Friday, January 05, 2007

St Cecilia's

I've just come back from spending a few days at an abbey of Benedictine nuns and it has made me very happy!! The place in question is St Cecilia's and it's on the Isle of Wight. Pictures and other stuff later but what a great way to start a new year!!

Monday, December 25, 2006

Gaudete! Christus es Natus, ex Maria Virgine

Rejoice! Christ is born of the Virgin Mary!

"16 For God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son; that whosoever believeth in him, may not perish, but may have life everlasting. 17 For God sent not his Son into the world, to judge the world, but that the world may be saved by him. 18 He that believeth in him is not judged. But he that doth not believe, is already judged: because he believeth not in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: because the light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than the light: for their works were evil. 20 For every one that doth evil hateth the light, and cometh not to the light, that his works may not be reproved. " (St John, Chapter 3)
Christmas Mass yesterday evening was wonderful!!! I am so close to converting now!

Happy Christmas to You!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Catholic Humour - Bring on the Barley Brew!!!

The Catholic Sun

Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine,
There’s always laughter and good red wine.
At least I’ve always found it so.
Benedicamus Domino!

by Hilaire Belloc

When I first started my encounters with the Catholic species one of the things that surprised me was the tendency towards wit and humour. There's the general joie de vivre, the crazy stories I've heard, plenty of doses of sarcasm and above all the puns!! Sometimes the target of mockery is something non-Catholic, sometimes it is at so called 'liberal Catholics' but even the more conservative and traditional minded Catholics also have the ability to laugh at themselves or the history of the Church as well. So in light of recent comments on Joee Bloggs blog about enacting parodies of 'coffee table Mass' thought might be time to post Hilaire Belloc's 'Pelagian Drinking Song' to add some light entertainment whilst I'm still contemplating what to write in response to Pinochet's death!!! Bring on the Barley Brew........

The Pelagian Drinking Song

Pelagius lived at Kardanoel
And taught a doctrine there
How, whether you went to heaven or to hell
It was your own affair.
It had nothing to do with the Church, my boy,
But was your own affair.

No, he didn't believe
In Adam and Eve
He put no faith therein!
His doubts began
With the Fall of Man
And he laughed at Original Sin.
With my row-ti-tow
He laughed at original sin.

Then came the bishop of old Auxerre
Germanus was his name
He tore great handfuls out of his hair
And he called Pelagius shame.
And with his stout Episcopal staff
So thoroughly whacked and banged
The heretics all, both short and tall --
They rather had been hanged.

Oh he whacked them hard, and he banged them long
Upon each and all occasions
Till they bellowed in chorus, loud and strong
Their orthodox persuasions.
With my row-ti-tow
Their orthodox persuasions.

Now the faith is old and the Devil bold
Exceedingly bold indeed.
And the masses of doubt that are floating about
Would smother a mortal creed.
But we that sit in a sturdy youth
And still can drink strong ale
Let us put it away to infallible truth
That always shall prevail.

And thank the Lord
For the temporal sword
And howling heretics too.
And all good things
Our Christendom brings
But especially barley brew!
With my row-ti-tow
Especially barley brew!

-- Hillaire Belloc

More Belloc poems to be found here:

Warning: his humour is not to all tastes and at times quite outrageous.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Dorothy Day

Dorothy Day was an American convert to Catholicism in the late 1920s. Prior to conversion she was more of a social radical, attracted to socialist ideas and living a bit of a Bohemian lifestyle. Horrified by the plight of poverty and the miserable fate of the factory workers she felt the need to take action in some way and began to perceive religion as too ineffectual or indifferent to social issues and an opiate for the weak. In her own words;

“..the ugliness of life in a world which professed itself to be Christian appalled me………As a little child the happy peace of the Methodists who lived next door appealed to me deeply. Now that same happiness seemed to be a disregard of the misery of the world. “

In contrast as she put it “The Marxist slogan, ‘Workers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains,’ seemed to me a most stirring battle cry.”

A few pages later she reflects;

“Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the meek,’ but I could not be meek at the thought of injustice. I wanted a Lord who would scourge the money-changers out of the temple, and I wanted to help all those who raised their hand against oppression.
For me Christ no longer walked the streets of this world. He was two thousand years dead and new prophets had risen up in His place.
I was in love now with the masses……..The poor and oppressed were going to rise up, they were collectively the Messiah, and they would release the captives..”

Years later however something in her perception about both socialism and Christianity changes as she converts to Catholicism!!!! Not that she forsook her concern for the workers but rather her faith took it in a new direction - The Catholic Worker Movement!!

Her story strikes a chord with me because whilst never a Marxist or even a proper Socialist I have (as my school friends will testify) been known for my leftish/socio-environmental/radical leanings in the past. I was always a bit of a frustrated leftie though because I like order too much and to play by the rules!!! However I felt strongly that our Capitalist economy was grossly injust (and still do) and so somehow by default that made me a 'leftie' because in a post Cold War climate the two often get presented as polar opposites with no other alternatives. I cannot tell you the joy it gave me to discover writings on the Distributionist movement (of which Chesterton and Belloc were key players), Catholic Social Encyclicals and now Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement!!!!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

excited about Catholic Social Teaching and Action!!!!!

The weekend before last I attended a series of conferences at my church on Catholic Social Teaching, titled, “The Quest for the Catholic State”. Speakers spoke on a range of issues including business, education, politics, medical ethics etc. I enjoyed it thoroughly, catching up with people I haven’t seen for a while, and meeting new people, spending the majority of Sunday serving tea and coffee. Great fun! I even spent a couple of hours the night before cooking a lasagne for the hot buffet. It was amazing how many people brought food - we had too much!! Almost enough to feed the 5,000!! I was so proud of my effort that I even took a photo!!!! (I don’t cook very often so this was a big achievement for me!)


More importantly however was the subject matter – Catholic social teaching and action. Sometimes Catholics (particularly those labelling themselves as ‘traditional’) get unfairly caricatured as being obsessed with ritual and liturgy and unconcerned with social issues. And sometimes the latter is true; there are Catholics who are seemingly indifferent to social concerns. So it was good to hear about the experiences of various members of the laity trying to live out their faith on a day to day basis and the various struggles they faced in their professions. There was also quite a bit of expounding on the various documents the Church has produced on social teaching.

Catholic Social Teaching
Two encyclicals much quoted from were ‘Rerum Novarum’ (Concerning New Things) issued in May 1891 by Pope Leo XIII and ‘Quadragesimo Anno’ (Forty Years) written by Pope Pius XI. ‘Rerum Novarum’ describes the ‘wretched conditions’ of many of the working classes and how socio-economic changes have lead to industry and commerce falling under the power of a very rich few who have “laid a yoke almost of slavery on the unnumbered masses of non-owning workers”. The encyclical urges that action be taken by the State, employers and workers to cure this evil but warns against Socialism as holding the solution.

Catholic Social Action
One of the speakers talked a little about the Catholic Worker Movement (CWM) established by Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day in America in the early 1930s. Their activities were wide ranging; they produced a newspaper containing Catholic teaching which they distributed regularly along with Catholic pamphlets; set up the Worker House where they cared for those that were poor and needy, and Maurin established ‘Round Table talks’ on Friday evenings for the ‘clarification of thought’ around Catholic doctrine. There was also the development in the 1940s of the retreat movement. See these sites for more info. and

Dorothy Day
Upon recommendation by a priest I am currently reading Dorothy Day’s autobiography ‘The Long Road to Loneliness” which is a fascinating read. I am just at the bit where she’s seriously contemplating conversion (it’s all very exciting) so I am sure I will blog more about Dorothy Day and the CWM in due course……

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Gospel with gusto!!

OK, OK I confess, I enjoy being preached at!! I know it's not the most important part of Mass, in fact technically it's not part of Mass at all, but the sermon is one of the things I look forward to the most. I get very irritated at mumbling priests who read the gospel in a deadpan way and then proceed to drop half of their sermon into the lectern so that I'm either leaning so far forward to hear that I'm nearly sat on the person in front of me or I'm slunk right back in my pew like a petulant and defiant child because I've given up trying to listen. So although liturgically speaking Mass at Westminster Cathedral yesterday could've been better I thought the sermon was very good and worth noting. I know priests are not meant to be thespians but a strong diaphragm certainly helps. This priest read yesterday's gospel with gusto!! Here's the text from the Douay Rheims;


26 If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. 27 And whosoever doth not carry his cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you having a mind to build a tower, doth not first sit down, and reckon the charges that are necessary, whether he have wherewithal to finish it: 29 Lest, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that see it begin to mock him, 30 Saying: This man began to build, and was not able to finish.
31 Or what king, about to go to make war against another king, doth not first sit down, and think whether he be able, with ten thousand, to meet him that, with twenty thousand, cometh against him? 32 Or else, whilst the other is yet afar off, sending an embassy, he desireth conditions of peace. 33 So likewise every one of you that doth not renounce all that he possesseth, cannot be my disciple. (Emphases mine).

"I don't like it when Jesus talks like that" the priest began his sermon. Here is not Christ the meek and mild. Here is a Christ that challenges us to get out of our comfort zones and take up our cross the priest declared. Christ demands we renounce the world to be his disciples. How many of us can count ourselves true disciples he asked. How many of us are charitable only when it suits, show our love for Christ only when it is convenient. How many of us are prepared to follow Christ at all costs?

I love these kinds of sermons, they are powerful stuff and make me go, 'wow' this is amazing. They make me zealous to be Catholic. Now before I get accused of being a 'powerful sermon junkie' or only liking Mass if it makes me feel a certain way I'm not saying all sermons should be like this, only that this one impressed me a great deal and I wanted to share my zeal with others. Feeling awed and inspired is very precious for a potential convert. It is experiences such as these that move me closer to the Church, closer to Christ.


As a point of clarification the Douay-Rheims has the following note for verse 26,

26 "Hate not"... The law of Christ does not allow us to hate even our enemies, much less our parents: but the meaning of the text is, that we must be in that disposition of soul, as to be willing to renounce, and part with every thing, how near or dear soever it may be to us, that would keep us from following Christ.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Being on Stronsay

I seem to be having trouble putting up more photos so I'll just have to paint pictures with words instead. Here's some extracts from my scribblings about the place shortly after my arrival there...

Being On Stronsay
The utter stillness of the place.
Not necessarily silence or even quietness at times, but a certain tranquility and calm about the island. A different kind of quietness from the suburbs - where there is an absence of sound and activity compared to the hustle and bustle of the city. The suburbs can feel dull and monotonous, - the degeneration of life of the elderly who are forced to slow down their pace of life or the contented middle classes who hypnotize the neighbourhood as they mow their lawns and yawn away lazy summer afternoons sipping Pimms in their back gardens. In the suburbs it can feel like life is on hold, a dream-like, trance like existence. No, here there is life to the place, the island has a soul but it gets things done in its own time, its own pace of life and that hits you about the place - it's an active tranquility, not a passive sleepiness. It hits you almost as hard as the way arriving in London hits you. Just 5 minutes in the city and you feel the pressure of it's frenetic energy. That wonderful horrible energy that keeps the place moving but causes you to burn out and collapse in weariness at the end of the week. Stronsay somehow seems to have a more sustainable energy and the calmness is almost tangible, you just absorb it.

Strangely enough I have never taken a photo of the chapel on Stronsay. A converted herring shed, it's hardly an architectural wonder but given I take photos of Bank of Scotland signs and macro shots of seaweed and other beach debris I am quite puzzled as to why I've never photographed the Chapel. But I did write about it..

The Chapel
Such a small space yet as I walked in, once again
the atmosphere about the place impressed itself upon my heart.
The familiar sense of sanctity when you recognise that you are in a place of God, when you recognise you are in the right place! Some people say that you should feel 'at home' in churches. Well maybe if home is indeed where the heart is, but not if they mean you should feel comfortable enough to put your feet up. If a church does not feel like a sacred space then where else can we find refuge from the world? What is the point of a church if it is to be like your living room, a social club or anywhere else in the world. Or of the world. And conversely if a place is dedicated to God then how can it feel ordinary - how can you feel completely 'at home' there. After all we are exiles in this vale of tears and a church surely should remind us of this.
It should help make it easier for us to contemplate the Kingdom of Heaven and orientate ourselves towards it, not make us too comfortable with staying on Earth.
It should help us to feel 'at home' in the sense that
our true home is with God in heaven.