Even when Judas hanged himself, there was a storm too…

I love the old Clint Eastwood films! One of my favourites is The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

This film involves a Mexican by the name of Tuco, a professional bandit and brother of a Franciscan priest. From 3 minutes 22, we see Tuco try to get his revenge for having been left in the desert by Blondie (Clint Eastwood). There is a certain friendliness about this crook, but at the same time he would betray at any time for profit. How appropriate that he referred to Judas hanging himself when about to hang his former partner and bounty hunter!

How willing are we to sacrifice ourselves and not shift our entire system of moral values for one bit of expediency and self interest? Judas was a complex character, and there are many theories about him, and what made him betray the Lord and be the instrument of his Passion.

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This is Holy Week, during which we meditate about human wickedness and perversity in the minds of official religious clerics, regardless of the faith they claim. We contemplate the death of Christ, and throughout Lent, we have considered our own mortality. We all have to die sooner or later, and our Christian faith exhorts to be ready at any time. We don’t know the day or the hour.

We live in a time when many tell us that there is nothing after death. Our bodies die and we cease to exist – we lose consciousness forever. Our life depends on our body and our thoughts on our physical brains. It is easy to have doubts and wonder if this is so, the inescapable reality that no amount of wishful thinking can push away. Even for a Christian, we sometimes wonder.

On the other hand, there are testimonies of near-death experiences, out-of-the-body experiences and séances with mediums who have direct communication with the dead. There have been apparitions of Our Lady and the Saints to certain souls, and the communication between the worlds was no less real. At Fatima in 1917, there was a miracle of the sun seen and experienced by thousands of people, including atheists. The evidence seems overwhelmingly in favour of the continuation of consciousness after physical death. I recommend an open-minded examination of claims on a website by Victor Zammit, a retired Australian lawyer who devotes his life to the cause of acceptance of the afterlife.

Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson was son of an Archbishop of Canterbury and became a Roman Catholic in the very beginning of the twentieth century. He died in 1914 of an illness at the age of only 43.  A friend of Mgr Benson, Anthony Borgia, allegedly received channelled communications from his friend, and wrote them in a book with the title Life after Death in the Worlds Unseen. Here is a quote from Benson on experiencing death:

I saw my physical body lying lifeless upon its bed, but here was I, the real I, alive and well.

For a minute or two I remained gazing and the thought of what to do next entered my head, but help was close at hand. I could still see the room quite clearly around me, but there was a certain mistiness about it as though it were filled with smoke very evenly distributed. I looked down at myself wondering what I was wearing in the way of clothes, for I had obviously risen from a bed of sickness and was therefore in no condition to move very far from my surroundings. I was extremely surprised to find that I had on my usual attire, such as I wore when moving freely and in good health about my own house. My surprise was only momentary since, I thought to myself, what other clothes would I expect to be wearing? Surely not some sort of diaphanous robe. Such costume is usually associated with the conventional idea of an angel and I had no need to assure myself that I was not that!

Such knowledge of the spirit world as I had been able to glean from my own experiences instantly came to my aid. I knew at once of the alteration that had taken place in my condition; I knew, in other words, that I had ‘died.’ I knew, too, that I was alive, that I had shaken off my last illness sufficiently to be able to stand upright and look about me. At no time was I in any mental distress, but I was full of wonder at what was to happen next, for here I was, in full possession of my faculties and, indeed, feeling ‘physically’ as I had never felt before. … the whole process must have taken but a few minutes of earth time.

(Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson, Life in the World Unseen 10-11.)

The Astral Plane – Arrival

Of course, we are relying on apocryphal texts that may or may not be authentic. We can only take it on a certain degree of belief rather than empirical evidence. I think that if we do have this sort of doubt, we need to pray for the gift of faith. We can also read Mr Zammit’s site and see the various videos of him explaining things and other videos from other sources including scientists specialised in quantum physics.

For a long time, I have been convinced that Christianity must have a purpose other than being the only way to a happy afterlife, when evidence from elsewhere indicates that Christianity changes nothing in this respect, except by raising the soul’s spiritual life. The purpose of Christianity is not saving “souls from hell” but bringing them to the beauty of God’s gift to humanity and the world (the universe) through Christ and the unique way he showed and taught. It is a much higher ideal, and it also can help us to live better and more selflessly, and therefore to be ready for a degree of beatitude not known on this earth.

Christ, being divine and human, had the reassurance that death was only a passage (in his case the resurrection of his body into a spiritual-physical body), but feared the torture and the agony together with the hatred of lewd and bigoted people. He lived his Passion both divinely and humanly in this great mystery of the hypostatic union.

I often think about death, and have always done so since my childhood. Sometimes I am horribly anguished, and sometimes it calls me gently and lovingly – but always in God’s hands. That is also a part of my self-discovery of having everything in common with the Romantics. Love this life and we will lose it. Lose it for Jesus’ sake and we will find it. Unless the seed falls into the ground and dies, it cannot bring forth fruit. We read this a few days ago in St John’s Gospel. It certainly changes our perspective in life!

Death is bitter and sweet at the same time. As we celebrate the death and Resurrection of Christ, may this Paschal Mystery be a type of our own passage sometime soon (the way the years flash by when you pass the 50 mark!).

Oh, and by the way, hat tip to Fr Jonathan Munn in Holy Week 2014: Tuesday.

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Quomodo sedet sola civitas plena populo


Quomodo sedet sola civitas plena populo; facta est quasi vidua domina gentium; princeps provinciarum facta est sub tributo.

“How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people! How is she become as a widow! She that was great among the nations, and princess among the provinces.”

This is the opening line of the Lamentations of Jeremiah which are sung at the ancient Offices of Tenebrae. Jerusalem had fallen far due to man’s infidelity to the Covenant. Also, we find a reflection of desolation as Christ died on the cross and there was the darkening of the sun and other apocalyptic signs.

The Romantics had a particularly vivid sense of darkness and desolation, especially during that year without a summer of 1816 as volcanic ash obscured the sun’s light and heat. Lord Byron wrote this chilling poem in that same year, its summer of cloying fog and gloom. Let us read it whilst contemplating the Passion of Christ and the why of the Redemption.

* * *

I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguish’d, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air;
Morn came and went–and came, and brought no day,
And men forgot their passions in the dread
Of this their desolation; and all hearts
Were chill’d into a selfish prayer for light:
And they did live by watchfires–and the thrones,
The palaces of crowned kings–the huts,
The habitations of all things which dwell,
Were burnt for beacons; cities were consumed,
And men were gathered round their blazing homes
To look once more into each other’s face;
Happy were those who dwelt within the eye
Of the volcanos, and their mountain-torch:
A fearful hope was all the world contain’d;
Forests were set on fire–but hour by hour
They fell and faded–and the crackling trunks
Extinguish’d with a crash–and all was black.
The brows of men by the despairing light
Wore an unearthly aspect, as by fits
The flashes fell upon them; some lay down
And hid their eyes and wept; and some did rest
Their chins upon their clenched hands, and smiled;
And others hurried to and fro, and fed
Their funeral piles with fuel, and looked up
With mad disquietude on the dull sky,
The pall of a past world; and then again
With curses cast them down upon the dust,
And gnash’d their teeth and howl’d: the wild birds shriek’d,
And, terrified, did flutter on the ground,
And flap their useless wings; the wildest brutes
Came tame and tremulous; and vipers crawl’d
And twined themselves among the multitude,
Hissing, but stingless–they were slain for food.
And War, which for a moment was no more,
Did glut himself again;–a meal was bought
With blood, and each sate sullenly apart
Gorging himself in gloom: no love was left;
All earth was but one thought–and that was death,
Immediate and inglorious; and the pang
Of famine fed upon all entrails–men
Died, and their bones were tombless as their flesh;
The meagre by the meagre were devoured,
Even dogs assail’d their masters, all save one,
And he was faithful to a corse, and kept
The birds and beasts and famish’d men at bay,
Till hunger clung them, or the dropping dead
Lured their lank jaws; himself sought out no food,
But with a piteous and perpetual moan,
And a quick desolate cry, licking the hand
Which answered not with a caress–he died.
The crowd was famish’d by degrees; but two
Of an enormous city did survive,
And they were enemies: they met beside
The dying embers of an altar-place
Where had been heap’d a mass of holy things
For an unholy usage; they raked up,
And shivering scraped with their cold skeleton hands
The feeble ashes, and their feeble breath
Blew for a little life, and made a flame
Which was a mockery; then they lifted up
Their eyes as it grew lighter, and beheld
Each other’s aspects–saw, and shriek’d, and died–
Even of their mutual hideousness they died,
Unknowing who he was upon whose brow
Famine had written Fiend. The world was void,
The populous and the powerful–was a lump,
Seasonless, herbless, treeless, manless, lifeless–
A lump of death–a chaos of hard clay.
The rivers, lakes, and ocean all stood still,
And nothing stirred within their silent depths;
Ships sailorless lay rotting on the sea,
And their masts fell down piecemeal: as they dropp’d
They slept on the abyss without a surge–
The waves were dead; the tides were in their grave,
The moon their mistress had expir’d before;
The winds were withered in the stagnant air,
And the clouds perish’d; Darkness had no need
Of aid from them–She was the Universe.

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Maundy Thursday

This is an interesting article – Maundy Thursday Musings. Indeed we have two notions of Maundy Thursday. The Roman rite celebrates it as a feast with white vestments, the Gloria in excelesis and the transfer of the Blessed Sacrament to the altar of repose with the Pange lingua. On the other hand, the Sarum Use keeps it as a Passiontide celebration in bull’s blood vestments (my own Passiontide vestments are black with red orphreys) and without the Gloria (unless it is the Bishop’s Mass). I compromise and use bright red vestments. Three priest’s hosts are consecrated and two are put in the hanging pyx – one to be consumed at the Mass of the Presanctified on Good Friday and the other to be put into the Easter Sepulchre and back into the hanging pyx early on Easter Sunday morning.

This is quite a difference between the dramatic changes of tone between the Gloria with the bells, the rest of the Mass with the rattle, the triumphal Blessed Sacrament devotion around the Altar of Repose and the stripping of the altars – and the low-key Sarum Passiontide style with the emphasis on the Last Supper and the fact that Christ was already in intense spiritual suffering long before Judas and the guys from the Temple came to arrest him.

Fr Sean Finnegan gave a detailed description of this Mass in the Sarum Use – Sarum Maundy Thursday. In particular, he notes that there is no difference between the Maundy Thursday Mass in a parish and the Chrism Mass celebrated by the Bishop. The only difference is that the Gloria in excelsis is sung only at the Bishop’s Mass and there is the rite for the consecration of the holy oils. He notes the fact of three hosts being consecrated. Fr Finnegan does not mention the colour of the vestments.

The Agnus Dei is omitted unlike in the Roman Rite, with the three miserere nobis. The Pax is omitted because of the arch-villain Judas. Like in the Roman rite, Ite missa est is only said if there has been the Gloria, which would be the case only at the Bishop’s Mass. Otherwise it is Benedicamus Domino.

The Maundy (Mandatum)  is always separate from the Mass.

What of the Roman procession of the Blessed Sacrament and ceremonies at the Altar of Repose? They are simply absent from the Sarum Use. There is the Sepulture of the Blessed Sacrament (third host) and the cross that had been venerated, but that is on Good Friday. Fr Finnegan, like I, conclude that on Maundy Thursday, the second and third hosts are put into the hanging pyx (or tabernacle). In the Sarum Use, our depositio (‘burial) ceremonies correspond with the Byzantine Epitaphios.

For the sake of completeness, here are the links to Fr Finnegan’s articles on Good Friday and Holy Saturday.

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Meaningless and Vulgar Reformations

Fr Jonathan Munn has done it again! Reform of the reform of the reform of the….

Indeed, every time there is a reformation, there are schisms and protests. I sometimes wonder whether a religion that needs to be reformed did not contain the seeds of its own destruction from the beginning. Religion obviously depends on the kind of persons who are appointed to be its custodians, good or evil, rationalist or romantic, philistine or aesthete, activist or mystic, you name it.

Between opposites, there are infinitely variable scales of colours, shades of light and anything else you might want to use as an analogy. Now, as in other eras, some people are incapable or relating to the world with subtlety and empathy. There is only black and white, all good on one side and all bad on the other. That is the humanity into which Christ was born, and from which he suffered, for the world knew him not.

Fr Munn kindly links to my own developing way of seeing this problem. It takes an original or unconventional way of seeing things to go to one side of The Pit. I live in the world, so I have to conform to its laws and go along with many things, but without accepting it within, without “loving Big Brother” in the way Orwell put it in his novel of 1948. The more I learn of the Romantics, the neo-Romantics, the Pre-Raphaelites and so many others in art, philosophy and spirituality, the more I sympathise with their other-worldliness and Cynicism (in the Greek philosophical meaning). But, most people are of this world and their god is power and money, and many people of the churches are people of this world. The Romantic and the anarchist is no less human, no less sinful, perhaps more sinful because more is given. We can sin horribly through pride and arrogance. Then we become men of The Pit!

In the ACC, we certainly have to grapple with our identity as Catholic Christians and situate ourselves in a tradition. A few days ago, I presented a little composition, a musical setting of a psalm verse to my singing teacher, and said “I’m sorry if it sounds like Vaughan Williams“! She said – “It doesn’t. We all work in our culture and tradition“. What a lovely thing to say! That can only encourage me to build on a distinct identity as I produce more pieces. We all have experience in our Churches of origin, and sometimes with our forays in other traditions, and all this shapes us as we grow emotionally and spiritually as persons. Likewise, the ACC is no longer the Church of England, nor is it the Roman Catholic Church or even an imitation. It is becoming a vehicle of another Catholic tradition and builds its own identity. I do believe the time has come to drop both the Reformation and the Counter Reformation and apply to ourselves the old French proverb – Chassez le naturel, il revient au galop. If we allow the natural (and the supernatural) to return, healing can occur.

Reform of the Reform? That seems to be a saying of Pope Benedict XVI containing the idea of restoring the spirit of the liturgy but without doing away with the Novus Ordo. Surely, the Anglo-Catholic movement in the nineteenth century sought to do this, as Dearmer doctored up the Prayer Book to bring back as many Sarum customs as possible. I have gone only one stage further – using the Sarum liturgy without making any bones about it. It is an intuition I fully understand given the political leanings of neo-counter-reformation traditionalist Roman Catholicism. It really depends on the persons appointed to be its custodians. it all comes down to that. Sometimes in history, good and wise men are entrusted with the common good, and at other times, might is right – psychopathy and  narcissism are rewarded.

This idea is obvious in Fr Munn’s penultimate paragraph. There is grace, but there is also humanity. Grace cannot operate without human collaboration, precisely because God respects our freedom. Everything is freedom of the spirit. One thing I love about the ACC is that we are not the Establishment. There are no positions of power, and even the Episcopate is more of a burden than an honour or position of status. That is good, and makes our Church that much more dependent on goodness and real human virtue.

As I said in my posting on evangelism, we can’t expect much from other people. It is our duty to go ahead ourselves and do what we believe to be right. If we are right and beautiful, then people might walk a few miles with us (rather than talk of their joining us). We can’t expect to see Churches signing concordats of unity and sorting out all the differences until we ourselves are working towards that goal by being good, loving, caring and visionary.

If there is to be peace in the world
There must be peace in the nations.
If there is to be peace in the nations
There must be peace in the cities.
If there is to be peace in the cities,
There must be peace between neighbours,
If there is to be peace among neighbours,
There must be peace in the home.
If there is to be peace in the home
There must be peace in the heart.

Velly old Chinese ploverb! King plawn cully and flied lice!
(Sorry, I couldn’t resist that.)

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Another Audience with the Cardinal

No, I have not applied to join the Ordinariate! As last time, His Eminence Lord Cardinal de Paluel is not a Prince of the Church, but a buoy half way between Veulettes sur Mer and Saint Valéry en Caux. It is a north cardinal buoy marking the distance from the nuclear power station of Paluel within which boats are not allowed to sail. We have to sail to the north of this buoy.

20140411sea01This is the shingle beach of Veulettes sur Mer facing the west cliff and the casino. It is here at Veulettes that I took my first sailing lessons with the school here and the legendary Christophe Falon (who would sail his Laser dinghy in a force 8 gale). Today, the conditions were a beautiful fresh sunny day with a light north-east wind of 7 to 8 knots. The sea was almost flat.

20140411sea02This is the east cliff, looking in the direction of Saint Valéry en Caux and Paluel. I went in this direction against the ebbing tide and upwind.

20140411sea03Once I had launched the boat and I was at sea, more of the west cliff became visible.

20140411sea04Here I am west of the slipway and downstream, having left the beach on a broad reach. I now needed to get upwind and up-current.

20140411sea05After having tacked, I was now to the east of the slipway, close-hauled and making good headway.

20140411sea06The photo had badly reproduced a sea mist that engulfed Saint Valéry en Caux and remained extremely localised. Behind my jib, the Paluel nuclear power station is becoming visible.

20140411sea07I passed in front of the power station. It turned out that  was too close, but I was increasing my distance as I sailed towards the cardinal buoy. The four reactors are clearly visible in their concrete casings. I trusted that the bubbly stuff you see in the water was not radioactive!

20140411sea08At nearly low tide, here is some very shallow water with strong currents and eddies, quite a little maelstrom to avoid in such a tiny boat as mine.

20140411sea09Here I was closer to the disturbed water, and His Eminence is visible on the horizon about one quarter from left to right of this photo.

20140411sea10Having passed the cardinal buoy to port, I tacked and went into a broad reach to return to Veulettes by the north of the buoy.

20140411sea11Here I am in the Sacred Presence of His Eminence. The two arrows pointed upwards indicate that this is a north cardinal buoy.

20140411sea12Having taken leave of His Eminence, I returned towards Veulettes.

20140411sea13The Cardinal waves goodbye.

Soon after this photo, I was followed by a pneumatic motor boat with a French flag on it – Gendarmerie Nationale. I was sailing too close to the nuclear power station and set off an alarm somewhere. The two young Gendarmes told me that I has been seen in the forbidden zone, and that I should have been north of the cardinal buoy much sooner. I apologised and promised to take greater care in the future. I think I would really have been in trouble had I attempted to land there, because nuclear power stations, understandably, take their security very seriously! So, on I went back to Veulettes in a full reach, and beached just over two hours after launching.

It was a calm and peaceful little cruise in absolutely beautiful weather, though there could have been a little more wind for my sails.

* * *

Addendum: When I related this problem of the zone interdite on an e-mail list of cruising sailors, a kind member mentioned to me that I would have known about the triangular area had I been equipped with my chart. Here is the relevant part.


I don’t always use my GPS or maps in my car, for example when I go on known roads and routes. One thing I was unsure about was what defined the boundary other than the buoy, which is a point. Was it a radius equal to the distance of the buoy from the shore? No, the chart is clear. I would have “nicked” off the apex of the triangle whilst on a port tack, and only cleared the buoy after tacking and being on a starboard tack to the north of the buoy (correct position).

Moral of the story: always have a chart on-board even if I don’t need it 99% of the time. My coastal charts are in a handy book which goes nicely into my waterproof plastic drum. One doesn’t need extremely accurate navigation for this kind of coastal sailing, but there are limits.

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It’s quite a mouthful of a word. I found the postings by Deborah Gyapong – Fr Ray Blake writes on evangelization and the article she describes – He asks some important questions about whether people are really serious about evangelizing.

There are some interesting questions. The first is whether Christianity is just about saving people from a prospect of eternal hell when they die or introducing them to a different philosophy of life that can transfigure their entire being. Usually, western Christianity is perceived as a set of oppressive regulations and directives like the ones that come from Brussels about health and safety and building the zero-risk world. How boring! Indeed, at the eve of the French Revolution, the Aristocracy had ceased to believe in Christianity, but promoted religion because it held the people in check. In those days, the Church was the ultimate Big Brother!

Now, if Christianity can be seen to be something soul-transforming, beautiful, mystical, other-worldly, then it will have the power to attract those who are spiritually open. If it is something not very different from the political ideologies screaming out of any number of loudspeakers, and the evangelisation message has nothing concrete to offer (a real Christian community that will bring the experience of beauty and the sacred), then it is little more than a cruel mockery.

I have been into this subject before. Who are we trying to evangelise? Invariably, the efforts of some go out to a particular cultural reference – that of materialism and popular culture. Conservatives are going to be very insistent on the exclusive claims of Christian churches, bringing in the element of constraint and moral blackmail. Join us or perish! Is that not the message that frequently comes through, blaring out of the megaphones? How about some muscular “masculine” (extreme right-wing, uh-hum) stuff! Religion for rugby players? What about religion for artists, musicians and poets? That’s an embarrassing question.

While “evangelism” is tied to conservative political ideology and treads on man’s quest for freedom and and spirit, many of us will be alienated. If Christianity has freedom and beauty as a part of its message, it will also attract the more sensitive of us. I and many others are not interested in the apologetics and exclusive claims, but we would be interested in the beauty of the liturgy and a more profound vision of Christ’s Romanticism and Cynicism.

Let us make Christianity more than an anti-hell insurance policy or some other materialistic tripe! Jesus was not interested in reformations and moralising, but in our love and innocence re-found, in our aspiration for a higher life than legalism and formalism. We need to appeal to the heart, the aspiration to true freedom and the sense of sacredness.

If we begin to live it, then others might begin to feel it.

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