Saturday, 30 April 2011

Wedding thoughts

I noticed a strand of rather negative criticism emerging in the days leading up to the royal wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Various people remarked that it was going to be a travesty. This young couple who have apparently been living together, now taking promises to live according to God's holy law, and being accorded all the honours which Westinster Abbey and the Anglican liturgical tradition can confer on them: quel scandale! And then there was the little matter of the cost of the day: several squillions (which the nation doesn't have) disappearing down the drain in what was an odd exception to the ambient austerity of Cameron's Britain.

The argument which Archbishop John Setamu of York put up yesterday in defence of the couple was one of the oddest I have ever heard. Setamu, an evangelical Protestant, took the lenient line that now the couple were married, then it was all alright. The argument isn't quite what we expect, even from Anglican leaders, but what he meant was that the couple's cohabitation was now history. As my students would say, 'So, get over it'.

But then Sentamu went on to say that many people nowadays like to 'test the milk before they buy the cow'. Now that I did find strange! His first argument was basically 'let bygones be bygones'; his second argument was more like 'boys will be boys', or in this case, 'princes will be princes'.

I'm not sure who in his metaphor is the cow and who is testing the milk. The exploitative insinuations of the image are unfortunate given the history of Prince William's mother. I suppose what is most alarming about it is the idea that the Establishment can do what it will and all will be well, as long as the Established Church can wave a graceful hand of benediction in its direction. Personally, I find such confidence to be rather ill placed.


But all that said, I'm a great fan of the kind of event that happened yesterday, not because of the supposed coherence of the Established Church blessing any old muck the Establishment brings before it, but because our royal tradition in this country is one of the best protections against our final demise as a nation. The royal family preserve the space in which the nation's irrationalism can unfold. This is no bad thing. In fact, in politics it is almost certainly necessary to preserve this kind of irrational space. God forbid we begin to take our political processes so seriously that we become a republic.

I'm not glorying in incoherence here. I'm simply making a case for the politics of the imaginative, or perhaps what we should call supra-rational rather than irrational politics. Royal events help keep our sense of proportion about our nation; they remind us that our nation is as much a given which we receive, as it is a project in which we are involved. Royalty reminds us that our sense of agency is not everything; it reminds us - in the midst of all our hubris - that we alone cannot shape our own destinies.

All that said, who knows how this royal marriage will turn out. At the beginning of the ceremony yesterday, when the Archbishop of Canterbury was admonishing the young couple, I thought the Duchess of Cambridge looked quite bored. It brought to mind the fact that the current generation coming through have had little experience of formality, and are only still capable of appreciating its disruption because of the boredom it most often induces in them. Still, as Shakespeare says somewhere, bring us all to a proper account and who would escape whipping and hanging? Or something like that. We must pray for the happy couple for their own sake.

But actually we should pray for them for ours as well. We cannot simply attribute the interest the couple excite to our celebrity culture. Our nation is beset by the vices of stardom, but underneath it all, the capacity to command imitation can be a force for immense good. I have no doubt that the number of marriages will increase this year because of this royal event. And who knows, maybe the value of marriage will be boosted by such a public celebration of family stability. Even if the Queen's children are a shower, she herself remains a remarkable personality and institution.

So, God bless and save the happy couple, ye, even from themselves.

And what taste to have chosen Walton's Crown Imperial, as my wife and I did on the day of our wedding last November!

Blog updates

Mrs Ches asked me a couple of days ago why so few people comment on anything I write apart from the SSPX/traditionalist stuff. I dare say this is for the same reason nobody links to my blog except for those reasons (and the occasional cool video from Youtube). It could also be that I'm a huge bore, and she just hasn't realised yet.

Still, we're a modest blog here at The Sensible Bond and open minded to everyone except hecklers. So, in the interests of being dialogical - and shamelessly copying Mulier Fortis - I have posted a poll over on the right to ask readers why they don't bother commenting. I have also included reaction buttons below posts.

I could make a joke here about participatio actuosa, but that would be out of place ;-)

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Thoughts on the beatification: roll on Monday ...

... say I. Not because I am simply looking forward to the Bank Holiday (which I am, of course); not because I particularly like Mondays (which indeed I don't). Quite simply, the piece of grit clogging up my soul between now and Monday is the beatification of John Paul II on Sunday.

THOC has written a piece nailing his colours to the mast on this topic. I confess I have no colours and no mast to nail them to in any case. One surfs around the internet and what does one find? His sincerest defenders cannot truly account for his appalling neglect of the liturgy and for a generation of episcopal appointees who make the blood run cold. His most robust critics have barely begun to understand his remarkable faith or his outstanding contributions to moral theology.

Usually debate is hardly so elevated. Either we have John-Paul tub thumping of one kind or another or we have desperate denunciations of the beatification from the liberals or the hard traditionalists; the former because John Paul was too Catholic, and the latter because he wasn't Catholic enough.

Of course the vast majority of pew-bound Catholics will be oblivious to either camp. John Paul will be beatified, and most western Catholics will still use contraception. John Paul will be beatified and most western Catholics will still show little reverence for the Blessed Sacrament; in my local church at Holy Thursday last week, a group of old ladies rose en masse and began talking loudly as soon as the priest had retired from the altar of repose, an action undoubtedly repeated in many places. Mind you, they are not the only ones not listening to John Paul. The traditionalists will continue to claim he believed in universal salvation, in spite of his having established the Divine Mercy devotion as an integral part of the Church's calendar. The liberals will still insist he was an authoritarian bully, even though his record on excommunications was pretty tame in comparison to some popes.

Nobody is listening. As I said, I have no mast and no colours to nail to them. I know that John Paul was a lot nicer and far more reasonable than many of his loudest cheerleaders. I'm also sure he was a lot more pious than many of his severest critics. I can see no justification for his reckless inter-religious programme, nor can I see how he squared that with his laments over the apostasy of Europe now mired in religious indifferentism brought on by the kind of doctrine-lite thinking which inter-religious activity very often promotes.

I have found this whole rush to beatification dangerous. It simply unsights us. We have no perspective. All the more reason, one would assume, to trust the Church; to trust that - in spite of the contradictions one can see on all sides, in spite of the fan-club mentality on the one side and the angry incomprehension on the other side - God is still guiding his Church.

One last thought, however. I fear greatly that this beatification and the Assisi meeting of October will seal permanently the rift with the SSPX. Things were difficult enough as it was. Their unawareness of their own theological methodology was as good an obstacle as any I can think of. But how will they ever get over this beatification, let alone a potential canonization?

So, roll on Monday. Truly, I am lost in incomprehension.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Yound Catholic Adults retreat

Juventutem ask me to post the following

                   Photo Copyright David Aron

During the weekend of the 9-11 September 2011. Young Catholic Adults will be running a retreat at Douai Abbey, it will be led by Juventutem Ecclesiastical Assistant Fr de Malleray . The weekend will be full-board.

* YCA will have half of the retreat centre to itself

* There will be a Marian Procession, Rosaries, Sung Mass, Low Mass, Confession and socials

* Fr. de Malleray FSSP head of Juventutem will preach the retreat, Masses will be in the Extraordinary form

Prices range from £5 to £51 per person per night . There are 3 options


Friday , registration from 4pm, to Sunday 11th September (full board)* or

Arrive Saturday morning till Sunday or day only

51 pounds full-board PER PERSON PER NIGHT

25 pounds for students/low waged/unwaged (or whatever you can afford) PER PERSON PER NIGHT


£35 PER PERSON PER NIGHT (full board). Self catering £25 per person per night (reductions for students:- or whatever you can afford) .


£5 PER PERSON PER NIGHT (or whatever you can afford - please bring your own tent and food ).

If you would like lunch on Sunday 11th then it will be an extra £7 each.

How to book - limited places so please reserve your place early

To reserve your place FOR THE WEEKEND (no deposit needed if you are coming for the day on Saturday), please contact the Guestmaster direct and send a 20 pound deposit (NON RETURNABLE) to Brother Christopher Greener OSB, Douai Abbey, Upper Woolhampton, Reading, Berks. RG7 5TQ (please make any cheques payable to Douai Abbey). Please mention how long you wish to stay and any special diet.

For general enquiries about the weekend:- or any queries about the accommodation/location/lifts required please ring Damian Barker on 07908105787 or 01452 539503.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Easter feast

A happy Easter to one and all! After three days of sacred ceremonies, I'm exhausted! So, I shall take the easy route out and post some pictures of our Easter dinner. Mrs Ches says 'hello' by the way.

The wine you can see is one of a batch of Australian merlot that we had blessed on the feast of Saint John. Er, I think we'll look at something else next year (sorry Australia).

For lunch we had duck aux myrtilles (that's blueberries), spuds and carrots roasted in the duck fat and buttery spinach.


Oh, yes, and now I'm off to face the aftermath...

Thursday, 21 April 2011

My kind of serious

I missed this the other day on WDTPRS.


Story: One day I was to be deacon for a Mass in St. Peter’s. Having vested at the altar under the Pietà, I – at the direction of the MC – took the thurible into the small vesting room nearby to have John Paul put in the incense. With his good-natured grandfatherly charm he kidded around. “You again! What is your seminary?” He knew full well, of course, and he knew I already worked in an office around the place as well. “The John Paul the Second Seminary, Santità“, quoth I. “Terrible! Terrible!”, quoth Peter’s Successor. Then, leaning in nearly nose to nose, the Vicar of Christ stabbed me hard in the chest several times with his finger and said, “Tu… devi essere serio… You… have to be serious.”

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Homo liturgicus

I've been rereading Joris Karl Huysmans's En Route and I have to say I'm hooked again. Huysmans was a well-known novelist in late nineteenth-century France who wrote perhaps the most emblematic of decadent texts A Rebours. At that point Huysmans is representative of one of the disintegrating strands of modernity. Having lost its grip on God, the human subject gradually loses its own integration: reason becomes separate from emotion, truth understood is confused with desire, and, in the case of decadent aestheticism, the only things left are the entrancement of the senses and the strained aristocracy of hedonism.

Huysmans next composed a notorious novel about Satanism entitled Là-Bas (literally, down under). Much of the material was gleaned from a strange cleric called Abbé Boullan whose ideas about the exactitude of vicarious suffering - in which we make reparation for the sins of others - had taken over his understanding of Catholicism. Huysmans would always exhibit this influence, even after Boullan died. Thankfully, he never acquired - or never knew about? - Boullan's taste for esotericism, or his theory that sin could be purged by fornication (how about that for a self-serving argument!).

Fortunately, there were many heathier winds swirling around late nineteenth century Catholicism, the most positive of which was a growing liturgical sensibility. And here was the point at which Huysmans felt he was coming home. Nothing spoke more to this aristocrat of the senses than the grandeur and beauty of Gothic art and the well-executed liturgy. Most critics find in this simply an extension of Huysmans's own taste for fine art.

Yet his writings show an ever-depeening awareness of the grand vistas behind the art, the stonework, the liturgical gestures and all the rest. The art becomes not end but means. Sensible of the ignobility of much human motivation and conduct, he was gripped by the power of the ministerial function of the priesthood in which it was possible for any ill-educated, black-hearted oaf to be effaced by acting in persona Christi:

Never in any religion has a more charitable part, a more august mission been assigned to man. Lifted by his consecration, wholly above humanity, almost deified by the sacerdotal office, the priest, while earth laments or is silent, can advance to the brink of the abyss.

At this early stage Huysmans was still writing his own emotions onto the liturgy. He is not the only one to do so! The novel's main character is called Durtal who is in fact a thinly disguised Huysmans. But again and again the themacity of his own perceptions must grapple with what he beholds:

Touched by the timidity of this silent mystery, Durtal listened to the mass chanted by a scanty choir, but one patiently taught. The choir of Saint Severin intoned the Credo, that marvel of plainchant [...] It bore it, as it were, to the top of the choir, and let it spread with its great wings open, almost without motion, above the prostrate flock, when the verse 'Et homo factus est' took its slow and reverent flight in the low voices of the singer. It was at once monumental and fluid, indestructible like the articles of the Creed itself, inspired like the text, which the Holy Spirit dictated, in their last meeting, to the united apostles of Christ. [...]
At such a moment, Durtal was roused and exclaimed, 'It is impossible that the alluvial deposits of Faith which have created this musical certainty are false.' [...]
He ended by being moved to the very marrow, choked by nervous tears, and all the bitterness of his life came up before him.

This knowlegde of the self could end badly for Durtal, as it could for any of us. Instead it leads him slowly towards an ever-growing awareness of the mastery of God over his life and an increasing willingness to cooperate with it. To his priestly confident who is leading him towards conversion, he remarks:

'All these suppliants [at the shrines of our Lady] are not especially extraordinary souls, for indeed the most part of them are like me, they come in their own interests, for themselves and not for her.'

And he remembered the answer of Abbé Gévresin [...] ''You must be singularly far advanced on the road to perfection if you go there for her only.'

... which of course implies to some degree the need for the refinement of Durtal's own aesthetic sense which is so much about him, his nerves, his feelings and his perceptions, and not quite enough about God.

I remember some devout liturgistas years ago quoting to me the story that Saint François de Sales used to pray the rosary if he assisted at Mass in choir. They referred to the habit as an example of how not to be involved in the liturgy. More recently, a friend of mine has used the same example not to denouce such liturgical individualism, but to show how free and varied our involvement in the liturgy can be. We are in the presence of words and ceremonies - lex orandi - but by those very prayers - ex opere operato - we are more essentially in the grace-effected presence of the mysteries of our salvation.

Grace means forgetting yourself, Georges Bernanos will later say. It is a grace I pray for us all this Holy Week.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

British Catholic bloggers, I salute you!

Last Sunday I blogged about what was beginning to happen among Catholic blogs with respect to the Vatican-sponsored Blogathon in Rome in early May. I observed then that Hilary White of Orwell's Picnic was organising a counter blognic on 3 May, and I wondered whether this was a sign of a fear of the safe boredom of the mainstream (let's call it 'the karaoke theory'), or of the potential for such Vatican-sponsored events to take over and control blogging activity ('the bodysnatcher theory').

Things developed the following day when A Reluctant Sinner proposed the idea of a Catholic Bloggers Guild in the UK and found support among various bloggers including Mulier Fortis, THOC and William Oddie. Laurence England jokingly portrayed the Guild along the lines of the bodysnatcher theory, but it seems he supports it. James Preece, on the other hand, thinks its motives are admirable but fully believes in the bodysnatcher theory. Regular readers of this blog - good morning, all three of you, incidentally - will know my wariness about clubs and tribes, which is why I for one won't be a signed-up member of the GCBs, if it ever gets going. But I shall keep an interested eye on it, and wish it well of course.

Now, the story moves on ever so slightly this weekend with an extrordinary attack by Hilary White on the proposed Guild of Catholic Bloggers and, more generally, on British Catholic bloggers. Here's the key reflection:

I've noticed for a long time that it is the British Catholic bloggers who are quickest to kowtow to the Powers, the biggest nervous nellies when it comes to political incorrectness and, perhaps ironically, the most vicious pack of pirhanas in the commboxes.

Very interesting indeed. I remember when The Tablet launched its attack on bloggers, I did a post - now unfortunately awaiting recovery from the drive of my defunct Dell laptop - in which I scolded The Tablet for its sorry criticism, and surveyed some of the British blogs that most merit attention. At that time, Hilary White came clamouring in my combox for acknowledgement, insisting that she too ran a British Catholic blog (though her address of Anglocatholic had made me assume that she wasn't a Roman Catholic at all). I accorded it willingly, of course, since I was an admirer of her writing...

And now this! Hilary White sitting in judgment on British Bloggers. How times have changed!

Closer inspection of the evidence, however, reveals a few cracks. Argument 1 in her evidence against Catholic bloggers is that they kowtow to the Powers that be; there is, however, no Exhibit A to support her. Argument 2 is that the British Catholic bloggers are nervous nellies about political incorrectness; sadly, there is no Exhibit B to support this claim either. Argument 3 is that the British Catholic bloggers are vicious pirhanas in the comboxes, in support of which argument - finally - she produces Exhibit C (which is really Exhibit A): a thread of comments on William Oddie's blog. Read the thread by all means, but you will find few recognisable names listed there proving White's argument, other than Paul Priest whose own blogging, clever and incisive as it is, is rather secondary to his role of blog commenter elsewhere. Oh yeah, and one or two bloggers who post in Scotland might be on there too. Mind you, I have read White's post assuming it to be coherent. Perhaps one shouldn't draw too many conclusions from the gap between the argument and the evidence.

And then there is White's wild reference to 'English desperation to be ruled by bureaucracy'. I admit that this made me sit up. It strikes me that someone who spent such a long time in Canada would naturally think that British cooperation with bureaucracy is about a desire to be ruled. Like many English instincts, however, it is actually about a desire to be obliging. Our relationship to liberty is neither that of Hobbesian contractualism or of Lockean libertarianism, but of the classic British muddling tolerance.

Of course there is an instinct among many Catholics in England to be 'ruled'. But that is something quite different, and probably related to the injection of Irish immigrants into the English Catholic Church during its revival in this country. The Irish, having lost their own aristocracy to British pikes or British bribes, were the unconscious feeders of this grand clericalist monster. It is illustrative that one of the most libertarian of bishops in England - a man who can have Paul Inwood for his liturgy grandee while approving the erection of an FSSP house in Reading - is not from this Irish line at all. All that said, communitarian instincts are thoroughly compatible with the Catholic spirit which rejects the assumption of individual alienation inscribed in libertarian trends. Maybe there is a nasty plot to gag bloggers, but does that mean there cannot be a legitimate desire on the part of British Catholic bloggers to meet in guild?

Still, if the funniest thing about this is La Pirhana herself calling other bloggers 'pirhanas', the oddest thing is her blanket condemnation of British Catholic bloggers on such, well, gratuitous grounds. And all the while desperately calling for everyone to attend her own blognic on 3 May. Had she spent more time in England, White might realise that those who rain on other people's parades while organising their own are often thought to have ulterior motives.

There is the narrowness of officialdom and then there is the narrowness of the counter-officialdom club. I'm not sure which one I would rather avoid.

British Catholic Bloggers, a free man salutes you!

Monday, 11 April 2011

The Assisi Obex

[UPDATED] This wasn't written in answer to William Oddie's post today, but it seems we were thinking about the same topic, only in quite contrary ways.


I'm dismayed this morning, cher lecteur, mon semblable, mon frère. I know what is going to happen in the next few weeks. Quite apart from the liturgical season, it is going to be full of excitement about the approaching beatification of John Paul II. As I remarked yesterday, the buzz on the blogs is all about the alternative bloggers' meeting in Rome. The weather here in the UK is hot. We've forgotten the worst of the recent past, and the year is full of Spring promise.

So nobody wants to read or hear about reservations with the good ship Vatican at the moment. Tribalism is alive and well. If we object to the current mood, then we must either belong to the lunatic fringe of the Great-Dotty Traditionalist variety, or we must just be sour pessimists. I cannot say I agreed with half of the content of the recent petition that was got up to protest at the beatification of John Paul II, but I certainly share their fear that the beatification will not simply stand for beatification of the person of John Paul II - a man of immense piety, sacrifice, devotion to duty and chronic suffering - but a stamp of approval on his papacy, good and bad.

The biggest mistake in this beatification is that we have no historical perspective. Comparisons with popular acclamations of holiness by the faithful in the past are lame. We live in an age of fadism and fancy where yesterday's fringe indie is today's modishness, and where last week's scapegoat is next week's pop idol. John Paul II's holiness would not change one bit if the Church left it ten or twenty years before going any further in this beatification process. But another ten years would give us calmer minds and spirits, greater objectivity, and more willingness to sift and discern.

For me, the greatest sign of the refusal to discern further is this meeting planned for October in Assisi. Don't get me wrong. I believe the traditionalist position which states that such meetings contravene the First Commandment is not well founded. I also applaud the changes in format in this meeting which are meant to be another barrier against such intepretations.

No, the Assisi Obex is the way that it embodies a certain philosophy of religion which is unbalanced. You can read all about it in Cardinal Ratzinger's book Truth and Tolerance in which he describes the change in how theologians view other religions. Nowadays the procedure is to regard all religions from the perspective of the religion of the Three Kings. Their religious understanding led them to follow the star and to honour the King at Bethlehem. So too, we must regard other religions as ground in which seeds of the Word are already present and need only to be brought to fruition. Indeed, it is possible that some religions are still pre-Christological, not historically speaking, but in terms of having hardly encountered Christ... like the Three Kings.

This position is in contrast with a time in which theologians, indeed the Church herself, was far more preoccupied with the errors of other religions. Such an approach tended to see the glass as half empty rather than half full. It also sometimes left doctrinal precision at the mercy of humanity's proclivity for hurly burly. This was the spirit of the Counter-Reformation. And it was one which Vatican II was renouncing in its statements on ecumenism and inter-religious relations.

Let us be practical. In the fragile and violent world in which we live, with conflict never far away, the Church needed to tack differently against the winds of religious difference. Indeed, one can convert nobody unless one learns how to walk with them in some sense. The problem with this reformed philosophy of religion, however, is that it air-brushes out of existence the notion that other religions are as capable of posing an obstacle - an OBEX - to conversion as they are of providing a stepping stone thereto. Of course it is marvellous that we 'share' the Sacred Scriptures with our Protestant brethren, but we cannot thereby air-brush out of existence the fact that Sola Scriptura is the context in which vast swathes of Protestants receive those writings. In other words, at the very point we can acknowledge what we have in common, we have to acknowledge the gulf in how we conceptualise the passing on of Revelation.

But that would be considered unecumenical. In practice - I'm not speaking of the theory - ecumenism seems to be an ecclesiological form of the English vice of saying the very opposite of what we mean. 'Oh, yes I'm quite comfortable'; 'oh, yes, I've had enough to eat'; 'oh, I don't mind at all.' In point of fact, we aren't comfortable, we're starving, and too right we bloody mind! But we had better not say it for fear of making a scene.

What I'm saying here is that Assisi III, even if it avoids the symbolic manifestation of indifferentism, will necessarily articulate an entirely benign - and, therefore, unbalanced - view of such religious distinctions. This indeed is why the announcement of Assisi III spoke of all believers 'constantly journeying towards God'. To my mind, this is as wrong as saying that all sexual relationships are praiseworthy insofar as they articulate love between individuals: men and men, women and women, humans and animals. Surely, an optimist would argue, all we need do is encourage the love and they will somehow come to a fully mature view of love and renounce their own. But is that likely if we simply tell them about the good in their relationships? Is that likely if we air-brush from view those things that are an obex to their recovery? Friendliness can lower barriers, but no genuine friend ever placed cushions beneath the elbows of sinners, as Jeremiah puts it. On a personal level, of course, prudence dictates that far more preaching must go on through action than words. But institutionally? Please tell me what ecumenism has done, other than encourage the idea that we all belong to the same slightly odd club of 'religious people'?

But Christ isn't religious. He is religion. How did we forget?

So, what is my conclusion? Simply that we cannot deal with other religions solely as seedbeds of the Word. THIS is the Assisi Obex. Nor indeed should we go back to treating them as if they are simply the work of the partisans of error. But Christ spoke sometimes with compassion and sometimes with anger: mustn't the Church do the same? How very sad that this failure to distinguish - this failure that, for me, will always mar JPII's memory - is going to be reinforced by Pope Benedict whose own motto declares his commitment to cooperating in the truth.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Blogging sociology

Something terrible interesting is happening in Catholic blogging circles. Last week the Vatican announced a meeting for bloggers (often known as a blognic) in Rome on 2nd May. It is being held by the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, and according to THOC's unofficial translation:

In the two planned sessions, various speakers will present some key points to open a discussion open to all the participants. In the first, five bloggers, representing the different language areas, will address specific issues of general importance. In the second, there will be accounts from people involved in the communication strategies of the Church, who will present their experiences of working with new media, as well as initiatives for an effective meeting between the Church and the world of bloggers.

All very worthy, I'm sure ...

But today I learn news of the Other Catholic Blognic on Hilary White's blog Orwell's Picnic. The programme for this blognic is as follows:

"Shaping the Narrative: how Catholic 'new media' is re-defining the global Catholic debate"

and talk about what *YOU* want to talk about...

Unlike the Vatican's, ours will be FUN!

AND ours will have beer...

AND pizza...

AND we'll let you come in your pyjamas if you want.

Tell your bloggy friends and enemies.

Skipping over to the Facebook page about this event, I note there are a number of worthies promising to be in attendance, including the great Fr Z, Dorothy of Seraphic Singles and Michael Voris. Others, including James Preece, are 'maybe attending'.

Very interesting that. And it has got me wondering whether this counter-blognic has something to do with English native contempt for ground-roots activities when some European bureaucrat tries to muscle in on the action, or whether there is something in the blogging community that would rather stand shy of officialdom. Is this a case of a fear of boredom or a fear of bodysnatching?

The stakes are high of course. The former could lead down the road trodden, I suppose, by the American Papist [nice chap though], and the latter could lead down the road taken by Austen Ivereigh [shudder]. Does this counter-blognic simply mean a refusal to accept blogging as a form of ecclesiastical karaoke, or does it mean that official sponsorship would make bloggers as proverbially dodgy as Pravda (or Ivereigh)?

I note the event is for Taliban Catholic bloggers, which is a shame. That rather rules me out since I have sworn to hold both revolutionary and the counterrevolutionary clubolatry in contempt!

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Assisi III: a plan in peaces (updated)

In January I and many readers, not to mention a lot of people, were disappointed to learn that Pope Benedict plans this year to commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of John Paul II's peace pow-wow held in Assisi in 1986. Here is what I wrote in reaction to the news:

The problem is that such a ceremony, under such patronage, seems to occlude, to hide, to veil from view the salvific peace which Christ came to bring the world. What does Christ mean by peace in the gospels? Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. The Church is not a wing of the police, and still less a wing of the diplomatic service. If we are against violence, our opposition is only relative; after all, only the violent bear away the kingdom of heaven. Is there not something in Assisi which lowers the temperature of the Church's zeal for her mission to spread not civilisational order but salvific peace? Is there not something in Assisi which seems to beg us to be contented with a peace which is purely civilisational? And is there not the danger that this civilisational peace is then confounded with a salvific peace, in a tangle of ideas which the SSPX and other traditionalists feel they must denounce as syncretism? Those are the questions. My fear is that this confusion over peace is deeply problematic. I would like an answer. I'm more likely to get one from Pope Benedict than from anyone else. Let us be patient.

So, now the Vatican has released its description of the event, where does that leave us?

Here is how the Vatican describes the theme of the event:

The Day will take as its theme: Pilgrims of truth, pilgrims of peace. Every human being is ultimately a pilgrim in search of truth and goodness. Believers too are constantly journeying towards God: hence the possibility, indeed the necessity, of speaking and entering into dialogue with everyone, believers and unbelievers alike, without sacrificing one’s own identity or indulging in forms of syncretism. To the extent that the pilgrimage of truth is authentically lived, it opens the path to dialogue with the other, it excludes no one and it commits everyone to be a builder of fraternity and peace. These are the elements that the Holy Father wishes to place at the centre of reflection.

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. There are so many generalisations here, not to say dangerous insinuations. Whoever wrote this text has a serious problem with differentiation for a start.

That every human being is a pilgrim in search of truth and goodness is a reasonably accurate description of the human intellect and will, our principal and distinguishing faculties. But then what do we have? Believers too are constantly journeying towards God. The problems here are severe. There is a substantial difference in the journey of a man who already possesses the fulness of the faith and a man who does not. Of course they are both viatores but in quite distinct senses.

Let us find a comparison. Can you imagine what a woman would think of her husband if he sat in a room full of single people and, gazing around at them, said: 'We are all seeking love!' 'Well, you've got it chum!' she would say. And if you muddle the search for love by pretending that the internal journey of a married couple and of a single person are the same, you're in dead trouble. Actually, it is those very differences between believers (the possession of full or partial truth) that demand we should be in dialogue with others and not the fact we are on the same journey. But unless the distinctions are observed - AND HERE THEY ARE NOT! - warning about syncretism is merely shutting the door after the horse has bolted.

I applaud the fact that the meeting will be significantly different from the 1986 jamboree. But, really, what does peace mean when it is beset by so many confusing and misleading symbolic acts? The best we can hope for is that many people will put the best gloss on it and assume that Pope Benedict is not saying all religions are equal - an interpretation laid on Pope John Paul's Assisi meetings by some.

The worst, however, seems to be expressed in the Vatican's very own bulletin on the event. So all believers are continually journeying towards God, are they? And how different is that really from saying our religions all do pretty much the same thing?


This topic has been at the back of my mind all day (which we spent with dear friends). So I have to come back to it with just another thought or two.

It is possible that the change in the programme of this event might make the meeting in itself less susceptible of misinterpretation. I think the case could be argued either way.

But what is more disturbing is the language of the Vatican announcement which is as loose and as embarrassing as an old man's pyjama bottoms. Peace, peace, peace? St Augustine said peace is the tranquillity of order. If you want peace before order, however, you can find it in a gentlemen's club.

I think what I'm trying to get at is that a Catholic discourse which seeks to airbrush out the obstacles is as potentially damaging as a Catholic discourse which insists on beating one's interlocutor over the head with the obstacles. If we believe in the faith of the Church, we cannot describe our quest for truth - our attempts to understand better the faith, become finer realists, know ourselves but firstly know God - as if that were substantially the same as the quest of someone who is not even sure there is a God. Yes, we are all viatores, but the language of the Vatican about Assisi III makes it sound as if nobody has the map.

If Vatican officials they think they haven't got the map, I think they ought to tell us and resign! And if they have, well, why the bloody hell are they talking as if they don't?

I'm fulminating now, so I shall go to bed!

Happy Passiontide!


More thoughts on Assisi here.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

The Wednesday pause

It's such a beautiful morning here in London. We need something mellow, however, to ease us into the second half of the week.

So here goes. The trombone and trumpet solos are priceless.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Violence and myth on the Costa del Sol

I laughed this morning when I read that the White House has condemned the burning of a Koran by Pastor Terry Jones in Florida as 'un-American'. 'Un-American', or 'un-British' for that matter, is one of those egocentric measurements which smack more of myopia than insight, unless one is being purely ironic. Don't get me wrong, I love America. It is one of the few questions on which I and my wife differ greatly! But 'un American'? Perhaps in this case it was justified; since there are few causes on the American right which can disassociate themselves from the cause of the flag, those that are unacceptable must be disassociated by some higher power. Still, I don't see why 'American' be the fifth transcendental property of being after one, true, good and beautiful.

This is only one of a number of recent cases which have brought me back to the theme I began to address a week or so ago concerning Georges Bernanos and the Spanish Civil War. Indeed, cases are not lacking. Confusing a callous act of murder with a blow for freedom, a dissident Irish Republican group last weekend killed a twenty-five year old police constable in Omagh in Northern Ireland by putting a bomb in his car. The actions of the Koran-burning pastor of old Floridy were ideal fuel for trouble causers in Kandahar where more than half a dozen UN staff met their deaths, two by beheading. As the cameras rolled, we watched the head of the Russian delegation in the city crawling out of a ditch after having saved himself from being beaten to death by reciting verses from the Koran to his attackers. I call that presence of mind.

All of these incidents underline Bernanos's prescience concerning how humanity too often divides along party lines, sometimes with devastating results. His critique of the Spanish nationalists who undertook a political cleansing of the island of Majorca was itself seen as a great betrayal; if Bernanos was not one of us, he must be one of them. Ironically, such a polarisation was one of his prime concerns at the beginning of his pamphlet Les Grands Cimetières sous la lune. To lampoon this polarisation he quotes from one of Alphonse Daudet's Tartarin stories 'Rice and Prunes'. Therein, the unhappy guests at an Alpine hotel divide into those who are constipated and those who have the runs. Ater a few days of unease, however, they finally find the remedy: those with the runs eat rice and those who are constipated eat prunes, with all the desired results.

One can well imagine that in the wings some rice or prune merchant suggests to these unhappy people a mystique appropriate to their intenstinal conditions Bernanos concludes

... like un-British or un-American, I suppose.

Those who believe in dogma assume everyone else does too. Ideas are always implicit in any course of actions; ideas have consequences, as Richard Weaver told us. But the surer key to action is to ask cui bono? or to what end? Indeed, could it not be the case that the more dogma is associated with this kind of threshing of mankind into acceptable and unacceptable categories, the more one can suspect that something other than openly professed dogma is driving the action forward?

By posing such a question about warring factions, Bernanos does not want us to be cynical about humanity; merely that we be attentive to how humans produce myths to disguise their violence towards others. It is easy to see myth-making in our enemies. It is very difficult to see it in ourselves.

In the case of the Spanish Civil War, there is arguably a level of complexity that Bernanos does not sufficiently acknowledge, and which concerns how myths are sometimes hijacked from a just context and made to serve injustice. Last week at a conference I quizzed a specialist on French communism about whether the French Communist Party of the late 1930s, which was so eloquent in denouncing el terror blanco was equally eloquent in denouncing el terror rojo. The simple answer is that it was not! And so, we have the ridiculous spectacle of French communists, supposedly good materialists, wringing their hands over the niceties of abstract communist theory while their Spanish brothers quietly (or not so quietly) murder thousands more clergy and religious than died during the Terror of the French Revolution. My point? That the defence of humanity or liberty by the Republicans - and which could probably with justice be invoked in the case of Majorca - sufficed, and still suffices for many, to draw a mythic veil over the awful crimes committed against the Spanish Church. Myth, therefore, is not always fiction. Sometimes it is fact-ion. It is always faction.

I don't know how the White House would have responded to such actions, other than to label them un-Spanish perhaps. Bernanos's rage in Les Grands Cimetières sous la lune is largely directed against his coreligionists because, let it be noted, political cleansing through a process of summary execution is not Catholic!

But it is also directed against the threshing out of men into the camps of the damned and the saved, an action which belongs to God alone. We who cling to dogma as our compass would do well to make sure we do not use it as our gun.


The population of Majorca has always been noted for its absolute indifference to politics. In the days of the Carlistes and the Cristinos, George Sand tells us how they welcomed with equal unconcern the refugees of either side. According to the head of the Phalange, you could not have found a hundred Communists in the whole island. 'There was killing in Spain,' you say. 'A hundred and thirty-five political assassinations between March and July 1936.' But in Majorca there were no crimes to avenge, so it could only have been a preventative action, the systematic extermination of suspects. The majority of legal sentences - I shall refer later to the executions without trial, of which there were many more - were merely for desafeccion al movimento salvador: Disloyalty to the movement for national safety, expressed in words or gestures alone.
Georges Bernanos, Les Grands Cimetières sous la lune

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Exclusive - those chatty twins revealed

Apologies for the suspension of blogging in the last week or so. Since the 18th March, I have had conferences in various places, observations in a school and a cheeky spring virus to contend with. The bug left me mostly bed ridden last week and reduced me to a state in which I could easily have been mistaken for an escapee from the Peckham Home for the Mentally Bewildered. Better health has prevailed today.

Speaking of Peckham, my wife informs me that there was panic on the East Dulwich Forum on Friday when one wag informed readers about the local council's decision to abandon the locality's name of East Dulwich (a trendy and rather cool place to live) and to rebrand it West Peckham (er, quite the opposite). Property prices rocked at the very mention of the possiblity! April Fool's Day strikes again.

Personally, I was most impressed with Google's effort this year. They sent Gmail users an email explaining the 'new' service Gmail Motion. This purported to be a programme which would respond to body language picked up through the user's webcam!!! Those who followed the link found a message saying: Sorry Gmail motion doesn't exist, at least not yet ... I hasten to add that I read that in the newspapers!

Meanwhile, much has been made of the video-gone-viral of two chatty twin boys.

Far from being an amusing exchange between to classic NVCs (that's non-verbal communicators), this conversation - The Sensible Bond can exclusively reveal!!!! - is in fact a film of the last plenary session of the French Diocesan Liturgical Conference. You doubt my word? The substance of their exchange has been implemented in one recent liturgy and Fr Z has posted the video here.

The Sensible Bond. Normal service, with a smile, will now be resumed.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Aid to the Church in Need Pilgrimage

ACN has asked me to advertise the following.

Aid to the Church in Need UK – Annual Walsingham Pilgrimage of Hope – Saturday, 30th April 2010

Please join us as Aid to the Church in Need remembers suffering Christians around the world with our 2011 Pilgrimage to the Roman Catholic National Shrine in Walsingham.

ACN is organising coaches from London Victoria, Bressenden Place, departing at 08:00. Should parishioners wish to join us at Walsingham, travelling independently or, perhaps, organising coaches from their locality they are very welcome to do so.

For those who would like to join us on this Pilgrimage and would like more information a brochure and booking form is downloadable from the ACN website at the following link You could also contact us on 020 8642 8668


Michael Cowie
Area Secretaries Coordinator
Aid to the Church in Need
12-14 Benhill Avenue
Tel. (direct) 020-8661-5154

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