23 March 2013


Courtesy of Ben! (Read his post for the explanation, and to know what to do to join in.)

Eleven facts about Ttony:

1. Cradle Catholic
2. Mancunian
3. Really pedantic when he can be bothered
4. Loves 1930s and 40s comedians
5. Educated by Sisters of St Paul and De La Salle Brothers
6. Altar boy from 1st Communion (age 6)
7. Lived in Spain for some years
8. Married to somebody who tolerates my enthusiasms
9. Not sure about Distributism but Chesterton got pretty well everything pretty well right (especially regarding food and drink)
10. I don't have to understand to believe
11. Wishes there was more time

Ben's questions:

1. What inspired the title of your blog?
Fantasy: in my wildest dreams I imagine living in the sort of place that has its own muniment room: it's a touchstone of everything the perfect house would comprise
Why should people read your blog?
It might help pass the time?
What is your personal favourite post on your blog?
I still haven't written it.  It's the one which concisely and wittily pulls together all of the problems of the day and resplves them with a single (great) flourish.
What has been the most popular (most viewed) post on your blog?
A very recent one on Apologetics.  My previous best had about 650 hits: this one has had four times as many already.
Which post on your blog has attracted most comments?
The first in a trilogy about the Church in E&W post-VII.
What other hobbies or interests (beyond blogging) are you prepared to admit to?
Photography, oenology (very enthusiastic amateur), liturgical history
What are your hopes for the new pontificate?
That this Pope is as holy and good as the last
Where is your favourite place of pilgrimage, and why?
St Peter's, particularly since visiting the Scavi and being within a couple of feet of his bones
Who is your favourite spiritual author, and why?
I don't know if it's quite what you mean, but Frank Sheed.
Which of these questions did you fid it most difficult to answer?
The one about my hopes for the Pontificate: I think I learned from Pope Benedict's pontificate that it wasn't really about me, and that learning to find and occupy my place within the Church is part of my vocation
Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist Party?
Good Lord, no!
Worthy Recipients
Between Ben and Ches nearly everybody I  would have tagged has been tagged, but not yet Dorothy or Shane.  So over to them. 

20 March 2013

Popes Benedict And Francis: Even More Thoughts

The hindsight continues to well up. 

The fact that Pope Benedict began a Year of Faith and then renounced his position after it had started is just one sign that he saw his Pontificate and that of his successor as a process of continuity.  I have already talked about Pope Benedict's renunciation of the trappings of a sovereign, and of his reseating of the Papacy in the See of Rome (and yesterday's ceremony was that of the Assumption of the Petrine Ministry by the Bishop of Rome): perhaps Pope Francis' job is to conform the Church itself - the institutional Church as well as the Church of believers - to this new role, a role in which the Church is abandoning the status quo which has existed since 1870 (or 1929, but same difference).

And to everybody who worries about the Pope selling off the Sistine Chapel to Disney or whomever: that's not what Pope Francis did in Buenos Aires, is it.  He gave an example of poverty: travelling by bus and looking after an elderly Jesuit housemate instead of using a car and having more staff.  This message is for everybody, from the "Princes" of the Church down: it is evangelical poverty in which service comes before self.  (My response to that challenge worries me a lot more than whether Pope Francis wears a fanon or not.)

As Pope, Francis will have to behave as Bishop of Rome, not of Buenos Aires.  As an Archbishop in Argentina he might well have wondered at the Pope paying so much attention to the SSPX and to the Ordinariates: but they are his responsibility now.  It doesn't mean that they will come anywhere near the centre of his attention - but then they don't need to because they were sorted out under Benedict (even if, in the case of the SSPX, they decided that they knew better than the Holy Father: they really made a hash of things).

Another clue as to where Pope Francis' heart lies is the way he tore away from the altar at the end of the Mass to stand in front of the statue of Our Lady to sing the Salve Regina.  It's so not Cardinal Mahoney.

Pope Benedict said that he would be the last of his kind of Pope and would be succeeded by the first of a new type: I expect that Francis is the reverse to Benedict's obverse.  That could mean that for those of us for whom Pope Benedict's liturgical renewal was inspiring, Pope Francis' evangelical resourcissement might be quite demanding.

16 March 2013

Pope Francis

I'm away at the moment with intermittent access to the internet so have not posted or commented about the Pope.  It has astonished me that so many Catholic commentators have managed to infer so many bad things about him already when all I have been able to infer are good, or in some cases different-from-Benedict things.

He is a man with a simple approach to prayer: "be silent and pray for me". His Marian understanding is central to this prayer life, not peripheral. Prayers are asked for and offered.  His understanding of liturgy - perhaps better, liturgiology - is different to what he have been used to and will probably lead a return to John Paul II's and the other Marini's style: but here is somebody who as a Bishop learned to celebrate the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom.

He is as sound on Life issues as any Bishop in Christendom. As a priest he lived through a more turbulent social context in his country tnan most other Cardinals: imagine something like a cvivil war in your country in which there are priests on both sides.

He is a scientist and a Jesuit whose intellectual formation predates Vatican II. He wants to take St Francis of Assisi as his public role model, a saint whom the secular media thinks it understands, and whose misunderstanding will be used to chastise the Pope for the rest of his ministry.

I can't help feeling that the SSPX and its supporters within the Church are facing a bleak future: they won no friends to their cause by their treatment of Pope Benedict's overtures.  By forcing themselves into the centre of his pontificate and then by behaving towards him in a manner easily characterised (however wrongfully) as one of trying to humiliate the Pope, they forfeited any good will which may have remained within the upper reaches of the Church at the precise moment when the Cardinals were choosing Benedict's successor.

Both the transition from Benedictine to Franciscan Papacy and then the Franciscan Papacy itself are going to be uncomfortable for those of us for whom Pope Benedict was exactly the right Pope at the right time.  It may simply be that we should thank God for eight marvellous years, and to assume that the Holy Ghost will impel Pope Francis to do God's Will, even if the path taken isn't the one we'd have chosen.

11 March 2013

Reflections After A "Humanist" Funeral

In the middle of the busiest time of this year, I found myself having to attend a funeral and finding, once there, that it was to be a Humanist funeral, rather than the multiundenominational ceremony I had expected.

I was pleased to find that the Crematorium chapel had not been denuded of its crucifix, and, being Catholic, with rosary in pocket, was able to focus on the image of Our Lord and ask his Mother to intercede with Her Son for the dead person.

I didn't pay much attention to the "service" - it must have been one because we were handed an "Order of Service" - but I listened hard when the person (taking the service? leading the ceremony? celebrating?) at the front started off by telling us what Humanism is.

After a bit of "Hello sky! Hello flowers!" we got down to business: humanists believe that this is the only life we have and live it to the full here on earth; humanists don't make judgements about the different choices each of us makes about the way we will lead our lives.

It may have been that the celebrant hadn't thought it through, or it may be that the humanists haven't thought it through, but I kept thinking about Harold Shipman, especially being in a place in which the only rites celebrated are about death: do humanists really believe that Dr Shipman's were just lifestyle choices, and that his decisions to rid the world of, basically, people older than him into whom he could get to stick a needle, were simply his, and that the rest of us should not intrude on his right to make that particular choice?

I'm sure that none of them do, and that the celebrant was trying to make a different point, and was simply failing spectacularly, but I was left thinking about what happens when you start cutting away at the guy ropes.

The fact is that as Catholics we are absolutists; our Faith has a lot of blacks and whites: certainties, if you like. Some things are right and some things are wrong. You need something as bracing as a humanist service to realise that any compromise with things that don't belong to our Faith is wrong.  It would be nice to think that that sort of wrong-headedness would be alien to any Catholic.

During the funeral service I kept a straight face when one of the deceased's favourite songs was played: "Morning Has Broken": it was an opportunity for God's Grace to creep into a few places which weren't expecting it.

02 March 2013

Another Thought About The Benedictine Revolution

I published some thoughts here about the Pope's renunciation, suggesting that the signals that he was going to do this had been there, had we but noticed.

I also suggested that he had not just outflanked his enemies in the Curia by keeping this momentous decision secret, but that by promoting Mgr Gaenswein had taken a side against the curial faction in the Vatileaks scandal.

Something else has gradually become clear to me over the last weeks: the Pope strove to remove the symbols of the temporal authority of the Papacy: not the existence of the Vatican City State which the Church needs to maintain its independence in the world (though it is interesting that it has its own website separate from the Vatican's) but the symbols which linked the office of Pope to that of a Monarch.  His renunciation is not something a Monarch (pace the Dutch) can do, though it is something that a Bishop should.  There were earlier signs: the way in which the Pope rejected the use of the Tiara; his abandonment of the title of Patriarch of the West, something that derived from territoriality rather than from apostolicity, was anotyher clear sign.  (I wish my foresight was as good as my hindsight, by the way.)

The clue to how Benedict XVI saw the Papacy came in his last lectio divina: when he spoke to his seminarians, the seminarians destined for the diocese of Rome, he lectured them on Peter, and on Peter's journey to Rome.  This reseats the office of Pope in the Bishop of Rome: if you like "Pope" is simply a second title of the Bishop of Rome.

Will we ever stop learning from him?