A Diagnosis?

Sydney seems to have a hotter summer than I remember from my youth. There were hot days then of course, but it seems more unrelentingly hot now. Global warming? Or has absence disacclimatized me?

This trip to Sydney was planned in haste, a result of the slings and arrows of outrageous monastic life. This visit I find myself more engaged by the city’s colonial history. My reverend nephew—also sojourning in Sydney at present for some restorative rest with the family—and I have visited a number of colonial houses both private and public. For example, there was Elizabeth Bay House, a compact but grand house with now-lost extensive gardens, and Vaucluse House, more modestly grand and still with substantial gardens. The former is very much an house, the latter feels far more an home. My reverend nephew prefers the house, my reverend self prefers the home. Make of that what you will.

Elizabeth Bay House
Vaucluse House

On my return I shall be reassigned, probably to the mission. No bad thing; the cloister often proves a cosy and evangelically enervating refuge from ecclesiastical reality, despite its own unique existential challenges.

Ecclesiastical reality is certainly far from boring at present. A cardinal, having been de-cardinaled has now been de-frocked (there being more than a little irony in the ‘frock’). Another potboiler exposé of life in some parts of the Roman curia is shortly to hit the shelves. For all its probable excesses it will probably hit more than one bullseye. After years of being turned on the presbyterate, the screws are now being turned on the episcopacy. This, too, will probably prove a necessary purgative. Ordinaries, both episcopal and religious, will be reminded of the primacy of justice and doctrinal integrity over institutional PR and superficial stability.

Many have sought to diagnose the source of our current woes. The source remains fundamentally the same: human sin, not least that of pride in all the often subtle variety of its guises. But there are some more proximate and particular causes. Many have alighted on the implementation of the Pastoral Council, some saying it went too far off piste, others that it went off not far enough. The liturgy has emerged as the touchstone of the debate, the drama of human sexuality notwithstanding.

My escapist secular reading at present is Saki’s The Unbearable Bassington. In the midst of its catty witticisms one finds more than one moment of insightfulness. Moreover, it seems some things are perennial beneath their contemporary costume. Did Saki, writing in 1912, alight on a penetrating insight of enduring worth, clothed as Wildean witty flippancy? I quote his Rev Poltimore Vardon…

I would stimulate the waning enthusiasm for Christianity in this country by labelling it as the exclusive possession of a privileged few. If one could induce the Duchess of Pelm, for instance, to assert that the Kingdom of Heaven, as far as the British Isles are concerned, is strictly limited to herself, two of the under-gardeners at Pelmby, and, possibly, but not certainly, the Dean of Dunster, there would be an instant reshaping of the popular attitude towards religious convictions and observances. Once let the idea get about that the Christian Church is rather more exclusive than the Lawn at Ascot, and you would have a quickening of religious life such as this generation has never witnessed. But as long as the clergy and the religious organizations advertise their creed on the lines of ‘Everybody ought to believe in us: millions do,’ one can expect nothing but indifference. and waning faith.

In reply, Lady Caroline Benaresq is allowed a moment of cutting insight in the midst of her elegant cynicism:

However, you will always have relays of people from the suburbs to listen to the Mocking Bird of yesterday, and sincerely imagine it is the harbinger of something new and revolutionizing.

Some might identify the Mocking Bird of yesterday as traditionalism. That would be a mistake; what endured for over a millennium and a half, even ( especially!) as it organically developed, is no mockingbird but rather the Dove. Rather, it is the fad of fleeting fashion that mocks and leads astray. At heart it holds nothing new, its tendency utterly consistent: to dazzle with fool’s gold. It appears so lovely, but endures not the test of time and truth.

Which reminds me: it seems my little book is now procurable, having been delivered too a friend in the Channel Isles. Time will tell if it’s good is true or fool’s. Why don’t you buy it and test it for yourself? It seems now to be in stock at Book Depository (which delivers free internationally!) but in the USA Amazon has copies too. No pressure… I promise. 😇


PS This was written with one finger gliding over a tablet screen. On the typos be merciful.

Join the Conversation

  1. Dear Fr. Hugh. Good to read your blog. Survive Sydney! Nice pic of Pope Benedict in his new chapel. And wow! Pope Francis is kneeling…sort of. Tess.

    1. Marvellous! Thanks for your support, and for letting me know availability in the USA. The book was hit by distribution woes of demonic proportions. I’m not sure if reviewers will still get copies! Pax tibi.

  2. I’ve missed your words ,Father—plus I’m still holding out that you’ll offer some wisdom my way regarding the journey Home to Rome…but our daughter-n-law has had a very trying year with the interim principal—an older fellow from Boston who told a room full of kids with my daughter-n-law present that a Catholic School has no business hiring non Catholic teachers—he has bullied and belittled her at each opportunity.
    She is pregnant again and I have feared the stress has been too great.
    I took it upon myself to write the Monsignor —telling him what I told you about her hire being my sign from God that it was time—yet she is convinced there is no sign but an exit sign.
    At any rate—I do hope to hear from you.
    I also received a draft book from a publisher that you would love—
    The 21
    A Journey into the Land of Coptic Martyrs
    blessings father—julie

    1. Indeed I have neglected your request. Mea culpa. I won’t bore you with my excuses, real though they are. More soon.

      Is that the Mosebach book? It’s waiting for me in Blighty!


      1. Yes — life has kept me from getting very far along but I did manage an introductory post about the book— so far, it is a compelling read. I immediately thought of you when the publisher sent it to me for review thinking I’d send it to in to you …but it sounds as if you have a copy!

  3. It’s reassuring to hear from you again, and that you are glimpsing the next stage in your life.

    The Abbey repairs are pretty much decided upon and soon to get under way, but we shan’t be reopen for Easter, sadly

  4. Reverend and Dear Father, You must be considerably younger than I am. This Summer in Sydney is very much like the Summers I knew as a little boy in the 1940s – and I longed to see again! In recent decades we have had VERY mild Summers which have given the lie to so-called “Global Warming”! ( It has recently snowed in Hawaii!). Ecclesiastical reality as you put it is presently tragic. Next week will see a meeting in Rome which will be a supreme exercise in genuine “clericalism”. In order to avoid addressing the real problem poisoning the hierarchy, a great show will be made of addressing the far more popular but, by volume and strategic impact smaller problem of pedophilia. And the media will go ahead and join in the exercise because they cannot/will not criticise homosexuality which they espouse, promote and trade upon, Well may we pray for the Church with renewed vigour. God will not be mocked in this way without His ultimate awesome response.


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.