Terrena despicere?

Someone thoughtfully forwarded a link to me this morning – Reading Dreher with Schmemann and MacIntyre (and thus Marx). The subject is the so-called Benedict Option expressed in writings by Rod Dreher and others, especially in America. The article is quite long and challenging, and is worth a good read.

I have mentioned before that the idea quite intrigued me, and I could see the obvious comparisons with monasteries, less enclosed religious orders, the Brüderhof, charismatic communities, various intentional communities based on ecology or other common themes. There are also the Amish communities in the USA which, perhaps, are to be “admired but not imitated”. If such a community is founded and those in it find fulfilment, I can only encourage them to continue in this vast human experiment in known history. The New World was a powerful archetype in history, but now the new world has become the old in terms of human impiety and iniquity. The first European Americans set out to found something new, not merely escape from the world that oppressed them. The Benedict Option seems to be different in that it seeks to create new micro-societies or tribes away from society. The difference seems to be subtle but real.

Several things emerge from this article. One is the analysis of the modern world. Another is how the micro-society is intended to work, not fall victim to the worst aspects of human nature. Can Christianity only subsist in a Christian society, or can it live in a neutral or hostile world like in the Roman Empire before the Peace of Constantine? We are constantly reading things on the internet, full of foreboding warnings of a collapse of civilisation or the end of the world – neither of which have occurred despite prophecies that they were imminent. Many such prophecies are tired out and old. Apocalypticism seems to be a psychological need for some people, like conspiracy theories that turn out to be fallacious.

The article discusses the theme of the guru, the leader of a totalitarian sect or cult. A monastery has its prior or abbot, and unquestioning obedience is demanded of the community’s members. Where is the dividing line between asceticism and spirituality, and depersonalisation and abuse by an amoral leader? It also happens in non-religious communities, unless, perhaps, a democratic or collegial system is put in place where the leader is bound to consult his peers. How many dictators in history asked their people to choose between “me or chaos”?

The argument is put forward that the plight of the Church and Christianity are never beyond hope, since both have been threatened in the past. The Church rebounded where it was least expected. Is Christianity finished in western mainstream society?

There is also a danger of like-minded people seeking to build a society in which thinking alike is a prerequisite. That is something that needs thinking about. I usually find that people can get very nasty the more they share an interest. I have even found this in the sailing world where there can be bad disputes about whether one may have an engine on his boat for when sailing isn’t possible or what kind of life-jacket should be worn. These are purely practical matters, and are compounded when it is a matter of ideology! This happens in various identity groups like gays and people with Aspergers. One can only take so much in the hothouse.

Is Christian living to be another “lifestyle” for those who can afford it and come from a yuppie or bourgeois-bohemian background? In the intentional community world, the choice is essentially between a guru and unpaid work – or buying-in at more than it costs to buy a house in the countryside. A solution? I don’t think there is any one solution for the future of Christianity. It depends to a great extent on where we live, in cities, suburbs or the countryside. Then, whether it is with families and children, alone, with an intense social life, involved in local community activities and politics, whatever. All communities are exposed to the risk of human nature: corruption, abuse, exclusion of “others” and everything else that has happened, causing the community to reform itself or fall apart.

It is a good thing that I have been exposed to monastic life for my six-month stint. The Abbot made it easy for me, because he knew that I did not aspire to a monastic vocation. I had interesting work to do corresponding with my knowledge and skills. I had some realistic idea of the life of the monks. It is essentially a totalitarian “Orwellian” society where each person allows his personality to be eclipsed by the collective. It is the most radical Communism that exists, the only difference being that it is voluntary – accepted by the pronouncement of the Vows. Not everyone is made for that. I am not. Monastic life is everything that is the most ordinary, commonplace, boring and earthly. The corridors smell of sweat and boot polish. It could almost be compared with the Army except for the absence of noise and weapons! The various bits of advice for a young man thinking about monastic life have a ring of realism – go and get some boring job in an office or a factory and don’t think of yourself as anyone special. The almost-nihilism of it is quite surprising! It is the exact opposite of Romanticism, in which the creative imagination is exalted, but Romantics are not always very holy people…

Fr Charles de Foucault comes back to me. He was a hermit, though he intended to found a very austere monastic community. The people around him were all Muslims. There is something to be said for “monastic” life in a city without any trappings or habit, just service to others. I have thought of leaving my present life to live alone in some remote place – but it just won’t work. It would be based on wrong, and that can’t be justified. Nor would I be justified in joining some intentional community where I would be followed by — myself.

Those are a few of my reflections on reading this article, which might be a little too hard on Dreher’s idea and desire to escape the quagmire of modern American or western life. Usually, we do God’s will by staying put, being where He put us so that we can do good in some small and insignificant way. Communities do exist and are said to do good and work out for the best. There are none anywhere near where I live, apart from a couple of Roman Catholic monasteries, so it seems to be something of a non-sequitur. That is the limit of the internet unless we have the lack of responsibilities at home, time and leisure to travel.

Thomas Merton once said succinctly, the entire wisdom of the desert fathers and mothers, thus: “Shut up, and go to your cell!”


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European Deanery

I have this news from our Bishop which is now public: Establishment of European Deanery.

On March 14th The Most Reverend Mark Haverland, Metropolitan of the Original Province and Acting Primate of the Anglican Catholic Church appointed the Right Reverend Damien Mead as his Episcopal Commissary for Europe (i.e., for those portions of Europe not in his own Diocese of the United Kingdom). Since continental Europe is not part of an existing diocese, it falls within the jurisdiction of the metropolitan.

This appointment gives Bishop Mead formal authority to deal with ACC clergy (two live in Europe at present) and persons interested in joining the ACC or forming congregations there.

The Deanery of Europe will be administered for the time being by Bishop Mead on behalf of the Metropolitan and will be treated as an ‘honorary deanery’ within the Diocese of the United Kingdom.

There is also a dedicated page on our Diocesan web site: ACC European Deanery. This need in our Diocese began with my reception into the Anglican Catholic Church in April 2013 and the establishment of the Chaplaincy of St Mary the Virgin, Hautot Saint Sulpice, France. I originally applied to Bishop Damien Mead, and he needed to obtain special permission from Archbishop Mark Haverland to establish something outside his territorial jurisdiction (the United Kingdom). We are now two Chaplaincies in Continental Europe, the other being of my brother in the priesthood Fr Gregory Wassen Chaplaincy of St Boniface / Gemeenschap van Sint Bonifatius, Orvelte in the Netherlands.

In concrete terms, little will change. Fr Wassen and I remain under Bishop Damien’s jurisdiction as before, and we will continue to attend Synod each year in England and any Deanery meetings that might come up.

Neither France nor the Netherlands are Anglican countries. The Church of England has a European diocese whose Cathedral is located in Gibraltar, and its local communities are known as Chaplaincies. There are Chaplaincies for British expatriates and tourists in most major cities including Rome and Paris. Some French chaplaincies have attracted people who were hitherto Roman Catholics and sought something different for one reason or another.

We have also adopted this concept. I have always welcomed French people to services in my chapel when they wished to come, and I have prepared a translation of Mass in French which still needs a considerable amount of revision. They have invariably been my in-laws when coming to our house for Christmas or Easter. I have always avoided any proselytism in my area, because Anglicanism is not sectarian and must not appear to be so. There are very few English expatriates in my area. They tend to go to the Vendée (where I was from 2001 until 2005) and further south-west in areas like the Dordogne.

My main ministry at present is this blog. I endeavour to promote a liturgical, contemplative and humanist kind of Christianity in accordance with the doctrines of my Church (Affirmation of Saint Louis) and a philosophical approach. On any particular day this blog is read by people in the USA, the UK and Australia, since my language is English. I usually have 4 to 8 French readers able to read English, but who have never commented on postings. Some time ago, I tried a blog in French, but it never attracted any interest.

Here in Continental Europe, it is a spiritual desert. Roman Catholicism occupies the same place in society as mainstream Anglicanism in the British Isles. It is there for occasional Sunday attendance at Mass, the main feasts, weddings and burials. Within the “unwashed masses”, there is certainly a minority attracted to spiritual themes and alternative medicine, very much a “consumer mentality”. I am not interested in “marketing” to bring in “clients”. It works in America but not here.

Why Chaplaincies in Europe? I can’t speak for Fr Wassen, but I live here and I am a priest. We are all non-stipendiary priests in our Diocese, and therefore live in our own houses wherever they are and have our own chapels. Fr Wassen’s chapel is a room in his house and mine is an outbuilding which is a part of my property. The existence of a chapel depends on the existence of the priest. That would change if groups of laity got together and decided to set up a stable chapel and an association to manage the money coming in and being spent. They would the call on a priest. Such a community would imply their being English expatriates, Anglicans and motivated to leave the Established Church to join us. Most Roman Catholics are dubious about our Orders (Leo XIII’s Apostolicae Curae of 1896). The mentality and “lie of the land” are totally different in America and the British Isles.

What of the future? I think that other priests, more or less suitable, will present themselves and any communities they might have. Many in France, Italy, Belgium and elsewhere have gone the way of the “independent sacramental movement” with various results. They require a considerable amount of discernment as to their fundamental agreement with our way in the ACC and their essential stability and sense of vocation. A few are quite dubious characters, so we have to be very careful. To what extent can we “inculturate” outside the English-speaking countries? Do we present a fundamentally traditionalist ideology which is less extreme in political terms? Our history and struggles are not theirs.

We need to be ourselves. Fr Wassen with his experience of Orthodoxy and my own interest in the medieval and Renaissance underpinnings (local rites, high culture, etc.) give us something unique to offer, a Catholic vision which is neither Protestant nor Counter-Reformation, and which is humanist and gentle in pastoral terms and our manner of dealing with people. The vision is subtle, but needs to be expressed and explained, as I do in this blog. If we have something unique to offer, and that appeals to people, they will eventually approach us, and we can be of service to them in the communion and fellowship of the Church. We are not parish priests but chaplains, priests available to serve those who call on us.

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Twenty-Five Years Ago

It was on the feast of St Benedict 1992 that I was ordained a subdeacon by Cardinal Alfons Stickler. The ceremony took place in the chapel of the Institute of Christ the King seminary at Gricigliano, and this photo was taken in the main reception hall of the villa.

From left to right: Fr Frank Quoëx, Jean-Paul Descolas, John Fallon, myself, the head of Fr François Crausaz peeping out from the back row, Msgr Gilles Wach, Msgr Rudoph Schmitz, Cardinal Alfons Stickler, Fr Philippe Mora, Fr Dominique Vibrac, Gabriel Steylaers, Timothy McDonnell, José-Apeles Santolaria de Puey y Cruells, Joseph de Pautremat, Dominique Vattan.

These were still relatively early days of the Institute and the ghastly blue choir habits they now wear had not yet come into being. Late March is usually rather pleasant down there in Tuscany. The usage was (and still is) to confer the Tonsure, the four Minor Orders and the Subdiaconate before the Diaconate and the Priesthood.

Twenty five years already. Next year will be the twentieth anniversary of my own priesthood. My subdiaconate come under the patronage of St Benedict, and his holy Rule for monks and all who want to seek holiness has had a great amount of influence in my life.

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Silver Jubilee of the ACC in England

My brother in the priesthood Fr Jonathan Munn has written a thoughtful article on our Silver Jubilee this year of our Diocese. 29th April: a Jubilee for the ACC!

Our Diocese was founded in 1992 by Fr Leslie Hamlett, a former Church of England parish priest who attempted to get the Pastoral Provision of Pope John Paul II implemented in England in the Roman Catholic Church in the 1980’s. It didn’t work out with the local RC bishops and Fr Hamlett and several other Anglican priests sought some kind of solution for the Continuing Church movement. I first met Bishop Hamlett in 1995 when I felt compelled to leave my inextricable situation in the RC Church and seek a return to roots in England. My first contact by correspondence was with Fr Michael Wright who lived near Bath. I was fascinated with the notion of Orthodox ecclesiology and theology in a western context and Fr Wright’s interest in relations between Anglicans and Orthodox. Fr Wright passed me on to Bishop Hamlett who seemed to have much to say from his difficult experience with the Church of England and the RC Church.

I returned to England in the autumn of 1995 after having installed a hefty Harrison organ in the Abbey of San Martino al Cimino not very far from Rome. A couple of Bishop Hamlett’s faithful, Mr and Mrs Caverargh-Mainwaring, offered me accommodation and a workshop at their stately home, Whitmore Hall. After a few months, I was offered a little cottage in the village for a reduced rent. I was received into the ACC as a deacon ordained in the Roman Catholic Church. I was assigned to the Bishop’s parish at Madeley Heath, in a former Methodist chapel. As time wore on, I found Bishop Hamlett aggressive and small-minded, quite stifling. One thing I had learned well at seminary was the liturgy, and I tried to be of help in improving ceremonies at Madeley Heath. This was deeply resented by the Bishop even though I brought matters up in private and respectfully. During my short time with Bishop Hamlett, I made friends with Fr Patrick McEune, who remained with the ACC after the “Bishops’ Brawl” (a number of splits away from the ACC to form independent jurisdictions) in about 1997 (after I had left) and became the Vicar General before later returning to the Church of England. I kept good relations with Fr Wright and tended to be better with clergy in the south of England than the north. I was frankly happy to get out of England to take an organ to somewhere in France or Italy and spend a day or two with my old friend in Marseilles. It was a far cry from the petty-minded parochialism in Stoke on Trent. By September 1996 I was away from Bishop Hamlett and returned to France in late October of that year.

I followed events in 1997 from a distance and was kept informed by Fr McEune. There was a big split in the American episcopate of the ACC and several new groups came into being. By this time, Bishop Hamlett totally repudiated anything specifically Anglican and expressed a fairly “Old Catholic” type of ecclesiology with a strong leaning towards Roman Catholic devotions. Eventually, there would be a split between Bishop Hamlett (Archbishop by that time) and Bishop Wright. Many of the clergy I knew from my time have disappeared from circulation, being neither in the ACC English Diocese as it has happily become, nor the TAC. Fr McEune made a courageous effort to re-order the Diocese and rebuild from the ruins. I frequently received e-mails from him when I lived at the presbytery of Bouloire after my six months in the monastic desert.

Fr McEune himself left the ACC, though I am unclear about the circumstances, and I would certainly be bound to be careful with my words were I more knowledgeable. He sold his nice little church in Wiltshire where I had installed an organ, and he returned to the Church of England. I heard vaguely about a Fr Damien Mead, who was elected to be the Diocese’s Vicar General, and some years later was consecrated a bishop by the Americans. What has happened since in England then is nothing short of a miracle. Bishop Damien has led the Diocese to stability and a unity of purpose we all share. When he received me in April 2013, nothing was the same. All the parishes were in different places. The present list is here.

From the late 1990’s, it became fashionable to denigrate Continuing Anglicanism as being no more stable or united than the hundreds of Old Catholic denominations in America. We still find much of the same rhetoric with Anglicans who have become Roman Catholics over the past ten years or so. As with all human experience, lessons have been learned, and we have a very different quality of bishops these days. This October, there will be a joint Synod of all the main Continuing bodies to work out a journey towards organic unity. This, with the professionalism of our bishops, is cause for hope and optimism. Thus we in England celebrate twenty-five years both of peace and progress as well as of human sin, pride and bad judgement.

Fr Jonathan mentions that he was accused of proselytism in regard to members of Forward in Faith, unjustly. Surely, members of that body know what they want in life and are able to make up their own minds. I have very little experience of Forward in Faith, but have spent time with some of their clergy. In one parish I know – I will not mention the name for the sake of discretion – the explanation of their position is altogether understandable. I simply make the comparison with the Roman Catholic Church in the 1980’s, between the “hard” traditionalists of the Society of St Pius X and others, and the brave old parish priests who stuck it out in their parishes in defiance of their bishops.

The Forward in Faith position might seem to lack theological coherence in terms of belonging to the Church of England. The existence of the “flying bishops” created a church within the establishment Church of England, where bishops who don’t ordain women are “insulated” from those who do. Forward in Faith parishes are enclaves where laity and clergy can live a very “normal” ecclesial existence with a fine Victorian or medieval church building and real parish life. Their existence is surely a good thing where the alternative is spiritual death and another nail in the coffin of Christianity in England. I have great pleasure in visiting the parish whose name I don’t mention here, and the priest I go and see knows my Bishop. There is a sense of stability, at least during the tenure of the parish priest in question.

We Continuers don’t have the large congregations or the big church buildings enjoyed by Church of England incumbents. However, we have an uncompromised ecclesial life with a diocesan Ordinary and a college of priests under his oversight. That Bishop is in communion with the college of bishops of the ACC and its Metropolitan Archbishop Mark Haverland. This is as much of a coherent ecclesial structure as any minor but historical Orthodox Church. Everything is right and correct. The downside is that we are very small and our growth is slow. We have very little in terms of financial or material resources, but this perhaps keeps us humble, realistic and focused on the essentials.

It is a historic year both for the Americans and we English. In America, the movement of unity between the largest Continuing Churches is forging ahead, and this prospect is exciting and encouraging. In England, we celebrate twenty-five years of mistakes and foolishness, and then of sober rebuilding and stabilising. We thank God for the gift of Bishop Damien and his determined leadership and qualities of a true gentleman.

We will have our own Diocesan Synod in London (Westminster Central Hall) on 29th April this year. We begin with Mass celebrated by our Bishop, to which all are welcome. There is a good choir and a talented organist / choirmaster. It is an opportunity to see the beauty of our worship in classical English and what we are all about. I will be there. Last year, since I had no liturgical role, I sang with the choir. This will be a special occasion for us all. I look forward to it. We also hope later this year to have the visit of Archbishop Haverland – so I will have to make another trip to England for this.

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Musings on Philosophy

It was in 1985 that I began philosophy in Rome, at the Angelicum University. Each morning, I would walk about two miles up from the Lateran, through a narrow street towards the north and past the Colosseum, to the Piazza Venezia, along past the Gregorian University and up a narrow street to reach the renaissance building of the Angelicum. There, we were initiated into the arcanes of logic, epistemology and cosmology – all in the incomprehensible language of badly shaven Dominicans who seemed to have got out of bed the wrong side. We quickly nicknamed our philosophy classrooms as the paralyzation chambers. All philosophy classes were given in Italian, and my regret is that Fr Galli who lectured on Fisica e Filosophia was totally incomprehensible. Fr Russo who taught cosmology had a distinct Sicilian accent. Many others have lapsed into the mists of forgetfulness. A kind seminarian at our College tried to teach some of us freshmen a smattering of Italian, but this remained a big problem. It took several months to acquire a little Italian, since we were speaking English at seminary.

Most of the professors were totally cynical about teaching philosophy to those who hardly understood Italian, so they entered good marks into our libelli despite knowing very little about the subject at the summary oral examinations. A year later in Fribourg, we had to work and know our stuff, and I could understand the lectures because they were in French. But the Angelicum was quite a weird experience for me. Some professors made the effort of giving us notes in English and some extra courses were arranged by American Dominicans. They gave us something of more value.

In the 1980’s, philosophy was taught in much the same way as for centuries by the Dominicans, the only difference being the use of Italian instead of Latin! It was strict Aristotelian Thomism with only the exception of Fr Galli’s incomprehensible lectures based on the work of Max Planck, the reason for which I regretted the language barrier. I have no scientific knowledge of quantum physics, but it appeals to me as a philosophical notion that bases all existence and reality on consciousness rather than matter. I would find medieval metaphysics materialistic to the point that I wondered whether modern atheism had its roots in it! I found epistemology and logic dry and boring, but I did seek out books on metaphysics, the question of the Universal between the extreme realism of Plato to the Nominalism of Occam and many others of the Franciscan schools. Reality was conceived as something entirely exterior to the observing subject, which quantum physics would compromise with its theory of consciousness. If consciousness is independent from matter, there would be a much better case for life after death.

It was when I went to Fribourg that I became much more aware of the need for a philosophical formation to study theology. The Fathers of the Church were influenced by Hellenism and this is a vital component to our understanding and use of language. Fribourg had become less Aristotelian from the Modernist era of the early twentieth century and more Platonic, more neo-Patristic and more open to modern science. I felt at home intellectually, and various characters I met gently guided me towards an “orthodox” Gnosticsm through Jungian psychology and early twentieth century Russian philosophy, which was to some extent born of German Idealism, a brainchild of the Romantic movement.

My exposure to the cynical routine of the “Lazy A” (nickname among some American students of the Angelicum) gave me some taste for thought, discovery and the very meaning of the word philosophyφιλοσοφία in Greek meaning “love of wisdom”. It is the study of issues concerning existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, language and many of the issues now covered by the sciences of chemistry, physics and biology. It enables our minds to attempt to some extent to grasp the meaning of life and notions that lie beyond reason such as revealed mysteries. The Trinity and the Hypostatic Union of Christ are mysteries, but so are the universe, multiverses, the notion of the infinity of space. The earth belongs to our solar system, which belongs to a galaxy of millions of solar systems like ours. Beyond our galaxy, you can see many of the other galaxies if your telescope is powerful enough. Entering the realm of theory, those galaxies would form a universe from a single big bang, but there may be other universes too – all totally different with different laws of physics, or all exactly the same with different sets of probabilities. Don’t tell me that there are no mysteries!

I was thinking in this kind of way since when I was a little boy, obsessed with science and a quest for understanding. I lacked the application at school or the social skills to do well in the system. My love of science competed with my love of music and language, and the latter won out. Philosophy for me would to some extent fill in the gap between art and science. One unfortunate tendency of aspies is to amass a phenomenal amount of facts but often with little overall understanding. Platonism has done a lot to help me seek a big picture view to give justification for the details and parts of the mechanism.

Some say that 99% of humanity is made for breeding and 1% for advancing knowledge and technology. That is certainly an exaggeration, because scientists and inventors are not always quirky eccentrics! Many geniuses, philosophers and “mad scientists” seem to have had Asperger-like qualities, just like Asperger himself. I have not achieved anything scientific myself. I am not teaching in a university. I just churn out translated texts from French into English. Sometimes I learn new things from the texts I have to read and re-write in my own language. What enables me to earn my living is intellectual work, the comprehension of language and its re-expression in English to convey the same concepts. It keeps my mind sharp, and it keeps my curiosity alive.

Do aspies make better philosophers than “neurotypicals”? I have no idea, but aspies care much less about the opinions of other people and are more independent spiritually, less afraid of coming up with ideas that might seem crazy at first. Most people labour with preconceived ideas, prejudice and “What will others say?“. Many cultural givens are taken for granted, but the high-functioning autistic mind sees right through it. We will isolate the things of which we are aware, ask questions, analyse and compare them with things outside our culture.

Philosophy can also be a part of that body of knowledge for which we thirst. Aspie children notice things others would take for granted. Another one of my “obsessions” as a child was noticing things on buildings, architectural details like the design of roofs, windows, chimneys and decorations. I still notice details that attract my attention on buildings in different parts of Europe or even a single region in countries like England or France. That being said, I would not have been a successful architect, because I detest the modern styles would have been what brings the money in. In the same way, I have been reading about German Idealism and Romanticism, because I do believe that they have insights that are less evident for the more rationalistic and “realist” systems of thought. In so many ways, we create our own reality and experience life differently in inexplicable ways.

Though I went to university, much of my interest in philosophy has been from my own reading and curiosity. I also felt repelled “pseudo-intellectualism”, what a friend of mine in Fribourg called “intellectual masturbation” an exercise in narcissism by deliberately expressing oneself incomprehensibly. This is what one will find with a certain mindset that does not seek wisdom and meaning, but one’s own self-importance. An aspie will notice this in a flash! If our thought is to mean anything, it needs to be expressed in language that can be understood. For example, many people might be foxed by the word “hermeneutics”, but will readily understand “interpretation” or one’s take on what something means through that person’s perspective of mind. Not everything has reality outside the observing and thinking subject, but that is no excuse for talking gobbledegook! Academia has its limits. We can learn something from it, but life teaches us the rest, and we go on learning all the way through life.

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Who am I?

There is another fine posting by my brother in the priesthood, Fr Jonathan Munn – Fatally self-defined. At first sight, it may seem to coincide with my own discussions of Asperger Syndrome and the way some use it as an identity label. As I wrote in my posting some days ago, I go further than diversity, because each human person is absolutely unique in spiritual, mental and physical terms. I am sceptical about the concept of normality, because majorities do not always express truth.

“Coming out” with Aspergers can be positive and negative. Profound ignorance leads to fundamental misunderstandings, such as confusing Aspergers with “psychopathy” in the latter word’s accepted meaning of describing a personality disorder that attributes total lack of empathy or care for others to a manipulative and dangerous person. When this happens, one might find oneself losing friends very quickly! On the other hand, if it is something that has been found by a mental health professional, it can help people understand and make allowances for what looks on the surface like selfishness, tactlessness and eccentricity. We have to be careful with labels. They can help to give us some understanding of our lives as we have experienced them, but a philosophical approach is far more meaningful than psychiatric appelations which can leave a considerable amount of ambiguity.

Fr Jonathan begins his article with some aspects of a condition known as dysphoria, the opposite of euphoria. Examples include a young woman believing that she should have been a cat, therefore “species dysphoria” (assuming it is not a joke) and the more frequent occurrence of a person who believes that he or she should be the opposite sex. The latter is known as gender dysphoria, commonly known as transsexualism. Quite frankly, if someone wants to live out something like this, why not? Simply, it should not be possible to have surgery for any reason other than medical, to cure or alleviate an anomaly. Plenty of men are drag queens and nobody in our time worries about it. They either do it for purposes of entertainment or to enjoy themselves. Why not? Just as long as they don’t do it in church! 🙂

The Aristotelian syllogisms are amusing, but the problem is that what someone thinks he is changes nothing of his ontological reality. That said, I am less certain about realist metaphysics in the light of some German idealistic ideas I find interesting, which also concur with some modern scientific theories about consciousness. That is another subject…

Ah! – the poor old Church of England… A diocesan bishop believing that the ordination of women is invalid, and has such female clerics in his diocese. Such a predicament could be compared with that of Major-General Harrison in the words of Samuel Pepys: I went out to Charing Cross, to see Major-general Harrison hanged, drawn, and quartered; which was done there, he looking as cheerful as any man could do in that condition. There is something to be said for the British stiff upper lip!

Fr Jonathan’s point seems to be more about our identity as Christians belonging to an institutional Church or more-or-less the tradition of that institutional Church in an independent body. Thus he gives the distinction between the adjective and the noun. We are Anglican Catholics, because we follow a Catholic tradition in an Anglican culture without being in communion with either Rome or Canterbury. Some might find that idea absurd, but we don’t, any more than Roman Catholic traditionalists or Russian Orthodox old believers. Some have good reasons not to belong to the institutional churches of Rome or Canterbury (other than our own Bishop’s See also based in Best Lane, Canterbury). I think Fr Jonathan and I can be perfectly shameless because we are canonically members of the clergy of the Anglican Catholic Church, which is an institutional Church in its own right.

I smiled about the bogus “cardinal” Fr Jonathan alluded to. I know who it is, and also will not mention names to be sure of staying the right side of the law. I have often had conversations with my Bishop about various episcopal wannabes in England and their false egos. Peter Anson had his ideas about those colourful characters with multiple lines of succession and something to prove. Though he was quite smug about it, Anson was not far wrong, and mentioned the exception of the German intellectual Friedrich Heiler. We are obviously better off and enjoy more credibility if we have actually achieved something in life, done some studies, and earned the confidence of an authority in a Church whom we can trust. I have had experience of this habitually hollow and illusory world. The “mainstream” is shot, but we still need to be ecclesially-minded if we are going to be priests in the Catholic tradition. The dividing line is never as clear as we might wish it to be.

We need to be true to ourselves and discover our real selves. This is the virtue of humility, neither snobbery nor inverted snobbery, just clear realism and lucidity. Self-knowledge is the privilege of those who have suffered, and in the words of Oscar Wilde, Love is a sacrament that should be taken kneeling, and Domine non sum dignus should be on the lips and in the hearts of those who receive it. Surely, such is the very purpose of Lent.

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A Message on Lent by Archbishop Mark Haverland

I found this touching message by our Metropolitan on Facebook:

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‘Lent’ is derived from the Germanic word for ‘spring’ through Anglo‑Saxon. ‘Lenz’ is still the word for spring in modern German. ‘Lent’ also is related to the English words ‘length’ and ‘lengthen’. Lent/spring is the time when the days lengthen and when plants lengthen in new growth. On a deeper level Lent is for many Christians who keep the Church year the supreme time for spiritual growth and renewal. The outward austerities and disciplines of Lent at first seem to run counter to the greening and cheerful face of the natural world around us – perhaps especially in sunny Georgia and especially when Lent and Easter are not as early as they are in 2016. But if we keep Lent aright, then with the renewed spiritual seriousness of Lent and through fulfilment of its duties there will come to us an inner refreshment and vitality.

Physical exercise is almost always healthy, but it usually is particularly so when we push ourselves a little past the point of comfort and ease. When the muscles begin to burn a little, when the heart rate rises, when the perspiration flows, then we have gone beyond the point of maintaining our condition to that of improvement and strengthening.

Lent similarly is the time when we go beyond our normal rule of life and our spiritual routine to push ourselves into new territory where real growth can occur. Priests, for instance, are always obliged to say the daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer, and that Office is an habitual source of spiritual order, orientation towards God, and Scriptural nourishment. I certainly hope that all priests are also engaged in daily intercessions, self‑examination, and thanksgiving. But Lent is the time to reach beyond this minimal duty, perhaps by lengthening a daily mediation, adding a new devotion, or disciplining ourselves to say the Office at more fixed and regular hours. And what is true for priests is just as true for the laity. Lent is the time to become more regular and careful in our Christian living. Likewise Lenten prayer might well include spiritual reading – finding a book about prayer or the lives of the saints or doctrine which is instructive and edifying. For many churchmen Lenten prayer includes adding a weekday Mass, a weekly devotion such as Stations of the Cross, or a Lenten confession combined with more intensive self-examination.

Prayer, almsgiving, and fasting are the Three Notable Duties of Lent. We all should form a rule for Lent that includes all three duties, and that rule will fit the specific and unique circumstances of the individual. In general it is better to have a simple rule that we will meet or exceed than a complex and difficult rule that we will fail to keep. Speak to your priest or spiritual director if you would like some guidance in the matter. In any case, all rules should include the Three Notable Duties, which are designed to help our totality of relationships:

Prayer is directed towards improving our relationship with God. Lenten prayer should help to deepen that relationship through more or better time spent with God.
Fasting is directed towards our relationship with ourselves. Lenten fasting should help to deepen our self‑control and the subjection of our bodies, minds, and souls to the will of God and of our bodies to our minds and souls.

Almsgiving is to help right our relationship with others. By showing concrete care through gifts of time, talent, and treasure, we help to set right that which sin disrupts.

The Church provides most guidance in the matter of fasting, which includes what more strictly are ‘fasting’ and ‘abstinence’.

‘Abstinence’ means lessening the quality of what we consume, particularly by abstaining in Lent from meat on Wednesdays (the day of Christ’s betrayal) and Fridays (the day of Christ’s death). ‘Meat’ means flesh meat, including fowl but not including seafood (fish, shellfish).

‘Fasting’ means lessening the amount of what we consume. Traditionally this meant eating only one meal in Lent, but in modern times it meant eating one full meal (including meat, except on Wednesdays and Fridays) and one ‘collation’ – a light meal. Often now, except on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, the Lenten fast is mitigated further to ‘giving up’ something. The something, obviously, should be something important to the individual. It might be food (for example, all meat, all alcohol, or all sweets) or something involving entertainment (television, the internet, eating meals ‘out’, or music). It is particularly desirable that the fast should lessen our spending, thereby freeing up money to switch towards Lenten almsgiving.

The Lenten fast, whatever the individual’s rule, is observed Monday through Saturday, but not on Sundays, which as weekly renewals of Easter are never days of fasting, abstinence, or penitence.

Fasting should take into account the individual’s health and state of life. The very elderly, little children, the sick, those engaged in very heavy manual labor, and those with no control over their diet (such as prisoners or soldiers) are exempted from most kinds of fasting.

Lent is not always a matter of ‘more’ – more time in prayer, more money given to charity, more things ‘given up’. Sometimes we do not so much need to take on more as to deepen or improve what we already do. The layman who spends ten minutes in nighttime prayers might not need to turn that into 15 minutes. Perhaps what he needs is to change the nature or circumstances of the current ten. As C.S. Lewis once observed, the last, tired, ragged moments of consciousness are not usually the best offering we can make to God. Perhaps during Lent we could continue with ten minutes but should spend that ten minutes a bit earlier in the evening when we are more alert. Or instead of praying in bed we should sit in a chair or kneel.

Likewise perhaps our almsgiving could be improved from sending off a check on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Perhaps we might consider a careful examination of the way we spend our money all of the time. For some of us that would be a penitential discipline by itself. If we are more deliberate and careful we might find that we can free up more money all of the time for giving to the Church and the needy. Or again, we might find that we simply have no more money to give no matter how careful we are, but that we do have time to volunteer to help an elderly neighbor or a local charitable organization. Since the point of almsgiving is to help heal our relations with others, an excellent Lenten act is to repair a broken relationship: to seek forgiveness for a past injury we have inflicted or to extend forgiveness to others for a past injury done to ourselves. Healing damaged relationships may not be what we usually think of as almsgiving, but both are directed towards much the same goal.

Obviously the Notable Duties are pointless if we do not during Lent also strive to fast from sin. Lent should not be a matter of mechanical duties ticked off a list, but a renewal of devotion and of love, embracing God and neighbor and self. Since sin interferes with all devotion and all real love (including real and ordinate love of self), Lent is not least a time of warfare waged against selfishness and sin. But if we keep a devout and godly Lent, embracing sincere prayer, almsgiving, and fasting, then it will help us renew our lives so that we may say annually with the great Anglican priest-poet, George Herbert: ‘Welcome, dear feast of Lent!’

— +MDH


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