Monday, 16 August 2010

Blogging will continue ...


Summer is icummin in

No, I haven't died. And, no, I cannot explain that odd smell coming from the screen. It's not me anyway.

I've just been rather busy, finishing a big project, tending the sick and needy (I kid you not) and then doing a job interview - no news yet.

Still, this is summer, what are you reading blogs for? You should be outside in the fresh air, not mooching around in the house growing pale and wan. I myself intend to go sloping off soon enough.

Come to think of it, this isn't working, is it? I think it might be time to knock it on the head. Can you stand the loss? I dare say you can. Thank you, faithful readers. I shall be back in a week or two with a forwarding address.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Rejoicing and feasting

After my post on Bishop Conry the other week, I really didn't think I would have anything kind to say about a bishop for quite some time. It's not that I'm a judgmental man, though I do make judgments; as Chesterton said, the only point of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to close it again on something solid. Still, since Bishop Conry seems only slightly worse than many of our mitred shepherds, I've taken to not looking too closely, a bit like a man who is expecting an accident from a certain direction.

Well, what do I read this week in the Catholic newspapers but that the bishops of England and Wales have requested and obtained permission for four new feasts commemorating St Gregory the Great on September 3, St Thomas Becket on December 29, the English Martyrs on May 4, and St Augustine of Canterbury on May 27. A long article in The Catholic Herald explains that the Congregation for Divine Worship has approved these feasts. Oh frabjous day, you say, callooh, callay, he chortled in his joy.

But hang on, hang on. There is something I don't quite understand here. Pardon me if I'm wrong but aren't these four saints already saints, and don't they already have feast days? So what exactly did the English bishops ask for and what exactly is the result of this decision by the CDW? As low as my opinion of most of these men has sunk, I cannot believe they are hoping for the merit of setting up these feasts, like some latter-day government claiming the merit of instituting democracy (although, when I think of it, that's practically what our last government did!), or like some kid standing next to a fancy car in the hope the passing girls think it's his.

So what is this about? Can some liturgist please enlighten me?

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Special relationships

While on holiday in the USA a few years ago, an English friend and I fell into conversation about the so-called 'special relationship' which is supposed to exist between the USA and Great Britain. Having kicked around the expression's meaning and history for a few minutes, he wondered whether this term 'special relationship' was one known among Americans, like it is known among Brits. Well, since we were in the USA, it was the perfect moment to find out.

We were at that very moment in some east-coast town, probably Baltimore. Surely, if anyone knew about the 'special relationship' between the USA and GB, it would be the Baltimorers. After all, Baltimore is the site of Fort McHenry where American soldiers fought so bravely during a nocturnal bombardment by the British in the War of 1812. The words of the US national anthem were inspired by that event, as Francis Scott Key, their author, witnessed the 'star spangled banner' emerge through the smoke and the mist the next morning.

So we asked. I think we asked in several places. Most memorably, we asked at a museum where artifacts from the War of Independence and the war of 1812 (and probably a few other wars too). And in each place, the answer came back: 'The special WHAAT?' Hmmm, well those who listen to the vox populi get what they deserve.

That was an illustrative experience for a couple of proud Brits abroad, I can tell you. Just when we had studied the British part in America's rise, we were exposed to that cruellest of cultural encounters: they have all the uniformed mannequins and narratives of liberating conflict you can ask for, but scratch away at the surface and America has moved on. I felt like a Norman touring the southern counties of England a century or two after 1066 and hearing from the natives that they had never heard of Bayeaux.

At this point a certain kind of non-American critic likes to scorn the American thing. It's an easy and common emotion for a conservative-minded Brit, but it is one I strongly disapprove of. In any case, on reflection I'm sure the inhabitants of Hastings hardly dwelt at all on their own relationship with Normandy. Why should the Baltimorers know anything about the special relationship anyway, especially since it was invented by Winston Churchill to help lever the Yanks into WWII? I'm reminded of the importance that Britain takes on for certain ex-colonies and colonials who sometimes look to this country with a piety and fervour that is hardly reflected in the complete popular indifference, not to say ignorance, which Britain shows towards its former empire. I dare say the natives of Tuvalu feel a pulsating fidelity to the civilisation brought to their country by the British lo those many years ago, but do we know who they are? I think not. Ask the average Brit what Tuvalu is and they will probably think it is some kind of soya-based meat substitute.

So, there are several conclusions which we can draw here. One is that when David Cameron meets President Obama today we should not be surprised if Barack gives him an order for drinks ('since Prime Minister Cameron is about to arrive'). The second is that we cannot pretend to any greater importance in their lives than our neighbours are prepared to grant us. Some diplomatic relations are like an unrequited attempt at mutual respect.

And perhaps the last is that we cannot trust Churchill, except when he's telling a joke (Like 'some chicken ... some neck'). When he was deadly serious, on the other hand, the man could be a menace!

Monday, 12 July 2010

When boo words are best

In one very interesting study of contemporary English a distinction is made between what the author calls 'boo words' and 'hurrah words'. His contention is that in the flow of vocabulary which constitutes our media-led public discourse certain words can be used in order to produce in listeners, readers or spectators instant approval (hurrah words) or disapproval (boo words).

And he's quite right of course. Introduce words like 'advanced', 'daring', 'latest' or 'taboo-breaking' and the public mind - I use the terms loosely - is supposed to give the old thumbs up. Use words like 'traditional', 'middle-class', and the like, and you''re bound to stimulate the contrary reaction. The responsibility of public communicators ought to be to avoid this kind of language, but we know they don't. After all it's not as if public debates are about truth; they are only about who wins. Who cares if you use a little loose language, like a used carpet salesman?

I think that's why I am so irritated by reports that Bishop Kieran Conry has labelled the new Pontifical Council for Evangelisation as unnecessary. I have tried to find the edition of BBC Radio 4's Sunday on which he made these remarks but it is no longer available online. Still, The Catholic Herald reports him saying that the Church had become 'simply irrelevant' for many people:

It's authoritative. It's intolerant. It's demanding. It's exclusive. I think the Church has got to re-present itself rather than simply blame everything on the ills of society.

Begging his Lordship's pardon, but he must be fantasising about some Church I have yet to come across.

In the first place I object to the use of the word 'authoritative'. I assume he means 'authoritarian', but that is not the same thing. Then again, is the Church authoritarian today? And if so, is there cause to be a little authoritarian? I would have thought any bishop reading the newspapers this year must be well aware that if there is one thing the world acuses the Church of, it's of not being authoritarian enough, especially over the sins of its own clergy.

But what about the rest of this quotation? Intolerant? Now there is a 'boo' word which is heavily coded. After all, ask Bishop Kieran if he is happy to be intolerant of racism, and you can bet he would say yes. So, intolerance isn't the issue. Indeed, it's only the issue if you are using boo-speak. As for a demanding and exclusive Church, well, I certainly hope the Church is demanding and exclusive. It couldn't be true to its Master if it were not. What, after all, is undemanding about being told to take up your cross and love Christ more than anything else? What is more exclusive than saying nobody goes to the Father except through Christ?

Well, as I say, we cannot hear everything Bishop Kieran says in his interview, and one wouldn't like to pass any definitive judgments on this material. We can all be suspectible of misrepresentation. One can almost expect it from the media.

But, please, somebody, explain to me why Bishop Conry sounds more like an editorial writer from The Independent than a Catholic bishop. Or rather, don't bother. I understand why. What I don't understand is why, even if not every bishop maintains this line, we almost never hear the contrary line. That the problem with the Church is not that it is authoritarian, intolerant, demanding and exclusive, but that it has at times in recent years been lax, fuzzy, indulgent and bland. The choice isn't between being a murderer or a milksop. So why is it those who accuse the Church of murder sound more like milksops than anything else?

I pray for Bishop Kieran. But I would despair of being understood by him. I assume that's because I'm authoritarian, intolerant, demanding and exclusive.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Three years on

Yesterday was the third anniversary of the papal Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum which recognised that the Tridentine Liturgy had never been abrogated.

Over at St Mary Magdalen, Brighton, the same day Fr Ray received an email from some diocesan coordinator for the papal visit with the following information:

The Park [Hyde Park] will open from 2pm and liturgical entertainment will be running through the afternoon - dance acts, videos etc (it promises to be an enjoyable event). The Pope will arrive to conclude the prayer vigil and benediction and the whole event will be finished by 9.00pm. I am told that the Pope will be there for the latter half of the event.

I'm struggling to contain my feelings about what on earth 'liturgical entertainment' might involve. I'm afraid I feel very strongly these days that until the powers-that-be want to change the landscape, we might as well all sit in the corner making bleebling noises to ourselves. Really, I'm sure if I made an effort I might imagine that 'liturgical entertainment' is loose language aimed at labelling something designed to engage the youth of today in something religious. It's what comes under the label of entertainment that alarms me. I hope to God it isn't something like the recent Western Mass in the diocese of Cardinal Schoenborn.

Le diable de mon coeur s'appelle à quoi bon? wrote Georges Bernanos. The demon of my heart is called 'what's the use?' If it wasn't for prayer, so would mine. Only I hate to admit to praying in case the people who organise liturgical entertainments try to co-opt it.

Every age has its vices; our appears to be a propensity to daub our ugly image on anything vaguely transcendent as a way of participating in it.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Back again - or rereturning

Sorry to have been out of touch in the last couple of weeks. In that period I have managed to move house, travel to the other end of the country for an ordination, interview unsuccessfully for a university post (I didn't get it because my course proposal was not eclectic enough, my teaching manner was perceived to be too magisterial, and my approach to the subject too intellectual, possibly to the detriment of weaker students ...) and land back in my home town for a two month stint of inter-contractual support (gratefully received). 'Eeep', I believe, is the only appropriate noise to be made at this juncture. If there is anybody out there still reading this nonsense, just rattle your chains a bit. I suppose I'm lucky I don't have squatters by now.

As usual, I'm here to tell thee naught for thy comfort. At least nothing that will make your wallets feel better. Are you feeling yours? Mine's got an awful pinch. It wasn't helped by listening to the radio during my morning ablutions and hearing some twerp from the defeated Old Knuckleheaded Party ( Pat Ronisethepur) tell someone from the recently elected New Knuckleheaded Party (Hiram Ripemoff) that spending cuts would take money out of the economy. I might not be an economist, but it seems to me that for every pound the taxman leaves in the punters' pockets, that is not a pound taken out of the economy but a pound left in the economy (unless it's in the pocket of a man who leaves the economy).

We were then treated to the spectacle - or should that be oracle, since this is radio? - of a representative of the Unison trade union reminding Hiram Ripemoff of the New Knuckleheaded Party that cuts affect human beings. It was a point well made and one I felt myself concurring with wholeheartedly. But it seemed, however, to fall on stoney ground. And no wonder. After all, what is a human being, as my academic colleagues would ask (with all the confidence of hostages to fad-makers, struck down with Stockholm Syndrome)? Talk of human beings in the current climate is a bit like talk of goal lines: the boundaries are where the referee says they are. We are not human beings in this country. We are tax payers. Let us get that straight at least.

Still, Mr Unison's talk of human beings is not quite kosher. Scratch our humanist, who is laudably defending human dignity in a climate of spending cuts, and we'll probably find a man whose model of human behaviour embraces freedom of abortion, civil partnerships and all the panoply of liberal culture. And just how human is that?

I'm reminded of Chesterton's gargoyles Hugde and Grudge from What's Wrong with the World? Those in favour of freedom of capital tell us they know best. Those in favour of State provision tell us they know best. Both argue that the average punter will suffer if the opposing side's policies are followed. And, ultimately, the average punter is left in the middle wondering which way is up.

But of course neither way is up. Both ways are down. The pursuit of security through economic recovery or the provision of security through State provision (even when diluted with the benefits of champagne socialism) are both ideological substitutes for the sane, human and Christian relationship to wealth, wealth creation, education, and all the other services which charity compels us to perform for our fellow human beings.

But who is telling that tale in these times? And how will Pope Benedict's visit in a couple of months affect this monochrome picture, even with the coloured chalk of Newman, the Fathers and hermeneutics of continuity?

We have fished all night, Lord, and have caught nothing. But on your command we will let down the nets.