Friday, 15 June 2012

More poetry please

Last night's edition of Question Time revealed a rather sad fact about our cultural climate. Not a single politician could name and recite a poem that had inspired them. The most pathetic attempt came from a government minsister who single-handedly illustrated the intellectual vacuum at the heart of the current regime.  Only Peter Hitchens rose to the challenge, by reciting a poem by AE Housman. He spoke eloquently of the  delight and privilege of retaining beautiful things in the mind and of remaining in contact with the thoughts and ideas of our ancestors.

We seem to be entering a new sort of Dark Ages. In forgetting the rich treasures that have been handed on to us by generations of poets, writers and philosophers, we are turning our back on a vast source of received wisdom. It is being replaced by inanity and shallowness. Many people in public life - even those at the top of government - have no concept of the eternal truths which can be most effectively encountered in poetry. It is a dangerous situation to be in. If we abandon the tried and tested values of our culture we have to replace them with something else. History shows that  attempts to do this have devastating consequences.

Saturday, 31 March 2012

Prayer Vigil in Bedford Square

On Friday evening I attended the prayer vigil outside the BPAS clinic in Bedford Square, organised by 40 Days for Life. It was a peaceful liturgy consisting mainly of the rosary and the stations of the cross. There were hundreds of Catholics present - many of them young and many of them women. The aim was to quietly and prayerfully witness to the sanctity of human life - the unborn who have no voice - and also to pray for the women who find themselves in difficult situations. Practical help is offered to those who decide to continue with their pregnancy. When such women become aware of the alternatives they often change their mind and babies are given the chance of a life.

I knew that a certain ammount of opposition to the vigils had been whipped up over the last few weeks. However gentle one is - and everyone I have met in the campaign has been utterly sensitive in their approach to this issue - simply voicing an opinion which goes against conventional thinking seems to stir up an enormous ammount of anger. As a result, the group who had gathered there to quietly pray, were subjected to the most appalling verbal abuse from an angry mob of pro-abortion activists. For most of the evening I couldn't hear a word that was being said, apart from being shouted at and told to keep my religion at home. Much of the chanting and shouting was deeply offensive and blasphemous. It got worse when anyone fell to their knees. Never in my life have I been screamed and yelled at for expressing my religious belief in public.

Interestingly enough, the crowd seemed to get exceptionally irate whenever the Passion of Our Lord was mentioned or Our Lady. The sight of Christians falling to their knees or crossing themeselves produced howls of ridicule.

Such behaviour seems completely irrational and for want of a better word rather un-British. We used to pride ourselves on being a tolerant nation, and yet certain views are now not just opposed but stiffled. Despite this I felt proud to be part of a group of people who quietly and faithfully got on with what they were there to do. The contrast between the silent Catholics and the jeering crowd was deeply poignant. It reminded me of what Jesus faced as he began that last journey through Holy Week. In a way it brought me closer to Him. It has certainly encouraged me to try and be more faithful as His follower.

Most of the people who attended the vigil felt genuinely sorry for the group on the opposite side. I'm sure many prayers have been offered for them. Friday evening was a vivid reminder of the spiritual battle we are now facing.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Apologies for absence

Apologies dear readers for a rather long absence. My last post was about the riots and much has happened since then. I seem to have acquired several new followers, despite not having written a word since the summer, so I feel inspired to continue blogging. My studies have rather taken over recently, with final exams rapidly approaching. I would be grateful for any prayers. Combining full time work with study is not an easy balance to get right.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Broken Britain

Few people witnessing the events on British streets tonight can deny that something is very wrong with our country at the moment. The sight of youths who can only be described as feral, roaming the streets and engaging in shocking acts of violence, is disturbing and frightening. Many commentators are simply at a loss to understand what is going on. There is no rational explanation for individuals trashing their own communities and engaging in this kind of vandalism. What seems incredible is the ages of some of these people. Young children appear to occupy the ranks of rioting gangs which would have been hard to comprehend just a few days ago.

Whatever the reasons for this behaviour - and at the moment it seems to be based on nothing more than greed and thrill-seeking - it is clear that a section of our society has no regard for other people, either their property or their personal safety. There has been a breakdown of basic human decency which families and entire communities have failed to address. I suspect the root causes of this have been developing over a number of years. We have created a generation who know all about rights and little about responsibility. Big questions will need to be asked about the kind of society we want to live in.

Once basic moral values are eroded and cast aside there is a vacuum in society which will be filled by violence. This is a wake-up call for all of us. We need to start searching our souls before it is too late.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Celebrate the Solemnity

Living as a Catholic provides a certain rhythm to life which I very much enjoy. The seasons of the Church's calendar present us with a degree of variety and interest which most people never experience. I like the fact that we deny our bodies certain things at certain times of year in order to celebrate the great feasts and festivals more joyfully. When I have taken fasting seriously, the delight and joy that comes afterwards has sometimes been overwhelming.

Although today is a Friday, and usually a day of penance and abstinence, it happens to be the great Solemnity of the Birthday of John the Baptist. A solemnity is a major feast - the highest ranking of feasts in fact - and it means that all penitential practices are called off. Whatever we normally deny ourselves - and soon we will be united in a common Friday fast - it doesn't apply today. (This is only the case for Solemnities. If a lesser feast falls on a Friday we are still required to do penance.)

I once heard a priest tell his congregation that they had a very serious duty to carry out on Solemnitites. He warned them that they had an obligation to celebrate. He told them to go home and treat themselves, adding that this didn't apply to non-Catholics. I thought this was a nice touch given that those outside the faith often view Catholicism in wholly negative terms.

I therefore encourage my small band of readers to celebrate the Solemnity in style. Honour Our Lord in a special way today. Give yourself a treat - a glass of wine, a nice meal, that forbidden piece of chocolate. Its all part of the rich tapestry of Catholic life.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Two English martyrs

Today is the feast of two great English martyrs, St John Fisher and St Thomas Moore. I was reminded of this when I saw a little shrine to them with several candles burning brightly in their honour.

Fisher was the Bishop of Rochester - the poorest diocese in the country. He was deposed from his see and charged with treason for refusing to accept the king as the supreme head of the Church of England. The Pope tried to help him by making him a Cardinal, but this seemed to antagonise the King even more. Rather than having the Cardinal's hat sent to England, Henry said he would send the head of Fisher to Rome.

Thomas Moore was a lawyer and statesman who achieved the dizzy heights of Lord Chancellor. He was also deeply devout. He wore a hair shirt and at one point contemplated joining the Carthusian order. Like Fisher, he refused to accept the Act of Supremacy and payed for it with his life. On the scaffold he declared that he was the King's good servant but God's first.

Fisher and Moore were caught up in the most intense spiritual upheaval this country has ever witnessed. I increasingly wonder if something of their heroism will be needed in our own era. It is becoming more difficult to be a public Catholic these days. Many of the laws that were enacted by the previous governement left no room for religious liberty. Every single Catholic adoption agency was forced to close down rather than infringe the new equality legislation. The Church is condemned in many quarters for remaining true to its belief in marriage and family life.

I wonder how long it will be before we see another Moore or another Fisher? How long before a Catholic in public life is sent to prision because their faith is considered unaccpetable to modern sensibilities? It is ironic that we live in a supposedly liberal society. And yet it is one that is increasingly intolerant of ideas different to its own.

The entire meaning of Christian baptism is expressed in the act of martyrdom. Nothing greater can be done for Christ than to suffer for him. Great men like St John Fisher and St Thomas Moore can give us strength. But it is a strength that may be needed sooner than we think.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Refuge of Sinners

My favourite title of Our Lady is Refuge of Sinners. It reminds me that the Mother of God has a special place in her heart for fragile and broken souls. Each time I recite the rosary I am made aware of the power of her prayers. At the end of my life it will be the Blessed Mother who will be able to help me the most. Jesus never refuses her requests.

Much confusion and misunderstanding has arisen among Christians regarding Our Lady. It is not hard to see why. Our Blessed Mother is the most powerful advocate we have. The powers of hell will therefore do everything possible to keep souls away from her.
In our own culture a certain nervousness has arisen around Marian devotion which verges on the neurotic. I don't think many people would be capable of articulating this. They just have a niggling feeling that focussing on her is somehow wrong.

And yet what is more natural and lovely than the devotion of a child for their mother? Our human experience should teach us something here. Nothing points more to the humanity of Christ than this one fact. He had a mother whom he adored and honoured and from whose very flesh he was born. It is mind boggling when you think about it. God became man and assumed the flesh of Mary. He still shares her flesh - now - at this very moment in heaven.

And because Jesus honours Mary so much, he wants us to honour her too. Isn't that perfectly reasonable and natural? We all want our mothers to be loved and treated with respect. Why would Jesus be any different? We honour Mary and seek her intercession and protection because it is the express will of Our Lord Himself. While he was dying on the cross he gave Mary as a gift to the world. How perverse of us if we cannot see or accept this gift for what it is.

We can never really honour Our Lady enough. Anxious thoughts about excessive devotion deprive us of the very thing that will help us most. Our Lady can do so much for us if only we will turn to her. Her humility will constantly bring us closer to Jesus.

She will also be our greatest help when her Son comes to us as judge. We need to think of that day and cling to her now with love. Cultivate a deep relationship with Mary. Say the rosary every day. End each day by honouring her. She will be our lifeline at the hour of our death.