Sunday, 30 December 2007

Man, I Feel Like a Minority

The Curt Jester links to this disturbing article on the developing legal status of the "transgendered" and then asks the intriguing question, If people can be affirmed and legally recognised as being a woman when they are biologically male simply because they 'feel' like one, could a person also be affirmed and legally recognised as black if they were in fact white for the same reason?

Can we invent a category of transraced? Or would that bring two cultural taboos into an unwinnable conflict? Or, let's take another example, what about those who feel older than their biological age- the transaged? Can I be given a senior's card and get discounts in shopping centres because I get on better with folk over 50 than with people my own age (and like to wear waistcoats, to boot)? The list goes on.

I read somewhere a little while ago (I forget where) that if abortion had nothing to do with sex, it would still be seen as horrific and barbaric. I wonder if the same principle applies here. Its all about sex. If these things had nothing to do with sex, nobody would have gotten up to try to normalise them. Same principle as with homosexuality and the gay agenda. Our culture's relativism happens in very few other places.

Mind you, one question that does intrigue me is what the ratios are with these "transgendered" folk of men who 'feel' like women and women who 'feel' like men. Are there more of one than of the other? One usually only hears about the former. A related question: why is it that gay men are almost always effeminate (thankfully with the exception of Ian McKellen) whereas lesbians don't act more masculine? I've often wondered about that. What is the reason behind it and is it significant? Good luck getting someone to do research on that though. They'd probably be sued.

Saturday, 29 December 2007

Feast of St Thomas Becket

Oh, incidentally, I'm back.

And it seemed not inappropriate, after a long hiatus of no-blogging, to recommence on this, the feast of St Thomas Becket, the man whom I went to England in large part to encounter and to venerate. And so I did.

After two weeks and one day of walking across English farmland, up Downs and down Downs, through villages, towns and cities, woods and fields, I entered the ancient city of Canterbury, mother of English Christianity, and made my way to the cathedral like the pilgrims of old. There, I knelt and prayed on the spot where Thomas was united with Christ in death, on ground that, 837 years ago today, was stained with his blood and brains.

I have been back in Australia for a couple of weeks now, but today I wore my pilgrim's badge to work with a certain amount of pride. Also a certain sense of unworthiness. One thing about martyrs is they stand as a reproach and challenge to one's temporal attachments. The desires in us that have not been purified, that still seek after worthless things, or even seek after good things but make them an end in themselves rather than a means and signpost to the glory and beauty and goodness that are in God and Him alone- while sometimes we can ignore or excuse these, the martyrs show them up with monochrome starkness by living and embracing the alternative. And that alternative is the Cross.

I shall no doubt say more about the numerous events and epiphanies of my pilgrimage in the near future. For today, however, it is enough for me to recall the awful and numinous experience of kneeling in the place where an English archbishop completed his journey to Calvary, and thence to Heaven.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

I Am Pilgrim

...or will be as of tomorrow. This morning I spent several hours packing my rucksack and about the same amount of time sewing a red cross- the symbol and sign of a pilgrim- onto the shoulder of my coat (and if ever I had any doubts, I am now firm in my resolution to never seek a career as a tailor).
Here you can see my final destination.

Its going to take me a while to reach Canterbury Cathedral though. Over two weeks in fact. And what happens between now and then is anybody's guess. All is in God's hands though, and I'm pretty content to leave it there.

Libera me, Domine, ab vitiis meis, ut solius voluntatis tuae cupidus mihi sim.

The Mystery Worshipper

Funny the things you find when you are randomly browsing. I discovered this when doing a search for St Peters Catholic Church, Winchester, where I will be offering the Sacrifice this Sunday. I haven't looked through the site exhaustively, but I like the concept. And, moreover, St Peters in Winchester got a pretty decent review. Which is a bonus.

Monday, 5 November 2007

A Book That Needs to Be Written

Found this on the Curt Jester's blog. Funny and pertinent. Sounds like something G. K. Chesterton would suggest.

Saturday, 3 November 2007

Mala nostra Pelle

This morning I went to the Solemn Pontifical Mass at St Mary's Cathedral to give thanks to God for the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum. During the offertory, the Ave Maris Stella was sung and this line caught my eye: Mala nostra pelle.

For some reason, the phrase conjures up in my mind images of our good Cardinal laying into various representations of evil (rainbow sashes and poker machines leap to mind) with a mighty swing of his crozier. If I were more artistically inclined I would try to draw it. Of course the question does arise, if Pell were made into a Latin verb, which declension would it be?

Friday, 2 November 2007

St George poem- Chapter 1- Final Part

Caesar took my vows of duty,
Gave to me this sword,
But one day when my strencth is slack
I shall give the wer-blade back
And cease to call men to attack
Or surrender at his word.

Thus do earthly duties end,
Finite, short in time;
I would not trade my life for such
A transit'ry pantomime.

Other duties do I have
More ancient of degree;
I serve an older emperor
Whose reign predates the sea.

His subject is the mighty oak,
His throne the Alpine height,
He raises waters to the sky,
Makes the ocean depths to fly
Then makes them fall when fields are dry,
Of such moment His might.

Great Caesar, when his days grow long
And Pluto comes to take
Across the Styx his soul, the Senate
Of him a god will make.

But my liege lord, the one I serve,
Will never know such fame;
He, being God, became a man:
From world's beginning was His plan
Ere ever endless ages ran,
And thus He has remained.

His pow'r pervades every realm,
Pierces princes, pummels vice,
Guides the shipman at the helm,
Rules over both men and mice.
Sov'reignty o'er men is His gift
Which He imparts, which He can lift,
As He each person's life does sift
And judges justly every life.

His justice rules both men and beast;
He's canny- Him no creature 'scapes;
He knows the greatest and the least,
He knows their mind, their moods, their shapes.
I tell you truly, man of Silene,
If what you say is what has been,
And this thing your virgin people rapes,
My King can give to you a peace-
It lies nigh at the door-
A peace whose friends are hope and life
And solace for the poor.
A peace that brings an end to strife
And does not come with war.

His title is the Prince of Peace,
And puissant yet is He;
His lowly, loyal liegeman,
His servant-soldier do I be;
His will will I enact
Your people so to free;
While He is on my side,
Whatever may betide,
No fire-belching beast
Or baleful monster will I flee.

So I swear to you on my own soul
And by my own baptismal vows
That I shall make your people whole
And once again hoist spirits high,
For I shall make the beast to die.
Man, show the way. I will hence now.'

The End of the Internet

Funny stuff. Check it out.

St George poem- Chapter 1- Part 8

With douleur and with gay despair
The elder turned his back to go.
The soldier leapt and held his arm,
Without intending any harm,
But serious as an intoned psalm,
He spoke in tone sombre and low.

'My name is George,' the soldier said,
'A Roman soldier, I;
I do not fear a fearsome beast
Nor tremble when to die.
My soul is made of sterner stuff,
My heart beats bold and high.

Of peace to thee I lately spoke,
A peace that comes with war,
A peace with gifts attached to it
Of roads and Roman law;
But ill I spoke perhaps, for there's
A peace that counts for more.

You see this helm, this red-dyed cloak,
These boots, this gladius:
The symbols of my rank are they,
Esteemed and glorious.

And truly I'm great Caesar's man
And serve him with my life,
But there's agreater one than he,
Than whom a greater cannot be-
He makes the wretched blind to see
And brings an end to strife.

I am a Roman, goodly chief,
Its proudest citizen;
But greater is a kingdom
That transcends human ken;
And I too am its citizen
And member of that race;
My liege lord is the God of men
And arbiter of grace.

A dual citizen you see,
And Rome's the lesser part;
Rome and Caesar hold my flesh
But God does hold my heart.'

The Ever-Broadening Influence of Ebenezer Scrooge

In the Daily Telegraph this morning, buried in an out of the way corner where few but the most perceptive might find it, I discovered a somewhat unnerving article. Repairing to the website of the Daily Telegraph this evening to find the same article online, I was unable to locate it. However I did find its counterpart in the UK Daily Telegraph (since the article was about events in the UK anyway), in addition to a refreshing editorial by some chap I've never heard of before.

It seems we're stuck between the extremes of putting up Christmas decorations in mid-October (what the shopping centre where I work has done) or not putting them up at all. Me, I'm of two minds about the whole thing. A part of me loves the idea of Christmas as a public holiday (by which I mean one celebrated publicly)- one of the more enjoyable experiences of my life was strolling through the streets of London on Christmas 1999 and receiving several cheerful "Merry Christmas!"es from the few other folk who were also out and about that day. On the other hand, another part of me thinks it would not be such a bad thing for the Powers That Be to ban Christmas, because then the Christians might actually be free to celebrate it without the distractions of the Rush, endless nauseating advertising, and all the abominations of tackiness and kitsch that inevitably accompany it these days. More importantly, we might even be freed to observe Advent rather than have the feast forced on us while we should be preparing spiritually for it, then be prodded back to work the moment the real celebrations should just be beginning.

St George poem- Chapter 1- Part 7

'Six months ago we took a vow
That never in a thousand years
Would we allow Silene to burn
Again, nor let our eyes discern
That beast, the object of our fears.

That oath we took we've also kept
And grimly have maintained our vow;
And, sickly as our hearts have stood,
Not all our hands with blood stained could
Persuade us to repeal it now.

Dearly, dearly have we paid;
Our hands are bloody, cheeks tear-stained,
And something stalks us like a shade,
For now within our spirits gaunt
Not only does the creature haunt
But grossest guilt exacts its reign.

I thee adjure, Roman man,
To speak if my words ring not true.
Methinks it far the better plan
To make one die instead of all,
If any man should die at all;
The loss of one to save the few.

The blood of children rests on us;
We've chosen- chosen!- crimson hands;
Now every man that draws the straw
Must go and face that gaping maw
And let his blood soak in the sands.

Yes, every man that draws the short,
Whether he be chief or serf,
Must hence to that cave grimly go
With falt'ring steps of fear, and slow,
Knowing full well what we know-
That soon his bones will bleach the earth.

And whittled down has been our folk
In number, and in spirit too.
A pall hangs over old Silene;
Our womenfolk no longer preen;
No child should see what ours have seen,
Nor wake each morn to dread and rue.

Each week anew we play the game,
Take part in the unseemly draw,
To feed to that which hath no name
The one who draws the shortest straw
And send him hence alone to face
The baleful foe-thing of our race.
Who feeds on our flesh, alive and raw.

Like hallowed Hellas in years past,
We live a cruel democracy;
Here all are equals, all the same,
Not one exempt from this dread game
That we continue to our shame,
Not of honour but necessity.

The lowliest in this lost town
May draw the short and go to die,
Or yet the chief- that is, I-
May be found by th'identical fate
And march off to instatiate
The lusty creature's stomach sly.

And herein lies my greatest woe;
Of woes the worst, well nigh too great
For me. I lay yon on the ground
Starkly stricken, for fate had found
For me- that wretched, wily Fate!-
Apportioned for me, closed me round;
From me has torn like Hades' hound
What of all things on earth I know
And love the best- my daughter-
And grimly thence has made her go.

And so, O man, to thee I say-
For none may conquer me today!-
That Rome will from Silene withdraw
Until you draw the shortest straw
And go yourself down that grim way!'

Thursday, 1 November 2007

All Saints

Today is All Saints. This feast in particular makes me think of all the nameless blessed ones who lived and died in faithful obscurity, whose causes were never taken up by those who knew them. It puts me in mind of this passage from Lewis's The Great Divorce:

'All down one long aisle of the forest the undersides of the leafy branches had begun to tremble with dancing light: and on Earth I knew nothing so likely to produce this appearance as the reflected lights cast upward by moving water. A few moments later I realised my mistake. Some kind of procession was approaching us, and the light came from the persons who composed it.

First came bright Spirits, not the Spirits of men, who danced and scattered flowers- soundlessly falling, lightly drifting flowers, though by the standards of the ghost-world each petal would have weighed a hundred-weight and their fall would have been like the crashing of boulders. Then, on the left and right, at each side of the forest avenue, came youthful shapes, boys upon one hand and girls upon the other. If I could remember their singing and write down the notes, no man who read that score would ever grow sick or old. Between them went musicians, and after these a lady in whose honour all this was being done.

I cannot now remember whether she was naked or clothed. If she were naked, then it must have been the almost invisible penumbra of her courtesy and joy which produces in my memory the illusion of a great and shining train that followed her across the happy grass. If she were clothed, then the illusion of nakedness is doubtless due to the clarity with which her innermost spirit shone through the clothes. For clothes in that country are not a disguise: the spiritual body lives along each thread and turns them into living organs. A robe or a crown is there as much one of the wearer's features as a lip or an eye.

But I have forgotten. And only partly do I remember the unbearable beauty of her face.
"Is it?...Is it?" I whispered to my guide.
"Not at all," said he. "It's someone ye'll never have heard of. Her name on Earth was Sarah Smith and she lived at Golders Green."
"She seems to be...well, a person of particular importance?"
"Aye. She is one of the great ones. Ye have heard that fame in this country and fame on Earth are two different things."
"And who are these gigantic people...look! They're like emeralds...who are dancing and throwing flowers before her?"
"Haven't ye read your Milton? A thousand liveried angels lackey her."...

I looked at my Teacher in amazement.
"Yes," he said. "It is like when you throw a stone into a pool, and the concentric waves spread out further and further. Who knows where it will end? Redeemed humanity is still young, it has hardly come to its full strength. But already there is joy enough in the little finger of a great saint such as yonder lady to waken all the dead things of the universe into life."'

St George poem- Chapter 1- Part 6

"There is a cave not far from here,
A great wound in the ground,
Whose entrance opens into black-
If one goes down, he comes not back,
Nor is he ever found.

As one draws near a stench exudes
Of rotting flesh and bone;
The darkness there is palpable,
Of courage none is capable
When passing by alone.

From thence there came, not six months gone,
Out of the depths of earth
A beast, a monster, Silene's bane,
A living fear that hath no name
A creature from the deepest pit-
Some demon had begotten it-
A wyrm of woe-inducing lust
That crawls along and eats the dust,
The murderer of our mirth.

It fell upon our little town,
It terrorised our homes and streets,
It spewed forth flames and baleful fire,
More destructive than desire,
More enduring than love's heat.

The furnace in its belly flowed,
Its hot breath burned our huts to ash,
Cruel claws closed on our little ones
With hatred like the desert sun's,
As shameless as the slaveman's lash.

With teeth sharp as Egyptian scythes
On which our men were cruelly gored,
And eyes that pierce a soul with fear,
Like a snake's, a sickly gold they were,
More fearful than the deplorable word.

Their gaze was terror concentrate;
No man could stand before that stare.
So few could find the will to fight;
Cowards we were that grisly night,
Yet, spite of shame, we cowered there.

Like virgins in a city sacked,
Silene was ravished that bleak day;
All smoke and ash and blood of men
Did stain the ground of Silene when
At last the creature went away.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

All the Words in the English Language

This tickled my funny bone. Might be just me though.

Monday, 22 October 2007

Revelation in Hiddenness

I was at Mass last night and, after having received the Lord in Communion and in contemplating what I had just received, my mind was taken with something like an insight.

All day and every day I go through life with a deep and constant thirst, to be known, to be loved, to be appreciated (To be known AND loved, note- there are few more terrifying prospects in the world than to be known - fully and genuinely known- and despised). I go up to receive Communion. And I come away with that thirst still unquenched, still unsatisfied. Why?

My intellect knows that here, in Christ, there is love greater than any I could receive from any created being. Here is He who knows me completely (for He made me) and loves me totally and without reservation. And the sign and proof of it, indeed the reality itself, is here in the Blessed Sacrament, in His Body and Blood which I receive into my own body. Here is the end of all my desires, the goal and fulfillment of all my earthly loves, all my noblest impulses. Whatever yearning or longing I have, lying buried deep within me, it finds its object here.

And there are points in life when one gets a glimpse of it. When suddenly the reality of it hits you with such force as to overpower you. But the rest of the time, nothing. One leaves Mass unsatisfied, still longing for the love and appreciation of one's family and peers. Why?

Because these latter are concrete. The love, knowledge and appreciation of people feels more real than that of God because they are concrete. I can see people. I can hear them. I can touch them. They can look me in the eye and I can look them in theirs. And though Christ is human, I cannot do that with Him in the same way. The Blessed Sacrament is concrete but feels much less relational than looking someone in the eye.

Then another thought took me. For this reality is by no means unprecedented. I thought back to the Old Covenant. An idol is concrete. I can look at an idol. I can kneel before it. It gives me something to focus on in my prayers. Indeed, an idol would feel much more real than a nameless invisible Presence in a tent or a temple. How do you worship something invisible?

Yet it is that invisible God who is the real one. The idols might feel more real. They might satisfy the religious impulse in man in a way even Solomon's temple was powerless to do. But in the end they are just wood and stone. They are not gods at all. They are figments, concrete figments. The LORD God is reality, invisible reality but inescapably, genuinely, magnificently real.

Luther used to speak of the hiddenness of God and how, through that very hiddenness, God reveals Himself. For all my disagreements with him, I think he was right about that.

Our earthly loves do exist (unlike the gods of the ancient world) but they are shadows. True love, love that is a burning flame, more earnest and passionate than the greatest earthly love, is both revealed and hidden in the Blessed Sacrament. Though He seems to leave us lacking, no other thing will satisfy the deep longings of our hearts. Our mudpies are insufficient. We do far better to allow Him to lead us to the feast, even if we cannot always discern the food.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

St George poem- Chapter 1- Part 5

"Six months have gone since people here
Knew any touch of joy;
The gods now play a devil's game,
And we, their ill-used toy.

You do not know, O Roman man,
The horrors that we know.
The things we've seen no man must see
Nor meet with such a foe.

Our young men and our womenfolk
Have never known such fear;
You chose to seek a town of death
When you did venture here.

Six months have gone since first we saw
Persephone's deadly spawn,
Since first our sons were torn from us;
What gods we have, how treacherous
Was shown that bloody morn.

Ignorant are you, O man,
How ignorant and blind!
What have you known, what could you know
Of that which plagues our kind?"

The people wept, the soldier stood,
The chieftain grew more pale.
A dread air hung about the place
As the chief began their tale.

St Ignatius of Antioch

Today is the feast day of St Ignatius of Antioch. Who is, coincidentally, my patron and has played a key part in my spiritual life. His prayers are very powerful indeed. And St James would agree with me (James 5:16).

In fact, today, if the majority of our sources are correct, marks the 1900th anniversary of St Ignatius' martyrdom. That is an extraordinary thought.

To mark the occasion, I read over once more this morning St Ignatius' epistle to the Romans, which he wrote on his way to be martyred in the Coliseum. I was challenged yet again by the eagerness and joy with which he approached his impending death. 'Only then,' he says, 'shall I be truly a man.' 'I am God's wheat,' he writes a little further on, 'ground by the lions' teeth to become pure bread for Christ.'

Every time I read such words, every time I try to imagine what it must have been like, the concrete reality of it, to have one's flesh torn by lions, to be mauled to death in front of a crowd for their entertainment- and the deeper spiritual reality of it, to be joined to Christ in death, to spill one's blood literally (he would have seen it staining the ground with his last sight, seen it on the snouts of the lions as they continued to tear at him) for the sake of Christ, it bowls me over. I step back, awed.

That such a man exists is amazing to me. That such a man is praying for me is too wonderful for words. That Christ desires to make me into such a man is terrifying.

But He does desire it. His grace is sufficient for it. And it is precisely that that St Ignatius prays for me.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

I Want Babies!

Well, I don't. But apparently Schapelle Corby does.

Even though she's in jail, doesn't have a husband or the means to bring up a child. But in a consumerist culture, this is an acceptable sentiment. Because if I feel the urge to have children, then I darn well ought to be able to gratify it. And if nature hasn't equipped me with the means to do so, then I can enlist the aid of society. They understand my needs, after all. But of course, if I do enlist the aid of society to have children and thereby satisfy my maternal urges, society better only give me what I want, when I want and in exactly the quantity I want. Otherwise I'll sue the pants off them!

Am I the only one who weeps for the next generation?

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

St George poem Chapter 1- Part 4

A shadow passed across
The stalwart chieftain's face;
His furrowed brow drew tighter
In the manner of his race.

"Your peace is worthless, Roman!
I know your kind and kin.
I know you've men you buy and sell
And wars you always win;
I know of Gaul and German graves
And gods who love to sin.

I shun your peace, O Roman,
A peace that comes with war.
I've heard the tales of refugees
Who've seen the blood and gore
You spill upon the battlefield
From peoples you deplore.
Such peace this tribe can live without,
For though it keep us poor,
That is a little price to pay
To 'scape the Roman maw."

At this, the elder faltered.
His face grew dim and cold.
His eyes took on a distant look,
Like an ocean growing old.

His voice came out with raspy breath,
Unlike what it had been,
"Your emperors know nothing
Of the things that I have seen."

Monday, 24 September 2007

The Broom of Destruction

The prophets have some very vivid imagery. Yesterday I happened upon this brilliant chestnut in Isaiah:

I will sweep it with the broom of destruction, says the LORD of hosts. (Isaiah 14:23)

Monday, 17 September 2007

Priests of Two Covenants

The other day in my daily Scripture reading I came across this passage in Acts, upon which I had hitherto never really remarked.

Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith. (Acts 6:7)
As I read it, the thought struck me. Many of the priests became obedient to the faith. The priests-those who served in the Temple, who faithfully administered the ablutions, the drink offerings, the burnt offerings, the grain offerings, descendants of Aaron all- became believers. In much of the rest of Acts, we see the Jewish leaders, both Sadducees (amongst whom most of the priestly classes could be counted) and Pharisees aggressively opposed to the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is an agreeable thought then to realise that in fact those reactions were not representative of the entire Judaic establishment. For "many of the priests were obedient to the faith". Not just a couple. Many.

And that leads into an even more compelling idea. How many, I wonder, of these Jewish priests would later have been ordained into the Christian priesthood? How many who had spent much of their lives offering the sacrifices of the Old Covenant would then have been privileged to offer the Sacrifice of the New? It is a delightful thing to ponder.
It was pointed out to me when I mentioned this to a friend that these priests would have had to wait a while. We have every reason to believe that, certainly until the time of the persecution following Stephen's martyrdom and the consequent dispersion of the Christians from Jerusalem (most notably to Antioch to the north), the only ordained ministers were those Christ Himself had ordained, that is, the Apostles. Sometime after the dispersion, and certainly by the time of Paul's first missionary journey (at the very latest), however, the Twelve would have begun to ordain their first successors. And who better to offer the Sacrifice for the people and pastor the new flocks popping up in different cities than those who had already been sacrificing and pastoring under the Old Covenant and had passed from Old to New organically? Those who had been priests in the order of Aaron could now be drawn up into a priesthood according to the order of Melchizedek. The shadow passing into the reality. The type passing into the fulfillment.

"Do not think I came to destroy the Torah...I came not to destroy but to fulfill."

At this crossover period when one covenant was barely over and the new barely begun, it is agreeable to ponder those who lived and, very possibly, ministered under both. It is indeed a wonderful thought. Speculative, I grant you, but by no means improbable. And who can think of the possibility without marvelling somewhat at the magnificent brilliance of God's designs?

Friday, 14 September 2007

The Dream of the Rood

Today is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. To commemorate it, and also to assist me in my own prayers and in living out the spirit of this feast in my life, I offer an excerpt from the ancient English poem, "The Dream of the Rood". One of these days I will have to attempt my own translation of it, but for now I give it in the original.

Syllic wæs se sigebeam, and ic synnum fah,
forwundod mid wommum. Geseah ic wuldres treow
wædum geweorðod wynnum scinan,
gegyred mid golde, gimmas hæfdon
bewrigen weorðlice Wealdendes treow.
Hwæðre ic þurh þæt gold ongytan meahte
earmra ærgewin, þæt hit ærest ongan
swætan on þa swiðran healfe.all ic wæs mid sorgum gedrefed,
forht ic wæs for þære fægran gesyhðe; geseah ic þæt fuse beacen
wendan wædum and bleom: hwilum hit wæs mid wætan bestemed,
besyled mid swates gange, hwilum mid since gegyrwed.
Hwæðre ic þær licgende lange hwile
beheold hreowcearig Hælendes treow,
oð þæt ic gehyrde þæt hit hleoðrode…

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

St George poem Chapter 1- Part 3

Sure enough, this mudbrick hut
Bedraped with thatch and tar
For generations now had been
The place where chieftains are.

The soldier was expected,
For a man stood by the door.
Authority stood on his brow
But stiffness in his jaw.

His robes were wound about him
In shades of brown and cream;
With stony stare and piercing eye
A statue did he seem.

A beard of black and tousled hair
Clung furiously to his face;
The soldier stood, saluted him,
Then bowed with Roman grace.

A very contrast did they seem
To the folk who gathered round-
Th'imperial armed with soldiers' gear,
The village elder bowed with years-
Never had such a sight appeared
Within this little town.

At last the village elder spoke,
"Good sir, you've travelled far.
We are simple people here,
But we will welcome without fear
An honest traveller."

"You need not fear me, noble chief,
For it is peace I bring-
The peace of purpled emperors
And th'eagle on the wing;
A peace that reaches far and wide,
That roams o'er land and sea;
The peace that rules an empire
Is what I bring to thee."

Monday, 27 August 2007

Sirach on Gossip

I've been reading in Sirach of late as part of my daily Bible reading. Hadn't read it before, it being one of the deuterocanonical books. That, incidentally, is one of the cooler parts about going from Protestant Evangelical to Catholic- suddenly one has more books in the Bible. Brilliant! Like on Christmas morning when one thinks the gift-giving has come to an end, then without warning Father pulls from some hidden corner a bicycle or a puppy.

Anyway, Sirach. I went into it having no idea what sort of book it was. As it turns out, it belongs in the Wisdom Literature, along with Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the rest. Quite long too. I'm up to ch25 and it shows no sign of letting up (just checked: it has 51 chapters. Gosh, its longer than Genesis! Hadn't realised that before). Quite enjoying it though. It has some admirable little tidbits and very quotable, such as "A slip on the pavement is better than a slip of the tongue" (Sir 20:18- I wonder if the pun exists in the original Hebrew as well) or "An ungracious man is like a story told at the wrong time." (Sir 20:19) Some are quite thought-provoking, like "The mind of fools is in their mouth, but the mouth of wise men is in their mind" (Sir 21:26) Still trying to work out exactly what that means.

One of the wonderful properties of Scripture, though, is to hold up a mirror to oneself and allow one to see oneself as one truly is. I had such an experience today.

One of my besetting sins is to tell tales out of school, as the expression goes. Coupled with this, given my inquisitive and curious nature, is the habitual desire to discover such tales in the first place, i.e. find out what is going on in people's lives (usually simply to satisfy my own curiosity) and pry into other people's affairs, often in subtle or manipulative ways (though probably not as subtle as I imagine).

So this morning, I read this: "He who controls his tongue will live without strife, and for one who hates gossip evil is lessened. Never repeat a conversation and you will lose nothing at all. With friend or foe do not report it, and unless it would be a sin for you, do not disclose it; for someone has heard you and watched you, and when the time comes he will hate you. Have you heard a word? Let it die with you. Be brave! It will not make you burst! With such a word a fool will suffer pangs like a woman in labour with a child. Like an arrow stuck in the flesh of the thigh, so is a word inside a fool." (Sir 19: 6-12)

This is pretty arresting stuff, I find. For oh, how well do I know those pangs when I want to say something given me in confidence (especially if I know the other person would really like to know) or share that really juicy anecdote. You've been complaining about so-and-so already, but listen, you don't know the half of it!

What does the Scripture say to me in that situation? It minces no words. You're a fool, it says (Ouch!). Hold your tongue. Be brave. It will not make you burst.

These are the words of Scripture to me. May I hear them and, by the grace of God, put them into practice. "O that a guard were set over my mouth, and a seal of prudence on my lips, that it may keep me from falling, so that my tongue may not destroy me." (Sir 22:27). To which I respond, Amen.

Sunday, 26 August 2007

St George poem Chapter 1- Part 2

A man born of such noble stock
Came riding into town
At the edge of Caesar's empire,
In desert-laden Libya
And children crowded round.

The sun beat down on brown-burned rocks
With blinding glare and keen.
The glare obscured the soldier's view
As regally he rode into
The town known as Silene.

A pale grey lizard sunned himself
Upon a stone nearby;
The sand kicked up and flies buzzed round
As proudly he passed by.

From sand-strewn steppes, from over dunes
And desert did he come
To seek this small embattled town
Girt round by sand and sun.

Entrusted by superiors
To seek this town he came,
For servants of great Caesar
Sought submission to his name.

But the machina of empire
And policies of Rome
Meant naught to these young girls and boys
Who laughed and leaped and made such noise
And marvelled at this soldier's poise,
A stranger in their home.

Nor children only came to see
This curiosity-
From mudbrick doorways faces peered,
Young men grinned, women cheered,
In old men's faces fear appeared:
They knew a thing or three.

And a certain apprehension hung
In the dry air of the place,
Disguised behind the carefree air
And excitement in each face.

But soldier-like the man rode on
To one house in the square.
He'd been to towns like this before,
And prior knowledge told him sure
The chieftain would be there.

St Louis and More Redemption of Politics

Yesterday was the feast of St Louis. That is to say, of King Louis IX of France.

France has the great honour (now probably forgotten or regarded with indifference by the majority of its people) of having been ruled at one time by a saint. Not every country can claim this.

Of course there are others. England has St Edward the Confessor, though he is remembered more for being the last Anglo-Saxon king of England than for anything he did (except perhaps for building Westminster Abbey). Further east, you have St Wenceslas of Bohemia, about whom the popular carol was written.

It is interesting to reflect on this property of the Catholic faith to raise up and venerate certain politicians and statesmen, while at the same time behaving towards their power itself with a certain aloofness. The Church is strange like this. And yet at the same time curiously sane. She does not seek to supplant or grasp after the power of kings and emperors. No Pope has sought to become an emperor. The few bishops who have become statesmen in their own right have been roundly condemned (Cardinal Richelieu leaps to mind).
On the other hand, the Church has never deified politicians or men of power, as was too often the way in the ancient world. The kingship of Christ is on a quite different plane from any earthly rule. The Church has a different sort of power.
Yet the Church does not write off political power and regard it as something inherently tainted. When those that do possess it do so in a Christ-like manner, she has absolutely no problem with canonising them and holding them up as examples to be followed and whose prayers may be requested.

Nowhere is this tendency demonstrated so clearly as in the case of St Louis. For at the same time that Louis was ruling his kingdom, engaging in diplomacy, helping the poor of the realm, praying daily in his chapel and seeking to gain support for the Crusade, Emperor Frederick Barbarossa was wreaking havoc on the Church in Germany and invading Italy to try to supplant the Pope.

St Louis could have done the same if he had wanted. Afterall, the first Holy Roman Emperor had been French. And the resources (which he was trying to pour into a new Crusade) could easily have been turned to an invasion of Italy (he was, in fact, invited to invade Sicily at one point, but refused). Both king and emperor had power and prestige comparable to each other. What, then, was the difference between Louis and Frederick?

Simply this- one conformed his life to the image of Christ, and one did not.

And there one has the whole answer. The old adage, "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely" is a dangerous half-truth. True enough on the natural plane, Jesus Christ changes the equation completely. Just as, when He touched the leper, He not only did not contract leprosy Himself, but actually cured the other man of his, so political power, if (and only if) touched by Christ will not only not disfigure the Christian faith itself (as many fear- "We don't want a theocracy!", they cry) but will sanctify the man who holds it. This indeed is what happened with King St Louis IX of France.

Friday, 24 August 2007

St George poem Chapter 1- Part 1

Finished Chapter 1 of my poem on St George. Fairly happy with it, though some editing is still needed. I'll post it in installments again as it is quite long (update: Blogger seems to suddenly be having trouble separating the stanzas- just to let you know, there should be spaces in there- its not just one very long stanza). Comments and criticisms are, of course, appreciated.

A weary world lies round the sea
At the centre of the earth;
A weary world awaiting death,
Or maybe a new birth,
For hedonism holds right well
The heart of king and serf.
The dying throes of empire
By dusk and day do sound;
Quite faint at times, at others loud,
Yet few could there be found,
While blood in the arena
Would gather men around
And willing men would enter in
And shed it on the ground-
Yes, few there were those echoes heard,
And those that did said not a word.
But Rome was great ere emperors
Took up the purple cloth,
Made great by good and simple men
With calculated wrath.
For generals might fight amongst,
And politics turn sour,
But every legionary-man
Stood ready for his hour.
And on the backs of men like this
The emperors rose high;
Great lustful, violent, ruthless folk
Who always meant the words they spoke,
Whose backs and spirits seldom broke,
Who looked death in the eye.
The purple-laden ones might well
Bicker like a boy,
But all the while soldiers stood
And smiled, true sons of Troy.
And civil wars might come to pass
And men be called to fight;
So fight they would, and bravely,
Be the cause of it wrong or right.
Barbarians would one day fill
The shoes of these good men;
They'd fight for Rome, and bravely,
But it was not home to them.
Pro patria- the legionary's cry;
His home was why he fought,
And he'd defend it with his life
Through any ill-begotten strife,
Protect home, children, land and wife,
Fight on without a thought.

How Sweet the Sound

I've been doing some more reflecting on the film "Amazing Grace' of late. Its been a couple of weeks since I saw it and so I've had a bit of time to chew it over. Like a tough but flavoursome steak. Or something like that.

One of the things that strikes me more and more as I think about it is the depiction of John Newton and, specifically, his experience of grace, about which he so famously wrote. When I was growing up, John Newton was a bit of a legendary figure at church, like King Arthur or Robin Hood. We would often sing "Amazing Grace" and the pastor at the time (Adrian Tepper, of hallowed memory) would never fail to mention Newton and give a brief outline of his story before we commenced the singing. He had run a slave-ship, we were told. He had been converted. He wrote this song. That was the template of his life I understood as a boy.

With the kind of religious atmosphere that surrounded us, one got the impression that it was a clean cut. Like those weight loss 'before' and 'after' photos. Once he was evil. Then he was good. Whether or not something like this was said explicitly, that was the impression one received because that was how conversion was generally treated. One's life was divided into pre-grace and post-grace with the yawning abyss of a single moment dividing the two (one took pride if one could remember the date of that moment). This all seemed perfectly normal. Grace worked like that.

At first, as I watched "Amazing Grace" I expected the depiction of John Newton to fall in line with my boyhood impressions. And at first it does. William Wilberforce gets up in a tavern, gives a short spiel about Newton's life to a bunch of slave-owners and then sings the first verse of the song. Exactly like we used to do at church. Imagine my surprise then when I saw how John Newton himself is depicted in the film.

In "Amazing Grace" we only ever see Newton well after his conversion. His slaver days are long behind him. And yet he is a man haunted by his sins. "Every day," he says, "I am haunted by 8000 African ghosts- ghosts of the men who died on my ships." His faith is no less sure. When we first meet him, he is reminiscing and advising William Wilberforce. Yet he seems keenly aware that the sins of his past were not committed by someone else but by him, and that that is something he has to live with, something that does not go away. When William Wilberforce asks him to aid the Abolitionist cause by writing a memoir of his slaver days, he cannot bring himself to do it.

The film does not leave him there, however. Near the end, after the passing of years, Wilberforce comes to visit him again. Newton is blind now ("I once was blind but now I see," he muses, "I wrote that, you know."). Yet it is now that he can summon the strength to write down the sins of his past life. "Only two things I know:" he says, "I am a great sinner, and Christ is a great Saviour." At the end, when the crucial vote is cast, he is in the mezzanine overlooking Parliament.

Grace builds on nature, as the Fathers were so fond of saying. Grace is not magic. In the life of John Newton, its action was not instant but like yeast in bread (actually didn't someone else use that same metaphor for something similar? Luke 13:20-21).

It is perhaps only relatively recently in my Christian walk that I have come to appreciate the fact that both sin and grace are realities. That may sound like a strange thing to say. But there is a certain form of Christianity which treats them rather like legal decrees. One sits under a sentence of condemnation- that is what sin is. Then one receives a pardon and is declared acquitted- that is what grace is. There is a certain warrant for this biblically, if one restricts oneself to a particular set of passages, but not as much as one might think (none whatsoever, according to N.T. Wright) and a reading of the entire Scriptures offers a rather different picture.

The image I have found more helpful is that of a drug addiction. There is a moment when you cease to take the drug, when you have your last bong or whatever. But then you've got the consequences to deal with, the damage the stuff has done to your body, the cravings, etc. Sin is a poison. It is an acid. It eats away at our souls. It cripples us, emotionally, mentally, spiritually and sometimes even physically. That doesn't go away in an instant.
Human beings are creatures of time and process. Grace does not treat us as though we were not. It builds on our nature rather than obliterate it. The poison must be sucked out. The burns must be healed, not just bandaged over. Grace alone can do it- I certainly can't do it on my own, any more than I could do my own open-heart surgery.
But grace is not a diploma, a title. It is life itself. It is the Blood of Christ in my veins; the sap of the True Vine; the antivenom. It has to be pumped through my system, get to where the poison is and nullify it.

The cravings will one day stop. There will come a day when the work of grace will be complete, when I will no longer desire the drug of sin, that everything contrary to God's will will repulse me. But that day is not yet. I'm still in rehab. My system is still being purged, my soul still being cleansed. Grace is a reality though. And it is effective. It effects real change in me. As long as I submit to it, the work will continue apace. This is called justification.

John Newton's life, as depicted in the film "Amazing Grace", is a reminder to me that the life of grace is a journey (and that that shouldn't surprise me), and also that that journey has an end. And you know what? Suddenly that song takes on new meaning for me.

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, among others...

God seems to be getting into a strange habit in my life of displaying His hand especially clearly on major feast days. Today was no exception.

Today, August 15, is the Feast of the Assumption. Today we commemorate the Blessed Mother being assumed, body and soul, into the immediate presence of Almighty God (I have inherited from Andrew Katay a dislike for the term "heaven" since it can mean several different things, between which necessary distinctions are seldom made so, as often as not, upon hearing the term, people conjure up in their minds a Platonic state in which disembodied spirits blissfully roam somewhere near a vaguely anthropomorphic God- when speaking of heaven it is perhaps more useful to be explicit about what it entails). The Blessed Mother is, of course, one of only four people to whom this has happened, the others being Enoch, Moses and Elijah. Some question hovers over whether our Lady died first and then was assumed, like Moses, or whether the entire thing happened without her dying, like with Enoch and Elijah. For my own part, I side with the Eastern churches (and, coincidentally, with the early Church) in suspecting that it was the former (one will notice that, in the icon above, her tomb is shown indicating that the iconographer agrees with me).

But back to my own experience of the feast. The Assumption is one of the few remaining holy days of obligation (the other that doesn't fall on a Sunday is, if memory serves, Christmas) and so I was pretty keen to get to Mass. Since I work, my only option was to go in the evening. There were some Masses locally at 6:45am, but given the traffic on the M4 I would not have been able to attend one of those without being late for work.

Not to worry, I imagined; I'll call up a local parish, find out their evening Mass time and go along.

Fittingly, given the feast, I had made the assumption that most parishes would have an evening Mass on a holy day. Unlike that of the Blessed Mother, however, this assumption turned out to be decidedly ill-founded.
Before leaving for work this morning, I jotted down phone numbers for the parish near my house and the parish near my work. I thought if one didn't work out, I could go to the other one. So during spare moments at work, I called each of them. As it turned out, in each case the last Mass of the day was at 9am (!?). 9 in the morning! And they expect all Catholics to get to Mass today? The people who organise these things must all be either seriously out-of-touch clergy or retired! Don't they realise some of us have jobs? Such were some of the angry thoughts that leapt to my mind as my blood pressure began steadily to climb.

Of course, this was not entirely fair. A lot of churches, I discovered, had had Vigil Masses last night, in keeping with the Jewish reckoning of days the Church still follows. My problem of course, apart from not being sufficiently prepared, was that I don't follow the Jewish reckoning of days and therefore assume that days start in the morning rather than the previous evening. Another ill-founded assumption.

With the real possibility that I might miss out on Mass on a holy day of obligation, I began desperately casting around to people I know (those in the know- or with Internet access) who might know of somewhere with an evening Mass. A couple in the city had a 6:30pm one, but since I finish at 5:30 I wouldn't be able to get there in time from work, again given the traffic on the M4. Stress levels continued to escalate.

Of course I realised if I was physically unable to get to Mass on a holy day of obligation, no culpability would attach to me. But here's the rub- I really like Mass, and I didn't actually want to miss it. Especially on such a great feast day.

Nobody I called knew of any Masses that I could reasonably get to. And so, with my boss probably getting tired of me asking whether I could make a quick phonecall from the work phone, I set about unpacking summer stock (a surprisingly relaxing occupation) and sought to calm myself somewhat.

Okay, Lord, I prayed, these are my circumstances. I've done everything I can about them. I realise the circumstances themselves don't matter. You've orchestrated them for a reason. What matters is how I react to them. Fill me with your grace. Help me to regard the situation with Your eyes and react the way You would want me to.

So I continued to work the rest of the day, offering up that prayer (or the gist of it) several times, though always remaining a bit on edge, as one does when one's immediate future is uncertain. I would have settled for anything in that frame of mind. Liturgical abuses, dodgy sermon, you name it. I just wanted to offer the Sacrifice somewhere.

Then around 4pm I got a text message. It was from one of the friends I had called earlier in the day and read simply "Belfield at 7pm".

God often answers our prayers over and above what we expect. I hadn't even considered looking up St Michaels Belfield earlier. The name hadn't even occurred to me. Of course I knew the church. It is the site of the annual Call to Holiness Conference and, moreover, I once gave my testimony in the Church hall. Behold the gratuitousness of God's answers to prayer. I would have willingly gone to the most gauche, 70s inspired monstrosity with happy-clappy music and organised teams of elderly extraordinary ministers if needs be. I was so desperate even that would have sufficed for me. But instead, God sent me to one of the most beautiful and reverent churches in the Sydney Archdiocese, with one of the most gung-ho and systematic preacher-priests I've met (excluding, I have to say, Fr Greg Jordan SJ!)- Fr Robert Slattery- who memorably remarked at the end of Mass once, "Go outside if you want to talk. We don't talk in here. This is a church!"

His homily was appropriately direct and illuminating (focusing on the antiquity of our knowledge of Mary's assumption and then on its significance as a precursor to our glorification in Christ and on the Blessed Mother as an image of what the grace of God will do in all of us ultimately) and the offering of the Sacrifice was beautiful and moving. Communion was, as ever, terrible and thrilling.

So here I am at the end of the day meditating on God's mercies, given in supreme love and in spite of my earlier frustration. Its very humbling, truth be told, to be on the receiving end of such practical evidences of God's love for me. But thats the kind of God we have. Thats the kind of God the Blessed Mother now worships every day. Thats the kind of God whose glory she enjoys and reflects. Thats the kind of God I too am called to imitate. Magnificat anima mea Dominum!

Friday, 10 August 2007

What is Cardinal Pell up to?

Well, this is interesting.

Looks like the revolution has begun. And, blow me down, the media outrage has so far been fairly understated. Some of them even seem mildly supportive (for example, the Telegraph's Editorial states, "In short, what the Bishops are suggesting is a greater emphasis on the core tenet of Catholic education - which is that the teachings of the Catholic Church should be at the foundation of what is offered in Catholic schools. Why should that come as a surprise to anyone?" Why indeed?). Of course this impression may simply be a result of my avoidance of the SMH. Still, if even some of them get it, this is indeed promising.

And indeed the move is long overdue. For example, I understand that the vast majority of enrolments in seminary in the Sydney Archdiocese over the past couple of years have come from graduates of public schools. In addition, at the non-denominational private school I attended as a young whippersnapper (well, all of eight years ago), one of the requirements to teach was a sincerely-held and regularly-practiced Christian faith. By contrast, until now, as far as I understand it, teachers in Catholic schools have only had to make a vague commitment to some ill-defined entity known as "the ethos of the school".

Of course, realistically, these top-down sort of moves are not always effective, and when they are, the change that results is usually slow. Nonetheless, all this is hopeful. Of particular interest is the precedent set by the bishops making this move collectively. That in itself bodes well for the future. Matt 18 leaps to mind. In the meantime, prayers should be offered and eyes should remain peeled. If JPII (or for that matter, the Jesuits) were right about the youth, a genuine revival in the Catholic school system could add up to big consequences for the culture in a generation's time.

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

The Redemption of Politics

Last night, I saw the film "Amazing Grace" at the local Hoyts, while tucking into a packet of mint-flavoured Pods (which I had never encountered before but were actually quite yummy). No doubt many will draw (and already have drawn) the obvious parallel between the abolitionist and the pro-life causes. I certainly think there are lessons to be learned from the film and, more precisely, the events it seeks to depict in regard to that issue. I may jot down some thoughts in that connection later.

One thing about the film that struck me, however, which may not be so glaringly obvious was the way it redeemed the political process. Let me explain.

In some ways, this touches more upon myself qua me. I find the Australian political process unbearably dull and boring, mostly due to its monotony, the close identity between the two leading parties and the tendency to engage in partisan politics (i.e. use whatever issues come to hand to somehow discredit the opposing party and/or its members- occasionally in ways that are quite creative).

Coming from a Protestant Evangelical background, I tend to be naturally suspicious of politics (I was shocked when, upon becoming Catholic, I discovered a substantial contingent of staunchly active Catholics in the Sydney Archdiocese to be similarly staunchly active members of the Young Liberal Party), and this is coupled with a distinctively Australian and English distrust of authority and power. So it is instructive for me to watch righteous causes being defended and won through the political process (rather than in spite of it). Defended and won by politicians and not clergymen. The concept is novel and salutary.

I think there are benefits to the revelation that go beyond my own enlightenment and edification as well. To the Protestant Evangelical, it is a reminder that politics is not hands-off for Christians. Being the salt of the earth is not a selective calling. All the dishes need to be salted. That includes government.

For the Catholic actively involved in some form of political enterprise already, it is a reminder that the battles being fought are winnable. Though legislation may be against us, though we may be outvoted, though other interests swing the swinging voters against the good and right, these things are winnable. Legislation can be made to reflect virtue and natural justice. Bills can be passed that respect the human person. Politicians can govern wisely. If we are accustomed to the contrary, it is not because these things are normal but because they are habitual. We can learn to tell the difference.

That goes for me too.

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

The Church's Final Hours

Found this linked on Mark Shea's blog. Looks like the Catholic Church is going to collapse today. Because of course revelations made to an anonymous website manager in 1985 MUST be true. (Especially when his website has such cool music!)

Besides, this guy seems to have a knack for prophecy. After all, he can describe actions taken by Pope John XXXIII!

Haven't heard anything on the news yet. But then, Italy is behind us by several hours. Best keep my ear to the ground.

Saturday, 4 August 2007

The Retirement of John Stott

Found this article at Christianity Today and was deeply saddened and at the same time impressed.

John Stott is one of the greats of Protestant Evangelicalism; a man at once eminently practical and solidly intellectual; a true and honest follower of Christ. I have heard him speak once, at EU Annual Conference some years back, where he spoke eloquently and passionately on the necessity of being intellectually engaged with our faith. He seemed a frail figure, with the kind of correct RP accent one associates with Oxford professors out of touch with the real world. Yet he spoke with such articulateness and determination, as though at pains to convey to his audience the importance to their souls of his message. One saw in him the passion of an American pulpit-pounder but without the guile, and a palpable love of Jesus Christ.

To see him retire is indeed a sad thing. I will be praying for him as his journey wends towards its close.

The other thing I find of interest here is the weird way in which the most honest of the sons of the Reformers somehow find their way leading back to the Universal Church without realising it. Luther would have been horrified to hear this speech from John Stott. 'Participation in the mystery of the Incarnation'? 'Christ-likeness is the will of God for the people of God'? None of this is entirely unprecedented within the ranks of Protestant Evangelicalism, but to see it said so explicitly from someone so influential is gratifying to say the least. And a far cry indeed from total depravity and 'sin boldly'.

It is an ironic thing that evangelism in many ways clears the head. The minute one starts sharing one's faith, the old Calvinist dregs that cling on so stubbornly to the Evangelical ship begin to lose their grip on the hull. It took two centuries before it occurred to Protestants to evangelise. Now, for those who took the very word as their own special label, the errors surrounding the whole justification issue seem to be very slowly melting away (though more often in practice than theory). It would be interesting to see what the consensus position is in another hundred years.

Thursday, 2 August 2007

Our Culture's Glorious Inconsistency

While reading the Telegraph at work this morning, I stumbled upon this.

The story is disturbing by any measure, but what I find most distressing about it is the madness of the charges. I have no idea what the legal intricacies are, but note- Ms Freeman "has been charged with first- and second-degree murder and manslaughter", yet "None of them were full-term", according to the police spokesman. Have I missed something here, or is Ms Freeman guilty of what under other circumstances would be classified as a late-term abortion?

Our culture's sentimentality is boundless, and nowhere is it so clear as in a case like this. There is no biological difference between an eight-month old baby and a four-month old foetus (note the euphemism). Yet somewhere between the two our culture draws an arbitrary line, based largely, as far as I can see, on how recognisably baby-like the entity in question is.

Nor is this usually questioned. I find it significant that many of the lines taken by the pro-life cause work within this mentality and, rather than challenging it, seek to harness it to further the cause. The methods that use imagery depicting babies in the womb, ultrasounds, the shocking videos of how the foetus reacts as it is being aborted, the little feet badges and so on- all of these are designed to encourage one to think, "Actually, even foetuses in quite early pregnancy look and act like babies- therefore abortion is wrong." This is an appeal to the sentimentality of our culture, rather than to reason. Indeed, this methodology has a lot to recommend it. And in a culture where there is little hard thinking but a tonne of emoting, it is certainly effective.

However, I wonder (and of course I submit this thought to those who are far more active and experienced in the pro-life cause than I) whether this does not ultimately play into the Enemy's hands. Would it ultimately be of more benefit to question the underlying assumption? Should we, judo-like, use our opponents' strength against them, or would it be wiser to choose the battlefield ourselves?

Still thinking about this myself. I submit it for reflection by other minds as well.

Tuesday, 31 July 2007

For the Feast of the Other St Ignatius

Today is the feast day of St Ignatius of Loyola, so it is perhaps fitting to take a moment to contemplate the great work he achieved to the greater glory of God- the Society of Jesus.
Yes, I know, it has seen better days. Notwithstanding JPII's wake-up call to the Society (I don't know what Benedict has said to them since his election), its in a pretty shabby state these days. But that should not cause those affected by the work of the Society in one way or another to despair. There are isolated stars in that noble constellation even now, men who have not bowed the knee to Baal (I can think of three I know of off-hand- Fr Joseph Fessio, Fr Greg Jordan & Fr Paul Mankowski- and no doubt there are others) who could still look their Society's founder in the eye.

Nor should we forget the days of its greatness. The Jesuits were intended to be the Church's cavalry. For how many centuries of their existence have they fulfilled this lofty mandate? And with what courage? Time was when the leaders of Europe imagined that if they could eliminate the Jesuits they could eliminate the Church itself within a generation (the French Revolution demonstrated how close to the truth they were). The English martyrs, the missionaries to China, to South America, the Bollandists, these demand to be remembered and their achievements lauded.
The Society of Jesus has a heritage of greatness in administering grace, of Spirit-inspired creativity in spreading the good news, of indomitable courage in the face of adversity and of the unknown. Let us pray that the Society once again in our time lives up to its rightful birthright, to the fidelity to Christ and His Church to which its founder committed it, to the spiritual greatness it has known and might know again.

Saturday, 28 July 2007

Go ahead...define me!

Found the link to this on Fr. Dwight Longenecker's blog and had a go. The result is at once somewhat distressing and not as surprising (to me, anyway) as perhaps it should be.

Glenn Bolas --

A person of questionable sanity who starts their own cult

'How" will you be defined in the dictionary?' at

Monday, 23 July 2007

St George poem- First Installment Part 5

A soldier born of soldiers' stock,
Alegionary did he serve;
The best of civilised military,
Great, noble men of nerve;

And pagan virtues still ran strong
In the blood of these good men,
But pagan virtues never could
Know the One Who alone is good-
Impossible, unless He would
Reveal it unto them.

A generation lost in space
Craves blindly for a sign;
And sometimes God, despite all odds,
Hears them that call out to the gods,
And grants sight to the blind.

And not always in words He speaks
For ears are sometimes slow;
As man will make a metaphor,
So God will, in His wisdom sure,
Be seen in ways one can't ignore
In one man's life below.

And so of George I deign to write,
The soldier of the Lord,
A Christian bearing Roman arms
Whose prayers are now his sword.

Of war and dragon's death I rhyme,
Of bloodied gladius,
Of willing martyrdom sublime-
O St George, pray for us.

St George poem- First Installment Part 4

The end of the age weighs heavily
On Progress' noble sons;
Too scared are they to look behind
Or look ahead, nor have they time
To ponder the plight that plagues their kind
Or, for that matter, anyone's.

In this great malaise of the soul
Now and again one sees
Unfurled that great and English flag
Fluttering in the breeze.

Its meaning now is long forgot,
As obsolete as thatch,
Yet ever and anon one sees it
At a football match.

And some there are who know its name,
That of theman who came
From Lydda- one can hear it screamed
Quite loudly at the game.

But names belong to men, and this
To quite a noble man
WHo never saw dear England's soil
Nor on its fields did stand.

And though we know he prays for them,
No Briton did he know,
And English were barbarians
When he lived long ago.

Then London was a Roman town,
Still half-uncivilised;
But Rome was growing harder
And its borders over-sized.

And though its legions still held out
Against the German horde
The hearts of some were cold and dumb
And fought against the Lord.

Saturday, 21 July 2007

St George poem- First Installment Part 3

For England's faith has long been lost.
Here saints no longer sup;
The Grail gone from Glastonbury,
Replaced by a plastic cup.

While sin's protected by the law
And a druid runs a church,
The few who search for answers
Are urged to neglect the search.

And darkness hovers over them
That once were full of hope,
Who now forget their emptiness
By watching daytime soap.

The time has gone- we watched it go-
When women and men were real,
When earth was earth and trees were trees,
Life satisfied like a meal,
And before one's God and monarch
It was dignified to kneel.

For now men live in weary times
That plod along like death,
And existence is a heavy weight,
And all the wells of the world can't sate
The thirst of the sons of Seth.

In Faustus' footsteps England walks,
Down devilish depths to plumb;
Wisdom exchanged for information,
Joy exchanged for fun.

And few there are who now recall
The yesteryears and days of yore
When sins were sweet and penance hurt
And no denial could avert
The beauty virtue bore.

Friday, 20 July 2007

What I Learned from Dodgy Movie Adaptations

During my undergraduate days (ah! what halcyon days they were!), in one of my several English Lit courses I was required to write an essay on an adaptation of one of the novels we had studied. One of these had been Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, which I found interesting and surprisingly popular (in all senses of the word)- Defoe was perhaps one of the first to indulge in the making of endless sequels following an initial unexpected success. And yes, if you're interested, none of the sequels to Robinson Crusoe were any good- there's a reason you've never heard of them.

The book had interested me so I dutifully made my way to my local video store and borrowed a copy of Robinson Crusoe starring Pierce Brosnan. Yes, there's a reason you haven't heard of it either. It was made in 1997. I don't remember seeing it advertised at all, and am not even sure if it saw the cinema. If it did, it didn't really warrant it (not that a lot of the things that see the cinema these days do). What interested me most about it, however, was the elements of the plot the film had changed.

In the book, Robinson Crusoe sets out to sea to explore and see the world. It is his desire for new experiences and adventure that propels him towards a maritime career. And his being marooned on an island is only the most major of his many adventures (the book also includes, among other things, Crusoe and Friday fighting off wolves in the snow, for example). In the film, Crusoe is compelled to seek the sea because he has killed a man in a duel out of love (sic) for the newly-invented character Mary.

I am not so much of a purist that I was offended by the change simply because it was a change. Defoe certainly would not have been fazed by someone changing his story to make more money- he would have changed it himself if he had thought it would have that effect. I was far more interested in why the change was made and what it meant. I explored a couple of ideas in this connection in the essay I subsequently wrote.

Fast forward a couple of years. The film The Time Machine starring Guy Pearce is released. I am slightly but not overly intrigued by it- not enough to pay money to go and see it, at any rate. I had enjoyed the book by H.G. Wells in high school very much (my first introduction to Wells, actually), but the film looked a bit silly. When it came out on DVD, I had occasion to sit and watch it for free. So I did.

And here I detected the same pattern. In the book, the Time Traveller (for so he is called throughout) is obsessed and excited by the concept of time travel. The very idea is exhilirating. And the way Wells describes it, there's a certain exotic wonder about the idea of it and, subseqently, its execution. In this, it is a very nineteenth century book- entranced by the idea of Progress, coming on the tail-end of the Age of Discovery. This scientific impulse- to learn, know and see new things- this wanderlust, this thirst for discovery and to pioneer, was resurrected very briefly with the NASA programme, but didn't last more than 10 years after the Moon landings.

Exhibit A: The Time Machine starring Guy Pearce. In the film, the impulse to travel through time has nothing to do with science or discovery- it has to do with Guy travelling to the past to rescue his fiance who was tragically killed.

This pattern of film versions of books replacing the original motive of the protagonist with one based around romantic love got me thinking. We are probably aware that ours is the most eroticised culture in recent history. Generally, we may be accustomed to think of this in connection with its negative implications- the sexualisation of youth, for example, or the lowering standards of modesty, the increased availability of pornography, etc. Yet here we see quite different (and, in one sense, positive) implications of this viz. the summum bonum has become romantic love.

In our culture's mindset, the goal of human existence, and its highest good, has been sexualised. If we canvas any number of films, or even just imagine for a moment, and see what qualifies as a happy ending, it will inevitably involve a romantic relationship. The application of romance as summum bonum can be varied as well. For example, the redemption of a protagonist almost invariably involves him/her falling in love, often with a fair helping of self-sacrifice thrown in. The applications can be multiplied.

All of which leads me to suggest that JPII's Theology of the Body is brilliantly timely. It redeems the glasses through which our culture sees everything. It explains and heals not only the vices to which our culture is particularly prone, but also the goods for which it longs and the virtues that it elevates above any others. For this reason, I believe the Theology of the Body will be absolutely crucial for future evangelistic efforts. For those of us involved in evangelistic efforts ourselves, therefore, we need to take the Theology of the Body into account. These are the words our culture needs to hear and, indeed, is longing to hear. The harvest is plentiful but the labourers are few.

St George poem- First Installment Part 2

Two arms outstretched, across and up,
Red as the setting sun,
Two arms that met to form a cross
And, meeting, became one.

A cross, blood-red, as martyrs' blood,
As the Blood of Christ Himself;
Two arms which death and new life tell,
Accepted death, and life from Hell:
The Christian's hope and health.

This cross against a white base stood,
The white of a newborn soul
Who comes wet dripping from rebirth
And cannot quite hold back his mirth
To find his spirit whole.

And this great sign on battlements
Was found, o'er hill and dale,
In times long past, when hope held fast,
And England's faith was hale.

Thursday, 19 July 2007

St George Poem- First Installment Part 1

This, as the title suggests, is a poem I am writing on St George. It is as yet untitled and is far from finished. Here is the introductory section. Comments and suggestions are welcome.

In times gone by there used to fly
A standard stern and true
Whose shape above the battlements
Was old when guns were new.

Above green fields and weary stones
And towers did it fly,
Set high by long-forgotten folk
Against an English sky.

Its colouring was stark and clear-
One saw it from afar.
Indeed, one saw it any place,
To wit, where English are.

And sometimes it might flutter aloft
And sometimes it might fall,
Depending whether wind was high
Or there was no wind at all.

On countless tow'rs, in countless halls,
Th'insignia would appear;
On tabards or on tall ships' masts
To strike a foe with fear.

The Golden Compass

I wasn't really much aware of this blight on children's literature until a few weeks ago. I was visiting Matthew O'Connell in Hong Kong and, during our interminable discussions on everything (the conversation tangent had turned to literature in this case), he began to tell me of the His Dark Materials trilogy by Phillip Pullman, which he had unwittingly picked up and read while in England. The content, while at first engaging, became progressively distressing as the plot progressed, according to Matthew, before revealing itself as a full-blown war between good and evil- standard fantasy fare yet with this key difference: that God is squarely located in the latter camp.

Having since done some casual cultural research (read: have googled the relevant words and seen what comes up), it appears I've come a bit late to this one. A number of people around the forum have already seen the dangers here and started sounding the horns. (Here's an old review of the books by Greg Krehbiel, for example) Yet , for all that, there are still relatively few. I've come in late, but how many others haven't come in at all? I haven't seen a mugshot of Phillip Pullman on the cover of ChristianityToday yet, as it happens. Most Christians I know, of whatever persuasion, haven't heard of these books.

The other night, my brother Shaun and I enjoyed a night on the town with the declared aim of seeing Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (an aim which, happily, we fulfilled). During the course of waiting for the film proper to begin, we saw a preview for a film called The Golden Compass. It looked good. In fact, it looked like the kind of film I would enjoy seeing. Excellent effects. Some recognisable actors. An overall air of mystery and adventure. It was the kind of preview that promises an exciting and fulfilling film-going experience. If I had known nothing else about it, I would have been first in line (well, maybe twenty-seventh, given my poor record of arriving early for anything). However, I also happened to know it is based on the first book of His Dark Materials.

The film is set to be released in a couple of months' time. It will desseminate the poison of these books much more widely than it has been disseminated hitherto. Hopefully, the Christians will sit up and start planning a response BEFORE the fallout from the film is felt. In any case, we can expect the books, which have so far largely slipped under the collective Christian radar, to become much better known soon enough.

Title of the Blog

This is the first post!

That being the case, some explanation is perhaps in order. Specifically, about the title. Of the blog.

Hwaet is an Anglo-Saxon word. It is, in fact, the first word in the great English poem Beowulf (I tossed up whether to use the last word of that poem as the title since that would be even quirkier. However the last word in Beowulf is lof-geornost, meaning 'one most eager for fame', so I decided against it- seemed a bit self-indulgent and evocative of the wrong kind of mindset for a blog of this sort). According to Clark Hall's Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, hwaet is ordinarily an exclamation, like 'Oh!' or 'Behold!' or 'Lo!', etc. It can also be used in a sentence to mean why or wherefore. And, as if that wasn't enough, it can also be an adjective meaning brisk, active or brave. So, a very versatile word. Variously translatable.

And evocative of just the kind of spirit that this blog is intended to incarnate. Surprising and sudden. Driving at hidden meanings and significances. And doing so in a pro-active and bold manner. At least some of the time.