Monday, 17 November 2014

Behold the Darkness

A Zoroastrian
Perhaps I should become a Zoroastrian.

With the changing of time, it has become very dark here in the North. It will soon be the case that there is just a few moments of twilight between Stygian doom. As a boy I remember going to school in the dark and coming home in the dark, precious moments of sunlight wasted sitting in classrooms, being talked at and copying.

How happy I am that my own teaching career (being a Chaplain Abroad, before becoming a Private Chaplain Abroad) was filled with sunshine and laughter even on the darkest of days. And what is more, I never came across a boy who disagreed with me... and lived.

I went to the library in the weakening light of early afternoon and settled down to read an edifying tome. Having been engrossed for a mere moment or two, I raised my eyes to see only the lights of the city pooling their lamps in the growing gloom. When I left in the late afternoon, it was nighttime.

Still, it makes the glow from the logs in my fire all the more homely, and the sunrise all the more welcome.

The Zoroastrians kept a sacred fire burning all the time, and I know that I shall miss my fire in the summer. But the Zoroastrian life is not for me, so I shall keep this picture and rejoice.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Do we still believe in Relics?

The other day I read the strangest thing. Cardinal Dolan of New York was refusing to dig up a dead man, chop him into pieces and divide the corpse among anyone who asked for it. Now why would you refuse to do that?

With such a bare few lines, most people would actually ask “How could anyone think for one minute that such a mutilation of human remains would be acceptable?”

St Yves' Skull
But then again, most people, sadly, are not Catholic. We in the Church do not bat an eyelid at the thought of a finger or piece of clothing, a skull or foot being on display, touched and even kissed. Indeed, as I write this I am in the presence of the thigh bone of Saint Felicissimus, a 1600 year old martyr from central Italy. For us it is perfectly normal to be surrounded by relics of the saints, often blood and bones. Every time a priest comes to the altar and kisses it, he is kissing the altar stone which contains the remains, no matter how small, of some saints.

In my last parish I offered relics to be venerated after Mass one day on their feast day. A parishioner stormed off in high dudgeon and later I received an email accusing me of “the worst excesses of the medieval Church!” I took it as a compliment.

"Worst excesses of the Medieval Church"? I don't think so!
But this practice of relics is not strange in the slightest. It fits into our normal habits as human beings. We often have photographs of dead relatives around the house, or a keepsake of a favourite granny. And as we remember the First World War, we remember all those women who carried around lockets of hair of their dead husband or sweetheart. We are surrounded by mementos of the dead. In life we have constant reminders of those who have gone before us. Perhaps we keep these things for sentimental reasons, but as we do so we go beyond the object itself. We would think it strange for a young man to wear a battered pair of cufflinks on his wedding day, so much at odds with his smart suit and impeccable tie. But we would have to choke back the tears when we found out that they were the ones his father wore at his wedding many years ago. A father who had recently died.

A relic is an object of the dead. Or even the person themselves. This can of course be taken to extremes. As well as carrying cremated remains around your neck in a “stylish and elegant pendant”, you can now turn your beloved’s ashes into a crystal or photo frame. How ironic if you turned them into an ashtray!* But I digress.

If you're going to turn them into anything, turn them into an ashtray.
It would be wrong and sinful, but at least it would be ironic.
The point of a relic is to remind us of the person. Part of its ancient meaning for us is being connected with the life and witness of the person whose relic it is. After I have gone up to the altar at the beginning of Mass I say in Latin “We beseech Thee, O Lord, by the merits of those of Thy saints whose relics are here, and of all the saints, that Thou wouldst vouchsafe to pardon me all my sins. Amen.” I am one with the Saints, those members of the Church who are now in Heaven, interceding for us, supporting us. And the truth is that we bring those people to mind when we are confronted with physical reminders of them. I have a deep regard for Saint Felicissimus of course (who doesn’t?) but I ask his prayers every time I come into this room because there is a huge bone of his just over there. I remember to pray for my grandfather when I wear his watch. Without Saint Felicissumus’ thigh or my grandfather’s watch, I would bring them to mind less often.

We are weak human beings and we need these things. Denying relics or denigrating them denies and denigrates something fundamental in the human soul. We cut ourselves off from the messiness of death and in the process we cut ourselves off from the wonderful messiness of life.

This is an ancient practice and must continue. I would love it if some day some middle aged priest looked up from his desk and saw again a weathered leg bone in a glass case and said “Ahhh yes, St Bede, the Chaplain Abroad, pray for us!”

How very human, how very Catholic and how very right.

* For Catholics who have been cremated their ashes have to be buried in the ground (not scattered). They should not become table decorations.

Published in 'Mass of Ages', the Latin Mass Society Magazine

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Tools of the Trade

With the coming of the month of November and the intensified prayers for the dead that the month brings about, there comes about the dusting down of the requiem things. If the day is a clear day, and the intention is for the repose of a soul, then I try to make sure that I say a proper Mass in black. And with that comes the things for the dead.

Some years ago I made some requiem altar cards. It is actually quite easy to do with computers and the like, and all else that was needed was a fine black pen, and a bit of time.

As you can see the main theme is skeletons. I was going through a danse macabre phase.

Of course you can easily use ‘normal’ altar cards, but the requiem ones mean that you never forget, for one moment, that this Holy Mass is particular.

Remember to pray for the dead.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Remember your instructions

I was sadly unable to attend Fr Kevin Knox-Lecky's requiem, but there is an account on the Clifton Latin Mass Society's web site, link here.

One of the important things to learn from this is not only to remember always to pray for the dead, but also to get your affairs in order.

Fr Kevin had clearly stated that he wanted his funeral to be in accord with the 1962 Latin Rites, and that is what he received, a sung Requiem Mass, attended in choir by the vast numbers of the Priests of my diocese and assisted by many, many of Christ's lay faithful. My Bishop, Declan Lang, attended, again in choir, and preached before the obsequies.

Bishop Declan Lang
If this can be done for a Priest, then it can be done for all of you. It is your right to have the rite of your choosing. I have, I fear, heard too often that "Fr couldn't do it, or get anyone in because you're all so busy". This is not true. There are Priests in every diocese who can say the old rites, and if not, then get on touch with the LMS of such like. It can be arranged.

And if a Bishop will do it for one of his sons, what Bishop or Priest could stand in the way of the funeral rites of the Children of God?

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Books, books, books

I am disobeying my postman. One of the lovely things about living in the countryside is that you get to know your postman. And jolly friendly they are too. My postman just told me to unplug my internet connection. This is not because he is a BT engineer in disguise, but because he just delivered a book which I had bought over the internet, but which, if I am brutally honest, I had forgotten about.

So I am disobeying this thoroughly nice chap, and will have to deal with the temptation, the oh so sweet temptation, to buy books.

This is a downside of being back in university... there are books around every corner! I even stood in front of a foreign language section in the library and looked at the spines. It was not even in western script... but they looked so lovely. So comforting. So good for you.

Imagine, then, my horror when I saw the following at the Theology Faculty in Durham...

...a book used only to prop open a window! Oh horror and sacrilege! How could such a thing happen, and happen in a place of learning, just yards away from where lie the bones of Holy St Bede the Venerable (cruelly appropriated at the so-called reformation).

This poor book, innocently doing nothing, just waiting to be opened and pour its wisdom into the waiting eye of the reader (hmmmm, pouring things into eyes sounds a bit odd to me). And then just to be subverted and deformed into being a window-keeping-open-device.

Well, let me tell you that I was most discomforted.

I just hope that it was a copy of "Synods - how to subvert them and use them for your own nefarious practices" by a certain German Cardinal!

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

The Cross

The Cross stands still outside St Mary's at Great Swinburn
The Cross stands still amid the turbulence of the world. The Carthusians had a whole theology about it (Stat crux dum volvitur orbis - the Cross stands still while the world turns). Nothing changed for them in their monastery while the world around them raged and revolved. It was said that they had never been reformed because they had no need to be reformed.

I believe they no longer say their old Mass nor read their old prayers. Everything build by man can and will wither and decay. Only the Cross stands.

This Cross is outside the Church in Great Swinburne. It stands against the bleak, rugged background of the Northumbrian countryside. There is something right about it. They fit together. The ground is stone with a thin covering of soil and grass. There would never have been great forests here, nor luxurious vegetation. What you see is what you get.

On the Cross, what you see is what you get.

In the Church, what you see is what you get.

It is our gift to the world.

Monday, 20 October 2014

The Things you Read...

I was re-reading "Light of the World" by Pope Benedict XVI, when I read this:

When, for example, in the name of non-discrimination, people try to force the Catholic Church to change her position on homosexuality or the ordination of women, then that means that she is no longer allowed to live out her own identity and that, instead, an abstract negative religion is being made into a tyrannical standard that everyone must follow... 
The danger is that reason - so-called Western reason - claims that it has now really recognized what is right and thus makes a claim to totality that is inimical to freedom...
No one is forced to be a Christian. But no one should be forced to live according to the "new religion" as though it alone were definitive and obligatory for all mankind.

That works for me.

Have I heard something like this recently from the Synod? Have I? Have I?


Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Fr Kevin Knox-Lecky r.i.p.

Fr  Kevin - photo from Clifton Diocesan website
We heard news of Fr Kevin's death a few days ago, and people all over the Diocese of Clifton and beyond are, I hope, offering up prayers for him.

We priests, even Diocesan brothers, can live quite independent lives, and do not necessarily meet up or support each other, but I can say that Fr Kevin was a kind and good friend.

I first came across him when I came to the Diocese of Clifton and became involved in signing for the Deaf Community. There were not too many of us signing priests around, and he taught me not just specifically Catholic signs, but a value of and deep connection with the Deaf Community in our Diocese. He had know them for years. He had seen their children be born and grow. He had buried and mourned with them.

Of course we do this with parishioners all the time, but this 'extra-ordinary' parish of the Deaf Community was solid and stable even as priests move from parish to parish. And the connection between a chaplain and this community is all the sweeter and more precious for the shared communication in a world which can sometimes be filled with deafening silence. He served them well, and Clifton Deaf Service will be infinitely the poorer for his death.

This really is all I want to say. This is where I knew him best, and giving a voice is all I can do for my deaf friends who are so very far away.

A Tridentine Requiem will be offered for him at his funeral, and I believe Bishop will Lang will preach. I am sorry I cannot be there to sign for him, or see signed prayers offered for the repose of his soul.

It was always funny, I thought, that the two of us were so caught up in both the Latin Mass and provision for the deaf and people who are hard of hearing. At one level it is a strange combination, at another it is the most natural in the world.

I have already offered Mass for the repose of his soul in the ancient Liturgy of the Church. I shall now sign his soul into the hands of our All-powerful and All-merciful Judge and King.

May he rest in peace.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Concerning the localised positivism of undifferentiated thought.

Now that is the title of a post. It is fantastic. If as you sit and read this your mind has started to think...

"Yeah, undifferentiated thought, now that is something that can easily lead to a form of positivism, and although I'm not sure I'd go that far, I suppose that you could argue that it is at times - though such language is not best used here - as kind of localised."

... then stop it, just stop it. Because I just made it up. Though I have to admit that it sounds just a bit spiffy and I am feeling distinctly cleverer for having written it down.

Now that's a well turned ankle
This is the danger of going back into academia. I had always loved the academic pursuit of a well turned phrase (rather like the bounder's pursuit of a well turned ankle - but I digress). But there are times when language can confuse rather than clarify, when it can make things much, much more complicated than what they actually need to be.

This is not to say that everything should be dumbed down to "John good. We do like John do" but if you get to localised positivism, then it's time to pack up and go home.

So what is the point of this. Well, apart from the fact I have been reading some dense theology and so I fear that my brain has started to leak from my ears, like jam that oozes from an overly filled doughnut, I am worried about the outcome of the synod in Rome on the family.

I just know that it is going to be very clever, and written in very clever ways, as Shakespeare said "full of sound and fury", and that in the process the purpose of writing it, namely to communicate to us what it is supposed to be saying, will be lost. Then we will spend years fighting over what it means. Sound familiar?

But then again, I may not want to know what the synod says, in which case I shall be as happy as Larry in not knowing what it is banging on about.

Anyway, here is a picture of a cat. They have no problems with undifferentiated thought, though some have been accused of positivism. It is, however, beyond my ability to say whether or not it was localised.

But I suspect it was.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Mass Times

From this Sunday there will be an extra Mass at Great Swinburne.

Holy Mass (Ordinary Form) 10.15am
Holy Mass (Extra-ordinary Form) noon

Everyone is most welcome. The postal code is NE48 4DQ, and here is a link to it on a map.

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