Liberalism

Liberalism, as with most words containing the suffix -ism, is one of the most misunderstood words of the vocabulary of any language that uses it. A century after the era of the Romantics, there was a similar movement called Modernism, which, in the words of Fr Tyrrell, opposed Liberalism. There is surely a change in the meanings of words. This is what creates the frustration in the present-day dialogue des sourds.

I have often been provocative in my own use of words like liberalism, modernism, anarchism and humanism. They are used to describe noble aspirations as much as ideologies described by four-word slogans and the vulgar protagonists of our own times. When I was at university, we had an excellent series of church history lectures and a seminar led by Fr Bedouelle OP on Liberalism. I wrote a little paper on Fr Felicité de Lamennais (1782-1854) and sought to understand his thought as of that of many thinkers inspired by the Romantics and disappointed with the devastation left behind by the French Revolution and Robespierre’s Terreur. Many of the seeds of the Revolution were contained in the old regime that had failed in its duties to humanity and the French population. It is bad psychology to want to roll back and resume a former status quo. Something new had to be found.

On visiting the Chateau of Toqueville (a village very near where I am presently on holiday), I was introduced to Alexis de Toqueville (or rather to his philosophical and historical work) who was a great humanist and political philosopher. I intend to read his work on American democracy (as it was then) and his contribution to the Liberal movement of his time. He sought a new way for France, from the Scylla of the Royalists and Napoleon and Charybdis in the form of the ravages of the Terror. France has never recovered from that era, and the flaws are to this day implicit in the French Republic. For today, I will concentrate on what I still remember from my study of Lamennais.

The life of Lamennais can be found anywhere. He was one of the first to seek a new way of thought based on a humanist vision of human dignity and freedom. His main area of contention was the separation of Church and State. The question seems sensible enough: How can the Church retain its integrity when married to an atheistic or hostile political system? Would not the Church be better off free in a secular state tolerating all opinions and religious beliefs?

One unfortunate offshoot of Liberalism was ultramontanism: better to have a tyrant a thousand miles away in Italy than on your own doorstep in the person of the diocesan Bishop. The hypertrophy of the Papacy was thought to be an antidote to hostile and corrupt secular politics, conducive to the independence of the Church. This would be an idea we would find later, in a different form, in the works of Russian philosophers like Soloviev, Khomiakev and Berdyaev. It was during my time at Fribourg that I noticed a certain similarity between France and Russia, the latter living through the drama of France but a century later. Ultramontanism proved to be a mistake of the Liberals, especially in the form that was assimilated in the mid nineteenth century by reactionary elements in Italy. The man who become Pope Pius IX (Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti, 1792-1878) rode on this wave of Roman Catholic triumphalism, and the effects are still with us today.

Like Modernism a century later, Liberalism was not a plot to destroy faith and piety, but an attempt to find a balance between hostile elements and ambitions to return to the old regime. It was based on a humanist vision, the nobler ideals of the Enlightenment philosophers and – I believe – that of Christ. Without Robespierre and the horrors of the 1790’s, the declaration of human rights was a milestone of true progress. These are ideals to which the Church can and should adapt, and see as implicit in the Gospel message of love.

Lamennais got into bad trouble with Rome and Gregory XVI. From 1830, he had formed a small group of thinkers. In particular, there was Lacordaire who re-founded the Dominicans in France and Comte Charles de Montalembert among others. They set up a journal called L’Avenir, the equivalent of their time of blogging. Lamennais led the movement of Christian socialism that would later be espoused by the Anglo-Catholic slum priests of the 1860’s. Yes, Anglo-Catholicism was never a reactionary movement for the privileged classes, but for the poor and unfortunate. This is a fundamental difference between the kind of Christianity I grew up in and the traditionalists of the SSPX, Msgr Wach and others. The Lamennais group opposed unbridled capitalism and fought for democracy and freedom.

Lamennais’ work was a first attempt, an imperfect prototype founded on weak intellectual principles. His condemnation by Pope Gregory XVI was based on a complete misunderstanding of what he tried to achieve, as ham-fisted as the condemnation of Modernism in 1907 by Pius X. Lamennais naively appealed to the Papacy, put his head on the block and got it chopped off. This first attempt was thus founded on many fallacies and naive beliefs, which would discredit the deeper aspirations. If we look at these aspirations finely and with subtlety, we will find that he did not seek a revolution in the Church, but an end to the domination of people by other humans. He did seek an end to the corrupting collusion between the Papacy and the powerful of this world when they ignored or crushed the needs of humanity. This is surely the noblest aspiration of liberal Christianity.

The Liberals sought many things we take for granted today: voting for all, free education, income-based taxes, a free Church is a secular state, liberty for journalists, freedom for people to form associations. These can only be good things even if they can be abused by those with perverse intentions. This is the kind of Liberalism I uphold, and why I would like to see traditional spirituality and forms of worship emancipated from the stranglehold of traditionalists and conservatives.

What can Liberalism bring us on a spiritual level? I bring up this point because I am not a politician. It is not what so-called “liberals” call for today like the ordination of women, a general laxity of sexual morals and suchlike. It is an aspiration for something profound, an adhesion to God and a spiritual life founded on freedom and love. These ideas are what enamoured me to Berdyaev and Soloviev in their Russian perspective of a universal human issue. Surely, we would do to others as we would have them do to us. Is that not one of the teachings of the Gospel?

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An Opportunity

Whilst on holiday by the sea (yes, enjoying the sailing) on the Contentin peninsular, on a nice quiet campsite with a wi-fi connection, I have been reading a number of articles on the theme of liturgical situation in the Roman Catholic Church. One fine article is The end of the reform of the reform? and a more depressing one is The Worst Reasons for Ad Orientem in which the author blames priests celebrating the Novus Ordo ad orientem for the same selfish indulgence as those who present the Mass like an entertainment show. I am quite bowled over by the arrogance of someone who holds a sweet out to a child: “Do you want it? You can’t have it!” The child bursts into tears and hates his tormenter, and certainly won’t want to know anything more about the man holding the lollipop and putting it into his pocket with a self-satisfied grin. That is how it all strikes me. People can simply stop going to church and that is all there is to it. Very few people do go to church.

I call this second one “depressing” with the idea of asking ourselves whether we should just give up our eccentric quirks and go with the grain, Roman Catholics in their dreary local parishes and Anglicans in their Church of England counterparts. The alternative would simply be to grow out of institutional and clerical Christianity (facing the people is just as “clerical” as the “eastward position” even if for two different reasons). We grow out of the depressing saga and decide to “get a life”. It is perhaps a good idea if the alternative is a better one – and that’s not obvious (if you’re choosing among atheism, pagan religions, Buddhism, etc.) Every which way but loose if we remember the title of an old Clint Eastwood movie. Check mate every way you turn.

The Perceptio article leaves a way out, and this is where small independent Churches can come into their own.

For those who labor in the field with a broader perspective on Western liturgical history and practise, they must content themselves to continue with their own research and personal edification – perhaps the next eventual wave of liturgical reform will look to recapture the spirit of Western Christianity as found in pre-Tridentine Catholicism. However, this has always been the minority, hardly represented by the “reform of the reform” and certainly not represented by the Traditionalists. Indeed, one criticism that will always linger when discussing the “reform of the reform” is that it always appeared to follow along the lines of the 20th century reforms imposed by Rome. The fundamental question it should have raised was not whether reforms implemented in the name of the Second Vatican Council were well and good, but  whether the whole program of papal tampering with the ancient liturgy of Rome (and arguably the premiere liturgical expression of the Western Church) ought not to have been sufficiently audited against the Tradition.

Beginning with Pius IX’s tampering with the Mass and Office of the Conception, the papacy showed no feeling of restraint imposed by the Tradition, seeing the liturgy increasingly as a vessel for papal prerogative. It is tempting to give pontiffs such as John Paul II and Francis the benefit of the doubt by viewing their steadfast insistence on the Pauline liturgy as a return to restraint. Invariably, however, it proves difficult to avoid concluding such positions are intended to be more a re-emphasis on modernization than re-discovering a pre-infallible papacy, or returning a sense of reception to the liturgy.

I have myself been in traditionalist circles seeking a liturgical life but not ultra-conservative and intolerant politics. I have more affinity with early nineteenth-century Liberalism under the influence of Romanticism than with those who seek a “king” (either a legitimate successor of Louis XVI or a two-bit dictator with flashy medals, moustache and cigar lining his opponents up for the garrotte). I have always found infallibilist theology absurd and this was my greatest issue with modern (post French Revolution) Roman Catholicism.

As a priest, I tend to find myself ministering to priests via correspondence. I am perhaps sensitive to their difficulties in continuing to exist in an absurd world. I put out a message of continuing the work of nineteenth-century Anglican priests and scholars who sought to revive the old pre-Reformation rites – or at least to make texts and studies available for posterity. A few of us are continuing these studies and editions of printed material. My Sarum group on Facebook boasts 440 members, though most are “lurkers”. Even so, they were attracted by the subject and joined. I have carefully filtered out those likely to be scammers and spammers. The few members who regularly contribute are producing something that is growing and exciting. Some are even singing the Sarum Office in small groups.

I do believe that we Romantics and those interested in pre-Reformation liturgical traditions are leaving the absurdity of the traditionalists and papalist conservatives behind. What we are growing out of is not Christian, or even the Church in its most traditional meaning, but the bad baggage of the post-imperial and post-royal Papacy – an idea of the Church that rotted away long ago, but the rats are still there.

I had a great deal of sympathy with Ratzinger’s ideas about a “hermeneutic of continuity” and a “reform of the reform”. His theology concurs with that of my alma mater in Fribourg and my own dealing with my illusory “conversion” to Roman Catholicism in 1981 and influence from the traditionalists. I saw his view of working with the modern Roman rite as a pragmatic expedient to prepare for something better when people would be better adapted culturally. I read Fr Z’s blog selling the “brick by brick” approach like his monastic coffee! That and the Ordinariate euphoria all collapsed when Benedict XVI abdicated and the Argentinian Jesuit took his place with another message.

Working for this cause in the Roman Catholic Church seems futile. Every good intuition is dragged back by miles and miles of ideology and canonical legalism. If anyone is thinking of nurturing the fragile seedling of medieval liturgy in the ideology-ridden juggernaut, they face a thankless task. You can’t grow a garden of beautiful flowers in a hurricane-swept desert! So I try to do it as a priest in one of the little continuing Anglican Churches that was kind enough to welcome me as a priest and see some worth in what I am trying to do almost alone. We in the ACC don’t have to bother with a Pope, and our liturgical rules and laws are much less restrictive or characterised by micro-management. We don’t have to swim the Atlantic in molasses of ideologues and institutional bullies.

This blog, my Facebook group and my insignificant chaplaincy work with priests and others approaching me can be seen as an opportunity. I am not a leader and have no charisma to whip up a following. Such is not my desire. I merely hope that I can sow a few seeds and give seeds to others so that they can grow them in their gardens. Growing in different soil, the plants will grow differently, and glorify God in their own way. I remember the young Swiss priest (François Crausaz 1958-1994) after his stint with Gricigliano and dying of leukaemia at his home at Auboranges in the Fribourg countryside: We are here just to plant a few seeds, and others will reap the harvest. That surely is the voice of holiness of a man faced with his own mortality – as we all are.

I have been discussing this and similar subjects for years. The best lesson I can seem to draw is that the extreme division of western Christianity from the sixteenth century (philosophical roots going back to the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries) has diversified liturgical practice. There is no one true liturgy any more than there is any one true institutional church. With humanism, we have to recognise that people have different sensitivities, convictions, opinions, feelings, you name it. Not only is there no one true liturgy or ecclesial institution, there is no one “true truth”. Articles I read about aspects of quantum physics suggest that reality follows the idea or thought of the person who believes that he is perceiving reality. If all there is is not material but rather a kind of hologram, information, an idea, then everything else goes the same way. All we know is illusion, and we ourselves are illusions – but we feel real enough to ourselves.

Strangely, many of the articles suggesting that clerical liturgy is dead and we have to conform to the modern rites – are just as clerical as the clericalism they judge. True, many conservatives and traditionalists would like to impose what they want on everyone else, with their pocket Pinochet or Franco to enforce everything with their secret police and torturers.

It is quite frightening to see what one has believed in an loved hollowed out and debunked. We can give it up and seek an alternative – if there is one that is worthwhile. Or we can seek to live our Christian way in little groups, without pocket dictators and accepting that most other people view us with amusement and indifference. We have to accept that we and “other people” are as different culturally as ourselves and Chinese people or tribes on Pacific islands. The best we can do, surely, is study, publish stuff and sing Office with a few friends – and offer the possibility of Mass if someone among us is a priest.

I see people dashing themselves on the rocks about these matters. It isn’t easy to keep going. Time after time, we feel that everything is said and no one is listening. I am no exception. I don’t know how I have kept this blog going for so long. I am sensitive to this new school of thought emerging from the shipwreck of traditionalists, conservatives and novus ordo clerics. We don’t have to ask nanny whether it is allowed. Like in France where everything is regulated and forbidden, everyone does it all the same!

Like our forebears in the nineteenth century, our musty old books will be relegated to libraries or sold by weight in shabby bookshops. A seed will blow on the wind, as those of our Victorian forebears landed on our soil. They grew up in a world ravaged by the Terror and the Napoleonic Wars. We grew up in a world ravaged by Hitler and present day Islamic terrorists, menaced by a new world order and an Orwellian dystopia. Does liturgy matter any more, now that the old order has been irrevocably destroyed? It still might matter to a few of us who are determined to seek a new and beautiful world this side and the other side of our bodily death.

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Article on Fundamentalism

A comment in this blog and an e-mail from one of my brother priests drew my attention to Fundamentalism is intellectual suicide by an Orthodox abbot. He does not go very much into the question of what fundamentalism is in theological or philosophical terms. He contrasts the twisted notion of martyrdom held by some Muslims with the banal comments uttered by this most boring of Popes in regard to the martyrdom of Fr Jacques Hamel.

For Pope Francis, it was just a banal murder that had nothing to do with Islamic fanaticism. For someone in the Orthodox Christian tradition the link is understood as with the 21 Copts who were beheaded last year on a beach in Egypt by Daesh, clearly in odium fidei.

Abbot Tryphon gives a good overview of the effects of fundamentalism. It destroys culture, humanity and beauty. It is not always religious, as we find in atheistic systems like Robespierre’s Terror, Nazism, Soviet Communism and other closed-in systems of tyranny and terror. It can affect any religion, as it has done in Christianity as well as Islam and certain forms of Judaism. In Christianity, it has its effects in Protestantism, Catholicism and Orthodoxy alike.

Such a short article could not be expected to go into the background of fundamentalism or what there is in common between the atheist Robespierre and those who fire the hatred of Daesh, Al Qaida and other terrorist groups. What is this “fundamentalism” they hold or held in common?

It would seem to describe several characteristics: non-negotiable fidelity to a given set of principles, refusal of the ambient culture, the refusal of any free discussion or difference of belief or opinion. We find the literalist understanding of a foundational text like the Bible or the Koran. Surely, these characteristics are manifest in a spectrum between the extreme of Liberalism which can become fundamentalist its own way to the historical examples of Cromwell’s Roundheads and the defacing of English churches, the French Revolution and the Terror, the Nazis and Communists, Muslim terrorists and so forth. Who can say what is fundamentalist and not fundamentalist when we all hold our beliefs and convictions as precious and refuse to put them on a free market with ideas we find manifestly erroneous and false? What is “ambient culture” today other than nihilism and hard rock? Even when we don’t kill people, we are forced to entrench ourselves into a space in which we can live.

The definition of fundamentalism is far from clear, even if we are “liberal” rather than “conservative”. The Afghan mujahiddin was once praised as freedom fighters against the Russian occupation, but then they became the Taliban and protectors of the new American-backed Al Qaeda and Daesh in Irak and Syria. Is one man’s freedom fighter another man’s terrorist? I can’t believe they started to persecute Christians and behead people with knives simply because the “enemy” changed along with their “legitimacy”.

It is possible that the term fundamentalism is misleading, and we need to find another term to describe the anti-humanist tendencies I have mentioned above and which dog our world. It is perhaps simply human nature. Perhaps the contrary.

We need to look to the lights of what I would call humanism that goes through history like the ravages of evil humanity. Prophetic voices, including those of Christ, incite us to love and tolerance. Sometimes, the movement would take on amplitude as did the Renaissance in both philosophy and culture. Romanticism and Liberalism also went contrary to the absurdity of the late eighteenth century, the excesses of the Revolution and Royalist nostalgia. Time must go ahead and humanity must become more human.

Man will go on killing man and thus discrediting both theism and atheism. The killing is in our nature, unless we have learned to overcome our brutality with culture and love, tolerance for imperfection and difference. The cause is not our religion or philosophy, but ourselves. I have always understood the Christian idea and mystery as a means by which man can overcome his murderous nature and learn to embrace love, diversity and culture. As proposed by the men of the Renaissance, this is achieved not only through piety, but also through education and methods of government and politics from the ancient classical cultures of Greece and Rome. These are the only ways out of dark ages and brute ignorance. Nowadays, all that seems naive when we see the perversions of science and knowledge. The humanist ideal only ever touched very few.

We would do well to study what Liberalism really is and how it was expressed by some of the Romantic thinkers of the early nineteenth century from Alexis de Toqueville to Lamennais and Gladstone among so many others in different countries and with different agendas. We might not agree with everything, but we certainly need to distinguish the love of freedom from the promotion of nihilistic and destructive tendencies of our own time that masquerade under the banner of liberty, equality and fraternity. It is a step in the right direction.

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Georges Bernanos and Boredom

Georges Bernanos (1888 – 1948) is one of my favourite modern French authors. His best known work is Journal d’un Curé de Campagne, first published in 1936. One would almost see in him the heavy and nihilistic existentialism of Camus and Sartre, leading to the revolts of 1968. The thought came to me yesterday as I received comments to my posting about Clint Eastwood’s surprising comments on American politics. Boredom is something that is very difficult to define. Is it the Daemonium Meridianum or ἀκηδία known to mystical theology, that vice that saps the soul of virtue and energy? There is certainly a modern psychological explanation.

Bernanos lived through the dramatic movements of his time, between World War I, the fierce polemics between the Catholic Right and anticlericalism, the Affaire Dreyfus and the Occupation in 1940. France is a country of extremes, just like that erstwhile colony of George III across the Atlantic, a culture one both loves and hates. Bernanos has been compared with Dostoïevski in his profound portraits of human nature. I am not sufficiently an expert on either to comment further on such a view.

Bernanos grew up in a village in the Pas de Calais area, where the buildings are grey and sad, the farmland is flat and the people are hard and unwelcoming. The village of Fressin is like so many others in the north of France, colourful and picturesque in the summer, and deadly dull in the winter. Bernanos experienced this village as a place of solitude and sadness, and it certainly served as the inspiration of his novel.

The Journal d’un Curé de Campagne opens with a passage on boredom. It really needs to be read and appreciated in French. Translations of this work have been written, but will never do justice to this piece of writing. I prefer not to attempt it myself. The metaphors just don’t work in English. So, I ask an effort from my readers…

Ma paroisse est dévorée par l’ennui, voilà le mot. Comme tant d’autres paroisses ! L’ennui les dévore sous nos yeux et nous n’y pouvons rien. Quelque jour peut-être la contagion nous gagnera, nous découvrirons en nous ce cancer. On peut vivre très longtemps avec ça.

L’idée m’est venue hier sur la route. Il tombait une de ces pluies fines qu’on avale à pleins poumons, qui vous descendent jusqu’au ventre. De la côte de Saint-Vaast, le village m’est apparu brusquement, si tassé, si misérable sous le ciel hideux de novembre. L’eau fumait sur lui de toutes parts, et il avait l’air de s’être couché là, dans l’herbe ruisselante, comme une pauvre bête épuisée. Que c’est petit, un village ! Et ce village était ma paroisse. C’était ma paroisse, mais je ne pouvais rien pour elle, je la regardais tristement s’enfoncer dans la nuit, disparaître… Quelques moments encore, et je ne la verrais plus. Jamais je n’avais senti si cruellement sa solitude et la mienne. Je pensais à ces bestiaux que j’entendais tousser dans le brouillard et que le petit vacher, revenant de l’école, son cartable sous le bras, mènerait tout à l’heure à travers les pâtures trempées, vers l’étable chaude, odorante… Et lui, le village, il semblait attendre aussi – sans grand espoir – après tant d’autres nuits passées dans la boue, un maître à suivre vers quelque improbable, quelque inimaginable asile.

Oh ! je sais bien que ce sont des idées folles, que je ne puis même pas prendre tout à fait au sérieux, des rêves… Les villages ne se lèvent pas à la voix d’un petit écolier, comme les bêtes. N’importe ! Hier soir, je crois qu’un saint l’eût appelé.

Je me disais donc que le monde est dévoré par l’ennui. Naturellement, il faut un peu réfléchir pour se rendre compte, ça ne se saisit pas tout de suite. C’est une espèce de poussière. Vous allez et venez sans la voir, vous la respirez, vous la mangez, vous la buvez, et elle est si fine, si ténue qu’elle ne craque même pas sous la dent. Mais que vous vous arrêtiez une seconde, la voilà qui recouvre votre visage, vos mains. Vous devez vous agiter sans cesse pour secouer cette pluie de cendres. Alors, le monde s’agite beaucoup.

On dira peut-être que le monde est depuis longtemps familiarisé avec l’ennui, que l’ennui est la véritable condition de l’homme. Possible que la semence en fût répandue partout et qu’elle germât çà et là, sur un terrain favorable. Mais je me demande si les hommes ont jamais connu cette contagion de l’ennui, cette lèpre ? Un désespoir avorté, une forme turpide du désespoir, qui est sans doute comme la fermentation d’un christianisme décomposé.

Boredom is compared with a disease, a kind of cancer that doesn’t kill but decomposes the victim from within. I remember my own childhood in northern England as he describes drizzle and the way it soaks into the most waterproof raincoats. The month is November. It might as well have been Dante’s Inferno, where the damned soul gives up hope on entering. The humidity reaches everywhere, even in the heated café where the men of the village drink their beer or Ricard and play board games or cards. All the people in that place become bored and boring. Boredom is like a kind of dust that enters your body with what you eat and drink, the air you breathe. The image is quite terrifying.

It would almost seem that boredom is man’s natural condition. It devours its victim like a deformed despair that ferments a decomposed Christianity. It is the perfect description of that acedia that was known to the monastic Fathers of the Church.

Bernanos’ language is plain and precise, yet the imagery is so evocative to our own experience of bored children on rainy days when no suggestion of occupation would relieve the boredom. The text is magic, and I would no more translate it into English than Shakespeare into Spanish!

The comparison between boredom and cancer is an early announcement of the priest’s death from that disease after having received absolution from the laicised priest looking after him. Rural boredom is something that kills the life of a village, brings out the sadness of solitude and the frequent causes of alcoholism and suicide. There are areas in France like the Yonne, that vast area to the south of Paris where Christianity faced the full force of hatred of the Revolution and the anticlerical era. The North is pretty deadening too, like the south of Yorkshire in the old mining areas, Liverpool and Manchester. People can be so small-minded and bloody-minded, so unwelcoming and closed in on themselves. It is no surprise that young rural French people flock to Paris and other metropolitan cities in their desperation to escape narrowness of mind. The process of gentrification of villages has its pros and cons. The desertification is being reversed by town people seeking a better quality of life – just as my wife and I did when we bought the old baker’s shop in Hautot Saint Sulpice in Normandy. The gentrified village becomes a dormitory, and one kind of narrowness can easily be replaced by another. There is nothing of the medieval romance of the community living around the church. Country parishes are now dead, a thing of the past, of which a locked and almost redundant building bears testimony.

We are brought to another understanding of boredom, one of nothingness, the ontological definition of evil. Evil is not only something against good, but coldness, emptiness, confusion, sadness, the loss of supernatural grace. Boredom is its ultimate expression.

The little French village is a microcosm of the world. The images of Prometheus being eaten from the inside by an eagle convey the same message, like Adam being returned to the original dust. Boredom is the loss of the supernatural, of transcendence, of the sense of wonder. Many people appear to devour themselves and suffer from emptiness, seeking agitation and entertainment. For many psychiatrists, these are symptoms of a disordered personality.

In the final paragraph of the text, the vision of bored humanity is taken beyond the French village to the whole of humanity as our “true condition” of fallen creation. At the same time, Bernanos speculates that it it is the modern (1930’s) world that Christianity crumbles in the face of increasingly widespread boredom, to the extent of causing a désespoir avorté (an aborted despair) that has lost its tragic character to wallow in anonymity.

La dernière disgrâce de l’homme, c’est le fait que le Mal lui-même l’ennuie. The final disgrace of man is the fact that Evil itself bores him. What an epitaph! It is truly terrifying.

Boredom is something we can do something about. The first thing is to decide that life has something other than feeding our boredom and ingratitude. There are things that provoke our sense of wonder, especially the marvels of nature, the forests, the mountains and the sea. It isn’t just a question of occupying ourselves to fill the emptiness, but rediscovering life.

I have no pretence at being special or “holy”, but I can honestly say that I do not suffer from boredom. I take initiatives and take interest in things, however insignificant. I used to get very bored as a child, because I could not adapt to changing conditions. When it rains, that means that you can’t go out and play in the garden. Either you look at the miserable weather out of the window – or find something indoors: play a game or draw a picture, sing or play music. It intensely irritates me when someone complains about being bored. They can damned well find their own way out of it. As Bernanos said, it is a “natural” state – of those who remain passive, uncurious and unable to make a decision.

I am intensely curious about things, even outside my habitual areas of interest. I have always been fascinated by science and technology, new discoveries. I love to make my own discoveries, go places with my boat and see things I have never seen before. My world is forever new and beautiful.

Chronic boredom saps our energy. We lose the will to live and cease being creative. We are interested in nothing. We might as well be dead, and suicide is often the consequence of boredom. Bernanos wrote in images like drizzle and dust. Boredom leaves us is a fog of waste and loss of our wasted lives.

Curiosity and imagination are the essential tools to live our lives. We should ask questions and look for answers. We should love our books and the knowledge they can give us. There is also the internet well used, documentaries on Youtube. We can have our hobbies and passions, but we should diversify as much as possible. We should be careful about getting steamed up about single issues.

We can learn how to do things like arts and crafts, making things out of wood, metal or anything. There are also sports that are as good for our bodies as our minds. Cycling is great fun, because it doesn’t take that much energy, and you discover lots of interesting things on your way. A bicycle can be parked almost anywhere – much easier than a car! I have often heard about adults deciding to learn a musical instrument, finding a teacher and some outlet for their new skills as their technique improves with work and dedication.

Being adaptable is also essential. I can’t go sailing in the winter, or can only do so in certain conditions. The boat needs maintenance at home, and turning the hull over will show that the gelcoat needs redoing with all the scratches. The spars need revarnishing and the sails may need some stitching. There are also things unrelated to sailing like doing some jobs around the house. Like not being to play in the garden because of wet weather, we need to be adaptable and shake ourselves out of the rut.

Spontaneity is vital. Life doesn’t always work to rule and plan. It’s wonderful to do something new without having planned it. Get the bicycle out and have a good long ride or get judo lessons, anything. For those of us who are religious, it must be fascinating to attend a service in a synagogue or with a community of Buddhists or Hindus. That doesn’t mean apostasy from our Christianity. Explore! Discover! Open your mind!

Christ taught us to value the present moment and cherish every part of each day. Look for the good in everything and add good things to what seems mediocre and in need of improvement. Life is a theatre, as Shakespeare once wrote. Even standing in a queue, there are things to look at, a book to read, people to talk with.

Georges Bernanos is an author we need to discover. His understanding of human nature was acute and impressive.

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They’re boring everybody

“They’re boring everybody. Chesty Puller, a great Marine general, once said, ‘You can run me, and you can starve me, and you can beat me, and you can kill me, but don’t bore me.’ And that’s exactly what’s happening now: Everybody is boring everybody. It’s boring to listen to all this shit. It’s boring to listen to these candidates.”

There’s something I have always appreciated about Clint Eastwood, the way he dealt with bureaucracy as Inspector Harry of the Los Angeles police in the 1970’s. See Clint Eastwood defends Trump’s ‘racist’ remarks: ‘Just get over it’. I have no more sympathy for Trump than I have for Le Pen or UKIP in England, but at the same time I find the liberal left of Hollande, Obama and Hillary Clinton so deadeningly boring.

In the same way, I have disengaged myself from most churches, because they are so boring. It was something I noted about Jesuits in the 1980’s. They were boring and had nothing engaging or passionate to say. The only exception I came across was Fr Hugh Thwaites in London, who is now no longer with us.

Racism, political correctness, multi-culturalism. Everything becomes bad and boring as soon as it begins to be discussed. In bygone days, blacks and whites got on just fine. Jewish people were tolerated if they were decent and honest. Muslims and Christians generally got on together in northern Africa with a the exception of some atrocities. What do we expect politicians to do for us?

I get the impression that we are at the end of politics, and the strongest and meanest will the ones who will win. Bully for them! I’m not interested whether they are “liberal” or “conservative”, left or right. We need to remember that Clint Eastwood is an actor and doesn’t go around gunning all the bad guys down. Would we like him to blow away all the galoots in the saloon?

Well, do you feel lucky, punk? Well, do you?

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Message of Sympathy to the Archdiocese of Rouen

I wrote this message to the Archbishop of Rouen Mgr Dominique Lebrun, his clergy and faithful on their Facebook page and their website e-mail address:

Je suis prêtre de The Anglican Catholic Church et j’habite à Hautot Saint Sulpice, donc dans le territoire de votre archidiocèse. De la part de mon évêque Damien Mead, de tous nos prêtres et nos fidèles en Angleterre, j’exprime notre sympathie et solidarité avec votre communauté et avec la paroisse de Saint Etienne de Rouvray. J’ai déjà offert la Messe, non pas pour le père Jacques mais pour l’honorer comme un nouveau martyr, tué par haine de la foi et du Christ. Je suis de tout cœur avec vous tous. Père Anthony Chadwick.

Translation: I am a priest of the Anglican Catholic Church and I live in Hautot Saint Sulpice in the territory of your Archdiocese. On behalf of my Bishop Damien Mead, of all our priests and faithful in England, I express our sympathy and solidarity with your community and with the parish of Saint Etienne de Rouvray. I have already offered Mass not for Father Jacques but to honour him as a new Martyr, killed in hatred of the faith and Christ. I am with you all. Father Anthony Chadwick.

If I receive any response from them, I will post it here.

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Fr Jacques Hamel, Martyr

For the first time in my life, I have said Mass in honour of a Martyr the very day of his death. Until this morning, this retired priest of the Archdiocese of Rouen was helping out in his local parish, and was saying Mass for two religious sisters and two lay people. His name will now be one of the noble army of Martyrs praising thee as I paraphrase from the Te Deum. There is no need for a beatification or canonisation, which will certainly happen in time. I was inclined to commemorate him as a Martyr at today’s Mass of St Anne rather than remember him at the memento of the dead like any deceased person.

I live in the territory of the Rouen Archdiocese, but I never met Fr Jacques. He was born in 1930 and was ordained in 1958. This morning, he was elderly and known to his parishioners and the clergy of his diocese, an ordinary priest going about helping out in an ordinary parish. Why was he chosen by the two drug and ideology crazed terrorists this morning? They could have taken out a whole congregation on a Sunday morning! They started “preaching” in Arabic near the altar of the church, made Fr Jacques kneel and then they cut his throat with a knife.

Martyrdom is all the difference between Christianity and Islam. In the Christian Gospel, victory is won through weakness, through the sacrifice of the victim and not the strength of the executioner. Many would like Christianity to glorify wealth and strength as the reward of success, and this is a question I have already discussed. In Islam, the victims are always the guilty ones – raped women, victims of a massacre, the conquered. For this reason, the executioner cries الله أكبر, “God is the greatest”. In his perverted “theology” a sacrifice is accomplished and the strong is vindicated.

In some of my reflections on Gnosticism, Allah is the Demiurge par excellance, the jealous psychopath who kills and punishes, who gasps for blood like a Transylvanian vampire. Gnostic mythology situates the separation between the God above God, the true God, and the creating entities in whom evil had entered. The Demiurge is the ultimate Führer who rules with tyranny and makes the world into a living hell. For this kind of Islam (there are many kinds from the contemplative Sufis to the Shiites and Sunni among others), they take advantage of the “weakness” and tolerance of Christianity.

There are messages coming out of this awful event of a 86-year old retired priest being killed in such an atrocious way. One was that he accepted retirement only as an official requirement of his Church, but that he wished to continue to minister until the day of his death. The priesthood is something we carry with us all our lives. We don’t put it on and take it off like our cassock. This is the way we were taught at seminary, and this is a very important aspect of the French school of priestly spirituality. Therefore, Fr Jacques helped out in a parish on a voluntary basis even though he was officially retired. Many elderly priests do. The priesthood is not something we put on like a garment, or even our identity to make us important human beings – but is Christ within those of us who are ordained. The Church calls the priesthood a sacred character like Baptism and Confirmation. The term is of course an analogy of something that is ineffable and mysterious.

Fr Jacques was killed in hatred of the Christian faith and the priesthood of Christ. He died a Martyr. There is absolutely no doubt about it. The Gospel more than ever shows us that the alternative to the Ubermensch and the domination of the strongest is the teaching of the Beatitudes:

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

This is the meaning of the Gospel and the priesthood Christ passed to his Apostles and the bishops and priests in their succession.

Blessed Jacques, Priest and Martyr, pray for us…

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