Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Pope Francis is full of surprises

Pope Francis has been quite a surprise in many ways. The resignation (or renunciation of the Petrine ministry) or whatever you prefer to call it of Pope Benedict XVI was a shock. In many ways, it felt deeply disappointing but a wise friend once pointed out, just because you feel it doesn't make it fact! Pope Benedict saw that he had reached a point where he could no longer continue, so he left in good time. The Cardinal Electors chose and once again surprised everyone; the Holy Spirit seems to have a habit of getting them to do that! I had heard of then-Cardinal Bergoglio before, oddly enough. An ecclesiastically savvy acquaintance had claimed last time around that the smart money was on him being elected. Well, this time, that's what happened. Any change can be disorienting and even a little bit frightening, but some of the wilder speculations about Pope Francis seem to be unfounded.

The idea that he was going to turn Catholic teaching on its head, which never made much sense, has no foundation at all. He hasn't fired Monsignor Guido Marini as Papal MC nor has he repealed Summorum Pontificum. He hasn't given us dense and complex teaching in the manner of Bd John-Paul II, nor yet have we had the subtle Patristic exegesis of Pope Benedict; instead, by way of his daily homilies mostly, he gives us meat, 2 veg and spuds theology. Simple, practical and heartfelt seems to be his way of preaching and acting. As you'll have gathered, I'm certainly warming to him.

However, there are still a few things that he might do better. Zim Catholic News had a rather provocative post which listed seven things that Pope Francis changed and either implied or explicitly stated that these changes were for the better. I can see their point but I beg to differ.

Their list runs as follows:

1. Changed the golden throne by a wooden chair... Something more appropriate for the disciple of a carpenter.
2. Did not want the gold-embroidered red stole, Heir of the Roman Empire, nor the red chasuble...
3. Uses same old black shoes, not the classic red.
4. Uses a metal cross, not of rubies and diamonds.
5. His papal ring is silver, not gold.
6. Uses the same black pants under the cassock, to remember that he is a another priest.
Have you discovered the 7th?
7. Removed the red carpet... He is not interested in fame and applause...

1. We are all of disciples of the Nazarene Carpenter, who is also the One who made a triumphal entry into Jerusalem and who was Transfigured on Mount Tabor. Pope Francis is not just one disciple among others, he is the Vicar of Christ and as long as he fills that office he needs to look like that's what he doing. Gilded wooden Cathedra, plain wooden seat - which better bespeaks his office?

2. The red State stole represents his role as a Head of State, as a figure who enjoys (albeit precariously) political independence. That has within the last 70 years been of huge importance, as for example when the city of Rome was occupied by the Nazi regime. Are the stole and red mozzetta (NOT chasuble) of central importance, in themselves? No, but what they symbolise is a vital facet of the free exercise of the Petrine ministry by the successor of Peter. The Roman See is certainly the inheritor of much that was pagan Rome but what was incompatible with Christian life has long since been dropped; Mass vestments show this symbolically - the chasuble was the ordinary clothing in the late Roman Empire but the formal dress of the Roman Senator or citizen, the toga, is nowhere to be seen.

3. Using black shoes might be a sign of humility but wearing red ones is a visual symbol of willingness for martyrdom - faithful witness even to the point of death. They are red for the same reason that Cardinals wear red and Martyrs feast days have red vestments - their own blood willingly shed rather than the truth denied.

4. The Pope has chosen to wear a plain metal pectoral cross rather than one made of precious metals or decorated with precious stones. I don't know what rule, if any, there is about these things but wearing a plain cross seems to me to confuse things fitting for his office with simplicity he prefers for his person. Again, it's not a huge issue in itself but it does seem to me to be a misplaced form of humility.

5. An episcopal ring of silver is just as valuable as a gold one, I would think, and is more trouble to look after! Silver tarnishes and needs to be polished. Gold doesn't.

6. Black trousers under his simar? Sure, why not. I remember a priest who, while staying in my mother's house, lost a button off his cassock. She offered to sew it back on, so he shrugged it off and handed it to her. He was wearing khaki chinos! The point being we didn't know that, as they were not visible under his cassock. However, I won't lose too much sleep on this one...

7. Removed the red carpet? That an honour due to the office not the person. He can do away with anything he likes but it's not about him as Jorge Bergoglio, it's about him as Pope Francis, as the personal representative of Jesus Christ. The office is not the man. The fame and applause will come whether he likes it or not; his personal humility is very edifying but he will be with us for some years then another will occupy that seat. In that context continuity is no bad thing.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Mark Shea is always good for a laugh...

I once took Mark Shea to task for a truly hateful nihilistic rant, a diatribe if you will on the subject of the death penalty and a judgement on a specific instance thereof by Justice Antonin Scalia [PDF link] of the US Supreme Court. This was standard third/third Shea stuff. (Shea's blog operates by a rule of thirds - one third sane and sensible, one third over the top and the third third pure venom, making out that the opposition are not wrong but evil.)

Just today, in the context of the drummed-up, fake outrage about Cardinal Pell's comments on the Old Testament, Shea commented that
any subculture... can, by the way fall into the same trap of epistemic closure. It's the problem that contempt always creates. When you hold an enemy in contempt, you start to believe your own press releases about how stupid they are and simply cannot believe that they hold ideas different from what your peer group constantly recirculates.
Hilariously, Shea the diagnostician of pathological polemic can apply himself to someone else's flaws and foibles but isn't at all ready to see his own. Really, physician heal thyself!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Ahistoricism makes me very angry

Sandi Toksvig is a lady both interesting and entertaining but she is (for all practical purposes) an Oxbridge educated English journalist and shares all the allergy to a well-rounded grasp of history of that class & nationality. She tells us in today's Sunday Telegraph that
...in 1395, Lady Alice West left her daughter Johane all her books in Latin, English and French. The latter sounds a nice bequest until you recall that this will was made five years before the death of Chaucer and nearly 80 years before the first book was printed in England. It cannot have been a thrilling collection.
How does one even begin to correct the errors in such a silly statement? The notion that there were no books or at least no books worth having before Caxton is simply nonsensical. Copying of books by hand was a well-established and very widespread practice over the whole of Europe. Indeed it is an oft repeated trope among paleographers that there are far more un-transcribed manuscripts in Europe's research libraries that there are printed editions of them. Among Europe's Ancient and Medieval bibliography Latin texts tended to predominate. This is unsurprising given that liturgical texts were almost exclusively in Latin, and so were philosophical & theological works, Sacred Scripture, classical literature, Medical texts, legal works and so on. However, translation into English began at least as early as the 9th Century with Alfred the Great - he produced a version of the Consolatio Philosophiae of Boethius.

Now the invention of printing in Europe or at any rate its development in England to adopt Toksvig's quaint insular perspective, undoubtedly did massively expand the range of available literature and pushed the price to a level substantially lower than at any time since the end of the Western Empire. This does not count in favour of her idiosyncratic ideas about what constitutes a "thrilling collection", however. Hand written books, manuscripts were rare and valuable. The investment of time, skill & resources required to produce one was so extensive that only very wealthy people or institutions could afford them. So even if Johane West were an illiterate simpleton she had nevertheless received a gift of some considerable monetary value. If she was as intellectually curious & acquisitive as her mother, she must have been delighted to be the recipient of such a rich trove of intellectual treasure.

As an exercise in anachronism, Toksvig's performance can hardly be surpassed; as an intelligent or well-supported judgment, it falls at the first fence. That's not to say that wills, the subject of her column, are not a fascinating subject in their own right. To pick just one example, the sharp contrast between those of Good Queen Mary on the one hand and the Harlot Queen on the other. The principal distinction is that Mary knowing that she had to die (as do we all) actually wrote one. Bloody Bess having abandoned the Catholic Faith for political expediency, fell in her dotage into one superstition after another in a vain attempt to quell her fear of Azrael's approach. Mary's serene confidence in God's mercy provides quite a contrast, as does her careful provision for her servants and household.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

I'm feeling a little like a lost Nietzschean

Every few years an idea, good or bad as the case may be, will emerge. It will attract some bouquets and some brickbats but 99% of the time it will have very little traction and so will recede beneath the waves until it is once again exposed at low tide. It's a little like a trivial version of Nietzsche's eternal return of the same.

The latest idea mooted in Her Majesty's realm where I now find myself is the abolition of the ministerial dispatch box, popularly known as a "red box". They hold cabinet papers and memoranda, are weighted with lead in order to sink when dropped overboard and have their hinges on the same side as the handle. (If you forget to lock yours, everything falls out when you pick it up thus reminding you!) Apparently iPads can do the same job, really quite securely and at only three and a half times the cost. Of course, there is no problem with this at all except lots of people, even highly tech-savvy people, like to read things off printed pages. And you can print things from an iPad. You can even carry a sheaf of these printed pages around with you. And the next thing you know a secret list of planned raids on terrorist safe houses is snapped by a papperazzo with his snazzy digital camera. And the next thing after that some bright spark will say, well, if you must print things then put the printed pages into a box or bag where they can't be seen. Something waterproof, preferably and maybe with an automatic security system to remind you when you've forgotten to lock it... Hmm... As this is the second if not third time we've been through this particular charade, perhaps we could just wait until the demise of Barrow & Gale (who make the red boxes) is announced before we assume that it's anything more than a pious genuflection in the direction of modernisation.

Much as I covet one of those iconic briefcases, their abolition would not cause me to lose that much sleep. There are other and rather more important ideas that resurface every fews years that could do more harm. The abolition of the National University of Ireland is one; the reform of Seanad Éireann is another. The former is not necessarily a bad idea in itself while the latter sounds attractive. Unfortunately the possibility of them being done in a sensible way, as well-thought out reforms is so vanishingly small that it's not worth pursuing. After the lies over Roscommon hospital, the barefaced lies over the Ryan report and the virtual breaking off of diplomatic relations with the Holy See, who honestly believes that a power-hungry unprincipled political hack like Enda Kenny or an unreconstructed Marxist thug like Eamon Gilmore could be trusted with a serious, delicate task like constitutional reform? Especially when that reform, if it was to yield a meaningful second chamber, would involve checks on their unlimited power to whip the legislature into line behind whatever stupid fad the Government wants to follow this week. To be fair in this regard, this shower of malicious incompetents is no worse than the last lot but at least neither of the former governing parties still exists in any meaningful way to trouble us.

So I think Red Boxes will last a while yet; I'll still vote for Seanad Éireann and the university in which I cast my ballot will soldier on because no-one has thought of a better idea. On the upside, if I get to help vote Rónán Mullen back into Leinster House next time, I'll consider it a job well done!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Knights Hospitaller go Crusading on... or do they?

The best known of all the surviving Medieval Chivalric orders is the Sovereign Military Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, Rhodes and Malta, commonly called the Order of Malta. Their Ambulance Corps volunteers are a familiar sight in many parts of Ireland, and speaking as a colleague in a rival organisation, I have the highest regard for them and their skill, dedication and expertise. About the Sovereign Order itself, I am a little more ambivalent. The highest levels of the Order are, in the strict sense, religious; the Knights of Justice are vowed to poverty, chastity and obedience. (One might prefer that their religious impulse would not take them to the Church of Ireland for a solemn Anglican Eucharist... )The personal moral example of many of them is deeply edifying; one thinks of the late Frà Andrew Bertie. The corporate willingness of the SMOM to spend its members money lavishly on the poor and disposessed (for example, the Afghans after the fall of the Taleban government) is likewise edifying to an exemplary degree. It must also count heavily in their favour, to me at least, when a good friend like Jamie Bogle is a member and when a fine priest like this is one of their Chaplains. The protestations of one of their members (just before this year's Corpus Christi Procession at Harrington St) about the thoroughly religious nature of the organisation rings rather hollow however, when one considers all the evidence.

If ever in the contemporary world a crusade were needed, it would surely be on behalf of the innocent unborn or perhaps the institution of marriage. Yet, sadly, while the Order is very fond of its chivalric heritage and its demand for sixteen quarterings of nobility before a candidate is admitted to knighthood, on these vital battles it has absented itself almost wholly. For instance, the Hospital of St John & St Elizabeth in London is supposedly a Catholic hospital and moreover a foundation of the British Association of the SMOM. And yet, there is no substantive evidence of its Catholicity in its contraceptive services or abortion referrals. Nor is this an isolated instance, according to Austin Ruse of the justly renowned C-FAM, himself a Knight of Malta. In a 2009 article on The Catholic Thing website he said
in the case of two desperate situations today... where there are real and suffering victims - where the Church stands almost completely alone... under vicious and sustained attack... the Order of Malta, at least institutionally, is largely absent.
Later in that same article he detailed two nominations to the Order of Malta which were far advanced before being stopped; both were of politically influential individuals who would no doubt have been great catches for the Order but for the fact that they actively supported so-called "abortion rights" and "gay marriage". This tendency to curry favour with the great and the good, regardless of their other qualifications or lack therof is not confined to the US Federal Association of the SMOM. In France we find the distressing spectacle of Valéry Giscard d'Estaing wearing the insignia of a Bailiff Grand Cross of honor and devotion of the Sovereign Order of Malta greeting Mmme Simone Veil upon her induction to the Académie française. That same Mme Veil legalised abortion in France, something that not even the execrable ministries of the Third Republic managed, and she did so under the Presidency of none other than M. Giscard d'Estaing. In addition to his service in the Order of Malta, he also served as the principal author of the ill-fated European Constitution - yes, the one that refused pointedly to acknowledge Europe's Christian roots. With Knights like these on the Catholic side, one wonders why we need enemies!

It is not all bad, of course. We saw in 2010 that Sr Carol Keehan, the pro-abortion feral nun who eagerly supported Obamacare was forced off the board of a hospital owned by the Order of Malta. Likewise, there has been an increasing presence of SMOM representatives at the annual Washington March for Life each January. Be those things as they may, and Frà Andrew's efforts at spiritual renewal notwithstanding, the Order of Malta has a long way to go before it truly deserves the accolades that its members and admirers are so eager to bestow upon it.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Enda Kenny - Guilty of a Terminological Inexactitude?

"Terminological inexactitude" is the polite phrase that covers the reality of a person making a claim while knowing that it is untrue, or at least being recklessly careless about whether it is true or not. In ordinary language, we call that lying. Sadly an Taoiseach, Enda Kenny TD, in his speech on July 20th in Dáil Éireann did just that. He lied and he knows that he lied, and he hasn't the guts to apologise. Specifically the Holy See's response to Eamon Gilmore's demand for all sorts of explanations states in Section 2
In particular, the accusation that the Holy See attempted "to frustrate an Inquiry in a sovereign, democratic republic as little as three years ago, not three decades ago", which Mr Kenny made no attempt to substantiate, is unfounded. Indeed, when asked, a Government spokesperson clarified that Mr Kenny was not referring to any specific incident.
The Holy See in all likelihood couldn't give a fiddler's whether Enda ever says sorry but the Irish people should. Enda lied to the House, and through them to the Irish People, and should reconvene the House urgently in order to set the record straight. In the middle of mismanaging the economy (for the benefit of a European/German currency) Enda needs all the unpopular enemies he can get, so I imagine he'll continue this nauseating portrayal of himself as some sort of heroic figure confronting the evil Vatican. In this he'll be urged on and never critically challenged by the State Media Apparatus (RTE/Irish Times etc.) I had hoped earnestly that this gombeen might be an improvement on the Biffo but sadly it was not to be.

Aetas parentum peior avis tulit nos nequiores, mox daturos progenium
vitiosiorem. Q. Horatius Flaccus, Odes III, 6

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Do Immoral Laws Bind in Conscience?

I've been thinking about the moral status of of immoral laws more and more often recently. This is partly due to the state(s) I have lived in; I was born and grew up in the Irish Republic/Ireland/Éire/Eyah and have just relocated to the United Kingdom/Northern Ireland/Norn Iron/the Occupied Six Counties. In both cases, however, there is an increasing presence of laws that contradict basic moral imperatives. The litany of these is as familiar as it is depressing - civil unions (aka "gay marriage"), tax regimes that favour the single over the married, "no-fault" divorce, criminalising self-defence against an intruder in one's own home. The most egregious examples are of course abortion and euthanasia, both involving the deliberate killing of the innocent.

This is not, for Christians, a new situation in which to find themselves. Our faith had its genesis in a world that was hostile to its spiritual message, and enjoined practices that were wholly incompatible with its moral tenets. While St Paul was scrivening epistles, his highly civilised fellow Roman citizens were watching human beings kill each other for entertainment! Even so, and even as the Emperor blasphemously demanded recognition as a quasi divine authority, St Paul still enjoined obedience to him.

There has to be a limit, however. When civil authority demands that to which it is not entitled, how are we to respond? Obeying just laws in unproblematic. Dr Walter E. Williams of George Mason University offers a fairly broad guide to reacting in this circumstance, viz. "Decent people should not obey immoral laws." I don't think a careful and thoughtful scholar like Williams is advocating mere anarchy or a general free for all where individual moral insight trumps established legal standards but he does seem to be a little careless in how he puts things.

St Thomas Aquinas
has a more nuanced account and one which I think serves the purpose better. We obey laws that uphold our own moral principles, e.g. prohibitions on theft and murder. We also obey laws governing indifferent matters, such as which side of the road to drive on or what deadline to observe when filing a tax return. When faced with a morally objectionable law, however, we must ask first will the harm done by accepting this ordinance outweigh the benefit obtained by respecting the general power of the state to govern? Thus Abraham Lincoln accepted slavery in the United States even as he objected to it morally. He sought to preserve the general benefit of a flawed constitution rather than countenance a complete overthrow of it. So muct we obey immoral laws? Sometimes we must.

When do we refuse then? We refuse to consider an immoral law binding in conscience IFF it enjoins a directly sinful act on us. Thus a law that, in yesteryear, would have forced me to receive communion from the Church of Ireland cannot bind and can only be disobeyed. Likewise a law that requires a contemporary citizen directly to acquiesce in abortion can only be disobeyed. That leaves the question of a state that so systematically demands such co-operation that its very legitimacy is called into question. St Thomas seems to be in two minds on this issue so it perhaps best left for another post.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Sir Pelham Wodehouse

I was reminded this morning while reading no.4 of the 7 Quick Takes in the excellent Jen F's Conversion Diary of an article I read some years ago. It was Joseph Bottum's take on P. G. Wodehouse and I have to confess that I found it somewhat wanting. He treats the late Sir Pelham as if all he ever wrote was light-hearted and trivial; most of it was but certainly not all. Mr Bottum also took the view that there was no redemption (which presupposes a Fall) and certainly no moral sense in all of the Wodehouse canon. I dissent from these unfounded judgments, and as only a single counter-example is required to disprove a universal statement, I'll give three or 14!

The Man With Two Left Feet & Other Stories is a collection originally published in 1917 and now available in multiple editions. I had a copy that I bought for comfort reading (it's a bit like comfort eating but rather less fattening) some years ago. Having long since lost it, my beloved bought me a copy to replace it. I got more than just some typical Wodehousian goings on in a country manor, though. Instead, there were such gems as The Man with Two Left Feet wherein the socially awkward and physically maladroit narrator learns by a hard route to accept the love and admiration of his wife. The double brush with and rejection of suicide in The Making of Mac's and A Sea of Troubles is also well worth a read. The jewel in the crown however is the tale of grubby betrayal, hope despite everything and the promise of redemption that is At Geisenheimer's. The heroic patience of of the wronged party is understated but very moving. (For those whose admiration of "Plum" is centred around Bertie Wooster and Jeeves, this collection also features their debut but in a not wholly recognisable form.)

Doctor Sally definitively gives the lie to the notion that all of Wodehouse's heroes are gadabouts who get plucked from the dreamless at the unearthly hour of 11am and the trickle around to the Drones for a spot of lunch. Bill Bannister certainly gives that impression at first with his relentless wooing of the eponymous and striking Dr Sally but first impressions do deceive sometimes. Far from the idle rich he is in fact a very hard working (and thereby wealthy) country landowner and farm manager. Also one should never underestimate the romantic impact of devices capable of defeating lactobacilli!

Uneasy Money shows what is perhaps the strongest strand in Wodehouse's moral constitution. The somewhat clueless hero Lord Dawlish has a very clear, unambiguous if not wholly comprehensive moral code. His ideal man (and I suspect Wodehouse's too) is a man who is honest and straightforward. He expresses it thus
Bill was a simple young man and he had a simple code of ethics. Above all things he prized and admired and demanded from his friends the quality of straightness. It was his one demand. He had never actually had a criminal friend, but he was quite capable of intimacy with even a criminal, provided only that there was something spacious about his brand of crime and that it did not involve anything mean or underhand. It was the fact that Mr. Breitstein, whom Claire had wished him to insinuate into his club, though acquitted of actual crime, had been proved guilty of meanness and treachery, that had so prejudiced Bill against him.

It is this quality, present throughout Wodehouse's published work that absolves him, I think, from the charge of amorality for all his professed unseriousness. Wodehouse remained something of an adolescent in his writing, indeed therein lies its charm; this does not mean that the central human story of love freely given, love betrayed and love redeemed is absent from his work. At his best, it is that story that Wodehouse tells with a superlative command of the English language and an exquisite human sympathy. He isn't Tolstoy and he isn't Shakespeare but then he wasn't trying to be. He wasn't trying to be a serious author of any kind but I suspect he might have succeeded all the same, rather better than one would suspect at first sight.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The 29th Amendment to the Constitution

I'm rather fond of our Constitution. It's not perfect by any means but it's robust, durable and has earned the respect of successive generations of Irish citizens since it was enacted in 1937. It even managed to be a monarchical constitution for 11 years and a republican one thereafter, without an iota of change in the text itself. (Yes, it is very odd that Eamon De Valera wrote a constitution for a monarchy while the Blueshirts used it to throw the King aside in favour of a Republic!)

It is also a very sensible document or very reasonable, if you prefer. The common inheritance of the Anglosphere is a reflexive acceptance of the principles of Common Law. Thus in 1937 a new republican(ish) Constitution didn't mean that we dropped trial by jury or the presumption of innocence; Habeas Corpus was, if anything, greatly strengthened by the personal rights provisions of Bunreacht na hÉireann.

Now, by dint of a legislative proposal as stupid as it is malicious, this long tradition of constitutional equity is in danger of being thrown overboard. The Green Party (which seems to be composed of knaves and bigots in equal measure) and as if they haven't done enough damage already, now propose to punish someone (or perhaps just anyone they can get their hands on) for acts which were lawful at the time they were done. Think about this for a minute: suppose that I campaign for a law to ban fruit gums. The pro-fruit gums lobby then succeed in prohibiting "anti-fruit gum activism". They then seek to punish me for having broken the law, even though there was no such law at the time I performed those acts. This way lies simple tyranny.

Aside from this general consideration, there is the utterly ridiculous notion of "economic treason". Treason is strictly circumscribed in Irish law; this is specifically to allow for the greatest freedom of political action excluding only armed violent action against the State from legal protection. This new and ill-thought-out idea is, I hope, just a ploy to attract favourable media comment or the like. As a provision of the criminal law, the kind that gets people arrested and imprisoned, it is risible. On the positive side, the Greens are about to bid goodbye to the Government benches for a generation or more. Deputy Sargent, Minister Gormley, here's your coat, what's your hurry?

Monday, January 03, 2011

Real men & masculinity

Hey, if you consider yourself a man, then you need to be there - no ifs or buts!!! This is for men of all ages, including older teenagers. It is the start of something new in Ireland where men come together to get down to the business of manhood and masculinity, and how that relates to the great gift and challenge that... living Catholic Faith is. Starts at 9am, ends with mass, speakers include Mickey Harte and Bishop McAreavey. €20 waged/ €10 unwaged... come on lads, time to drop a gear and round up a carload of men, I guarantee you wont regret it!!

A little while back, I saw on Facebook the announcement reproduced above. It's for a worthy venture called the Meant4More conference. The man who posted it is someone I know and respect but I couldn't help feeling that something was a bit amiss about the whole business. The intention was to get men to come along to be edified as men and as Christians. That's laudable. Some of the language used was a bit over-bearing; if someone actually spoke to me face-to-face using those words, I'd probably be a bit terse in responding to him. However, I'll give a lot of leeway to someone who has stopped cursing the darkness and has instead begun to set flint to tinder. I think, however, that the thing that turned me off most was the fact that it was a conference. The fact that most of the re-posts and "likes" for the event on Facebook were from women wasn't lost on me either. I suppose that I've always considered that while women talk about things, men simply do them. I've learnt more about being a man from being with men who do things than from men who talk. The business of being manly is one which needs to be learned by observing and imitating good example. (That's knowledge by connaturality for the Thomists among you.) A conference, however laudable, can't really plug that gap.

I think what I am really trying to say is that if you consider that you want to be a man - in the full moral sense of embodying virtus or manly physical and moral excellence then go to a conference if you like but perhaps the RDF might be a better start. Or go and get trained to run into burning buildings when everyone else is going the other way. Alternatively we're always looking for new recruits - when, despite your best efforts, you've failed to save a life, you tend to discover what you're really made of.

For an example of manliness I'd suggest a good friend of mine, serving with the old FCA, who was guarding the back gate of a military facility. He was wrapped up against the cold but had a machine gun and some sandbags for company. The warning had come down from the camp O/C that "subversives" might attempt to infiltrate the area - they had been intercepted doing exactly that the previous week. He heard noises at 02.30 hrs, flashed his searchlight on the intruders and challenged them; they replied irately and drunkenly that they were regular soldiers and expected to be let pass unhampered. He challenged them again, this time with a 3 round burst from his weapon, deliberately high & wide of their position. They stopped in their tracks but what, I asked if they had not? He replied that he would have fired on them and killed them. He knew that he would have regretted it and lamented those deaths but his duty was clear, as was the harm that could be done if criminals were allowed to seize a government armory. That is what real men do, though, "their duty even if it breaks their hearts."

Of course, while manliness is a natural good, we are meant for a supernatural end. Where do we find the manly virtues redeemed and raised to supernatural goodness? Funny that you should ask ...

Friday, December 10, 2010

Martyrdom under the "Religion of Peace"

I found this disturbing story via FrZ. Pray for our persecuted brethren!

Youcef Nadarkhani, a 32-year-old Protestant pastor who became a Christian at the age of 19, has been sentenced to death for renouncing Islam. Nadarkhani maintains that he did not practice any faith before his conversion to Christianity.

The “draconian language in the verdict makes it very clear that the Iranian authorities mean business,” said Leonard Leo, chairman of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom. “He could be executed at any time. And for what? For being a Christian.”

“We call upon the Obama administration and the international community to use every means available, to raise this issue and demand the unconditional release of Mr. Nadarkhani.”

Nadarkhani’s attorney has appealed the verdict to the nation’s supreme court.

Source: CatholicCulture.org

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Obedience, stability and conversatio morum

Zoe Romanowsky writing in Inside Catholic has a perceptive and worthwhile critique of the Swiss Capuchins' attempts to recruit new friars; unfortunately she makes the all too common error of calling them monks.

While Friars (e.g. Dominicans or Friars Preachers, Franciscans or Friars Minor etc.) do keep a common life, with common prayer and keep the Evangelical Counsels, they lack a basic element of Monastic life, especially the normative version in Western Christendom based on the Holy Rule of St Benedict. Stability is at the heart of Monastic life in a way that isn't true of religious life more generally. If we look at a figure like Blessed Columba Marmion we can see that he left his Abbey of Maredsous only twice; once, under obedience, to become Prior at Mont César/Keizersberg, and a second time when threatened by invading German forces. By contrast, a Dominican can be asked to go wherever he is needed; the fine priest who solemnised our vows is in Switzerland studying, having been in Rome and even briefly in Jerusalem! All of this was, we hasten to add, under obedience.

So a monk is obedient, stable in one place and works constantly at conversatio morum or conversion of life; on the other hand a friar is personally poor, obedient and chaste. Or sometimes, just chased!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

I gave my love a (half) Sovereign

When Lowdenclear and I tied the knot, we used the 1961 Marriage Service laid down by the Irish Hierarchy. It includes the words "This gold and silver I give you, tokens of all my worldly goods" which are recited the groom puts coins into the bride's hand. In our case, they weren't merely yellow and white metal coins but actual gold and silver! The business of money and sovereignty has come to the fore in a less happy context recently, of course. Ireland's massive, gaping and apparently uncontrollable public debt is threatening the Euro to such an extent that the Euro Commission in the person of the damp rag himself want to force us to accept a bailout, whether we want to or not.

A question was asked by Nigel Farage on BBC television this morning about how we (and the Greeks, Portugese etc) could refloat our own currencies. It's a possibility that was mooted by David McWilliams two or three years ago but sooner or later we'll have to face what was a truism until recently. The illusion of sovereignty cannot be maintained where the sovereign entity has no currency of its own. While we have almost always been linked to another currency (the pound Sterling until 1978), it was at our behest and under our control. We could retain or abandon the peg as we saw fit. Does anyone really think that we have that freedom now?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Please, please make it stop! It's making my ears bleed ...

Damien Thompson is always worth a read, especially when he takes his well sharpened pin to the inflated egos of comfortable ecclesiastical mediocrities. His latest deflation is amusing but also rather distressing. Do the organisers of the Papal Visit to Great Britain really mean for people to listen to aural haemorrhage inducing pap like Urban Pilgrim or Deus Tuus Deus Meus? (MP3s available here.) Mind you, I disagree with some commentators who think that Urban Pilgrim sounds like The Birdie Song. In a sick, sad way The Birdie Song is memorable; it gets stuck in your head like some sort of loathsome mental fungus. Not so Urban Pilgrim, which resembles (and might have been lifted from) the incidental music for a Discovery Channel documentary about the building of the Concorde. Can't you just imagine this lame musical wallpaper in the background as some baritone voiceover artiste informs you that "... even then their technical woes weren't over, as Chief Widget analyst Bob Smith explains ..."?

Well, they may have a new MacMillan Mass for Scotland and even reprised for Birmingham but it looks like the musical & liturgical Babylonian captivity of the Church in England has some time left to it yet. At least, for once, it's not our Bishops and apparatchiks making an embarrassing mess of things but that's small consolation on this side of the Irish Sea and none at all to our Scots or English'n'Welsh Brethern who certainly deserve better.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Dirty Harry

Some years ago, or perhaps 3 weeks ago (it sometimes feels we've been married forever but sometimes like we've only just met) after I met Lowdenclear but before I had the exquisite good fortune to marry her, I listed long lists of favourite things in response to tags and memes and suchlike from herself. Well, in one of them, I listed Dirty Harry as one of my favourite movies - using the excuse that I'm allowed to because I'm a guy! So this is an excuse to post a gratuitous Dirty Harry excerpt and to show what happened when DH met Rain Man!

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Fr Barron & Word on Fire

One of the best contemporary apologists for the Catholic Faith is Fr Robert Barron and his brief episodes on youtube (or better still on Aggie Catholics the superlative site for the Newman Center at Texas A&M) are a model of faithful reason. I have of course a gripe; you knew there was a "but" didn't you? Fr Barron came to Ireland recently and filmed some stuff on Catholicism and never told us!! I mean not us, as in me and my family but us Irish Catholics in general. We'll just have to enjoy the program when it comes out I guess. In the meantime, here is the episode wherein he mentions the Irish Serf and its vicious anti-Catholicism - but given that its character was defined by the Bean King, what else could we expect?

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Quidquid latine dictum sit, altum videtur

I have long been a fan of M. R. James, especially his ghost-stories. Like every great original, he inspired many imitators and followers. Among those who have written in a Jamesian vein, Steve Duffy stands out; his anthology The Night Comes On published by Ash-Tree Press is a gem. He genuinely captured the disquieting spirit of James's own contribution to the genre. The only fly in the ointment is that Duffy's professional field is that of an IT specialist rather than an antiquary. So we have the eerie and "flagitious" tale of "The Vicar of Wryde St. Luke", wherein the impious Vicar took up the black arts and profaned his own church. Unfortunately, the highly educated Vicar of Wryde St Matthew quotes Isaiah 28:15 as follows.
Percurrimus foedus cum morte et cum inferno fecimus pactum
This rather ruins the spell that the story had cast up to that point. What he meant to say modo latine was: "we have made a covenant with death and with hell we have concluded a treaty". What he actually said was "we have run through a covenant with death" which means precisely nothing! Percussimus is the verb he was searching for but percurrimus is the form in which the text from Isaiah is found all over the internet, albeit mostly on death metal and "magick" websites. The source appears to be this rather odd book from 1967. As is the way with the information superhighway, one can only take out of it what someone else has put into it, and in this case nonsense in, nonsense out!

In other Latin-related news, I was asked to appear (very briefly and in the background) in this television series. I was one of three "Men of God" dressed as rather grubby Cistercian Monks who had to recite Psalm 114 while King Uther Pendragon died a horrible death. The three of us were recruited for our ability to pronounce a Vulgate psalm fluently, and sound like we knew what it meant. We even persuaded the script-writer that "Alleluia" was not absolutely appropriate for a prayer in articulo mortis. I enjoyed my brief brush with fame, i.e. being unnoticed five feet away from someone famous but I think obscurity is considerably more comfortable and involves less standing around and waiting!

Sunday, March 07, 2010

The inimitable Miss Dawn Eden

I'm a bit fussy about blogs and online commentary, generally. I don't read Mark Shea at all, for example. It's not that I think he's a bad person, or a bad writer; it's just that his propensity for flying off the handle, telling people who disagree with him that they are wicked rather than mistaken gets a bit tiresome. So I avoid his blog and all his online commentary, and won't read his books. Life's too short to waste time reading stuff that's as wrong-headed as a significant chunk of Shea's writing is.

However irritating Mark Shea is, he does do some good. Doug Giles is entirely another case. Giles is a commentator, inter alia, for Townhall.com, a conservative American website; his columns are nasty, mean spirited and spiteful and that's on a good day. It's possible that he's a thoughtful, humble Christian in person but his writing style is that of a bullying braggart.

His latest target is the one and only Dawn Eden. I have been an admirer of Dawn's writing for many years, have read her book and since she decided to close the blogging chapter of her life, there's still the occasional column on Headline Bistro, Deo gratias. It seems that Dawn, as a student of moral theology and a journalist herself, questioned the tactics of a pair of undercover freelance investigators who were going after a corrupt left-wing organisation with links to Barack Obama, no less. Just as people of good will can disagree respectfully about serious issues, as Dawn herself showed in the controversy over Christopher West's comparison of Pope John Paul II with Hugh Hefner, so good people can disagree about where to draw the ethical line in investigative reporting. This is especially true when it comes to undercover work. "Undercover" is in this case a euphemism for deceiving people about who and what you are, for the purpose of uncovering wrongdoing. The question whether this kind of work comports with the standard expected of Christians in light of Matthew 5:37 is pretty serious. Not for Mr Giles, however, who is, in addition to being a bully, not much of a scriptural scholar. He seems to think that the story of Our Lord openly driving the money changers out of the Temple is analogous to his 20 year old daughter masquerading as a prostitute. I'm not sure how he made that leap nor how any rational human being could, but that's a problem for Mr Giles rather than anyone else. In any case, for the benefit of the Google-challenged Mr Giles, Dawn Eden returns a little over 47,000 hits; try a little research next time, Doug or better yet, try really taking Scripture to heart rather than mining it for insults or soundbites.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Fr Z's interesting but somewhat scary post on exorcisms etc.

Fr John Zuhlsdorf is always interesting, sometimes quirky but has a deeply serious spiritual side to his blogging. It seems to me that he is a priest-blogger for whom the first part of that description is deteminative over the latter. In his latest post, he tackles some of the stranger allegations about demon-worship in high places in the Church. Fr Gabriele Amorth seems to have published another volume of memoirs, or more probably another book of interviews, which gave rise to the latest speculation. As you'll see from the link above, as sensible and scholarly a critic as Dr Ed Peters is very wary of taking Amorth seriously.

Fr Z fisks the CNA article which covers the whole business; also mentioned is Fr Jose Fortea whose book on the subject I mentioned here. Also in that post is a run down of the readily available literature in English on exorcism. Having covered it then, I have no inclination to revisit it now. So for what its worth, I'll refer those interested to last year's post.

Friday, January 08, 2010

David Quinn - He's the man!

David Quinn (late of the Irish Catholic, now of the Iona Institute) is not a man I always agree with but he is a man I always take seriously since he makes solid good sense. This article in the Independent shows why. More power to his elbow!