Tilt-shift wonders

Despite all its faults (primarily its poor planning over time, and the wholesale architectural destruction of the 1960s), Sydney, the city of my birth and upbringing, is a place of which I still feel immensely proud.

So when a teacher of mine from my days in the Junior School at St Aloysius’ College in Sydney discovered the little film below, it was hard not to be thrilled. Doubly thrilled in fact. Tilt-shift photography has appealed to me since it first became prominent. It seems to miniaturize its subjects, and turns real cityscapes into model towns. Even the ugliest city can have charm added to it this way. Moreover, it somehow seems to put us back into proper perspective, for we are not as big as we might think we are before the gaze of God.

So if you have 90 seconds to spare, watch this little aerial tilt-shift tour of Sydney (make sure you click the little box next to “Vimeo” at the bottom of the video, to get the full-screen experience). At 52 seconds you will see the large white cross that adorns the harbour-facing facade of St Aloysius’ College, a subtle reminder that not everything nor everyone has been secularized in that secular city.

Let’s hope other cities get this treatment.

Tiny Sydney from Filippo Rivetti on Vimeo.

A worthy cause

Most monasteries feel short of money. Mine has been running at an annual deficit for some years but life is far from desperate. That said, there are things we need to be doing or fixing that we cannot now do due to the limitations on our funds. One huge advantage we have is that our property is an asset that can secure us loans when we need them.

So when a monastery is both short of money and living in a house not its own, the danger is compounded. It is hard to practise the Benedictine vow of stability when it is quite possible to be evicted from the place in which one’s stability is rooted.

So please spare a thought for the brethren at the recently-founded monastery of Silverstream, in County Meath in Ireland. Fr Mark maintains the edifying and insightful blog Vultus Christi, and the brethren focus on the worthy celebration of the liturgy in its monastic integrity, devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, and providing hospitality particularly to priests in a country which largely holds its clergy in low esteem at present. Silverstream has a flourishing community of external oblates, but more imnportantly it has new recruits who need to be formed and housed in security.

Silverstream Priory

The brethren at Silverstream do not own their monastery, but they would like to buy it. Every year that they cannot make the purchase sees 12.5% added to the asking price of the monastery. So in the last few days Fr Mark and his brethren have appealed for help to buy their house. Amazingly, in short time someone stumped up €100,000. That is about 15% of what they need to make an outright purchase.

If you have some money that cries out to be directed to the glory of God, or you know someone else who has, please consider a donation to Silverstream. Fr Mark gives guidance on how to donate in a tax-effective way for those in the UK, the EU and the USA.

Just st St Joseph provided for our Lord and our Lady, so too should the Church provide for those who serve it in the least economically-profitable but most spiritually-profitable way. Such monks are the heart of the Church which prays without ceasing for a world that so much needs God’s grace, and yet is so oblivious to it. Please help them in even a small way, if you can.


The brethren on a community walk



Belatedly acknowledged, an award.

Way too late really, an embarrassed yet grateful acknowledgment of the kind nomination of this blog for a Sunshine Award, by my blog companẽro Petrus at Men Are Like Wine.

An obligation of the award is to answer 10 questions from the nominator, and the question will be obvious from the answer.

  1. My favourite prayer, apart from the Lord’s Prayer (which really is short, sweet, magisterial and comprehensive), is the aspiration “Lord Jesus, Son of the living God, have mercy on sinners like me”.
  2. Choosing between the EF Mass or the OF Mass in Latin is ultra-topical at present. My answer (such as it is) will be the next (and imminent) post. That’s a bit of a dodge but an honest one.
  3. My favourite food is… gosh, this is tough… either T-bone steak medium-rare or roast leg of lamb.
  4. My favourite hobby or interest is currently typography. Well, I was asked…
  5. Gothic any day; too much baroque makes my eyes bleed.
  6. My favourite piece of sacred music is a line-ball call between Allegri’s Miserere or Tallis’ Spem in alium. Both take me to another, and better, place. In a different vein, I could also listen to Gibbons’ This is the Record of John for a long long time indeed.
  7. If I could change one in the world today it would be the Mass: a healthy Church relies on a sound liturgy, and a healthy world needs on a healthy Church.
  8. My favourite saint is a hard one, but I must plump for my monastic patron, St Hugh of Lincoln. However, St Aloysius is the saint of my youth.
  9. While not really a Doctor Who fan (hold down those cries of “heresy!”) my favourite doctors are Jon Pertwee closely followed by Tom Baker.
  10. The last book I read is At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson.

The next duty is to nominate 10 blogs (my nominator excluded) for the award. Again a toughie, but these are some of those that always reward a visit, in no particular order:

  1. The Sensible Bond: very thoughtful, logical and even-handed.
  2. Restless Pilgrim: an English lad whose Catholicism has gone quite American, but he loves the Fathers.
  3. Fr Ray Blake’s Blog: a parish priest being faithful in word and deed.
  4. LMS Chairman: Dr Joe Shaw’s logic is unassailable and crystal clear, an achievement I envy.
  5. Eccles and Bosco is Saved: Not a little hard hitting, but always with a smile, using humour salted with a regard for truth.
  6. Eye of the Tiber: Always good for a giggle, but you need to be keeping up with news to get the satire sometimes (as also for Eccles).
  7. Protect the Pope: A great source for news and commentary about attacks on the Church.
  8. Creative Minority Report: Utterly faithful news and commentary from the USA.
  9. A Secular Priest: A young priest set to be a founding father of Brisbane’s nascent Oratory.
  10. The St Bede Studio Blog: Can Michael make stunning vestments? Yes, he can.
  11. [update] Vultus Christi: I am sneaking this in to complete a monastic decade, something like a baker’s dozen. Dom Mark is prior of a new Benedictine priory in Ireland. He knows his liturgy, and in the most edifying way.

Thanks again to Petrus. He is too kind, as are most of my followers.

As I have been typing, the sun burst out on a forbidding backdrop, with a rainbow emerging. Ominous but wonderful.


So very, very sad

In the 1990s I was able to be far more avid a follower of Rugby Union than I am now. It was a great time for rugby, and every team had players one could admire and respect, even follow, without feeling a traitor to one’s own team (though in rugby it is more than OK to admire one’s opponents, which is part of the reason it is the game played in heaven. Don’t believe me – Google it!).

South Africa’s team, the Springboks, was at the height of its powers back then, riding on the crest of the post-apartheid wave of hope that revived that nation. Its high point was winning the World Cup in 1995, which even inspired a Hollywood movie. One of the stars of the team was its scrum-half, Joost van der Westhuizen (a most delicious name on the tongue). Scrum-halves, with their companions fly-halves, tend to be the smallest players in a rugby team (though this is relative: international scrum- and fly-halves are all way bigger than me) but they tend also to be the fastest, the most skillful and very often the bravest. Joost typified the ideal scrum-half in his fearless tackling of the All Black colossus, Jonah Lomu. He was noted for his his physicality, and was one of the more marketable rugby stars.

In time he retired and left the public gaze, at least the gaze of most foreigners like me. So it was a shock to read today that Joost is now nearing death, having been diagnosed 2 years ago with Motor Neurone disease. It is a truly awful affliction, a slow death in which the body shuts down leaving the mind largely intact and conscious of its plight. As a Jesuit novice way back in the late 1980s I spent time on a Jesuit parish in Adelaide, and on one day a week I was sent to the Julia Farr Centre, formerly called the Home for Incurables, Most of these days were spent on the motor neurone ward, and for a 20 year old it was a gut-wrenching experience to see people with no physical capacity but with sound mental capacity. I remember well the struggle not to seem patronizing to the patients, not to treat them like children or idiots, even when feeding them or cleaning them up.

Joost in his prime (l) and this year (r).

Joost, a Christian who, after some missteps in his life, has rediscovered his need of God, was interviewed with some friends earlier this year on South African TV about his motor neurone charity, J9. When it gets to the part when he talks the ravages of the disease become obvious (from about the 1:50 mark).

A Christian should every day be praying for the sick and the dying, and the dead too (pace Protestants!). Perhaps today we might spare a particular prayer for sufferers of motor neurone disease like Joost. If this disease is not an experience of the Cross, what is? Let us pray too that Joost and other sufferers can bring themselves to unite their sufferings with those of Christ, and so prepare themselves for the glory of heaven that awaits them, and be for the rest of us means of both inspiration and sanctification, as their sufferings make up what is still needful in the sufferings of Christ (Col 1:24).

To see any sufferer of motor neurone disease is heart-wrenching, Yet there seems an extra perverse irony in someone who had been so physically strong and adept being reduced in such a way. It is so very, very sad. May the Lord be gracious and merciful to him.

Priestess with the leastest (sense of discretion)

It is making great headway in the blogosphere and beyond: the priestette who has a sticker on the back of her car with the acronym “wtfwjd?”.

The vicarette might get a shock with what Jesus could do to her.

Heaven knows what the Hebrew sticker on the right says! Anybody?

It is, of course, a play on the (in)famous acronym “WWJD?”, or “what would Jesus do”, which has been oh-so-wittily combined with the even more infamous acronym, “WTF?” meaning “What the ****?”… you get the idea.

You can read the article in the Mail as linked above to see her specious defence based on Anglo-Saxon and other such bumf. You can also see the several photos for which she posed, dressed in a way that clearly harmonizes with her approach in sporting the sticker.

The Irreverend Alice Goodman

The Irreverend Alice Goodman

She combines a full Roman collar with tight black jeans. The garb does not flatter this 54-year old in any way, not least in reflecting her pastoral methodology. Her sticker and her garb, and her apologia indeed, betray that married to her desperate need to be modern, relevant and attention grabbing, is an equally pronounced lack of discretion and abundance of ego. I am long past blushing at the f-word (I worked for the Police for 3 years after all), but that any Christian (let alone clergy) can even think of using the f-word in conjunction with the Most Holy Name of Jesus is staggering. Such indiscretion beggars belief, and must surely cast into doubt her pastoral practice in whatever poor parish she has been inflicted upon.

She cannot help herself in the Mail’s interview. She is quoted as saying,

‘I would suggest that anyone who thinks it is inappropriate should get out a little more.(‘)

We might suggest that she get out a little less, as she must frequenting some very rough pubs indeed. She might the better spend her time reading a little more scripture, sound spiritual masters and the most effective evangelists and catechists. She might learn something.

May the Lord forgive her.

On a lighter note – something Coolgle (“cool from Google”)

Time for some cheer, via Dottech.org

Not just because I have a friend who works for them, do I love Google. Google Maps has been a revelation (though Bing Maps has more recent satellite photos – hurry up Google) and changed the way many of us navigate when walking or driving (or even using public transport). When Google introduced Street View, meaning we could see exactly what a street on the map looked like as if we were there, things got even better.

But Street View is moving off-road. You can now explore inside the world’s largest passenger airliner, an Airbus A380, belonging to Emirates airlines. The trickiest part was working out how to get to the top deck (Business & First Classes) – the simple way is to click on the picture of the Business Class bar in the row of pictures at the bottom which will appear once inside on the bottom deck, and then you will be on the upper deck.

First Class has showers! Indeed, we get a partial glimpse of our photographer there, because there is nowhere to hide in a small room with mirrors!

Click to make bigger!

Click to make bigger!

You can follow this link to explore the A380, and then hover your mouse cursor over “Dubai International Airport” at left and then click “See Inside”.


Waxing lyrical on prayer

The following was inflicted on two congregations today, but has a kernel of truth which hopefully might console those daunted by the rhetoric surrounding prayer.

One of the greatest spiritual dangers for Christians is not that they don’t pray; it is that they misunderstand prayer. In most Christian bookshops possibly the biggest section is that on prayer, testimony to the numbers of those seeking guidance to pray, wanting to know how to set out on the path of prayer. Ironically, it may be the one section most to be avoided.

In times past spiritual writers tended to write not so much on how to pray but on what to expect in the life of prayer, the spiritual life. Some wrote of the ways of prayer: the purgative, the illuminative, the unitive, for example. Others offered help to navigate through the unavoidable peaks and troughs of the purposeful spiritual life: through ecstasy and the dark night of the soul, through consolation and desolation. These writers, many of them saints, wrote to encourage the believer to persevere in prayer since prayer is not experienced as simply as it can be described.

Christ’s answer to the request “Lord, teach us to pray” is, as you no doubt noticed, twofold. He teaches a method of prayer, and also how to apply it. His method, rather disconcertingly for enlightened moderns, is fundamentally vocal prayer, not a technique of meditation or contemplation: words uttered well can bear with them our hearts and minds to the Father of the Word. The Lord’s prayer is a finely balanced and succinct summary of what all Christian prayer should contain: praise of God, submission to his will, a request for the grace we need each day, a plea for forgiveness for our sins wedded to an undertaking to forgive those who have sinned against us, and a further plea to be upheld in time of trial and temptation. The Lord’s Prayer recognises that prayer is the conscious and intentional expression of our total dependence on God. Unless we recognise that truth about prayer we will never pray adequately.

Having given them the prayer, Christ then teaches them its indispensable accessory: perseverance. Our Lord’s example is quite remarkable if we consider it carefully: a man seeks the help of another friend at the most inopportune time, and pesters his friend till he yields to his shameless entreaties. Of course, God does need to be pestered, nor in fact can he be. Christ’s teaching is not so much about God as about us. Our perseverance is the proof of our seriousness. If we consider something to be of overriding importance we will not waver in our efforts to attain it, and feel no shame in our persistent efforts. So too, if we truly accept our need for and our desire for God’s help, we will not cease in begging him for it, however pathetic or troublesome we may feel in doing so. It is not that we win God round to our argument, nor do we wear him down; rather, by our perseverance we acknowledge our utter dependence on God, which allows us to receive God’s help in its fullness, so that God’s giving will not be in vain.

But did you notice one thing that is essential to our Lord’s story? The man pesters his friend not for himself, but for another to whom he is offering hospitality. The man is interceding for another. This is the very kernel of prayer: that it is part and parcel with love, of putting the other first and ourselves last. Christian prayer is always praise of God first, intercession for others next, and only lastly for ourselves. In fact that is why, for example, in the bidding prayers we should pray for ourselves in the very last place, after we have interceded for the Church, the world, our nation, our communities, those in special need, the afflicted, and the dead. Only after we have prayed for them do we pray for ourselves. If you do not believe me, check the formulas at the back of the missal. We pray best for ourselves when we pray first for others.

But this is not really a new insight from our Lord, as we heard in the first reading. There Abraham was following what our Lord would teach a thousand years later. He shamelessly besought the Lord to save the wretchedly sinful cities of the plain. Not only did he beseech, he haggled, extracting concession after concession from the Lord. The Lord shows no displeasure at this boldness. He accedes to every request. Abraham stops at ten good men for whom the city might be spared. Ten good men could not be found; the cities were destroyed in their sin.

Did Abraham fail? No. Did God not truly accept Abraham’s intercession? No. The failure was neither in Abraham nor in God, but in the lack of the ten good men, of the salt which leavens the dough, the flowers which scent the whole room. As we know, in the end it took not ten but one good man on whose account God agreed to spare not mere cities, but all humanity. In Christ we find both the one who intercedes to spare humanity and the one good man dwelling in the midst of humanity for whom God will agree to spare it.

Christ’s work must be renewed in every age. And so it is, in the Church and its Eucharist, Christ’s Body, the Body of Him who is the one righteous man. Today, as always, the Church intercedes for all humanity, and strives truly to manifest in her every member that truly righteous man, Jesus Christ our Lord, that no one might be lost. That, when it comes to it, is why we must persevere in prayer. The world cannot do without it.


Abraham intercedes for the cities of the plain.

Abraham intercedes for the cities of the plain.

Some Swede?

My favourite Swede should not be left out. And he does not have an identical twin.

By the way, he drew my caricature on the bottom right of the blog. Clever boy all round. But stubborn: he would not do a full version of the theme to Cheers.     :-/



They wrote superb TV themes once upon a time:

Danes with beer bottles

Some time ago I watched someone’s parody of Carly Rae Jepsen’s catchy pop ditty Call Me Maybe. I have been paying the price since as my various web services, remembering this, keep suggesting other versions of the song. For it seems there are ten gazillion videos of parodies, lip synchs, spoofs and homages to the song, by all sorts of people. Just search in Youtube if you have several hours to kill.

So when I saw in the list “Call Me Maybe on Bottles”, my interest was piqued and I expected to see bottles lined up in a row played by some child prodigy. But no – there was cool, and there were Danes. It seems the Danes of today have turned over a new leaf since the time of their forefathers a millennium ago. I mean 50% of all Copenhageners cycle to work, in part because you can do so without risking death. The place seems so clean and modern and tranquil. If someone needs a companion when visiting Denmark, take me!

So it seems these Danish lads have made a name for themselves beyond this classic. But enjoy this one – it makes me smile every time.

Just …. so …. clever. And the work in emptying all those bottles. Dedication.