a Don.
Well, of course he did. One of the Inklings was a Dominican after all.

Best of all in this chapel, however, were the Stations of the Cross. I confess at first sight they looked particularly unimpressive; a Gill imitation, I mused, or something like that. But then we looked a little closer and here is what we saw:

In the first station, gesturing towards Christ accused, was the gnarled figure of Pontius Pilate, his inner being exposed for all to see. Here stood Christ before his Roman judge, and there sat Pilate, deformed by his sinfulness, and the whole of guilty humanity sat with him. Claw-like hands, pointed ears and a hunched back completed the picture. Through this series of Stations, all Christ's persecutors bear the same deformities. Pilate was an Orc it seemed, and Tolkien, meditating after serving Mass in the sunlit chapel, must have cast his eyes on those Stations and realised that here was an unadorned picture of the deforming character of sin. How solidly unpastoral of him!


The new pastoral agenda of exclusively praising the goodness in irregular marital situations or concubinage: where will it really end up? The problem with it is that it takes as its lodestar the sinner's perception of their own situation. Don't get me wrong; the sinner's perception is crucial. But it is not the lodestar. The Gospel is the lodestar. And the alternative? Well, surely it is not to whack the sinner over their head of course. St Francis de Sales taught us we can attract more flies with a spoon of honey than a barrel full of vinegar.

But the alternative does involve maintaining publicly not some 'ideal' - damn that wording in the relatio! - but the truth about human sexuality. I use that expression but something in my mind tells me what a hollow sound it is acquiring in the current climate. Still, the problem I have is not that priests keep throwing that 'ideal' persistently at sinners and insisting they repent; if anything, the problem is that nobody ever hears it! Here we are presented with some innovative approach to pastoral action but what - someone, please, please, tell me - does it contrast with or replace? Nobody preaches this truth anyway! Tell me, when did you last hear fornication even spoken about from the pulpit or cited as a bar to anything in the Catholic Church today? And, if nobody preaches the truth, and if the Church dealing with sinners must never mention the truth (but focus on the good in the situation), just when will anybody ever hear the truth? Just what is the human contribution to the process of conversion that Cardinal Nichols speaks about, dewy eyed, in his latest pastoral letter? I admire the sentiment, but where is the substance? Or should I simply be holding my tongue, your Emminence?


I don't know the best way to evangelise or even to bring back the wayward sheep. I started this post with a disclaimer about my total lack of talent in the area. It is the worst confirmation of my lack of holiness, I suppose, because really holy people draw others towards God.

But I just don't buy the package that is being sold here by this strange Synodal discussion. I don't accept that we can just write the negative out of the Gospel and that this will ensure a smooth (smoother? the smoothest?) passage of the sinner towards conversion. It does not add up. It does not even ring true in the light of the Gospel where Jesus practises gentleness and harshness in various ways. Where Jesus never fails to tell the sinner not to sin, even if he refrains from condemnation.

There is an argument to be won before the next Synod. I am convinced - for what my convictions are worth! - that the best way to break the deceit of the times is to test its claims against experience and the Gospel.

For these claims do not stand up. They do not in fact represent a big sea change in what the clergy have been doing these last few decades. They represent only its worst official confirmation and ratification. And that is the strangest thing of all.