Thursday 30 January 2014

What's in a coat?

Pope Francis looking very smart in a greca - sure sign of alignment with the poor.

Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, has had to issue a statement decrying the presentation of Pope Francis in a positive light for the sole purpose of denigrating Pope Benedict. This is more or less just what I was posting about a few days ago and some time ago.  Fr Lombardi says the article falls into "the usual mistake of a superficial journalism, which in order to highlight the positive aspects of Pope Francis, thinks it should describe in a negative way the pontificate of Pope Benedict, and does so with a surprising crudeness.”

The article appeared in the American "Rolling Stone Magazine".  Here is a flavour of its odious comparisons: 
"After the disastrous papacy of Benedict, a staunch traditionalist who looked like he should be wearing a striped shirt with knife-fingered gloves and menacing teenagers in their nightmares, Francis' basic mastery of skills like smiling in public seemed a small miracle to the average Catholic."

More than that, the triumph of subjective judgement is almost comedic.  Which Pope is being described in such glowing sartorial terms here?
"He's also surprisingly stylish, today wearing a double-breasted white overcoat, white scarf and slightly creamier cassock, all impeccably tailored."
The highly praised impeccably tailored Pope isn't Benedict but Francis.  When Pope Benedict dressed properly, he was - according to the liberal secular press -  an ecclesiastical fashion victim, so caught up in old-fashioned vestments that he had no time for looking after the poor or needy (no doubt reading "Mien Kampf" whilst trying on red slippers!)  How strange that one coat can imply so many different things.

We can only agree with Fr Lombardi, who says:
“What a shame. This is not the way to do a good service even to Pope Francis, who knows very well what the Church owes to his predecessor.” 

Pope Benedict looking very smart in a greca - sure sign of an unhealthy interest in dressing up.

Pope John Paul in a greca - sure sign of a reactionary.

Pope John in a greca - sure sign of being good.

Pope Pius XII in a greca - sure sign of Nazi tendencies.

Seems like everyone wants to get in on this stylish act!

Wednesday 29 January 2014

Well Done!

Well done to the parishioners of St Catherine's here in Farington. Considering the size of our little parish we do exceedingly well in raising funds for those in need. In June last year we had a representative from Tools for Self Reliance speak to us (at the end of Mass).  This organisation collects tools and refurbishes them for use in various African countries where they work training people in vocational, business and life skills. In 2013 they shipped out 31,500 tools!

I have just had a letter from their representative who spoke to us to say that he received the best response from any parish of any denomination. So well done, St Catherine's! 

Though I suppose this means there can't be many tools left in the parish for when I call on volunteers to repair something!

Tuesday 28 January 2014

Which Islam are we talking about?

Just a short post to recommend an article in Catholic World Report on our understanding of Islam.  I'm not saying I agree with every word of it but it has given a direction to answer some of the questions I've sometimes had on hearing Catholic leaders talk about Islam.  William Kilpatrick suggests that they may be basing their more positive assessment of Islam on a particular strand that is not representative of the vast majority of Islamic countries - that of the Sufi tradition. Apparently, a Catholic scholar of  this particular Islamic tradition, Louis Massignon (1883-1962), has been very influential in the late 20th century Catholic view of Islam.   I was particularly interested to read of his background influence on  the Second Vatican Council documents, Nostra Aetate and Lumen Gentium. Have a read of "Looking at Islam through Catholics eyes."  

he also writes for Crisis Magazine.  There are some further articles of his:

Friday 24 January 2014

Why I hate the Pope Francis Effect

How uplifting to have a Pope who cares.
How refreshing to have a Pope who is compassionate.
How uplifting to have a Pope who prays.
How uplifting to have a Pope who decries poverty.
How uplifting to have a Pope who knows what it is to live among ordinary people.
How uplifting to have a Pope who engages with the world.

Pope Francis does all this


so have all the the Popes of recent years.  You will not find it difficult to find quotes and practical examples of all the popes of the last 100 years doing all these things and of people in many parts of the world finding in any of those popes a true father, an inspiration and a shepherd who engendered love among the faithful.

The reason for the liberal establishment (within and without the Church) bigging up of these qualities exhibited by Pope Francis is to use them to imply a silent and odious comparison with the previous Holy Father, Pope Benedict - who, by implication was none of the above.  That, of course is nothing but a vile lie.

I don't know what the Pope Francis effect is in Italy but I have not heard of any real improvement in Mass attendance here in the UK.  The idea that Pope Francis says, "Who am I to judge?" about what amounts to laxity and sin is arrant nonsense. That answer he gave to a particular question had the caveat that "the was person is of good will and is in search of God." (See Fr Z for an in depth analysis.)  To deliberately ignore the Church's teaching, to dismiss it, to seek to undermine it - on sexuality or Mass attendance, on liturgy or family life, on any subject - is not to be of good will, is not to be truly seeking God, is not be be a a "son of the Church".

So, yes, I hate the Pope Francis effect - not for any real effect he might have in engaging the world with he truth of the Faith, not for any person moved by his words or example to come closer to the Lord but because it is being used as a stick by those who hated Pope Benedict's liturgical reforms to attack the person of the previous Pope. 

Surely Popes like this couldn't have cared about social justice?

Strange to think that a Pope could care about social justice while still celebrating the "old" mass and being carried about on a sedia gestatoria! Yet Popes such as Leo XIII in 1891 (Rerum Novarum) and Pope Pius XI in 1931 (Quadragesimo Anno) issued ground-breaking encyclicals about social justice.

Surely Popes who wore red shoes and dressed like this were never interested in calling sinners back or being a father to the sons and daughters of the Church?

NEWSFLASH - You can dress as priests have for centuries and say the Traditional Mass and want to uphold the teaching of the Church AND YET still be compassionate, still care, still decry poverty, still pray devoutly and still inspire Christians and others to follow Christ more faithfully.

But who am I to judge?

Friday 17 January 2014

Elephant in the Church

The sad decline in the figures of those who are practising Catholics (see here and here) continues to hover over the Church in this country and many others in the Western world but we never seem to have a sense of crisis about then.  Like an elephant crouching in every sacristy, cathedral and curial office - a rather large and important fact that we choose to ignore.  After all, who is going to take on the task of doing something about it?  The trouble is, we don't know what to do about the falling figures and they are ignored or excuses are made - "We have fewer people but they are better quality." Really? No doubt due to the excellent catechetics in our schools.

One thing should be perfectly obvious - we can't keep on doing the same thing as we have been doing and yet that seems to be the answer given.  "Carry on - you're all doing very well."

Conversions to the Faith peaked in 1959 with 15,794 (5,809 in 2010).
Baptisms rose to a peak of 137,673 in 1964 (falling to 63,962 in 2010.)

The decline in elephant populations due to poaching by unscrupulous criminals eerily mirrors the decline in the Catholic population due to poaching by the Devil since about he mid-1960's.

More of the same watered-down and laissez faire approach to the Faith since the falling numbers became a landslide is surely not the answer.  Could it be that the only other alternative is to become more orthodox, more challenging, more traditional and less modern?  This, of course, doesn't appeal to many people in the Church as it would signal a volte-face to the trend since the 1960's, so heavily invested in by so many.

The elephant is getting bigger!

I'm not convinced by the argument that the recent scandals in the Church are to blame.  My own experience tells me that most ordinary Catholics are not put off their own parish or their own priest by such things (despite the horror of them).  I think that position is only put out by those outside the Church and those within it who have particular agendas - such as abolishing celibacy and "ordaining" women.  After all, the fall off in numbers started several decades ago, long before those particular scandals broke.

Fortunately, having just sent in the Mass attendance figures for my own little parish, our numbers are pretty stable - the same as two years ago. Not that they leave any room for complacency.  I don't know what to do to evangelise all the lapsed - and no real attempt is allowed to be made through our schools, the last place we now have access to these crowds of the unchurched.  But surely offering less and less of the Faith can't be the answer.

The Church of England, statistically in a more perilous state than we are, at least acknowledges the problem and tries to do something about it.  Starting faith groups in pubs and other unlikely places certainly takes courage and a particular sort of leader - although I can only think that such groups must act as a bridge to a more complete membership, rather than the only locus of activity. According to the Archbishop of Canterbury, such groups now account numerically for a whole extra diocese in the C of E.

It seems that elephants are more readily acknowledged in a pub setting than in church.
(This is quite a nice one in Kensington.)

The Blind Men and the Elephant
  by: John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887)

It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

The First approached the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
"God bless me!--but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!"
The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried: "Ho!--what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me 't is mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!"
The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
Is very like a snake!"

The Fourth reached out his eager hand,
And felt about the knee.
"What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain," quoth he;
"'T is clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!"
The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: "E'en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!"

The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Than, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
Is very like a rope!"
And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!

So, oft in theologic wars
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!

Sunday 12 January 2014

Pope Francis going in the right direction

Pope Francis today celebrated Mass in the Sistine Chapel and baptised infants there on the Feast of the Lord's Baptism.  Following Pope Benedict's example, he celebrated Mass ad orientem on the existing altar.

He didn't say much about Baptism in today's homily (no doubt, like many a parish priest, finding the competition from wailing babies would render much comment inaudible).  However, he did speak about the profound necessity of Baptism some weeks ago and suggested we make active memory of the date of our baptism:
Baptism is the Sacrament on which our very faith is founded and which grafts us as a living member onto Christ and his Church. Together with the Eucharist and Confirmation it forms what is known as “Christian initiation”, like one great sacramental event configuring us to the Lord and turning us into a living sign of his presence and of his love.
Yet a question can stir within us: is Baptism really necessary to live as Christians and follow Jesus? Isn't it merely a ritual, a formal act of the Church in order to give a name to the little boy or girl? The question can come up. And on this point what the Apostle Paul writes is illuminating: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:3-4). Therefore, it is not a formality! It is an act that touches the depths of our existence. A baptized child and an unbaptized child are not the same. A person who is baptized and a person who is not baptized are not the same. We, by Baptism, are immersed in that inexhaustible source of life which is the death of Jesus, the greatest act of love in all of history; and thanks to this love we can live a new life, no longer at the mercy of evil, of sin and of death, but in communion with God and with our brothers and sisters.

Let us as ask the Lord from our hearts to be able to experience ever more in everyday life this grace that we have received at Baptism. That by encountering us, our brothers may encounter true children of God, true brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, true members of the Church. And do not forget your homework today: find out, ask for the date of your Baptism. As I know my birthday, I should know my Baptism day, because it is a feast day.

Saturday 11 January 2014

Pope to live in Lancashire? But would it make any difference?

Pope's new residence - Domus Sanctae Catherinae is available!

I have been meaning to post for a few days following on from reading Fr Ray Blake thoughtful and perspicacious meditating on the papacy of Pope Francis. Fr Blake draws attention to an article by Mark Drew in the Catholic Herald which is also very balanced and thoughtful.  I would urge anyone to read both of them in full.

Reflecting on this my own thoughts lead me to wonder just how in touch Pope Francis is with the effects of what he says and does - particularly the way in which they are interpreted.  I don't believe he is unorthodox in his doctrine, I don't believe he will attempt to change any substantial teaching in faith and morals - that can only be pure fantasy for those outside the Church who do not understand Her.  The difficulty is that by allowing a head of steam for such ideas to build up - over the Synod on the Family, for example, there will be inevitable disappointment from the secular press and then condemnation from the secular world and this will be echoed by the dissenting and heterodox voices from within the Church, who have already jumped aboard the secular bandwagon and are trumpeting their revisionist calls to any poor souls who might be taken in by them.

Mark Drew puts it very plainly when he says:
The Pope seems to be waiting upon the extraordinary synod on the family, convened for the coming October, before making a definitive judgement. In the meantime, he will need to steady the barque if the synodal debate is to be serene and the outcome received by the whole Church. If the debate is not well guided, there is a threat to unity. A decision for relaxing the rules would risk alienating and disorientating many who have respected and defended the present discipline, often at real personal cost.
On the other hand, a decision to maintain the status quo might unleash a storm reminiscent of the dissent caused by the publication of Humanae Vitae in 1967. That decision disappointed many who were confidently expecting a different outcome, and proved a turning point in the pontificate of Paul VI. That pope, who had been previously hailed as a confident proponent of reform, often appeared beleaguered and broken afterwards. To avoid such an eventuality, Pope Francis needs to play his role as teacher of the faith and centre of Catholic unity with clarity and courage. It is a daunting task for any human being, and the Pope needs our prayers.
I fear that those who campaign to revise the teaching of the Faith (as though the Church were no more than a political party) either consciously or by default will bring about just what Mark Drew describes.  I fear that some may be doing this very consciously.  The decision to promote the pre-synod questionnaire as a new initiative of Pope Francis (when it has always been done for all other synods) and to direct it at lay people and ordinary clergy when it was clearly aimed only at bishops (the very nature of the questions shows this most clearly) is a prime and dangerous example of this. This sort of thing is a lesson learnt from the lobbyists and fake democracy that has been such a disgrace to our own parliamentary processes since the arrival of Tony Blair and continues to hamper any real conviction politics.  

Mark Drew reminds us that Pope Benedict XVI, with characteristic humility, once said to journalists that the pope, any pope, is not an oracle. He is a human being who makes prudential judgements guided by his own conscience and lights and constantly seeking divine assistance. The Holy Spirit guides him, and the whole Church, in proportion to his own, personal holiness but also to the fervour of the whole Church and the intensity of our prayer.  It might be easy to make the mistake that by choosing to live in a seemingly humbler apartment, a Pope would be more in touch with "the people" but no matter where a Pope makes his "court" it immediately becomes cut off. The security kicks in and it would be no more possible for me to turn up and see Pope Francis in the Domus Martha than it would for me to get into the "grand" papal apartments (which, by the way, consist of no more than a study, a sitting room and a dining room for the Pope's private use). A Pope could, for example, decide to reside in a small parish in Lancashire (with nice grounds and a simple chapel!) but as soon as he did the security and all the other necessary bureaucracy would kick in and those who had access would become the only voices he heard.  A Papal Court - no matter where it resides - still needs the Pope concerned to bring in good advisors. Neither splendour, nor lack of it, by itself  makes someone wise.  Again, as Mark Drew notes: 
Contrary to what was sometimes affirmed, Benedict XVI willingly created bishops and cardinals of a more “progressive” outlook, provided he judged them competent and sincere in their desire to pursue constructive dialogue within the tradition of Catholic theology.
Let us not fail Pope Francis in our prayers - wherever he makes his Papal Court either now or in the future.  

Tuesday 7 January 2014

Epiphany Mass




Saturday 4 January 2014

Wise men arrive early

I'm preparing to celebrate the Epiphany but over two days, as it falls on the traditional Monday 6th January in the "old" calendar. This is, of course, the date on which it has been celebrated for just a little time.  The earliest reference to it being celebrated on 6th January is  A.D. 361, by Ammianus Marcellinus.  It is also the traditional day to take down Christmas decorations - Twelfth Night - but we mustn't let tradition, literature, songs and the other pillars of our culture stand in the way of making things easier for us busy 21st century Christians.

There will be Missa Cantata here at 7pm on Monday.

We will also be blessing chalk for people to take home to bless the entrance way to their houses with the inscription:

 20 + C + M + B + 14

The initials remind us of the legendary names of the Magi – Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar – and also stand for the Latin motto: Christus mansionem benedicat, “May Christ bless this house.” In the Book of Exodus, the Israelites marked their doors with blood so that the Lord would pass over their homes; but in this ritual, we mark our doors with chalk as a sign that we have invited God’s presence and blessing into our homes. I do think it's good for people to identify themselves as believers, whether it's by something they wear or by pictures, statues and other signs in their homes.  The signs that might call to mind our Saviour are all too absent from everyday life.

It's traditional to write the inscription on the lintel, above the door, but it can be written anywhere near the entrance. The following prayer may be said while the entrance is marked:

The three Wise Men,

C Caspar,

M   Melchior,

B  and Balthasar followed the star of God’s Son who became human

20  two thousand

14  and fourteen years ago.

+   May Christ bless our home

+   and remain with us throughout the new year. Amen.