IN RECENT WEEKS came news of the approval of another miracle attributed to the intercession of Bl. John Henry Newman. This means that there is now a high probability he will soon be canonized. October seems the propitious time for all things Newman, and if it comes on my birthday—13 October—I shall be chuffed indeed!
Also in recent weeks came news that the courts have finally directed New York to surrender the body of Archbishop Fulton Sheen to Peoria, the diocese of his birth and upbringing. This unseemly squabble between two dioceses has not been edifying to Catholics, and a cause of mirth, or worse, to non-Catholics. Hopefully this means the cause for canonization of Fulton Sheen can now advance. The first prelate to engage with modern media, he was new-evangelising before the term New Evangelisation was coined. First on radio broadcasts and then on the new-fangled television, he cut no Catholic corners, but spoke in terms both dignified and comprehensible that made his message attractive. Chalk in hand and standing before a clean blackboard, garbed in full episcopal fig—including ferraiolo—he would be seen as quaint today if he did the same, and probably clericalist, given that the mob simplistically equates clericalism with clerical dress. For his time, however, he was an adept and engaging preacher of the faith and even Protestants were impressed. Of course, since he cut such a fine figure and moved in elevated and even fashionable circles, he was accused of vanity and self-promotion. Self-conscious and self-confident he was; utterly faithful and, when it really mattered, selfless he was in equal measure, if not more.
Both these men are worthy of canonization, not least because they were men of their day, aware of contemporary spiritual needs and adept at serving them. Both were of towering intellects, though Newman spoke more directly to the upper and more educated classes, whereas Sheen had a gift of distilling complex teaching into digestible servings for the ordinary man and woman.
Just as importantly, they remind us that there is more to holiness than being merely nice, or generous, or kind. (more…)
THE THREE ANCIENT mainstays of Lenten observance are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Needless to say there is a dizzying array of worthy objects of your almsgiving attention. Some are more obvious than others; some suffer for their lack of, for want of a better phrase, instant gratification.
One of the less obvious objects for almsgiving is a religious house or order. It used not to be so. Monasteries and convents used to be a standard target for benefactions, often to support a liturgical devotion for which monasteries were particularly well suited. The Reformation struck a grievous blow to that wholesome, if occasionally abused, tradition. Secularisation of western society has landed a second blow. Benefactions, legacies and donations are just not as common as they used to be.
In the midst of the gloom the monastic life is giving off small and tender new shoots. New foundations are springing up that seek to reinvigorate the monastic vine. The Benedictine life is far from dead. Some will fail; this is an historical reality. Some others will prosper: taking the right approach at the right time in the right place. (more…)
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.
On my return I shall be reassigned, probably to the mission. (more…)
The last few months have been hectic, demanding, occasionally rewarding, often dispiriting but generally productive. At the end of August, (to twist the Preface of the Dead) my life was ended not changed when I was appointed bursar of the monastery. My day had been structured, for most of my almost-18 years here, principally around the monastic liturgical horarium. Now it revolves around another sort of office, with computers and files, income and (always-greater) expenditure, staff crises and, most recently, storm damage to the abbey church. Some days I spend up to nine hours in the office. I am out of practice for a “normal” nine-to-five sort of job.
Sometimes I manage to use my downtime not in wallowing in problems but in recognizing that people can be surprisingly, and very cheeringly, good. In the past year I have received often surprise gifts of books, fountain pens, handkerchiefs, a bottle or two of something heartening, a floor-standing bookstand, and no doubt things I cannot recall at this very moment. Such gifts never fail to bring encouragement and cheer, and so often they come just when I could do with some! Sinner though I am, I do try to ensure that I manifest my sincere gratitude as directly as possible to my benefactors.
As a sequel to the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross the Church keeps the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, whose heart was pierced by the nails that pierced Christ’s hands and feet, and the lance that pierced the Lord’s side.
One of the most typical images for the feast today is that of the Pietà. The most famous representation is, of course, Michelangelo’s sculpture in St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. Yet his is very far from the only one.
It struck me at Mass today how powerful an image it is for the Church in its current crisis of sexual and physical abuse by clergy and religious, and the negligence, or worse, of some in the hierarchy in dealing with such abuse. The scandal of deposed-Cardinal McCarrick truly merits the label scandal, as it has become for many a true stumbling block for a peacefully fruitfully life in the Church. Who really does believe that so many of McCarrick’s fellow bishops and cardinals knew nothing of Uncle Ted’s activities? I suspect only fools and the terminally idealistic. (more…)
The mild Sydney winter seems to help me get my rant on. Ranting via a tablet, however, leads to many a typo. Swings and roundabouts I guess…
The last 24 hours we’ve been hearing about the change to the text to the Catechism of the Catholic Church proposed by Rome to reflect the current papal attitude to the death penalty.
To be frank, this does not particularly worry me per se. Church moral teaching once encompassed slavery, now it definitively rejects it. Church teaching has encompassed capital punishment hitherto, but the recent magisterium has not looked positively on it. My approach to capital punishment is conflicted. For example I can see a case for capital punishment to ensure public protection from a violent, murderous offender whose guilt is incontrovertible. Likewise, genocide seems to merit the ultimate sanction. Again, guilt should be incontrovertible. (more…)
This year and next see some significant ecclesiastical half-centuries racked up. This year it is the encyclical Humanae Vitae‘s (HV) turn, and next year it is the turn of the Novus Ordo Missae (NOM)—the new Mass. There has been and will be much written on these milestone anniversaries, by many more qualified that this writer to comment. Rather than publish a parallel, and probably quite similar, commentary to theirs, it is intended here to offer a few contextual notes you might keep in mind as you read them. We need now to interrogate more searchingly and more insistently both what you read and hear, and our own current situation.
50-odd years on HV and NOM offer a study in both contrasts and congruities. What HV predicted of a contraceptive culture has been comprehensively fulfilled; the promised fruitfulness of liturgical reform has not. The sad accuracy of the one and the equally sad failure of the other share a common cause (among others): the turn to self as the standard of judgment and the focus of attention.
Back from the dead! It has been a busy time. I am about to fly to Australia (in a few hours actually) to sneak in some holiday before taking up a new role in the monastery, that of bursar. If the new job does not kill me I suppose it will make me stronger. But there has been so little time to read, let alone write.
The Cardinal McCarrick affair is growing louder in the media. Christopher Altieri raises a point that merits pushing further: the failure is not just McCarrick’s but that of the American bishops as a body. How could no other bishop not have known? And knowing, how could they have kept silence? The denials just do not ring true. For many they may be true but such is the deficit the Catholic hierarchy suffers at the moment that few will believe them. After all, in England we had a similar case, that of Bishop Conry and his long-standing relationship with a mistress. It was very well known in ecclesiastical circles, even from his days in Rome apparently. Yet he was promoted anyway. Did any bishop protest at the time? The Conry case has one essential difference: his sin was with a woman, so a collective sigh of relief that it was not a minor encouraged silence.
What do you call brainstorming by the means of the social media? Is there a name or do we have to make one up? Suggestions are welcome.
Anyway, to the point, which is a rather uncomfortable piece of what you might think, not unreasonably, to be self-promotion. In fact, the fundamental point, my vanity notwithstanding, is to promote an idea.
4 September 2018 is the date on which Paulist Press of New York plans to officially publish my book, Deo volente. This is the draft cover of the book: (more…)
It’s been a busy day so just one piece today in the series on Douai Abbey’s Ward vestments. Today it is the cope.
The cope was another significant piece of the set that was ready in 1896, though in that year the morse for it had not yet been made. It is essentially easy to describe: the orphreys on the front show the 12 apostles grouped in pairs. (more…)
In the 1890s our priory (Douai became an abbey only in 1900, along with the other ancient EBC houses) in Douai, Flanders, was blessed with a series of generous benefactions from Edmund Granville Ward (1853-1915), of the Isle of Wight, son of the Tractarian convert to Catholicism, W G Ward. Mr Ward had discovered Douai on his way to Rome in 1894, and in 1895 he gave £100 for the library. The next year he funded the building of a new cloister, which came to be named after him, as well as the development of cricket oval and tennis courts at the monastery’s villa down the road in Planques. A little later he funded a new lavatory block (not named after him) and a guest wing. The great tragedy is that in under a decade the community would have to abandon its newly-embellished monastery and school in the wake of the French government’s 1901 Law of Associations, a law which saw a mass exodus of monastic houses to Britain, including Solesmes to Quarr and La Grande Chartreuse to Parkminster. (more…)
These are the busiest few days of the Church’s year, liturgically at any rate. Yet it would be a dangerous sort of monastic life that did not often a sacristan and cantor time for reading and reflection, however brief.
There will be many excellent posts about these sacred days, so I shall leave it to my betters to provide them. Instead a providential piece of reading this morning, taken up by chance to accompany my breakfast, is worthy of sharing and reflection. Dom Michael Casey OCSO is an Australian Trappist, from Tarrawarra Abbey outside Melbourne. He is a writer on spiritual and monastic topics of significant renown, his wisdom tempered by common sense and the absence of cant or flowery piety. When I saw his name in the contents of March’s edition of The American Benedictine Review I knew I had found something to read over porridge and toast.
The article is really an interview, “We Have Lost the Love of Learning”; Michael Casey OCSO in Conversation with Bernhard A Eckerstorfer OSB. Its content and target readership are monastic but there are some universal principles nevertheless. What follows is a deliberately and unapologetically selective set of quotations which, however, do not suffer from the lack of fuller context. The selectivity is purely to highlight the points that resonate most clearly with me and seem to merit sharing. (more…)
For most Benedictines today is the greater of the two feast days of our founder, St Benedict. Today honours his passing to eternal life; 11 July commemorates the translation of his relics to Monte Cassino (or was it Fleury? Depends who you ask!). That we are in Lent does not dampen our celebration in any way save for the absence of the A-word.
This evening at pontifical vespers the abbot will wear our patronal, or Malvern, cope. It comes from our (Douai Abbey’s) short-lived foundation at Great Malvern, which was founded in 1891 has a ready refuge in case of our expulsion from France. When expulsion did indeed come in 1903, we settled at Woolhampton at St Mary’s College, the Portsmouth diocesan minor seminary, which the Bishop of Portsmouth kindly handed over to us. Our school and the seminary combined to form Douai School (which closed in 1999).
One of the patrons of the Malvern priory was the Douai monk and Bishop of Port Louis in Mauritius, Archbishop Benedict Scarisbrick OSB. He endowed Malvern with some lovely items for use in the opus Dei, not least this wonderful cope. The striking damask is not of English origin, possibly Belgian as our other striking vestments from that period were made by Grossé in Belgium. The embroideries, which include our patrons St Benedict and St Edmund, as well as a hood showing the Good Shepherd—represented to all Benedictines in the person of St Benedict—were probably made by the Sisters of the Poor Child Jesus in Southam in Warwickshire. (more…)
It really has been a turbulent time for sexual politics this past six months. Weinstein is but the tip of the iceberg. We have the #MeToo movement, and a growing list of prominent people accused of various degrees of sexual misconduct, though it is often hard to distinguish these degrees and so gain a proper perspective and sense of proportion. The mere publication of an allegation against a young actor has been enough to stop a BBC production involving him, and to have sections of a completed Hollywood movie re-filmed to replace another accused (but also not convicted) actor. True sexual assault in any degree is a crime to be deplored. However, “innocent until proved guilty” is now an endangered species in our society; clergy know that for them it is almost extinct.
In Britain there has been another side to this topical coin. Numbers of young men in recent months have been cleared of rape—in court, after a proper judicial process and testing of evidence. These men have had their names dragged first through the press, as good as declared guilty by the mob. (more…)