Thursday 28 February 2019

Chavagnes Studium Summer Conference 2019

The Chavagnes Studium Summer Conference 
is taking place again this year.

The title for this year is
The Anointed Imagination: Literature and the Light of Christ

You can find further information by clicking

Where you find details of how to get there 
and accommodation on site and locally.

One of this year's headline speakers is the author, Joseph Pearce.
His biographies on great modern Christian figures are well known, 
including his books on Tolkien's works.
He's a speaker of great passion and Catholicity, 
as well as having his own fascinating life story.

You can see the Conferences from the previous three years at

Liturgies in the two beautiful chapels of the College.

Intellectual challenge from the speakers.
Convivium, of course!

Gardens to relax in.

Each year includes a visit to some local attractions - here lunch on a carriage of the Orient Express on the way to visit the Shrine of St Louis-Marie de Montfort.

Wednesday 20 February 2019

Synod 2020. Liverpool. Number 5.

Here is another response to the presentation of the Archdiocese on Synod 2020 just recently. It is written by another priest of the Archdiocese and gives another view of what was offered to us.
Dietrich Bonoffer, author and Lutheran pastor arrested and killed by the nazis for an assassination plot against Hitler wrote his famous work T"he Cost Of Discipleship". He argues that Hitler and the Nazis were able to come to power because both the Lutherans and Catholics were administering sacraments without any expectation of practise or commitment to Jesus hence his title the cost of discipleship.
I can’t deny I was disappointed at the Synod presentation which over emphasised two of the four constitutions of the Second Vatican Council; the two which are often used to justify a royal or common priesthood over and above the ministerial priesthood. Ministerial priesthood was presented as clericalism and antithetical to both the common priesthood and progress. The concept of equality is Marxist egalitarianism and can be rightly argued as being antithetical to the Vatican II argument that the Church is Hierarchal and it is not an upside down pyramid -because the Pope is the successor to Peter and therefore is not just another Christian but divinely appointed  by Christ whilst he was on earth. 
There is no arguing with this and we cannot democratically argue our way into unravelling divine revelation which would have explained this if we had had a presentation on both the first two constitutions on the liturgy -  Sacrosanctum Concilium and Dei Verbum.

Coming back to Bonoffer’s work  - it is the task of Christians under obedience to both the Word of God and his divinely revealed Church that we can recognise evil when it imbeds itself into society. Our task is to challenge evil and not to go along with it. Worship and ministry without sacrifice cannot do this and no matter how unpalatable a truth this might be, a  priesthood according to Christ’s plan which is male and celibate cannot be dismissed by a culture that is now so seeped in Marxist ideology and equality arguments that those who resist must be dismantled.

Ministerial priesthood is being attacked not just because of the abuse problems but because it doesn’t fit into this egalitarian model. It is a threat and therefore according to Marxism must be deconstructed. I’m not saying that those who are arguing for a strengthening of our understanding of the priesthood the faithful are Marxist but the equality argument does have its roots in egalitarianism. The celebrated speech of Callicles in Plato’s Gorgias contains some important truths: “it is to frighten the most powerful, the most capable of overpowering them and preventing them from winning, that the masses reject superiority calling it bad and unjust and insisting that injustice consists essentially in the desire to rise above the others." To want to be a priest or to be a member of the intellectual commercial artistic or sporting elite of one's country or church is not a bad thing - to want to be a member of the elite or presbyterate so as to serve others effectively as possible is an act of magnanimity and sacrifice and without both you are forcing a false equality onto people and the Church and forcing eagles to scratch around the barn yard pretending to be a chickens so as not to offend anybody.

The spectacle of the shortcomings, folly, and even sins of the Church and its ministers

I am reading a life of JRR Tolkien at the moment - Joseph Pearce's "Tolkien: Man and Myth". I came  across an excerpt from a letter written to his son Michael (who later became a poet and academic and who died in 1984) on 1st November 1963. It struck me as sensible and holy advice for our times as well.

You speak of ‘sagging faith’, however, that is quite another matter. In the last resort faith is an act of will, inspired by love. Our love may be chilled and our will eroded by the spectacle of the shortcomings, folly, and even sins of the Church and its ministers, but I do not think that one who has once had faith goes back over the line for these reasons (least of all anyone with any historical knowledge). ‘Scandal’ at most is an occasion of temptation – as indecency is to lust, which it does not make but arouses. It is convenient because it tends to turn our eyes away from ourselves and our own faults to find a scapegoat... The temptation to ‘unbelief’ (which really means rejection of Our Lord and His claims) is always there within us. Part of us longs to find an excuse for it outside us. The stronger the inner temptation the more readily and severely shall we be ‘scandalized’ by others. I think I am as sensitive as you (or any other Christian) to the scandals, both of clergy and laity. I have suffered grievously in my life from stupid, tired, dimmed, and even bad priests; but I now know enough about myself to be aware that I should not leave the church (which for me would mean leaving the allegiance of Our Lord) for any such reasons: I should leave because I did not believe, and should not believe anymore, even if I had never met anyone in orders who was not both wise and saintly. I should deny the Blessed Sacrament, that is: call our Lord a fraud to His face.
If He is a fraud and the Gospels fraudulent – that is: garbled accounts of a demented megalomaniac (which is the only alternative), then of course the spectacle exhibited by the Church (in the sense of clergy) in history and today is simply evidence of a gigantic fraud. If not, however, then this spectacle is alas! only what was to be expected: it began before the first Easter, and it does not affect faith at all – except that we may and should be deeply grieved. But we should grieve on our Lord’s behalf and for Him, associating ourselves with the scandalized heirs not with the saints, not crying out that we cannot ‘take’ Judas Iscariot, or even the absurd & cowardly Simon Peter, or the silly women like James’ mother, trying to push her sons.
It takes a fantastic will to unbelief to suppose that Jesus never really ‘happened’, and more to suppose that he did not say the things recorded all of him – so incapable of being ‘invented’ by anyone in the world at that time: such as ‘before Abraham came to be I am’ (John viii). ‘He that hath seen me hath seen the Father’ (John ix); or the promulgation of the Blessed Sacrament in John v: ‘He that he eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life.’ We must therefore either believe in Him and in what he said and take the consequences; or reject him and take the consequences. I find it for myself difficult to believe that anyone who has ever been to Communion, even once, with at least a right intention, can ever again reject Him without grave blame. (However, He alone knows each unique soul and its circumstances.)

Thursday 14 February 2019

Synod 2020. Liverpool. Number 4

I attended the initial meeting of members for the Synod yesterday at the Diocesan Offices in Liverpool. One of three such meetings around the Diocese. The Synod members are comprised of priests, laity and representatives from various groups and organisations in the Archdiocese. It was encouraging to see our seminarians present as well.

The main speaker was Fr Eamonn Mulcahy. He is an excellent speaker, lively and fast flowing, carrying the audience through on his flow of excitable logic. I've never met Fr Mulcahy before, so don't know him personally, but I have a strong suspicion that our understandings of the Church are probably in diametric opposition.

As a speaker, he also had the knack - used several times - of prefacing a sentence with, "I don't want to make a crude caricature but..." and then proceed to make the crude caricature he just ruled out. A neat verbal trick. I will use myself sometime.

After the starting round of jokes about football and liturgical attire to establish his rapport as man of the people we moved on to various forms of praise for many of the misconceptions promulgated by the sons and daughters of the Second Vatican Council who see the freewheeling "spirit" of the Council (usually compromised politically by socialism, theologically by liberalism and socially by indifferentism) as much more important than what the documents of the Council actually say. 

I'm no expert on the Council but I know at least one man who is (present yesterday and not impressed).

I made some notes from the presentation which particularly struck me as examples of this. The Synod is proclaimed as all about listening (which in itself, as a theological and social hermeneutic for a synod, I have some difficulties with). That being said I listened to what was said and I heard what was behind it but after doing so, still could not agree with it. The basic premises - quotes from Scripture, Saints and Papal teaching - were all there but Father's interpretation was, to my mind, directed by a very particular (and sadly, not very novel) set of ideas.

So to get to some of the details.

Father was very keen on the role of the laity as baptised Christians including the roles of Christ as Priest, Prophet, King and Queen (as he put it, bowing the knee to secular political correctness - though, if it was to be carried through, should it not be Priest, Priestess, Prophet, Prophetess, King and Queen?) This part is nonsense, or course, because these are not OUR roles but CHRIST'S and we share in them. As far as I know, Our Lord has never been revealed as a Queen in the Scriptures. He has no role as Queen and therefore we cannot share in such a role.

These are indeed roles of the lay Faithful but Father Mulcahy seemed to imply, more than once, that unlike in clericalized and wrong-headed past times, these roles for the laity should now be understood as pertaining to what we might normally have thought of as the role of the ordained faithful.  A practical example  of this is in high profile evidence at the Synod meetings. Much of the prayer is led by lay people, predominantly lay women. Yesterday at the various prayer sessions without one sign of the cross throughout the whole day and no priestly blessing to send us on our way.

The Priestly, Prophetic and Kingly roles are indeed spoken of in the Catechism and in Canon Law but it is quite clear that their sphere is not to invade the ministerial priesthood but rather to exercise these roles in their own specific spheres - home, work, family, secular society - the places where the ordained minister often does not have access. This is not some second class ministry but vital to the spreading of the Gospel. 

For the Priestly Office of the lay Faithful (CCC 901-903) the Catechism speaks of offering their lives out in the world to God as a spiritual sacrifice - brought to God specifically during the Mass, where they are offered alongside the offering of the ministerial priest. Canon Law goes on to explain that the lay faithful (apart from the context of approved ministries such as acolyte and lector) are authorised to "stand in" for the priest in the areas of proclaiming the Word and leading liturgical prayer only where the presence of a priest is lacking. (Code of Canon Law 230 #3) This refers back to Vatican II documents Lumen Gentium 35; Apostolicam Actuositatem 24; Ad Gentes 16,17. "...lay persons providing certain liturgical services when ministers were unable to do so."

For the Prophetic Office of the lay Faithful (CCC 904-907) the Catechism again emphasises their role as witness in the world. The Catechism goes on to say that the lay Faithful also have a right and duty to manifest their opinions "with due regard to integrity of faith" and indeed, when trained, to collaborate in teaching and catechesis and in the use of the communications media. (Once more, powerful ministries with a real hope of bringing souls to Christ). Again, Father Mulcahy seemed to imply that the real role of the lay Faithful was now to be in opposition to the ordained ministry. Not simply to speak truth to power but to assume that power for themselves in some sort of revolution from the (false?) practices of the past.

For the Kingly Office of the lay Faithful (CCC 908-913) the Catechism reminds us that this is principally (for all the faithful, lay or ordained) "by the self-abnegation of a holy life, to overcome the reign of sin in themselves." In other words, principally we exercise this by overcoming any wickedness in our own lives. The Catechism goes on to speak of "remedying the conditions and institutions of the world by conforming them to the norms of justice." Again, a vital mission in evangelising out in the world. Only thirdly does the Catechism come to the lay Faithful  "co-operating with pastors" in the "exercise of the power of governance in accordance with the norms of the law" at such things as diocesan synods, pastoral councils finance committees etc."

Overall, there seemed to be a juxtaposing of ordained ministry (characterised at every opportunity as "clericalism" and lay ministry formerly squashed but now freed to overthrow the allegedly evil hierarchical structures.) A sort of anarchy - not in a vague sense but understood as a specific political philosophy. A freewheeling gypsy caravan was the model alluded to. (Incidentally, although the laity apparently had no role apart from obeying in the previous centuries before the glorious 1960's, reference was made later in the day that in 1960 a full fifty percent of Catholic in Liverpool Archdiocese belonged to solidalities of one sort or another - SVP, Young Christian Workers, Legion of Mary, etc. This seems to mitigate against the idea that lay people were not involved in exercising their true ministry.

This was illustrated by the tired canard of the inverted pyramid. "Old days", pyramid with Pope at top and lay people at bottom (crushed like a massa damnata beneath the weight of the hierarchy above.)
"New days", upside down pyramid with majority - the laity - at the top. Sounds great as an illustration of a new order but have you ever tried to build an upside down pyramid. Inherently unstable and certain to fall down. We cannot simply abandon the idea of hierarchy in the Church. "Lumen Gentium, Chapter three: The Church is hierarchical. Jesus Christ set up the holy Church by entrusting the apostles with their mission... He willed that the their successors, the bishops, should be shepherds in his Church until the end of the world... to be firmly believed by all the faithful." (#18) The mission and the Church were again set in opposition by Fr Mulcahy; that there was a mission long before there was a Church. The mission and the Church are not in opposition. Both flow directly from Christ's earthly incarnation. 

Father reminded us that God in the Old Testament and Christ in the New often spoke with the imperative "GO!" That indeed is so, but Our Lord did not say, "Go and listen to all the gibberish in the world" he said, "Go therefore, teach ye all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you." (Mtt 28:19-20)

There was much of opposition in Father's presentation. Which makes for drama but not necessarily for harmony with the teaching of the Church. 
A personal relationship with Jesus was presented in opposition to the Creed.
The spiritual was presented in opposition to ritual.
No new way of being church without rejecting wholesale all that bears relation to the past.

To my mind this is dangerous for us as Church. As a wise tutor at seminary often repeated, True Catholicism is always "both... and..."   NEVER  "either... or..."
We need a personal relationship with Jesus and we need the Creed.
We need the spiritual and the ritual - they are not exclusive.
We need the past in order to live the future.

I was reminded of a much more wholesome understanding of change in the Church. In 1909 G.K.Chesterton wrote (January issue of Church Socialist Quarterly):
"I mean that a tree goes on growing, and therefore goes on changing, but always in the fringes surrounding something unchangeable. The innermost rings of the tree are still the same as when it was a sapling; they have ceased to be seen, but they have not ceased to be central. When the tree grows a branch at the top , it does not break away from the roots at the bottom; on the contrary, it needs to hold more strongly by the roots the higher it rises with its branches. That is the true image of the vigorous and healthy progress of a man, a city, or a whole species."

We have been asked to listen during the Synod but we must discern with the ears of Faith what we listen to.