Monday, 14 April 2014

What's wrong with Catholic education

This week The Catholic Herald lines up four worthies to answer the question: what's wrong with Catholic education and how can we put it right?

The answers produced are varied and often passionate. Every short essay is worth reading, and I can hardly hope to summarise them here. To give you a flavour, however, should be easy enough. Kevin Meagher of Labour Uncut thinks Catholic education has lost its doctrinal backbone and fallen into the ways of faith-lite. Joseph Shaw, LMS chairman but here speaking for home schoolers, points out that Catholic schools are secularized, as poor in standards as other schools and likely to expose children to some form or other of explicit sex education. Philip Booth says parents just don't have a big enough say in the running of schools and that the Catholic educational leaders have fallen into the traps set by State-centred ideologies. And Ella Leonard - the weakest and fluffiest-minded of the contributors - says that education should be more about the Beatitudes than the Commandments. She also does a lot of worthy hand wringing about how 'so many chose a Catholic education', something which she ascribes to their desire to bring their children up knowing the faith. So many? So many, Ella? I had not thought death had undone 'so many'.

I confess nobody has asked me what is wrong with Catholic education and rightly so! But that isn't going to stop me proferring an opinion on the matter. Why break the habit of a lifetime, eh? So, what is wrong with Catholic education? I would answer simply in one word: societalisation. And I would approach that answer in two ways: from a historical perspective and from a contemporary perspective.


First the history. By societalisation I mean that process by which activities which were once organised domestically or in some ad hoc way by charitable initiative, become absorbed and redefined by the action of the State or some corporate body above you. This is a phenomenon which has accompanied the growth of large western states in recent times and is now affecting many others. One sees it in various sectors but obvious examples lie in the fields of medicine and care for the elderly. I suppose the concept of societalisation is also large enough to account for the absorption of such activities by businesses too when they act as agents of the State. The point is that the activity gets taken over by professionals from above as it were.

So, what has that got to do with Catholic education? I think it is a crucial factor in understanding how things went so badly wrong in the latter half of the 20th century. One of the unintended consequences of societalisation is that those whose activities are taken over often give up their sense of responsibility. Since the professionals are in charge, there is no need to think about the matter any more than you do about your drains or your house wiring. For Catholic education, this was a critical mistake. My parents and their generation, who were born between 1930 and 1945, sent their children to Catholic schools with the assumption that there they would ipso facto receive a Catholic education. This had arguably two consequences. First, it meant that few of them were really checking what the Catholic schools were actually teaching from the 1970s onwards. Second - and here I'm doing guess work - I suspect many parents unconsciously pigeonholed the Catholic education which happened at school, and did not do much about showing their children how it was realised in the domestic arena. It probably didn't help that the changes of the 1960s left many wondering if everything was subject to change in the new age of Vatican II.

The first error, therefore, was a moral one, and it was a matter of parental irresponsibility. But the second error (the pigeonholing) - far more devastating - was an intellectual and spiritual error. Paradoxically, in our own culture the institution of the Catholic school, established so as to preserve and promote the faith, contributed unwittingly towards compounding the separation of the faith from the rest of life; for the "faith" read another "school subject", and for "life" read "everything beyond the school gates". Once the faith was uprooted and disincarnated in that way, it would only remain for faithless curriculum writers to swap the dry but nourishing order of traditional catechetics for a hodge podge of formless gestures drawn from a dozen trendy obsessions, and thus deal a fatal blow to the Catholic curriculum. And so, I and many like me passed through Catholic schools in the 1980s almost certain not to have any structured understanding of the Creed, or of the depths of the faith, the riches of her spirituality or the drama of salvation around which all these things revolve. On this point, Kevin Meagher is bang on the money.


But that does not deal with what is wrong with Catholic education today. In our current hour, the problem conjugates very differently but it continues to reflect a societalised situation in which the grassroots have lost their grip on what they are in principle still responsible for. Now, we must reap what we have sown.

I was slightly amused but mostly irritated by Ella Leonard's claim that so many people send their children to Catholic schools because they want help forming their children in the faith. I'd love to know who these masses of faithful people are. No doubt there is a scattering of such individuals across the country but in general such a characterization of the parents patronizing today's Catholic schools in England is, I beg to submit, pure caricature. No, the problem now with Catholic schools is not so much that the children don't know the faith; the problem is that their parents have never known it well enough to teach it and pass it on to them. And it is not just a matter of knowing the faith or not; almost every single contemporary of mine from my Catholic school appears to have ceased practising the faith.

People are talking a lot about the New Evangelisation at the moment. By that they mean an outreach to people who have fallen away from the practice of the faith. Of more immediate concern to Catholic schools is the mass of people who send their children to Catholic schools - indeed who themselves will go week in and week out to Mass so as to qualify as Mass attenders for their children's sake - but who have no intellectual or spiritual, let alone existential, commitment to Christ and what he calls us to.

The problem for Catholic schools today is thus deeply complex. Most dramatic of all, however, is that the schools, the deputies of parents who hold full responsibility for their children's education in the faith, are meant to communicate a faith to the children which many of their parents neither understand nor feel attached to. And there we have not even addressed the problems which arise from so many schools being staffed by teachers whose faith is half-hearted, partial or inexistent, or the challenges posed by poor teaching materials and 'child-centred' liturgy. Truly, the crisis of Catholic education could not be worse.


All this goes to underline the fact that, in the end, education is not some separate activity which can be undertaken by some agent of the State or even by some business corporation as if those agencies were sufficient in themselves. Education is a function of the ambient culture. Education will only ever reflect the culture in which it is born, unless it is deeply and consciously counter cultural.

So, what's wrong with Catholic education and how can we put it right? Like the Irishman you stop in order to ask for directions, I would tell you that you mustn't start from here, i.e. do not start with trying to say what is wrong with Catholic education as if that were the end of the line. Start rather with what is wrong with Catholic culture.

And that will have to be a whole other blog post.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Peaches and the discovery of motherhood

In the sixth of his Songs of Education G.K. Chesterton wrote the following delightful lines:

When Science taught mankind to breathe
A little while ago,
Only a wise and thoughtful few
Were really in the know.

In the early twentieth century Chesterton was gently lampooning the growing trend to laboratoryise - pardon the neologism - everything we know. He was greatly amused that scientists should labour away at some tests which would only show in the end that common sense had it right all along.

A hundred years later we find ourselves in a moment in which much of the common repository of human wisdom seems dimmed and fading. Now, we are engaged in a struggle which turns what once appeared self evident into an object of lengthy demonstration. The recent problems over gay marriage are only one sign of this state of things.

But at the same time, there is a kind of human redemption which seems to dawn whenever one of our embattled contemporaries stumbles on one of those fragments of truth which have now fallen into neglect. And it is in this light that I have read with interest the various obituaries and articles reacting to the news of the death of Peaches Geldof at the tender age of 25.


Peaches and her punk-rock family are everything the British tabloids love to get their teeth into. The marriage of her mother, Paula Yates, and her father, Bob Geldof, collapsed. Yates' new beau, a louch individual by the name of Michael Hutchence, the front man of INXS, hung himself in a hotel room in 1997. Yates followed in 2001, the victim of an unwittingly self-inflicted heroine overdose.

As if this wasn't bad enough, Yates managed before her death to inflict the stupidest names imaginable on her poor children: Fifi-Trixibelle, the late Peaches, Pixie, and Heavenly Hiraani Tiger Lily. Maybe Yates thought that by giving her children stupid names they would learn to be tough as they grew up, rather like Jonny Cash's boy named Sue.

Her death was of course another affliction she visited on her children. Peaches Geldof claims never really to have dealt with her mother's death until she herself became a mother much later on. Peaches was 12 when her mother died. For the record, I suppose I should record that Peaches also carried on the family tradition of imposing stupid names on her children. One of her now motherless sons is called Astala Dylan Willow and the other is called Phaedra Bloom Forever. As Bertie Wooster observes, " "There's some raw work pulled at the font from time to time, is there not, Jeeves?," to which Jeeves replies with his customary, "Indeed there is, sir."


So, Peaches repeats the history of her mother? Well not exactly. She experimented with drugs in her teenage years, but police have already suggested that her death is not related to drugs, suicide of crime. Only the post-mortem examination will show the truth but the most plausible theory at the moment is that she died of natural causes. At age 25? Well, sometimes it happens. That said, perhaps one way in which she did indeed imitate her mother is that, like the otherwise self-destructive Paula Yates, Peaches Geldof 'late' in life fell in love with being a mother.

Now, there will be the skeptics who say that she was just following the latest parental craze; that she had the money, so she could afford to be self indulgent; that her motherhood was all about herself and not her children, her moment of self realisation.

But I think that would be a harsh analysis. Mother and Baby magazine, which had recently recruited her as a columnist, today posts her final column in which Peaches reflects on being a young mother and on adjusting from the life of a childless party raiser to the life of a responsible parent whose being is no longer her own. Don't get me wrong: this is not high literature or even deep philosophy. It is just a stumbling, blundering discovery of the joys of motherhood.

Curiously, Peaches describes her erstwhile party-going life as one of "apathy". That in itself I find interesting. Somewhere, somehow, even the self indulgent can hit the bottom of the glass and find the magic running dry. I see this kind of emotion sometimes in the faces of my students who usually shuffle through my lectures like bored Sunday shoppers. We are all consumers now, and the young more than anybody else.

Again, the skeptic might conclude that in having children after her apathetic life, Peaches had merely found a new commodity on which to dote. But again, I would find that harsh. She did not employ a nanny. She was famed for her interview in which she admitted to pushing her husband out of bed if her two little boys needed to come into bed with her. She was an advocate of attachment parenting which, whatever one says about it, is perhaps the least convenient of all parental practices. She was, in other words, given to her children in a way that few consumers are given to consumables. I quote again:

Then, one day, Astala came running in to me in bed carrying a drawing he had done. Phaedra crawled adoringly behind him, felt tip all over his face. Astala proudly announced ‘Narny (what he calls himself) draw Mama. Narny love Mama’. ‘Mama’ was some squiggly lines so heartbreakingly sweet, I teared up. Phaedy gave me a wet kiss and both collapsed giggling into my arms, looking at me with pure love. In that magic moment, all my doubts were erased. Everything else was nothingness and it just… didn’t matter. I had the perfect life – two beautiful babies who loved me more than anything. It was, and is, bliss.

Is it trite? Sure and Peaches probably knew it. It's what the readership of Mother and Baby would want to read. And yet there is something deep in this experience which peeps from beneath the surface; in one column, Peaches moves from the immobility of apathy - the dried desiccation of her own generation - to the dynamism of love, a motherhood rediscovered, the sudden epiphany of nature's way.


Chesterton's Songs of Education also contain the following, immortal lines:

I remember my mother, the day that we met,
A thing I shall never entirely forget;
And I toy with the fancy that, young as I am,
I should know her again if we met in a tram.
But mother is happy in turning a crank
That increases the balance in somebody's bank;
And I feel satisfaction that mother is free
From the sinister task of attending to me.

I have no doubt that the mother depicted in these lines is the kind of mother that our State now desires above all. Our deeply corrupt government and administrative class have made it clear: only mothers who are tax payers have any merit or are of any worth to the country. All others have made a "life-style choice" for which they most pay.

I remember when I first heard those glib, poisonous lines fall from the lips of George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer. Osborne would rather have an apathetic Peaches, paying out money on booze and entertainment from which the Treasury could scrape off its due in taxes; Osborne would rather have a Peaches out at work, pumping more money into the State's coffers, than at home looking after her two little boys with their bizarre names, and failing even to employ a nanny and thus contribute to the economy. This is in part a deeply political problem but it is also a deeply cultural problem; ultimately, of course, it is a deeply theological problem. But Osborne won't be solving it any time soon. Indeed, Peaches was a lot closer to solving it than Osborne, bless him, will probably ever be.

Perhaps the finest monument to Peaches as she passes from this life is that, although an immensely privileged woman, she somehow reconnected with feelings and passions that show to those who are listening - those who do not demand that everything must be proven in a laboratory - that the relationship of a mother to her children is irreplaceable. Whatever you feel about such painted celebrities, stop a moment at least and say a prayer for Peaches, her children and her family.

God grant them all grace to draw something extraordinary from such human sadness. And God grant her, and all young mothers who pass away, eternal rest.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Homenaje a la muerte de Paco de Lucia

A few weeks back I noted the death of Paco de Lucia. As I said then, I cannot tell you just how important Paco de Lucia was to me as I was growing up. There came a time in my development as a guitarist when chords would get me no further, and at that point there were two choices. Either I had to join the electric revolution, focus on building up my collection of effects boxes (like some friends) and hope that distortion, reverb and volume would cover my inadequacies on the six stringed instrument. Or I had to do something to emulate the guitar fireworks which one elder sibling brought home one day in the form of a soon-to-be legendary album, Friday Night in San Francisco.

The album features highlights of a concert given by guitarists Al di Meola, John McLaughin and Paco de Lucia himself, recorded in 1981. In a series of thrilling, enchanting and sometimes blistering pieces, the three musicians hold their audience on the edge of their seats, and for that matter all those who listen to the recording. As a young boy I simply lay in front of the stereo at home, wondering at the speed and agility of the players and imagining myself - as young boys as wont to do - playing just as fast. Indeed, that was one of the extraordinary things. These guitarists played music that was not only more inventive, exciting and expansive that your average rock riff. It was also decorated by scales and licks played at maniacal speeds. How could I ever play the guitar like that? Well, at least I could dream.

Indeed, I did more than dream. Picture me months later, travelling on a cross-channel ferry to France, a member of a youth group on my way to Lourdes, and dazzling the girls with my rendition of the opening piece from Friday Night in San Francisco, 'Mediterranean Sundance'! At least I remember my rendition as being dazzling...!

How I got there requires some explanation. At home we had one of those stack stereos with a turntable on top, a radio in the middle and at the bottom a double tape recorder. The double tape machine was very handy and had a double speed dubbing function for fast tape-to-tape copying (so important in the days before digital downloads!). You could likewise record onto tape from the turntable and convert record-bound music into car stereo fodder.

And then it dawned on me one day... Why couldn't I record my three guitarists onto a tape playing at double speed? Playing the tape back at normal speed, I now had Friday Night in San Francisco at half the speed, and quite slow enough for me gradually to pick out by ear many of the riffs and chords our guitarists executed at otherwise breakneck speeds. I was happy for a whole month - no mean feat in a hormone-ravaged teenager. I knew glory lay before me if only I could learn some of this music.

Such an imperfect process was revealing in other ways, however. It spoke volumes, for example, about the guitarists on the record. Most extraordinary was Al di Meola, one of the finest jazz guitarists America has produced. Even slowed down, di Meola was still fast; every note a percussive jewel, every scale a melodic gem. Most disappointing was English guitarist John McLaughlin. McLaughlin's strengths lay in his harmonic inventiveness best heard at normal speed; he could play fast, but slowed to half speed, every note sounded fluffed or dull.

And then there was Paco de Lucia. Faithful to his flamenco roots, he eschewed the plectrum used by di Meola and McLaughlin. From what I have since been able to observe on video, he favoured striking his strings with the thumb, index and middle finger of his right hand (P., I. and M., for those who are initiated). But every note, even slowed to half the speed, was pure and true; de Lucia's technique appeared faultless under this microscope. And I could only shake my head and wonder how he did it all, I who would never even manage the four-fingered tremelo required for Recuerdos de la Alhambra.


Then came a studio album from the same three guitarists, Passion, Grace and Fire. The listener was free to wonder which guitarist was which of these three qualities. Personally, I preferred to think that de Lucia was all three. Here again was a smorgasbord of fine tunes, harmonious creativity and guitaring fireworks, epitomised by the opening track Aspan. The composition was John McLaughlin's but the music was Paco de Lucia's all over.

The album simply cannot reproduce the highs of Friday Night in San Francisco. On the other hand, it achieves greater emotional depth, not the least in di Meola's Orient Blue Suite. Everyone has a relationship with some music from their youth. When I listen now to this music, it is like tracing the contours of a face only I know. I hear every grace note before it is played. I hear every syncopation and cadence. Somehow it is all stored away in my memory after what must be hours of my youth listening again and again to the same strains, doubtless driving my parents mad with despair.

And behind it all stands the now dimming figure of Paco de Lucia, God rest him. These albums were billed as a fusion of jazz and flamenco. But perhaps because the guitar's most characteristic voice is captured by flamenco, it is the flamenco spirit which seems to run through every track, through every melody and rhythm.

Even to the saddest of the pieces recorded on Passion, Grace and Fire, John McLaughlin's David. I'm sure I read somewhere it was written for McLaughlin's son. But when I listen to it now, it sounds to my ear like it could be a homenaje to Paco de Lucia. Its sad pavan-like strains give way briefly to a racing, flamenco section which slowly subsides to the pavan once again. It says everything that a piece of music can say about Paco de Lucia's best playing, his lyrical inventiveness and his athletic dexterity. God blessed him, like all artists, with some gift that expresses more than any rational argument the 'given' beauty of this world.

Requiescat in pace, and adios, amigo. I'm sorry we shall never hear him play again in this world.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Prayers for a poor soul, his widow and his unborn child

Of your charity please pray for the soul of Nathan Trapuzzano, a young man aged 24, shot in the stomach by hoodlums, who died of his wounds yesterday morning. Mr Trapuzzano leaves behind his bride of just less than a year and his unborn child due in a few weeks' time.

I heard this story yesterday and was shocked by it. He was apparently attacked while out for an early morning jog. Today I read the following moving tribute to this young man written by a priest who knew him well and who married the young couple last year. It will repay every second of your time to read it.

In my first years as a priest, on Tuesday evenings during the academic year I drove from the parish where I was assigned in Carmel to spend some time with the Catholic students at the Newman Center at Ball State. My visits involved an hour conference on some aspect of the faith and exposition the Blessed Sacrament in the church. During Eucharistic Adoration I heard confessions while the students were praying. Most of the time I stayed afterwards to give students who desired it spiritual direction. At the request of my bishop, once a month I celebrated a Latin Mass at Saint Mary in Muncie before going to the Newman Center at Saint Francis.

One of the Ball State students who faithfully attended these Tuesday evenings was Nathan Trapuzzano. Nathan was a classics student who enjoyed teaching me a thing or two about Latin.

The blog continues:

There were two things beyond his command of Latin letters that impressed me about Nathan from the start. The first was his goodness. He was a true gentleman, considerate of others and always wanting to become a better man. The second thing that impressed me about Nathan was his deep Catholic faith. He wanted to understand and live his faith at the greatest depth possible. His questions during the conferences betrayed both intelligence and humility. Nathan’s starting point as a Catholic was full acceptance of what the Church taught. From there he sought to apply his considerable intellectual gifts to not only understand it for himself but also to be able to explain it others. Fides quaerens intellectum. His childlike trust in the Catholic faith sought adult understanding in order to be able to give a reason for his hope to others.

I saw in Nathan all of the qualities that one would look for in a good husband and father, which also happen to be the qualities that make a good priest. When I told Nathan this, he took it to prayer. Eventually, God made it clear to him that his vocation was to be a husband and a father. While part of me was disappointed, I realized that one day he would make the woman he would marry very happy.

Sometime later Nathan and his fiancee asked this priest blogger to marry them:

Nathan’s deep faith shone in the planning of the ceremony. He wanted a full compliment of altar servers in the procession and the maximum amount of ceremonial possible. Both he and his fiancé wanted the focus of their Nuptial Mass to be first on Jesus Christ present in the Eucharist and then on the Sacrament of Matrimony that they would receive. Everything else that is usually the focus in a wedding was of lesser importance in their minds. On the night before wedding after the rehearsal, Nathan insisted that everyone in the wedding party have an opportunity to go to confession. This was the first and only time I have been asked to hear confessions after a wedding rehearsal in my almost seven years as a priest.

Nathan was a man who knew God to be a forgiving and loving Father. He wanted to share that experience with others.

The wedding itself was profoundly beautiful. My prayer for Nathan and his wife was simple, “May God grant you many, many happy years.”

Mr Trapuzzano was also a pro-life counsellor who would stand outside the local abortion clinic.

God alone knows why he would call home someone so patently a force for good in the world. It's a reminder that our religion is finally not about doing good but about being conformed to Christ.

Pray, as I say, for his own soul, for his grieving widow and the child who will never know its father.

Friday, 28 March 2014

The Fall of the House of Francis: on reaction to papal blunders

Metaphors for our current condition seem to leap at me from all quarters these days. Bear with me as I pull my usual stunt of coming at my point from all angles.

It was with great interest that I read in the news of a spectacular but rather sad moment yesterday morning. Safety engineers were called to a house in Stamford Street, Ashton-Under-Lyne, Manchester - pauses for applause - the front facade of which had buckled alarmingly outwards towards the road. What happened next, with one engineer up in a cherry picker, was captured by a bystander on camera.

Note the reaction of the Mancunian onlookers. Yes, they laugh at collapsing houses where I come from. Don't be soft! So much for the spectacular.

What was sad was that this house had formerly been the home of English poet Francis Thompson, best known as the author of The Hound of Heaven. Like his house, or more specifically that of his doctor father, Thompson's life would be a spectacle of gradual disintegration followed by precipitous collapse.

I find Thompson interesting for various reasons. His poetry can be difficult and abstruse, his turns of phrase occasionally infelicitous and his imagery obscure. You would expect nothing less from a man addicted to opium and without the comfort of a fortune. Frankly, The Hound of Heaven remains the more comfortable face of a poet whose own demons and troubles - his own flight from God - are more accurately represented in poems like The Nightmare of the Witch Babies. The poem describes a fair maiden and a young knight who follows her into some dark, devilish wood, only for them both to be transformed into the witch babies of the title. The poem evokes Thompson's own fate from which he was only partly protected by a London prostitue, a helper and doubtless a lover - to Thompson's pained regret:

Two witch-babies,
Ha! Ha!
Two witch-babies,
Ho! Ho!
The elder hath a name,
And the name of it is Lust;
And the name of that its brother
Ah, Its name is Lust's Disgust!
They are ever in a land
Where the sun is dead with rust,
So the scummy [?] mist thickens below:
Woe, for the witch-babies, woe! woe! woe!

The question mark is no mistake. Thompson's sordid manuscript is not clear. There is not much place for careful editing in the arms of a hovel-bound, drug-driven desperation.

I could be painting Thompson too black here. The fact is he was a deeply pious man. His spiritual insight was recognised by Catholic publisher Wilfred Meynell and Alice, his wife, for whom Thompson seems to have had the glad eye. They took pity on him, supported him as best they could, dragged him out of the gutter occasionally, helped temper his rampant self absorption, and polished his reputation when he passed on so his worst side would be forgotten by history.


Thompson was a sinner, of that there is little doubt. But he was a sinner who was dragging himself out of the gutter by the grace of God. Thompson felt evil on him like a cloying film, but continued to turn his face to the heavens and a better hope. Evelyn Waugh magnificently recreates this spiritual model in the character of Sebastian in Brideshead Revisited . He is a drunk, in self-inflicted exile in Africa, and a precious worry to all his carers; but, says his sister Cordelia, he is a saint. He is a man on his way to Calvary, continually picking himself up from the filth on the floor, and stumbling on. He is another Francis Thompson.

So, why do I say this is all a handy metaphor for our own age? I say it for at least two reasons. Readers of this blog - many albeit not all - are feeling deeply alienated by the current papacy. We have been alarmed by the pope's inconsistencies, by his recklessness, by his penchant for theologians like Walter Kasper, and for thoughtlessly selling his troops down the river by gabbling to the media.

But one of the dangers in this moment is to retreat into a kind of Catholicism where, in our imagination, a pope never makes a mistake, where Catholics are on a constant moral radar alert, and where we retreat unconsciously into a kind of fake ideal of how things should really be. The problem is not that we fail to notice the evil facing us - and I believe the effects of the current uncertainties are potentially full of evil - but that we fail to examine our assumptions about the possible alternatives. Papal blunders come unwittingly to form a carapace around our own mistaken ideas: if the pope is wrong, I must be right, we think.

I feel sometimes we are like a battalion that has somehow got separated from la Grande armée - we are the lost battalion! - and now that we find our commander alienating, we try to reinvent soldiery as we imagine it must really be. But in many places, we are too deeply separated from the past; we are the victims of our own ideals, while declaring ourselves the faithful inheritors of past traditions.

This metaphor - baroque as it is - fails of course on several scores, not least because we refuse to believe that the Holy Spirit has abandoned the Church. We must refuse the idea, at the price of entertaining wild theses. The Church is not just a set of laws or even just a public order.

Francis Thompson's story, and the story of his house, are, therefore, metaphors for me. They are metaphors of the need for anchorage in the real. They are metaphors of the need for anchorage in the Spirit. And they are metaphors for the inevitable truth that this world is falling like nothing has fallen since Satan fell from Heaven (with euthanized children being only the latest addition to the plummet). Physical poverty is a deep and abiding problem but it will not keep us out of heaven. Spiritual poverty will take our souls. If shedding innocent blood will lead the Mafia to hell, how much more will destroying the innocence of souls lead us to hell?

We have to laugh of course, like those jolly Mancunians. We'd go mad otherwise. But really, we cannot stand in front of the Church like someone standing in front of Francis Thompson's house and comment on the cracking paintwork. Between aging congregations, a dearth of babies, confused leadership and liturgical and doctrinal erosion, our near future is being outlined. We must fight such tendencies with all our might but we must do something else too: we must avoid building our own castles in the air. When the resurrection comes, it will not be the one we invent for ourselves, but the one that comes to us as a gift from God.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

The banality of the mediocre

I have now lost count of the blog posts started and left unfinished in the last year. With my other many and varied duties, I just cannot keep up with the flood of news and, when I have the time, I'm generally too exhausted to write cogently about it - to utterly pooped to gather the varied shards of my concentration into anything resembling focused thought. I blame myself then for my increasingly common reaction to news, which is to sit there agape, and more often to sit there horrified at the latest banal act of mediocrity masquerading as serious commentary.

A couple of days ago I received some information about a Tablet attack on Bishop Egan. The latter had given an interview to Lifesitenews saying those politicians who vote against key moral laws should not be receiving Communion. Oh, how they howled at the House of Commons! The Catholic MPs that The Tablet spoke to were unanimous in denouncing Egan. Of note was Conor Burns MP who voted against gay marriage but who said with something nearing smugness:

I think it is a pity, indeed a tragedy, that this bishop appears not to have noticed we have a new, gentle shepherd preaching a message of Christ-like inclusivity, love, tolerance and forgiveness.

Naughty Bishop Philip then! So behind the times! Which is effectively what Francis Davis also said:

Bishop Egan means well but we live in a democracy and the Church didn't elect our MPs.

It is hard to know what to say to such patronising platitudes. Bishop Egan has simply spoken out to remind politicians that there are consequences for their actions as legislators. They will not be able to wave their order papers at the final judgment and say (with the Ruler of the Queen's Navee)

I always voted at my party's call and I never thought of thinking for myself at all.

How, I wonder, do these critics spend their spare time? I imagine them with scissors, cutting out large sections of the Jerusalem Bible that offend them, but I could be wrong. Or do they pass their time getting up conscientious objections to carrying their cross - the cross which will only make sure no Catholics are elected? Better ditch the sacrifice, then. Any volunteers to tell Jesus?

Of course, this problem is not just restricted to the looney left. The Catholic Herald these last two weeks has had Quentin de la Bedoyere - bugger the prissy accents, frankly - telling us first that Humanae Vitae was a big elephant in the room: an inconvenient, wrong-headed blight on the Catholic mind (I paraphrase). Funny that, because I thought mass infidelity and doctrinal ignorance was the elephant in the room.

This week, Quentin tells us that everything depends on conscience and that essentially conscience is top in just about every game of spiritual top trumps. He sprinkles a few references on top to the Holy Spirit and being alone with God. But that's it. Apparently, he has never heard of an erroneous conscience, and thinks the Church should just leave us all alone (although he wraps it up in a load of cod-psychology about mature reflection). After deep and mature reflection, you can decide that God too should just mind his own business. Apparently, the Holy Spirit can help you come to that conclusion.

I could go further but once again a flood of small bodies and the thunder of tiny feet have disturbed my peace. You get my point anyway.

Are you interested in this stuff any more? I confess it bores me to tears. It feels like living in the midst of flat-earthers who are scared of finding the supernatural at the end of all risk.

So, there we have it: Catholic publications, pumping this toxic stuff out for the consumption of the masses. One can only pray the masses are too indifferent to be damaged.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Pray for Fred Phelps

The news has come through that Fred Phelps Snr, founder of the Westboro Baptist Church and the inspiration behind a campaign of protests at the funerals of homosexuals in the armed forces in the USA, is on his death bed.

I commend this appalling man to your prayers.