Knuckle up or else!

I have the impression of such a challenge in Odd One Out which comments on articles to which I have added thoughts in this blog.

Should we just put aside all we love, snap into lockstep, “convert to the true church” and grin and bear it. Surely if we don’t, we are insincere about our profession of the truth. Yes, if the Church has to be be the spiritual equivalent of the Waffen SS or the KGB. If that is to be so, then, truly, love has no place in this world and I would want nothing to do with it.

Perhaps a bigger challenge would be, however much we are concerned for faith and living some kind of relationship with God, relating to the world. Do we do anything other than engage in obsessive-compulsive behaviour, feeding our addictions? That can cut both ways. Perhaps “wreckovation” and the new liturgies bring pleasure and joy to some people, but they alienate others. The Church cannot be pensée unique or totalitarian, especially when it professes to uphold the freedom of conscience in step with most national constitutions in Europe and America.

At the same time, any practical effort to continue with old liturgies meets with unresolvable dilemmas and lack of interest. The article ends with a picture of a man in a nineteenth-century frock coat looking out of the window of a modern apartment.

Is that the condition I live in as I celebrate Sarum masses? I have often given thought to this question, being a member of an institutional church (the TAC and now the ACC) as a priest. Is it possible to be a priest alone for the simple reason that I’m in the wrong place to interest anyone in my “boutique”? If so, would it be better to use 1962, an older version of the Roman rite, the English Missal, the Novus Ordo, the 1928 or 1549 Prayer Book? Does it make any difference? Would it be better to shut the whole damned thing down, turn the chapel into a workshop or a music room cum library? What good would that do? Usually, when one makes a decision, one has to think whether positive good would come out of it. I honestly don’t think I am the wistful gentlemen in his flat. In my everyday life, I am very modern with casual clothes and long hair. Nearly all the people I know are agnostics and atheists, at least people to whom religious culture is as foreign as Zen Buddhism or Hinduism to us.

The two extremes seem to converge in the nagging thought “You know in your heart of hearts that it’s all bosh!” What I believe in in not bosh, but what most church people dress it up in is bosh. It is all very alienating. The one thought that keeps body and soul together is not making any change unless a positive good would come out of it. Otherwise, it’s Keep calm and carry on

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I draw your attention to these very thoughtful postings:

I notice our friend at Rad Trad is also suffering from some degree of burn-out. There is precious little to discuss. The best posts are those that get few or no comments!

I appreciate this realistic outlook, and if anything good happens, it is with our own priest and parish. I have said it before. Most people find the institution irrelevant and / or depressing, but if they like their priest, this is what motivates them to continue.

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The Liturgical Wilderness

There have been some interesting comments on Gathering a Sense of the Lay of the Liturgical Land : Traditional Catholicism. One comment in particular struck me, sent in by someone who comments here too.

From a practical point of view, I have very little interest left for either one. Any attempt at reconstructing the past is doomed to produce something artificial and lifeless. I’ve been to traditional Latin Masses with the SSPX, FSSP, independent chapels, you name it: I always come away from them with an undeniable feeling both of sterility and self-consciousness. No matter how exact your reproduction of the pre-conciliar liturgical forms, they can never again be celebrated with the pre-conciliar naivete, with the mindset of “just doing what Catholics do.” Traditionalist Catholics are only too aware of the fact that they’re doing something special and extraordinary in going to their TLM. That, oddly enough, is a most un-traditional mindset. However ugly a homunculus Paul VI’s missal is, it’s alive (even if barely so) with the kind of “here comes everybody” Catholicism that has always gotten itself mixed up in the muck and mess of the real world, and it’s “just what Catholics do” on a Sunday. In that sense, it might even be more traditional than the Traditional Mass.

Before I quit my rambling, let me just say that I think more effort would be well spent in trying to make whatever life there is in the Paul VI missal more vigorous and conducive to orienting people toward transcendence. The Lumen Christi project is one such effort I really applaud. More of that would do more for enriching the current liturgical wasteland than either Traditionalism or Traditional Catholicism, as you’ve defined them.

I sent a comment, which still needs to be approved:

This is a theme I comment on in my blog, but my experience of much of the French Novus Ordo scene is not “natural” Catholicism, but a self-conscious “We have restored pristine purity”. Perhaps your experience is different. I have often asked myself the question as to whether the ordo of Paul VI could be celebrated in a “medieval” spirit, like French Benedictine monks, but such a “spirit” is very rare. I have myself celebrated 2 or 3 masses following the Novus Ordo in Latin in the “conservative” way and it left me quite empty feeling. As a Romantic, I don’t discount feeling and intuition from our way of evaluating things. I’m not saying you are wrong, but any future of sacramental Christianity seems to lie elsewhere – or nowhere.

I have often commented on the loss of innocence, the impossibility of putting the genie back into the bottle. Such considerations have brought many priests to give up, some to die and others to melt into secular life. There is the question of the rite. I celebrated the Novus Ordo masses in early 2008 as a TAC priest in the wake of the Portsmouth meeting of October 2007 and the thought of assimilating that rite in addition to asking Rome to accept “Anglican Patrimony”. This process within myself led me to lay aside the Roman rite entirely and celebrate according to Sarum in the most authentic way possible – in the light of the Dominican and Lyons rites. There too was some measure of archaeologism and self-conscious restoration. It seemed to be the best compromise to enable me to live my priestly identity rather than “fall away” myself. I celebrated Sarum in English until the autumn of 2009 and switched to the Latin version of Dickinson.

That being said, and it was a question about what I did in my own chapel and in my own company, there is the question of parish religion. I could not face being a parish priest, at least in the hypothesis that I had applied to the Ordinariate, been accepted and re-ordained and put to service partly as an Anglican-rite priest and a Roman-rite priest in a “normal” diocesan parish. If I ever had a subjective “vocation” to such a kind of ministry, I don’t have one now. This certainly prejudices me, and I am deeply alienated from my former Roman Catholic life. However, I can honestly say that I found nothing “natural” or “normal” in modern parish life, even in the French countryside.

Perhaps the most “natural” kind of Catholicism is in the monasteries. There’s Fontgombault, Triors, Le Barroux and others, but I find their spirit very “military” and influenced by French military and scouting traditions. Monastic life appeals to a defined temperament. That spirit was not systematic in monasteries of only fifty years ago, and certainly not in the nineteenth or the fifteenth century.

We in churches like the ACC and the remnants of the TAC try to keep things going, and I find the spirit of a parish or Synod Mass much less self-conscious than the traditionalists as I have experienced them. That has encouraged me, together with my Bishop allowing me to carry on with Sarum. We do have a duty to carry on and not give up and resign ourselves to darkness and hopelessness.

My most intimate feeling is that sacramental Christianity needs some kind of cultural or social platform which has been totally destroyed in the modern world. Perhaps groups of artists and writers, perhaps alternative “intentional” communities, people with a capacity for reflection and original thought. It is an avenue that needs to be explored by those priests who are of suitable temperaments and know how to switch off the institutional claptrap. Perhaps a future might lie there, and not in the urban rat race or country villages increasingly populated by town people.

I don’t have the right to say that all is lost, but it is hard to see clearly.

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The Minority of the Minority

The Real Live One blog, to my delight, has truly come alive with thought-provoking reflections. The two I most have in mind are the most recent.

Gathering a Sense of the Lay of the Liturgical Land : Traditional Catholicism

From 1981 until off-and-on between 1996 and 1998, I had first-hand experience of the traditionalist Roman Catholic world. I found the Society of St Pius X intolerant and authoritarian. I went from one illusion to another and in the 1990’s went the way of the Ecclesia Dei lot and the sterile aspirations of being the future majority once all the liberal fuddy-duddies had died off.

JV’s analysis is quite germane, and I detect the influence of people like Geoffrey Hull who quickly sensed a difference between “conservative” and “traditional”. The former would uphold the means (authority, infallibility, etc.) and the latter would uphold the end (the Church’s liturgical life as actually lived out). The latter would be ready to adopt a kind of “Gallican” ecclesiology if the Roman authority was of a mind to destroy traditional liturgical forms in favour of a reformation. He makes a further distinction between traditional Catholicism and traditionalism. The former would represent a “natural” and non-reformed state of the Church, and the second a “semi-reformed” state – admitting the principle of reform and modernisation but refusing the later consequences.

I don’t know if there are many priests doing what I do: using old local uses like Sarum and other diocesan and religious order uses in more recent usage. JV refers to the question of western praxis before the Reformation / Counter Reformation cycle. I have often written on this theme, and even in my lifetime have found bits and pieces of this older conception of Catholicism in France. An eccentric parish priest of Scottish-Cornish origins in Normandy, a brave priest who stuck his heels in and held his ground, a few bits and pieces in Normandy and around Paris. There was precious little of it in the 1980’s. Now, those priests are all dead and the parishes concerned are closed down or “reformed”, or occasionally given to the Fraternity of St Peter. The eccentricities were discontinued and replaced by the standard 1962 fare as provided for by the rules. I am lucky enough to have a large-minded bishop in the ACC, and I can do what I want in my own chapel, but I would be expected to conform to the standard Anglican Missal (standard Roman missal of c. 1920) if serving in a parish over in England.

The objection can be made. Why not drop it and put it all in museums and libraries? After all, this is the use the modern world has with “culture”. So-called “culture” is apart from life, from homo technicus, and made to be dosed and contained at will. It is only one step from destroying all the evidence. Even the French revolutionaries and Bolsheviks in Russia preserved cultural artefacts whilst they killed people.

What really alienated me from Roman Catholicism was this insistence on nothing outside the Reformation / Counter-Reformation dialectic, whether in theology or rigid rubricism in liturgical practice. At one time, what JV refers to as traditionalism seemed to me to be a lesser of two evils – between tight and scrupulous rubricism on one hand and the kind of liturgical abuse one would expect to find in parishes trying to be “with-it”. It is not what my experience with Anglicanism brought me to hope for and expect. Indeed, what I have tried to do is an eccentric’s task or the lonely research of a scholar. The kind of theory and praxis to which I aspired depends on a decentralised notion of the Church, something dangerously in common with the “liberals”. I discovered a lot when comparing Modernists like Tyrrell to demytholising, secularising and moralising liberals like Bultmann and Harnack, promoting a kind of “atheist Christianity”. Tyrrell worked to debunk the Germanic secularisers and seek a more mystical vision of Catholicism. Authoritarians like Pope Pius X simply rolled them all together and opposed both tendencies against orthodox scholasticism. Thus came the dialectic between Modernism and Integralism spreading into both religion and secular politics.

What does it all matter? I would ask them the same question about why it matters so much to them to narrow everything to their knife-edge criteria. Diversity and difference don’t enter their formatted categories. I suppose that if I were not a priest and I was living where I am, I would have to make choices between the available options: the traddies in with Rome, the SSPX, the local parish, some community of enthusiasts or a monastery. It is a consumer’s choice between one brand or another on the supermarket shelf! That is what it has come to. There is also a Church of England community in Paris. There are also a few Lutherans and Eglise Réformée communities dotted around…

JV more recently added Gathering a Sense of the Lay of the Liturgical Land : Traditionalism. He traces the history of pre-1962 modernisation, especially through the Pius X reforms in the Breviary. I assume he will comment on the Holy Week rites of Pius XII later together with the reinforcement of the Papal office through treating canonised popes as something other than the confessor and martyr bishops they were. I have no need to go into all the details.

In the end, it comes down to ecclesiology, because authoritarian papalism leads to a dichotomy between tradition ad authority. If you “convert to the true church”, you then have to accept ecumenism, religious freedom and a whole paradigm that undermines the Counter-Reformation notion of the “true church” designed to trash Protestantism. You then have to create some kind of ecclesiastical Empire of Romantia for yourself, or begin to ask questions. The problems come when we begin to seek intellectual coherence rather than be bludgeoned into being formatted into ideologies (black is white if the Führer says so). After all, has Catholicism not been a load of fairy stories for children? My wife often speaks of her old grandfather who preferred to have la foi du charbonnier (the faith of the coal-man or the ploughman) rather than ask questions whose answers would seriously compromise his innocence and sincerity. I am brought to think of Charles Ryder in Brideshead Revisited saying to Julia – “You do know at heart that it’s all bosh, don’t you?

At one level it is all bosh. At another level, man comes to a new awareness of things and a new understanding of Christ’s mission. It is situated at the level of the spirit.

The traditionalist reaction has served to open up these assumptions to question, and they represent another side of “Modernism” as opposed to obedience to the totalitarian system. The notion of infallibility has at least to be minimised to the exact terms of the Vatican I definition (designed to placate the inopportunists) if not quietly done away with. Benedict XVI and Francis began along this line in a quiet task of deconstruction. Paul VI and John Paul II were the last of the ultramontane pontiffs.

In my own thinking, I could only go a step further and reverse my assimilation of the various papal pronouncements designed to trash Anglicanism (even the kind of Anglicanism trying to continue the medieval kind of ecclesiology based on the Kingdom and the Episcopate). There was no question of returning to the Church of England, so the way was continuing Anglicanism.

Now, is traditionalism a kind of “subtle Gnosticism”, term defined as a minority believing it is right against the majority? This hardly seems to do justice either to the heretical Gnosticism of Valentinus or the more “orthodox” Gnosticism of Origen and Clement of Alexandria. I have taken a great interest in Gnosticism myself (see Aristocracy of the Spirit) to the extent of reading books by C.G. Jung, Berdyaev, Elaine Pagels, Bishop Stefan Höller, the Nag Hammadi scriptures and Pistis Sophia. Too much of it creates a system of thought that becomes too high to assimilate, but the vision is profound and spiritual. It has appeal. I see little evidence of this way of thinking among most conservative and march-in-lock-step traditionalists. Rather to the contrary.

Can aspirations be fulfilled? Can anything be recovered? I begin to have my doubts, and their consequences would be too far-reaching for comfort. I have the impression of disciplining my thought and restraining myself very severely as I wait for dim flames of hope in orthodox (lower case “o”) Christianity. What would be my forecast for the future? The only thing possible is in the light of history. I see increasing polarisation and exhaustion in the extreme tendencies like sedevacantism (like with the Orthodox Безпоповцы and the Petite Eglise) and an increasing movement towards conformity on the part of the “traditionalist” groups. Outside the simultaneous movement of polarisation and exhaustion, people will increasingly seek non-Christian or “godless” Christian spiritual outlooks not depending on churches, communities or clergy. Of course, people might turn to totalitarian authoritarianism as they did in the 1920’s and 30’s in reaction to poverty and incompetence of their political leaders. Would the next Pope be a “reincarnation” of Pius XII, one who would take advantage of the upsurge?

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Young Fogey’s Latest

John Beeler has come up with Catholic Defcon, the new Anglo-Catholicism, and more.

He makes much of my article about terrorists and liturgists, quoting it quite extensively. The question of Archbishop Marini is probably a storm in a teacup, since he is getting on towards canonical retirement age, unless the Pope wants a stand-in to do his worst “de-ratzingerization” in about two to three years. It’s their problem, not mine.

What does he pick up the most? There are my comments on the liturgical sensitivity of the Pope. Fine, he is not the first. It appears that Pius XII was not terribly interested in liturgical studies either! A second and more important point he makes is something he calls the Protestant Endgame. If there is no reason for Catholics to remain in the RC Church, they should become Protestants. Perhaps in America, but over here, they are “nones” – people who do not identify with any religion whether or not they are “spiritual” (not pure and hard materialists).

But if you really understand the teachings of the church, do you?

I think I know a few things having been to two theological faculties run by the Dominicans and a couple of years in an old-style seminary… The question then is one of schools of thought between ressourcement, the old scholasticism and the legacy of Nominalism and the “stingy” way of thinking. I have studied Thomas Aquinas, but have more in common with Tyrrell and the later ressourcement men. To me it is like colour photography after monochrome (though many of the most artistic photographs are black-and-white). I am also a Romantic having reacted against what I found to be excessive rationalism. I always have something to learn, and I read all the time, but understanding and ignorance are not my main “problem”.

Anglicanism, for example, which in its true form is “the ‘Reformation’ was godly, leaving England still Catholic but making it now the purest branch of the church,” isn’t the answer.

It may be the conviction of some Anglicans, but not mine. I have discussed the “two Anglicanisms” before, each defining Anglicanism its own way between the English version of the Reformation and its adoption of both Calvinist and Arminianism, and the English version of Gallicanism. I and most of the ACC Diocese to which I belong see things through the latter point of view. Some of the theories going around about Henrican Anglicanism are open to question and discussion. Personally, I refer more or less to what there was in common between Anglicanism in the 1520’s and the French Church in the 1720’s. Those two periods were far from perfect, like every other, but I prefer to follow a model than try to invent something of my own, which would be vastly inferior. I have many affinities with some of the early nineteenth-century Romantics, but their time must have been pretty awful between the London of William Blake and Charles Dickens to the Napoleonic Empire being run from France. Perhaps they were exciting times when single persons could make a difference and everything was in flux – perhaps like our own future… Seriously, what really interests me is not so much the trappings but life in a world where social units involved fewer people and a more human approach to everything. No period was ever perfect, but some were less inhuman than others.

I too know the three places of pilgrimage John mentions, one in Westminster Cathedral and two in York. Protestants were behaving like ISIS with all the gruesome executions of the martyrs, and the Roman Catholics were no better in the brief time during which fortune turned in their favour under Queen Mary. Anyway, all that is thought-provoking.

I won’t go into the problem of admitting the divorced and remarried to the Sacraments. It is a tough pastoral problem with two sides to the argument. We in the ACC follow the same discipline as in the RC Church, and any question of annulment has to be decided by an ecclesiastical marriage tribunal run by competent canonists.

What about reactions to a degrading situation in the Church? The Pope loses all credibility and the sedevacantist “position” becomes “mainstream”. So-called “liberals” start killing conservatives and traditionalists (presumably after having siezed the secular power of some country). I find the speculation sterile, and can only depend on the usual “the RC Church is the true church”. If Catholicism is wider than that particular jurisdiction under the Pope, then we manage in a different way or decide that sacraments and churches are not necessary. Of course, being a priest in such a situation makes things easier, though one can only empathise with the plight of a lay person who is alienated.

What about the SSPX and Rome? The cracked record has been playing for years. They have a little more cunning than Archbishop Hepworth. They keep the dialogue going for years without anything ever coming of it. It confers legitimacy in the eyes of the faithful and they continue as an independent organisation. It could have been like that for the TAC, but unconditional surrender was decided upon, and we all saw the result. What was left was deeply humiliated and now has very little visibility on the Internet. The SSPX has its friends and critics. I was a lay “pre-seminarian” with them in France back in 1983 and got out rather fast. I find their “line” rather boring, but they are resourceful and prudent.

As for St Clement’s in Philadelphia, I would be interested to know what Paul Goings has to say, since I have never been there. If it is true that the new rector of that church is a woman priest, I can understand that many would be alienated and would become Roman Catholics or Orthodox or would join a continuing Anglican jurisdiction. I have seen it happen in England, but I am now out of touch with London spikes like St Mary’s in Bourne Street or All Saints in Margaret Street. I’m not sure that John’s analysis is entirely germane about “modernism”, “semi-congregationalsim” and homosexuality. I would need to read another opinion from someone who knows that parish.

Ms Schori is retiring. I’m sure she will get a very good pension and bask in the sun in her old age. Who will be the next ECUSA presiding bishop? Watch other people’s spaces. You will find out quicker than if you rely on me for the information.

Death of adulthood in American culture. What American culture? When I was a schoolboy, we used to joke about the thinnest books in the world like English Cooking, Italian Heroes, Polar Bears in Africa, and so forth. One such book is on American Culture. That being said, I am a great admirer of Walt Whitman, Samuel Barber and Leonard Bernstein among so many others, together with the great number of American musicians, artists, writers, poets and actors alive to this day. One thing that is beyond me is that some people are still nostalgic about ultra-masculinity, whatever that means. I am more of a fan of Carl Gustav Jung who taught that the integrated person was one who accepted the balance of his or her masculinity and femininity. One thing that strikes me about America is that large numbers of people do the same thing and conform to the same norms. Is this the New World, or the beginnings of old Europe as we were in the 1920’s onwards? I have travelled to the USA four times, once to Maryland, once to Florida and twice to Tennessee. I found it fascinating, but the only thing I could understand was the language with the drawling accents. Sorry.

Nuff for now…

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A Couple of Interesting Articles

One of my readers, who has just sent a fine comment on another post, has recently published these two interesting articles:

This one seems to complement my own posts about liturgists and terrorists. I suppose that the inability of Roman clerics to understand the value of older forms of the liturgy could be compared with the tax authorities in many western countries and people’s need for their own money! Any ruling class ceases to have any understanding or empathy for the middle, working and assisted classes. It happened to the Church. When Church and State were together like in eighteenth-century France, the result was that the guillotine did not discern between the aristocracy and the clergy! The worst the clergy need fear today is indifference and seeing their own sense of vocation slip away. That is the subject of another posting of our reader.

Putting the boot on the other foot, I am considerably older than many who write on the Internet or seek their way as Catholic laity or clergy. I went through my most feverish spiritual searchings in traditional Catholicism in the 1980’s, which is thirty years ago. The youngsters today were born in the 1980’s and 90’s. What is new for them is old for us. We in our 50’s and older do have some historical context, and have lived in an era about which we have but little nostalgia. The tendency is to lose sight of any hope or sense of direction, feeling sorry for the younger generation and doing nothing to encourage them in their freshness and enthusiasm. In my 20’s, I often got the same damper from men born in the 1940’s and who also lost their sense of vocation.

There is a paradox with our generation, that of rebellion against the establishment, but yet the appeal of stability of what has been lost. Just yesterday, I was discussing with my wife the question of generations of priests. The tendency in France is the growth of a conservative elite, but few in numbers. Those clerics are recognised by their wearing clerical suits instead of the older roll-neck sweater and a tiny cross pinned to the lapel. She brushed the latter away as the old 1960’s worker priest model. Actually, the 1960’s were a turning point where people sought meaning rather than simply follow the status quo that had led to World War II. I caught the back end of that current, and it haunted me throughout the bleak and sober years of the 1970’s and 80’s and the swing back to conservative and conformist values. The twentieth century (at least the last third of it) marked me profoundly, deeply alienated me. The temptation is to be counter-cultural, and many of us find ways. I opted for living in the country and as far as possible from the cities. That is an illusion, because we are still using electronic technology (as I’m doing now writing this) and feeding La Gueuse and its welfare state with our money.

From the point of view of someone living in France, I see the RC Church as something quaint and increasingly distant from those of us who live in villages, and even more from those who live and work in cities. The churches are still there. A priest comes from the nearby town to say one mass a month in the village church. My wife and I once attended (I was wearing civil dress) and we observed the sadness and alienation. No one came anywhere near us, and we walked home afterwards. There is no contact, no interest in dialogue with a religious person from another Christian denomination with different views. For me to approach them would amount to some kind of “application” or request for something. I’m not interested. Modernity can removed our capacity to care or express the least curiosity. That is the ultimate pastoral challenge of any priest.

I am involved with music at the music school at Saint-Valéry en Caux. Our choral group and vocal quartet often sing concerts in village churches, and are often well- attended. Often, the Mayor is there, together with some official responsible for culture. But, there is no Christian witness of any kind from the priest (from the next town and responsible for the Pastoral Sector) or the laity. They are just a boxed-in club concerned for their own survival, perhaps their close-down strategy and their pride of being the “last ones”. I’m not sure that such nihilism even enters their minds. The church building is just a corpse, and the only question is who can afford to fork out for restorations and maintenance. Some villages do well and care for their patrimony, especially in Brittany, but others care even less than in the most irreligious days of the Age of Reason.

The other article that struck me was A Sense of Being. Another person who often comments on this blog seriously challenged my vocation. I am one of those people who take themselves so little seriously that the thought came into my mind to ask myself whether he was right. Is what I do as a priest no more than an addiction to eccentric behaviours that have little or no spiritual meaning? It does happen with those who are so desperate to get ordained that they go to vagante bishops. I have to face it that this is what I did myself. The reaction of any institutional church would be to consider me to have forfeited any vocation in the same way as a secular judge condemns a heinous criminal to death. There is no rehabilitation, no pity, and the person concerned has to ask fundamental questions. For example – Would I want to belong to such and such a Church as a layman? If not, I would certainly be very unhappy in it as a priest. Yet, something prevents us from turning away with the firm resolution of never returning.

Truth to be told, young men often have their ideas about Christianity and the Church that belong in libraries and books on church history. The reality is about as boring as the Civil Service or a large business corporation. The Romantic world-view involves the sacrifice of our chances of success in the establishment, but it was surely the way of Christ who turned conventional ethics upside-down and passed for a madman or a false prophet given to committing blasphemy. This is the greatest paradox with any Church. We sacrifice Christ and the values of the Gospel to the grey conformity of the institution, or we have to accept our own “failure” and condition as drop-outs and marginal people. This is where my Goliard idea came in, from the marginal clerics in the middle ages who challenged establishment conformity and ran the risk of getting into trouble with the Inquisition. I find that I am more a product of the 1960’s than I thought. Fine, I stopped cutting my hair!

The vocation is a sense of being, yes, but it is also our relationship with humanity and our world. That is if we believe in at least some participation of created being in the Divine Essence. Like many from the back end of the 1960’s, we take an interest in ecology and raising awareness about alternative ways of living, the possibility that the Establishment and La Gueuse are not life and beauty. This was the lesson of St Francis of Assisi, the many fools for Christ in history and people who have returned to the land. Most of those people rejected the baby of Christianity with the bathwater of failed establishment religion. Perhaps a priest can go to them in the same way as a worker priest embraced the ways of factory workers in the post-war years. One often hears of “niche ministry”, an idea expressed by independent “vagante” clergy when it is not completely self-illusory.

Traditionally, a vocation is a call from the hierarchical Church, the Diocesan Bishop and the Christian people who need a pastor. We in the ACC have very little, but the essential is there. I have often to remind myself that I do have the call of a bishop. I do all I can to participate in the life of our Diocese, mostly by being on the Bishop’s Council of Advice and potentially responsible for training new priests. For eight years previously, I had been a priest of the TAC’s patrimony of the primate, at a time when it appeared that the former Primate was respected, ratified and called by his brother bishops and had every appearance of legitimacy. Even with all that, I often find it difficult to muster a grain of self-esteem and confidence in this wilderness of western Europe. I answered at my interview the question – What can you offer our Diocese? I answered – Very little, just my prayers and intercessions as an essentially contemplative priest. Even with that, I am married and have to deal with too much noise in my life. I am no monk! It’s not easy…

We read about others on their tortuous paths, struggling with spiritual and emotional illness. Stability is a rare commodity these days. It is best to absolve such people for any “true church” claim and let them find their way as I have to. Most of us burn ourselves out and something comes or it doesn’t. Indeed:

We all have our stories. We have all been shaped by things we largely have no control over. I have known two very good men who truly had a vocation and pursued it. Many more, however, have been caught in mire. Some watched their vocations fade away. Some clung to vocations they may not have had for reasons only they know.

For many of us, if we have been ordained and especially if a bishop somewhere with some legitimacy has called us despite our failings, we have only to persevere in our wilderness and the humility God has imposed on us. If we have not, then it is perhaps best to weigh anchor and go our way, painfully seeking the divine will that seems most of the time to be arbitrary or illusory. Our greatest calling is to rediscover what Christ was really about, and being a fool for his sake, living with the thorn in the side St Paul had to put up with.

In our youth, we seek identity, and most of those who claim they can give it to us have their own agendas and vested interests. In life, we rarely find what we are looking for and the reality is the boring daily grind.

There is something that recently sounded a chord within me, the Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. A young lawyer seems to have squandered his life, but yet finds his true meaning by taking the identity of a man whose live he saved and offering his death. The closeness to Christ is plain. See the film:

or read the book.

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Of Terrorists and Liturgists

There is the old quip about being able to negotiate with terrorists more easily than with liturgists. The steer looks wistfully at the slaughterhouse door as discussions are held about who will be responsible for the liturgy in the Vatican. Will it be Archbishop Piero Marini who was one of Bugnini’s men who reportedly rewrote one of the official eucharistic prayers whilst forking pasta and saltimbocca alla romana into their mouths in a restaurant?

Quite frankly, Rome and Vatican politics interest me about a much as Sarkozy’s sleaze here in France or the dinosaur of socialism à la François Hollande that now reigns. What would be the best thing? Clearly a system reboot, and a new beginning. This traditionalist Eponymous Flower article is significant. My own thought is the simple question: They believe it is the true Church or not?

There is nothing official about Marini, and the pundits may all be wrong. From all accounts, Pope Francis has about the liturgical sensitivity of Paddy O’Flaherty’s goat and has little or no sympathy with the traditionalists in the RC Church. He does little to shut them down, but supplies them with no fuel either.

I was at Fribourg University in the 1980’s and attended lectures given by “litnicks”. One class was on how to compose a eucharistic prayer. There is a basic theme and Gestalt (structure) on which you improvise. I really wondered what I was doing studying theology! Are the anaphoras we have from the East and West, including the Roman Canon, not enough? Do we have to reinvent the wheel. My love of sailing boats conveys the same message. Nothing new needs to be invented – you just do what has always been done.

One of the greatest concerns here is the continuation of tradition. Can something that is lost be revived? That is the whole question about the liturgy I use, Sarum, which was abolished by the Anglicans in 1549 and superseded by the Pius V rite in 1570 (with the theoretical possibility of being allowed to continue it). The Roman rite as it was in the early 1960’s was for a time only continued by dissident and disobedient groups. It’s use in the current RC Church seems to be on a par with “culture” in modern technological society – put in a museum or on CD’s to be looked at or listened to from the outside. I have often observed this difference between old mainstream religion and the traditionalists.

God help us! Some of them exclaim. But will God show them more concern than the sea for a tiny wooden boat? God helps those who help themselves and do something about their predicament.

Pope Francis seems to have been about making people uncomfortable. Again, it is like Hollande after Sarkozy, veiled plutocracy after the same thing without a mask. Perhaps there is the idea of making Catholics “pure” Christians weaned off addictions like nice churches and liturgies. If that is so, then why bother with church? Perhaps we would be better Christians by practising Zen or sailing the sea in a fresh breeze and an overcast day. Why bother with popes, priests and churches? That is the way most people see it.

I admire the traditionalists for trying to keep something going, but they have to adjust their ecclesiology to justify their disobedience. Some do it by denying that the Pope is truly Pope (sedevacantism) and being in the Church in an “extraordinary” way. Others simply admit that Catholicism is a wider category than canonical subordination to the Vatican and local diocesan bishops. I don’t envy them any more than we anyone else envies us continuing Anglicans. We all live in an absurd world in which God seems to take very little interest. Sorry if that sounds blasphemous, but I have had this thought for many years, even to the extent of wondering whether the time of the Redemption was over and we needed a third Testament. Only later would I discover Joachim of Fiore and his theory of the three ages, the age of Christ being over in his lifetime. Yet, we recite novi et aeterni testamenti as we consecrate the chalice at Mass. Christ’s Redemption is valid for all eternity, but does it look like that in our world? I suppose they asked the same question in the twentieth century, that long “great” war than started in 1914, ended in 1989, or can be argued to be continuing to this day.

Do we have the right to let go, or do we have to “suffer for the truth”? Where is our notion of vocation? Who is calling us to the Lord’s vineyard? Are we thinking of things the right way, without excessively pessimistic prejudices? If we allow ourselves to be influenced by the media, whose job is announcing sensational and bad news, we seem to have little to hope for. We have not to give up, but we have perhaps to look further afield for new horizons. That is indeed “dangerous” for the blinkered traditionalist.

2013 was the year that saw the abdication of Benedict XVI and the election of Bergoglio, and also saw the French presidential election. I accuse Benedict XVI of nothing, but he was unable to cope with the pressures from elements in the Curia. Francis seems to be doing better in spite of his vowed intent to clean the Aegean Stables. Hollande promised to purge the sleaze from French politics, but his popularity has declined. If Sarkozy remains the only mainstream alternative, the scales may tip over to the extreme right. Would that be a possibility in the Church? I don’t think so, because most people would not want to go back to the 1930’s or 50’s. We need to be careful about what we hope for, because we might just get it – and regret it bitterly!

Curia shuffling? It matters so little to we who are jaded and cynical (modern meaning) and our reaction is like the day of an election – Why bother voting? They’re all the same. The way of the Goliards seems not to be too bad…

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