Sunday, 29 November 2009

Advent - Longing for Christ

Mother Maria-Michael has posted a reflection - longer than the ones she normally posts - for the beginning of Advent. I am happy to commend it to you, as I was enriched through reading it this morning. The post has the title: Advent - Longing for Christ.

More by accident than by deliberate intention, I went to Mass yesterday evening - and so caught the beginning of Advent at its very beginning, so to speak. Father's homily reflected on the meaning of the word Advent - a coming, that of Christ, in the historical past and in the future that we await - and on how we might live this time of waiting for the coming of Christ.

I was most struck, though, by Father's asking this question: why is Advent four weeks long? And why is the fourth week not really a week, but a few days, depending on exactly what day of the week turns out to be 25th December? Father suggested that the answer to the first of these questions was related to a cosmological vision (no, he didn't use that wording in his homily, but it was what he was referring to) in which the length of time from the creation to the coming of Jesus in human flesh was understood to be 4 000 years.  I didn't quite catch whether this was a Bible based cosmology or a patristic cosmology, so I can't give you the footnote. Each of the four weeks of Advent is then seen as representing 1 000 years between creation and the Incarnation. Father suggested that the "short" fourth week acts as a reminder to us that we do not know the exact hour of the second coming of Christ; it reminds us of the need to "stay awake", and prompts us to use the season of Advent to renew our wakefulness before the Lord.

Clearly, knowing today what science has been able to discover about the history of the universe, we do not believe in the 4 000 years. But the idea that the time of Advent, that is, the duration of the season, has a representative meaning; that the length of Advent is a sign in the Liturgical sense; this, I think is still a useful idea. Advent is an extended season in the Liturgy; it is not just a vigil the evening before the feast.

Particularly for those of us who have an education and formation strongly influenced by contemporary science, seeing Advent as "representative time" helps to give a meaning to time itself. If Advent represents the time between the creation and the coming of Christ in Bethlehem, then time is being given a meaning in relation to the mystery of the Incarnation seen as the destiny of the physical creation. And if Advent represents the time between the Ascension and the second coming of Christ in his glory - the time in which we are at present living - then it is giving meaning to time in relation to eternity, in relation to our looking forward to eternal life with the Trinity and all the saints in heaven, when all things will be one in Christ.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Wild Horses

Q. What do the Rolling Stones have in common with Bob Dylan?

A. They can't sing either.

Compare Susan Boyle's version of Wild Horses to the massacring of the same by the Rolling Stones. This can be done by putting "Wild Horses" into the search box of Spotify, and listening to the one after the other. If you do not already have a Spotify account (free) you will need to click on the "download" tab and follow the instructions from there.

The whole of Susan Boyle's album can now be accessed on Spotify. I found her rendition of Silent Night quite powerful.

PS. If anyone reading this ever bought a Rolling Stones record, and can explain why they did so in the comments box, it would contribute considerably to my understanding of human nature!

Friday, 27 November 2009

Prince Charles on agri-culture

I caught, but did not properly listen to, some remarks made by Prince Charles at the BBC Radio 4 Food and Farming Awards ceremony. It took place, I think, on Thursday evening. Coverage was being broadcast on Radio 4 just after 9 am this morning. The BBC webpage for the awards is here.

What caught my attention was a distinction drawn by Prince Charles during his remarks between "agri-culture" and "agri-industry", commenting to the effect that the ethos surrounding the awards was that there was a culture associated with food and farming, and not just a question of production, perhaps on industrial scales.

This remark caught my attention because of its affinity to a thought of Romano Guardini, expressed in his collection of newspaper columns published as Letters from Lake Como. The danger of technology is that man becomes distanced from the reality of the world in which he is placed; he comes to live in a kind of artificial existence detached from the real, physical world around him. For Guardini, it is part of the original meaning of "culture" that man should live in harmony with his natural environment in a kind of obedience to its laws and patterns; yes, harnessing it to serve human needs, but no, not destroying its natural lawfulness.

Report on child abuse in Dublin Archdiocese

It is very difficult to find the appropriate words to respond to the publication of this report. A round-up of the news, and the reaction of representatives of the Catholic Church in Ireland, can be found at Whispers in the Loggia. Catholic Anaylsis offers a reaction to which I would also subscribe. A BBC account of the contents of the report can be found here, and RTE's account from yesterday is here. This is the reaction of a priest today.

There are perhaps three observations that I would like to make.

The first echoes that of Catholic Analysis. Evil, serious evil, needs to be recognised as serious evil. It needs to be called serious evil. And it needs to be condemned as serious evil. The covering up of abuse, when it is known, adds to the original evil of the abuse itself a further evil -  an implicit refusal to call the original evil the evil that it really is. The publication of the report, and other reports like it, contributes to the overcoming of this second evil.

A second observation comes from the picture showing up in the report of the relationship between the Catholic Church and the police and other civil authorities in Ireland. The report also highlights failings in the civil authorities arising from their deference to the Catholic Church. On occasions, police authorities reported allegations to the Church instead of carrying out their duty of investigation that would arise from their position in civil society. My own background is not one from which I have any immediate experience of Irish Catholicism - I am an English Lancashire Catholic by family background and by culture. There is a real sense in which I do not understand Irish Catholicism, and do not think I would live very comfortably with it. The report into child abuse in Dublin illustrates the serious risk that does arise from too close an affiliation between the life of faith and that of civil life. An appropriate secularity is needed in the action of lay Catholics in the world, as mediating the action of the Church to the world, and this is not achieved through the type of subervience to the clergy that appears in some aspects of the Dublin child abuse report.

My third observation is taken from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and suggests a way in which we all, as different members of the Church, might respond in penance to the events reported. The quotation included is from Pope Paul VI, and the emphasis added is mine:
All members of the Church, including her ministers, must acknowledge that they are sinners. In everyone, the weeds of sin will still be mixed with the good wheat of the Gospel until the end of time.Hence the Church gathers sinners already caught up in Christ's salvation but still on the way to holiness:  "The Church is therefore holy, though having sinners in her midst, because she herself has no other life but the life of grace. If they live her life, her members are sanctified; if they move away from her life, they fall into sins and disorders that prevent the radiation of her sanctity. This is why she suffers and does penance for those offenses, of which she has the power to free her children through the blood of Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit."
If we are wondering how we, as individuals, should respond to the great evils that are the subject of the news at the moment, then acts of penance seem to me entirely appropriate. Saying this is, of course, easier for me than doing it ...

Wednesday, 25 November 2009


I am not sure I have fully understood this concept:
Silent Disco on Ice

10 December 2009, 19.45, 21.00 and 22.00 skate sessions

Tickets £16

The Ice Rink hosts London’s first ever silent disco on ice. Come and skate at the silent disco and listen to pop classics or the latest nightclub tracks.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

The ecumenical nature of the Church

I am prompted to this post by the discussion that has followed the post Thoughts on Dialogue, with the thought that it is worth a new post rather than just a continued comment.

The particular prompt is this part of NewmanCause's comment on that post:
 .... But that said, Christian witness to the 'social Gospel' is a necessary and powerful thing.

We suspect it makes a more lasting contribution to human well-being, is a more eloquent manifestation of what Christians have in common, and constitutes a more effective path to Christian unity, than the bulk of ecumencial dialogue - at least as it has been commonly practised up to now.
I have for some time thought something similar about those activities which are explicitly labelled as "ecumenical" - joint services during the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity, participation in the services or activities of another denomination, pulpit swaps and theological discussions. My experience suggests that the ordinary person in the pew has a natural sense which treats these types of activity with a certain hesitation. Within my own town, for example, the joint service during the Week of Prayer has in effect been abandoned because the members of the local Churches have simply not turned up for it. These types of activity seem artificial, and rather like a pretend at unity. It is only if ecumenical engagement is part of the ordinary life of the Church or denomination, something that the parishioners or members of the Church do as part of their own ordinary Christian life, that it will have something of reality about it.

So, as Catholics, if we wish to look for a genuinely lived ecumenism we should not look for it in these more or less "artificial" activities but within what one might call the normal, internal life of the Catholic Church itself. This follows from the thought that ecumenism is part of what it means to be the Church and not something optional, not an "add-on". And the great thing is that that living of ecumenism within the ordinary life of the Church is there to be found!

One outstanding example is the "spirituality of unity" of the Focolare Movement. This page gives an introduction to the movement, and more about its charism can be found on the page about the sprituality of unity and in the section of the site devoted to ways to dialogue. It is worth recognising the profoundly Christocentric nature of the spiritual charism of the Focolare, centred as it is on the crucified Jesus, and its firm adherence to the person of the Holy Father.

Another example is the charism of hospitality and prayer for Christian Unity of the Sisters of the Order of the Most Holy Saviour of Saint Bridget (Bridgettines). An account of their founding and charism can be found here.

I expect that other examples could also be cited. It would be interesting to see the examples that could be cited from within the life of other Christian denominations.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Rowan and Benedict

Stella Maris has posted what I think is both a realistic and a charitable comment on the remarks of Archbishop Rowan Williams at a conference in Rome: The Desperate Archbishop. I found it interesting to re-read my post on dialogue of yesterday after reading Stella Maris' post. The Times report of Archbishop Williams remarks, made at a conference on ecumenism at the Pontifical Gregorian University, is here.

The characterisation by the Times report of the proposal for Anglican Ordinariates as being a proposal for a "Church within a Church" betrays a particular line on this question. Ruth Gledhill's commentary in the Times of Thursday urges Archbishop Williams to show some backbone in facing up to Pope Benedict (I don't think I am misrepresenting her in saying this, but do check the original here). I did chuckle away to myself for quite a few minutes the first time I read this paragraph:
If Benedict XVI has displayed something of his rottweiler tendencies, cloaked in the most decorative of chasubles, Dr Williams now needs to unleash his inner bulldog.
The model that Ruth Gledhill thinks Dr Williams should follow? Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII's "Reformation enforcer" (Ruth's words).
Holding his hands up in helpless resignation while Rome walks off with his traditionalists is not going to earn the Church of England the respect that it deserves and that was hard won by the likes of Cromwell.
Assuming the Times is reporting him accurately, though, I think Dr Williams is correct to say that Anglicanorum coetibus does not offer anything new from an ecclesiological point of view - Ordinariates already exist within the Catholic Church to cater for a specific pastoral situation (pastoral care of military personnel), and there is no recognition of Anglican orders or independent decision making on doctrinal belief and practice.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Thoughts on dialogue

This post is prompted by the invitation to discussion (difficult to use the word "dialogue" twice in the same sentence) about dialogue contained in NewmanCause's comment to my earlier post about Newman and the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus. What has prompted me is this paragraph from the post by NewmanCause that I discussed in my post just referred to (my italics added to highlight the aspect which most prompts my thoughts):
It has been axiomatic for Catholic ecumenists that the Church must learn from those with whom she is in ‘dialogue’. What is right in this way of thinking need not be abandoned, once it is recognised, as the Holy Father has recognised, that ‘dialogue’ cannot be an end in itself. Even when ‘dialogue’ is ordered, as it must be, towards conversion to the Catholic Faith, the Church may still stand to learn from those whom she receives into full communion.
Dialogue as encounter with a culture

I would first like to suggest that dialogue has the nature of an encounter with a culture. One might talk of representatives of the Church, or of an individual in the Church, engaging in an encounter with a culture. The culture has its representatives, who might be termed the "partners" with whom dialogue is undertaken.  What I think is a good example of dialogue as encounter with a culture is my post Jessica Hausner's Lourdes. In this I bring to bear my own experience of Lourdes and of Catholic faith to comment on a film which touches on that experience. I also think that Jessica Hausner, without necessarily accepting a supernatural, or even a religious, reality to the phenomenon that is Lourdes, has nevertheless genuinely and honestly engaged with the event that is a pilgrimage to Lourdes. In this sense, she is a genuine partner with whom one can enter into dialogue through commenting on her work.

Inter-religious dialogue, or ecumenical dialogue, can be seen as special cases of this where the partner in the dialogue is a representative of another religion or Christian denomination. To again refer to the sphere of film, the existence of "ecumenical juries" at some film festivals would illustrate this.

In this kind of dialogue, one's own experience gains something from the experience of the dialogue partner. We might see something supportive of our own experience that we had not seen before. In some cases, we might change or adjust our point of view, but not always.

Dialogue as a moment in evangelisation

In its teaching about the nature of evangelisation (Evangelii Nuntiandi, General Directory for Catechesis), the Church speaks about a presence of the Church, or of the individual Christian, in the activity of the world. Sometimes termed "presence in charity", this might not be a presence that is explicitly proclaimed as a Christian presence, but it is a presence prompted and imbued with a Christian spirit. An example of this might be participation in port, hospital or industrial chaplaincy, where many of the encounters one has with seafarers, patients or co-workers might be without explicitly religious content. For most Catholics, it refers to their everyday encounters with neighbours, friends and colleagues.

I think this is also is an aspect of understanding dialogue as encounter with a culture, but brought perhaps to the level of individual human relationships. However - and this is the point at which I would enter into discussion though, I think, not necessarily disagreement with NewmanCause - this will rarely take place with an explicit intention of seeking conversion to the Catholic faith. Indeed, where it to be undertaken with such an explicit intention, there are circumstances in which it would become proselytism of the very worst kind.

What the Catholic Church's teaching allows us to do, though, is to still see this as a moment in the dynamic of evangelisation which imbues the whole of the Church's life. In this sense, it has a reference towards conversion to the Catholic faith, as part of a wider activity of the whole Church. Evangelical Christians have a tendency I think to see evangelism as only occurring when they explicitly proclaim the faith (this is another moment in evangelisation for us Catholics, but not the only one), which does not always lead to positive experiences on the part of their hearers.

Conditions to enable dialogue

"Moving goal posts" are an image that we often use when we are trying to deal with someone, or with an issue, where the ground rules keep changing; it is impossible to know in which direction to kick the ball if the goal posts don't stay still. Dialogue can only occur if the partners to that dialogue have a common concern for the truth of what is known or believed, and a common concern for the moral rightness of what is done. Indifference to truth or indifference to the idea of moral right and wrong make dialogue impossible. Seeing the school or university as a community of learning depends upon this idea of a common searching for what is true and morally good, a searching undertaken together by the faculty and the students. The enterprise of education is, or should be, an enterprise of dialogue.

This consideration prompts me to identify an excruciating irony in our contemporary political situation, and that occurs when the representatives of a political and social culture that is thoroughly secularist (and therefore relativist in both its attitude to the idea of truth and the idea of moral right and wrong) urges on us the need for inter-religious dialogue! It strikes me that what is needed more than anything else is a dialogue between religious belief and non-religious political and social cultures; but the relativism of the latter renders that dialogue all but impossible.

Bridges and Tangents gave an account of exploring fundamentals without being fundamentalist when introducing the current series of Faith Matters lectures. I think he expresses what one might term the basis on which a Catholic is able to enter into dialogue with others:
The title of the series is quite provocative: ‘Fundamentals of Faith’. At first glance, it makes me think of the word ‘fundamentalism’, with all its negative associations – a belief system that is unthinking, unreflective, arrogant, closed to the truths of history and science, of philosophy and psychology. But perhaps that is intentional. The purpose of each lecture is to show that Christians can explore the fundamentals of their faith without being fundamentalist. The root meaning of the word ‘fundamental’, of course, is something that acts as a foundation. Thinking deeply about the fundamentals of faith should actually make you less ‘fundamentalist’ and more reflective, more open, and yes – more faithful.

Patriarch Fouad Twal speaking about the situation of Christians in the Holy Land

The Bishops' Conference website has published the text of an address to the Bishops' Conference by the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. The address presents the position of Christians in the Holy Land, and is worth reading. His Beatitude Fouad Twal is realistic in his assessment of the situation, without taking a stance that is "purely political".

The difficulties created by the policies of the Israeli government with regard to new settlements are referred to:
In recent weeks, much attention has been focused on the Israeli government’s plans to wrest Arab East Jerusalem from its Palestinian residents. House demolition, expropriation and new plans to unilaterally define much Jerusalem territory as "national park land" are threatening not only the peace of Jerusalem but also its multi-confessional identity. An important segment of this land belongs to different Churches. Alongside this, the government continues to sponsor settling Jews in Arab East Jerusalem, building neighborhoods and enlarging the existing ones. Most worrying is the fact that the Haram al-Sharif, also known as the Temple Mount, is again becoming a locus of tension as radical Jews do not hide their intention to remove the Muslim shrines there in order to reconstruct the Third Temple.
I noticed particularly His Beatitude's remarks about the part played by Catholic educational institutions sponsored by the Latin Patriarchate. Unlike Catholic schools in the UK, where the premise generally is that they exist to educate Catholic children, this is a context where many of the students will not be Catholics.
Another significant sign of the vitality of our Church is the ongoing development of the planned university linked to the Latin Patriarchate in Madaba. We are convinced that our large, established and respected Catholic school system has had a significant and positive effect upon the life and culture of Jordan, and has been no small factor in Jordan’s role, as a force of moderation and tolerance in the Middle East. We wish to expand that effect by opening this university, which we expect will attract students from the entire region, and not just from Jordan. I urge you to take this new initiative to heart and be involved. ‘Involvement’ does not only mean financial support but help to make strong connections with English and Welsh universities.

In this connection, I might mention the excellent work of our Latin Patriarchate schools throughout the diocese. These schools that are of a high standard and promote Christian values need your support too. We truly believe that through these schools we are making a difference in our region.

Taking a Stand on Sexual Health

This is the title of a press release from the Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust, my local NHS hospital trust. It does not refer to the adoption of a policy position. It refers to the fact that the Trust is spending some of its money to have a stand at an "erotic exhibition". I can't quite think of the best way to describe the Erotica exhibition, though I suspect that the most honest way is to describe it as an exhibition devoted to different degrees of the pornography industry (though I expect that some of the exhibitors would deny this description). The offiicial descriptor is "consumer adult life style" show.

Let's try and apply some logic.

The BHR University Hospitals NHS Trust think it is a good use of their (public) funds to have a sexual health stand at this exhibition. In the words of their press release (my emphasis added): "The stand at Erotica is the first step to confront sexual health head-on, to move with the times and to go outside of the mainstream to find specific audiences". Therefore, they are recognising that "consumer adult life styles" carry a higher risk of infection with an STI and so provide a "specific audience" that needs to be targeted with services.

So why not discourage people from taking part in "consumer adult life styles"? Rather than helping to publicise them, using public funds?

Now one does find it difficult to take seriously a press release which squeezes "first step", "confront sexual health head-on" (oh, dear!) , "move with the times" and "go outside the mainstream" into one and the same sentence. If any readers wish to take on a challenge, perhaps they could try to do the same with a sentence in the comments box (nothing rude please!).

In the 2008-9 financial year, this NHS Hospitals Trust announced  a deficit of £23 million. One would have thought that their advertising budget would have been a key area to be targeted to achieve savings ....

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Newman and Anglicanorum Coetibus

The Newman Cause website has posted what is, in essence, a response to the Tablet's recent editorial  about the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus. Those who have seen my earlier posts (here, here, here and here) on this subject will realise that I have reservations about the provisions of the Apostolic Constitution. To an extent, these reservations are about the substance of the provisions themselves; but I feel they are more fundamentally about how the provisions might work themselves out in the reality of how Anglican groupings respond to them.

The Newman Cause post takes issue with the Tablet's view that Anglicans should feel, and perhaps be made to feel, a sense of "conversion" in being received into the Roman Catholic Church, a sense of rejection of their past. Rather, the post suggests, the Anglican experience is more like that of Newman himself, who had no sense of leaving behind anything from his Anglican life. Instead, what happens is an experience of completion and fulfilment of that Anglican life.
‘Anglo-Catholicism’ is essentially interrogative. Can Anglicanism’s entanglement in the distortions of the Reformation be overcome, so as to vindicate its ‘Catholic credentials’? One remains an ‘Anglo-Catholic’ for as long as one believes that this question can be given an affirmative answer.

The Anglican communities addressed by the Apostolic Constitution have concluded that an affirmative answer is impossible. The Tablet’s desire to impose upon them a model of conversion as ‘transformation’ is irrelevant to their experience. It is Newman’s description of his conversion – ‘it was like coming into port after a rough sea’ – which will better capture these communities’ embrace of Roman Catholicism. For ‘Anglo-Catholics’ typically have the Catholic Faith; what they lack, until they become Roman Catholics, is the Church in which that Faith is truly at home. The Tablet’s own position inverts this progression, and this is why it misunderstands ‘Anglo-Catholicism’ and fears the Apostolic Constitution. The Tablet has the Catholic Church; what it is all too clearly unsure about is whether it wants the Catholic Faith.

As far as individual Anglican's is concerned, they may well find themselves in a position absolutely analagous to that in which Newman found himself, in which case the point being made by the Newman Cause post is quite correct. I do, however, have a couple of reasons for wondering whether, at the corporate level (parish or grouping such as Forward in Faith, Traditional Anglican Communion) the Anglo-Catholic of today really is in the same sort of position as was Newman.
Firstly, a lot of non-Catholic water has passed under the bridge of the Church of England during the years since Newman was alive. The longer the Anglo-Catholic groupings have accepted, or at least tolerated, the non-Catholic practices of women priests etc through participation in the rather artificial mechanisms of "guidance and oversight" from Catholic minded bishops who remain in some sort of essentially sociological communion with bishops who reject their Catholic beliefs; the more they have then come to live an inadequate idea of ecclesial communion that is not Catholic because it lacks reference to unity in belief and moral life. I happen to feel that a conversion (in the sense of move towards fulfilment) may be needed now that was not needed in Newman's time - a conversion in the sense of the ecclesial communion that will be lived in the Catholic Church from that which is lived in Anglicanism. It is not just a question of finding the Church in which the Anglo-Catholic beliefs are really at home; it is now also about having a proper sense of the idea of communion within that Church. The provisions of the Apostolic Constitution could, I think, address this issue more clearly.
And secondly, but not unrelated, is the response of some, notably in Forward in Faith, which suggests that they see the Apostolic Constitution as providing in the Roman Catholic Church exactly the kind of positioning that they have been seeking in the Anglican Church, but which it now looks as if they will not be given there. This seems to me to be a manifestation of an idea of ecclesial communion without reference to unity of belief, and so an inadequate manifestation of such a communion. The position of those in good standing with Anglo-Catholic groupings but whose life situations are at odds with Catholic moral teaching (I'm trying to be diplomatic here) suggests an inadequate living of ecclesial communion from the point of view of unity in moral life. 
I think the proof of the pudding will be in the eating of it - as the Bishop of Fulham observed, many Anglo-Catholics may now find that their bluff has been called.

And, as a PS and recognising that I may well not find the time to do it, I think there is a dialogue to be had with the Newman Cause's observations with regard to the nature of dialogue!

Monday, 16 November 2009

Today: Natalie Merchant and Gerard Manley Hopkins

I caught a rather interesting item on the Today programme as I was driving into work this morning. It was a "package" about some concerts that Natalie Merchant is presenting in the London, the Hague and in Berlin at the moment, featuring songs from an album due to be released in the new year. News of the concerts can be found here - London venues all sold out. A wikipedia article about Natalie is here.

According to the Today piece, Natalie set poems written by others to music for the forthcoming album. With children to look after, she did not have the time and peace to write her own music from scratch. She has chosen poems with children in mind, some of them being poems that can be used to introduce children to difficult topics.

One of  the poems she has set to music is by Gerard Manley Hopkins. Natalie describes it as being a poem that introduces children to death in nature around them, and so to their own death; on her first reading of it, Natalie cried without quite understanding why.  It is called "Spring and Fall: to a young child".  I was struck by how warmly and knowledgeably Natalie Merchant spoke about Gerard Manley Hopkins in the package. Just catching the beginning of her song setting of "Spring and Fall" made me wonder whether or not it actually provides a very good way into reading the Gerard Manley Hopkins poetry, with a natural recognition in the sung format of the demands of his sprung rhythm.

If you have access to the Oxford Authors 1986 edition of Hopkins poetry and prose, the notes to this poem are useful in this regard, and reflect Natalie Merchant's own understanding of the poem. Poem on p.152, notes on pp.365-366.

To a Young Child

Márgarét, are you gríeving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leáves, líke the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Áh! ás the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you wíll weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sórrow's spríngs áre the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It ís the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.
To catch the Today programme package, go to the listen again page, select Monday 16th November and scroll down to find it at 7:49. This will be available for one week only.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

The Fantastic Mr Fox

Zero and I went to see this film yesterday. The trailer is on Youtube. We regularly speculate on where we belong with regard to the median age of others in the cinema, but there was a second criterion in play yesterday. We were the only unaccompanied adults. We didn't see any one we knew, so our anonymity is safely preserved. Given the media attention the film attracted at its UK premiere at the London Film Festival, the attendance was poor - a dozen or so.

We both found the film to be not at all what we had been expecting. On my part, that was probably because I have never read Roald Dahl, the one or two quick looks I have had at his books leaving me totally un-interested. I suspect Zero of just wanting to swoon over George Clooney's voicing of Mr Fox. It wasn't a children's film in the conventional sense. Though it would be quite wrong to describe it as violent, one couldn't really describe it as gentle either. The episode in which a raid is launched by Mr Fox and company to rescue his nephew from captivity, for example, has images that rather reflect video games, with pine cone "grenades" being thrown to create mayhem. [Interestingly, a trailer for a film of Alice in Wonderland seemed equally intense.] This lack of a clear "positioning" might explain the poor attendance.

I wonder at where the film was trying to position itself as far as being "Politically Correct" was concerned. The three farmers (the baddies) were stereotyped as tall and skinny, fat and short. But at three or four points in the film, "being different" was praised. One part of this was the nephew who was good at everything and outshone Mr Fox's own son - the latter was encouraged, or at least the attempt to do so was made, on the grounds that it was good to be different. At another point the different abilities of all the animals was highlighted to be used in the plan for the rescue attempt, along the lines of them all being different and so having something different to offer. Now, there is, of course, a very good point to this; but it can also be read in a completely relativist manner, which isn't so good.

There were also a couple of moments of wonderful reverse anthropomorphism, when Mr Fox explained an aberration by the fact that they were wild animals after all, and that what had happened was just the wild animal part of their being coming through. Rather Darwin-esqe, and I am sure it was appreciated by the children present (!).

I should admit that there were elements that did reflect the film being a children's film. Things like Mr Fox's visit to the estate agent (a badger) early in the film struck me as being about something within the experience of children - moving house as a younger sibling gives rise to a need for a larger house. Similarly with Mrs Fox's announcing her pregnancies. Sibling rivalry was also represented, again I expect something within the experience of the child audience. Cleaning teeth was also there - and Zero liked the juice dribbled down the bib of "baby" fox towards the end of the film.

And, oh, those foxes were just so cute! Go and look at the trailer again. And then look at this featurette, which tells something of the making of the puppets, and this one,  which is an interview with Roald Dahl's wife Felicity. This latter suggests that the character of Mr Fox reflects that of Roald Dahl himself - one can realise why Mrs Fox is named Felicity, too. A taste of the soundtrack here.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Faith Matters 2009

The Agency for Evangelisation of Westminster Diocese and the Mount Street Jesuit Centre have arranged a series of lectures under the title of "Fundamentals of Faith". The homepage for this series of lectures is here.

From this page you can read, and download as a PDF file, the first lecture in the series. This was by Fr Richard Finn OP on the subject "Authority and Conscience in Church and Society". At a quick reading, this appears a very clear and careful account of this subject and worthy of a more thorough reading.

Fr John Edwards SJ gave the second talk - "Catholics and Prayer" - earlier this week. As yet, the transcript has not appeared on the website, though there is some discussion under the "Debate" tab.

Testimony of a priestly vocation

I am copying the following from the parish newsletter of the parish of Leigh-on-Sea.

Fr Kevin's observations reflect two things that I think are of wider significance, things that make this more than just a testimony of faith in an individual situation. The first of these is what this testimony says about the moments, or perhaps days, during which someone is dying. Such a time can be very difficult, and that is quite a natural experience. But at the same time, they can be lived as a gift, a grace that is received; and this is not something that is limited to those who have a religious belief, though this testimony is given in the context of a strong faith. The second thing is the dialogue between male and female in the question of a vocation in the Church. At one level this can perhaps be seen as an accident of particular family circumstances. But the same dialogue of a man and woman in the founding of charism in the Church occurs time and again in the history of the Church. St Francis and St Clare, Chiara Lubich and Igino Giordani, Hans Urs von Balthasar and Adrienne von Speyr, Marthe Robin and Pere Finet ... One of the more memorable conversations I have had in my life was in a coffee bar in Dublin Airport, on the subject of what it was that meant that some families succeeded in handing on the practice of the faith to their children and others didn't. The example of mothers featured strongly in that conversation - my interlocuter relating a story from her family of how a group of women had rescued the Blessed Sacrament from a Church destroyed by republican forces during the Spanish Civil War.
Dear Friends in Christ

The last ten days have been one of the most emotionally difficult and challenging of my life. On 29th October my Mother suffered a major heart attack from which she never regained consciousness. She died very peacefully on 2nd November. My Mother – Marie Winifred - suffered from Parkinson’s Disease for over twenty years and for most of that period was very debilitated. During the four days Mum was in Hospital, she was completely surrounded and lifted-up by prayer. We kept a round-the-clock vigil at her bedside and she received the last Sacraments each day. Several priests came to pray with her and bless her; there were continual Rosaries offered and there was a most wonderful atmosphere of peace in her room, and a sense that a great grace was happening. When I received the news of her death, I was just about to celebrate the midday Mass on Monday; I was able to offer it for her eternal repose. How very kind of Almighty God to call her to Himself on the very day when the entire Church is praying for All Souls!

At this moment I can only thank God for the eighty-one-and-a-half years of her life and the fifty-five years of my parent’s marriage. Far from feeling desolate, I am completely buoyed-up by our faith in the promises of the Resurrection. I have been filled with great comfort and hope in these days, especially supported by the prayers and Masses of so many kind friends and Parishioners. My close friends – especially the priests – have been like guardian angels to me and I cannot express the kindness I have experienced. The Mother of a Priest is a very special person. She is the worthy woman of whom Scripture speaks. We only have one Mother, and she is the most special person in our lives; that does not change in death.

After God, I have always believed that my vocation was inspired by her and has been sustained by her these last twenty-five years. I believe now that she will be looking after me even more! Her Requiem Mass will be celebrated on Monday in the Catholic Church in South Woodford and I would ask you to please keep her, my Father, and all the members of the family in your prayers.

With every blessing!

Fr Kevin Hale

Thursday, 12 November 2009

We don't want product placement - unless its for condoms

I have been encouraged recently to sign up to a campaign against the government's proposals to allow product placement in television programmes. The context has been that of food products, the concern being that unhealthy food products intended for children might well be the object of product placement. Signatories to this campaign so far include at least two teacher trade unions, including the one to which I belong. The "take action" page, at which you can sign up to show your opposition to product placement is here.

I quote from the letter which you can sign and send from this action page, and which the teacher unions have effectively signed:
I am particularly concerned that product placement breaches the principle that advertising should be clearly recognised as such, and distinguishable from editorial content. It is important that people know when they are being advertised to, and parents are able to recognise advertising and protect their children from it. With product placement, marketing goes on behind parents' backs.
I fear that teachers are in danger of applying a glaring double standard here. Sex education has increasingly, and, with recent developments will continue doing so, promoted condom use and distribution, along with  readiness of access to "sexual health services" (see below). The access to services is de facto confidential and therefore done without parental knowledge. If this is not product placement I don't know what is. It is clearly advertising of particular services, not distinguished from educational/editorial content, and done behind parents' backs. [As the BBC (but not schools) would say, "other services are available" - but they are not mentioned or included in lists of agencies.]

"Sexual health services" is an all inclusive euphemism. The agencies involved include referral for abortion and contraceptive services in their portfolio [if any agencies wish to deny this, comments welcome and they will be posted]. These services are not distinguished from such services as screening for and treatment of sexually transmitted infections, though they are of course very different in nature.

It is increasingly difficult in a state school not to feel that you are complicit in a "product placement" of contraceptive and abortion services.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Anglicanorum coetibus: "Annexation", "theatricals" and "unintended consequences"

The Apostolic Constitution making provision for Personal Ordinariates for Anglicans who wish to enter full communion with the Catholic Church has been published. The English text, along with a press release, Complementary Norms and a commentary from the Rector of the Gregorian University in Rome can be found here, at the Vatican website.

The title of this blog coverage hasn't quite got the idea: Released: Apostolic Constitution addressing annexing Anglicans into the Catholic Church. It does give rise to a quiet chuckle, though.

Article 11(3) and 11(4) of the Complementary Norms seem to go in the opposite direction, with a suggestion of "high church theatricals":
§3. A former Anglican Bishop who belongs to the Ordinariate may be invited to participate in the meetings of the Bishops’ Conference of the respective territory, with the equivalent status of a retired bishop.

§4. A former Anglican Bishop who belongs to the Ordinariate and who has not been ordained as a bishop in the Catholic Church, may request permission from the Holy See to use the insignia of the episcopal office.
Article 6 (1) of the Complementary Norms:
In consideration of Anglican ecclesial tradition and practice, the Ordinary may present to the Holy Father a request for the admission of married men to the presbyterate in the Ordinariate, after a process of discernment based on objective criteria and the needs of the Ordinariate. These objective criteria are determined by the Ordinary in consultation with the local Episcopal Conference and must be approved by the Holy See.
seems to weaken article VI (2) of the Apostolic Constitution itself:
§2. The Ordinary, in full observance of the discipline of celibate clergy in the Latin Church, as a rule (pro regula) will admit only celibate men to the order of presbyter. He may also petition the Roman Pontiff, as a derogation from can. 277, §1, for the admission of married men to the order of presbyter on a case by case basis, according to objective criteria approved by the Holy See.
It does this by recognising the Anglican tradition as being the factor underlying its provision for married clergy. I have already posted on my concern about the witness to celibacy ( and here) of the move towards Personal Ordinariates, and the denial of a change of discipline in this regard in the press release accompanying the Apostolic Constitution does nothing to counter the provisions of the Complementary Norms.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church is identified as the authoritative expression of faith professed by the members of an Ordinariate (I (5) of the Apostolic Constitution). If the Catechism is the norm of faith for those joining the Catholic Church from the C of E, can't it also be held up as the norm of faith for those who dissent from within the Catholic Church? And, though some paragraphs express teaching of the extraordinary magisterium of the Church, it is, in itself, and exercise of the ordinary magisterium. Ecclesial implications of this might reach beyond the Ordinariates.

The provision that clergy might in case of necessity undertake paid secular employment in addition to their priestly duties (article 7 (3) of the Complementary Norms) is also interesting. This might provide an interesting model for "worker priests" - whoops, sorry, the modern term should be "industrial chaplaincy". Now, I do think there are interesting possibilities here that could extend beyond the Ordinariates.

So we have "annexation", "theatricals" and some "unintended consequences".

PS: I wonder whether there will be the same debate over what constitutes a "coetibus" in this context as there was in the context of Summorum Pontificum?

PPS: The post at Catholic Analysis is a useful complement to my remarks above. Catholic Analysis has a different take on the celibacy question than I have:
Two points strike me as important: 1.) the embrace of legitimate liturgical diversity in the Roman Rite, as opposed to neo-Tridentine uniformity; and 2.) married clergy among the new Catholics, which we can term "clerical diversity." Both points emphasize that the "Benedictine" model of this Pope does not match that of the supertraditionalists.
PPPS: Further comment at Valle Adurni, which focusses in part on the question of celibacy. I had thought, too, to comment on the intention that the Ordinariates come under the supervision of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. This makes sense if one views the Ordinariates as being akin to the situations of groups that formerly came under the remit of the Ecclesia Dei commission that has now been taken over by (sorry, subsumed into) the same Congregation. The provisions do, however, refer to the other dicasteries of the Curia having a role according to their competence.

Sunday, 8 November 2009


I posted yesterday about the Liverpool Care Pathway (LCP). Before Mass this morning I spoke with a nurse who works in our local hospital, and discussed the LCP with her. That conversation reminded how much the words that we use in describing the end of a patient's life communicate messages about how we value - or do not value - that time in a patient's life. Different words that we used in our conversation were "difficult", "horrible", "cruel", "existing, not living".

I was comfortable with the word "difficult" - reaching the end of your life, or accompanying someone else as they reach the end of their life - can be difficult. But I think a major part of the problem in being pro-life in the context of the end of life is that we do not promote a positive and hopeful language to talk about that time of a person's life. The experience of hopelessness, both on the part of the patient and on the part of those accompanying the patient, seems to arise simply because no-one challenges a language that enshrines a hidden agenda of despair.

I then saw this post at Diakonia - and was very struck that here the moment or time of a person's dying was seen as being worthy of a photographic record. Yes, accompanying someone as they are dying is difficult. But it is also, like other great moments of life, an irreplaceable moment, a moment that should be lived in its full meaning rather than being abandoned to despair.

Abortion at the heart of wrangling over US health care legislation

Report here from the New York Times. I haven't been following this in detail, but it looks like an interesting development. I gather that the health care provisions - a key part of President Obama's electoral platform - have gone through the House of Representatives with a majority in single figures, and restrictions on federal funding of abortion being included in order to achieve that majority. How the legislation will fare in the Senate is still to be seen.

From the political point of view, if the New York Times report is giving a correct impression, it is interesting to see that it is pro-life Democrats - ie President Obama's own party - who were key in securing the inclusion of an amendment restricting federal funding of abortion.

Blog-by-the-Sea has a useful comment on this, and some links to further coverage.

Pro-abortion conference gets rough ride in Ireland

Having just visited Ireland, I am quite happy to link to this report at John Smeaton's blog.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

"God is back and Europe as a whole still doesn't get it"

I should really have given this post the proper title of Lord Sacks' lecture - "Religion in the Twenty-First Century".  Jonathan Sacks is the Chief Rabbi here in the UK, and his lecture was the 2009 Annual Theos Lecture. H/T to Auntie Joanna who put me on to this; the Daily Telegraph report, to which Auntie Joanna links, is here.

The homepage of Theos is here, and this page explains the aims of Theos. One can perhaps summarise the aims as being about research into and encouragement of dialogue between religious faith and contemporary society. A report of Lord Sacks lecture can be found at this page; a link towards the bottom of the page allows you to download the transcript of the lecture.

Lord Sacks asks first: Why has religion survived? He answers: because the human being is an animal that seeks meaning. He argues that four of the key components of contemporary culture and life do not provide an answer to that search for meaning: not the market, not politics and the state, not science and not philosophy.
So, if we search for meaning, we will not in the twenty-first century find it in the market, in the state, in science or in philosophy. It is that principled abdication of the search for meaning by the four great institutions of modernity that has created the space which religion has returned to fill, and which indeed it always did fill.
 Lord Sacks makes an interesting - and subtle - point about the failure of these four institutions in the search for meaning. On the one hand, we might view their failure in this regard as precisely that - a failing which could be corrected by including a search for meaning in their remit. But Lord Sacks asserts that it is quite correct that these four institutions, as he calls them, should retain an autonomy from the search for meaning.

This is because Lord Sacks sees religion as having its place in what we, today, would call civil society, and not in institutions of the state; indeed, religion needs a rightful distance from such institutions. [Pope Benedict would call this a "rightful secularity", not to be confused with "secularism", the banishing of religion from public life altogether.] Lord Sacks cites a nineteenth century French diplomat, commenting on his experience of the separation of Church and state in America:
What then did [Alexis de Tocqueville] see religion doing in the United States? He saw that it sanctified the family, that it created community, that it encouraged philanthropy, that it built schools, that it taught responsibility, that it brought people together for the common good. It created what Tocqueville called “the art of association” and another beautiful phrase, “habits of the heart,” which he described as “the essential apprenticeship in liberty.” He saw religion as the essential counter-balance to what he described – again 180 years ago - as “the greatest danger facing America.” It was a new phenomenon in those days and he had to invent a word to describe it, and the word he invented was ‘individualism’.

He in other words saw that religion was the counterweight to individualism, and because of that it sustained a free and democratic society. In the terminology of today, we would say that religion sustained the third sector that is not the state, that is not the market but it is civil society. ....[de Tocqueville] says: “In the United States, religion exercises but little influence on the laws and upon the details of public opinion, but it directs the customs of the community, and by regulating domestic life, it regulates the state”.
 And Lord Sacks continues:
So, we would expect, if Tocqueville got it right, to be able to test that in practice. If Tocqueville was right, then we would expect any society in which religion declines, in that society, civil society would decline. Families would become fragile, marriages would decline, communities would atrophy, society would cease to have a shared morality. And by those tests, 100 years later, Tocqueville got it exactly right.
I don't think we can find a more accurate description of the societies of Europe today than this.

Lord Sacks interestingly identifies the unwillingness of many in European nations to make the sacrifices necessary to bring up children in families as a major issue for the future of European culture. In that sense, the population of Europe is dying out for want of generosity of its members for the generations of the future. One thing that a religious culture will give is a generosity for larger families. I recall being struck by much the same thought when listening to recent media coverage of research into the numbers of children being conceived with Downs Syndrome - that in the UK some 90% of babies considered to have a risk of being born with Downs Syndrome are aborted, and that, in many cases, the potential parents have decided for abortion purely after communication of the risk factor for Downs Syndrome and before any consideration with their medical practitioners of the life opportunities of their baby, spoke to me of a huge failure in generosity. Not so much that this failure of generosity occurs on the part of the potential parents involved; rather they are the manifestation of a lack of generosity towards someone who is weaker or less well off that is systemic to our society as a whole.
So to repeat. Tocqueville was right: the place of religion is in civil society where it achieves many things essential to liberal democratic freedom, but two in particular: Number one, it sanctifies marriage and the family and the obligations of parenthood; and number two, it safeguards the non-relativist moral principles on which Western freedom is based. That is why Tocqueville described religion as “the surest pledge for the duration of freedom.”

It may not be religion that is dying, it may be liberal democratic Europe that is in danger, demographically and in its ability to defend its own values.
 When turning to the opportunities and imperatives for the future, Lord Sacks, in passing, comments on the way in which conflicts that would at one time have been seen as political have come to be "religionized". This is why he has earlier recognised that religion should not be political. An intellectually open and tolerant religiosity is necessary to respond to this fundamentalist religion. Lord Sacks calls for a new dialogue between religion and science - recognising that, though science in itself is not providing the answer to questions of the meaning of human existence, its discoveries do nevertheless have deeply religious implications. He argues that religions, having an international character, are in some ways better placed to mobilise energies on a global scale than are nation states - issues such as global warming and international debt relief are examples he cites. Religions can engage with politicians, scientists and economists on issues like this.
Finally, religious groups in the liberal democratic state must be prepared to enter into serious respectful conversations with secular humanists, with charities, with other groups in civil society about the nature of the common good and the kind of society we wish to create for our grandchildren not yet born. At the moment we don’t fully have this. At the moment in Britain I would say that religious groups tend more to act as pressure groups or lobbying groups than as conversation partners. But, that conversation is there to be had and I hope Theos will play a part in facilitating it. It is doable.
 Lord Sacks is, I think, more optimistic than I would be about the possibilities of this last point. Secular humanists are not necessarily themselves open to this conversation - the National Secular Society, for example, demonstrate a strong hostility towards religious belief rather than a certain neutrality that would show openness to dialogue. The political state also seeks to impose a secular morality - via government "five year plans", targets, and the like - that puts limits on the operation of religions in civil society.

Are they playing God?

This is the headline on the front page of the Romford Recorder, our most significant local newspaper. The sub-headline is: "Hospital stops food and medication for patients close to death".

The newspaper is reporting on a meeting of the local authority's Health Oversight and Scrutiny Committee. This committee is made up of local councillors who are not members of the local authority's Cabinet, and its role, with regard to matters of health, is as follows:

1. Providing a critical friend challenge to policy and decision makers.

2. Driving improvement in public services.

3. Holding key local partners to account.

4. Enabling the voice and concerns of the public.
The conception of oversight and scrutiny committees is somewhat similar, at the level of local government, to that of parliamentary committees that shadow departments at the level of national government.
One of the agenda items for the meeting of the Committee on 3rd November was the use of the Liverpool Care Pathway in the local NHS hospital trust. The Chair of the Committee, Cllr Ted Eden is quoted as saying:
Reports of the use of this pathway and its effects, including first-hand testimony I've heard, have been quite appalling. At precisely the moment [patients] need care, they are too often placed on what seems little more than a pathway to oblivion. In my view, this could easily be seen as playing God or even killing people off."
The representatives of the NHS hospital trust are reported as defending the Pathway as providing the best possible course of action for patients in terminal pain and agitation.
There is no hidden agenda. On the LCP patients die with dignity and with the best quality of life they have left.
There is nothing sinister about this - the LCP is not about shortening life. We do not believe in euthanasia, either passive or active, it's about excellence of care.
It is interesting that a web page which might be considered the "home" of the Liverpool Care Pathway includes the following sentence: "The use of the LCP does not preclude use of antibiotics or artificial nutrition or hydration but it does ask the professional to consider an appropriate decision for that moment in time and document the reason for decisions made."
But a set of sample documentation that I have been able to find for recording the patient assessment at the start of an implementation of the pathway has as Goal 3 the discontinuation of inappropriate interventions and lists blood test, antibiotics and intravenous fluids and medications as points to be considered under this heading. The wording clearly implies a presumption of discontinuation, and it views any "NO" to discontinuation as a variance from the pathway, to be recorded as a variance and justified, with a practitioner signature. No justification is expected for discontinuation, just a tick in a box. Goal 3a refers to discontinuation of inappropriate nursing interventions.
The LCP also expects anticipatory prescribing of drugs, ahead of the emergence of symptoms. This provision does seem, from the sample documentation, to include the administration of diamorphine in this anticipatory way.
[There are some good goals indicated in the documentation, an example being those related to spiritual and pastoral care of the patient and their family/friends.]

What we can see here, though, is an interesting use of local democracy to challenge the practice of the local NHS hospital trust.

Friday, 6 November 2009

My trade union to oppose Government proposals on sex education?

The General Secretary of my trade union has a little paragraph in The Times today - utterly illogical and rather muddled it is, to say the least. I rather suspect that the leaders of other teacher unions were a bit more savvy than she was, and did not let themselves get drawn in to commenting.
With one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in Europe, whatever we are doing at the moment we are not doing well. We have got to stop being Janus headed about this and grow up as we expect young people to grow up. We can't infantalise them and then expect them to behave responsibly.
So, I assume that my trade union is now going to advocate a change of strategy ... and not just "more of the same" sponsored by those with vested interests.

It is also interesting to note that The Times is reporting a Catholic Education Service spokeswoman as saying that they are "disappointed" with the removal of the total right of withdrawal- yesterday's spin by Ed Balls might well have been claiming a level of support from the CES that was not justified. There is some relief that the right of withdrawal will remain until age 15 - and, if the CES expressed some welcome of that in the context of removal of the absolute right of withdrawal, one has some understanding of what they were saying.

James Preece, alongside my General Secretary, does a rather better job of arguing for the parental role on this matter.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

County Mayo - or, where I went during my blog break

For an utterly obsessive planner of trips, this was all a bit last minute, or rather, last second. Zero and I booked the flights a mere nine days ahead, and the B+B just four days ahead. Stansted to Ireland West-Knock, and then a hire car. We stayed in Newport. It was a little wet, or, if I am completely honest, absolutely saturatingly wet.

First call on arrival was Knock - the village, not the shrine - with the purpose of breakfast. After meandering round the countryside - my map reading, Zero's driving, we weren't lost, we just couldn't find where we were looking for - we had a walk in the grounds of Westport House.

These are two views of Newport - looking down stream from the road bridge (our B+B is among the houses on the right) and looking up stream (the railway no longer runs across the bridge, the Church is dedicated to ... you guessed, St Patrick). Pub where we had our evening meals is behind you as you look at these pictures.

The next morning, from my bedroom window:

Walking looked off for the day, so Zero drove us down to Linane, where it was still raining. It was possible to, quite literally, see the water pouring off the hill sides as we drove towards Linane.

After a coffee break, our next destination was a town called Cong, where a film called "The Quiet Man" was filmed. Or, so a conversation with a couple of local residents revealed, one scene was filmed. Other scenes were filmed at a cottage in or near Cross, a nearby village - cottage now no longer surviving. Never mind, Cong still lives on the glory of John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara. By now, the rain had stopped and off we went walking in the grounds of Ashford Castle and in the woods near Cong.

[Zero's nostalgia, having had her photo taken at this point in her youth]

The next morning from my bedroom window:

But it did brighten up enough by the time we had finished our breakfast (10 am - ish) for us to get out on a walk.

The three walks at Derradda are only 5 minutes drive from Newport; we did the green one - not because it was the "easy" one, but because it was the only one that didn't involve walking along the main road for a stretch. After negotiating a flock of sheep coming the other way as we started (we were, I think, less of a problem than the two dogs who had come out of nearby garden to greet us), we ended up with one of the dogs as a companion for the walk.

Setting off ...

Windswept ...

Cutting peat ...

Our companion, and the views southwards ...

Back to the hillside to the north ...

Feeding the dog at the end of the walk ...

From here we drove on to Achill, and Achill Sound. From this point - no photos, but we both saw him more than once - we spent about an hour watching a seal. Apparently there is an island full of seals out in Clew Bay, and they come up into the rivers in the area following the salmon on their way to spawning grounds.

Sunday was Knock, for Mass. Now, the day before had been all excitement at Knock (the content of this report is not quite as cynical as the headline), but the Sunday was quite calm. Mass struck me as expressing Irish Catholicism at its best - a very strong devotion on the part of the faithful - and at its worst - a complete lack of any real sense on the part of the clergy that this was Liturgy and was due some objective sense of honour. I am now reading a book about the apparition there.

The representation of the apparition in the statues at the place at which they occurred suggests a tremendous theological richness - the Lamb on the altar, surrounded by the adoring angels speaks of a Liturgy that is essentially an event of Heaven before it becomes an event of Earth in the celebration of the Church. St Joseph and St John the Evangelist accompany the person of the Virgin Mary, whose hands are held in an attitude of prayer.

And, finally, Zero squeezing everything into one bag at the airport ...

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

From the blogs today

Selective reporting on child abuse and A prolife conversion, with more coverage of the latter here. Interested in the discussions of the marketing of abortion included in some of this coverage.

Religious fundamentalism or fundamentals of religion introduces a series of lectures taking place at Westminster Cathedral - but also provides a useful language for distinguishing between faithfulness to a religious belief and fundamentalism about it.

Responding to a request in the comments box: If I have posted something on this blog, I consider it to be "public domain" and I am quite happy for others to quote it. I do not mind criticism of what I have posted - that is part of blogging - but I would be a bit upset if something I wrote was mis-represented. A link to my original post would be very nice as well. I am not aware that I have posted anything that is in breach of anyone else's copyright.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Real life ....

.... sometimes gets in the way of blogging. Normal service might be resumed in the next day or two (or, half term is now over, so I am back at school).