Finis Terrae

Rather than providing a simple “family slide show”, my purpose here is to emphase a more human and spiritual dimension of my little outing in a small sailing boat. Perhaps I still suffer from Swallows and Amazons Syndrome and my childhood dreams of sailing boats and adventures. I also live out my moments of the 1960’s reaction from post-war conservative authoritarianism as many of my fellow greying “boomers” at the Route du Sable. There was even a boatload of kids in their forties and younger with the pirate theme and truly letting off steam. They gave me a tow up the river as the current turned unfavourably to join an unfavourable east wind. We couldn’t be late for the lock at Guilly-Glaz!

My week began in the Rance to the south of St Malo, launching at the electricity-generating dam to the north and all the way down to the lock north of Dinan in the south. I spent a total of two half-days, and decided that my real week would be spent in the Rade de Brest in the Finistère, the French corruption of the Latin term Finis Terrae, Land’s End like in Cornwall. There is an odd feeling to looking out to sea and knowing that the next land mass is America! Suddenly, our humanity is humbled before this immensity of the sea, both inviting and forbidding at the same time. My little dinghy is not up to the might of the Atlantic Ocean, and even sheltered waters like the Rade de Brest can be challenging.

Above all, I have to obey the eternal cycles of the tides and the fickle Brittany weather, where people say that the Brittany weather is fair every day, several times a day! I imagine the Irish have something similar to say in their Emerald Island. The tides leave a boat dried out for hours and give a night’s sleep undisturbed by any movement. They also provide favourable currents if we organise a trip well and have the right “app” on the mobile phone. My phone also provided constant weather information and a detailed GPS chart plotter to avoid nasty things like rocks. Long hours at the helm empty the mind of anxious thoughts and irrelevance. On returning to the place where I left my van and trailer (Trégarvan on the Aulne river), I fired up my computer (left in the van) and hotspot-connected it to my mobile phone to get the internet. The various blogs and sites of religious polemics left me totally cold and indifferent. I only read the postings concerned after my return home and similarly brushed them off.

Another lesson to be learned is minimalism, making do with very little. My mobile phone battery needed to be charged, and my two little charging batteries could only do so much. One gave off a very unpleasant smell and smoke when I tried charging it with my solar panel. I reacted quickly, and it still seems to work, though its battery is depleted. With good organisation, I kept an operational mobile phone for nearly a week. Another thing is food. I wanted some fresh things and cooked breakfasts – bacon and eggs.

The gas canisters I was using don’t last for long, and I went several days without a spare, eventually finding two of them in a shop. Pasta is a good fall-back and quite decent pre-cooked rice is worth getting for the galley. Here, the boat was moored to a very slippery launching ramp where I spent the whole day of Tuesday in Daoulas when there was no wind. I also had to economise the petrol for my outboard engine, and the dammed “sewing machine on the back” makes so much noise that any contemplative life is made impossible. Eventually, the water cooling impeller gave out and I had to stop using the engine except for short bursts whilst it was still cold. Everything has to be economised and thought out carefully. It is a good lesson.

For the night’s sleep, I have my two cockpit seats that move together in the centre of the boat, and then I use a light self-inflating mattress and a sleeping bag. With some careful use of a towel over the centreboard well, I had a full-length bed, which was a little hard on the hips towards the end of the night. After the first night, I generally slept from about 11pm to 6.30 in the morning. A tent made from garden tarpaulin material goes over the boom. In the boating fraternity, guys who sleep like this are called hard bastards!

It is important to be able to forego comfort, at least for me. I perhaps reflects the life of monks and hermits in the early Church, except that this was a week’s retreat for me and not my usual way of life. It is after all difficult to get showers and keep clean and groomed! Reading was possible as was saying Offices from the Breviary like during my day up the creek at Daoulas. I also had some shopping to do and some visiting.

Abbaye Notre-Dame de Daoulas

I then sailed to Brest last Thursday in disappointing winds. I had to fire up the engine several times. I stayed the night at the Marina du Chateau in a part of the old naval establishment sold to private enterprise. The marina was not unpleasant and I felt some need for urban life.

My mooring fee included use of the shower block, which was beautifully clean and modern, like in a good camp site. The cafés and restaurants along the front of the marina were full of fashionable young people, and it was all very noisy. I had supper in the boat and slept for the night. Before going to Brest, I neglected to check the weather for the next day – a big mistake. The wind was freshening to about 12 knots in the morning, and would go up to 15 and gust in the twenties. The Route du Sable was in question if I stayed marooned in Brest. Stiff upper lip and some careful sailing got me there. I left port by about 8 in the morning whilst the wind was still reasonable for the exposed crossing from Brest to the Ile Ronde.

I sailed on a broad reach and surfed on the waves. No capsize! I was on my own for this one. On sailing along the north coast of the Rade, I found the wind almost in my face, so had to close-haul. The wind freshened as promised and the gusts were quite unpleasant as was the chop. I had to shorten sail and take in a reef. I left the jib up to keep some control over the boat’s trim. I just had to keep going. By evening, I sailed the entire length of the Rade non-stop, mind emptied of junk, determined and concentrated on keeping the boat from capsizing. I was successful.

My rest on that calm beach on the weather shore was most welcome. I was where I needed to be on Friday night, in the river Aulne at Trevargan. My van battery was flat because a light had been left on inside the vehicle. Fortunately, a kind retired man gave me the juice via my jump leads I needed to start the engine and go and get some shopping in Châteaulin. That also recharged the van battery. If I “recharged my batteries”, it was as literal as figurative!

On Saturday morning, the other boats arrived for the Route du Sable. Usually the west wind would push the boats up the river and respect the closing time of the Guilly-Glaz lock determined by the tide. It was an east wind. We could tack on a wide part of the river, with the current in our favour. Actually the current will push the boat into the wind and give more virtual wind speed – an old regatta trick. I left my engine in the van and managed with sail and oar alone like most of the other boats. Rowing into the wind is quite unpleasant!

 The best we could hope for was that the wind would drop to allow us to row at a decent speed! My boat is on the right in this photo. The current turned, and it was time to be towed by a boat with an engine – the “pirates” and their roll-your-own cigarettes. After we were safely through the first lock, it was easier to make progress by rowing. I had my red jib up to catch the occasional breaths of winds from behind, saving two or three oar strokes. Here we set off from Port Launay to Châteaulin.

In the afternoon, we went back to Port Launay after a little reception at the camp site (where I was able to get another one of those heavenly showers and hair washes). Back to the grind with oars against the little puffs of unfavourable wind. The wind was in the wrong direction, but we enjoyed perfect sunny weather.

Then came the time to get the trailer and recover the boat from the water, get everything packed up for the long journey home to Normandy. As always, it was a tough week, and I am grateful still to be able to do it and keep something of the spirit one learns with the Boy Scouts and our Combined Cadet Force we had at school. Self-reliance is something that is vital for the Romantic and transcendentalist mind, as it was for the monks and aesthetes, as it was for Fr Charles de Foucauld in the Algerian desert. He had been a soldier and a true “hard bastard”. I come nowhere near that discipline of body and soul, but something like a twelve-foot boat and knowing what I want is a good second-best.

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Twentieth Anniversary of my Priestly Ordination

Time goes by so quickly. St John the Baptist’s Day is approaching, and I will be afloat somewhere on the River Aulne. Some recent discussions brought my ordination to mind, which is found on my blog at:

I made no secret of the fact that I was ordained a priest on the 24th June 1998 by Bishop Raymond Terrasson, an independent bishop consecrated in the Ngô-Dinh-Thuc succession. He was consecrated in 1976 by the self-exalted guru Clemente Dominguez y Gomez of the flamboyant Spanish cult at Palmar de Troya. The sect in question might be despicable and heretical, but there remains the fact that they received the episcopate from a Roman Catholic archbishop who apparently was not joking or in some state of mental malaise when he did it. Donatism is still a current heresy among some faithful of the Roman Catholic Church. Bishop Terrasson no longer belonged to the cult when he ordained me, having left when the guru proclaimed himself “pope”.

One solution is to deny the indelible character of the sacrament of order (defined by the Council of Trent) and you do away with uncanonical clergy at a stroke, but you saw off the branch of your own clericalism! Alternatively, there is the “Cyprianic” view that ties validity to the – wait for it – “true church”. The problem is which “true church”. The Augustinian view allows some “economia”, but has to make a distinction between “valid” and “licit”. It is a jungle of speculation, which only adds to the ridicule of spiritually bankrupt institutional churches. Can one blame the Protestants of the sixteenth century?

For the sake of prudence, I received conditional re-ordination to the priesthood from Bishop Damien Mead in 2013. The faithful of our Church have the right to be morally certain of the sacramental validity of all our priests.

The place where my ordination took place is symbolic, a chapel built near the village of Coussac-Bonneval near Limoges in 1946 in thanksgiving for the village having spared Nazi atrocities in 1944 like the massacre of nearby Oradour-sur-Glâne. It is a simple stone and concrete building, dedicated to Our Lady of Biaugias. It stands as a memorial to the men and women who resisted the Nazis in France, and who often gave their lives very painfully in the hands of the Gestapo.

Two Roman Catholic parish priests were present and participated in the ordination: Fr Jacques Pecha (1920-2002) of the parish of Bouloire (Diocese of Le Mans) and Fr Noël Tibur (1918-2010) of the parish of Clermont (Diocese of Dax). Another priest was present, previously ordained by Bishop Terrasson. Fr Pecha, a priest who had a tremendous influence in my life, had the role of Archdeacon and Assistant Priest.

The ordination was uncanonical in the eyes of anyone’s Church, I readily admit it. However, there was nothing grubby or shameful about it, the doors of the chapel being left open throughout the ceremony. Experience brought me in time to a much more sober view of independent bishops and the shenanigans of some. Sometimes, it is hard to find the fine line between a legitimate Church – as I believe the continuing Anglicans to be – and flagrant irregularity. In the end, we need to see what it is all about, as I have alluded to in my previous article on the vocation.

* * *

Some make allusion to an episcopate I received in 2000. Since I have not exercised it in any way since 2004 (I ordained a priest who since then became Orthodox – and would have been re-ordained), it is of no relevance in my life as a simple priest.

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After withdrawing from a particularly negative view of things as expressed in a certain blog, I turned more attentively to my nautical plans – only clothes and bathroom things into a dry bag, and everything will be just about ready to drive westwards to Brittany. I found this article – The High Calling in That Which Remaineth, a blog run by Dr Timothy Graham who is presently finishing an article for The Blue Flower.

The thought in Dr Graham’s article seems to reflect Berdyaev in some ways, especially the notion of the prophetic vocation compared with the priestly office of the Church. The two vocations sometimes go together, but not always. Some bloggers are preoccupied with material concerns like the “dynamic parish” and how viable a parish is made by the (financial) “success” of the priest. They fail to understand any notion of the high or spiritual calling.

He does make a good point that the prophetic vocation should be carefully distinguished from the priestly calling, which essentially comes from the hierarchical Church, the diocesan Bishop and the community. A notion enters the picture, that of inamissble character of the Sacrament of Order, a subject on which Dr Cyrill Vogel of Strasbourg University wrote in Ordinations Inconsistantes et Caractere Inadmissible, Turin 1978. It is particularly relevant when considering clergy in unusual canonical situations, see my old article Reflections about ‘vagante’ clergy and independent churches and its comments. I have been criticised for taking too much of an interest in “vagantes”, who in the eyes of some are the Untermensch meriting only the gas chamber after a long train journey to Poland! I take a more nuanced view. The indelible character as defined at the Council of Trent has engendered clericalism and the possibility of a person “getting valid orders” after having been refused for the ministry by a mainstream Church. Dr Graham would see a better integration between the ordained priesthood and the priesthood of all baptised believers.

We do seem to need to combat clericalism. The priesthood is a role within the Church, which might be Roman Catholic, Old Catholic, Anglican or Orthodox. It is a professional role like anything else that needs learning and training. As someone observed about me personally, in 2005, I gave up an episcopate that was a mistake and was going nowhere – in order to serve as a simple priest under legitimate episcopal authority. I left the TAC because there was very little of it left by 2012, and even then I waited before making the decision to apply to the ACC in early 2013. In my own mind, had I not been accepted into the TAC in 2005, I was ready to relinquish all orders and find some place as a lay Christian. I felt this duty to the core of my being.

I think that the point of Dr Graham’s criticism of the system of selecting and training candidates for the priesthood is not one of banalising the notion of vocation, but making careful distinctions. It is not reducing the priesthood to a bureaucratic function, but taking away some of the prophetic and clerical aura. It is usually a way for extroverted and socially skilled men. If I were a vocations director in this perspective, I would probably reject myself as not fitting the bill! There is the dimension of kingship and fatherhood, the man who goes out and gets, and who has a clear leadership role in the “dynamic parish”. Surely this is no place for the “artsy-fartsy” or someone with anything like autism, but real men who would otherwise have been army officers or high-grade civil servants, businessmen or bankers. What a poor Church such a vision would leave, dominance, no compassion, only competition for the prize – the very antithesis of the women’s ordination movement which is all about those women projecting the masculine archetype onto themselves!

Ideally, ordinands would be approved and trained by the parish from which he came, not chosen by bureaucrats and pushed through the seminary system. There are universities for theological education, but the real training – apart from the mechanics of the liturgy – is the pastoral and fatherly leadership of the future parish priest. Certainly, I am sawing the branch on which I am sitting. So be it. On the other hand, in my case, whilst I am under the jurisdiction of a Bishop, no good would come out of my relinquishing the priesthood and a more contemplative role. That is my constant examination of conscience…

The Church needs priests, but above all needs to rediscover its coherence as a family, a human community to which individuals bring their genius and gifts. There needs to be a greater manifestation of the prophetic vocation among the laity and a real appreciation of the priest, who is a sensitive human being, not some kind of super-tough soldier like Rambo! Many traditionalist communities began with seminaries and building up the clerical office, and seemed to be successful, but they have failed to revive Christian culture and the prophetic role. We Continuing Anglicans began with parishes and did what we could with scarce financial means to provide clergy – and sometimes the men involved were downright unsuitable due to personality issues. We are returning to some kind of “Benedict Option” as we bewail the passing of the Christian community that gives everything its meaning.

We have to keep thinking, devising new expressions of the Church and the priesthood. The French had the Prêtres Ouvriers in the 1940’s and 50’s. Anglicans have non-stipendiary clergy, and I myself have to earn a living from running a small translating business. The notion of the contemplative life, based as it logically is from the monastic tradition, needs to be expanded to include people living in ordinary homes in the ordinary world. This contemplative life involves the Opus Dei, the Office, but also study and manual work. In most places, especially in Europe, the parish has had its day – and we don’t know what to do with the cultural treasures that are the church buildings.

I am not very optimistic about the future: volcanos, plastic pollution, extreme weather, hostilities in the world, political unrest, displacements of entire populations, everything else we read about in the news. When the Church isn’t comfortably a part of the landscape, the eschatological vision comes into play as at other times in history. We also face our own deaths, which will come sooner than we expected. Our martyrdom may come through being killed by hateful people, or though our contemplative witness – and for that we don’t have to be priests, or relinquish a priesthood that has been received.

These are a few things that are learned through outside criticism, but also through the insight of friends and fellow philosophers.

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We looked towards the Admiral, where high the Peter flew,
And all our hearts were dancing like the sea.

These are just a couple of lines taken from Henry John Newbolt’s poem The Old Superb set to music by C.V. Stanford. My dinghy Sarum will be the flagship and alone in her fleet. The Peter is the flag which gives the signal for the fleet to put to sea – and woe betide Napoleon’s navy!

My little embarkment hardly needs any such formality, but the anticipation is there all the same as I prepare the boat, check off my list and make sure everything is in good order. Each year, I go off on my own with my boat, and get a good little adventure. Next Saturday I will be going to the Rance for a few days, as back in 2013 – Sketches of the Sea. After this, depending on the weather, I intend to haul Sarum out of the water and tow her to the Rade de Brest. I will launch her in the Aulne at Trégarvan and sail out to the Rade de Brest on the ebb tide. There are places I didn’t have time to explore last time, and this time I will have my old British Seagull engine to help when the wind dies or when I have too little lee room to sail.

For Saturday (23rd June) morning I will need to sail with the flood tide back into the Aulne and moor at Rosnoën in readiness for the Route du Sable. I go to this gathering every two years in alternance with the Semaine du Golfe which is only held every two years (next time in 2019).

This will be my retreat, and I will spend much of the week in solitude, without my computer but with my smartphone which gives me my GPS position, a means of communication for any reason (I also have VHF), the weather and the tides via internet. I can also get my e-mail. To recharge batteries, I have a small foldable bank of solar cells and two external batteries. I also have some Kindle books. If it is to be a spiritual retreat and not just a pleasant sail, I need to work out a little programme of things to read and pray about. I sleep aboard like in a tent at a campsite, except that the tent goes over the boom and is hooked to four points along each side of the hull. Two boards either side of the cockpit move together to form a bed, and I have my self-inflating mattress in my bow compartment together with a sleeping bag and inflatable pillow. I can be afloat and at anchor, tied up to a floating dock, pulled up on the beach or dried out as the tide goes out. The sensation is strange – the boat stops rocking and the smell isn’t always very pleasant as the hull lies in the mud.

I have added a small frying pan to my galley so that I can eat other things than tinned food. I will appreciate some meat from a local butcher and fried eggs at other times to eat with bread or pasta. Minimalism is a great teacher of life and the effort of getting priorities right. The weekend gathering will be more convivial with Brittany sea shanties sung as we go through two locks on the way to Châteaulin. A meal is organised for those of us who have sent payment in advance and that will be on Saturday evening. The last time, we had torrential rain! We were sheltered under a marquee, but our feet were in the water. We sailors are used to water, and it is said in Brittany that the weather is fair every day, several times a day! It is like Ireland, and a culture of which I am very fond.

I will take photos and maybe a video or two.

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As the dust settles…

It usually takes contradiction to come to a wise point of view. Thesis and antithesis bring about synthesis as we often oversimply from Hegel’s dialectics. I see caricatures all over the place, and the kind of thing that alienates most people from organised religion. We have our crass materialistic and legalist layman from California, but my days of caring about his opinions are over. Another caricature is the question of modern Gnosticism. An article by Fr Hunwicke – It is important to keep up the pressure – refers to the article (I found the link via Google) Gnosticism Today by Thomas G. Weinandy, OFM, Cap. Everyone seems to be calling others Gnostics like they might have used the expression bloody bastard in the past. Gnosticism is a highly complex world view with many double-edged swords, and few have the slightest understanding of it. There are plenty of stereotypes, to be sure, as there are for everything else – just like with autistics and every other individual who doesn’t fit in with the in-thing of the moment.

In my humble opinion neither the “Bergoglians” nor the traditionalists are anywhere near Gnosticism. If Gnosticism exists, it isn’t any kind of an “-ism” and it is a matter of individual persons, not groups. I am one of those who sincerely believe that the fulness of human intelligence and nobility is found in individuals, and that IQ drops proportionately with the size of a group. That may sound cynical to many, but it seems like fact to me.

There were Gnostic sects in the times of the early Church. Some remained within the doctrinal boundaries of traditional Christianity, and others took other paths akin to the ancient non-Christian mystery schools. Those tendencies that remained too near the Church for comfort were mercilessly persecuted. The collective leopard never changes its spots!

Most institutional Christianity has not learned its lesson, so most people follow another totalitarian religion, that of consumer materialism. A few seek a more individual and spiritual view, away from the noise and fashions of society. Most institutional churches treat people like babies, but many people find this appropriate for them because they are babies (even when they have adults’ bodies). We all need to grow up and became aware and conscious!

It is my hope that individual souls can come together in communion to live what I believe was Christ’s original intention for a church or communion of the noble of spirit. If the Church is not this, I really fail to see the point.

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Infra Dignitatem

Let’s You And Him Fight! – He says that he is flattered that I take him (and his “regular correspondent” of his own invention)  seriously. He knows that he is someone not to be taken seriously.

My own correspondent (who is a real one) says:

I notice that it’s all ad hominem and addresses nothing of the points you make, especially the invalidity of post Vatican II orders. Lazy argumentation and lazy thinking.

As the Irish comedian Dave Allen used to say “May his god go with him“.

* * *

Since writing this, the energumen has written The “Anglican Catholic” Nightmare, with the presumed intention of “outing” my “dirty secrets”. Interestingly, he has got his facts wrong, and I am not the one to enlighten him with the facts as I experienced them. He got some juicy bits about an independent bishop in France, a fraud, whom he presumes to be “good” for the simple reason that I opposed him.

All this kind of thing is very bad for any kind of spiritual life. I leave Mr Bruce to wallow in the excrement he is hurling up onto his blog. I have nothing to hide, since I have always been clear and truthful with my Bishop, who by the way is respected by his Metropolitan and brother bishops in the ACC, and locally by ordinary people where he lives. Bruce has pushed me to be tempted to hate him and wish him evil, but I have found myself praying for him at Mass and at other odd moments of the day.

Let this man go his way, a way of suffering and purgation without which his religion will mean nothing. May God’s will be done!

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Schlechtes Wetter

On this day commemorating the seventy-fourth anniversary of Operation Overlord, commonly known as D-Day, we have just about the same weather, perhaps a little less wind. Europe is presently plagued with unstable and stormy weather due to a kind of “witch’s cauldron” effect of a north-east anticyclone and a colder front from the Atlantic.

My title today is based on the exclamation of one of the more perceptive German officers anticipating an attack on France by the Allies in the worst weather. Many of us gained basic knowledge of D-Day through watching The Longest Day, a monument of modern cinema with an assortment of great stars like John Wayne, Richard Burton and Bourville. The film is thought-provoking. A more realistic view is given in Saving Private Ryan – with its intolerable blood and gore which are the reality of modern warfare.

The Battle of Normandy was the beginning of the successful invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe, launched on 6th June 1944.  The casualties were horribly heavy, not only Allied and enemy servicemen but also the civilians killed by the heavy marine artillery firing at random through the fog and the heavy rain.

Oh, yes, it was a just war, a crusade against the dark heart of Nazi Germany. It had to be fought, even at such heart-breaking losses. I live in the area, where few towns survived the bombing needed to shake the Germans out of their defensive positions. Le Havre was levelled, as was much of Rouen near the Seine and the railway marshalling yards. Rouen Cathedral was almost totally rebuilt in the 1950’s. Every time we see the réconstruction architecture of the 1950’s and 60’s, we can only imagine what was there before. Caen and Ouistreham were almost levelled, as were Falaise and Bayeux. I know the area of Omaha Beach well and have visited most of the museums and sites.

I offer my prayers for the thousands of fallen servicemen of both sides (there is a huge German military cemetery in the Bessin region) and civilians. Let us pray that such destruction, as has happened in Syria, never strikes Europe again! Very few veterans from D-Day are still alive, so it falls on us to preserve their memory, pray for the dead and treasure our freedom for which they died.

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