A martyr journalist

As you will all know, James Foley, an American journalist captured by jihadists in 2012, was barbarously beheaded on a demonic video by a masked British jihadist. The Catholic Herald informs us that he was Catholic, and he had not lost his faith. After a previous kidnapping in 2011 in Libya, he wrote:

I kept telling (my colleague) Clare my mom had a strong faith. I prayed she’d know I was OK. I prayed I could communicate through some cosmic reach of the universe to her. I began to pray the rosary. It was what my mother and grandmother would have prayed. 
I said 10 Hail Marys between each Our Father. It took a long time, almost an hour to count 100 Hail Marys off on my knuckles. And it helped to keep my mind focused. Clare and I prayed together out loud. It felt energising to speak our weaknesses and hopes together, as if in a conversation with God, rather than silently and alone.

The video is something we should not watch; it is enough to know it exists. However there are many stills from the video showing him kneeling before his cowardly-masked murderer, calm and with head held high. It is not too much to believe, surely, that he was again praying the rosary on mental beads. If so, we can be sure Mary was advocate for him at the hour of his death, and can justifiably hope that soon he will be before the throne of the true God, washed clean in the blood of the Lamb.

On that day, may he pray for us. Until then, we should (rosary in hand) pray for him: requiescat in pace

James Foley

James Foley

And may Satan’s laughter soon be silenced.

Voices Speaking Silence

Back in early July, Fr Ray Blake asked “Where have all the bloggers gone?” In my case, a trip to Australia, for my nephew’s priestly ordination and to give a retreat to his seminary in Perth (more on which another time), was in part responsible for stopping the blog flow here. For sure, my Digg was showing a significantly reduced number of posts from certain corners of the blogosphere, especially clerical corners. Fr Blake contrasted the blossoming of grassroots Catholic opinion in the new media that was fostered in the pontificate of Benedict XVI with the relative silence that had descended in the past year, a silence that grew louder in the wake of the effective suppression of the Protect the Pope blog by the (clerical) author’s bishop. There is probably a more complex web of circumstances surrounding that blog’s closure than we know, but it did not help that a blog devoted to upholding Church teaching had been silenced.

What Fr Blake diplomatically avoids stating is that there is another factor probably at play. Pope Francis does not have the disciplined, delicately nuanced and balanced rhetorical style of his recent predecessors on the papal cathedra. This pope is a structural reformer, not a theologian, philosopher or liturgist. He seeks to engage the mainstream media directly and this has meant that some of the things he has said, especially after often problematic translations, have sometimes caused confusion, if not alarm. The Vatican media office has had to face up quickly to the craft of advanced damage control. Bloggers have been quick to help, but the task has been overwhelming at times, and often vain.

Thus Fr Blake’s conclusion becomes a little clearer and more acute:

Most Catholics but especially clergy want to be loyal to the Pope in order to maintain the unity of the Church, today that loyalty is perhaps best expressed through silence.

Silence is not without virtue in the Christian life. Silence in the liturgy enriches our experience of the mysteries, helping God’s word and the great Sacrament to bear fruit in our hearts. Silence in our daily lives gives our psyches rest and nurtures growth in personality and wisdom. The silence of the individual in the face of injustice done to him or her can be a more powerful riposte than any words of recrimination or acts of retaliation: Christ himself exemplified this noble silence.

oil-painting-marcus-vincent_1163864_inl

However, silence is not always a virtue. Silence can become a vice, a passive collusion with evil. Silence in the face of injustice or evil done to others is just such a vice and collusion with evil.

For weeks the mainstream media was silent about the atrocities, indeed the nascent genocide, that marked the advance of ISIL (or ISIS, or now, Islamic State [IS]). It was non-mainstream outlets using the internet and social media who were revealing the scale of the horror IS was wreaking, especially on Christian minorities. There were a few red herrings (unsurprising in a relatively unregulated forum), and the constant stream of videos and pictures of hundreds, even thousands, of Christians daily being beheaded, crucified, tortured and otherwise horribly abused was in danger of breeding a macabre addiction in some people as it sometimes descended into something approaching “atrocity porn”.

Though the risk of desensitization to atrocity is real and not to be ignored, the stream of horrific content on blog and Facebook feeds was still necessary. The mainstream media was steadfastly refusing to report it, preferring to focus on the smaller, more complex, more politically chic conflict in Gaza. Their silence was giving our governments a green light to look the other way. In fact, both media and governments became obviously concerned when it emerged that the Yazidi minority was also being targeted. Make no mistake, that small, peaceable and inoffensive minority does not deserve any of the horrors IS has begun inflicting on it. The Yazidis deserve western protection and aid. The point is that only when this obscure and tiny minority (ie perfect material for a ‘story’) was under threat did the mainstream media start reporting in any depth on the IS caliphate-calamity in Iraq and Syria. The Christians in those lands also deserve western protection.

Thankfully some Muslims are finally expressing their horror. The Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia has called IS “enemy number one” of Islam. Muslim commentators on Iraqi television have wept over the cruel destruction of the minorities that traditionally make up Iraq, likening them to petals of an Iraqi rose. While one might question how truly unrepresentative of Islam the Islamic State jihadists actually are, it is good to see that parts of the Muslim world are waking to the implications of the rise of IS. To be fair, when one sees photos of jihadists slitting people’s throats with glee, or joyfully parading with severed heads in their hands, one sees not so much the works of Islam as of Satan.

Christians crucified by IS jihadists

Christians crucified by IS jihadists

Catholics of the west would do better to forego any obsession with the latest antics of the leaders of America’s religious sisters, or with the non-news of the Vatican’s reaffirmation of previous instructions and rubrics about the exchange of peace at Mass, or even with the complex drama of Gaza (where the only indisputably innocent parties are the children). Instead we should be on our knees praying, and fasting, and giving alms, in solidarity with our persecuted brethren in the biblical lands.

An excellent form of solidarity would be to reflect in our personal lives the witness (martyria in Greek) being given by the persecuted Christians of the Middle East. What small suffering could we embrace for their sake? Even better perhaps, what small (or large) vice in our lives could we make a concerted effort to escape, for their sake as much as for our own. If the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church, it can also be the seed of our holiness.

There can be silence no longer about this atrocity. Silence implies consent; and, at the very least, evil prospers when the just do, and say, nothing. This does concern us. IS has set its sights on the west, not least on Rome, and on Washington. And IS means business, as their genocidal and demonic acts clearly show.

Father in Heaven, you make your sun shine
on good and bad alike.
Your Son Jesus Christ died for us all
and in his glorious Resurrection
He still retains the five wounds of his Passion.
With his divine power he now sustains
all those who suffer persecution and martyrdom
for the sake of their fidelity
to the faith of the Church.
Merciful and mighty Father,
do not allow Cain to return again to murder
helpless Abel, innocent Abel.
May persecuted Christians around the world
remain, like Mary, their Mother,
together at the foot of the cross
of Christ the Martyr.
Comfort those menaced by violence
and those oppressed by uncertainty.
May your Holy Spirit of love
make fruitful the witness and the blood
of those who die forgiving.

Amen.

From Aid to the Church in Need.

Even more good news

Further to the previous post, it has just been announced that the Sudanese government is to free Meriam Ibrahim, the Christian woman sentenced to death for apostasy under Sharia law because her father is Muslim, though she has never been.

Thanks be to God! But let’s not kid ourselves. Sudan’s expressed desire to be a civilized nation probably would not have come without the international outrage that met the news of Meriam’s death sentence and the degrading conditions under which she gave birth to her child.

And prayer…

Some good news for a change

It is increasingly hard to find good news about Islam. The two most recent examples are the Muslim extremists Boko Haram in Nigeria kidnapping scores of Christian girls, forcibly converting them and enslaving them; and Meriam, the woman in Sudan raised a Christian by her mother and who married a Christian, condemned to death by hanging for apostasy because her father is Muslim, and who was forced to give birth in shackles. It is truly horrific some of the things done in the name of Islam.

So, in the spirit of lighting a candle rather than cursing the darkness, we can take some heart from the news that Shia Muslim scholars in Iran have translated the Catechism of the Catholic Church into Persian. They teach at the University of Religions and Denominations in Qom, which seeks to understand other faiths and will translate their literature in order to do so. One of the scholars, Professor Meftah, offered some reflection on Christinanity in Iran, which if a little simplistic and idealistic, must surely reflect the prevailing attitude of the government in Iran at this time.

The relationship between Islam and Christianity in Iran cannot be compared with the situations of other Islamic countries,” he explained. Christians in Iran are safe (from attacks) and we can share a common purpose. If we look at each other as friends, we will not have problems. But if we look at each other as enemies, with suspicion or indifference, if we compete, trying to steal something, it will be like in other countries, including terrorism. Treating each other as friends eliminates terrorism, and makes us take steps towards peace.

Every little bit helps.

(l-r) Professors Sulemaniye, Meftah & Ghanbari

(l-r) Professors Sulemaniye, Meftah & Ghanbari in Qom

 

The Isla Vista tragedy

The facts are now beginning to emerge about the actions of Elliot Rodger in Isla Vista yesterday in murdering 6 people. There is much to break the heart in this story.

The immediate circumstances are disturbing enough. The day before the carnage, in which Elliot stabbed his three flatmates to death before driving around shooting several others, the young man uploaded a video, Elliot Rodger’s Retribution, to Youtube in which he detailed his plans for the next day and the reason he was doing them. It has now been removed from his channel (by Youtube?) but is easily found by Google search. Watching it one sees a young man filled with resentment and bitterness at his rejection by women, lamenting his still being a virgin at 22. The fact that he was not unattractive and from a well-to-do background would make one wonder why he was apparently rejected by women. The video itself gives the answer: the boy is horribly egocentric to the point of narcissism. So we might conclude he was the ultimate spoilt brat.

A screenshot from Elliot Rodger's video announcing his murderous plans.

A screenshot from Elliot Rodger’s video announcing his murderous plans.

Well, before we all condemn him to hell, a few more facts are worth considering. Elliot had Asperger’s Syndrome. Asperger’s is a form of autism and affects the way a person experiences the world. While it can manifest itself in anti-social outbursts, it is generally hidden from casual view in most sufferers. The condition affects particularly sufferers’ social interaction, social communication, and social imagination. To put it crudely, it makes them social misfits to a greater or lesser degree, despite their desire to be socially integrated. There is no known cure and no specific treatment for Asperger’s. It is an insidious disability.

It seems his parents did everything right. Elliot had been treated by several therapists, and his social worker had been worried enough to contact police a few days before the shootings. It is hard to determine at this point what action the police took, but probably there was not much they could have done, given certain aspects of American law.

One aspect of concern is the cherished American right to bear arms. Even otherwise good Catholics can reveal an almost pathological devotion to guns, and any mention of gun control to some Americans is tantamount to treason. The National Rifle Association is well-funded and exerts immense influence, enough to stifle most legislation seeking gun control. They even object to background checks for gun licences. In American you can own assault rifles, and in some places wear your weapon openly. Many (most?) will tell you that it is essential to prevent oppression by their government – a government they freely and regularly elect. It is no wonder that there are sections of American society that are effectively in a state of war with government and law enforcement. Another argument is that armed citizens can protect other citizens from criminals. It didn’t work yesterday. Moreover, it carries the danger of making citizens into self-appointed vigilantes with often tragic consequences (eg George Zimmerman). It also leads to a civil arms race, with people owning more and more powerful weapons.

While self-defence can be defended on biblical and magisterial lines, the active promotion of unrestricted ownership of firearms cannot. Even self-defence has its limitations in light of our Lord’s command to turn the other cheek, and to lay down one’s life for one’s friends as the highest form of love. The Christian right to self-defence is not unlimited.

So one is left asking how a young man, mentally ill and in ongoing treatment and who had manifested enough signs of impending disaster for the police to be alerted in advance – how could he own not just one but several guns, and have them at hand when he reached crisis point, a crisis point that was recognized in advance? This is a question not just for American society but for us all: how do we deal with the mentally ill who show the signs of becoming dangerous? In the UK they can be sectioned by a doctor under the Mental Health Act, usually a temporary measure that allows the troubled to be assessed and treated over a period of time. This would prevent them having access to weapons, although access to firearms is much more difficult in Britain anyway. There is no right to bear arms, and every right to expect not to have to face them. Even most police are unarmed, and armed police work under strict rules, which work well. It means that there is a lower incidence, and a much lower tolerance, of gun crime here than in the US. Australia enacted tough gun laws after the Port Arthur massacre in 1996 which saw 35 shot dead at a popular tourist spot. There have been no mass shootings since then in Australia. No one can argue that Australia is not only immensely free, but politically stable and with strong legal checks and balances that keep governments under control. Australians do not need guns to protect themselves against their own elected government.

So we can now but pray for the 6 victims of the shooting who died, the 7 who were wounded, and their families as they face the trauma of lives changed so brutally. Let us also pray for Elliot and his family. He was a mentally ill young man whom society failed to help. Indeed, society allowed him to have the guns that made his outburst so deadly. That, at least, society could have reasonably prevented.

This not intended as an American-bash. The Church in the States is a vibrant one, full of exciting prospects. No one can deny the American contribution to the world, but there is also a negative contribution, as with most countries. Its guns mania is a social sickness that the rest of the world does well to immunize itself against. John Oliver has an interesting take on the American mania for guns. Being English but living in the States, he has a distance informed by familiarity that makes his commentary worth noting. There are three short videos, listed in order.

[I realize this will upset many American Catholics, but I ask them to think carefully about the subject, and to pray about it. Comments that make a reasoned contribution to the debate will be welcomed; those that are abusive, insulting or mere banner waving will not.]

And now for something completely different

Over at the admirable blog That the Bones You have Crushed may Thrill, I was intrigued to see mention made of Pharrell Williams’ pleasing song Happy. It is a song I only recently discovered. So it was a happy surprise for me to read there that,

… you hear this song quite a lot in Brighton from car stereos and the like. It always makes me think of B[enedict]XVI. I do quite like that Mr Williams’s song subscribes to the Catholic vision of  ‘the truth’ rather than the societal trend to promote subjective and competing notions based on ‘my truth’. The truth, of course, if not embraced, can be a cause for unhappiness…

The song never fails to life my spirits. So it was an even greater, and pleasant, surprise to find that this song is the subject of the world’s first 24-hour music video! What a clever concept it is. If you go to the site (it can take a while to load initially – be patient. If it stalls, press F5) you will find that you can match the time of day to the video. It is a remarkable feat. It is a series of seemingly ordinary people (and occasionally the singer) dancing here, there and everywhere to the song. It breathes a joyful spirit, and is good clean entertainment (unless there is something hidden at 3am!). Go have a look, and you can check in there when you need a pick-me-up.

happy

 

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.

Pax.

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.

Exif_JPEG_PICTURE

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.