Friday, 28 October 2011

Fairtrade? Why not Pro-life too?

A few years ago, during the Portsmouth Diocesan consultation over reorganisation, I made a submission in which I suggested that in addition to being 'Fairtrade' (an accolade they clamoured loudly about), the diocese should also be 'Pro-life' in the sense of promoting the plenary teaching of the Church on marriage, sexuality, contraception and the family. Along with probably 99% of proposals, that one ended up in the bin.

I note then with pleasure the rather hard-hitting letter on John Smeaton's blog from Fr Leon Pereira OP, commenting on the Las Casas Institute's invitation to Dr Jon Cruddas to speak at Blackfriars, Oxford (not that they are in Portsmouth, but they are not far away!).

Among other salient arguments, he hits the nail on the head when he says that there has been a bias towards the soft issues in the Catholic defence of justice and peace in England and Wales. Here is how he puts it:

We sign agreements to make our parishes ‘Fair Trade friendly’. That requires a conversion of sorts, although I understand that Fair Trade as it now stands could be improved and made fairer. But why do we not make a covenant with all our families (remember, they are the ‘domestic Church’ according to Vatican II!) to be ‘Humanae Vitae friendly’? Is it a good use of our energies to chain ourselves to the gates of Faslane, when hundreds of thousands of children are slaughtered in our cities every year? Probably not, but it is easier isn't it? It's easier to moan about carbon footprints than to form our consciences according to the mind of Holy Mother Church. But then the Gospel isn't about what's easier.

Fr Pereira is being both bold and brave here. Cruddas won't thank him for his intervention, and my guess is that Fr Pereira's intervention will be viewed dimly by some of his brethren. But if, as he says, Cruddas's record on abortion voting is so lamentable, and if, as he says, Cruddas is unlikely to get a roasting by the participants at Las Casas, then what else can a conscientious man do other than register his protest against the event?

God bless Fr Pereira and God save him from the whirlwind he could reap from sticking his neck out like this.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Silly season in Assisi (or what the pope SHOULD say today)

Well, it's here, the grand religious jamboree which I wrote about here and here and here and here. Here is a day, if ever there was one, for looking bleary eyed at the dawn (as I have done) and burying oneself under the covers again (which I have singularly failed to do).

I must admit the Vatican has worked overtime to prevent misinterpretations of the genre that made Benedict stay away from Assisi in 1986 and which, in 2006, made him write the following to the Bishop of Assisi:

In order not to misinterpret the meaning of what John Paul II wanted to achieve in 1986 and what, to use his own words, he habitually called the 'spirit of Assisi,' it is important not to forget the attention paid on that occasion to ensuring that the interreligious Prayer Meeting did not lend itself to syncretist interpretations founded on a relativistic concept.

In the same letter, Benedict also recalled what John Paul II had said about the first Assisi meeting:

The fact that we have come here does not imply any intention of seeking a religious consensus among ourselves or of negotiating our faith convictions. Neither does it mean that religions can be reconciled at the level of a common commitment in an earthly project which would surpass them all. Nor is it a concession to relativism in religious beliefs.

But surely, the fact that JPII could say this and still find the spirit of Assisi running out of control is proof that you cannot simply offer your own interpretations of your actions while, in those actions and in other words, undermining the interpretation you want people to lay on them. I'm reminded of a scene from a Marx brothers film in which Groucho is flirting with some pretty young girl and Margaret Rutherford (was it she?) says to him: 'But what are you doing flirting with her?

Groucho: I wasn't flirting!

Rutherford: Yes, you were! I saw you!

Groucho: Well, who are you going to believe: me or your own eyes?

Let me make that simpler. If we say: Neither does it mean that religions can be reconciled at the level of a common commitment in an earthly project which would surpass them all, what does it mean if we then say that we are all in a quest for world peace? Isn't that an 'earthly project which would surpass [all religions]'? And if not, why isn't the nature of that peace - a purely civilisational or civic peace which simply ensures that we are not at each other's throats - made unmistakeably clear? I admit I haven't read all the sources and documents but this is fundamental.

And then there is this notion of pilgrimage. We're all on a pilgrimage are we? Let me quote to you what I wrote about this previously:

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 [hear]? 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.

Indeed, we are all in a convenant with God through our baptism. So what does it mean if we place ourselves in the same position of pilgrim towards the truth alongside members of all other religions? Of course, we as individuals are fallible and error-stricken at times: but do we believe our religion is Christ's revelation and our Church Christ's instrument to save the world, yes or no? And if so, what does it mean to pretend to be a pilgrim just like any Buddhist or Hindu?

What then really is the meaning of the train which today will rumble its way from Rome to Assisi? Am I the first one to wonder Quo vadis, Petre?

All that said, the actions of someone like Fr RĂ©gis de Caqueray, SSPX district superior in France, repeating everything that was said about Assisi I, and ratcheting it up a notch, are one more proof of the poor stuff that passes for argumentation from that quarter. Even the left-wing media - the Guardian and the BBC included - have got the message that Assisi is not syncretist or relativist in intention. And the SSPX's promise of a thousand Masses in reparation just looks a little too passive-aggressive to me. Some devils are only driven out by prayer and fasting, I agree, but but this just smacks of not trying to understand.

Mrs Ches asked me the other day what it would take for the pope to redeem the Assisi meeting today in my eyes. My answer is simple: all he need do is to say that while he welcomes them all as fellow humans and even as friends, he must read to them something he recently wrote to Catholics:

The “door of faith” (Acts 14:27) is always open for us, ushering us into the life of communion with God and offering entry into his Church. It is possible to cross that threshold when the word of God is proclaimed and the heart allows itself to be shaped by transforming grace. To enter through that door is to set out on a journey that lasts a lifetime. It begins with baptism (cf. Rom 6:4), through which we can address God as Father, and it ends with the passage through death to eternal life, fruit of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, whose will it was, by the gift of the Holy Spirit, to draw those who believe in him into his own glory (cf. Jn 17:22). To profess faith in the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – is to believe in one God who is Love (cf. 1 Jn 4:8): the Father, who in the fullness of time sent his Son for our salvation; Jesus Christ, who in the mystery of his death and resurrection redeemed the world; the Holy Spirit, who leads the Church across the centuries as we await the Lord’s glorious return.

And he might finish his address by donning his silly red hat and saying something like:

'So come on in, boys, the baptismal water is lovely!'

And then he could recess to the strains of Dave Brubeck's Take Five.

Nothing, after all, could be as silly as the bonsai olive plants of 1986.

Really what would be so bad if he did all that? It is that, after all - as the author of Dominus Jesus knows better than most - that Assisi or peace or pilgrimage or dialogue should mean ultimately:

Open your hearts to salvation in Jesus Christ: there is salvation in none other.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Of food and faith

There was a little event yesterday the consequences of which Houseman might have expressed as follows:

Now of my three score years and ten,
Forty will not come again.

It went mostly unnoticed. I've never really banged the drum on my birthday, not since I was a young lad. And at the moment, with so much of our energies being absorbed by parenthood, we had other fish to fry.

Oddly enough - given that we were frying other fish! - it was a weekend of food, glorious food, washed down by the occasional glass of well-aged grape juice. For Sunday lunch I made a kind of Moroccan-style tagine affair with shin of beef, while in the evening we prepared a tomato and mozzarella salad to go with our flash-fried, ruby-red rare goat steaks (yum!). Yesterday - the day itself - was a brutal day of lecturing and meetings but in the evening we managed a very easily prepared fresh fig and parma ham salad with a honey dressing (mega-yum!). Mrs Ches, the soul of constant generosity, presented me with a manually operated fruit press, not merely to up my in-take of fruit (!) but also with one eye on my slow-burning, long-term ambition to experiment with home-made cider. Watch this space.

Yesterday evening we found ourselves at Birmingham Oratory where Vespers and Benediction are celebrated in the 1962 rite. This is a form of liturgical prayer which is etched deeply on my psyche, and there was something entirely fitting about bringing the raggle-taggle memories of my life so far before a sanctuary filled with the slow chanting of the Divine Office. Sometimes God speaks in thunder and sometimes in cadences.

A dear friend believes there is some inherent connection between Catholic respect for food and the Holy Eucharist; it is as if our very material world is raised a notch higher because God has given himself substantially to us under the material appearances of bread and wine. When we are not fasting, therefore, we must feast! Our food as it were continues our hymn of thanksgiving which is integral to our reception of the Eucharist - just as the incensations of the altar at Vespers recapitulate the incensations of the Mass. And, I think I began to understand, as I sat there in the church on Sunday evening, why Chesterton places gratitude so very high in the ranks of the virtues.

But that is perhaps for another blog ...

The Inn Catholics

The Inn Catholics in London have asked for a little publicity boost with the following event:

Dr Joseph Shaw, A Political Future for England - Saint Thomas Aquinas and the Common Good

Tuesday the 25th of October at 7.30 PM.

More details here.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Trouble at t' mill

After a month away from the blogging coal face, it's taken me three days to actually get back in the saddle (though no time at all to mix my metaphors). It's not that I've been busy, I just don't know where the time goes these days.

But I've had to force myself to sit down in the chair (while Mrs Ches feeds the bairn) to report on the trouble unfolding within the SSPX. It's reasonably well known by now that Bishop Williamson received a letter from Bishop Fellay dated 23 September. The former shared it with friends one of whom, we must suppose, leaked the text to traditionalist blogger Maurice Pinay who - fearing this was a major step in a dirty tricks war to get Bishop Williamson expelled from the Society - promptly published it. An update to the original post states that Bishop Williamson has now certified the letter as authentic but claims not to have given his permission for it to be published on the net. In a further development, it is now being said that the letter was sent by mistake, and that a second letter exists (which Bishop Williamson has not received) which does not contain the threat of expulsion from the SSPX to be read in the letter posted on Pinay's blog. This news broke on Friday and was sent to me by an old seminary pal. On Saturday, in the wake of this unauthorised publication, Bishop Williamson's Eleison Comments took up the question of whether Pope Benedict had suppressed an ancient truth in excusing the Jews collectively of the crime of deicide in the second volume of his Jesus of Nazareth. And there, as far as I know, the matter rests.


So what exactly is going on in the SSPX? The Fellay letter, whether it was sent by mistake or not, contains some extraordinary revelations about the internal atmosphere of the SSPX, not the least of which is the claim that a group of Anglo-Saxon priests (the expression is a classic French one for Anglophones) is planning to break away. It is a strange letter which ranges between a rather conciliatory opening (setting out conditions for Bishop Wiliamson to attend the Albano meeting) and various accusations about Bishop Williamson's disloyalty to the SSPX. It seems to be out of step with Bishop Fellay's habitual poise.

Talk on the traditionalist forums is rife with accusations and counter-accusations in support or condemnation of Bishop Williamson and Bishop Fellay. Bishop Fellay is supposed, by many, to be preparing to 'sell out' to Pope Benedict, while others report senior SSPX clerics denying any possibility of the Society signing the Doctrinal (and still secret) Preamble. Bishop Williamson, who has been in exile for the last few years, has clearly invested this weekend's Eleison Comments with maximum provocative value. He surely knows full well that talking about the Jews is the thing that is most likely to embarras Bishop Fellay at the moment, but in this week's newsletter he has chosen to talk not about the Holocaust but about a common opinion - in his newsletter he scrupulously avoids calling it a dogma because he knows full well that it isn't! - concerning whether the guilt of the Jews in Jerusalem for Christ's death on Good Friday was shared with the rest of the Jewish race. For some people such an opinion is enough to have him thrown out of the Church, not just the SSPX. That said, I dare say it is an opinion one would find thoroughly well attested in the Fathers. It is not for all that a dogma de fide catholica, and dressing it up as an 'ancient truth' and lambasting the pope for overthrowing it looks on reflexion like a sleight of hand.

It becomes more difficult by the day to talk about these topics, as it becomes more necessary to do so. But at the same time, the brass-necked delusions of Bishop Williamson - who defends his continued publication of Eleison Comments on the ridiculous pretext that nobody can stop him as a bishop preaching the Faith - are not in fact that distant, metholodogically speaking, from the rest of the SSPX. Bishop Williamson's rebellion is beyond doubt the logical working out of a position that nobody in the SSPX has examined properly. Indeed, while not all the SSPX will chose to talk about the same controversial questions as Bishop Williamson, they pretty much all to a man follow the same modus operandi: if they decide something is against the Faith, then it is against the Faith, and this claim represents their Joker card which justifies them doing whatever they decide is for the good of the Church. By talking about this 'ancient truth' concerning the Jews this weekend, Bishop Williamson seems to be inviting Bishop Fellay to kick him out of the SSPX for reasons which would enable Bishop Williamson to charge Bishop Fellay precisely with betraying ancient truths. After all, why this subject and why now? I suspect Bishop Fellay knows Bishop Williamson has him over a barrel on this one.

But who decides in the end? We still don't know what is in the Doctrinal Preamble but I'm prepared to bet my last cigar that it is about this question of WHO is the final judge of these questions of Faith.


We must pray for the speedy resolution of this situation, but all the signs are, quite frankly, very bad: this looks increasingly like a proverbial train wreck, as the inner contradictions of the SSPX collide with each other. Here we are needing serious reform in the Church, and here we have a group which could make a massive contribution to the cause. And here we are waiting for the rivers of bullshit to subside before any resolution can be found.

God alone can sort this mess out.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Ches ...

... was on his way back, but somehow family life did not permit and does not permit until sometime later today. A plus tard.

Friday, 14 October 2011