Sunday, 31 July 2011

Child-like vs childish

The problem with gearing the Mass towards children (and we're obviously talking about the Novus ordo here) is that it becomes childish in the worst sense. Worse is the outcome of making the Mass childish: eventually the children grow up and feel that the Faith is something that they can put away, along with other childish things -- as they are now adults. The flipside is that the adults who accompany the children feel foolish doing "childish things" like kneeling, praying, abandoning themselves to Our Lord as these are associated with balloons, facepaint, colouring sheets pinned to the altar cloth, blessing of soft toys, singing "Jesus wants me for a sunbeam" etc. 

And yet ... if we are to embrace Our Lord fully we need to become as a little child. But somewhere along the way this got confused with being childish. To feel genuine humility before the sacrifice at Calvary, to receive the Blessed Sacrament on the tongue whilst kneeling, to open ourselves to the possibilities of God's love -- that is being like a child, without guile, without barriers. How did this get turned into clown Masses and teddy-bear's picnic Masses? 

Were the Apostles childish or child-like in their faith?

I love the following prayer from  St. Alphonse Ligouri's Stations of the Cross, and use it as a penitential prayer at night. It's impossible to say without becoming as a child but impossible to say meaningfully with a childish attitude. Even my 7 year old understands the difference.

I love Thee, Jesus my love above all things; I repent with my whole heart for having offended Thee. Never permit me to separate myself from Thee again. Grant that I may love Thee always; and then do with me what Thou wilt.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Are you a Mary or a Martha?

I'm naturally more of a Mary, but God in his wisdom has given me a more Martha-like role to play. 

I grew up a creature of the intellect and spirit, and managed to reach my late twenties without knowing how to change a baby's nappy, bake a cake, or even keep a houseplant alive. I was good with animals -- always had been -- but not much good at anything else that didn't involve brain-work. I was thoroughly undomesticated.

The first meal I ever made for the man who became my husband was a green pepper sandwich. Yes, you read that right. He was utterly bemused, not sure whether I was absolutely hopeless in the kitchen, or whether thinly sliced green-pepper on granary bread was a sophisticated delicacy that he'd yet to come across. I was 21 and had no idea how to make a sandwich. None. But I had some bread, and a green pepper in my fridge, and a green-pepper sandwich seemed perfectly logical to me at the time. And no, there was no butter on it.

I was the woman who would break out into a sweat if she saw someone approaching her with a baby, lest they try to encourage me to actually hold it. Holding a baby always resulted in the baby screaming and me handing the baby back with a grimace as pronounced as the one on the tiny wailing face in my arms.

I was most comfortable in international academic conferences, in late-night intellectual debates over port in smoky MCRs, in later years in boardrooms, thriving on competing and winning in a male-dominated industry. I'm not sure if I was the nicest person, though, nor whether I was even a little bit happy. 

I said earlier that as a child I'd been a creature of the intellect and of the spirit. This was true until my teens when a lack of spiritual formation lead that aspect of my life to become sidelined by all the things that the world (and my nearest and dearest) told me were important: academic success, a good career, and subliminally the message was that if I was clever and successful then I'd be lovable as well. I was profoundly religious as a young child, particularly in the years after my first communion. I think my family found it a little embarrassing, and hoped I'd get over this stage quickly. I was told that I shouldn't practise saying Mass as I couldn't be a priest, but if I wanted to be religious I could be a nun. When I asked what this entailed, I got a woolly answer ("um, don't know... lots of praying") which didn't appeal to the 9 year old me. I've often wondered if things would have been different if I'd had some spiritual formation at that stage in my life. God only knows.

Oh I rebelled against the high-achieving expectations -- who didn't in their late teens? But the "rebellion" was of the pre-scripted kind. Nihilism, despair, feminism, drugs and rock-and-roll ... a gentle roll down the slope of agnosticism. I wore black, I pierced my nose, I shaved my head, I wore combat boots. Oooh, how very rebellious I was! I read Lautréamont and Jerzy Kosiński and was convinced that mankind was evil and doomed. I thought religion was the opiate of the masses. I thought I was so much cleverer than everyone else. I didn't realise quite what a silly sheep I was.

My conversion came not as a thunderbolt, but as a whisper. A gentle call: persistent, loving. Somehow we began going to Mass, at first occasionally, then more regularly. By the time we were married we were properly back in the fold, but still heading towards the Church's living beating heart, still making up time for all the years we strayed, still learning all the catechisis we missed. 

And now? Well we still have several thousand books in the house, most of which are still in boxes from our last move. My life circles around four lovely little people and my husband through whom I've gained an insight into God's unconditional love; five chickens, three rabbits, two cats, a pair of fancy mice and another pair of fancy rats, and two tanks of tropical fish complete the household. I feed and nurture all of  these creatures; God has given me the job of looking after them. I've actually become a reasonably good cook -- cakes, soups, stews, jam, bread -- I can tackle it, and it will taste good, unlike that green pepper sandwich of twenty years ago. I can more or less keep order in our home, grow a fair bit of our own food, wrangle a sewing machine well enough to whizz up angel costumes when required or, more prosaically, mend clothes. My intellect and education are being put to better use than I ever could have imagined, educating my own children. I've often wondered why in the eyes of the world it would be OK if I had continued teaching undergraduates - other people's children - at university, but it's a "waste of all that education" when I teach my own. Funny that.

One of my uncles was very sporty and a real outdoorsman in his youth. Then in his mid-20s he was struck down with a debilitating disease that put a stop to all of his physical pursuits. A couple of decades later, I was looking through old photos with him. I asked him how he felt about not being able to mountain-climb and cycle and water-ski. He was glad, he said. He felt that his illness and disability had opened doors that he'd previously not known had existed. A world of art and music and culture more than filled the void left by his sporting activities, and he felt certain that had he not been so "unfortunate" he would never have gained the rich life that he lead. 

And so, I'm a reluctant Martha but not so reluctant that I don't rejoice in my apple harvest, dote on my chickens, gain a real creative buzz from cooking and baking, and cherish the time that I spend with my family. I've found a great joy in service - this is something utterly novel to me as it isn't something that I saw modelled as a child. Small tasks, done lovingly, give great satisfaction. In my "Martha" role I've gained more riches than I ever thought would be possible, and God has given me a happiness that I never dared to hope for in my youth. The girl who used to need 9 hours sleep is now the woman who loves it when her toddler sneaks into her bed at 6 in the morning,  giggling to himself as he takes her face in his fat little hands and plants a big wet kiss exclaiming "Mummy I LOVE you!" 

There is a part of me that longs for order and silence and peace on days that are noisy and chaotic. That longs for mental stimulation on days when laundry and nappy changes seem overwhelming. That fantasises about entering an enclosed order and living a cloistered life of prayer and contemplation. But that isn't my life, and, to be honest, I'm not sure that the reality would suit me. I still read copiously when I can, think far too much, and find as much time for personal prayer as I can in a day that rotates around the needs of others. This blog is just one escape valve for my mutterings. My life has taught me to share -- something I managed not to learn as a child -- and to put the needs of others first. Like my uncle who found new life in his changed life, I'm thriving as a Martha; God took me out of my comfort zone and threw a lifetime's worth of challenges at me, and in so doing opened up spiritual, emotional and intellectual dimensions that I'd never imagined existed. Nurturing my own babies has given me a tiny glimmer of insight into God's boundless love for us all, and family life has taken me from a lost soul who felt that she had to achieve worldly glory in order to be lovable to a contented wife and mother who is beginning to understand that her Saviour's love is boundless and unconditional.

The elephant in the room: breastfeeding and NFP

This post isn't about NFP pros and cons, it's about whether political correctness or perhaps ignorance is making us approach fertility awareness in an unscientific way. It's also about whether our approach, in the way that it ignores and therefore inadvertently subverts the natural order is, in some way morally flawed.

Amongst other things I'm a trained and qualified lay breastfeeding counsellor. I've racked up enough clinical hours in a voluntary capacity over the past nine or so years to qualify to sit the IBCLC certification, normally reserved for medical professionals. I only mention this to point out that, apart from my other areas of interest [(doctoral dissertation (literature) and professional life (IT), and hobbies (small mammal colour genetics)]  breastfeeding is my specialist subject. Even though I'm no longer active as a counsellor, the journal Breastfeeding Abstracts still drops onto my doorstep every quarter: it's fascinating stuff.

But what does this have to do with NFP? I'm asked this a lot when I get onto my breastfeeding and NFP hobby horse. Breastfeeding is just one of many parenting choices that some mothers make, right? Natural family planning is something completely separate, right? Wrong.

I first got thinking about the relationship between breastfeeding and Catholic mothering about six years ago when I was helping a mother who was having difficulties nursing her third child. She had nursed her first two easily but things were more complicated with the third and, having been failed by the NHS, she had sought out help from a breastfeeding charity. She was about my age and over the next few weeks we had some interesting conversations. One of the reasons that she was determined to nurse her baby was because she was a Muslim and, as she told me, "breastfeeding is an important part of our religion". Always competitive, I bounced back, "and part of mine too" while thinking "erm, exactly why did I say that?".

I had been reading a fair bit about the Theology of the Body at the time, and was convinced that Blessed Pope John Paul II's definition of self-giving was a perfect illustration of the nursing relationship. Around the same time I read "Breastfeeding and Catholic Motherhood" and saw that Sheila Kippley had explicitly drawn the same conclusion. More importantly, I accepted the necessity of openness to new life as a fundamental aspect of Catholic belief, but saw an inherent contradiction in the absence of any discussion about breastfeeding as part of the same conversation.

A few years earlier our diocese had held a consultation to find out how to make parishes more family-friendly (or at least that's how it was presented to us in the parish we were in at the time). My husband and I and our then only child went to the meeting along with a friend and her husband and toddler of a similar age. When asked what the parish could do for families we all asked to have a Billings or other NFP counsellor accessible to the parish. What we were eventually given, was a "ministry of welcome" which was as much use as... well, chocolate teapot metaphors in the combox please. This "consultation" got me thinking about NFP in the parish context and comparing the families who wanted it and their reasons for wanting it with those mothers I'd been working with as a breastfeeding counsellor. The families in the parish were often afraid of having a second (or subsequent) child too soon after a first; on the other hand, many of the mothers I knew through my breastfeeding work were keen to have another baby sooner rather than later and were looking for help in ways to increase their fertility. The difference was that the latter group were often breastfeeding in a biologically normal manner: that is to say for a biologically rather than culturally normal length of time (>=2 years). The mothers in the parish group were almost all either using artificial milk, the cultural norm, or mixed feeding, and/or weaning within the first year. They had a rapid return to full fertility and often had a second or subsequent baby before nature would have allowed had natural law been followed. At that time the cultural norm was a maximum of six months (anything else was seen as a bit wacky), encouraged by the NHS, against all scientific evidence which pointed (and still points) towards a minimum of two years nursing (WHO guidelines). A comment I read many years ago (I don't remember where) that really struck me was that the only thing that the Vatican and the World Health Organisation have ever wholly agreed on is breastfeeding.

This is about following Natural Law. God's perfect plan for families includes breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is nature's way of spacing babies. It's nature's way of ensuring that the mother's body had had time to recover, that the nursing baby is strong enough and mature enough to deal with a sibling, that everyone has had time to catch their breath between births. Research shows that for European women, with natural duration breastfeeding (i.e. nursing a baby for a natural amount of time) menstruation returns (on average) between 13 and 15 months post-partum (depending on the study). Even if a mother was to conceive on her first visible cycle, she would have a minimum gap of almost two years between her babies. However if she's still nursing her toddler several times a day as nature intended, her fertility will probably be reduced for several more months. Thus many mothers who are committed to natural duration breastfeeding find that they actually need to change their nursing pattern (dropping an early morning feed works wonders) or even wean their child in order to conceive their next baby. These women allow breastfeeding to maintain a subfertile period of months (sometimes years), allowing nature to space their babies. Yet in Catholic parishes, we're teaching people how to avoid their fertile period while not talking about breastfeeding at all. We are creating, or at least condoning, an artificial rupture with the natural order. Why?

Breastfeeding is a hot topic: feminists see it as a way for flat-earthers to chain women to domestic slavery. "We won't be equal with men," they argue, "until we're able to share parenting equally". As a sociological construct, the concept of "sharing parenting equally" might just be able to pass muster, but from a scientific perspective it's an utter nonsense. There is nothing equal about parenting -- men and women have differentiated roles that should be embraced not ignored. Some social conservatives  appear to see breastfeeding as some sort of feminista statement, and I've read more than one unpleasant comment associating breastfeeding with "feminazis" over the years. Breastfeeding isn't a feminist issue. It's shouldn't be an "issue" of any kind. It's simply what mothers with babies do in order to feed them, stimulate the development of their neural pathways, widen their dental arch, provide immunological support to an immature system,  and kick-start the endocrine system. And that's just (some of) what it does for the baby; there are profound physical effects on the mother as well: positively impacting behaviour, emotions, and fertility.

So it's not all about the food. This means that we can wipe the "breast vs bottle" arguments from the slate. Research over the past decade or so has proven what mothers have instinctively known for millennia: there's more to breastfeeding than food. The "first milk" or colostrum is not a milk at all, but a secretion that kick-starts the endocrine system: this is why babies who miss out on this precious fluid in the first days of life have a considerably raised risk of developing diabetes later on in life. The immunological benefits of breastfeeding are better known, as are the decreased risk of allergies. Less well known is the benefit to dentition -- breastfeeding in the second year of life is nature's way of widening the dental arch, thereby decreasing the chance of overcrowded and misaligned teeth. Did you ever wonder why more and more people have misaligned teeth and need braces? It's not simply down to vanity. One American dentist did, and he did a massive retrospective study of orthodontic patients, finding a direct correlation between not being breastfed  and needing dental work for malocclusion. Braces and expensive orthodontics were not in God's plan, but breastfeeding for the first couple of years clearly was. Then there's the neural pathway development: the skin-to-skin contact facilitated by the nursing relationship is the primary mechanism stimulating the development of neural pathways in the early weeks of life; this is part of “building the brain” outside the womb, creating the ability for a wide range of emotional responses. I could go on, but this post isn't about the wonders of breastfeeding, it's about why we, as Catholics, don't include this vital aspect of fertility in our fertility education.

Clearly humans can survive without being breastfed. I'm not arguing that point. I wasn't breastfed, and I'm still reasonably intelligent, relatively sane, and if not glowing with health, at least I'm still alive. This isn't about bare minimum: if we Catholics believed that bare minimum was good enough we'd hand out condoms and tell teens to only use them if they really really can't do otherwise. But we know that's wrong. What is just as wrong is subverting the natural order and calling it “Natural family planning”.

But what about those women who can't / won't / dont' want to breastfeed. I have no patience with “won't” and “don't want to”. You have a baby and you don't want to feed it as God intended: tough. I bet you don't fancy changing nappies, being woken up twelve times a night, and cleaning projectile vomit out of your hair either, but you'll have to do it at some point  (or possibly several) as a parent. As for those who “can't” -- well, that's different. Fewer than 1% of mothers have a medical problem that makes breastfeeding impossible; these can be either physical (mastectomy) or endocrinological/hormonal affecting milk production.

 Many of us have neighbours / mothers / sisters / friends who have been “unable” to breastfeed because they have been told that they don't have enough milk, aren't producing enough milk, will never produce enough milk. It is far more likely that they were not supported properly, and were attended to by people with an incomplete knowledge of lactation than that they fall into the <1% with a physical impairment. Having spent years dealing with the fall-out from women discharged from hospital or by community midwives, I think that learning and support are the two things that would make a big difference to breastfeeding success. It is my perception (and I have nothing but my own experience to back this up) that a greater proportion of Catholic mothers breastfeed (for some length of time) than among the population at large. There is a huge potential support network of mother-to-mother help available. Another option would be to co-opt existing breastfeeding support agencies like La Leche League into NFP programmes and to provide free helpline numbers at a parish level (La Leche League is an international single-issue organisation providing breastfeeding support set up by seven Catholic women and their Catholic GP in 1956. It was named after a shrine to Our Lady. Whilst having no relationship with the Catholic Church, there is nothing in the organistion's beliefs that contradicts Catholic teaching - it exists simply to support and provide information to mothers who wish to breastfeed and takes no stand on other issues).

So what does this all have to do with the Catholic Church? Well, if we believe that God created us in His likeness, and that the natural order is a good thing, then we should seek to maintain that natural order. This means encouraging breastfeeding as part of NFP programmes or, better yet, treating it as the norm within the context of family fertility awareness teaching. Breastfeeding might be natural, but it is a learned skill, and over the past few generations we've seen a complete rupture with the past in terms of mothering particularly with regard to breastfeeding.  Marriage preparation and NFP classes should be scientifically as well as morally coherent. They should emphasise the whole picture with regard to fertility, not just the “contracept-or-not” bit thereby allowing parents-to-be to see and understand the whole big beautiful picture of procreation that God has given us.

Pictures from the Breastfeeding Art Gallery with thanks

UPDATE (5th August 2011): More on NFP here

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Biretta heaven

Maybe I ought to get out more, but I've just spent a very enjoyable hour browsing the Phillipi Collection website which is described as being:
...currently the world’s largest collection of clerical, ecclesiastical and religious head coverings and is unique in both its scope and size. Whether they are ceremonial or worn as a part of everyday life, you’ll find examples of headwear from every religious persuasion around the globe. In addition, the collection includes 116 religious objects.
 The site has everything you ever wanted to know about borlas, boat-hats, galeros and, of course, birettas galore (who would have guessed that there were so many different types, including tiny teddy-bear sized ones). I was interested to see that a toque is a kind of academic headgear. I spent some years growing up in Canada where "toque" was a common term for a much less elegant woolly winter hat.

There's a great dry sense of humour in the commentary: I particularly liked the understatement in the description of the camouflage biretta: "Indeed a strange biretta!" and the inclusion of Biretta art: the amazing levitating Biretta installation (pictured above).

For the serious aficionado (or for those mothers being pestered by children wanting miniature vestments) there are patterns for birettas -- both collapsible and and the ordinary sort. The site recommends an Italian supplier for the silk pompoms on top, but for children I reckon that a DIY version made by the children themselves will do the trick.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Get your rhetoric off my family!

Twitch of the mantilla to John Smeaton for pointing out the hypocrisy of the "family planning" movement which bases its arguments around the rhetoric of "choice". Statements from Simon Ross of Population Matters (formerly the Optimum Population Trust) in last Sunday's Observer suggest that "choice" is only acceptable if you choose what the population-limiters find acceptable.  To paraphrase Henry Ford, you can choose to have any size family you like, as long as it's below population replacement levels.  David Beckham and Boris Johnson are singled out as "very bad role models with their large families". Ross goes on to suggest that society needs to "change the incentives to make the environmental case that one or two children are fine but three or four are just being selfish"

The irony of this is presumably lost on Ross and it would be funny if we didn't know that this sort of population control already happens in China (paid for, dear reader, with taxes that your government and mine gives to the United Nations Population Fund - the UK also funds the UNPFA -- see top of p14 on the Multilateral Aid Review, published March 2011 ) and that "incentives to make the ... case that one or two children are fine"  are a slippery slope towards the government deciding how many children a family is allowed to have. It starts with tax incentives, it ends in coerced abortion. 

Public attitudes to family size are changing too. People feel that they have the right to pass judgement. Here's a real life example: several years ago, I was shouted at by a well-dressed, well-spoken woman in her 50s in an upmarket optician's shop in central London. After my eye appointment, I had taken my children into the loo and each little one had needed a turn and then the baby's nappy had needed changing. When we came out this woman complained that we'd taken too long. I apologised and explained that several of us had been using the loo and that I had also had to change the baby's nappy. "I heard them playing in there" she retorted "it's not a playroom!". "They're only children" I said as patiently as I could, between gritted teeth, "there's no harm in them being happy and chattering while I change the baby's nappy".  This really got her goat -- "THE SELFISH GENE!!" she shrieked "you all get it as soon as you have a baby! You think you can just do as you like! How selfish having so many children! Don't you care about the planet?" (As absurd as this sounds, I swear that I'm not making it up -- this is a verbatim account).  I was completely floored by this twist in the conversation, and said quietly "my children will be the doctors and nurses giving you medicines and wiping your bottom when you're old and helpless. They are a gift. God bless you." She flounced into the lavatory and slammed the door, and I ushered the children out. The younger ones were oblivious to what had happened, but the eldest asked "Mummy what was wrong with that lady - why was she shouting at us?" I told his that I thought she was probably ill, and that's why she had behaved the way she had. 

The sad thing is that her attitude is all too common, and to a large extent condoned by the mainstream media which in turn is informed by Population Matters and other population-control cronies like the Green Party, various "family planning" organisations that treat pregnancy as a disease, and so forth. 

I'm really tired of this anti-child, anti-life, anti-family and, crucially, anti-woman rhetoric. Children matter, families matter, and -- if you look at the science -- the declining birth rate and resultant population implosion is going to have a devastating impact economically and socially unless we find a way of redressing the balance. I think we need to be pro-active in fighting these attitudes -- for the sake of our own children and their children.

Fortunately I meet more people who are positive about children and families than people like the woman described above, but then again I steer clear of posh optician's shops and order my contact lenses online these days...

Thursday, 21 July 2011

You can help stop the rot in Austria

Pierre Le Gros the Younger (1666-1719), Religion overthrowing Heresy and Hatred, Altar of St. Ignatius of Loyola. Chiesa del Gesù, Rome
photo credit: Nick in Exsilio

Mundabor flags up an urgently serious matter within the Church in Austria: 313 priests and deacons have signed up to a "call to disobedience" citing "the Roman refusal of a long-overdue Church reform and the inaction of bishops" and declaring that they will:
-  pray for Church reform at every liturgy, since “in the presence of God there is freedom of speech” 
- not to deny the Holy Eucharist to “believers of good will,” including non-Catholic Christians and those who have remarried outside the Church 
-  avoid offering Mass more than once on Sundays and holy days and to avoid making use of visiting priests--instead holding a “self-designed” Liturgy of the Word 
- to describe such a Liturgy of the Word with the distribution of Holy Communion as a “priestless Eucharistic celebration”; “thus we fulfil the Sunday obligation in a time of priest shortage” 
- to “ignore” canonical norms that restrict the preaching of the homily to clergy 
- to oppose parish mergers, insisting instead that each parish have its own individual leader, “whether man or woman” 
- to “use every opportunity to speak out openly in favour of the admission of the married and of women to the priesthood” (Reported by

 So essentially what these 313 clergy are saying is that they are not Catholic. End of story. No ifs, ands or buts. They disagree with Church teaching, they dissent from the Truths of the Faith, they refuse to be obedient to the Magesterium of the Church; so rather than a "statement of disobedience" surely this is a statement declaring themselves no longer Catholic. One would assume that Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna would take swift action to nip this outrageous dissent in the bud, particularly as it is being done in a high-profile and flamboyantly public way,  deliberately causing scandal.

Sadly not - whilst Cardinal Schönborn professes to be "shocked", rather than immediately putting anyone signing up to this initiative on probation (and, frankly, surely he's able to sack them on the spot for a stunt like this) he is going to "meet with the initiative’s leaders and point out its 'inconsistencies', such as 'priestless Eucharist'" . Good grief -- point out its inconsistencies? I would have thought that signing up to this sort of thing would get a seminarian dismissed from his studies, never mind priests and deacons who continue to be allowed to lead souls into perdition by preaching this heresy.

MundaborFr Z and EF Pastor Emeritus have wise words on the subject of the "call to disobedience" and what ought to be done as soon as possible.

But first, please, please PLEASE send an email protesting the fact that these priests and deacons are allowed to continue their ministry, openly preaching heresy, promoting disrespect for and encouraging disobedience to the Church,  and leading souls astray. That this situation is allowed to continue is a major scandal. The 2011 Vienna Western Mass was stopped by a petition and public outrage,  please God that this scandal may be ended as soon as possible as well. 

Please email:
Congregation for the Clergy:
Papal Nuncio in Austria:
Holy Father:

Four new servants of God

Congratulations to the four new canons of the  Institut du Christ-Roi Souverain Prêtre. As any regular reader of this blog will have noticed, we're a sort of  unofficial fan-club of the order. I was delighted to see a link on Fr Ray Blake's blog to some splendid photographs of the ordination at  the church of San Michele e Gaetano in Florence, on 7th July this year - solemn, splendid, and sacred. Just right.

Set 1 - photos from the floor
Set 2 - photos from the balcony

Currently in the combox for Fr. Ray's post about the ordination photos there's a majority saying "ugh! it's so over the top. Why so fancy? Why the lace? Surely there's a middle way." To these people I say: judge them by their fruits.

The ICRSP have a steady stream of vocations for the priesthood and of women to the religious life. Their parishes are so demographically healthy that anyone much over 40 will be at the top end of the age bell-curve. They run excellent schools, academically and doctrinally rigorous, educating children in the Faith. They run orthodox Catholic summer camps for boys and girls, and traditional Catholic scout groups. In short, they are a massive success story. So why the nay-saying? Moreover, the four young men in these pictures are doing something of such magnitude and importance that the mind boggles. They are becoming consecrated servants of God. They will hear our confessions, baptise our babies, anoint our sick bodies, and feed our souls with the body and blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ transubstantiated in their consecrated hands. They have left the world behind in order to serve Our Lord and to serve us. While there are photographs of family and friends with this year's ordinands, it not always the case that a new priest will have anyone  to support him at his ordination: priests come from all backgrounds, and in a secular society this may mean that they've had to endure hostility and even rejection from family (and/or friends) to get to their ordination day. This is not idle speculation, I know more than one priest for whom this is the case and for whom following Christ has meant leaving his family behind. Bearing all of this in mind, is it not a bit churlish to begrudge a bit of high ceremony on a day of such magnitude in a young man's life?

Besides, I defy anyone to remain dry-eyed looking at the photographs of the family and friends' blessings (page 10 on this set of photos).

Please pray for these four young priests, and all their brother priests, that God may strengthen them and help them always in their vocation.

God bless the ICRSP! God bless all of our priests!

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Q. When is a good Catholic school not a Catholic school?

Catholic education: back to the future?
Photo credit: Foxtongue on Flickr

A. When it wants to remain faithful to the Magesterium.

...or at least so I'm told. A friend in France recently told me about a wonderful Catholic school: the headmaster is a Catholic priest, the majority of the teachers are also Catholic priests and the remainder are faithful lay-persons. ALL of the students are Catholic. The Faith imbues every aspect of the children's education, and they learn the catechism, history and laws of the Church in the most traditional way.

This is unusual in France where diocesan Catholic schools have teachers' salaries paid by the state, but have a contribution made by the diocese (and often by parents as well) and the buildings are owned by the Church. Despite being largely state funded, these are often called "private". Parental contribution aside, this sounds remarkably similar to what we call "grant maintained" here. Ah yes, and the diocesan schools have the same problems as our grant-maintained schools here in the UK: the government dictates curriculum and admissions. In France, I've been told, state funded schools are not allowed to discriminate on the grounds of religion for admissions, so "Catholic" schools can end up in the ludicrous position of having few if any Catholic students. Sound familiar?

Another problem is meddling from the educational teams within the diocese. Schools are persuaded to follow government guidelines, implement politically correct agendas, and downplay the aspects of the Faith less palatable to the liberal intelligentsia (or "Marxists" as my correspondent grimly calls them).

So how has the school in question avoided all of these pitfalls and managed to remain a truly Catholic school for Catholic children? Simple. Technically it isn't a Catholic school. By not calling itself a Catholic school, it has no obligation  to have any administrative relationship with the diocese. By not taking any money from the state it has no obligation to teach any particular curriculum. Parents pay a small amount every month (subsidised where necessary) and benefactors make up the rest. The total annual cost for each student is less than the monthly fees for a cheap independent school in the South East of England. The school is run on a shoe-string but provides a first-class classical education and a sound Catholic foundation at both primary and secondary levels. What's not to like?

I think there's a lesson to be learned, and in the UK's current political climate we may have an advantage here over our Gallic cousins: the government's extended Academies programme promises state-funded schools the kind of autonomy that independent schools currently have in terms of curriculum and admissions. Why not create a truly independent, traditional, rigorously Catholic school -- just keep the word "Catholic" out of the name to maintain its independence. Failing that, perhaps it's time to ignore the ludicrous UK "market rate" for independent education, and see what is feasible with the financial input of Catholic philanthropists of both large and ordinary means.

Vaughan parents take heart - there must be another way!

Friday, 15 July 2011

Bastille Day: not a lot to celebrate

A priest friend of ours in France says that he thinks the root of all that is wrong with his country lies in the French Revolution. Apart from a few years of respite during the first restoration, the country has gone - almost literally - to Hell in a handbasket since then. 

Being an ornery sort, I had to disagree. I felt that things had started going awry a couple of hundred years earlier with the wars of Religion and the various Protestant uprisings, but that the '89 Revolution had cemented the damage. Either way, France has ended up a viciously secular country with a deeply ingrained anti-clericism that I imagine Richard Dawkins and his ilk can only envy.

There's a  forceful and thought provoking passage from Joseph de Maistre on the French Revolution ("essentially Satanic...") worth reading at Rorate Caeli, and Richard Collins at Linen On The Hedgerow remembers the many Catholics martyred during the French Revolution, particularly those from the Vendee. Today I thought of our local martyr Charles François de Saint Simon Sandricourt,the last Bishop of Agde and one of the last victims of The Terrorguillotined in Paris on July 26, 1794 as well as the 17 Carmelite nuns who went to the guilletine singing the Veni Creator Spiritus

That gentle reminder....

Today's Gospel reading always seems to come around when I most need to hear its message:
 'Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest.  Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden light.' Matthew 11:28-30

It takes a great act of will to surrender oneself and simply trust God - the temptation is great to fret, to worry, over-analyse. I know I certainly do. It is human to crave certainty, to try to predict the future but I think we move closer to God when we can simply let go and have confidence that God will guide us, will carry us through whatever life brings.
Do not look forward to the changes and chances of this life with fear. Rather, look to them with full confidence that, as they arise, God to whom you belong will in his love enable you to profit by them. He has guided you thus far in life. Do you but hold fast to His dear hand, and He will lead you safely through all trials. Whenever you cannot stand, He will carry you lovingly in his arms.
Do not look forward to what may happen tomorrow. The same Eternal Father who takes care of you today will take care of you tomorrow, and every day of your life. Either He will shield you from suffering or He will give you unfailing strength to bear it
Be at peace then, and put aside all useless thoughts, all vain dreads and all anxious imaginations.
Saint Francis de Sales (1567-1622)

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Too Modern to Mantilla

One of the things that surprised me about attending Mass in the Extraordinary Form in France was that even in a busy church, not a single mantilla was to be seen, and I was planning on asking our priest (or Monsieur le Chanoine as he is known) about this at lunch a couple of days before we came back to the UK. 

As it happened, I didn't need to bring it up: he did. He was very happy, he said, to see me and the girls wearing our mantillas, and (gulp!) had apparently spoken about this in his sermon the Sunday we were away from his parish playing Cathedral dodge. He hoped that seeing ours might have encourage some of his French parishioners to consider wearing a mantilla. 

But why don't women wear them? I asked. Is there an association with la voile intégrale as the (banned) Islamic niquab is called? Not at all, he replied. French women simply don't like the idea of wearing a mantilla because they (French women) are modern.


He continued: there is an idea that being modern is good. That the mantilla is not modern. Therefore French women don't wear the mantilla.

Hang on, I protested. We're not talking about the average French woman in the queue at the boulangerie here. We're talking about women who attend the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. Who are faithful to the Magisterium. Who are open to the gift of life and have large families. Who home-educate. Who nurture vocations. I've met these women. They're sound. Surely these women are not held back from wearing a mantilla simply because it's seen as being "unmodern".  

But his response was that apparently they are. Modernism has crept into all corners of the French church: this would explain why the EF Mass in France was a bit of a mélange - a dialogue Mass with more standing and less kneeling than I'm used to. And the tension between being a Traditional Catholic and a Modern French woman, means that, at the moment, the mantilla loses out. 

I know the whole subject is controversial -- Fr. Z's poll earlier this year showed as much. But to not see even one mantilla in a busy Traditional parish is, I think, very odd. I feel that the mantilla is part of our identity as traditional Catholic women, and to not even have it on your radar as an option feels wrong. It is, apparently, worn by all women in the SSPX Masses in France, but this hasn't helped its reputation within the EF community as it's linked with stories - whether apocryphal or not - of women at SSPX Masses being refused Holy Communion because they were wearing trousers / a skirt that was too short / no mantilla.  

That was the end of that part of the conversation and we moved onto other matters (and dessert), except to say that I suggested having a few mantillas available for purchase within the parish: supply may dictate demand. Stranger things have happened. 

(***Ok, ok so "mantilla" isn't a verb. Perhaps it should be. Repeat after me: I mantilla, you mantilla, she mantillas, they mantilla, we mantilla...)

St Thomas More and St John Fisher: Ora pro nobis!

 "Blessed Thomas More is important today, but he is not as important now as he will be in one hundred years from today."
-G.K. Chesterton (1929)

"I condemn no other man’s conscience: their conscience may save them, and mine must save me. We should remember, in all the controversies in which we engage, to treat our opponents as if they were acting in good faith, even if they seem to us to be acting out of spite or self-interest."
-St John Fisher

St Thomas More and St John Fisher, pray for the Church, pray for us!

Sunday, 3 July 2011

One of the best presents I've ever received... this beautiful 1952 Missel Vespéral Romain, given to me this afternoon by our lovely Priest from Chapelle Saint Rita in Béziers when he realised that my missal was Latin-English only. I was interested to find out that it has the "correct" translation of the Lord's Prayer: ne nous laissez pas succomber a la tentation
rather than the modern ne nous soumets pas a la tentation
The difference is roughly "...and do not let us succumb to temptation" as opposed to "...lead us not into temptation."  Obviously the modern French version mirrors our own English translation. My 1962 Latin-English missal has the same translation. Does anybody know whether an earlier English translation exists similar to the old French? The difference between asking Our Lord to help us not to succumb to temptation rather than asking Him not to lead us into temptation (would God do such a thing?) is striking.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Cœur Sacré de Jésus j'ai confiance en Vous

Happy Feast Day! We celebrated with Adoration, Benediction, Confession and Mass  (EF) at Chapelle Saint-Rita in Béziers... then went home to Agde to have moules-frites and glaces in a cafe on the promenade. It was almost 30 degrees at 10 pm...