Sunday, 28 August 2011

Praying for your children's future spouses and their families

I first saw this suggested years ago on a Catholic email list and thought it was a lovely idea. 

Think about it: somewhere in the world there is a child who will marry one of your children. That child has a family. Someday your paths will all cross, but only Our Lord knows the day and the hour.

Pray for their faith, health, safety and well being as well as that of their families.

And if your child is called to the religious life, I'm sure the prayers for his/her spouse will not be wasted: Our Lord will have seen that one coming long before you did!

Prayer for the Family - Pope John Paul II 

Lord God, from you every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.

Father, you are Love and Life.

Through your Son, Jesus Christ, born of woman, and through the Holy Spirit, fountain of divine charity, grant that every family on earth may become for each successive generation a true shrine of life and love.

Grant that your grace may guide the thoughts and actions of husbands and wives for the good of their families and of all the families in the world.

Grant that the young may find in the family solid support for their human dignity and for their growth in truth and love.

Grant that love, strengthened by the grace of the sacrament of
marriage, may prove mightier than all the weakness and trials through which our families sometimes pass.

Through the intercession of the Holy Family of Nazareth,
grant that the Church may fruitfully carry out her worldwide mission in the family and through the family.

Through Christ our Lord, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life
for ever and ever.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

"Change Your Life!" Michael Voris in London

I'm really glad that I went to the Michael Voris talk last night: it exceeded expectations. Beforehand, as we waited, one of our group joked that he might run onto the stage to some rousing music; I suggested the "Rocky" theme. We all snickered. I felt somewhat ashamed when he did come on and had a real spirit of humility about him: sure he's a practised orator, albeit in a very casual style. So much for the better -- it's hard to hold an audience in thrall for an hour unless you're a skilled speaker -- but he came across as sincere, authentic and profoundly Catholic. You got the sense that you were listening to a man with an genuine love for Christ, who is profoundly grateful for his re-conversion and the shot at eternity it gives him. A man who has discovered the pearl of great price, and wants to share it with as many people as possible.

He started and ended with prayer, and constantly redirected our focus to the Holy Trinity. This was not the "Michael Voris" show, he was the medium not the message. Some highlights included Voris's memory of Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen's response to a hippy who wanted him to read a book combining Catholicism and Eastern mysticism: "Get out! Get out! The Catholic Faith is a gift from Almightly God and I won't have you polluting it!" (a Vortex with the same incident is linked to below) and his question to the audience: how will you measure up in heaven against the martyrs of the early centuries of the Church?

That last question underlined much of the talk: it is not enough, argued Voris to be "a Catholic", to fully embrace the Faith one needs to be "Catholic", no indefinite article, no qualification, no secondary identity. To be Catholic is to embrace Our Lord fully and to be prepared to accept His cross. You might be made fun of, you might lose a few friends or compromise your career, but, argued Voris, none of these measure up to the sacrifices made by early Christians so that we could have the Faith handed down to us.

Voris pointed out that God's word through the Catholic Church is Truth: when faced with Truth you can either reject it or embrace it. Embracing Truth means changing your life. Taking up your cross to follow Christ. Keeping one eye on eternity while trying to live the Truth here on earth. God didn't intend us to pick and choose the bits we like, to water down Truths to suit fashion and cultural climate, or to accommodate those who oppose the Truth. This is where Michael Voris comes most into conflict with those who disagree with him: those who feel that he promotes a Catholicism that is too rigid, too unyielding, not gentle or accommodating or palatable enough for those who disagree with parts of the Magesterium or who believe that all religions are essentially aiming for the same place.  Voris would argue that these people misunderstand the meaning of the word charity -> caritas -> love. He argued, persuasively, that to elide the Truth in order to prevent hurt feelings or offended sensibilities is the direct opposite of charity. Charity - love for the other - involves biting the bullet and telling the Truth in those matters that affect the salvation of souls. Hurt feelings are nothing compared to an eternity in Hell. Having been given a wake-up call by his dying mother, Voris is profoundly grateful for her lack of tact in addressing his dissolute lifestyle and the slippery slope to Hell it was leading him down. He she been tactful, he'd probably not be standing in front a a full house at the Regent Hall in London, exhorting his listeners to save souls, embrace the Faith and live radically.

Based on last night's talk, I'd say that none of the criticisms I've heard leveled at Michael Voris would stick. He was humble, charitable, amusing, self-effacing, meticulously faithful to the Magesterium, Catholic down to his very essence. Oh, and to knock another myth on the head: his hair was clearly all his own.

Among the people I went with there was (at least) one skeptic who, by the end of the talk was utterly convinced of Voris's sincerity and orthodoxy. The general consensus was "What's not to like"? followed by "Why are our shepherds not speaking as clearly and plainly as Michael Voris?"


Another reason that last night was good fun was because it was a sort of accidental blognic -- and I got to go to the pub(!) which is a rare occurrence.  It was great to meet fellow Guild of Blessed Titus Brandsma bloggers Lawrence "Bones" England (even if he didn't have a clue who I was! See if I scribble in your combox again! :-P), Paul "OTSOTA" Priest, and Dylan "Reluctant Sinner" Perry, as well as seeing pals Mac "Mulier Fortis" McLernon and Bara Brith. There were lots of familiar faces in the audience (which was packed to capacity on the ground floor) including some new friends from the recent NACF  pilgrimage to Walsingham. I also discovered that a fellow parishioner is, like me, a former rat fancier: now there's an essay topic - "Connections between Extraordinary Form Mass-goers and small livestock fancying". The mind boggles. It was good to see such a strong turnout from faithful Catholics, many of whom had traveled a considerable distance to get to the talk. Having an opportunity to socialise afterwards was a bonus, and made me wonder whether or not some "Juventutem" style evenings could be arranged for oldies like "Mr.Annie Elizabeth" & me  who are well beyond Juventutem age but who enjoy good conversation and socialising with faithful Catholics?

As a last aside, I'll leave you with a rare sighting of the Lesser Spotted Mulier Fortis left (literally) holding the baby!

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Countercultural family life

Picture credit: A Catholic Notebook

A post about Distinctive Catholic Markers on Father Ray Blake's blog got me thinking, not only about those visible things that set us aside as Catholics, but also those small matters of attitude that are so different from mainstream thought as to be truly counter cultural. One that I've mused on a lot in recent months is the idea of vocation as opposed to "career" for our children.

When I was growing up there was a lot of talk about exams and achievements that were expected, and later on stuff about careers but nothing at all about vocation. No sense that I needed God in order to make sense of what I should be doing with my life. It's probably not surprising that I made a bit of a hash of things: Oh I got the academic laurels and had the glittering career all right, but I squandered more than a decade of my life living a life that was fairly spiritually empty, never sure what I should be doing, constantly trying to fill a God shaped hole, and looking in all the wrong places. I can only say that it's thanks to the workings of the Holy Spirit that I didn't continue barreling down the wrong path.

Clearly the Holy Spirit works in ways that we can not even begin to understand. A very holy priest friend of ours came from an unlikely background: one parent a lapsed Catholic, the other an atheist. The children brought up without even a cursory reference to God. Siblings all went into the hard sciences and are not believers, but the eldest became a priest. How? Briefly - a blinding flash of a conversion in his late teens, followed by a baptism and the sacraments. The atheist father said he'd accept his son becoming a Catholic "as long as you don't become a priest". Not many years later, the son entered the seminary and the rest is, as they say, history.

But this is really the exception to the rule. It's difficult to underestimate the importance of Catholic families who encourage their children to think about their vocation from an early age, so that those children can take on board the idea that God has a plan for each of us, and that our role in life is to try to discern what He wants us to do, and how He wants us to use the talents that we have been given. This applies to the married vocation as much as religious vocations. Thinking about the idea of "vocation" at all is, I think, a very Catholic thing; the idea that we need to discern what God wants us to do with our lives.

One common problem is that many people in their late teens and early twenties tend to take themselves very seriously (it goes with the territory, it's a phase), and if they haven't had a serious spiritual grounding, been given a good sense of perspective,  can lose their way very easily in the mire of post-adolescent egotism and cargo-cult spirituality. If,  on the other hand, we've understood from a young age  that we have a role in God's plan, that we have God-given gifts, talents and skill that we need to use to their best potential in order to fulfill God's work, then we are handed a lifeline during the post-adolescent years.

So the family is crucial is vital in providing a perspective that counters that of Society, but the message needs to be imbibed at the breast so to speak, not introduced in adolescence. A child who knows from the time he can lisp his first prayers that God made him to know him, love him and serve him in this life and to be happy with him forever in the next will not find it incongruous at the age of seven or eight to start considering what God's plan for him might be. This groundwork means that the "conversation" is already open by the time that adolescence beckons.

Don't ask me how we do it -- those lucky enough to have been brought up in faith filled families have a template to use; the rest of us simply do our best and muddle through with the information, advice and help we have. And we pray. A lot. Ideally as a family. And we pester people too: so please don't be offended if you're a never-lapsed cradle Catholic and a nosy woman starts asking you about what you think your parents did right. I'm not just being nosy, I'm just trying to add to the sum of my knowledge in order to give my children the best shot at keeping it Catholic as they get older. I don't think that it's rocket science - the things that seem to make the most difference are (in no order): having a father as well as a mother who is a practising Catholic, seeing your father pray, praying as a family, having Catholic friends, having Catholic family friends, having a good understanding of the Faith... Please add to my list in the combox if you can.

Monday, 22 August 2011

The heroin model: why I don't have a TV

Years ago, long before I had children, I worked for a large sinister media corporation (I've worked for a few). My experience one afternoon in a commissioning meeting for a high profile pre-school television series made me decide instantly: "when I have children I'll never let them watch TV". On the surface it was a strange snap decision to make given that I was surrounded by (childless) TV and multimedia types glowing with enthusiasm for this educational and thoroughly worthwhile project for the kiddies. It was a throwaway comment that made all the difference, that exposed what it was really all about:

"It's the heroin addiction model"


Well, as it turned out, education and entertainment were secondary considerations in the commissioning of this popular children's programme. "We need to get children hooked on the brand from an earlier age so that they'll be loyal consumers later in life" was the actual rational for spending a small fortune on programming for pre-verbal infants in nappies. Publically it was all about "early years education" and "developmentally appropriate on-screen learning".  Of course.

Not my children, I thought.

And so, we're a TV-free household.

We're not completely weird Luddite freaks - we do have computers and watch dvds, but rarely. A few times a year my husband and I will watch something online, but it usually only serves to reinforce our view that TV is rubbish. Screen based entertainment features very low in our familiy's life, in large part because we just don't have the time. We're busy doing all the things that people don't do when they're watching TV, and nobody is hooked on "the brand".

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Why are they so miserable?

I'm continually struck by how angry, unhappy and, frankly, messed-up anti-Catholic protesters always seem to be. Looking at the photos of "protesters" verbally attacking young pilgrims at WYD in Madrid made me feel physically sick: it was as though the "protesters" were trying to destroy the peace and happiness they saw manifested before them. As though they, having rejected the pearl of great price, wanted to snatch it from the hands of the pilgrims and trample it underfoot.

Photo: Reuters 
(twitch of the mantilla to Joe @ Defend Us in Battle)

Compare the posture of the pilgrims with that of the person confronting them. Contrast the scabs on the central girl pilgrim's knees with the bitter accusatory look on the figure to the right. There are more photos that tell the same story on the Reuters website.

Perhaps some good may come from this darkness: Fr. Ray Blake writes about a lapsed Catholic woman who's came back to the Church as a result of comparing and contrasting the faces of the pilgrims and protesters at last years's Papal visit.
 She saw the the anti-Pope snarling mob led by Dawkins and Tatchel, with their plastic devil horns and inflated condoms, sex "toys" and angry faces and she saw the sheer joy of those cheering the Pope and the banners carried by the enthusiastic youth. She said it wasn't about arguments, it was about faces. Dawkins & co. glaring and hopeless, those who were there cheering the Pope full of hope and smiling - anger and joy, hate and love

Hopefully in Madrid comparing and contrasting the the pilgrims and protesters will bring about similar conversions of heart.

All this week whenever I've seen photos like the one above, lines from Matthew 18 have kept coming to mind:

[6] But he that shall scandalise one of these little ones that believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be drowned in the depth of the sea. [7] Woe to the world because of scandals. For it must needs be that scandals come: but nevertheless woe to that man by whom the scandal cometh.

I find it hard to pray for people like the so-called protesters, but I suppose they are the ones in most need of our prayer. It is hard to muster charity for those so intent on destroying the faith and happiness of others.

Biretta Barbie

This is just so very, very WRONG.

So wrong, in fact, that it's actually an eloquent essay in why the whole idea of female ordination is a non-starter, pictures being worth a thousand words and all that jazz. Where do you start?'s from a state-side Episcopalian blog, if you hadn't already guessed.

Friday, 19 August 2011

New to the Extraordinary Form? Here's a great new resource.

A new blog that does exactly what it says on the tin: "New to the Extraordinary Form: An irenic* guide for perplexed inquirers to the older form of the Roman Mass" is a project by "an enthusiast for the Traditional Latin Mass, ...[who] wish[es] to share [his] experiences and love of the liturgy with others." The blog has only been running since 12 August and is already a valuable resource for those unfamiliar with the Extraordinary Form or who would simply like to learn more about it. There are some lovely photos and old pictures on the site.

A note in the sidebar points out that the a blog author will very shortly be beginning seminary formation with the Priestly Fraternity of St Peter, at Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary in Denton, Nebraska. He's very kindly offered to answer any question through the combox (" ask as many questions as you like: nothing is too stupid!") but warns that "[i]f you are here looking for polemics, sorry, wrong place. You won't get it here. Take your fight elsewhere please."

You can also support the seminarian(-to-be)/blogger during his formation at the FSSP seminary with prayers and material help: he gives information in the sidebar. 

I think this is a really worthwhile project -- pop over and have a look. 

**BTW, I had to look up "irenic" as it's a word I'd not come across before. According to it's a  "part of Christian theology concerned with reconciling different denominations and sects". So now you know too!

Even Martin Luther...

...wouldn't have done this:

It's edifying when one's gut instinct is backed up with science, research, or at least history. Those "I knew it but couldn't prove it until now" moments are precious. Here's a little one: not exactly proof, but an interesting  historical perspective of the rights and wrongs of communion in the hand from Fr. Simon Henry's blog. Fr Simon (also known as The Priest In The Hat),  quotes Bishop Athanasius Schneider who argues that Communion in the hand is a Calvinist novelty: apparently even a heretic schismatic protestant like Luther wouldn't have countenanced it. In the shortish period when communion in the hand was permitted, the hands would be purified both before and after holding the host, which was never picked up in the communicant's fingers but taken directly off the hand with the tongue. The hand was then licked to ensure that no fragments remained. Women received Holy Communion from a white cloth draped over their hands; a type of corporal. A deacon supervised the purification of hands.

This is in essence much closer to communion on the tongue as we know it than to the modern sense of "communion in the hand" - a shuffling queue to take the Blessed Sacrament from the hands of a layperson (all too often)  then wandering back to the pew while putting it casually into mouth. Perhaps it should be insisted that communion in the hand is permitted, but must be done *properly* -- as above.

"Yes of course you may receive Communion in the hand, just join that queue over there to have your hands purified, Deacon Pius will make sure that you do it properly, then you can join the "in the hand" queue with extra purification afterwards. Or you could just join the no-hassle queue, kneel down and receive on the tongue." 

See how long it would last then!

Read the whole piece here.

Makes you think, doesn't it?

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Michael Voris in London: Living the Faith, Radically

Unless you've been on a desert island, avoiding the Catholic blogosphere, Catholic press and the noticeboard in your parish, you probably know that Michael Voris, coiffed, t-shirted-and-suit-jacketed presenter of Real Catholic TV and  scourge of cafeteria Catholics, will be speaking at the Regent Hall, 275 Oxford Street, London W1C 2DJ, this coming Wednesday 24th August at 7pm. 

I'm not sure how I feel about Michael Voris: so often he's spot-on, eviscerating liturgical flab and sniping at heresy. He's very entertaining and is, on the whole, a force for good. Sometimes, though, he appears to be on a different planet: for example, can anyone explain to me what he means when he says that most American Catholics dress like protestants?  

Then there's the hair. I only mention it because it's a stumbling block to getting people out to see him. I think there are huge cultural differences between the UK and US in terms of presentation, regarding what's acceptable and what's, well, a bit too wacky. On the plus side, Voris's Vortex episodes are fresh, vigorous and in-your-face in a way that we don't often get in the UK, particularly from religious broadcasting. Think "Thought for the day"! Pfffft! But I think we British are naturally wary of slick presentation: it's more often associated with selling used cars than exposing heterodoxy. So the hair (sorry to dwell on it, but I'm wary of trusting any man who clearly spends much longer on his hair than I do on mine), the "hey guys!" showman-slickness -  it all puts people off. The showbiz presentation certainly put off several people whom I've invited to come this week which is a real shame. 

Still I'll be there: I want to hear what Michael V has to say in person. Is he as abrasive live as he is on screen? Perhaps he's a big softie when not surrounded by rabid liberals and the evening will be a cozy chat. Maybe, but I doubt it. Besides, it's possible that some of his favourite target-types may come out to bait observe him. How controversial will his talk be? Apparently it's brand new, written specifically for this engagement. One thing's for sure, next Wednesday night will be interesting. Whether you love Voris or loathe him, I reckon the Regent Hall is the place to be for Catholics in London on the 24th. I look forward to meeting some of you; perhaps a post-gig discussion in a local eatery/hostelry might be in order?

Tickets are still available to buy (or reserve) online from Smeaton's Corner

Oh, and make sure you don't dress like a protestant...

Luther and Calvin - clearly not a good look... 

Monday, 15 August 2011

Too much information: NFP and the Eeeew! factor

** gentle warning - the following blog entry dips into the nitty gritty of fertility awareness, just a little bit. If that kind of thing makes you feel queasy, then perhaps read about one of my favourite cities here **

Girls only sign @ nomads, Byron Bay, Australia
Picture credit: Joaopisco
Not everything needs to be shared... 

A long, long time ago in the bad old days women used to give birth surrounded by birth attendants (midwives, doctors, nurses) while the father nervously paced outside the birth-room anxiously awaiting the arrival of his child. Then, in the 1970s, a pioneering French obstetrician called Michel Odent introduced (amidst some excellent obstetric reforms) the notion of the father being present at the birth. From the exception, the presence of fathers at a birth became the rule. In time, Fathers who were not present at their children's births were considered to be insensitive oafs, even if their fretting often became a distraction to the birth attendants and a source of stress to the labouring mother. These days the norm is that the father is present at the birth, and if he chooses not to, it is considered odd. And yet... and yet... Michel Odent has changed his tune. He says that he never meant the presence of fathers at the birth to become an orthodoxy. He never meant it to be compulsory. He simply didn't want to exclude those fathers who wanted  -- and were wanted by their wives -- to be present at the birth of their child. Now he says that the new orthodoxy of having fathers present - whether they want to or not -- is bad for the birthing woman and, crucially for my point below, bad for the relationship of the parents. Put simply - being down at the "business end" of a birth is traumatic for many men, and can affect their relationship with their wife.

I have similar thoughts about NFP. Done properly, a sympto-thermal approach to fertility awareness involves recording temperature, the position of the cervix and texture/colour of cervical mucus as well as any minor symptoms. Is it really either necessary or desirable for a husband to get involved with this? What possible positive outcome can a discussion of cervical mucus have? The breakfast table conversation just doesn't bear thinking about.

I know there's a tendency for "new men" to like to demonstrate that they are incredibly sensitive and understanding of their women's trials and tribulations. There's even a syndrome whereby men believe themselves to "suffer" from morning sickness when their wives are pregnant (ahem!). But surely it's madness to expect a couple to "discuss" a woman's fertility symptoms on a regular basis? Even the idea of a couple in together with an instructor to be "trained" in fertility awareness / NFP seems a bit eeeeew.

Is the inclusion of men simply a nod to political correctness - if men are supposed to be at the birth of their child, the least they can do is involve themselves with the fertility business beforehand? Is this an echo of the contraception mantra that "men must take responsibility too"? As Catholics we know that men and women were made differently: our bodies are different, and so are our roles. Any attempt to make fertility awareness a "team effort" is a sham: the best a man is going be able to do is nod sympathetically; further involvement is, as the French say, grossière (a nice amalgamation of coarse, vulgar and yuck!).

Fertility awareness is a really valuable tool, it's helpful for a woman to understand her cycle, to know what's normal and what's not. Recording fertiliity data can helpful in diagnosing the reasons for infertility, secondary inferility, or point towards causes of miscarriage. The issues around the information gleaned from practicing fertility awareness could be useful to a couple - for example being aware that cycles are (likely to be) fertile again after a birth - and subjects for legitimate discussion. However I don't see any rationale for including men in the teaching of fertility awareness or NFP. For Catholics, sex is about much more than the mechanics. Including men in the practice of NFP  focuses the mind on the body rather than the whole person.  It seems like a cringe-making bit of political correctness, and surely is unhelpful to a couple's intimate life. What wife wants her husband to be thinking "Temperature - check! Cevical mucus - check! Cervix open - check!" rather than a simple "Wow, I really love this person!"?

Monday, 8 August 2011

Where are all the Catholic Philanthropists?

Just askin'.

I don't mean the grand-gesture industrial magnates who throw a cool million or two towards a papal visit or a new school. These guys are useful, helpful, and obviously every little penny helps, but the "grand gesture" philanthropists aren't -- or at least shouldn't be - the bread-and-butter of giving to the Church.

When WW2 broke out and Belfast was being hammered by the Luftwaffe, my grandfather, a self-made man, gave away all but one of his collection of six or seven cars to local priests to enable them to visit the sick, injured and dying. Today this seems like a grand gesture, but I don't think that my grandfather saw it as such. He just did what was needed. He gave without counting the cost as an old Parish Priest of ours was fond of saying. Anyone in his position would have done the same, and it was never mentioned in his lifetime; he would have been mortified. He simply did what he could to help, as did many, many other people. For people of that generation it was taken for granted that helping to the best of your abilities or resources is what you did.

In a similar vein - unremarkable then, remarkable now: our former parish church, like many, was paid for entirely by the local population. It was built in the early 20th C, but had extensive additions later on, also paid for by the local population. People saved and gave. I remember reading the history of the parish and wondering whether it would be possible, less than a hundred years later, to have the same thing happen if the church needed to be replaced for some reason. I doubt it, not because local people aren't devoted to their parish, nor because the parish lacks a stable congregation (it doesn't, it's a thriving and much more affluent parish than it would have been a century ago). People's priorities are different now. There's an assumption that somebody else pays. That "somebody"  might be a corporate body, or "the Church" (clearly removing ourselves from the equation), or the government, or one of the super-rich, but I don't think that the layperson in the pews sees himself as a philanthropic giver in the way that people used, a few short generations ago.

Reading Fr. Finigan's post about Sacred Heart Church in Limerick and thinking about the money needed for the new ICKSP apostolate in New Birghton Wirral made me wonder about the "whos" and "hows" of funding such projects.

It's entirely up to us: me and you. If we don't take responsibility for the things that matter, then who will? The time is now to give and not count the cost.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Shame the devil - Support the first Traditional Parish in the United Kingdom

As regular readers will be aware, I love the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest and this blog occasionally reads like something of an unofficial fan club for the order. The ICRSP (or ICKSP in English, but I'm finding the K hard to get used to!) are an inspiring and successful Traditional order with a healthy stream of vocations and are a solid bulwark of orthodoxy in an increasingly heterodox French church. They describe themselves thus:

The Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest is a Society of Apostolic Life of Pontifical Right whose goal is the honor of God and the sanctification of priests in the service of the Church and souls. Its specific aim is missionary: to spread the reign of our Lord Jesus Christ in all spheres of human life. Our work is carried out under the patronage of the Immaculate Conception, to Whom the Institute is consecrated. (ICKSP US Website)

In France they have flourishing parishes, run academically and doctrinally rigorous schools, summer camps and scout groups. They have 35 houses in ten countries, 50 priests, and more than 60 seminarians in 15 years. How often I have wished that we had an apostolate of theirs here!

Naturally, then, I was delighted by the news in June that the Right Rev. Mark Davies has invited the order to set up the first completely Traditional parish in England and Wales. It will be set up as a Personal Parish under the provision of the Motu Proprio, 'Summorum Pontificium' for all faithful attached to the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. It is the first time that an Ecclesia Dei institute has taken over a parish in the UK, and as such is a breakthrough for the Traditional Form of the Roman Rite here.

The ICRSP will be taking over and restoring the church of SS Peter and Paul, in New Brighton, Wirral. The church is built in a classical style on a grand scale -- it was originally built by the contributions of the faithful, and the IRCSP are hoping that the necessary renovations can be funded in the same way. I'm sure that there are many,  particularly among the secular lobby, who would say "certainly that sort of thing may have happened in times past, but there's no way that it could happen today!" Let's prove them wrong and get this church renovated and opened on time for the Greater Glory of God!

 The latest edition of Mass of Ages  has an article about the order, the new parish and the church, as well as giving some indication of the momentous renovation task facing the order before the parish can open in September. In an insert to Mass of Ages, Canon William Hudson of the ICKSP says:

The Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest is delighted to announce that it will be opening the first Traditional Parish in England and Wales. This is a major breakthrough for the Traditional Mass. The Bishop of Shrewsbury, the Right Rev. Mark Davies, has invited the Institute to make an important foundation in his diocese, based in the imposing church of SS Peter and Paul, New Brighton, Wirral.
 In September three members of the Institute will be taking up residence in the presbytery and starting this new  and hugely exciting apostolate.
But we urgently need your help to make this a reality! 
In the long term the church will need considerable work. But in the immediate future we are aiming to raise £40,000 to cover essential restoration of the presbytery and other 'start up' costs. 
Without your generosity this project cannot go ahead! 
Thank you for helping make this project a reality. 
Yours sincerely in Christ the King,
Canon William Hudson

You can contribute to the appeal  by sending a (UK) cheque made out to: Institute of Christ the King 
and sent to:
Canon William Hudson, ICKSP Brussels International Catholic School, Chaussée de Wavre 457, 1040 Brussels, Belgium

Non-UK readers could send an International Money Order in UK Pounds made out to the same details at the same address.

I would also ask you all to join me in an extra prayer for Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury who has made this possible by inviting the Institute of Christ the King in this momentous venture. Bishop Davies specifically wants SS Peter and Paul to be a centre of devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and so "to be open to all Catholics and for it to be a model in this regard for the entire diocese" (Mass of Ages, Aug 2011, p15).

On so many counts it is important that this venture is successful -- not least of all because the Devil himself will want it to fail, knowing as he will how many souls a parish like this will save.

God bless the IRCSP! God bless Bishop Mark Davies! God bless our Pope!

NFP or Fertility Awareness? Time for a rethink?

I've always been uncomfortable with the "planning" aspect of so-called "Natural Family Planning". It struck me years ago that surely "planning" is the last thing that we as Catholics should be doing with our families -- either God gives us children, or He doesn't.  Planning jars with an attitude of unconditional openness to new life. We shouldn't schedule children in between jobs, or degrees, or at a convenient time. Of course there is the dispensation that NFP can licitly be used to delay the potential conception of a child for "grave reasons", and this is often stated in support of the NFP-as-Catholic-contraception point of view. But surely truly "grave reasons" are rare. I imagine that very few families encounter genuinely "grave" reasons to avoid another pregnancy. I don't reckon that "we can't afford another set of private school fees" (I'm not making that up) or even "we only have one/two/three bedrooms"  counts as a "grave reason". God provides. Often not in the ways that we imagine that we need provision, or in the ways that we would choose, but He provides what we need. Remember the birds of the air and the lilies of the field in Matthew 6.

Much is often made of a couple being "ready" for the responsibility of parenthood. This usually means that they're settled, both gainfully and securely employed, have reasonable financial resources (savings, pensions, etc.) to draw upon, have access to a strong support network of paid (nannies, cleaners) or unpaid (grandparents, neighbours) help. How unrealistic is that?  There's also the unarticulated sense that "ready" for parenthood means that you've had some "me time" (or "us time" for a couple) before complicating life with the pesky and messy reality of children. A sense that once you get your ducks lined up -- home, finances, support, have had all the "me time/ us time" needed -- then, and only then, will a couple be "ready" to have children.

I have news for anyone who believes this. Nobody is ever entirely ready to have children. Nobody. The "right time" to have a baby is the day your baby arrives, and you need to embrace it and accept that your life has changed forever: unimaginably, wonderfully.  Don't even get me started on the "having a baby needn't change your life" brigade. There's something seriously wrong if having a baby doesn't change your life. It's one of the few things that you'll ever do that is, literally, life changing. Embrace it. Move on. Thank God for the great gift that each new life is. But whatever happens, don't wait for the "right time" -- it will never arrive. The same goes for subsequent children. You'll never be ready, trust me, but you'll love them when they arrive and, with God's help, will cope with whatever comes your way.

So if the "right" time to have your baby is when your baby arrives, what's all the guff about being "ready"? Why the pressure to wait? I once  took the headmaster of a Catholic primary school to task about this at a meeting, asking how the advice he'd just given (to parents, as part of a demonstration of what the school was planning to teach in a sex-education course)  which was that it was important NOT to have a baby before having stable employment, savings, and preferably having bought a house (!)  could be squared with Catholic teaching. He backtracked and said that, in fact, he and his wife hadn't done any of this -- they married at university, lived on a shoestring with young children, and so forth -- but that he felt that it was the school's role to teach children about responsible parenting. Ahem.

My discomfort with the "planning" aspect of NFP was amplified several years ago when I met a young married Catholic couple on a pilgrimage. They had recently had their first child, and were interested in learning about NFP, largely because they had been told that they ought to. They had been directed to the local branch of the Family Planning Association who apparently had somebody who could teach them about NFP. The wife confided that she felt profoundly uncomfortable going into a building belonging to an organisation that provided abortion referrals, emergency "contraception", and so forth, but hadn't been able to find anywhere else nearby. As it turned out, the venue was too off putting, and they only ever went once. I don't know if they ever managed to find another NFP instructor.

So let's get to the nitty gritty. What is "NFP" about? Is it an acceptable form of "pro-life" contraception, or is it not?  On its own, NFP is essentially a tool box of knowledge -- in and of itself it is morally neutral: it is how we choose to use this knowledge that makes it licit or illicit. I think the truth is that it is often implicitly "marketed" as "Catholic contraception", perhaps as an attempt to appeal to couples currently using artificial means of contraception in the hope that they'll change to a morally "better" method. I think that this conversion from artificial contraception to NFP-used-as-contraception it is often seen as the "least bad" scenario, the most "realistic" if you will. This is simply wrong.  The notion of "planning" denotes the same sort of "control" that artificial contraception promotes. Not ready for a baby:? Don't worry about it, just avoid your danger days and -- hey -- no pesky infants to worry about.

It may be semantics, but what we say often guides our actions and our thoughts. Even if we teach "Natural Family Planning" in the best conscience, the fact that we're calling it "family planning" makes it (to my mind at least) unsound from a Catholic perspective. We're on a slippery slope to thinking that we can control the show, or, if not control it, then at least stack the odds against having a baby / another baby. This is utterly at odds with being open to the gift of new life.

There are benefits to understanding the fertility that God has blessed us with, but that's why I prefer the term "fertility awareness" to NFP which has a ring of contraception-by-stealth about it. "Fertility awareness" is a more accurate and more acceptable label: one that is open to life. By calling the various observational practises under the NFP umbrella "fertility awareness" we're simply stating the fact that we're aware of our fertility, not that we're trying to control, sideline, or otherwise distort the natural order. We're not  using the contraceptive mentality of "control" and "planning". There are very good licit reasons for a woman to be aware of her fertility signs - increasing the chances of conception, being aware of changes that flag occult medical problems at an early stage (e.g. ovarian cancer, cysts, fibroids:  all things with very subtle symptoms that are better treated sooner rather than later); being aware of and therefore better able to manage the menopause, and so forth.. Being aware of her fertility signs also means that a woman can be aware of a return to fertility after a baby, or have a better understanding about why she and her husband are not conceiving (the length of various parts of the cycle can indicate particular problems; for example, a short luteal phase, which would make it difficult or impossible for a fertilised egg to implant, usually indicates subnormal levels of progesterone). Understanding these little things mean that couples can self-help, or at least understand the sort of help they need to seek.

Thinking about it from this perspective, should "fertility awareness" be a female only domain? That's the next instalment. Watch this space.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

"I will show you the way to Heaven"

"You have shown me the way to Ars, now I will show you the way to Heaven." This is what Saint Jean-Marie Baptiste Vianney said to the little boy who had just shown him how to find the village of Ars.

St Jean-Marie Baptiste Vianney, patron saint of priests, on the priesthood:
"Without the priest, the passion and death of our Lord would be of no avail. It is the priest who continues the work of redemption here on earth...What use would be a house filled with gold, were there no one to open its door? The priest holds the key to the treasures of heaven: it is he who opens the door: he is the steward of the good Lord; the administrator of His goods...Leave a parish for twenty years without a priest and they will end by worshipping the beasts there..The priest is not a priest for himself, he is a priest for you."

With Saint Jean-Marie Baptiste Vianney's feast day coming up -- 4th in the August Ordinary Form and 8th August in the Extraordinary Form -- it is a good time to reflect on the sacrifices made by those priests with whom we have a relationship: those who have baptised us and our children, who have heard our confessions, married us, prayed for us and with us; who have nourished our souls with the Body and Blood of our Blessed Saviour. Reflect and, of course, pray for them: for those priests who are struggling with their vocation;  those who feel alone, perhaps unsupported by their brother priests or bishops; for those young men who are considering whether or not God is calling them to his Holy Priesthood; for those young boys who may one day become priests, and for their families, that they may foster their budding vocations. For all those who show us -- and who will one day show our children -- the way to heaven.

God bless our priests! Saint Jean-Marie Baptiste Vianney pray for our priests! Pray for us!