O Sapientia

It all starts today in the Use of Sarum, because we have an extra O antiphon, O Virgo virginum. Here is an article on The Other Major Antiphons for the End of Advent which contains a link to another fine NLM article on the Magnificat antiphons for Vespers on these days. We Sarum-ites start today, and the Roman rite from tomorrow the 17th.

They are worthy of our meditation as we prepare for the real Christmas and the incarnation of the Λόγος of God. In the beginning was the Word…

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It has taken a very long time (mostly being on the waiting list) to go through the process of being diagnosed for various questions in my life, about my relations with fellow human beings and my vocation as a priest. I have just returned home from my  third appointment with the Centre de Ressources Autisme de Haute-Normandie (CRAHN) attached to the main psychiatric hospital in Rouen. The first appointment was with the psychiatrist in charge of this centre, the second with two specialised psychologists and the third (today) with the whole team. They worked with professionalism and a high degree of finesse. It is much more difficult to deal with adults than with children. From the beginning, this was for me about self knowledge and not seeking excuses not to make reasonable efforts to live ordinary life with persons around me.

Like in the psychiatric profession in America, the category of Aspergers Syndrome has been discontinued in favour of a seamless spectrum, a continuum, of the condition known as autism from the most disabled to high-functioning persons with their intellectual abilities intact but with certain “eccentricities” like social awkwardness or things that look odd to the most observant. My diagnosis is that of high-functioning autism which is about equivalent to the old Aspergers Syndrome. Doubtlessly, psychiatrists and psychologists will continue to debate these matters from a scientific and phenomenological point of view. The reasoning is not difficult to understand: instead of putting people in little boxes, you seek to understand them as human souls – as they are – on a spectrum of various characteristics and traits. There are fewer lines to try to draw!

In the meantime, I have to live my life with my talents and difficulties.

Over the past year or so, I have stayed away from internet sites that tend to show “aspies” as being almost “fashionable” or even some kind of Nietzschean Ubermensch. That sort of thing is quite dangerous as with any other kind of label or pseudo-identity like being gay or transsexual or whatever buzzes around these days. Dr Tony Attwood, the most respected specialist in this matter, suggests tongue-in-cheek that this condition might be the next stage in man’s evolution. I’m not an evolutionist (at least in terms of determinism or something mechanical), and I believe that man can find his nobility of spirit from God and a high vision of life. Thus we have such elevated beings – and the low herd mentality of those who follow fashions and ideologies uncritically. Some autistic persons find it easier to elevate their spirit when they see the fallacies, “groupthink” and “bullshit” others take for granted. It can be a gift, a talent, and if we have talents, we are expected to take them to the bank and bring the interest of our investment back to our Creator and Sanctifier.

I will now return to reading Dr Attwood’s famous book The Complete Guide to Aspergers Syndrome, and see if I can participate in local groups. This condition plays havoc with self-esteem and a sense of identity, and I am sure that I could minister to people from a spiritual and philosophical point of view. My own diagnosis came as no surprise, but it made me feel quite shaken for the time it took to shake everyone’s hands and say goodbye and thank you – to the bus stop outside the establishment. I returned home by train and continued reading Dr Robert Lanza’s book on biocentrism, a theory that turns Aristotelian metaphysics upside-down and gives a new look to Idealism, or the idea that consciousness precedes matter. It’s hard going and a challenge, but it will bring a whole new paradigm of the notion of God and life beyond our death as we can observe it. I will certainly have to read this book several times!

I’m not Superman! I’m not the Village Idiot! I have some scientifically observed traits and a reference of self-knowledge (of a relative value) that will certainly help me on my way to a better sense of vocation and purpose in life as a Christian, a priest and philosopher (not someone with academic pretensions but a lover of wisdom). It gives me explanations about my my past so that I can learn for the future and adapt in a special way, unlike the way other people relate to society, their friends and families. This is a challenge, as it should be to anyone who identifies with a minority but has to get on in the world at large.

I’m not interested in Aspie Pride or anything like that – the herd mentality and ideology. We hear about transsexualism, but it is a matter that concerns very few individuals. The hot button issues fly out of the pages of Facebook and Twitter (and others), but we need to shut out the noise and be ourselves – and decent members of the groups of people we associate with in our daily lives.

I have my limits, and some will find my mannerisms difficult to understand. A part of our existence is to ask God in our prayer to docet nos terrena despicere et amare celestia, to be aware that we are alienated from the things of this world and called to God’s Kingdom. This is central to Christian martyrdom and the Romantic soul. Autism is a symptom of awareness of this exile from another world where we belong. At the same time, we live in this world – in it but not of it – and we have to come to terms with that.

I appreciate the prayers of my readers, and I hope this blog will continue to be a part of my ministry as a priest and a human being, because others out there labour with questions for which they have not yet found answers.

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Fourth Sunday of Advent

We find ourselves in something of a quandary this year about the concurrence of the fourth Sunday in Advent and Christmas Eve. My Sarum ordo by Dr William Renwick quotes the following from the Pie:

4th of Advent All of the Sunday until the 3rd. Nocturn exclusive. then all of the service of the Vigil. At Lauds mem. of Sunday with mass of Sunday in Chapter with the little hours as in the vigil without the Ps. Deus Deus meus respice etc.

That is for the Office. For the Mass in Chapter, it is of the Sunday. The last time this concurrence (Sunday 24th December in the Gregorian Calendar) happened was in 2000. We have this article in The Rad TradVigilia Nativitatis: Nulla Fit Commemoratio?

For the Use of Sarum, Dr Renwick has this to say about the fourth Sunday in Advent:

In the earliest sources this Sunday was designated Dominica vacat and had no propers assigned to it. This would account for the variety of proper chants to be found amongst the Gregorian sources. Thus Sarum, in common with York, Rouen and the Dominicans has the Officium Memento while the Roman Missal repeats the Introit Rorate Celi from the previous Wednesday. However, the Ps. Peccavimus in the Sarum Use differs from that in the York, Rouen and Dominican Uses, which is Ps. Confitemini.

Where the Roman Use has the Offertory Ave Maria, the Sarum and Dominican Uses have Confortamini. This is a reversal of the previous Wednesday where the Roman Use has Confortamini and the Dominican and Sarum Uses have Ave Maria.

Officium. Memento nostri. Ps. 105:4-6. ad letandum is omitted.
In the Roman Use the Introit is Rorate celi, repeated from Wednesday in the Ember Days of Advent. Memento nostri appears ‘in the Transalpine regions’, László Dobszay, ‘The Proprium Missae of the Roman Rite’ Uwe Michael lang, Ed., The Genius of the Roman Rite (Chicago: Hillenbrand Books, 2010): 86.

Prayer. Excita quesumus Domine potentiam tuam
The York Use omits quesumus.

Epistle. Phil 4:4-7
In the Roman Missal the Epistle is 1 Cor. 4:1-5. In the Roman Missal the Epistle Phil. 4:4-7 appears on Advent 3.

Gradual. Prope est. This Gradual is repeated from Wednesday in the Ember Days of Advent.

Alleluya. V. Veni Domine et noli tardare.
The text is also found in Responsory 7 of the Third Sunday in Advent.

Sequence. Jubilemus omnes una. 11th c.
Anon. Translation © 2015 by Matthew Carver. Used with permission.
Roger Sorrell, St. Francis of Assisi and Nature : Tradition and Innovation in Western Christian Attitudes toward the Environment (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988):105 discusses the possible influence of this sequence on Francis of Assisi’s Il cantico di Frate Sole. This was also noted by Samuel W. Duffield in Latin Hymn-Writers and their Hymns (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1899):393.
The opening notes of the melody clearly reflect the opening pitches of the Alleluya.

Gospel. John 1:19-28
In the Roman Missal the Gospel, Luke 3:1-6, is repeated from the previous day.

Offertory. Confortamini. After Is. 35:4,5.
The Dominican and Hereford Uses also have the Offertory Confortamini here. The Roman and York Uses have Ave Maria. This is the opposite of the case on Wednesday in the Ember Days of Advent.

Secret. Sacrificiis presentibus quesumus Domine

Communion. Ecce virgo concipiet. Is. 7:14.
This Communion is repeated from Wednesday in the Ember Days of Advent.

Postcommunion. Populum tuum quesumus Domine donoroum tuorum
The Roman, York and Hereford Uses have the Postcommunion Sumptis muneribus quesumus Domine.
The Sarum Postcommunion also appears in the Westminster Missal.

What is interesting is the complete divergence between the Roman resumption of the Rorate Mass from Ember Wednesday on this Sunday and the alternatives from the French traditions. In the pre-1962 Roman rite, the solution would be to celebrate the Vigil of Christmas and commemorate the fourth Sunday of Advent. The Rad Trad article has a comment by Paul (I assume Paul Cavendish) affirming that this memory of the fourth Sunday of Advent was not an innovation of Pius X.

In the Sarum missal, the rubric is as follows in the Christmas Eve Mass:

If this Vigil occur on a Sunday, the mass of the Sunday is said in chapter ; and then there shall be a memory of saint Mary, and of All Saints only. But the mass of the Vigil is to he said at the high altar without any memory, with this Alleluya.

V. To-morrow the iniquity of the earth shall be blotted out, and the Saviour of the world shall reign over us.

It would seem logical not to commemorate the Sunday, given that the Sunday proper is recent in the diverging traditions. The Sarum solution is to celebrate two distinct masses on distinct altars, one in capitulo and the Vigil Mass at the high altar. It often happens that there is no memory when the displaced Mass is said on another altar by another priest. In a church where there is only one priest and one Mass on that day (without considering the Mass at the crowing of the cockerel which is in reality on Christmas Day), it might seem reasonable to commemorate the Sunday collect, secret and postcommunion prayers. That is what I am going to do.

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“New Goliards – Mission” Page

I have just updated the page that originally defined the intentions and purpose of this blog – New Goliards – Mission. Five years later, I find that it was linked with my situation as an “orphaned” priest facing the choice of finding another Church or turning my back on churches to find other human and cultural references. I joined the ACC and am still in it…

This old page attracted some attention because it received some new comments. I left the old page in place, otherwise the comments would have no meaning, and I am scrupulous about “revising”. Since then, I have had to come to terms with my own lack of leadership skills and that others just don’t see things the way I see them. It has ceased to matter for me.

I am grateful for the Christian fellowship with my Church, and I give what little I can contribute in the way of ideas and as a priest. I am living in the wrong place, but that is the story of my life! My role is what I can contribute as an individual and not the idea of grouping or leading, an idea that has proven to be illusory.

Discussion of some of the old ideas seems somewhat moot, but I appreciate feedback from what I wrote five years ago.

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The Post-Modern Prometheus

My mind has been bothered somewhat over the last few days by some of these “hot-button” issues, and as always, I seek the roots of the malaise. One of the most powerful and accessible articles I have seen recently is Surpassing Man, a dialogue between Dr Sam Vaknin and one of his friends. Dr Vaknin seems quite a high-powered character, but at the same time interested in exposing the narcissistic personality. His approach is partly scientific but mostly philosophical. This page on Nietzsche’s Ubermensch is profound and thought-provoking, misrepresented in the twentieth century and now at a crossroads between the life of the spirit or the ultimate nightmare. Nietzsche lost his Christian faith, but had a spiritual vision that is capable of the most sublime interpretation.

Even my reflections on euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide have their place in this vast Babel’s Tower of human pride. It is a comprehensive and terrifying vision of man’s future, captured two hundred years ago by Mary Shelley and today in science fiction cinema, the campaign for material immortality and a world order that would make Hitler look like a choirboy. The dystopian (utopian?) vision is that of the man-machine, the cyborg, the present-day version of Frankenstein’s monster.

Before long, humans will design and define nature itself. Whereas until now we adapted very limited aspects of nature to our needs – accepting as inevitable the bigger, over-riding parameters as constraints – the convergence of all breeds of humanity will endow Mankind with the power to destroy and construct nature itself. Man will most certainly be able to blow stars to smithereens, to deflect suns from their orbits, to harness planets and carry them along, to deform the very fabric of space and time. Man will invent new species, create new life, suspend death, design intelligence. In other words, God – killed by Man – will be re-incarnated in Man. Nothing less than being God will secure Mankind’s future.

It is, therefore, both futile and meaningless to ask how will Nature’s future course affect the surpassing of Man. The surpassing of Man is, by its very definition, the surpassing of Nature itself, its manipulation and control, its re-definition and modification, its abolition and resurrection, its design and re-combination. The surpassing of Man’s nature is the birth of man-made nature.

The big question is how will culture – this most flexible of mechanisms of adaptation – react to these tectonic shifts?

This is the stuff of Star Wars, but perhaps – theoretically – possible in a century or two if the “evolution” continues.

The  transforming of earth by technological means. It is the old dream of the titans: to overthrow the gods. But they always lose and are punished, will they win this time? Will this be the century of the titans? It seems so…

History has, at least until now, given the same answer as nature itself, that man’s pride is met with defeat and downfall. We have to surpass ourselves spiritually. We have, each one of us, to meditate on this Promethean nightmare and make of it that fear of God that brings knowledge and understanding – and wisdom.

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I came across this video this morning on YouTube.

The video is centred on two persons wishing to die, an old lady in good physical and mental health who could not get over her grief on losing her daughter, and a more borderline case – a young man and father of a family stricken with some disease that caused unbearable head pain.

The first thing that struck me was the complete absence of religious or spiritual notions. The old lady seemed to believe in an afterlife, because she wanted to be with her daughter who died from a surgical complication. She was given a glass of a sugary liquid containing a lethal dose of barbiturates by Dr Marc van Hoay who in 2015 faced a murder charge. The video gives us the impression that Belgian law protects doctors prepared to help people to commit suicide rather than give guarantees that there would be no slippery slope towards compulsory suicide and trains to gas chambers for reasons of money or convenience.

Where is the line drawn? Some cases are known to be quite flippant, sometimes involving children and young adults suffering from depression, far from the cases calling on a sense of compassion of terminal cancer or complete and degenerative paralysis. There are cases that make it difficult to refuse the possibility of a painless death, and others where it is not so sure that the medical profession can be certain that this is really what the person wants without any kind of coercion. In the Van Hoay case and the old woman, we are marked by the seeming lack of emotion and the almost banalisation of death. The woman went about her morning routine as always on the day she had the appointment with Dr Van Hoay.

Pope John Paul II in 1995 taught in Evangelium Vitae:

I confirm that euthanasia is a grave violation of the law of God, since it is the deliberate and morally unacceptable killing of a human person. This doctrine is based upon the natural law and upon the written word of God, is transmitted by the Church’s Tradition and taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium…

To concur with the intention of another person to commit suicide and to help in carrying it out through so-called ‘assisted suicide’ means to cooperate in, and at times to be the actual perpetrator of, an injustice which can never be excused, even if it is requested…

Laws which legitimize the direct killing of innocent human beings through abortion or euthanasia are in complete opposition to the inviolable right to life proper to every individual…

Abortion and euthanasia are thus crimes which no human law can claim to legitimize.

This is the traditional teaching of the Church, and the ACC certainly teaches the same thing. One thing that struck me in the video was the question of whether medical care could be improved for people expressing a desire to die. One big problem is that interested parties are making excessive profits from health care. There is a true risk that the heart-wrenching cases will lead us to something little better than what the Nazis were doing to get rid of “useless eaters” and races they considered as inferior. Where is the line, and in a society where spiritual values have all but gone? The death of that old woman left me with the idea that her suicide was not justified. We all lose loved ones and have to come to terms with our grief, and she would have found salvation through conversion to Christ and self-transcendence.

I have known people who have died of cancer and other terrible diseases, and have been edified by the way they faced death in whatever way God would bring it to them. It is reassuring to know that hospice care is more available than many people think. The agonising pain from cancer can be very effectively managed with drugs, and many professionals and volunteers dedicate their time and effort to looking after the terminally ill. It certainly takes humility to accept the loss of autonomy and the need of others. The choice of life and death is not ours to make, except – certainly – the choice to forego being (for example) kept alive by a machine. As medicine and the prolongation of life progress, these issues become harder and harder. We also live in a world where Christianity is hardly a reference any more.

I am very preoccupied with the notion of the human person and the “nobility of the spirit”, which are increasingly scarce in today’s world. What really went through the mind of that woman who drank the fatal potion? Did she ever ask for a priest or other minister? Who of us is not torn by these moral dilemmas and calls for compassion?

What does this facial expression mean to you as the potion is poured out of its bottle?

A little research showed the young Belgian man to be Peter Ketelslegers, still alive and relying on medical help a year after this video was made. We should pray for him and for others suffering from the same condition, that they may find relief and hope in God against all hope. It’s not always clear cut, but we must be pro-life in all circumstances.

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The Great North Road

With a hat tip to Fr John of Ad Orientem, I reproduce this link to a beautiful piece of silent film. It narrates a short journey from London to Stamford (Lincolnshire) in August 1939. Colour photography in those days was expensive.

War was looming as could be seen from the anti-aircraft blimps above London. Hitler was less than a few weeks from invading Poland, which was the immediate cause of England declaring war against Germany. In this film, it all looked so peaceful and bucolic as the stately cars with their running boards made their way along the road at about forty of fifty miles per hour. My mother had my paternal grandmother’s old black Austin in the 1960’s when I was a little boy, and I remember it well, especially the sound of the pneumatically powered windscreen wipers.

I looked at people in the streets of those towns, some of whom (in their late 30’s) were contemporaries of my grandparents. In 1939, my father was eleven years old and still at preparatory school in Yorkshire. My mother was nine, living with her brother, sisters and parents in Surrey. It was twenty years before I was born. Visibly, the 1960’s were not very different, except that there was more plastic and the cars were more streamlined.

As can be seen in the link to the Great North Road, most of it is traced by the modern A1, but the modern road bypasses most of the towns. I motorcycled from London to York on the A1, return trip, in 1979 on an old Suzuki T200 – which was quite an adventure. I have some old footage from my grandfather on an outing with his bowling club, and it was from shortly after World War II and going through provincial towns untouched by the bombing.

As was testified by George Orwell in Down and Out in Paris and London, the 1930’s was a hard time except for the wealthy. The film probably hides as much as it shows. My father’s family was quite well off, but my mother’s family struggled, worked hard and spent money wisely. Times have indeed changed.

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