To hate and not to hate — the necessary balancing act

In haste, as busy-ness looms again in this not-too-quiet cloister.

As we recover from and reflect on the Paris atrocity (and for those who have cared to notice, the Beirut outrage on the same day) we will find strong words being said. Some are necessary and true; some are unhelpful and off-target. Several commentators and news outlets seized on the Syrian passport found near the corpse of a suicide bomber as proof that terrorists are coming in with asylum seekers. It was strange to those of us who spent a second or two thinking about this — strange that the bomber’s body should be in a million pieces but his passport intact. Now we hear that the authorities feel it was planted and that indeed it is a fake.

Making us fear all asylum seekers is part of the tactics of terror. Divide and conquer is a tried and true strategy.

This strength of feeling brings into focus some uncomfortable truths. It is time to begin hating. It is time to hate terrorism, structures of violence and oppression, torture and inhumanity, bloodlust and the creeds of antichrist. We must them with a perfect hate: measured, thoughtful, discerning and calm. They must be decried, dismantled and destroyed.

It is not time to hate people. It never can be. Christ died even for the butchers of Paris last Friday, even if they rejected that redeeming death. God desires that all people be saved and come to knowledge of truth (1Tim 2:4). So our duty is to love (in the active, not emotional, sense) the Islamist terrorists, by confronting them with the truth, admonishing them, shaming them, and punishing them, for the Lord punishes those whom he loves (Prov 3:12; Hebrews 12:6), that they might be saved.

But what a fine line to walk – to hate the sin, and love the sinner. It can be spoken glibly all too often. However, it is a real and mighty challenge for Christians, and salvific. If we are to hate the sins we do not like, we must also start hating our own sins lest we become hypocrites.

Thus this latest atrocity is a reminder to us of our constant need to repent and to receive God’s forgiveness and so experience the mercy of God which is ever on offer. Always on offer. For all of us.

Take the time to read this story, which puts a human face to this duty we have to hate the terror but not the terrorists. Even more, it reminds us to be careful whom we label as part of this programme of terror. There are more victims than we realize, and some of them will be victims of us not Daesh if we do not get this balancing act right. Most victims of Daesh are Muslim, and we must not become agents of Daesh in our reaction to them.

Terror must not win.

paris symbol

Can you see the Cross?

I shall probably regret this…

… one should never blog when in desolation (in the Igantian sense of the word).

And my mood is not chipper. Next week we have a big 24 hours as we come to the climax of our 400th celebrations. It has been a busy time for me, producing service books for printers, preparing liturgies and the sacristy for the several liturgies we will celebrate (with cardinals present), ordering crates of hooch for the festal drinkies and luncheon, as well as the other duties that fall to monks. So this morning I was off-colour and discovered later that one small job of mine had not been covered, and anyone could have covered it. This is religious life, and all our lives of course, from time to time. The sting is sharper in religious life because more is expected. Of course, perhaps that is why human imperfection, indifference, contempt and what have you should be expected in the cloister: with such high ideals the Devil is sure to be tempted to spike the monastic punch.

Moreover, it is hard to be chipper anyway when the news from Rome is so uniformly depressing. Reform has been the watchword, yet the upper echelons of ecclesial governance are more corrupt than ever. Has there been a more secular papacy in the last few centuries than this one? When so much effort is expended courting liberal secular opinion yet in the same moment also in villfying the committed faithful, we are left with the reality that few people think of the clichéd quip “Is the Pope Catholic?” as a joke any more.

So, to make things gloomier and me even more prone to whining, there is the Paris atrocity, the latest two-fingers to God in their service of Satan from Daesh (the name we should be using for IS – they hate it). This is where we come to the part I might regret (though the above may be regreattable too).

At present, when I can find some clear time (not often), I am trying to write a thesis that attempts to show how the Catholic Church can recognize immediately as martyrs the Copts massacred by Daesh in Libya earlier this year. Their dying act was to call on the Holy Name of Jesus. This is where their hearts lay. They were heaven-centred.

Last night eight young men died with a hateful creed, anti-Christ in fact, in their lips, murdering at least 140 (the latest tally) innocent people. This is where their hearts lay. They were hell-centred.

This is the shocking reality Christians need to acknowledge: barring an extremely improbable last millisecond conversion, we behold eight men who chose hell last night, and are there now. How many people will say this out loud: they died in hatred of God and man, and so they are in hell, as surely as the Coptic martyrs are in heaven.

This will offend some who think that the mere mention of hell as a possibility is to perpetuate a medieval cruelty out of a very modern, very secular sensibility. It is really self-interest in disguise: to allow that some people might, yea must, go to hell means that it is a possibility also for us. Better, then, to hold that no one goes there.

We have been hearing the word mercy a lot, and a Year of Mercy will soon be upon us. Too much of the time it is not mercy as Christ meant it that is being professed. It is licence and indulgence and a refusal to take seriously human freedom. Mercy is not a general amnesty from punishment for sinnners, great or small, whether they are contrite or not. Mercy is the name we give to the marvellous two-layered gift of God by which we are always and at any time able to repent; and having repented, to receive without delay or hesitation the forgiveness of God. Mercy cannot exist without repentance, for repentance is a free act, and forgiveness is a free gift tied inevitably, and necessarily, to repentance, and so can never be forced on us.

So as we remember next year the mercy of God, let us also acknowledge that eight young men last night rejected that mercy, committed a heinous mortal sin, and are now eternally  lodged with Satan in eternal torment. This is not to gloat, but to remind us that the Gospel is a two-edged sword, and it may yet strike us unless our lives evidence a striving, to some decent degree at least, for the keeping of Christ’s commandments.

There are still priests around. There are many confessionals. There is offered, by sacrament, the absolute assurance of Christ’s forgiveness to those who repent. Let us keep ourselves on the right side of the Gospel sword.

Now, to let slumber deliver me into a better, less self-focused, mood!

Peace, out.

Pauvre Paris, mais je NE suis PAS Charlie

At present I’m taking a week of holiday rest in a small cabin in Wiltshire. There is a TV and watching the coverage of the Paris outrages makes for a macabre but compelling spectacle. (On this point, discovering the free channel Euronews has been a relief. The constant repetitive drivel on the BBC and Sky is annoying. Euronews is not afraid to have short periods of silence with live footage, without someone using dozens of words to describe what we can see for ourselves on the screen.)

When a friend alerted me to what sort of rag Charlie Hebdo is things made more sense. Murder can never be the solution to insult. Militant Islam knows no other way it seems. They are truly vile, even demonic. They have no excuse.

Yet Charlie Hebdo is almost as vile. This magazine seeks deliberately to insult and provoke, especially with regard to religion, not least the Church. Laurence England on Facebook neatly described this tragic event as the clash between extreme Islam and extreme secularism, and this rings true, not just in this case but in general with regard to all the atrocities of IS and Al Qaeda. The innocent victims will be many if the current series of events continues.

Contrary to the rhetoric being constantly repeated, the Paris attack is not an attack on freedom of speech; it is an attack on, an appalling and disproportionate overreaction to, the abuse of freedom of speech. The employees at Charlie Hebdo are not martyrs nor heroes; they are victims. The police officers killed are more deserving of the labels hero and martyr.

So even as the West, and for the moment France especially, fights the hideous evil of militant Islam, perhaps the West, and France in particular, needs to understand how destructive is militant secularism. It will be futile to denounce the devil at work in militant Islam when at the same time we coddle the devil at work in our society.

Freedom of speech is not unlimited, as proved by our own laws of libel and slander. Its abuse occasionally provokes some to appalling acts of revenge. To speak the truth in love is the only legitimate use of freedom of speech. Charlie Hebdo speaks something else entirely.

So, je ne suis pas Charlie. Catholics mourn for its victims, denounce the murderers, expose the Islamist agenda; yet so too Catholics must expose the dangers of extreme secularism.

If only France had shown similar outrage at the slaughter of Christians and Yezidis in Iraq and Syria, who provoked no one. Consistency would help.

May all the victims rest in peace, and those who mourn them be comforted.

Happy new year.

Francis and ISIS

On this memorial of St Francis of Assisi, a couple of aspects of his life hold a certain interest in light of the current crisis we face with militant Islam, and in particular ISIS/ISIL/IS/Daesh (or whatever you might call them).

St Francis himself nurtured an ardent desire to bring Christ to the Muslim Saracens. Eventually, during a lull in the siege of Damietta, he managed to cross the front lines and enter the camp of the Sultan of Egypt, a nephew of the infamous Saladin. Sultan Al-Kamil received him graciously and for several days he remained in the Saracen camp and preached Christ to them. It was to no avail, but he was allowed to return to the crusader lines unmolested. Mind you, St Bonaventure (probably the only authority for this) asserted that the Sultan converted to Christ on his deathbed. Some seeds take a long time to be bear fruit. What we can be more certain of is that ISIL (Daesh, etc!) cannot lay legitimate claim to be the modern Saracens, nor representatives of an authentic caliphate, at least viewed in historic terms. The Saracens were capable of remarkable generosity of spirit, and Al-Kamil’s gracious reception of St Francis suggests that he recognized, if only in an inarticulate way, the holiness of the man of God. Daesh/ISIL (etc!) represent only themselves, whatever strains of militant Islam they might tap into.

St Francis preaches to the Sultan of Egypt

St Francis preaches to the Sultan of Egypt

Another incident from St Francis’ life might give us cause to pause, and to think about our context. In the town of Gubbio, not far from Assisi, the townsfolk were being terrorized by a wolf, which as eating not only livestock but their owners as well. Moved by their plight, St Francis took it upon himself to find this wolf and deal with the crisis. He found the wolf on the hill above Gubbio and admonished it for its evil deeds, and commanded Brother Wolf to cease. St Francis discovered that the wolf was acting so rapaciously because it was tormented by hunger. So the Poor One returned to the town and explained to them the underlying problem. The townsfolk promised to feed the wolf every day. They did, and the wolf struck no more.

St Francis and Brother Wolf of Gubbio

St Francis and Brother Wolf of Gubbio

With young Muslim men, and women, from the UK, France, even Australia going to Syria and Iraq to join in the Daesh/ISIL bloodlust, we might profitably ask, what is their hunger that moves them to such a despicable decision? What need of theirs is not being addressed that, perhaps, we could address? Why not starve Daesh of recruits, and prevent so many youths from being killed by the increasing opposition that is squaring up to Daesh. What moves them to enter a conflict in which they by all appearances have no legitimate claim to enter? (if there could be any legitimate reason for joining Daesh/ISIL.)

It is one strategy, a Franciscan one and an eminently Christian one. For now, all we seem to have is the strategy of slaughtering Daesh before they slaughter more of our brethren in Syria and Iraq.

The Final Days of the UK

We subscribe to only two newspapers here at the monastery, and only to the Economist for other current affairs. The Week is an effective way to catch up on what the media have been saying about the affairs of the day. In the process they include a number of letters from the various papers. This week was this remarkable letter to The Independent.

The Scots will vote yes. And the rest of us will owe them a debt of gratitude. Their vote will send symbolically, in the only effective way our current democratic system permits, these messages to all our politicians:

We want not a change of government, but a change of politics. You lack the competence to run the country, and the vision to lead it. You lied to us and deceived us into an illegal war. You cheated and stole from us. A privileged, privately educated 7 per cent permanently holds up to 73 per cent of positions of power. Our representative democracy entrenches a profoundly unrepresentative power structure. The privileged power elite are not held accountable or punished for their venality, incompetence or mistakes.

We are justly proud of our NHS and the inspirational ideals that underpin it. We want those principles preserved, not undermined by subversive privatisation.

Good luck, Scotland. We respect your courage and admire your confidence.

It is remarkable for at least two things. First, it shows how clueless many people are about the referendum and the campaign for Scottish independence. To claim that a vote for independence will send a message to politicians about the nature of politics or the privitization of the NHS is wishful thinking at best. It is primarily about nationalism and the desire of some Scots to be free of the rest of Britain. It could be portrayed as romantic, though the incidents of intimidation of those speaking for the “No” campaign rather gives the lie to that image. Nationalism, unlike patriotism, is rarely if ever attractive. The twentieth century is nothing if not a memorial to the destructive power of nationalism.

Secondly, even if a “Yes” vote could be read as a cri de coeur about the state of British democratic politics, it is breathtakingly excessive. To the mind come images of sledgehammers cracking, no – crushing, peanuts or babies being thrown out with the bathwater. Because our leaders apparently “lack the competence to run the country”, the solution for this man is to dismantle the nation itself. We can only thank the good Lord that this correspondent is not one of the seven percent which holds 73 percent of power.

If the polls are accurate, Thursday may see the demise of the United Kingdom as it has existed for the last 300 years (well, with Scotland that is. Ireland was not included until 1801). The dismantling of one of the greatest nation-states in history (for better or for worse, or for both) will have been determined by a poll open to only 7% percent of its population. In this, at least, we could agree with the epistolator cited above, that “(o)ur representative democracy entrenches a profoundly unrepresentative power structure”. The decision will be based on a simple majority of those Scots who actually vote. The fate of an immensely important nation is in the hands of a tiny minority. In Australia for any constitutional change to be made a double majority is needed: a majority of voters in a majority of the six states. If the change affects one state in particular then a triple majority is needed: a majority of votes in the relevant state itself is also necessary. It is inherently, but not impossibly, conservative of course: of 44 constitutional referendums in Australia since Federation, only 8 have been passed. It makes for impressive stability and security.

The pro- independence campaign seeks a more prosperous Scotland, blaming Westminster for its woes. But The Economist (September 13-19 2014) puts its claims into question.

Scotland’s relative economic decline is the result not of southern neglect but of the shift of manufacturing and shipping to Asia. If Westminster has not reversed all the deleterious effects of globalisation and technology, that is because to do so is impossible. The nationalists know this, which is why, sotto voce, they would continue many of Westminster’s policies.

We might translate “sotto voce” here as “on the sly”. Westminster’s politicians, our epistolator opined, are not fit to govern, yet the government of a newly-independent Scotland would copy many of their policies. Who then, we might ask, is actually incompetent?

The nationalists make much of Britain getting all her North Sea oil revenue, yet they want to keep the British Pound. The nationalists seek effectively sovereign power over the British Pound and British oil, and sod the rest of us. If even if they had such a right, their economic arguments are equally unconvincing. Again from The Economist:

The nationalists’ economics are also flawed. Scotland would not, in fact, be richer alone. The taxes that would flow from the North Sea would roughly compensate for the extra cost of its lavish state, which would no longer be funded by Westminster (last year spending was some £1,300 per person higher in Scotland than elsewhere in Britain). But oil revenues are erratic. They would have earned Scotland £11.5 billion in 2008-09 but only £5.5 billion in 2012-13. If an independent state were to smooth these fluctuations by setting up an oil fund, it would have less cash to spend now. In any case, the oil is gradually running out. In order to maintain state spending after it is gone, taxes would have to rise. And the crunch might come much sooner. Foreign investors and big businesses that mostly serve English customers could well move south.

The nationalists have either failed to think long-term; or they have done so, not liked what they saw, and pretended they did not see it. Oil revenue is wholly dependent on the market price. And there is not that much oil left. The BBC quotes figures that suggest there is only 30-40 years of production remaining, and the Office of Budget Responsibility estimates a fall in oil revenue by 2017-18 of 38%. Moreover, since 1999 production has consistently declined. So who will pick up the tab for an independent Scotland? Not England and Wales and Northern Ireland. No, the Scottish taxpayer and moneylenders.

(Courtesy BBC)

(Courtesy BBC)

It is highly unlikely that Scotland will get to keep the Pound. To get the Euro it will have to apply, and indeed it will have to apply to join the EU itself. Both are very much in question. And to enter the EU a unanimous vote of member countries is required. Even if the remainder of the UK were not to vote against it, Spain probably would. Scottish independence would give heart to Catalan separatists, to the horror of the Spanish government. So Scotland could end being very, very much alone, sinking under debt, and with only themselves to blame; or rather, the slender majority who would have voted for such a state of affairs.

Some heady idealists on Facebook dream aloud (and perhaps mainly tongue in cheek) of the opportunity for an independent Scotland to restore a Catholic monarchy. Not likely! Scotland is a majority Protestant country and sectarianism there lives on. Moreover, Mr Salmond will want all the power and glory for himself.

And here is the rub. The only guaranteed winners of a “Yes” vote would be politicians and civil servants. A new civil service will have to be created to replicate what has hitherto been done by the UK civil service, and it will have to paid for by taxes and volatile oil revenues. And of course Scottish politicians would become leaders with international stature. How proud they will be. Their salaries will go up to reflect this new status, naturally. Then embassies and high commissions (one presumes Scotland will remain in the Commonwealth) will have to be built, and diplomats appointed. More money. From somewhere. Now wonder Scot pollies are so keen!

Truly, it is hard to see how the ordinary Scot will win, other than to have that wonderful frisson that comes from putting two fingers up to England. That frisson will not last long. The English will probably return the gesture, with a more devastating long-term effect on Scotland. While Scottish nationalists, in their triumph at having destroyed the UK, will be singing Scotland the Brave for a few nights, the remaining UK will sing Scotland the Knave for a lot longer.

It is Scotland’s choice, and hers alone. Laddies and lassies, you had better get it right.

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.


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.


From Aid to the Church in Need.