Tuesday, 25 May 2010

The Elusive Rome

I don't mean to grumble but I cannot help reflecting on the elusiveness of Rome. Not for others, but for me. Last year I should have been out there for an ordination, but at the last minute, for reasons it is unnecessary to rehearse here, I didn't go.

So, I was looking forward to climbing aboard the Easyjet flight tomorrow from Gatwick to Fiumicino. I was due in Rome to give a paper at the Dietrich Von Hildebrand conference at the Holy Cross Seminary. I have indeed sent off my paper so it can at least be read in my absence. But I won't be going. Ho hum.

I won't describe the problem, but it is very painful. My mother and grandmother have had it too. I'm sure I need the penance. And I'm not going to turn up my nose at the £300 I have saved on accommodation and conference fee. Still, elusive Rome again ...

As I may, mustn't grumble. But I really hope one of these days to make it. It's little consolation Rome is coming here in September.


I say it's little consolation. I've been noticing over the last few days the debate concerning limits on numbers at Pope Benedict's public functions in Scotland and England. The official line is that health and safety demand some restrictions, and that people can always watch on TV at home. Hmm, well, of course they can watch the Pope on TV at home. But they can do that now while they AND the Pope stay home for the occasion. They only need to tune in to EWTN via satellite or the internet. It's anybody's guess how TV coverage of the papal visit is consolation for anybody but the infirm and the elderly.

On the other hand, the older I get the less I am impressed or attracted by the kind of mass gatherings which the papal visit will undoubtedly give rise to. Of course we could treat them as a pilgrimage, or as penance of some kind. I personally will have to (if indeed I am in the country and choose to attend). For me, it will feel like going to a Catholic version of the Boxing Day sales.


So, maybe what I should try to do is plan my trip to Rome while the Pope is visiting England. I will still get a pilgrimage in the bag, but instead of queuing on a London street or standing for hours without toilet or water in Coventry Airport, I will be able to watch the Pope on TV from the comfort of my Italian hotel before trotting down to the Gesu to make a pilgrimage to Our Lady of the Strada.

Is this the soft option? Well, it might be. But be gentle. I'm really feeling quite poorly. And quite disappointed. Rome, the elusive...

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Spring is here, spring is here

It was quite tropical this evening on the way home from work. I say tropical. Maybe that's an exaggeration. It's so long since we saw the sun in any meaningful quantity. I hope he reads this. Perhaps he will be shamed into appearing more often.

Truly, though, a late-spring evening, like the one we have tonight, is just full of promise. Absolutely full of promise. And all the more meaningful in the current climate. Let's face it, there are few things to feel particularly positive about at the moment, at least for poor little England.

But that's the odd thing: the seemingly infinite variety of experience, of modes of impression, such that one can live in the same space and time as those up yonder, and hardly know the other side of the moor (as we northerners say). Somewhere in England tonight, the hearts are light, the minds are free, and there can be caught on the scent of the evening's air all the promise that God has instilled in life. At the same time, worried hearts go to bed, tired and numbed by trial, oblivious to the weather, in the cell of their own problems. None but a Saviour who has laughed and wept will do for such folk.

How does God keep track of it all? But He does, in some infinitely mysterious way which, in itself, calls on our hearts to open to His largesse and look with universal charity on those who are cheery and those who mourn.

Lord knows where all that came from, but it came from somewhere. Maybe it's the prospect of another weekend away (I know! The extravagance!). I'll be back to the blog on Sunday or Monday with a fair wind. Never seem to stop running these days.

And while we're in the mood for spring, what about a little Tom Lehrer? Go on!

Sunday, 16 May 2010

A bitter pill to swallow

Mary Kenny has a piece in this week's Catholic Herald (print version) which I cannot find online. In it Miss Kenny notes the 50th anniversary of the licensing of the Pill in the USA. The 50-year anniversary in Britain falls next year (can't wait, can you?). She remarks that in the 1960s she had hoped Pope Paul would go with the majority advice from his theological commission and allow Catholics the freedom to use the Pill. Nowadays she says she wishes the Pill was allowed to Catholics but only because young couples struggling to space their children should be supported and helped. And yet she notes in her conclusion that the Pill has had mixed results, failing to reduce school-girl pregnancies or bring down abortion and divorce rates. She avoids making any indication of whether people should actually follow the Church's teaching on the issue. For charity's sake I must take it that she thinks they should follow it, even with a heavy heart.

That such an article can appear in the Catholic Herald is surely yet another indicator of conditions among the Catholic elites. Is this the best we can do in this country? Parade our longings to embrace the boons of the pill, while we acknowledge the unfortunate rise in teenage pregnancies, divorce and abortion? Of course, I was forgetting, I am in England where it is much more important for readers to be familiar with their journalists than for journalists to have something constructive to say. I am in England where it is much more important to acknowledge the pragmatist's point of view than to state your own principle. For The Catholic Herald Mary Kenny probably draws in the confortably-padded, late middle-aged reader of whom there are still quite a few in the Catholic Church in England; they might even be the best represented constituency...

But as I kick over this article there is much that is so evidently wrong in it. Kenny observes that while Jewish theologians objected to contraceptive devices - since they interposed a barrier between husband and wife - the Pill changed the state of the question because no such device was involved. Well, yes and no. True, the Pill does its work chemically rather than mechanically, but the 'barrier' it introduces into the system are the manufactured hormones that make the female body behave chemically as if pregnant. Thinking that the Pill is not a barrier between man and wife is a bit like saying poison isn't dangerous because it's not a heavy, blunt object.

Kenny observes - I think with some acuity - that one of the most influential works on this subject, at least among those who bother to read, was David Lodge's The British Museum is Falling Down. This novel dramatizes the plight of a young Catholic family who are rather poor, and desperate to avoid a fourth pregnancy by practising what was then jocularly called 'Vatican roulette'. But, you know, what strikes me in all these discussions is the unshakeable assumption that poverty and virtue are incompatible. I'm told that these days NFP is far more reliable than the so-called Rhythm Method, but that isn't the point. The point is that the discourse that prevails is one in which poverty is an unremitting evil: not one of the evangelical counsels. This isn't Christianity, it is meliorism. Ought we not at least to say that if our convictions carry us into uncomfortable spots, so be it? And in the Catholic ban on contraception was there not a principle of life to defend, a principle which has been trampled over by all those who wrung their hands over poverty but hardly over the damage to marriage which contraception facilitated? I'm not underestimating the stomach-churning anxiety poverty can cause; I'm just saying it is sometimes as urgent a moral risk as daring not to be a racist or a capitalist.

Kenny finishes off her article with a nod at the negative results of contraception. But then nobody could approve of the rise in school girl pregnancies, divorces and abortions, which were supposed to decline in the Pill's wake. This is where I find Kenny's article at its most reckless. We all know fine well that the Pill was a major plank of sexual liberation in this country and in the West in general. Many of us know that it was precisely the attitudes that the Pill helped engender that led to the rise in abortions, and most likely to the rise in divorce too. And, those who thought about the issues in the 1960s - including, incidentally, Paul VI - knew that the most significant thing about contraception in the Sexual Revolution was its capacity to sever procreation and sex, leaving practically nothing but taboo to block the way to homosexuality. And where do we find ourselves today? Ahem.

People I know could raise a dozen other objections to the Pill, starting with the merry hell hormonal interference can cause in relations between the sexes. One explanation for the calamitous developments in female fashion of recent years is that many women are now chemically pregnant a lot of the time, with the result that they have to work harder to attract the men because their bodies do not emit partner-attracting pheromones.

But the cultural legacy ought to be proof enough for Kenny's generation that they made a colossally stupid mistake in siding with liberal opinion against the Church. Indeed, where are their children now? Very few have stayed. In fact, what's the point of staying if you are not going to listen?

Still, Kenny has a front row seat among the Catholic opinion formers of this country. The mind boggles.

Thursday, 13 May 2010


Very sorry, dear readers - all three of you - it's been a helluva week chez Innocent. Last weekend took me to a far-flung corner of the country. Lovely place, happy company, all-round excellent trip. But this week has come down on me like a ton of bricks. It is the examination period and my profession is kept rather busy at this time of the year. Then, I also have a paper to prepare for a conference in Rome in two weeks. This is what Sir Alex Ferguson calls 'squeaky-bum time.' Hmm, says it all really. Innocent is also threatened with unemployment pretty soon too, so if you have a spare prayer going, I could use it.

Meanwhile, the country is reeling to news of the 'new politics'. Or at least that is what we have been assured of by the politicians forming a coalition government of Conservative and Liberal Democratic sentiment. How does one tell them to pull the other one? If you believe that, you'll believe anything. Sure, they will all be friendly to start with, but just wait for human nature to click in. And we'll be back to the old politics, which in fact we will never have left! Dontcha just love the 'société du spectacle', as that old French alcoholic Guy Debord called it?

Meanwhile, the truer things of life, the seasons, the spring, the morning chorus, seem to go on in spite of it all. Even old Gordi Brown acknowledged, as he was leaving Downing Street, that being PM was only the second most important job he could do in life. His young children waved at the photographers in ignorant and wild abandon. And there was a moment of humility, the afternote of a premiership of hubris. I might wish us all such moments.

So, it's back to the grindstone. Never mind the taxes, feel the pinch. If, like me, you're a public sector worker, well, make sure that vegetable patch is dug. I would, were it not for the fact I leave my digs at the end of June. Who knows where, who knows wither? As I say, all spare prayers are most welcome.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Hung Parliament

So it looks like a hung parliament scenario, with the strong possibility of a Con-LibDem coalition. There will be no word from David Cameron until 2.30pm, by which time I will be sailing up the M1 on a weekend break (yes, another one, it's shocking!). More comment when I return. It's always possible that Nick Clegg will tease us and then join hands with Labour. We must wait and see.

In the short term, we can observe that some awful people have been voted out, most notably Dr Evan Harris who was MP for Oxford West. Harris was known as Dr Death for his support for the anti-Life agenda and for the way he worked the lobbies during the vote on the Human Embryology Bill. Whether his successor, Nicola Blackwood, proves to have a better voting record on Life remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, here's a thought from a friend. 'A hung parliament? Okay, which one should we hang first?'

Deus, exaudi nos!

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Fighting talk

After my post of yesterday about l'entre-deux-guerres, I read Fr Finigan's blog post about meeting Cardinal Pell at St Peter's some time ago. Cardinal Pell is rumoured to be the new Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, an appointment which has all the tantalizing potential of a yickity old, crime-ridden frontier town hiring Wyatt Earp as the sheriff. I approve. The relevant portion of Fr Finigan's post is as follows:

On one occasion I happened across Cardinal Pell at St Peter's. I was flattered that he remembered me and said: "Tim - remember my advice. Keep your guard up and keep moving round the ring."

[Innocent rubs his hands]. Never mind entre-deux-guerres! Why not à la guerre comme à la guerre!

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

L'Entre-deux-guerres: Back in the wars

One of the funniest albeit most offensive French writers I know is Léon Daudet. Readers might have heard of Alphonse Daudet, author of Lettres de mon moulin and one of the founders of the myth of the sun-kissed, olive-groved, lavender-scented Provence. Alphonse himself hardly had clean hands; he was a fincancial supporter of Edouard Drumont, France's most notorious nineteenth-century anti-Semite, and died from complications caused by syphilis. Léon, his son, became famous as the journalist editor workhorse of the Action française movement. He was a fearsome bon viveur, quaffing sometimes as many as six bottles of wine in a day, and he was also a feared duellist. You'd be amazed at how popular duelling remained in the late nineteenth century in France; Georges Clémenceau himself was a crack shot with a pistol. Anyway, I digress.

Well, Daudet it was who gave French journal literature the concept of l'entre-deux-guerres. This is not the same as peacetime. Rather, any period that followed a war could legitimately be seen as a period of l'entre-deux-guerres: between two wars. Perhaps this was an especially French way of looking at the issue. Daudet was born in the 1860s in a France which was usually between two wars, not to mention two governments, at least until 1958. I don't remember all the nuances now, but the entre-deux-guerres mentality is not hard to fathom. It is a warning about optimism; it is a monitory note sounded while the John Lennons of this world drivel on about no possessions. Don't get comfortable, war isn't that far away, dixit Daudet. It's a useful lesson.

Well, please don't believe that I'm revelling in the idea, but I couldn't help coming to that conclusion during my short break last weekend. There are few benefits to the wave of prejudice and anger aimed at Pope Benedict XVI in the last few months, and at the Catholic Church in general. But one of them is that it has popped the myth that had sprung up around the 'men of good will'. Of course we greet all men as honest and upright; of course we take them where they are. But that discourse has for the last few decades promoted a kind of irenic pacifism, an unrealistic expectation concerning the benignity of the world at large. The problem with trying always to see the other man's point of view - like Trollope's Septimus Harding - is that sometimes we actually miss his point. The trouble is that sometimes the other man's point of view is not the sign of a benign attachment to what he thinks is truth, but the tool with which he is setting out to beat us. The trouble with trying always to see his point of view is that we fail to do him the honour of thinking him capable of ill will. The trouble is we forget we are in a war. Or at the very least between two wars.

I'm not complaining about that of course. I don't mind a bit of a fight. I suppose what I struggle with are the loitering Munich agreement makers. Them and the advance party of collaborationists. You know who they are! That said, all is not fair in love and war; Christ's victory is one of love, not force. Still, it's about time we stopped interpreting love as niceness. After all, niceness doesn't stop the l'entre-deux-guerres ending in another conflict. It only disarms the battle weary and makes them think that peacetime has come at last.

Now, where is my helmet of salvation? Perhaps I should be wearing it already. Is it any wonder I am thinking of this old socialist melody? As a colleague once said of Léon Daudet, sometimes the devil has the best tunes.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Good intentions

Yes, well, that's what comes of good intentions. It is of no comfort to you, reader dear, that I spent the morning examing my students (yawn), most of the afternoon in the dentists (ouch), and most of the evening on the phone (yeah! but not blogging material).

But what can one say at the end of an election campaign in which so much ink has been split by so many for so little? As I write, rather late in the day, Bird, Bremner and Fortune are on the TV trying to convince us all that the golden age of satire has not entirely passed away. But we know it has. You cannot enjoy satire unless you believe in something, and what do we believe in now? I speak corporatively, of course!

Instead, we are like the proletariat, bourgoisie and industrialists of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, hardly caring who comes to power, so long as they line our pockets. Economics is king. Roll out the bank balance. A necessity of course, but why must our necessities always become our virtues?

Hmm, well, perhaps I have said something of what I intended to say tonight, but the time is lacking, and so I promise again to return tomorrow. A busy one, but not so busy that I cannot divulge my own thoughts before the fateful day of the election finally dawns.

Still, none of us know the hour ...

Monday, 3 May 2010

Hiatus over

Just back from a bank holiday hiatus so I will blog on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, if, like me, you are public sector worker on a contract, let me advise you to make sure your garage is stocked with tinned food and your new CV is written up neatly before Friday.

On the optimistic side, there are large numbers of roadsweeper jobs in Iceland, so I understand.

Deus exaudi nos!