The Important Things

I have been through a time of sadness and anxiety, which I have shared with my father and my Bishop. Discretion demands that I should not give any details in this public blog, but rather to seek positive meanings in these moments. Work has kept me housebound for the last month or so with only occasional outings in the car for necessary things like shopping.

It is at times like this that we ask the same question of what it all means. How do I relate to the Parable of the Talents? The two servants who were entrusted respectively with five and two units of money doubled their lord’s investment. The one who hid the talent and did not invest it judged himself out of his own mouth. It is one of the most terrifying utterances of Christ recorded in the Gospels. However, clearly, it does not support the “work ethic” by which people are “worth their money”. Christ also preached the Beatitudes in favour of the poor and suffering, the so-called “losers”. We now talk of talents as things we are made to do. Bach, Mozart, Mendelssohn and Beethoven were made to be composers and were prodigious in their genius. It was the same with artists, poets, writers and also with scientists, doctors, lawyers, great statesmen and benefactors of mankind. There are also the hidden talents of those whose vocations were not of this world. These are the monks, hermits and mystics – but also explorers, sailors and astronauts.

I have been reading a little more about Bernard Moitessier, about whom I have already written in my blog. His monastic desert was the sea, the great Southern Ocean with its wild climate and monstrous waves that daunt the greatest ships that have sailed them. One of his books was The Long Way, which I intend shortly to buy and read. The web page BERNARD MOITESSIER: Sailing Mysticism and The Long Way gives the gist of what such radical isolation does to a man. He either goes mad as did Donald Crowhurst (see Temptation on the High Seas), his competitor in the Golden Globe, or he discovers a whole new level of oneness with the One and the All. Moitessier apparently did not particularly identify with any particular religion. Like many of his generation, the tendency was to select notions from the eastern religions and combine them with New Age and pantheism. I am given to believe that the actual experience of purgation would have brought him beyond many of the superficialities of commercialised mysticism of the 1960’s.

It would seem that Moitessier did not weigh anchor and put to sea in order to have a spiritual experience, but it came about over the months and years he spent at sea. As I have read in Joshua Slocum’s story, Moitessier’s narrative is quite prosaic. The combination of the boat and the sea is a complex piece of mechanism which requires constant attention and understanding of its principles. There isn’t much time to have one’s head in the clouds! Being alone on a boat takes away all our inhibitions that society imposes on us, and which we feel duty-bound to respect. There are no conventions. It all depends on the person setting sail: the voyage leads to insanity or illumination. I have read as much of men joining the Carthusians and facing themselves in solitude. What kind of guys are we to face ourselves? We will quickly discover the meaning of sin and redemption!

Moitessier practiced Yoga, and there is a photo of him in the lotus position for meditation.

I have never tried it myself. Physically, it must be torture to cross your legs like that! It takes a high degree of physical fitness and discipline of mind. I admire people who do Yoga, because there must be great benefits from it as from any spiritual discipline of any tradition. Thomas Merton sought riches from the east to enrich western monastic spirituality. Many judged him for syncretism and infidelity to the truth of Christianity. Not I. We need to find what is good everywhere since Christ’s mission is universal and the full realisation of all archetypes.

He found peace at sea like nowhere else. He sensed it as a living creature, with the world and the entire universe. The sea sings and communicates with us. I have had something of this experience whilst sailing a ten-foot dinghy from Loctudy to the Glénans archipelago in southern Brittany, though my voyage only lasted a few hours (a bit longer on the way back in a weakening wind). What Moitessier experienced on the Southern Ocean can only be imagined! The sea brings us to absolute humility, yet enables us to discover the spark of divinity within us.

Sailing in these waters, if man is crushed by his feeling of insignificance, he is borne up and protected by that of his greatness. It is here, in the immense desert of the Southern Ocean, that I feel most strongly how much man is both atom and god.

I definitely feel the world to be alive, not merely an inanimate object to be exploited by man. I had something of the same experience at Triors Abbey in the early months of 1997, when I sought the first signs of spring, the sap returning to twigs on bushes, the first caterpillars that would become butterflies through that wonderful process of metamorphosis. There were also the smells of the earth as the frost thawed and the days became gradually longer. When the dawn could be seen through the church window as the monks sang the Benedictus at the end of Lauds, this was already a miracle.

I don’t have the boat or navigational skills to sail on blue water (usually defined as beyond six leagues from the coast), though I have my eyes on the various sites of boats for sale. It is not the time to aspire to anything beyond my present twelve-foot dinghy that sails along coastlines and requiring no more than a bearing compass, a Portland plotter and a chart. I do most of my inshore navigation by eye and intuition, and I am rarely far wrong in reckoning with currents and drift. I am at one with vast expanses of water and can confidently perceive their geometry and character as something alive. We all to some extent experience what Moitessier found.

Still, I have the persisting idea of a Hurley 22, a boat on the small side but with a stout hull and a long keel, used many decades ago for training new recruits in the Royal Navy. They can be found for as little as a couple of thousand pounds with everything in good condition. They have been known to cross the Atlantic and prove to be highly seaworthy vessels.

Psychologists often try to find a rational explanation, but often on the false premiss that the brain is the cause of consciousness, instead of consciousness being a “guest” of the brain but which can survive in some way as a “soul” or “spirit”. The “spontaneous religious sentiment” was known to Freud in those who found a bond with the world. The earth is truly a mother, something we experience at sea, walking in high mountains or what astronauts experience on seeing the earth from space. I do find it encouraging that science is ‘catching up” and discovering consciousness instead of dismissing it because it is not material.

I am a loner, something that is utterly incompatible with marriage, and this is something of my present search. As things are, it is important to live and love the little things of life, everything that is familiar at home, the sight of two wintered boats in the back yard, my chapel , the little routines of life and my priestly existence.

The important thing about this posting is to say that there is always light at the end of the tunnel, in spite of life’s crises and storms, there is always a way through, just like on a boat at sea. Perhaps one message from Moitessier, as from the hermit in his cell, is the gratuity of life. Purpose of life is not always utilitarian or even humanitarian. It can be simply a matter of taking the helm, sheeting in the sails and keeping an eye on the compass. At sea, we are at the same time gods and atoms.

To return to the Parable of the Talents, I don’t believe that Christ meant material things like investments and money, but something that the holy bishop, the nurse in Africa, the lone sailor and the hermit have in common. Our calling and our destiny are mysteries, even to ourselves, and many die with regrets as hospice nurses and chaplains often testify. We are all in need of Christ’s love and mercy that both transcend the law of Karma and tit-for-tat justice.

The boat may be laid up on hard standing as we rope-pullers call it, but we have Advent and all those wonderful prophecies of Isaiah to read in anticipation of the Mystery of Christ.

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More Papal Bull

I invariably have other things to do when some new absurdity comes out of the Roman Catholic Church. The newest is that Pope Francis is being threatened by four Cardinal whistle-blowers over the issue of allowing civilly remarried divorcees to receive Communion.

In a former article, I mentioned this issue as being better dealt with as a matter of conscience in the confessional. Not all cases are the same. I have my own experience of marriage – and St Paul considered marriage as an option for those too weak for celibacy. Some people have been dealt a really raw deal in life, but that is between them and their parish priests and their local diocesan nullity tribunal. I don’t want to go into the question from the point of view of moral or sacramental theology, canon law or pastoral care of the faithful.

My attention was drawn to An FAQ for All Christians on Divorce, Pope Francis and the Bishops Questioning Him.

Q: How can the doctrine of papal infallibility survive this?

A: Fans of logic will note that it can’t. If Pope Francis continues on the course he has chosen, he will prove, empirically, that this teaching was never true in the first place.

Q: What will that mean for the First Vatican Council?

A: That council, and every other council the Catholic Church has held since the great Schism with the Orthodox in 1054, will be called into question. The Orthodox theory, that it was Rome which went off the rails back then, will start looking pretty persuasive. Last time I checked, making the case for that was not the Roman pontiff’s job.

So that is what is tickling the Jesuit Pope as he thinks about ripping off no fewer than four Cardinals’ hats, from men who have acted within the limits of canon law! It is all becoming abject nonsense.

We Anglican Catholics follow principles given in the Affirmation of St Louis. A few extracts:

We cannot decide what is truth, but rather (in obedience) ought to receive, accept, cherish, defend and teach what God has given us. The Church is created by God, and is beyond the ultimate control of man.

We repudiate all deviation of departure from the Faith, in whole or in part, and bear witness to these essential principles of evangelical Truth and apostolic Order:

The received Tradition of the Church and its teachings as set forth by “the ancient catholic bishops and doctors,” and especially as defined by the Seven Ecumenical Councils of the undivided Church, to the exclusion of all errors, ancient and modern.

We disclaim any right or competence to suppress, alter or amend any of the ancient Ecumenical Creeds and definitions of Faith, to set aside or depart from Holy Scripture, or to alter or deviate from the essential pre-requisites of any Sacrament.

There are many small Churches that came into being because authority and institution have been perverted and corrupted. This has always been the cause of schism and the reflex of surviving outside the system in small communities. We do this because we cannot call the whole Christian message nonsense as many have done. We try to go on. So do many good and devout Roman Catholics and people from other communities.

The internet has helped to bring about a new paradigm in politics. May the swamp be drained in Rome too!

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Bach’s Cantata on Wachet auf ruft uns die Stimme

Quoted from the You Tube page:

Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 140 (1731)

Boy Soprano: Alan Bergius
Tenor: Kurt Equiluz
Bass: Thomas Hampson
Chorus master: Gerhard Schmidt-Gaden
Tölzer Knabenchor
Conductor: Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Concentus musicus Wien

I. Chorus: Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (Sleepers awake, the voice is calling us)
II. Recitative: Er kommt (He comes)
III. Aria (duet): Wann kommst du, mein Heil? (When will you come, my salvation?)
IV. Chorale: Zion hört die Wächter singen (Zion hears the watchmen singing)
V. Recitative: So geh herein zu mir (So come in with me)
VI. Aria (duet): Mein Freund ist mein! (My friend is mine!)
VII. Chorale: Gloria sei dir gesungen (May Gloria be sung to you)

A church cantata by German composer Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), with the cantata chorale based on the Lutheran hymn “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme” (“Sleepers awake, the voice is calling”) by Philipp Nicolai. The text is based on the Parable of the Ten Virgins in Matthew 25:1-13, the reading of which is scheduled for the 27th Sunday after Trinity in the Lutheran lectionary. This cantata was first performed in Leipzig on November 25, 1731. Bach later transcribed the fourth movement chorale for organ (BWV 645) and published it along with the Schübler Chorales.

English text:

I. (Chorus)

Wake ye maids! hard, strikes the hour,
The watchman calls high on the tower,
Awake, awake, Jerusalem.
Midnight strikes, hear, hear it sounding,
Loud cries the watch, with call resounding:
Where are ye, o wise virgins, where?
Good cheer, the Bridegroom come,
Arise and take your lamps!
Ye maids beware:
The feast prepare,
So go ye forth to meet Him there.

II. Recitative:

He comes.
The Bridegroom comes!
And Zion’s daughter shall rejoice,
He hastens to her dwelling claiming
The maiden of his choice.
The Bridegroom comes; as is a roebuck,
Yea, like a lusty mountain roebuck,
Fleet and fair,
His marriage feast he bids you share.
Arise and take your lamps!
In eagerness to greet him;
Come! hasten, sally forth to meet him.

III. Aria (Duet)

[Soul] Come quickly, now come.
[Jesus] Yea quickly I come.
[Soul] We wait thee with lamps all alighted!
The doors open wide,
Come claim me my bride!
[Jesus] The doors open wide,
I claim me my bride.
[Soul] Come quickly!
[Jesus] Forever in rapture united

IV. Chorale

Zion hears the watchmen calling,
The Faithful hark with joy enthralling,
They rise and haste to greet their Lord.
See, He comes, the Lord victorious,
Almighty, noble, true and glorious,
In Heav’n supreme, on earth adored.
Come now, Thou Holy One,
The Lord Jehovah’s Son!
We follow all
The joyful call
To join Him in the Banquet Hall!

V. Recitative

So come thou unto me,
My fair and chosen bride,
Thou whom I long to see
Forever by my side.
Within my heart of hearts
Art thou secure by ties that naught can sever,
Where I may cherish thee forever.
Forget, beloved, ev’ry care,
Away with pain and grief and sadness,
For better or for worse to share
Our lives in love and joy and gladness.

VI. Aria (Duet)

[Soul] Thy love is mine,
[Jesus] And I am thine!
[Both] True lovers ne’er are parted.
[Soul] Now I with thee, and thou with me.
[Jesus] In flow’ry field will wander,
[Both] In rapture united forever to be.

VII. Chorale

Gloria sing all our voices,
With Angels all mankind rejoices,
With harp and strings in sweetest tone.
Twelve bright Pearls adorn Thy Portals,
As Angels round Thy glorious Throne.
No ear has ever heard
The joy we know.
Our praises flow,
Eeo, eeo,
To God in dulci jubilo.

May this cantata and this new Advent wake us from our lack of consciousness, that we may be ready to be invited to the Throne of the divine Lamb.

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Sarum Calendar 2017

Those of you who are interested in the Use of Sarum, or use it, can find the liturgical calendar on The Sarum Rite, a site run by Dr William Renwick, a Canadian professor of music. I quote his introduction to the calendar:

The Kalendar appearing here contains in the third column the information provided in the printed Sarum Kalendars such as that found at the front of the Breviarium 1531. In the fourth column appears the information found in the Pica which appear scattered throughout the Breviarium. Generally speaking the latter takes precedence over the former where they differ. This Kalendar is provided firstly as a guide to those who wish to follow the Sarum Liturgical Kalendar throughout the course of the year, and secondly for those who wish to gain an understanding of the nature of a typical Sarum or pre-Tridentine liturgical year. These Kalendars follow the Gregorian or Western calendar rather than the Julian calendar.

These calendars start from January 1st, not from the first Sunday of Advent. For this reason, if you don’t already have it, you need to start this new liturgical year from 27th November of the 2016 calendar.

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Happy Thanksgiving 2016!

To my American friends, a happy Thanksgiving to you all, and wishing peace and God’s blessing for your nation. May those who govern and lead it be inspired by God’s grace and a sense of justice – doing the right thing for the common good.

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Thoughts from the November Gloom

Naturally, the title of this posting only applies to those living in the northern hemisphere. The heavenly cycles go their way as predictably as a clock as it measures the cycles of time that mark our life and death in this world.

Since writing my previous post touching upon the miseries of those clinging to the Roman Catholic Church for some vestige of truth, security and authority, I find a whole tendency of articles. My friend JV has published Perspective during ecclesiastical twilight and Refugium Peccatorum. His feed of links gives Why I Cannot Be a Post-Evangelical, Post-Denominational, etc., Christian by an Orthodox priest in America. All three need to be read.

There is little to add to my previous reflections, but we all have short memories, suffer from cognitive dissonance and yearn for something more than the bleak reality we face in the local parish church near our homes where the priest and people continue in their ways of life. They seem so oblivious to anything outside what is most familiar, and we see that we are just about all the same. We have to be.

The internet to some extent has given us an illusory notion of the Church’s universality in a world where the massive majority of people are materialists or claim some other philosophy of life to justify their individuality and existence above the morass of humanity. Someone living in a city can wander in the streets and contemplate the spires and bell towers of the church buildings, witnesses of another era. For us in the country, the villages churches and wayside calvaries are still there, some lovingly tended by simple and devoted folk hoping and waiting for more spiritually enlightened times. Home in closer, and what we find in the church are generally signs of decay and death. The Platonic universal idea of a Church is expressed in something that is dying or already no longer exists in the place where we look for it.

In terms of the Church, many of us find ourselves in a situation like in the late 1790’s. The murderous tyranny of Robespierre is over, but even more forgotten is that age of light and reason from more frivolous days that has failed the innermost desires of us all. Already, last November, I posted Byron’s Darkness, a vision of the world destroyed by disease, something from outer space hitting the planet or some terrible human conflict. It is the Dies irae, the Eschaton we all fear and anticipate in these gloomy pre-Advent days.

We are all going to react in different ways. The mind of an idealist would project his desire on reality to bring about the dream, at least partially. I have moved far from my Thomist and metaphysically realist seminary days, and see hope in some of the flashes of information we get about quantum physics. Reality is a hologram, and it can in some way be changed by consciousness, information and energy. It all sounds crazy, but these discoveries and theories offer us a modern alternative to brute materialism.

The problem with most churches is that they have failed us. They leave thinking and profound people disappointed. Some churches are able to survive either by providing entertainment, some kind of social fulfilment for otherwise lonely souls or expressing ideologies that affirm egos and our base instincts. If Christianity is true, or if it has something to offer, then it is elsewhere from the decaying fish-heads of churches. This is no theme to write on. Churches have always been powerhouses of spirituality and prayer, or expressions of human sin and mediocrity.

Some of us are more privileged than others: living in a city where there is a church offering an uplifting liturgy and a sense of fellowship and prayer, having a car so as to be able to drive out to that monastery in the fields and attend the monks’ Office and Conventual Mass. I am a priest and have my own chapel, and am thus responsible to do my tiny bit for the canonical Church that confers my mission as a priest. There is only so much a man can do alone.

Many atheists criticise Christian and other “irrational” believers in terms of our seeking security in a hostile environment in which we have to compete against others just to break even. Claiming to be a member of the “right” church gives an illusion of being above the struggle for survival. Perhaps it becomes so for some, but not for all. We all have our demons in the closet, which would follow us even to the Pacific Islands or a skete in the rocks of the Isle of Patmos. Admittedly, being away from the bestial struggle, or what modern humanity calls the Rat Race, is more conducive to finding the Spirit within us.

We return to the so-called Benedict Option. It is within each of us and within the reach of us all – that is if it isn’t a fantasy of trappings, but a real life lived within and with complete sincerity. There was once a priest in our Diocese who aspired to monastic life. He put on a habit and called his home a priory. He then called himself a prior and fancied himself as a mitred abbot. The question was – Of what? Later, he turned to alcohol and joined another marginal church (or rather a group of bishops-of-nothing) and himself became a bishop of nothing. This illusion is so tragic and has to be a lesson for us all.

The real Benedict Option is invisible and unknown. It exists wherever someone opens an Office book, says Mass, lights a candle and prays, does something kind to someone in need, all the intimate little things written in the New Testament by people like St John. There is an ideal fuelled by our deepest desires and sense of God’s calling, and it has to live underground, in the catacombs allowing rays of light out into the world for those few who have ears to hear and eyes to see. It is so subtle and so simple.

But all that is blown away by pride and pretence to be something other than ourselves in our limitations and insignificance.

He hath put down the mighty from their seat : and hath exalted the humble and meek.

He hath filled the hungry with good things: and the rich he hath sent empty away.

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Oh dear! Prosciugare la Palude…

See The latest from Rome. When Benedict XVI abdicated, one intention of Pope Francis was in some way to “drain the swamp” in Rome, to coin the slogan now used by the Trump campaign / beginning of administration in America. Is Pope Francis hob-nobbing with globalists and the true “deplorables” of this world? I have the impression that not only has the Roman swamp not been drained, but is yet more murky. Eeek!

Cuius rex eius religio – if you get my meaning…

I am glad I am no longer a convert Roman Catholic. Just get on with life.

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