Thursday, May 31, 2007

Women in Art

500 Years of Female Portraits in Western Art

Rubbish Crisis Update

From the Telegraph:
A crisis in Naples which has seen the city swamped by thousands of tons of refuse for the past two weeks has extended to Mount Vesuvius.
A team of climbers abseiled into the mouth of the volcano to find an assortment of car tyres, plastic kegs, batteries and other refuse.
The rubbish crisis started when landfill sites became full and collections were stopped. Schools were forced to close amid fears of an outbreak of disease.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Pope John Paul II's Escapes...

From the Telegraph:
Pope John Paul II often liked to slip out of the Vatican for long walks in the countryside, where he would sleep on the ground under the stars, according to his former bodyguard.
General Enrico Marinelli was appointed head of Vatican security in 1985, and took care of John Paul II for 14 years. His team was known as the pope's "guardian angels".
In a new book, The Pope and the General, he reveals the energy of John Paul in his early years as pope, and his love of nature.
He said John Paul had a secret escape from the Vatican, a small cottage in the province of Frosinone, near the mountains of Abruzzo.
From the cottage, John Paul would take long walks, often tiring out his guards. "In the first few years, he liked to sleep on the bare ground with just a simple woollen blanket," said the general.
The pope was also keen that the rest of the Roman Curia did not discover his secret. "Thank you," he told his guards. "Because if they found out it would be an international scandal."
I think the 'international scandal' would relate particularly to the Italian State. For reasons of security and protocol, the Pope isn't supposed to leave the Vatican without informing the Italian government.

In the News...

From the Telegraph, a story about the Rosslyn Chapel to make you roll your eyes:
As if there were not enough mysteries involving the medieval chapel that featured in The Da Vinci Code, the plot thickened further yesterday.
Rosslyn Chapel has, at one time or another, been suggested as the resting place of the Holy Grail, the Ark of the Covenant and even the mummified head of Christ.
Now cosmology has been added to this rich brew after the ornate symbols on its walls were likened to giant cloud formations photographed on Saturn.
The link was made by Stuart Mitchell, 41, a composer, who with his father Thomas, 75, a former RAF codebreaker, deciphered a musical score they believe was hidden in the 13 angel musicians and 213 cube-like shapes carved on the chapel arches.
After 27 years of research they cracked their code and, at the weekend, they staged the first public performance of the medieval music they found hidden in the carvings
Mr Mitchell and his father believe the tune was encrypted in the 15th century chapel outside Edinburgh because knowledge of music may have been considered heretical at the time.
Earlier this week, Mr Mitchell was preparing for the first performance when a Mexican astronomer telephoned him and told about the same hexagonal shape on Saturn.
The coincidence suggests a universal significance for the musical score, according to Mr Mitchell, even if the hexagon above Saturn is 15,000 miles across while the carvings are measured in inches.
In musical terms, both shapes represent a B natural, suggesting to some that the planets may have their own musical score to be cracked.
"The shape matches right down to the detail," said Mr Mitchell. "The shape represents the B natural pattern in our code, and that is the first note of the Rosslyn Motet.
"Now we are starting to see that these symbols that everybody found so magical and unique are around us in a vast way. What we are seeing on our plane of existence we can now also see on a cosmic scale. It is one of the most amazing developments in this story.
"If the geometric figure in Rosslyn Chapel is produced by the same principles as is happening on Saturn - vibration and sound - then Saturn is literally singing a piece of music to us."
Mr Mitchell said that the shape on Saturn was like a humpback whale singing in the darkness of space. He added: "I find it propitious that the sudden interest in the Saturn Hex phenomenon should be at a time when my father and I have realised a composition we believe was 'set in stone' using this same science."
The hexagon above Saturn was detected 26 years ago, but was captured in its complete form for the first time earlier this year by Nasa's Cassini Orbiter. A spokesman at the space agency said at the time that it was a "very strange feature".
Watch the accompanying videos on the Telegraph website for some fascinating (yawn!) New-Age commentary about how the Church suppressed knowledge of music and attempted to brainwash people using Gregorian Chant. The Templars, secret music, an oppressive Church and now the planets singing at us... what more could you ask for?

Monday, May 28, 2007

French Churches Under Threat

From the Telegraph:
The fabric of French village life is in danger of destruction as mayors consider demolishing 19th century churches, conservationists and historians have warned.
A wave of threatened demolitions in the Anjou area has sparked fears of a wider phenomenon as mayors struggle to pay for the upkeep of the buildings, a responsibility they have held since secularisation laws passed in 1905.
No exhaustive list of the nation's rural churches exists.
However, of its 15,000 protected rural religious buildings, 2,800 are "in peril", according to l'Observatoire du Patrimoine religieux, a religious heritage watchdog.
For some villages it is already too late. In Saint-Georges-des-Gardes, population 1,500, a wall with rusty metal spikes is all that remains of the parish church, built in 1870.
The edifice is the latest victim of what mayors call "deconstruction" - a term more usually associated with the French philosopher Jacques Derrida than knocking down churches.
The mayor said a full renovation would have cost more than a million euros. It was far cheaper to build a new one.
His move has emboldened several other mayors to consider following suit.
In nearby Gesté, a pretty neo-gothic church stands majestically atop the hillside.
However, the mayor, Michel Baron, has announced his intention to "deconstruct".
Alain Guinberteau, who runs a website,, celebrating France's churches, was the first to sound the alarm.
Without its church, the landscape of Gesté will be disfigured, he said. "It will be cut off from its past. A part of our heritage and history is wiped away with one bulldozer.
"France is viscerally attached to its rural churches, which represent the very soul of French villages."
Mr Baron said a renovation would have cost three million euros, while "deconstruction" will cost less than half that amount.
"We tried to have the church listed to receive public funds, to no avail. In its place we will put a modern hall of 500 seats, easy to heat. Villagers have taken it well," he claimed.
However, Jean Leclerc. 62, a villager, said the decision was shocking. "Lots of people are unhappy about it," he said. "We are not against modernity but the village will lose a lot of its charm and history."
The local priest, Pierre Pouplart, refused to take sides.
"These are matters for the local authorities," he said.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Rosary with the Holy Father - Thursday

One of the least-known and beautiful Papal liturgies is coming up this week. Every year to mark the end of the Marian Month, there is a Rosary Procession through the Vatican Gardens, concluding with prayers and a brief homily from the Holy Father at the Lourdes Grotto. Entrance is by the Archway of the Bells and quite apart from the religious aspect, it's nice to be able to walk around inside the Vatican Gardens. It starts at 8pm and is usually over by about 9pm.

On the Holy Spirit

From the Parochial & Plain Sermons:
The Holy Ghost, I have said, dwells in body and soul, as in a temple. Evil spirits indeed have power to possess sinners, but His indwelling is far more perfect; for He is all-knowing and omnipresent, He is able to search into all our thoughts, and penetrate into every motive of the heart. Therefore, He pervades us (if it may be so said) as light pervades a building, or as a sweet perfume the folds of some honourable robe; so that, in Scripture language, we are said to be in Him, and He in us. It is plain that such an inhabitation brings the Christian into a state altogether new and marvellous, far above the possession of mere gifts, exalts him inconceivably in the scale of beings, and gives him a place and an office which he had not before. In St. Peter's forcible language, he becomes "partaker of the Divine Nature," and has "power" or authority, as St. John says, "to become the son of God." Or, to use the words of St. Paul, "he is a new creation; old things are passed away, behold all things are become new." His rank is new; his parentage and service new. He is "of God," and "is not his own," "a vessel unto honour, sanctified and meet for the Master's use, and prepared unto every good work." [2 Pet. i. 4. John i. 12. 2 Cor. v. 17. 1 John iv. 4. 1 Cor. vi. 19, 20. 2 Tim. ii. 21.]

This wonderful change from darkness to light, through the entrance of the Spirit into the soul, is called Regeneration, or the New Birth; a blessing which, before Christ's coming, not even Prophets and righteous men possessed, but which is now conveyed to all men freely through the Sacrament of Baptism. By nature we are children of wrath; the heart is sold under sin, possessed by evil spirits; and inherits death as its eternal portion. But by the coming of the Holy Ghost, all guilt and pollution are burned away as by fire, the devil is driven forth, sin, original and actual, is forgiven, and the whole man is consecrated to God. And this is the reason why He is called "the earnest" of that Saviour who died for us, and will one day give us the fulness of His own presence in heaven. Hence, too, He is our "seal unto the day of redemption;" for as the potter moulds the clay, so He impresses the Divine image on us members of the household of God. And His work may truly be called Regeneration; for though the original nature of the soul is not destroyed, yet its past transgressions are pardoned once and for ever, and its source of evil staunched and gradually dried up by the pervading health and purity which has set up its abode in it. {224} Instead of its own bitter waters, a spring of health and salvation is brought within it; not the mere streams of that fountain, "clear as crystal," which is before the Throne of God, but, as our Lord says, "a well of water in him," in a man's heart, "springing up into everlasting life." Hence He elsewhere describes the heart as giving forth, not receiving, the streams of grace: "Out of his belly shall flow rivers of Living Water." St. John adds, "this spake He of the Spirit." [John iv. 14; vii. 38, 39.]

V - Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful.
R - And kindle in them the fire of your love.

V - Send forth your spirit, Lord, and they shall be created.
R - And thou shalt renew the face of the earth.

Let us pray,
O God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit did instruct the hearts of your faithful; grant that in the same Spirit we may be truly wise and ever rejoice in his consolation. Through the same Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

The Secular Cult of Relics

A fascinating phenomenon described by the Times:
From today, anyone with £1,000 to hand and a serious enthusiasm for Diana memorabilia can purchase a contemporary relic: a fragment of the silk used for the princess’s wedding dress.
David and Elizabeth Emanuel, the British designers who created the dress for the eleborate ceremony at St Paul’s Cathedral on July 29, 1981, promise that this will bring the buyer “a step closer to the woman who is still alive to so many throughout the world”.
The fabric has been cut into 1,000 swatches of roughly four square inches, to go with every copy of A Dress for Diana, a lavish coffee-table account of the Emanuels’ best-known assignment. If all 1,000 sell, the venture could realise £1 million.
Publicity material for the sale claims: “We are able to step back in time, join that shy young girl as she made her hesitant way down the aisle in front of millions of people watching, as she took step after dainty step to meet her future, as dramatic and tumultuous as that proved to be.”
The offcuts from the dress and the remnants of the bolt of silk that was used to make it have been kept in a bank vault for most of the 26 years that have passed since the Royal Wedding.

Visual Acoustics

Ample Design have put this fascinating little gadget called Visual Acoustics on their website. [Biretta-doff: Jay is Games]
I suspect my more musical readers will be able to make much more harmonious noises with this tool than I can. Basically, one draws on the screen with one's mouse in order to play various musical instruments. Playing around with the volume and delay settings creates some interesting effects. I'd advise beginning with the piano only to get a feel for the interface and the settings, before moving on to paying several instruments simultaneously.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Germans buy an entire Italian village

From the Guardian:
The entire Tuscan village of Tenuta de Castelfalfi has been snapped up by the giant tour operator TUI and is due to be turned into an integrated holiday playground for German tourists within the next two years.
In a move which would no doubt make the Tuscany-loving author EM Forster turn in his grave, the exquisitely beautiful but rundown medieval settlement north of Siena, and close to Florence and Pisa is soon to be renamed Toscana Resort Castelfalfi.
"The Germans have conquered our village!" declared the local paper, Il Tirreno, following news of the sale.
Complete with four square miles of land, a three-star hotel, 18-hole golf course, olive groves, vineyards and scores of elegantly crumbling villas, Castelfalfi is believed to have been bought for €250m (£170m).
Everything from the historic castello that gives the village its name and perches above it on a rocky peak, to its old ramparts, houses and gardens, were part of the deal. Only the church was out of bounds, but the company is obliged to pay for it to be renovated.
The concept involves creating a self-contained "holiday world" within Castelfalfi's historic walls, including restaurants, boutiques, spas, an all-inclusive hotel and an enlarged golf course.

Strange history theory of the day...

In the Telegraph:
One of the so-called Princes in the Tower allegedly murdered by Richard III actually survived and ended life as a bricklayer, according to an historian.
David Baldwin, who lectures at the University of Leicester, believes that Edward, the elder prince, died of natural causes and that Richard, the younger Prince, was secretly sent to live with his mother.
After their father, King Edward IV, died, the princes - aged 12 and nine - were placed in the Tower of London in 1483 for their own protection by their uncle, Richard III.
He then had them declared illegitimate and claimed the throne.
The skeletons of two children discovered in the Tower in 1674 fuelled the belief that Richard III had them murdered. But in his book, The Lost Prince: The Survival of Richard of York, Mr Baldwin argues that after Richard III was killed in the Battle of Bosworth, the prince was taken to St John's Abbey in Colchester, where he worked as a bricklayer.
There, he kept his identity a secret for fear of reprisals from Henry VII and he died in 1550.
"There are several pieces of circumstantial evidence to suggest they were not killed," said Mr Baldwin.
"When Henry VII became king, he visited Colchester no less than four times during his reign, which he didn't do for other regions.
"The impression is that there was something going on there behind the scenes."

Thursday, May 24, 2007

`The Right to Marry?

An interesting story in the Telegraph:
Tough rules to stop illegal immigrants using sham marriages to get in to the country were declared unlawful by the Appeal Court yesterday.
Judges said regulations brought in two years ago to block thousands of alleged ''marriages of convenience'' breached human rights laws.
Hundreds of couples who say they have been prevented from marrying may now try to claim compensation.
Under the regime, introduced by David Blunkett when he was home secretary, non-European Union citizens effectively needed Government permission to marry. They had to attend designated register offices and pay £135 for a certificate of approval.
The Appeal Court - upholding an earlier High Court ruling - said this was a "disproportionate interference'' in the human right to marry.
Lord Justice Buxton said the scheme could only be lawful if it prevented sham marriages intended to improve the immigration status of one of the parties.
"To be proportionate, a scheme must either properly investigate individual cases or at least show that it has come close to isolating cases that very likely fall into the target category,'' said Lord Buxton.
Needless to say, in the readers' comments section of the paper, there's an amount of outrage, but despite having no tolerance for 'sham marriages' myself, I think that in this case justice has been done. The right of an adult to marry and start a family is one of the most fundamental in the Catholic understanding of the dignity of the human person.
This principle of the 'right' to marry has canonical and pastoral implications as well. There is a lot of justifiable dissatisfaction about non-practising Catholics getting married in church, and it is frequently asked whether priests shouldn't simply ask such couples to get married elsewhere. The problem with this is twofold. Firstly, as a general principle, no matter how 'bad' a Catholic one might be, the general rule is that the only way a Catholic can get validly married is according to the rites of the Catholic Church. Therefore, a Catholic priest who would ask a Catholic to get married outside the Church is essentially suggesting that that the person in question enter into a state of concubinage.
Secondly, as I mentioned above, Catholic anthropology lays great emphasis on the natural right to marital and family life. Therefore, whilst the time of pre-marital should be an opportunity for catechesis and re-evangelization, as long as the couple are free to marry, have a basic understanding of what marriage involves and a basic level of maturity, then there is very little scope, either in Canon Law or in terms of natural justice, for a priest to refuse the Catholic rites of marriage.

It is no surprise, therefore, that many priests are quite disillusioned by weddings these days and it is not infrequent to hear a priest lament that he enjoys performing funerals rather than marriage ceremonies. It is not at all uncommon to deal with couples who have little appreciation for the religious and sacramental dimension of marriage and the marriage ceremony, yet who nonetheless have sufficient maturity and profess a sufficient understanding of the nature of marriage to preclude any denial or deferment of the religious rites.

This is an unfortunate state of affairs which, in the long term, needs to be tackled in terms of better preaching and catechesis concerning marriage and family life. Does anyone have any thoughts on what can be done in the shorter term that respects the right to family life and helps preserve the dignity of Christian marriage?

Isn't English law fascinating?

It's fascinating to see that such principles as 'Squatter's Rights' still have validity. From the Telegraph:
Breaking into the exclusive Highgate property market in north London is notoriously difficult. But yesterday a homeless man apparently did the almost-impossible, managing to secure his very own slice of prime real estate on Hampstead Heath for free.
Harry Hallowes, 70, says he has been given the title deeds to a piece of land on the edge of the heath on which he has been squatting for more than two decades. The 65ft by 131ft plot has been estimated to be worth up to £2 million.
The Land Registry's decision marks the end of a three-year dispute between Mr Hallowes and the property developer Dwyer.
The developers originally wanted to build on the land, which forms part of the grounds of Althone House. In 2005 Dwyer, which is turning a plot of land including a former nursing home into 25 luxury flats, failed in an attempt to evict Mr Hallowes.
At a court hearing over the eviction, lawyers presented evidence that Mr Hallowes had lived on the plot for 18 years. This later became the basis for his title claim for the land. Possession of the title deeds means the plot could now be sold or passed on.
Mr Hallowes first started sleeping rough on the piece of heath land in 1987 after he was evicted from his council flat in Highgate. He now lives in a 12ft by 8ft shack on the property .
Because he has lived there longer than the 12 years required by law, he was able to claim squatter's rights.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Last Italian Crown...

Here's a picture of the tiara of Maria Josè, last Queen of Italy. It's made of gold, diamonds and pearls and is going on sale next month in Christies. The price? A potential bargain at an estimated €14,600-17.500.

Naples Garbage Crisis

Via At Home in Rome, there's this sideshow of images from the Naples area where garbage simply isn't being collected. Check out this post and comments for an idea of what's going on.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Blind Date Raphael for Sale

From the Telegraph:
One of the last great paintings by Raphael still in private hands is to be sold at Christie's next month with a guide price of up to £15 million.
The portrait of Lorenzo de Medici, scion of the wealthy but cruel dynasty that dominated Florence from the 14th century to the 17th century, is the most important work by Raphael, an Italian Old Master, to be sold at auction for decades.
Lorenzo ruled Florence from 1513 until his death in 1519. His uncle, Pope Leo X, had found him a wife - Madeleine de la Tour d'Auvergne, a cousin of Francois I, King of France - who was an ally of the Vatican against the Holy Roman Empire.
As the couple had never met, an exchange of portraits was arranged. Raphael, one of the greatest High Renaissance painters and then working for Leo X in Rome, was commissioned to show Lorenzo, then aged 25, in his best light.
The portrait shows the subject in a fur-necked red and gold cape.
It must have done the trick because the couple were married in 1518.
The portrait, which is owned by an American art dealer, has not been seen in public for 40 years. It will be sold at Christie's in London on July 5.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Doing porridge?

From the Telegraph:
Diners are flocking to what could perhaps be termed the most exclusive restaurant in Italy - one located inside a top security prison, where the chefs and waiters are Mafiosi, robbers and murderers.
Serenaded by Bruno, a pianist doing life for murder, the clientele eat inside a deconsecrated chapel set behind the 60 ft-high walls, watch towers, searchlights and security cameras of the daunting 500-year-old Fortezza Medicea, at Volterra near Pisa.
Under the watchful eye of armed prison warders, a 20-strong team of chefs, kitchen hands and waiters prepares 120 covers for diners who have all undergone strict security checks. Tables are booked up weeks in advance.
The prison director, Maria Grazia Giampiccolo, said the inmates had developed a flair for their cooking: "I feel haute cuisine in a place like this prepares the inmates for when they are eventually released. The guests enjoy their meals and although the security seems at first very daunting and imposing, they get over it quite quickly and forget about the guards."
In the kitchen, Egidio, a burly 50-year-old from Taranto, in southern Italy, reigns over his team of six chefs like an Italian Gordon Ramsay. "The pasta is boiling over! More salt, less garlic! Keep stirring the pasta sauce!" he shouts.
Seventeen years into his sentence, he is thinking of going into the restaurant business when they finally let him out. "Like any Italian I take my food very, very seriously. I like to be sure the diners are satisfied and they don't just enjoy the food, but enjoy it with the same passion that I prepare it."
Diners professed themselves delighted. "When I heard about it I thought it sounded fun, so we booked a table and I have to say the food has been very good," said off-duty policeman Alessandra Ciabattini, 36.
"The fact that the dishes are prepared by murderers, armed robbers, Mafiosi or terrorists doesn't really bother me, though I might be worried if someone had been convicted of poisoning."

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Roman Holiday...

Gashwin links to this amusing travel guide to ancient Rome.
To walk along the Tiber, start in the thronged market of the Forum Boarium beside the bronze bull which would tell you, if the noise and smell had not already done so, that this is Rome's main cattle market. It lies between the Forum and the Clivus Publicus, the main road from the Aventine hill, and also takes traffic from the south of the Palatine and the valley of the Circus Maximus, so the crowds are often dense.
While moving through the market, keep an eye on those cattle with hay tied on their horns, for this indicates a particularly dangerous beast. At the upstream end of the market is the Sublician bridge, the oldest of the bridges of Rome. Here Horatius is said to have held out heroically against the Etruscan soldiers of king Tarquin who tried to destroy Rome's nascent Republic. Rome's priests are called Pontifices (pontiffs) because of their connection with this bridge, any damage to which is seen as a sign from the gods. The bridge is made of wood without iron or stone now as a matter of tradition, but originally because the wooden framework made it easier to pull down in the face of an advancing enemy.
After crossing the river, turn right and walk along the Tiber. The river is reaching the end of its 250- mile journey to the sea, and has now slowed sufficiently to drop some of the silt which gives it a colour which the Romans call Tiber Yellow, and it twists snakelike through the city. A line of stones (cippi, as used for the pomerium) marks the limits of the authority of the commissioners who control the banks and ensure the smooth flow of the river - not always successfully.
Start at the Theatre of Pompey, built by Julius Caesar's great rival in 55BC. Spend an hour or two among the gardens and colonnades of the theatre, and admire the temple at the top which made it possible. At the time it was built, stone theatres were forbidden in Rome, so Pompey's architect made the stone benches of the theatre ostensibly steps leading to the temple. This little temple has the grandest staircase in the world, since over 10,000 people can sit on the "steps" to watch a performance on the stage below. If time permits, look at the Circus Flaminius.
When meeting Romans, knowing the basics of what to wear and what to eat will help to avoid unnecessary social embarrassment. Nothing is guaranteed to ruin a good dinner party like a guest who turns up wrongly dressed, and then blanches (or worse) when confronted with sow's udders stuffed with giant African snails.
On less formal occasions, Romans of every age and social class wear tunics. Unless on a formal visit, there is no need to pack a toga, and only Roman citizens are entitled to wear one anyway. The toga is stiflingly hot in summer and draughty in winter. It is also heavy, being of wool and three times the wearer's height by 10 feet across. This forms a large semicircle, which is worn by putting the straight edge over the left shoulder and wrapping it around one's back. Because it has no fastenings, unless the left elbow is kept bent, the whole thing comes unravelled.
The best class of overnight accommodation is a hospitium, though even there expect the furnishing to be sparse. Travellers must share their accommodation with as many people as the landlord can cram in, and bedbugs too. If travelling on the cheap, choose a caupona and share with the local ne'er-do-wells and a lower class of bedbug. Also, ask around for private houses that take overnight guests. One such house has a plaque which states, pithily: "If you are clean and neat, you'll find a room waiting for you here. If you're a slob, well, I blush to say it, but you are welcome as well. " Remember to keep a keen eye on your property in these rooms.
The ideal apartment is on the first floor, secure from thieves, but easy to bring water and goods to. It is also low enough for the occupants to jump to safety in the event of a fire or a partial collapse. An edict of Trajan keeps the height of apartment blocks to under 58 feet, and Nero introduced fire regulations, but the one rule to remember is never to rent before a careful inspection.
The Romans have a habit of siting cesspits uncomfortably close to wells, so it will come as a relief to know that Rome itself has an extensive sewer system which is regularly flushed with waste water from the aqueducts. The oldest and largest of Rome's sewers is the Cloaca Maxima, which runs under the Forum and is large enough to take a boat through, if that is your idea of fun. Many apartment buildings have gravity-feed facilities connected to the sewers or to a central cesspit, but many others make use of the tried and trusted chamber pot. Sometimes ordure is collected for agricultural purposes; in other places it is simply dumped in the streets.
Try to find lodgings close to a public bath, where a constant stream of waste water from the baths runs under the toilet seat, which is a bench with strategically situated holes on which you can sit and exchange the gossip of the day with fellow patrons. Watch for youths whose idea of a joke is to ignite a hank of wool soaked in oil in an upstream toilet. Having this burning mass sail just under your posterior can effectively ruin your day.

Happy Ascension Sunday!

(Click to enlarge)

Friday, May 18, 2007

Prayer of St Thomas Aquinas on Receiving Viaticum

If in this world there be any knowledge of this sacrament stronger than that of faith, I wish now to use it in affirming that I firmly believe and know as certain that Jesus Christ, True God and True Man, Son of God and Son of the Virgin Mary, is in this Sacrament.
I receive Thee, the price of my redemption, for Whose love I have watched, studied, and laboured. Thee have I preached; Thee have I taught. Never have I said anything against Thee: if anything was not well said, that is to be attributed to my ignorance. Neither do I wish to be obstinate in my opinions, but if I have written anything erroneous concerning this sacrament or other matters, I submit all to the judgement and correction of the Holy Roman Church, in whose obedience I now pass from this life.

Matters Pastoral

Fr Jim Tucker gives an excellent example of what being pastoral really means. It doesn't mean watering down dogma, but it does mean doing everything possible for those whose personal circumstances makes following the Gospel can seem like a burden.
Twice a year, we encourage couples who are in merely civil unions or long-term cohabitation to take advantage of a program I started up a few years ago. We take these couples, most of whom have children and are together for several years, and who for whatever reason didn't seek the sacrament of matrimony when they got together. They hear it advertised at Mass, so almost all of them are regular Mass-goers, but obviously unable to receive Holy Communion or to fill leadership roles in the parish. Two married couples and I give them marriage talks, meet with them, put together their paperwork, and make sure there are no obstacles to solemnizing their marriages. Then, together with the people with whom they've taken the classes, they make their vows in the parish Mass, surrounded by fellow parishioners who've been praying for them while they've prepared. The parish pays for the music, pays for the decorations, and doesn't charge a dime. And they return to the Sacraments that night at the same time they receive the convalidation of their marriages.
The week afterward, we always get a deluge of phone calls of people who were moved by the beautiful and festive celebration and want to have their own unions blessed in the same way, as well. The event is palpably sacred, the newlyweds end up becoming some of our most active parishioners, and the communal nature of the Sacrament is made patently obvious. There's no fretting over trivial details. There's no obscene expenditure of money. There's no worrying over guest lists, as all are welcome.
Even though validation isn't the best way to go -- that is, being married in the Church after a civil ceremony or concubinage -- these group weddings are my favorites, and the couples tend to be the ones who impress me most. I've also been edified by the way our parishioners look forward to them each season and the interest and joy they show in the couples. It really is a celebration within the parish community, and not merely a private ceremony attended by people one has never seen before. To that extent, the joy of the event seems several orders greater, as well.

Over at Whispers, Rocco reports on Archbishop Collins of Toronto and his thoughts on priestly vocations:
As for vocations strategy, the subway-hopping prelate came down firmly on the side of an approach he termed as "people, not paper," repeating it to underscore the point.
"That's gotta be the way," he said. "We can always retreat into a bunker surrounded by paper, and we can give ourselves the illusion that we've done a full day's work.... You can hand guys [who've already expressed interest] information on the seminary -- that's fine. But posters, brochures, stuff like that -- I think they probably have zero influence."
In his days as rector, the archbishop -- who said that "hearing confessions" has been the greatest joy of his 34 years of ministry -- recalled that he once asked his seminarians what influenced them to enroll in formation. From the group of 50 or so, he said, "I forget the exact numbers, but it was something like this: 'the example of a priest,' 45 of the 50 said yes. 'I was invited by someone' -- I think that was 40 of the 50. 'Vocation literature,' zero."
Keeping with his prior practice, within days of his arrival as the chief shepherd of Toronto's 1.6 million Catholics, Collins set up a phone number for men considering the priesthood to be able to call him directly.
He gives the digits out from the pulpit at every Mass he celebrates. When that moment arose at the close of last week's ordination liturgy, the crowd responded with a standing ovation.


Fr Z has tagged me for a meme. Like him, I'm going to add the disclaimer that what I'm putting down is what immediately occurs to me and I'm deliberately steering away from some of the more obvious answers. (I think this is justified, as the meme asks for 'Three books/authors everyone should read' NOT 'The top Three books/authors everyone should read.') Given time and reflection, I'd probably answer very differently:

Three fiction books everyone should read:

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: The Little Prince
Anthony Burgess: A Clockwork Orange
Flann O'Brien: The Third Policeman

Three non-fiction books everyone should read:
Darrell Huff: How to Lie with Statistics
St Augustine: Confessions
Frederick Coppleston: History of Philosophy, Volume 1

Three authors everyone should read:
E M Forster
Jane Austen
J L Borges

I don't normally like passing memes on, but I think I'd like to hear how the Whapsters and the Laodiceans would answer this.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

A New Form of Warfare?

From the Telegraph:
Estonia has been hit by a prolonged series of "cyber attacks" that disrupted leading websites and caused alarm in Europe and the Nato alliance, it emerged last night.
While the Baltic nation and its former master, Russia, are locked in their worst dispute since the collapse of the Soviet Union over the removal of a Soviet war memorial in Tallinn, Estonia has been subjected to a barrage of web assaults, disabling sites for the government, banks, newspapers, private companies and political parties.
Nato last night was reported to have sent internet experts to investigate the attacks as an "operational security issue" that go "to the heart of the alliance's modus operandi."
Nato does not yet define cyber-attacks as military action, but the unprecedented scale of the "denial of service" attacks - which involve hackers firing huge amounts of information at websites to freeze them - has caused great alarm.
Merit Kopli, editor of Postimees, one of two main newspapers in Estonia, was quoted as saying: "The cyber-attacks are from Russia. There is no question. It's political."
Russia's ambassador to Brussels, Vladimir Chizhov said that such claims were a "serious allegation that has to be substantiated".
While planning to raise the issue with the Russian authorities, EU and Nato officials have not directly linked Russia or Russians to the attacks.
Needless to say, it's there still seems to be doubt about who's responsible, but such action is to be expected when the relationship between two relatively industrialised nations turns bellicose. Can we see government-backed hackers attacking an enemy's intnet resources as being akin to the licensing of privateers?

Archeological Discovery

From the Times:
Mosaics from the fabled Gardens of Lucullus, one of the pioneering influences on gardening, have been brought to light after 2,000 years by archaeologists in Rome.
The vast terraced gardens, or Horti, covered what is now the built-up area above the Spanish Steps. The first known attempt in the West to “tame nature” through landscaping, the gardens were laid out around a patrician villa in the middle of the 1st century BC by Lucius Licinius Lucullus, one of Ancient Rome’s most celebrated generals, after he retired in disillusion from war and politics.
They became a benchmark for all Roman pleasure gardens, and were taken over and developed by Roman emperors. The 1st-century mosaics decorated the nymphaeum, an artificial grotto with water features. One depicts a corpulent cupid riding a dolphin and another a wolf’s head in green and gold.
They were found nine metres (30ft) below street level during renovation work on the Hertzian Library (Biblioteca Hertziana), the German art history institute near the Spanish Steps run by the Max Planck Society.
Excavations below the library have also brought to light a marble head of Venus, perhaps a relic of the statues that once adorned the nymphaeum. Maria Antonietta Tomei, of the Rome Superintendency for Archaeology, said when workers began demolishing the interior of the building to modernise it “the architecture of the Ancient Roman garden appeared before our eyes. It seems like a dream.”
Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, director of the British School at Rome and a leading classical scholar, said Lucullus had invented the concept of the pleasure garden when he quit public life in disgust after his rival Pompey “robbed him of the credit for Rome’s conquests in the East”.
The historian Plutarch observed that Lucullus “abandoned public affairs either because he saw that they were out of control and diseased or, some say, because he had had his fill of glory and felt entitled to fall back on a life of ease and luxury”. Ironically, Pompey was himself outmanoeuvred by Julius Caesar in the struggle for power that marked the end of the Roman Republic.
Lucullus is said to have been inspired by Persian and Mesopotamian gardens that he saw during his military campaigns in Asia Minor.

Something is afoot...

Fr Z has the scoop. Darío Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos has been speaking to the Latin American bishops and is pretty forthright about the fact that something is coming regarding the increased use of the 1962 Missal:
[...]the Holy Father has the intention of extending to the whole Latin Church the possibility of celebrating the Holy Mass and the Sacraments according to the liturgical books promulgated by Blessed John XXIII in 1962. For this liturgy, which was never abolished, and that, as we have said, is considered a treasure, a new and renewed interest exists today and also for this reason the Holy Father thinks that the time has come to facilitate, as the first Commission Cardenalicia had wanted it in 1986, the access to this liturgy, doing [sic] of her an extraordinary form of the only Roman rite.
I know that many of my readers will be enthusiastic about this. I know that some are going to be frustrated that this is taking so much time. And I know too that there are some decent and holy Catholics who find the question of the 1962 Missal unimportant or who even have reservations about the movement to encourage its wider use.
My advice to Catholics of all hues - listen to the Holy Father and pray for him. Allow him the space and the time to do this properly and with prudence. Don't rely on the secular press to report this accurately.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Only in Italy, where it is the national sport...

From the Telegraph:
Weary Italians are bracing themselves for a month of industrial disruptions by checking an internet strike-o-meter website.
During the remainder of this month and the first week of June there will be a strike every other day, bringing large parts of the country to a shuddering halt.
The strike-o-meter website groups together all the strikes in various parts of the country on to a national calendar.
Even by Italian standards, the level of disruption is exceptional. Workers are disgruntled at the government over frozen salaries and moves to liberalise large parts of the economy and open them up to competition.

Let us will against ourselves, for ourselves...

St Augustine in De Trinitate XIII, telling us what power we should wish for:
For whereas two things make a man blessed, as we have argued above, to will well, and to be able to do what one wills, people ought not to be so perverse, as has been noted in the same discussion, as that a man should choose from the two things which make him blessed, the being able to do what he wills, and should neglect to will what he ought; whereas he ought first to have a good will, but great power afterwards. Further, a good will must be purged from vices, by which if a man is overcome, he is in such wise overcome as that he wills evil; and then how will his will be still good?
It is to be wished, then, that power may now be given, but power against vices, to conquer which men do not wish to be powerful, while they wish to be so in order to conquer men; and why is this, unless that, being in truth conquered, they feignedly conquer, and are conquerors not in truth, but in opinion? Let a man will to be prudent, will to be strong, will to be temperate, will to be just; and that he may be able to have these things truly, let him certainly desire power, and seek to be powerful in himself, and (strange though it be) against himself for himself. But all the other things which he wills rightly, and yet is not able to have, as, for instance, immortality and true and full felicity, let him not cease to long for, and let him patiently expect.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Eucharist Procession

From the Pantheon to the Chiesa Nuova. Fr Z has pictures.

Mater Amabilis

From Newman's Meditations and Devotions:
WHY is she "Amabilis" thus specially? It is because she was without sin. Sin is something odious in its very nature, and grace is something bright, beautiful, attractive.

However, it may be said that sinlessness was not enough to make others love her, or to make her dear to others, and that for two reasons: first, because we cannot like anyone that is not like ourselves, and we are sinners; and next, because her being holy would not make her pleasant and winning, because holy persons whom we fall in with, are not always agreeable, and we cannot like them, however we may revere them and look up to them.

Now as to the first of these two questions, we may grant that bad men do not, cannot like good men; but our Blessed Virgin Mary is called Amabilis, or lovable, as being such to the children of the Church, not to those outside of it, who know nothing about her; and no child of Holy Church but has some remains of God's grace in his soul which makes him sufficiently like her, however greatly wanting he may be, to allow of his being able to love her. So we may let this question pass.

But as to the second question, viz., How are we sure that our Lady, when she was on earth, attracted people round her, and made them love her merely because she was holy?—considering that holy people sometimes have not that gift of drawing others to them.

To explain this point we must recollect that there is a vast difference between the state of a soul such as that of the Blessed Virgin, which has never sinned, and a soul, however holy, which has once had upon it Adam's sin; for, even after baptism and repentance, it suffers necessarily from the spiritual wounds which are the consequence of that sin. Holy men, indeed, never commit mortal sin; nay, sometimes have never committed even one mortal sin in the whole course of their lives. But Mary's holiness went beyond this. She never committed even a venial sin, and this special privilege is not known to belong to anyone but Mary.

Now, whatever want of amiableness, sweetness, attractiveness, really exists in holy men arises from the remains of sin in them, or again from the want of a holiness powerful enough to overcome the defects of nature, whether of soul or body; but, as to Mary, her holiness was such, that if we saw her, and heard her, we should not be able to tell to those who asked us anything about her except simply that she was angelic and heavenly.

Of course her face was most beautiful; but we should not be able to recollect whether it was beautiful or not; we should not recollect any of her features, because it was her beautiful sinless soul, which looked through her eyes, and spoke through her mouth, and was heard in her voice, and compassed her all about; when she was still, or when she walked, whether she smiled, or was sad, her sinless soul, this it was which would draw all those to her who had any grace in them, any remains of grace, any love of holy things. There was a divine music in all she said and did—in her mien, her air, her deportment, that charmed every true heart that came near her. Her innocence, her humility and modesty, her simplicity, sincerity, and truthfulness, her unselfishness, her unaffected interest in everyone who came to her, her purity—it was these qualities which made her so lovable; and were we to see her now, neither our first thought nor our second thought would be, what she could do for us with her Son (though she can do so much), but our first thought would be, "Oh, how beautiful!" and our second thought would be, "Oh, what ugly hateful creatures are we!"

Yes, Prime Minister

Those of you who like good comedy will like this episode of the satrical British Comedy Yes, Prime Minister. Wikipedia describes it as follows:
Yes Minister is a satirical British sitcom written by Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn that was first transmitted by BBC television and radio between 1980 and 1984. The sequel, Yes, Prime Minister, ran from 1986 to 1988. Together, the two series comprise 38 episodes, all but one of which last half an hour.
Set in the private office in Whitehall of a British government cabinet minister (and, in the second series, in 10 Downing Street), the series follows the ministerial career of James Hacker MP, played by Paul Eddington, and his various struggles to bring in legislation or departmental changes, opposed by the will of the British Civil Service, in particular his Permanent Secretary (senior civil servant), Sir Humphrey Appleby, played by Nigel Hawthorne and his more helpful Principal Private Secretary played by Derek Fowlds. Almost every programme ends with the eponymous line, "Yes, Minister" (or "Yes, Prime Minister"), uttered by Sir Humphrey as he quietly relishes his victory over his "political master" (or, occasionally, acknowledges defeat).
A huge critical and popular success, the series was the recipient of a number of awards, including several BAFTAs and in 2004 came sixth in Britain's Best Sitcom. It also gained notability as being the favourite television programme of the then British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher.
This episode is The Bishop's Gambit - a very cynical look at the appointment of CoE bishops.


From the Telegraph:
Doctors at a hospital popular with celebrity mothers will this week rebel against a proposed ban on providing contraceptives and abortion referrals and demand that Britain's most senior Catholic cleric step down as its patron.Staff at the Hospital of St John & St Elizabeth in north London, where actresses including Cate Blanchett and Emma Thompson and models such as Kate Moss and Heather Mills have given birth, are unhappy at a suggested new code of ethics which will prevent them offering any service that conflicts with Catholic teaching on the value of human rights.
The code will require doctors to refer any woman who inquires about contraception, the morning-after pill and abortion to another hospital and prevent the use of amniocentesis to detect Down's syndrome in unborn children and in vitro fertilisation for couples unable to conceive naturally.On Wednesday, the hospital's medical advisory committee will tell the hospital board that opposition to the proposed rules from staff and resident GPs is overwhelming. It will suggest that a "secular" code of ethics be adopted instead and call for Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor to resign as patron.
Dr Martin Scurr, the chairman of the hospital's ethics committee, has already informed board members of the advisory committee's position. In a letter, he told them: "It is to be anticipated that the Cardinal will withdraw his patronage from the hospital.
"The hospital will continue as a non-Catholic hospital, with a Catholic heritage, and a new ethics committee will subsequently be formed which must evolve a code of ethics which is acceptable to the secular cadre of clinicians of the hospital, in alignment with the jurisdiction of the General Medical Council."

Now, it's curious that the report seems to be saying that they hospital board will be asking the Cardinal to stand down, whereas Dr Scurr is anticipating that the Cardinal will stand down. It seems far more logical that the Cardinal will resign of his own accord rather than the hospital asking him to step down. I'm sure they'd love to keep him as a patron and have their 'secular ethics'.
Nicknamed "the poshest place to push" as a result of its popularity with celebrity mothers, the hospital was founded by the Catholic Church in 1856. Although it is a Roman Catholic charity, as a private hospital which charges fees for its services it also accepts referrals from the National Health Service and patients of all religious faiths.
Two years ago, Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor ordered an inquiry after the Linacre Centre of Health Care Ethics, a Catholic bioethical institute which at the time shared the site with the hospital, claimed that some doctors, most of whom were not Catholic, were flouting the existing code.
Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor later wrote to Lord Bridgeman, the chairman of the hospital, to say that a revised code would be produced and that the hospital had to abide by it. "There must be clarity that the hospital, being a Catholic hospital with a distinct vision of what is truly in the interests of human persons, cannot offer its patients, non-Catholic or Catholic, the whole range of services routinely accepted by many in modern secular society as being in a patient's best interest," he wrote.
Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor was, however, warned by some hospital executives that the code could lead to some GPs leaving the hospital and that GPs are obliged by their NHS contracts to refer patients whom they cannot assist to practitioners elsewhere.
Yesterday, a spokesman for Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor said: "The Cardinal is expecting that the board takes the decision to maintain the status quo under which the hospital operates as a Catholic institution."
However, he admitted that the Cardinal was likely to resign if he did not win the support of the board. "It is rightfully the board that decides," he said. "If they reject the new code of ethics then the Cardinal will have to consider his position."
Nicholas Bellord, the chairman of Restituta, a group set up to campaign for the hospital to keep its Catholic identity, said that his organisation would take "immediate legal action" if the code were not accepted in its entirety.
I'm curious as to what the hospital's charter has to say in terms of its relationship with the Church.

Good riddance Blair...

I don't 'blog much about politics, but I occasionally like to fire a futile broadside against Tony Blair's noxious re-ordering of Britain's unwritten constitution. Especially odious was his attempt to abolish the ancient office of the Lord Chancellor. [St Thomas More held that post!] It's therefore interesting to read Charles Moore's assessment of Blair's time in office:
Underneath Tony Blair's eloquent farewell oration in Sedgefield, this Sinatra theme tune was playing. I've climbed each and every highway, said Ol'Demon Eyes; you'll be sorry once I've faced the final curtain. Like the original, he clearly wants to give a great many last performances.
Mr Blair's words were self-centred, giving us his life story and trying to turn it into our island story. They made no mention of his successor, or even acknowledged that he would have one. "Good luck" were his last words to the British people. One felt he almost added: "You'll need it."
The speech unintentionally captured a fact about the past 10 years: we have, in many ways, been well led, but we have not been well governed.
For example, you need to know how to make laws. No individual will have this knowledge: it is by its nature a collective endeavour. It requires parliamentary draughtsmen, legal and financial advice, consultation with experts and interested parties, civil servants with the relevant departmental experience, ministers in charge of the brief, and legislators in both Houses who can argue over the precise meaning of words. It requires the assistance of professionals, the efficient functioning of institutions, and a feeling for history.
Under Mr Blair, all the above have been disrespected. In June 2003, for example, he took it into his head to abolish the office of Lord Chancellor. The Lord Chancellorship is an office far older and more complicated than that of the Prime Minister. It includes roles that are outside politics and outside the normal run of government. It has to do with the monarchy, the Church, the House of Lords and, of course, the judiciary.
On a Thursday night, Mr Blair let it be known that the Lord Chancellorship was no more. Among those not consulted were the head of the Lord Chancellor's Department, the Archbishops, the Lords, the Lord Chief Justice, and the Queen.
Fine, you might say - good to give all these panjandrums a smack in the eye. But in fact the decision violated Mr Blair's own "What matters is what works" soundbite. One of the consequences was that he found he couldn't abolish the Lord Chancellorship after all.
Much the same thing is happening right now. In January, it was suddenly announced that the Home Office would split. We are about to have a Continental-style Ministry of Justice. The judges were not consulted.
Soon the same minister, who, once Mr Brown kicks out Lord Falconer, will probably be a party politician rather than someone with a professional legal background, will have to run both the prisons and the judges. Living off the same budget, the interests of one will come under pressure from the other. That will not help impartial justice. What is the betting it will all have to be unscrambled almost as soon as it begins?
To govern, you have to understand that something existed before you came on the scene, and that something will continue to exist after you have left it.
That is why we have a Civil Service.
That last line is a little Sir Humphrey-ish, but I think that's a fair assessment of the malignity of the so-called constitutional reforms of 'New Labour'.

A hundred and fifty years ago, the famous Northcote-Trevelyan reforms of the Civil Service got rid of its partiality and its webs of patronage. Their purpose was "to mitigate the evils that result from the fragmentary character of the Service, and to introduce into it some elements of unity". New Labour looks ever so modern, but it has taken us back to the ancien régime pre-1853.
I wish I could think that Mr Brown's new "humble" government which he promised yesterday would put this to rights, but his record suggests that his sole idea of the "elements of unity" in government is "L'état, c'est moi". In this respect, he resembles Mr Blair.
There are rumours that Mr Brown will astonish us with a series of constitutional reforms. If so, I hope he will not think that the need for better governing is answered by having yet more government. This is simply a mistake, like thinking that the rule of law is the same thing as the rule of lawyers.
Never before in our history have we been so awash with people paid salaries to pass laws over us. But never have we had so few people who know how to run the country.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Excommunication, Exclusion from the Eucharist, Abortion Legislation and Canon Law

Dr Edward Peter's concise post is essential reading for anyone who wants to be informed about the various canonical issues that surround politicians, abortion and excommunication.
Very importantly he highlights the distinction between excommunication and being in a state of grave sin that excludes one from receiving Holy Communion:
Here's the Shorter Version: First, Canon 916. There are lots of mortal sins out there; if you commit any one of them, you're not supposed to go to Communion. It's your obligation to stay away. Next, Canon 915. Some mortal sins are committed under circumstances that, if the Church finds out about them, not only are you supposed to the stay away from Communion, but the Church is supposed to turn you away if you try to receive. Finally, Canon 1331. A few mortal sins are serious crimes under canon law; if you commit one of those, you can suffer the penalty of excommunication, and one of the consequences of excommunication is, you can't go to Communion.
He also draws the following conclusion that gels pretty well with my reading of the
1983 Code:
(3) Under the current Code, no one can be excommunicated (automatically or otherwise) for pro-abortion legislative activity. Such activity is nevertheless potentially punishable under other canons (e.g., Canon 1369) albeit not with excommunication. Moreover, particular legislation, personal precept, or contempt for lesser penalties, might make pro-abortion legislators liable to excommunication in the future. To my knowledge, though, none of these options is being pursued.
Please note... whilst the 1983 Code does not give excommunication is a possibility for
pro-abortion legislative activity, this does not exclude legislation of this sort being introuduced by bishops at a local level.
Anyway, his entire post should be read to make the above clear.

An Emperor in Exile...

From the Telegraph:
Napoleon's will to succeed even in exile and defeat has been revealed with the first full restoration of his two villas on the island of Elba.The French despot was banished to the island, 12 miles off the Italian coast, in 1814 after abdicating following his defeat by Britain and her continental allies.
Lord Liverpool, the prime minister, said Napoleon's exile had hit the Corsican "as hard as one can, and in the most vulnerable place". He tried committing suicide but failed, while one witness described him as a "wild animal in a cell" in his first months on Elba.
However, his delusions of glory and grandeur were swiftly recreated. During his nine-month stay he declared himself emperor of the island and set about building roads, passing laws and redesigning his residences.
Now, a £1 million restoration project on his two villas has stripped back layers of paint to reveal astonishing frescoes hailing Napoleon's victories at the head of the French armies.
Although his private home was a humble two-storey affair, he hired the court painter at Turin, Vincenzo Antonio Revelli, for a lavish decoration of the interior. In one room, Napoleon could remember his victories in Egypt 13 years earlier amid paintings of sphinxes and hieroglyphics.
In his bedroom, he could stare at a ceiling entirely covered in his personal symbol of the bee, alternating with the cross of the legion d'honneur. A list of furniture found in archives showed that the room was bare, except for a bed and an enormous free-standing mirror.
Although Napoleon at that stage was too poor to afford drapes and tapestries, Revelli simply painted the walls to look as if they were covered in expensive material.
Ever the soldier, Napoleon brought with him a canvas camp bed, which he set up in the garden to sleep on, and plotted over maps at his desk. It is said he forced his young son, Napoleon II, to sleep on the camp bed to instil soldierly grit at an early age.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Pope to Brazilian Bishops: It's about Christ!

Fr Z posts the English translation of Pope Benedict's address to the bishops in São Paolo's cathedral. It's very Benedict, taking up many of the themes he sees as being essential and adapting them to the demands of the Latin American situation. This address will be analysed to death, but the following passages struck me as significant.
2. With its traditional hospitality, Brazil is hosting the participants in the Fifth Conference of Latin American Bishops. I express my gratitude for the kind welcome given to its members, and my deep appreciation for the prayers of the Brazilian people, particularly their prayers for the success of the Bishops’ meeting in Aparecida.
This meeting is a great ecclesial event and part of the missionary outreach which Latin America needs to undertake, beginning here—on Brazilian soil. That is why I wished to speak first to you, the Bishops of Brazil, evoking these words, so rich in content, from the Letter to the Hebrews: Although he was Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him" (Heb 5:8-9). Filled with meaning, these verses speak of God’s compassion for us, as expressed in the passion of his Son. They speak of Christ’s obedience and his free, conscious acceptance of the Father’s plan, which appears most clearly in his prayer on the Mount of Olives: "Not my will, but yours, be done" (Lk 22:42). Jesus himself teaches us that the true way of salvation lies in conforming our will to the will of God. This is what we pray for in the third petition of the "Our Father": that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven, since wherever God’s will reigns, there the Kingdom of God is present. Jesus attracts us by his will, his filial will, and so he leads us to salvation. By freely accepting the will of God, in union with Jesus Christ, we open the world to God’s Kingdom.
We Bishops have come together to manifest this central truth, since we are directly bound to Christ, the Good Shepherd. The mission entrusted to us as teachers of the faith consists in recalling, in the words of the Apostle of the Gentiles, that our Saviour "desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim 2:4). This, and nothing else, is the purpose of the Church: the salvation of individual souls. For this reason the Father sent his Son, and in the Lord’s own words transmitted to us in the Gospel of Saint John, "as the Father has sent me, even so I send you" (Jn 20:21). Hence the mandate to preach the Gospel: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Mt 28:19-20). These words are simple yet sublime; they speak of our duty to proclaim the truth of the faith, the urgent need for the sacramental life, and the promise of Christ’s continual assistance to his Church. These are fundamental realities: they speak of instructing people in the faith and in Christian morality, and of celebrating the sacraments. Wherever God and his will are unknown, wherever faith in Jesus Christ and in his sacramental presence is lacking, the essential element for the solution of pressing social and political problems is also missing. Fidelity to the primacy of God and of his will, known and lived in communion with Jesus Christ, is the essential gift that we Bishops and priests must offer to our people (cf. Populorum Progressio, 21).
I think we can exaggerate the danger of liberation theology as a theological movement. The intellectual figures of the movement seem to have more or less run out of steam. However, it's quite clear that as a pastoral mindset, it's still very powerful and Pope Benedict is unabashedly proposing a clear alternative. It's all about Christ.
It's notable that Benedict says: " wherever God’s will reigns, there the Kingdom of God is present." I wish I had the command of Portuguese to figure out whether he is in his vocabulary making a rather pointed reference to various liberation theology ideas about the 'reign of God' (and they always call it the 'reign', never the 'Kingdom') being understood as some kind of social or material ordering of this world which the Church should be striving to organise - by means of revolution, if necessary. Benedict responds to this with a resounding 'no.' The Kingdom of God has to do with conforming ourselves to God's will.
The role of the Bishop, therefore, is about bringing individual souls to this truth and to the salvation which Christ offers. It's about preaching, teaching and bringing people to the sacraments. That is the primary duty of the Bishop.
It's only if we, as a Church, get this part of the mission correct that we can then talk about 'the pressing social and political problems.' This is a recurring theme and appears in his forthcoming Jesus of Nazareth. Putting it very crudely, Benedict argues that if we don't get God's role right or if we exclude him from our consideration when we try to do good for others, then we find ourselves in a situation where we can't really help our neighbour at all. God has the primacy in all human works and activities. The Church cannot really help the poor, if she is not first and foremost aware of her mission of evangelization. It strikes me as being something like the Augustinian doctrine of grace expressed in social terms.
Now, it should be made clear that by this is not meant any kind of crass neglect of the needs of the poor. Benedict is not saying that we should stop giving bread to the hungry and should instead be giving them Bibles. He means no such thing. Deus Caritas Est makes clear that the charitable activity of the Church is irreplaceable. However, this charitable activity most properly draws its inspiration from Christ and always puts His love and His salvation in first place. This priority we give to Christ enlightens and informs our charity and saves us from the real danger of seeing material assistance to the poor as an end in itself. It cannot be, because that is the same as saying that the material ordering of society is an end in itself and an ultimate value. Charitable activity which does not take Christ as its starting point runs the real risk of regressing into atheistic materialism.
This can and does happen within the Church. I'm sure that for many of my readers it'll only take a little thought to think of well-intentioned priests and religious who gave their all to some worthy project and cause, but ultimately ended up losing their vocation and their faith in the process. From such happenings, may God preserve us!

There is much else in the speech, and it manages to hit many of the big problems facing the Church in Latin America, but this little section in particular caught my eye:
As you know, among the various documents dealing with Christian unity, there is the Directory for Ecumenism published by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. Ecumenism—or the search for unity among Christians—has become in our time an increasingly urgent task for the Catholic Church, as is evident from the growth of intercultural exchange and the challenge of secularism. Consequently, given the rapidly growing number of new Christian denominations, and especially certain forms of often aggressive proselytism, the work of ecumenism has become more complex. In this context, a good historical and doctrinal formation is absolutely essential, so as to foster necessary discernment and lead to a better understanding of the specific identity of each of these communities, the elements that divide them, and those elements that can be helpful on the road to greater unity. The greatest area of common ground for collaboration should be the defence of fundamental moral values—transmitted by the biblical tradition—against the relativistic and consumerist cultural forces that seek to destroy them. Another such area is faith in God the Creator and in Jesus Christ his incarnate Son. Moreover, there will always be the principle of fraternal love and the search for mutual understanding and rapprochement. Yet we must also be concerned with defending the faith of our people, confirming them in the joyful certitude that "unica Christi Ecclesia…subsistit in Ecclesia catholica, a successore Petri et Episcopis in eius communione gubernata" ["The one Church of Christ…subsists in the Catholic Church which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him"] (Lumen Gentium, 8).
Here, and elsewhere in the speech, the Pope (as a good professor) stresses the importance of a formation that is strong doctrinally and intellectually. A certain intellectual flourishing will be needed if the challenge of the various Protestant sects are to be dealt with. I'm sure that Benedict would agree with Newman that to be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant.

The Virgin who is to be Preached

From Newman's Meditations and Devotions:
MARY is the Virgo Prædicanda, that is, the Virgin who to be proclaimed, to be heralded, literally, to be preached.
We are accustomed to preach abroad that which is wonderful, strange, rare, novel, important. Thus, when our Lord was coming, St. John the Baptist preached Him; then, the Apostles went into the wide world, and preached Christ. What is the highest, the rarest, the choicest prerogative of Mary? It is that she was without sin. When a woman in the crowd cried out to our Lord, "Blessed is the womb that bare Thee!" He answered, "More blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it." Those words were fulfilled in Mary. She was filled with grace in order to be the Mother of God. But it was a higher gift than her maternity to be thus sanctified and thus pure. Our Lord indeed would not have become her son unless He had first sanctified her; but still, the greater blessedness was to have that perfect sanctification. This then is why she is the Virgo Prædicanda; she is deserving to be preached abroad because she never committed any sin, even the least; because sin had no part in her; because, through the fulness of God's grace, she never thought a thought, or spoke a word, or did an action, which was displeasing, which was not most pleasing, to Almighty God; because in her was displayed the greatest triumph over the enemy of souls. Wherefore, when all seemed lost, in order to show what He could do for us all by dying for us; in order to show what human nature, His work, was capable of becoming; to show how utterly He could bring to naught the utmost efforts, the most concentrated malice of the foe, and reverse all the consequences of the Fall, our Lord began, even before His coming, to do His most wonderful act of redemption, in the person of her who was to be His Mother. By the merit of that Blood which was to be shed, He interposed to hinder her incurring the sin of Adam, before He had made on the Cross atonement for it. And therefore it is that we preach her who is the subject of this wonderful grace.
But she was the Virgo Prædicanda for another reason. When, why, what things do we preach? We preach what is not known, that it may become known. And hence the Apostles are said in Scripture to "preach Christ." To whom? To those who knew Him not—to the heathen world. Not to those who knew Him, but to those who did not know Him. Preaching is a gradual work: first one lesson, then another. Thus were the heathen brought into the Church gradually. And in like manner, the preaching of Mary to the children of the Church, and the devotion paid to her by them, has grown, grown gradually, with successive ages. Not so much preached about her in early times as in later. First she was preached as the Virgin of Virgins—then as the Mother of God—then as glorious in her Assumption—then as the Advocate of sinners—then as Immaculate in her Conception. And this last has been the special preaching of the present century; and thus that which was earliest in her own history is the latest in the Church's recognition of her.

Mis-reporting surely...

I can't believe that this article from the Telegraph has its facts straight:
Brazil's Roman Catholic bishops are at loggerheads with the Pope over plans to use the internet to reach out to a younger generation.
As Benedict XVI addressed 40,000 youths in Sao Paolo yesterday on the first day of his tour of Brazil, the country's Catholic leaders said that the Church had to embrace new technology to win back worshippers from the burgeoning evangelical movement.
They want remote communities and younger worshippers to be able celebrate Mass live over the internet. Celebrants would take communion by placing unleavened bread in front of their computer monitors to be consecrated.
The idea will be discussed on Sunday at the first Episcopal Conference of South American bishops to be held for a decade.
Monsignor Dimas Lara, the general secretary of the Brazilian Bishops' Conference, said: "It is pointless to talk about the evangelisation of the youth without discussing the internet.
"It may be a new thing for all of us, but it is necessary."
I cannot believe that any group of bishops could be taking seriously the idea of transubstantiation over the internet, and I suspect that Msgr Lara's comment is probably taken out of context. I expect he was just talking about the internet in general and its use in evangelization and/or the broadcasting of services.
The move could counter the severe shortage of clergy in some areas. Evangelists are winning over remote and poorer communities because they have 17 times as many pastors per worshipper as there are Catholic priests. However, the Pope has already dismissed the idea. In Sacrementum Caritatis, a document on the Eucharist which he issued in February, Benedict insisted that communion over the internet, or any other media, had "no spiritual value".
How nice! An actual quotation from Sacramentum Caritatis. Let's go to the English version to find the words "no spiritual value."
Hmmmm... a text search shows that the supposed quotation from Sacramentum Caritatis doesn't appear in the document. What the Pope actually says is:
Participation through the communications media
57. Thanks to the remarkable development of the communications media, the word "participation" has taken on a broader meaning in recent decades. We all gladly acknowledge that the media have also opened up new possibilities for the celebration of the Eucharist. This requires a specific preparation and a keen sense of responsibility on the part of pastoral workers in the sector. When Mass is broadcast on television, it inevitably tends to set an example. Particular care should therefore be taken to ensure that, in addition to taking place in suitable and well-appointed locations, the celebration respects the liturgical norms in force.
Finally, with regard to the value of taking part in Mass via the communications media, those who hear or view these broadcasts should be aware that, under normal circumstances, they do not fulfil the obligation of attending Mass. Visual images can represent reality, but they do not actually reproduce it. While it is most praiseworthy that the elderly and the sick participate in Sunday Mass through radio and television, the same cannot be said of those who think that such broadcasts dispense them from going to church and sharing in the eucharistic assembly in the living Church.
So what else does the Telegraph has to tell us?
The Vatican said yesterday that internet Mass was "no substitute" for going to church, but seemed prepared to turn a blind eye to the practice.
"I am sure internet Mass already exists," said Father Federico Lombardi, the papal spokesman. "I believe it is a way of involving more people, but it is obviously important to keep going to church and to personally participate. This is part of church life and the internet cannot replace it."
Again, the Telegraph seems to be totally missing the point - it doesn't sound like the "Vatican" is turning a blind eye to anything. I seriously doubt that Fr Lombardi's idea of "internet mass" has anything even remotely to do with what Malcolm Moore seems to think it is.
*Rolls eyes*

Thursday, May 10, 2007

After Asceticism...

Fr Tim Finnegan posts about about what looks like an interesting book called 'After Asceticism' and links to this article over at Catholic World News.
Personally, I think that one of the major difficulties concerning the approach to priestly celibacy and religious chastity is a lack of the big picture. Certainly, I think that there is much to be learned by viewing celibacy and chastity as positive and life-giving realities which elevate them above the level of mere discipline. However, there is, I think, a reluctance within the Church to speak of celibacy and chastity as ascetical disciplines, for fear of falling into too 'cold' an understanding of these realities. Both dimensions need to be affirmed. A denial of the fact that forgoing marital intimacy is an ascetical discipline is frankly delusional, and makes it all the harder for the priest or religious to cope if he or she is challenged in this part of his or her life. Expecting celibacy or vowed chastity to be a wholly liberating and joy-giving experience without the understanding that it can and will involve discipline, pain and sacrifice can very easily lead to total disillusionment if a difficult moment comes for the priest or religious. It is thus very easy to slip into the situation of seeing celibacy as being a resented imposition.
What is needed is a balanced approach - sober recognition of celibacy and chastity as an ascetical discipline as well as enthusiasm for the freedom of heart it gives the priest and religious for the love of God and the service of the Church.

Incidentally, the linked article makes a point that deserves much more exploration in contemporary theology. One of the clearest messages of the New Testament is that there is a struggle between spirit and flesh in the life of fallen man. It does not do, as so many theologians who have been poisoned by the body-worshipping cultus of modern society, to write this struggle with the flesh off as some form of dualism or gnosticism. The tradition of the Church and the testimony of scripture is quite clear - our corporeality is a gift of God and created good, but one of the key effects of Original Sin is a poisoning of the just relationship between flesh and spirit, meaning that the flesh is all too easily a motive of sin for us. Why has it become almost taboo to make this obvious observation?

19th Century Spy Camera

From the Telegraph:
A rare watch made to hide a spy camera was sold at auction for £21,600 yesterday.
The watch, made by Lancaster & Co in Birmingham in the 1880s, was one of only four known to exist and sold to an anonymous bidder at Bonhams in Knowle, West Midlands. The nickel-plated pocket watch, was brought to the auctioneers by the grandson of the original owner.
Lionel Hughes, Bonhams' camera specialist, said: "Such tiny cameras were the forerunners for the spy camera.
"However, it would have been very inconvenient to use as four very small catches had to be released in order to remove the glass screen and to fit a holder for each exposure."
He said as a result, the model, which was made in Birmingham, sadly sold badly and is much rarer than an later improved version. This specimen is particularly rare because it has a ladies' pattern.

Sassoon Medal...

A fascinating story from the Times:
The poet Siegfried Sassoon was on convalescent leave from the Western Front when, out walking one day, he was overwhelmed by a “paroxysm of frustration” and hurled his Military Cross into the Mersey. It was a passionate gesture that expressed all the rage and pain welling up inside one of the nation’s greatest war poets after his experiences in the trenches.
Or so it was widely thought, until the long-lost gallantry award turned up in a chest in his son’s attic in the Isle of Mull last summer.
The officer known as “Mad Jack” for his near-suicidal feats of daring had instead thrown the dress ribbon into the river. The medal itself will now be auctioned at Christie’s in London on June 6, where it is expected to fetch up to £25,000, about 200 times the value of an average First World War Military Cross (MC). Sassoon’s Webley revolver, found with it, has been given to the Imperial War Museum.
Mr Venning said that while Sassoon’s own account of the incident in his 1930 Memoirs of an Infantry Officer makes clear that he threw only the MC dress ribbon into the river, “this became conflated with the medal in the popular imagination so that most people who know a bit about Sassoon think he threw the medal in”.
Robert Pulvertaft, 45, whose stepfather George was Sassoon’s only son and who is selling the medal on behalf of the family, said yesterday: “I had no idea it even existed. Like most people, I thought it had been thrown into the Mersey.
“I found it while clearing out the attic of the family property on Mull. Bizarrely, it was in a treasure chest, like a pirates’ chest, covered in cobwebs and long-dead insects. The ID tag was there too, along with the revolver in an old Jiffy bag and some poetry medals.”
Sassoon won the MC for his actions on May 26, 1916, when he spent 90 minutes under fire during a raid on enemy trenches, collecting and bringing back British wounded and the dying.
On another occasion, he was so upset at witnessing a friend shot dead through the forehead in front of him that he single-handedly charged and captured a substantial German trench.
It's fascinating that even Sassoon's family thought the medal itself was thrown away, despite the accuracy of Sassoon's account. A lesson that we should read texts carefully and not allow our imagination to obscure what's written on the page.
Interestingly, after a somewhat dissolute life, Sassoon converted to Catholicism late in life:
Separated from his wife in 1945, Sassoon lived in seclusion at Heytesbury in Wiltshire, although he maintained contact with a circle which included E. M. Forster and J. R. Ackerley. One of his closest friends was the young cricketer, Dennis Silk. Towards the end of his long life, he was converted to Roman Catholicism, and was admitted to the faith at Downside Abbey, close to his home. He also paid regular visits to the nuns at Stanbrook Abbey, and the abbey press printed commemorative editions of some of his poems.
He died 7 days before his 81st birthday, and is buried at St Andrew's Church, Mells, Somerset, close to Ronald Knox, a Roman Catholic priest and writer whom he admired.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007


Normally I don't post this kind of stuff. Indeed, normally I don't even read about these so-called celebrities. However, how could one not smile at this story from the Times?:
Jail-bound socialite Paris Hilton urged fans today to sign a petition to pardon her "mistake" because she provides beauty and excitement to "(most of) our otherwise mundane lives".
The 26-year-old was ordered by a Los Angeles judge on Friday to report to a county jail by June 5 to serve a 45-day sentence for violating the terms of her probation in an alcohol-related reckless driving case.
She wrote on her blog: "My friend Joshua started this petition, please help and sihn (sic) it. i LOVE YOU ALL!!!!!"
The petition reads: "Paris Whitney Hilton is an American celebrity and socialite. She is an heiress to a share of the Hilton Hotel fortune, as well as to the real estate fortune of her father Richard Hilton. She provides hope for young people all over the U.S. and the world. She provides beauty and excitement to (most of) our otherwise mundane lives."
It adds: "We, the American public who support Paris, are shocked, dismayed and appalled by how Paris has been the person to be used as an example that Drunk Driving is wrong...


As one can see from today's Bolletino, when he flies out of Italy to a foreign country, the Pope sends a telegram of greetings to the President of Italy and the Heads of State of the countries he overflies.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Newman on Jerome...

Or two occasionally pricklish Cardinals.
A snippet from Newman's Church of the Fathers where he speaks about the honour we owe to saints, even ones we're not fond of...
[...] a word or two about St. Jerome. I do not scruple then to say, that, were he not a saint, there are words and ideas in his writings from which I should shrink; but as he is a saint, I shrink with greater reason from putting myself in opposition, even in minor matters and points of detail, to one who has the magisterium of the Church pledged to his saintly perfection. I cannot, indeed, force myself to approve or like these particulars on my private judgment or feeling; but I can receive things on faith against both the one and the other. And I readily and heartily do take on faith these characteristics, words or acts, of this great Doctor of the Universal Church; and think it is not less acceptable to God or to him to give him my religious homage than my human praise.
I suppose the irony is that there are not a few voices in the Church who would have to say the same if/when Newman is raised to the altars.
More on Iraq
Deacon Scott Dodge sends on this link to an article (in English) in 3 Giorni on the plight of Iraqi Christians:
In the Massaken Barzi district, in the small building refitted as a church and dedicated to Saint Abraham of Ur of the Chaldees, father of all believers, the collective tragedy fragments into individual stories of escape. There is Jalal, who worked in a sports center north of Baghdad and had to sell house and car to pay ransom to his daughter’s kidnappers. There is little Martin, who lost the power of speech for two years after they had tortured him so as to tape his screams and send it to his father. There is Nader, a huge man who worked for the oil companies, also kidnapped and released only after handing over 20,000 dollars. «Our money must have whetted the appetite of our neighbors. They kidnap the Christians because they know that many of us have relatives abroad ready to pay the ransom». But it is not only social visibility that stirs envy and criminal hatred. The husband of Sherma, a thirty-year old widow, was killed because he worked as an interpreter for the American companies. And the religious matrix of the invaders has furnished facile pretexts for the fanatical brutality of the Muslims. «They said we were servants of the Crusaders, they made my daughters wear the veil, they sent threatening letters: either you go or we’ll slit your throats», says Alisha. They say that in the last months the peak of new violence came after the Regensburg speech: «They threatened us: nobody goes into church until the Pope apologises to the Muslims. And they said that for us it was over there: get out, ask your Pope for asylum». Word of mouth spoke of some priests and various young Christians being killed in reprisal after Regensburg. Michel, a taxi-driver escaped from Mossul, is not afraid of appearing homesick: «Believe me, friend: before the war we lived in peace. We worked, and went home safely». Nobody raises objections. Almost all of them agree. «Because every war stirred up around these parts is always a war against the Christians, they are always the first to pay», Robert, a Syro-Catholic, an unsentimental tour operator from Aleppo, says bitterly.