Saturday, 3 October 2015

On having the spirit of the Blitz: a parable for the times

One big difference in the experience of the Second World War according to Brits and Americans is that the Yanks never faced aerial bombardment, at least not on the mainland of the USA. How clever of the USA to locate itself so far from Hitler's Germany! I remember a former park ranger once telling me that America had never been invaded because everyone had the right to bear arms. "You've never seen the ocean, have you?" I replied. Like the USA, Britain is surrounded by water, but not quite enough of it to keep the Luftwaffe at arm's length. Thus, during the course of WWII many British cities were bombed literally to smithereens.

There are many remarkable things to consider in this story. My grandmother was full of stories about the Blitz in Manchester. There was the "land mine" that landed in Holland Street, the blast of which blew in the door of the house, consumed the entire length of the carpet down the long lobby with fire but left the statue of the Virgin Mary on a shelf unscathed - except for reversing her to face the wall! Then there was the story of Mrs Smith, the sweet shop lady, who was cut in half by a sudden blast while weighing out a half a pound of Everton mints. I was never quite sure of the veracity of the details in that story! The bombs rained down, mostly on industrial sites, but also widely on civilian areas (much as the Allies would later do in Germany and France). The terror was appalling.

But above all, what the people of Manchester, as well as those in other cities, especially in London, showed throughout this time was what became known as the spirit of the Blitz. This was no new thing; just a new manifestation of something old. It was the same spirit that drove the archers at Agincourt to wave their two fingers at the French. It was the same spirit that made many an Englishman baulk at the Spanish invaders of the Armada.

In the Blitz, however, this spirit of resistance was mixed also with a spirit of keeping cheerful. No matter what Jerry sent at the Brits, they tried not to let it get them down. They sat in their Anderson shelters, listened to the bombs whistling overhead and tried to sing songs in the gloom. No doubt there were people whom this experience drove mad. No doubt lots of them were frightened to death. No doubt many of them saw things they ought never to have seen.

But through it all there is this enduring sense that the spirit of the Blitz was never far away; that together they were strong, even against the bloody Germans; that in unity they would keep their spirits up, and in the end, even if it killed them, they would die with courage. Was this merely British propaganda? A little maybe. But not that much.


And so, as they say, the moral of the story in 2015 is this:

that we aren't the first people to feel scared by German conspiracy, chaos and bloody mayhem (aided and abetted by other weaker minded nations),


that if you stand up to them - God bless them - long enough, with the grace of God, you will prevail.

We do not know what God's victory will look like, but it will be something close to Calvary. Don't lose heart.

Here endeth the pre-Synod lesson!

Sunday, 27 September 2015

On big and little things, human stupidity and the importance of consolations

Another long hiatus on The Sensible Bond, I'm afraid. As they say in London, "Mind the gap." What can I say but that there is hardly the time these days? My quotidian round is launched before 6am, usually with an early visit from my daughter who would have to be tied to something solid to stop her leaving her room (and you will understand my scruples about such a course of action). 14 hours later, following a busy infant bedtime, the day usually crashes to an end with just sufficient shards of time to reintroduce myself to my spouse, wave something edible over a flame, eat, do dishes and retire to my bed. In between, I have not yet managed to avoid the slavery of a salaried position: "Pooh Bah, a salaried man!" (as G&S might have put it). I cannot imagine that description is very unusual for the parents of young children, but it tells you most of the story about why my blog has dried up.

The part of the story it only partially hints at is what is going on around us in the Church. There are few things certain in our current tempest but there are at least a few. And in these days of great uncertainty, it is worth reflecting a little on them.


On a macro level, the great certainty is that the gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church. What this failure to "prevail" actually looks like, however, is not yet known. Satan did not prevail against Jesus, and yet any human eye cast on the crucifixion beholds a scene of ostensible disaster and defeat. The gates of Hell will not prevail, but they'll have a bloody good go. And it won't be pretty.

It's a unusual meditation that one. If you consider the Church of the 1950s in all its pomp and circumstance, that is not a good example of the failure of the gates of Hell to prevail. That spectacle is more like a champion pugilist who gets to ponce around the ring in his dressing gown and belts before a big boxing match, bathing in the adulation of his admirers and the whistles of his opponent's supporters, while the crowd sing "God bless our pope" or something.

No, the failure of the gates of Hell to prevail is seen more in the depths of Round 8 when the champion has a mouth full of blood, the crowd has turned on him, the right side of his face has gone numb from being jabbed, he realises his trainer has put something in the Vasoline that is burning him, and from the one corner of his remaining eye that is open he sees some friends who have risen from their seats and are walking out... THat is victory in God's books.

But the gates of Hell will not prevail.

Did you read the baptismal promises recently? Of course I whinge about my lot, more than most! But when you reread the baptismal promises - which we all made once and for all at our baptism and have renewed often since at Easter - you realise again how much you have promised. So, how can we walk away now? I know it feels like we are having the ecclesial sense knocked out of us at the moment, but really, how can we leave? To whom would we go? I keep hearing people saying that they are seriously looking at the Orthodox Church - ironic when you think it's the Orthodox Church's appalling example of dishing out Communion to the divorced and remarried that has all the liberals wetting themselves in delight. Or people simply say, "The Church is finished." By which they mean "done for" rather than "accomplished".

I say this is all on the macro level, a level at which our understanding often fails because there is so much to take in. Our intellects are unsuited to beholding the immensity of God. But perhaps they are also unsuited to beholding the immensity of evil because all evil is a perversion of being. The immensity of being overcomes us by its totality of goodness. The immensity of evil overcomes us by its contradictions. Our minds become exhausted trying to correct its unremitting deviance.

And when it does not beat us by its complexity, it beats us - by which I mean, it throws us into a sense of the futility of things - with infantile banality, the banality, for example, of concelebrants at a Papal Mass in their sacred vestments, looking at the altar just feet away through the lenses of their digital cameras. Agere quod agis. By which the Pontificale surely means, "Make sure you get that photo op."


At the micro level there are arguably more certainties in the sense that at least most of us know what our immediate duties involve, and - here's the gift of God to us in a crisis - we know that in doing those duties we are doing more good for the Church than we imagine. More than that, we are doing good to the Church because the inner ecology of the Church is held in microcosm within the individual and domestic spheres. We might never speculate about universal Church events again and yet be right at the heart of things.

I suppose the greatest example we have of this overlap of the Church's heart with its - dare I say the word? - peripheries is found in the writings of St Therese of Lisieux. The answer is all there in a way. St Therese is a missionary to the entire Church, though she never leaves France after visiting the Vatican. Why can we not believe the same is true for us too? That we share in the defence of the Church, even if we never speak outside our own living rooms, even if we never waste a single minute of our attention speculating on the implications of Mitis Judex. When I see the hours, days, weeks (!) people must spend in strangling the life out of news events in a fit of anxiety, it makes me wonder what duties have been neglected and what prayers set aside. I've been guilty of it all too much myself at times in the last two years. But really, it is utterly unproductive!

In any case, I simply don't have the time. But in another way, I am busy with the defence of the Church more in doing my duty than in worrying the latest pronouncements of a pontiff to death. Not that I won't have a go at my own analysis when I have the time. Indeed, we need such analyses to try to make sense of things. But how strange that many people go from one analysis to the next in a never-ending hunt for some illumination that eludes them because they will not stop to think for a while. Nothing of good can be done for the Church which is not seeded with love and grown with patience: that applies to bloggers as well as their readers.


We need consolations. Those brave souls on their way to the mystical heights appear to go without them, but they don't. A soul without joy is inhuman. St Thomas knew it. That's why he called joy "the recreation of the soul". I'm also convinced as well that our own culture robs us of half its joys, just by accelerating us to a speed at which human appreciation cannot function. Those priests who were taking pictures at the Papal Mass: after they posted those photos to Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, I'd bet money on their never looking at them again. They spent some of the most precious moments of their priesthood turning their experience into a consumable good that they were not even going to make money on. Only the stupidity of the twenty-first century could produce such contradictions as these.

No, we should take our consolations where we can find them. Fine art, fine music, cool countryside scenes, books and the fragrance of plants. Anything that helps us breathe a little easier is worth it. Nostalgia or futurism: it's all safe as long as it is bathed in the charity of Christ, as Robert Hugh Benson knew.


My friends, I fear for a lot of us at the moment. We are getting beside ourselves with our fears and anxieties about this damned Synod. We need to knock it all on the head. The gates of Hell will not prevail but don't be surprised if they come damn close, whether in October or at some future time.

And then there is always our duty. On that, rather than on anything else - rather than how closely we have followed the disastrous events of 2015! - will we be judged by our Merciful Judge.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Cynicism, silence and love: a story in three movements

Damian Thompson has written an interesting piece reacting to the nomination of Fr Robert Barron to the episcopacy. In it he reflects on Fr Barron's media savvy operation, his Youtube channel and web presence, all of which puts him streets ahead of most bishops (or bishops-elect) when it comes to operating in a digital culture. I hope Thompson is right about Fr Barron being able to soothe angry American conservative Catholics. My own impression of Fr Barron goes back to his 'calm down, calm down' moment during the tumultuous Synod of 2014 when, just before Cardinal Pell blew his towering Aussie stack, Barron was assuring us that this Synod was just like a sausage factory. Still, anyone can make a mistake, and if Fr Barron brings to his ministry a little bit more realism than his ridiculous sausage factory moment, I'm sure he will be a faithful shepherd.

Thompson also seems to think, however, that the Catholic blogosphere has calmed down by virtue of blowing itself out - "bloviating", I believe Fr Barron has called it. It became too burdensome to write spikey opinion every day and everyone just became tired, not to say weary, of the nutters such fora can attract. Well, I'm sure there is a little bit of truth in that.

Speaking personally, I find my blogging has slowed down because, unlike in 2007 when I had bags of time for it and other pursuits, I now have practically no time for anything outside of work and family. Blogging requires focus, research, rumination; at least it does in my book. Such an endeavour is difficult to sustain when at any moment you can be interrupted for nappy changes or story-reading duties.

I have to confess, however, that there is another reason for my silence under this papacy about which I blogged quite heavily in its first eighteenth months. I say this now by way of a confession and also by way of trying to explain how I am coming through what I feel has been a tremendously difficult time. This is me at my very worst, so please read through to the end of the tale before you judge me. It might be of use to some readers. And if it isn't, well you can pray for Pope Francis and for your poor blogger.


The Synod last year broke many things. But most particularly, it broke my human faith in the sincerity of the pope. I was prepared up to that point to believe that, somehow, human explanations existed for the calamitous blend of moralising, unilateral rule bending (ultramontanists can remove that snarl from their lips right this minute) and bizarre sponsorship of some of the worst parties to don a cassock.

But the Synod was different. The Synod seemed - to my human eye; dico humane - to show Pope Francis in hyper-cynical mode. He appointed the most appalling specimens to drive the Synod agenda, and drive it forward (or backward, I suppose) they did, to the open fury of many bishops and cardinals. When the most offensive parts of the Instrumentum Laboris failed to secure the right support, the pope insisted on their being kept in the final documentation anyway. All this I could understand, even if I was horrified by it. Horrified, simply horrified.

Then came his final address to the Synod... As if the whole world could not see that he himself had poured out the petrol that set this Synod aflame, he delivered a final address (admittedly in his usual finger-wagging style) ticking off everybody on all sides of the debate. Maybe this is thought clever among Jesuits: start a fire, enjoy the conflagration and then reproach those who question whether it should have been bigger, as well as those who thought lighting fires was just plan stupid.

I'm afraid I was more horrified by this address than by anything else. It seemed like a stupendous monument to manipulation. It was simply abusive. It was spiritual bullying. Francis looked to be using his power - openly, overtly, with a transparency that shocked me to the core - simply to shut down criticism of his abuse of power.

And this was our father in Christ? My heart closed down.


As one very wise writer once said, 'Si je cherche querelle au monde, c'est que, jusqu'au nouvel ordre, je lui fais encore confiance.' Which loosely translated means that if I fight with you, it's because I still believe in 'us'. After the Synod Francis was still the pope, and of course I still owed him due reverence and obedience. But by the end of the Synod I regarded him as a pontifical bully of the worst kind; in the great and distinguished tradition of pontifical bullies. Of course he had his cuddly side but what did that matter? All bullies do.

But my point is that I didn't believe in 'us' anymore. Je ne lui cherchais plus querelle. In the last ten months, we (I mean Pope Francis and I) have shared ecclesial and canonical bonds. But in all other ways I have felt more estranged from the pope, from the Church, than at any time in my life. I can take a corrupt pope. I can even take a doctrinally confused pope. But a pope who uses his power openly to steer a Synod into a crisis and then blame others escapes all my capacities of understanding or charity.

Well, frankly, that's a first-world problem, don'tchaknow? I know, I know. But, well, there it is ...


So, I've prayed for the pope, but I can rarely bring myself to talk about him because I suspect I'll only say something to embitter an already embittered situation. Some people move on in these situations. I'm afraid I have not had the defences to do so. I work in a world that has no time for me. I never knew I would live in such a Church. Why care when the wages of caring are such as these?

I am unjust to feel Francis's behaviour taints all the clergy. Some of them must be feeling as horrified as I am. But so few of them let the mask slip. For some that is a matter of prudence. For others it is a matter of theological repression. God knows what problems that will cause in the long run. I hardly dare speculate.


So is there an end to my tale? Well, yes and no.

No, because we do not yet know what will happen in the October Synod. I am prepared to witness any stunt - any stunt! God help us all.

And then, in another way, yes. As so often in these dark and dreadful times, wisdom leaped out at me yesterday from a page of Georges Bernanos. I am not so convinced by his account of freedom but I am by his account of the meaning of non serviam. I translate freely:

Naive people are easily convinced that we are attached to freedom by a kind of pride expressed in the non serviam of the Fallen Angel [...] but [one] should know that non serviam is not a refusal to serve, but to love.

This did not sink in immediately. But, as the day wore on, its terrible implications became apparent. My loss of belief in 'us', in Francis and I, was not a refusal to serve: I'm bound to that by obligation. But maybe, just maybe, I have allowed the cold and poisonous shock of last year's Synod to stop me loving him like I should.

It's one thing to love someone who you admire. It is quite another to love someone who you think is ready to trample over you with his papal boots on. Of course I have continued to pray for him in all this time. But have I been really refusing to love? Have I been offering a silent non serviam? And how have I not known this?


There you go. I said this would be confessional. There is the challenge for me, at least as we approach the Synod. I have not the time to read all the documents. I may not be able to avoid the terrible spectacle that awaits us. But, as my master Bernanos implies, if I do not await what is to come with charity in my heart, then I am lining up to join the ranks of the Fallen Angel.

Unlike Thompson - by his own telling - I have never used the blogosphere simply to mock and jump all over those I hold in contempt. But all my restraint will be worth nothing if I do not look even on those I consider grave enemies with the eyes of Christ.

Ah, yes, that! If only I had read the Gospels well, it would not have taken me ten months to realise the bleedingly obvious.

Telle est la vie des hommes.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

July 4th, +15

America will not have noticed but I failed on July 4th to post my annual appreciation of Uncle Sam. It was quite remiss of me. And while I realise America can get on very well without my admiration, something in me breathes deeply a love for a land I was lucky enough to call home for a few short albeit eventful years. And love must speak its name.

I'm calling it 'America', knowing full well that this is Anglo speak. I'm inclined this way for two reasons, one of which is that that is how the Mother Country most often refers to her former colony. But whatever one calls it, it remains - like all true persons - a complexity, a paradox, easily perceived but much less easily understood. Gabriel Marcel would have called it 'a mystery' rather than 'a problem'.

I still remember flying into Minneapolis just about 24 years ago this autumn. We travelled in over the Canadian border and I learned immediately why Minnesota is called the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes. Nothing will erase from my memory the moment when the airplane banked on its final approach and the sparkling towers of downtown - unremarkable by American standards but dazzling to my British eye - shot up out of the flat suburbs. That was perhaps only one version of urban America staring up at me from 1,000 feet, but it was thrilling all the same.

My theme is memory, as Charles Rider says. Why do such things linger in the mind while those of much greater importance have eroded and failed? A thousand trivial details come flooding back now as I pursue my theme. I remember hunting high and low for the toilets on my first night. Wandering along a corridor where everything was labelled, I could find the 'showers' and I could even find the 'rest room' which, without opening the door, I imagined to be some kind of gentlemen's lounge where one could read a newspaper undisturbed. But where was the toilet?

It was painful in the early days, as I watched the natives straining to handle my Mancunian lilt. I adjusted naturally. People back home (should I say 'folks' back home?) said I acquired a mid-Atlantic accent. It didn't last of course. Skin-deep things never do.

I have to confess, however, that much of my perception of America was then only skin deep. It was influenced by the simmering anti-American sentiment I was surrounded by. Of course that sentiment justified itself on doctrinal grounds. But sometimes - as much more experience has taught me - not everyone who says 'doctrine' really understands what it means. 'Doctrine' does honour to Revelation, but it is in no way an excuse not to look at what is around you. Doctrine informs the mind but if God is the God of Revelation and Creation, no experience can ultimately contradict it. It is odd to think now of doctrine serving as a kind of blindfold to experience, rather than as a complement.

Longer reflection on my American experience in later years - which I am truncating now because, as usual, the human needs of my children are at this very second beginning to bellow louder than my duty to the blog readers - taught me some of the secrets behind what I treated then almost as a film set. Leaving a country, like finishing a book, does not mean that one is finished and done with learning its essence.

In more recent years, America has come to mean a host of other things. As a younger cousin of modernity, it has not yet entirely trampled to death the symbolic depths of our social life. For all its talk of pragmatism, it does more honour to the life of the mind than the barren landscape of European academia. For all its destructive role in Vatican II, it has now much greater religious and spiritual depth and fruitfulness than many European hellholes.

It is still way too much in love with its technological roots, although when its empire finally falls - as a very wise man once said - it will be remembered as the civilisation that first set foot on another 'world'. Much of its cultural politics is now being sucked into the vortex of postmodern disintegration, best symbolised by the bizarre hybrid who calls him/herself Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner. Still, we all have faults, people in glass houses cannot throw stones and everyone needs our prayers.

So, America and all American readers, two weeks too late (a delay you will forgive with your customary graciousness, I know), I send you my greetings for July 4th 2015. I wish you lots of things in the years ahead, but most particularly wisdom. Wisdom to judge with the charity of Christ, and wisdom to see the world with His eyes.

You are still a pup in comparison to the old dame of Europe. May you never become the bitch she now is.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Having said nothing for a month ...

… I fully intend saying nothing today.

Yes, that's right. And here is why. Because today I am filled with an unChristian contempt for all the bullshitters, all of them from East to West who, within 48 hours of the leaking of Laudato Si', are already posting great analyses of the whole bloody thing. Really? It's nearly 40,000 words long! Come on!

No, and no, and no, and no! If you are one of those people already heaping praise on Pope Francis for perpetuating the Catholic Social Tradition, well, go and bury your head in the bloody garden. If you are one of those people who are lambasting him for sucking up to the mad, bad Greens, then, get your head out of your posterior orifice.

This is the internet: a self-appointed place for the Messieurs Whippy of Wisdom. How sick to death I am of the whole bloody know-it-all culture.

No, dear readers, we need at least a week, and possibly a month, to think it all through and tease out all the consequences.

But we cannot have the time, can we? Our age rushes head long into another week, having forgotten what happened last week, and even what happened yesterday. It is largely a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing. Shakespeare knew it centuries ago.

The worst thing about the internet? It's that you cannot even burn the bloody thing to keep warm. It just consumes things: joules of energy, human souls, intelligence, innocence and a whole load of other things.

Technology is neutral is it? Somehow I think St Thomas would have sided with Heidegger before Maritain.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Lifelike Marching

It is rare The Sensible Bond can bring you frontline reporting of any kind but I write these lines after returning from the March for Life in Birmingham. It was a grand old event, with appearances by Archbishop Bernard Longley, abortion survivor Gianna Jessen and, finally, an animated young speaker whose message was drowned out by a counter-protest, Obianuju Ekeocha.
I'm afraid we missed most of the day due to other commitments. We were alarmed in fact to arrive in Chamberlain Square in the centre of Birmingham to see about fifty people waving pro-choice banners, being stirred up by someone who was explaining that pro-life thought was "just shit". Her words, not mine. Heavens, I wondered, had we missed the pro-life protest and happened on their nemesis enjoying some afters?

Worse in fact! We had happened on a pro-choice protest just lying in wait to pounce upon the pro-lifers when they arrived. The funny thing was that as the pro-life march wound its way into the square, it did so with not really much regard for the pro-choice element who then spent the next hour or more trying to spoil proceedings. The were deftly ignored, although it must be said that from I was standing, nobody could hear a word of the pro-life speakers. The pro-choicers were held back by police, apart from one agitator who finally made an unsuccessful grab for the pro-life microphone, before being led away by a probably bored constable looking for something to do.
It was a very pleasant afternoon of sun in Birmingham. The mood was always lighthearted, in spite of the angry protesters who chanted things like "Keep your rosaries off our ovaries" and "Not the Church / Not the State / Women should decide their fate." To these mellifluous snatches, they added well-articulated criticisms like "religious scum", screamed at the passing lines of mothers with babies and habits of various hues (Franciscan, Dominican and secular). Yes, all things considered, a highly reasoned, subtle and incisive contribution to rational discussion. Funny how convention would determine that it was the pro-choicers representing the voice of reason ...

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Naughty pleasures, hatred and the loneliness of the long-distance priesthood

One of my naughtier pleasures when I'm down - as I often am these days - is to surf over to Mundabor's blog and see what he is ranting about. I love the man's lucidity, yet I deprecate his venom. For example, I appreciate his latest diatribe on a report provided by Rorate Caeli on the state of the German priesthood. If only half of what the report says is true, then I am even more aghast than I have been in a year of utter ghastliness. But then, Mundabor steps into venomous mode about the German priests in question:

I pity and despise them, because a priest who has chosen the habit and finds himself whining about his “loneliness” whilst he does not even have the time or the guts to be with Christ in the confessional, and in prayer, and in the life of sacrifice he is supposed to live is one who has betrayed the flag a long, long time ago, and is now unable to even remember how it looked like. (my emphasis)

Despise them? Well, it's a point of view. I'm not about to offer lessons to Mundabor in charity but if he isn't ashamed to despise somebody, he isn't half the Catholic he claims to be.

But then, he goes on to say:

I have never seen a good priest that looked lonely in the least. Their vocations and their love of the Lord fills their life.

Well, there, I'm not so sure. Maybe Mundabor has not seen good priests look lonely. Only he can say what he has actually seen. But if, as I understand it, the sense of this paragraph is that good priests don't get lonely, well, I beg to differ. In my experience, that is not so.

Undoubtedly there are many consolations for priests who live their vocations to the full. Being busy as a priest is a boon, and a deep prayer life probably fills many a gap. Good priest friends are precious and the chance to escape with them from time to time is probably essential to many a priest's sanity. Christ withdrew into the mountains with his friends. Why shouldn't priests? St John encouraged his disciples to dance. The bow that is always taut will lose its power.

But we cannot underestimate what a huge sacrifice celibacy remains, and not just because we all find the 6th and 9th commandments tricky. The challenge of celibacy is filling a void not created by lack of genital stimulation but by the sacrifice of the enjoyment of nuptial intimacy with another human being. Of course a priest can raise up his heart in faith to the divine lover, if he is gifted in that way. But there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the demands of celibacy. Everyone called to celibacy must live it as God gives them to live it. They are not all called to the charismatic heights of a St John of the Cross.

More than that, the priest is in such a difficult position socially. No wonder priests get lonely. They are forced to be the listening post of every liar and deceiver out there, not just in the confessional but in their day to day lives. By every liar and deceiver, yes, I'm afraid I mean every one of us. They are obliged to put up with everyone's spin, as if they had not heard it all before. They must be a spectator to everyone's performance, knowing the worst of many, suspecting the worst of others. How alienating that must be! And how one must long for honesty in one's fellow human beings! And how isolating, ultimately, such an experience must prove.

So, of course we should deplore the practice or lack of practice among German priests. The gap between what the Rorate report reveals and the ideals of the priesthood is embarrassingly large, not to say crushingly embarrassing. But even if Germany had the best priests in the world, they would still have the vocation of priests; they would still be up against the loneliness that must invade any honest man forced to be a spectator or a doctor of the world's deceit, or worse, of the deceit of the baptised.

All priest readers, be assured of my prayers. The wonder of your vocation is not that you manage to carry the crosses you make for yourselves. It is the that you manage to carry the cross that we, the faithful, represent.

The older I get, the more I sense how hateful I must be to the clergy. What a bloody burden, what a pain in the behind! They give it away in a hundred ways. In the stock questions that come in place of genuine interest; in their hesitancy to come to dinner; or even pass the time of day beyond the briefest of hellos. Lord, what salt in the wound we "faithful Catholics" must be!

Mind you, the older I get, especially under this papacy, the more I feel utterly, utterly alienated from the clergy at large. From anyone in authority really. With the man at the top so often blathering like a drunk who is being escorted home by embarrassed friends (even if, like a drunk, there are occasional moments of wonderful lucidity), so many good priests or bishops are left trying to spin gold out of Argentinian straw.

And then, there is the preaching. It's like being trapped in some loveless marriage having to listen to another ropey sermon, read out to us as if at some dodgy acting audition, terminated by an embarrassed silence at the end - the silence of those who are underwhelmed. Often I want to snatch the typed sermon from their hands, rip it up and beg them to speak to me from the heart like men! Cor ad cor loquitur, for heaven's sake! Funny how so few priests realise they speak ten times better when they speak extempore.

I know, I know! I am utterly hateful. My only hope is that our mutual prayers might help see us both home to heaven.

Pace, Mundabor, we cannot despise anyone, not even the least of our brethren. We should love even the worst, since God first loved "despicable us".

And all that said, as I remarked yesterday, "It is easy to hate oneself. Grace means forgetting oneself."