Sunday, 20 December 2009

Public Law and Private Morality in Uganda

Following my last post about The kiss of the Moon, I notice that in Uganda over the last week or two, debate has been reaching fever pitch on the new Anti-homosexuality law which has received universal support from Ugandan religious leaders and most politicans. The country's president has been pressurised (by the US) into promising to veto the bill, but this move would likely lose him his job, so this seems unlikely.

It seems that the bill is largely in response to encroaching 'alternative lifesyle' propaganda from UNICEF and other international organisations (this has been getting into their schools for years) plus recent revelations about child abuse, similar to the recent Report in Ireland. There is also, in the popular imagination, some link with HIV, although this disease is now very much a heterosexual phenomenon in Africa.

The finer points of the argumentation, and the sanctions, which go as far as the death penalty (for active 'recruiters' among the young) are all reasonably up for argument, it seems to me. One wonders if perhaps they aren't going a bit too far ... But the key point is that there must surely come a time when certain choices of private morality become a public issue, with the potential to damage a whole society. This is the position that Ugandans have arrived at. I think that they are right and ought to be loudly congratulated.

Although the bill is supported by Muslims too, I don't think that this is a question of Shariah law. Shariah law starts from the principle that everything immoral ought to be illegal. That has never been the Christian position. But this legislation is not so much about private choices as about the common good, just like Mrs Thatcher's much-maligned Section 28 of the Local Government Act.

It seems to me that in the coming years Europe and America will have to start listening to Africa, which is something they have never done before.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Gay goldfish for French nine-year-olds

France's children are now going to be treated to the ridiculous spectacle of a batty old right-wing cat, abandoned and trapped in a fairy-tale castle tower, which is all that is left of the old ways. This old pussy-cat, predictably named Agathe (Agatha is a really old-fashioned name in France as in England), is ripe for conversion to the beautiful, modern lifestyles emerging beyond the confines of her castle, (in which the only love imaginable is that dry and dusty old kind that exists between handsome princes and beautiful princesses ... )

Enter Felix, a lively young green boy-fish who feels drawn to the equally lively and somewhat slimmer Leon, another boy-fish, this time coloured a lovely shade of blue. All the old nastiness of Agatha-melts away when she sees the free and happy way these two boyish fishes frolic around in the flooded ruins of the old heterosexual society, presumably wiped out by global warming. Now she herself begins to wonder whether she should leave her old castle behind and look for frienship, or sex, herself ...

Of course, the film is all wonderfully poetic and artistic. It is beautifully done, from what we can see of the trailer (available at http://www.le-baiser-de-la-lune.fr/)

But the subtext is clear enough. The film-makers would say they are against 'homophobia', but the film portrays heterosexuality itself, and not just the attitudes of hardened heterosexuals, as something out-dated and out-of-touch. Homosexual love is portrayed as liberating and almost as a kind of renassaince of love for the loveless old world.

The film-makers are preparing a kit which will enable children of 9 and 10 to watch the film at school, then play role-play games that explore new and different ways of loving (!), then discuss the wider issues and find out the specifics of how boys can have sex amongst themselves, and girls too, instead of with each other, like those old-fashioned princes and princesses.

Of course the project is sponsored by a rogues' gallery of gay organisations plus the French youth and sport ministry ...

The film is called The kiss of the moon, although the word for kiss can also be translated to mean something more physical. This would no doubt come out in the discussions with the kids afterwards.

One thing about the film is spot-on: the idea that our age-old culture is drowning, and not just because of global warming.

I prefer the family tale of Mary and Joseph, and their mysterious new-born babe who also brought a new message of love to a weary world. Now that is a tale worth telling our children ...

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Saint Austin Press US Store

I've been setting up a Catholic storefront on Amazon, including some new titles from Saint Austin Press plus a selection of other great books and films for Catholics.

The weak dollar and amazon.com's reasonable delivery costs means that this is usually cheaper than shopping for these in bookstores in the UK and Europe.

Please visit the new Saint Austin Press US online store, whether you are ordering from USA or from Europe. One thing to watch out for, however, is that US-format dvds might not work on old dvd players. (Most machines now accept all formats.)

The proceeds from this store will help Chavagnes.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Mindblown by Macbeth

Wonderful evening (even if a bit chilly) watching our pupil's production of Macbeth for its first night yesterday.


Mr Haydon was terrific as Macbeth, and Maggie Boyles sparkled as Lady Macbeth. There was a real tenderness between them, which is the only way one can understand how Macbeth follows her counsels so readily and then, even when he sees that all is lost, does not blame her for a minute. Mr Haydon's 'stiff upper lip' suited Macbeth very well, I thought.


Duncan (Dominic O'Leary) was majestic. Macduff (Patrick Adams) was extremely powerful and mysterious. His rage seemed genuine. The lead assassin (Edmond de Poulpiquet) was impressive and looked the part (he and fellow killer Baudouin de Rambures had recently had their heads shaved for that extra menacing look !)


The 'toil and trouble' cauldron scene always struck me as being pseudo-comical, although many directors try to make it very serious. Our witches went for the light relief element, whilst somehow also keeping up the sense of supernatural tension. They had real soap bubbles coming out of the cauldron ,and a rather comic frog (a cuddly toy) was also added to the stew ... all three witches were excellent and delivered their lines beautifully and with a real sense of drama and rhythm.


Nathan Hopkin was great as the porter. But he had been told to leave out the vulgar gestures that most directors allow these days. The result was that the humour of this bawdy secene was lost on our 50% Francophone audience. Still, Nathan was impressive and well cast.


A theatrical secret: tomato puree is better than ketchup for the bloody scenes ...


I'll comment some more when I've seen the second night.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Popularity contest for world leaders from France 24

The French international channel France 24 has carried out a 'popularity and influence' survey in various countries across the world.

The upshot is that Obama and the Dalai Lama are the most popular leaders in the world, with Angela Merkel coming in at number three.

The Pope, interestingly, comes in a number five, ahead of Nicholas Sarkozy. In the UK, Benedict the XVI is considered as more popular and more influential than both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, which should give the British press something to meditate upon.

I am not sure what this information really means. Commentators have suggested that the high score for the Dalai Lama is something to do with 'boboisme' ... He is certainly very much in fashion in France. But the high score for Benedict XVI suggests to me that there are many people out there (at least a third of the population) who think he has something important to teaching the modern world.

The full report is online (as a pdf) at: http://media.rtl.fr/online/binary/2009/1203/5930975692_Sondage-World-leaders.pdf

Friday, 4 December 2009

Minarets again ...

On the issue of minarets again ... I now remember something I heard from Phillippe de Villiers, the leader of our local government in the La Vendee. It was at the time of negotiations on the EU constitution (from which a 'Judeo-Christian' preamble was dropped to appease the Turks). The pro-Islamicisation prime-minister of Turkey, Erdogan is supposed to have said: “The minarets are our bayonets, the domes our helmets, the mosques our barracks and the faithful our army.”

In this context, this poster of the Swiss People's Party (above) was not so much of an exaggeration as many people supposed. Moderate islamic statesmen are allowed to speak of minarets as a symbol and tool of a programme for the islamicisation of Europe, but when the Swiss say the same thing, they are accused of over-reacting.

Politicans in other countries (Holland and Italy will probably be the first) are talking of introducing similar referenda. What is one to think? Minarets are not the main point, I think. But the question of cultural identity is.

One can be in favour of religious freedom and tolerant of immigration, but one may also stand up for the rights of an indigenous people. In north America and Australia there is a new culture of breast-beating over the treatment of the indigenous populations by white settlers, and over the way in which native cultures were destroyed. We are right to apologise, because the white settlers, then their governments, and indeed their churches, were involved in indefensibly inhumane policies aimed at the domination and oppression of these peoples.

And yet, having learnt these lessons, it would be unwise of us not to apply the same lessons in Europe in the current cultural context. The traditional European peoples have a right to live and defend their culture. They have a right for their values and traditions to be the dominant ones in their home.

We bewail the destruction of the Celtic languages by the incoming English-speaking settlers in Wales or the Hebrides; we bewail the destruction of picturesque African and Indian tribes by contact with 'westernisation' of the worst kind. Is it not also time now to look at what is happening to English culture, to French culture, to Dutch culture? Not as a result of choices made by the indigenous people, but as a result of immigration without assimilation.

A number of years ago another Vatican document, and a letter from the Italian bishops' conference, drew attention to the rights of indigenous peoples in the whole area of immigration.

This is an issue that the large and unwieldy united states of Europe, with its new President and Foreign Minister, will now have to address, before it tears us all apart.

Closing our eyes to demographic and cultural change, and the tensions they create, is not an answer. In a few years (20, 30 or 40, depending on the country) many European nations are going to discover that most of their young people are completely alien (or even hostile) to the traditional values and culture of their country. That is not a recipe for justice and peace.

The long-overdue debate about European cultural identity has now begun.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Freedom of religion or freedom from religion?

That's the question many of my friends have been asking over the course of the last couple of weeks, in the wake of the European Court of Human Rights decree that the Italian law mandating a crucifix in every state school classroom is an infringement of human rights.

Italy's response has been to put up new crucifixes in public buildings all over the country, at state expense, and the issue has mobilised even Italian atheists in favour of this symbol of Italian national identity.

The judgement states that religious neutrality must reign in all state schools; which could spell the end of compulsory acts of worship in UK and Irish state schools and the abandonment of nativity plays. Most state schools in the Republic of Ireland have also historically displayed Catholic religious symbols: these will have to come down unless the ruling is overturned.

In the same month that the ECHR made this decree, the Swiss voted to change their constitution to ban the building of Islamic minarets in the country. Lucky for them they are not in the European Union so they can do more or less what they like on the question without fear of sanction, although they probably are signatories to the ECHR, so they may have to put up with the stigma of a negative judgement at some time in the future.

A spokesman from the Vatican has condemned this democratic vote in Europe's oldest and most peaceful democracy ... interesting times indeed.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Q: Aren't religious boarding schools all about taking away choices?

A: Well, at Chavagnes we are Catholic boarding school, and a strong Catholic community. Families choose us for that reason. The mutual support offered by fellow young believers in a school setting can be a very powerful influence in a young person’s life.

Also, children who come from a strong faith background at home would be disoriented in an environment that did not give them the same kind of support.

So, far from being about limiting choices, strong religious schools actually provide choice for believing families. They provide a school environment which is still what schools always used to be: the traditional extension of the family values of the home.

At out Catholic boarding school for boys, our pupils are happy to live, work, study, play and pray together, just as they would with their brothers and sisters at home. And the role of the teachers at the school is to provide solid religious role models for the boys as well as sound academic training.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Mise Eire

Musing on the sorrows befalling the Irish church at the moment (the Ryan Report etc.), I cannot but think of Pearse's words "I am Ireland ... Great my glory ... great my shame".

It seems to me that the complicity of senior churchmen in the covering-up of the clerical abuse of children is going to make modern Ireland something akin to Germany in the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s. It took Germany at least 40 years to escape from the shame of the Nazi atrocities and recover a sense of national pride and confidence.

Noone is pretending that what happened in Ireland was on the same scale. We are talking of thousands of vicims, not millions. And it is also true that the Irish church has done great and wonderful things for Ireland, and continues to do so. It is just that Irish Catholicism had so far to fall, and in a palpable and tragic sense it has now fallen.

Saying, and thinking, "I am an Irish Catholic and proud of it" is now as difficult as it used to be to say "I am a German patriot and proud of it" in the aftermath of World War II.

Let us hope and pray that poor Ireland does not need as long to come to terms with her shame.

I have no personal part in all that guilt, and yet I feel the shame of it, especially after reading some of Colm O'Gorman's book Beyond Belief. As a 14-year-old boy he was hurt by a priest - over a period of several years - and the priest then took the coward's way out during his eventual criminal trial. Although he seems to have found some peace, the poor man, there is no doubt that objectively and subjectively, the betrayal by this man of God has wrecked his whole life.


O'Gorman finds it tragic that the priest never faced up to what he had done. I find it tragic also that when that priest - an icon of Christ - shattered the image of Christ for that boy, he destroyed the lad's faith as well as his chances for a normal life. And Colm was not alone. There were many others, and our bishops, God forgive them, were very slow to, in St Ignatius' words, agere contra. But there is still grace, and healing is still possible. Let's keep especially in our prayers not just this man, but all the others like him, and the men who have betrayed them so horribly.

And yet, there is more to Ireland than her sins. And I thank God for all the great priests that Ireland gave the world for generations. They were the priests of my youth, growing up in the south of England. It must all be a tremendous cross for the many thousands of good and holy priests, not to mention the young men in seminaries. These men need our prayers too.
I, for one, am an Irish Catholic and proud of it. Being an English Catholic too perhaps makes it, for once, a little easier.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Special handshakes

I gave someone a left-handed hand-shake and scout salute yesterday for the first time after taking the plunge and making my scout promise along with 9 of our boys on Saturday morning at dawn. Being a scout is going to be fun, I have decided.

Of course, I am something of an honorary member, especially as the scout universe at Chavagnes seems to be all about covering incredible distances on foot across wild countryside, which is a bit tough for me.

The boys who took their promise all camped out around our little St Joseph Chapel in the woods on Friday night, and maintained a constant vigil before the Blessed Sacrament until dawn, when they each made their promise to serve God, their country and Europe, and to follow the Scout Law. I popped out to visit them once or twice during the night and was very impressed by their seriousness with regard to the religious aspects of what theyt were doing, their camaraderie and their responsible behaviour. Mr Crawford had given them a very stirring talk about the Scout Law at assembly that day, and I hope I will be able to persuade him to put it online. The essential point is that Europe needs a new generation of kinghts in shining armour, and it would seem that the scouting model is a modern answer to this need.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

The Scout Law : Chavagnes version ...

Chavagnes scouts after a 10km orienteering challenge ...
Here is the text of the Scout Law, as adapted by the Servant of God Father Paul Sevin, father of Catholic scouting. The text is based on Baden-Powell's original and Fr Sevin's version was approved by him. It makes it clear that the Scout Law is essentially a call to the evangelical counsels, adapted to our individual states in life, in a special relationship of love and respect for God's creation. Many of our boys will be making a promise to follow this law, in mid November. Please keep them in your prayers.
The Scout Law
1. A Scout’s honour is to be trusted.
2. A Scout is loyal.
3. A Scout’s duty is to serve and save his neighbour.
4. A Scout is a friend to all and a brother to every other Scout.
5. A Scout is courteous and chivalrous.
6. A Scout sees in nature the work of God; he loves plants and animals.
7. A Scout obeys without question and does nothing by halves.
8. A Scout is self-disciplined: he smiles and whistles under all difficulties.
9. A Scout is thrifty and takes care of other people’s possessions.
10. A Scout is clean in thought, word and deed.

(Based on the version of the Scout Law adapted by the Servant of God Father Jacques Sevin SJ, father of Catholic scouting, and approved by Lord Baden Powell.)

Thursday, 17 September 2009

PC French ...

Going through last summer's AQA French GCSE (Higher Tier) I discovered with my French class some depressing political correctness. Of course our boys take it on the chin and recognise it quickly. Here is what we found in the Reading and Writing Paper:

- An extended screed about global warming (OK in isolation, but wait for the rest, and remember it is a French exam not a science or sociology one ...)

- A first person account by a young man who describes his close and very positive friendships with two men and explains that he doesn't like women as they frighten him. In fact he only knows one, who says hello to him each day as he climbs up the stairs to his high-rise council flat ('HLM'), 'mais on me dit qu'elle se drogue' (they say she takes drugs), so he wants nothing to do with her ...

- From that charming cameo of confused masculine identity in the banlieue of Paris, we move on to a little holiday postcard from a girl to one of her friends. She recounts how through the thin walls of her hotel room she heard her parents having a terrible row. Perhaps they are going to get divorced now, she muses ...

It does remind me a little of what ILEA used to do in the days of Mrs Thatcher (before she closed down ILEA and the GLC). ILEA had a project to create educational resources across the curriculum which would reflect 'diversity' and dysfunction in a policy called 'positive imaging'. The object was to carry out a kind of social engineering ... and, according to a teacher I had at school in the 1980s, it worked. This particular teacher, who is now an Anglican clergyman, left the maintained sector because he was horrified by it all. Concretely: teenage boys dancing and kissing at the school disco, encouraged by their teachers, after years of brainwashing from the 'loony' left.

Growing up is hard enough already without children having constantly to act as the football in the games of politicans and other loveless ideologues.

Friday, 28 August 2009

Stephanus vocabitur ...

What lovely news to hear that on the vigil of the Feast of Saint Augustine, Alexander Morrison, our old boy, took the cloth as a Norbertine novice. He now has the name Brother Stephen. Brother Stephen was a founder pupil at Chavagnes from 2002 to 2005 and then went on to read French at Oriel College, Oxford, where he graduated this summer.
Please keep Brother in your prayers!

Friday, 14 August 2009

Single and faithful ... a role for lay apostles?

Is it possible for a layman to be called to serve God in the single state, in the midst of the world?

The Church is divided into Laity, Deacons, Priests and Bishops. This is its hierarchical structure, ordained by Christ himself. (cf Lumen Gentium)

The evangelical counsels (or counsels of perfection) are an invitation made by Christ to clergy and laity alike. Hence this invitation comes directly from Christ, and we are all urged to accept it in some way or another.

Since the beginning of the Church, some people accepted the counsels of perfection in a more external way than others (not marrying, not owning property, submitting themselves to obedience. Forms of life sprang up, after the apostolic period, that promoted the public profession (often, especially later, under life-long vows).

There is no ontological difference between a professed religious and a layman. There is an ontological difference between an ordained man and a layman. Hence the nature of a vocation to the priesthood and a vocation to the religious life is completely different. Secular priests, for example, do not live the evangelical counsels in a special way (although they are usually celibate and obedient to a bishop), but they are certainly called to the priesthood. They also tend to respond to the invitation to the evangelical counsels in a generous way, according to circumstances and custom.

Marriage is also a state which is – it seems to me – profoundly ontological: the two people become one flesh, and this can never be undone, except by death. Although they are free to marry again if one partner dies, it is likely that marriage has some kind of effect on the soul, which is, after all, inextricably bound up with the flesh. This question has always been a mysterious one.

Vocations to the ordained ministry and to marriage depend on sacraments instituted by Christ himself. Also, marriage – in some sense - is part of the original blueprint of creation. Priesthood is an accident of history (even if a happy one) which would not have come to pass but for Adam’s sin, for without Adam’s sin, no great sacrifice was called for.

What about the religious life? How does it differ from the fruitful virginity of someone who simply responds to the evangelical counsels as best he can in the circumstances of his lay apostolate (one thinks of Florence Nightingale, Joan of Arc, Edel Quinn, Frank Duff (Founder of the Legion of Mary), Bl. Frederic Ozanam (Founder of the Society of St Vincent de Paul), and many thousands of nurses, doctors and teachers over the centuries.) These people often choose the celibate state because it is bound up with the apostolate that they are devoted to. In the past, and well into the 20th century, for example, many university posts and teaching positions carried the obligation of celibacy.

Sometimes the choice of the celibate state is a dawning realisation which grows in intensity as an apostolic career progresses. It is also true that God can have a series of different states envisaged for a person’s life, as is the case with saints such as St Elizabeth of Hungary or Blessed Edmund Rice.

The only difference between the consecrated religious life and the fruitful virginity of someone who is not married, is that the Church has especially blessed the first of these two states. It would seem then that consecrated virginity, because more definitive and public, is a higher vocation. Both states however, respond to the same invitations of Christ and St Paul. Both are only meritorious in as much as they are fruitful, because the command ‘Go forth and mutliply’ was made to all men of every age.

This way of looking at the practice of the evangelical counsels, as something to which we are all called in some way, was common in the early church, the middle ages and the renaissance. All over Europe in the 12th and 13th centuries various layfolk, married or single, tramped around in habits, loosely associated with religious orders, carrying out their own lives in the world, but bearing witness to some extra degree of apostolic work or prayer. St Catherine of Siena was such a person. She never made any public vow of virginity, although she had made a private childhood promise to Jesus at the age of seven. She, like many single and married people of the day, moved by the example of the religious life, had become a tertiary of the Dominicans at age 16, but lived at home with her family. She later went on to care for the sick, and then – a most original apostolate for a woman - to enter into spiritual correspondence with many people from all walks of life. Her life in the world made her accessible to people in a way that religious life would have hindered.

Similarly the Knights Templar and the Knights Hospitaller, celibate men, but not classed as religious, consecrated themselves to warfare, politics and trade, areas that would be scandalous for true religious. But they did this work for the sake of the liberty of the Church and the furtherance of Christendom.

It is only after Trent that a huge divide springs up between professional church people and the laity. St Alphonsus Liguori, a Doctor of the Church, and yet as much lawyer as theologian, may well have said that single lay people were neither one thing nor another; that was the legal tendency of the Church of his day. He also enjoined (in The Dignity and Duties of the Priest) all sorts of behaviour for priests which few of them would follow today. He lived in a clericalist age, and Christians reasoned in a clerical way. The eighteenth century was a time when the participation of the laity in the Church’s mission was at an all-time low.

After the French Revolution, the Church discovered that in order to respond to the ever-changing needs of the world, the way needed to be opened up to the laity to participate in the apostolate of the Church as they had done so freely in the middle ages and in the renaissance. New congregations sprang up with annually renewable vows (and they still exist); many heroic single lay people founded lasting lay movements. For example, Pauline Jaricot founded the Association for the Propagation of the Faith, and the Living Rosary, as well as working for the improvement of the conditions of working men. Her beatification is currently being sought.
This new era of spiritual fruitfulness of the laity has continued over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. One thinks particularly of the Legion of Mary and of the Society of St Vincent de Paul, both founded by celibate laymen.

At Vatican II these currents, apparent in the early Church and at various times throughout the Church’s history, are particularly evident. Religious life is to be renewed in order to be a greater sign, and the full diversity of different apostolates and vocations in the Church is to be revivified. Teaching, especially, is confirmed as a vocation of great importance, to which non-consecrated laity are also called. Vatican II also addresses single people as an important consitutent part of the Church (see the final address of the Fathers to the women of the world, where single women are told that the world needs them because of their ability to come to the aid of families.)

So, in the twentieth century the evangelical conception of the ministry of the Church is restored, with a variety of callings, but the same Spirit to animate them all. (cf. Corinthians 12)

Thus, while the single state may be a transitional one, it is not necessarily so. In the context of a real vocation to a kind of diakonia in the Church or the world (such as teaching or nursing, for example) it can be where God wants someone to be for a whole lifetime.

This is because the Church needs such people in the midst of the world: “the laity, by their very vocation, seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God.” It was this freedom, within the world, that enabled Pauline Jaricot, Joan of Arc and Catherine of Siena to immerse themselves in politics, for the good of all, as well as in a life of prayer.

It was this freedom, in our own age, that allowed Frank Duff, founder of the Legion of Mary, to minister to the prostitutes of Dublin, and to cut though the political red tape that stood in the way of helping them to improve their lot.

The choice, then, of this evangelical freedom, for the reasons which St Paul explained in his first letter to the Corinthians, is a radical option that is still valid today; one which remains open to single people seeking to do God’s will in the world. As such, it is a witness to perfect charity, inasmuch as it is ordered to the giving of self in the lay apostolate.

In the modern Church, as at different times in the past, various associations and secular institutes, approved by the Church, assist single lay people to persevere in their way of life. These organisations, such as the Third Orders, Opus Dei, and various other groups, are useful to such people and can make their apostolic efforts more fruitful.

Personally, I would recommend to single lay people who devote themselves to apostolic work, to adopt a kind of rule of life: it could be knighthood, membership of a third order, membership of the Legion of Mary, or similar. Or it could simply be a form of private consecration such as the Consecration to our Lady proposed by St Louis de Montfort.

The Fathers at Vatican II encouraged the laity to make the prayer of the Divine Office their own, so this could also form the basis of a rule of life for single lay apostles. In fact, there are many possibilities, all with the same aim: to ensure that the apostolic effort is ordered within the context of personal sanctification and ready to bear fruit in the light of the Holy Spirit.

In response to a letter accusing the Pope of heresy on the Four Last Things ...

Dear Jennifer,

Thanks for the letter and enclosure you sent me a while back. In them you suggested a dialogue about the popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. You also implied that perhaps they were not popes at all.

Your main problem was that they emphasised universal salvation and thereby effectively denied all the Church’s doctrine about sin and the need for redemption from it.

You took issue with the idea that “hell is not God’s initiative”; that souls send themselves to Hell.
My response is not going to be sophisticated, I’m afraid. I think that if you want to find texts to hang the popes with, you can find them. I have plenty of texts that people have sent me that do this, if you ignore all the other evidence. Taken in context, and in a spirit of docility, they are not for me a source of impossible dilemmas.

The Second Vatican Council asks us to give an assent of our intellect and will the frequent and clearly expressed teaching of the Pope. You complain that texts you have seen are doctrinally unclear. Seek clarification from the official doctrinal pronouncements and teachings of these same popes, and especially the Catechism, which John Paul II intended as an authoritative text.
Another key point is that it is the CCC that is in the hands of all the faithful now. I had never before read the extracts you sent me, and I doubt many others have. But I have many times consulted and studied the CCC. It seems to me the most natural place for a Catholic to go to find out what the Church (or its errant leaders, if you prefer) is saying.
I do not find it unclear on these matters.

You say that John Paul II and Benedict XVI give us a religion where man is not free. I say the same of the religion you seem to propose in your letter. You suggest that man is not free because he is forced to go to Heaven whether he likes it or not.

Well, I typed in Hell in a search engine for the Catechism and this is what I got:

1035 The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, "eternal fire." The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.

Does God take the intiative on damnation? No, says the Catechism:

1037 God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end. In the Eucharistic liturgy and in the daily prayers of her faithful, the Church implores the mercy of God, who does not want "any to perish, but all to come to repentance":
Father, accept this offeringfrom your whole family.Grant us your peace in this life,save us from final damnation,and count us among those you have chosen. (Roman Canon)


What is mortal sin, any way? What does the same book say?

Well, there are all the classic definitions of full knowledge and full consent etc, as well as gravity of matter, but then the Catechism also speaks of our freedom to chose everlasting hell, by our un-repented rejection of God through sin:

1861 Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, as is love itself. It results in the loss of charity and the privation of sanctifying grace, that is, of the state of grace. If it is not redeemed by repentance and God's forgiveness, it causes exclusion from Christ's kingdom and the eternal death of hell, for our freedom has the power to make choices for ever, with no turning back. However, although we can judge that an act is in itself a grave offense, we must entrust judgment of persons to the justice and mercy of God.


You speak of the drama of sin and repentance, of privation of grace and the return to it, a drama, which according to you, the new popes would take away from us. Yet the Catechism is rich with talk of this, and almost always mentions hell or the death of the soul every time it mentions mortal sin. It also reminds us of the importance of our final moments:

1014 The Church encourages us to prepare ourselves for the hour of our death. In the ancient litany of the saints, for instance, she has us pray: "From a sudden and unforeseen death, deliver us, O Lord"; to ask the Mother of God to intercede for us "at the hour of our death" in the Hail Mary; and to entrust ourselves to St. Joseph, the patron of a happy death.
Every action of yours, every thought, should be those of one who expects to die before the day is out. Death would have no great terrors for you if you had a quiet conscience. . . . Then why not keep clear of sin instead of running away from death? If you aren't fit to face death today, it's very unlikely you will be tomorrow. . . .
Praised are you, my Lord, for our sister bodily Death,from whom no living man can escape. Woe on those who will die in mortal sin! (My italics)Blessed are they who will be found in your most holy will,for the second death will not harm them.

Consider also that in canonising St Pio of Pietrelcina dn St Faustina, the Pope also refers us to their writings. Even a superficial knowledge of their writings confirms one in a holy fear of Hell and its torments. I don’t know why the SSPX has recently taken against Faustina, because she certainly clears up the confusion on Hell:

Sister Faustina's Vision of Hell
"I, Sister Faustina Kowalska, by the order of God, have visited the Abysses of Hell so that I might tell souls about it and testify to its existence...the devils were full of hatred for me, but they had to obey me at the command of God, What I have written is but a pale shadow of the things I saw. But I noticed one thing: That most of the souls there are those who disbelieved that there is a hell. ...
Let the sinner know that he will be tortured throughout all eternity, in those senses which he made use of to sin. I am writing this at the command of God, so that no soul may find an excuse by saying there is no hell, or that nobody has ever been there, and so no one can say what it is like...how terribly souls suffer there! Consequently, I pray even more fervently for the conversion of sinners. I incessantly plead God's mercy upon them. O My Jesus, I would rather be in agony until the end of the world, amidst the greatest sufferings, than offend you by the least sin." (Diary 741)

Padre Pio is said to have told a penitent who said “I don’t believe in Hell,” “You will when you get there.”

Eternal damnation is not an initiative of God. As the Catechism of Trent has it:

And yet most justly shall this very sentence be pronounced by our Lord and Saviour on those sinners who neglected all the works of true mercy, who gave neither food to the hungry, nor drink to the thirsty, who refused shelter to the stranger and clothing to the naked, and who would not visit the sick and the imprisoned.

Our Lord issues damnation as a response, not an initiative. The initiative to sin is man’s, not God’s. The result is the just punishment that awaits the unrepentant sinner.

Cardinal Journet speaks of our eternal destiny like an arrow being fired by God. He aims the arrow at eternal life (cf. La Marche de l’Humanité vers le Père.) The initiative is God’s calling us to eternal life. We can knock God’s arrow off-course if we wish.

The whole concern for true doctrine must be directed to the love that never ends. Whether something is proposed for belief, for hope or for action, the love of our Lord must always be made accessible, so that anyone can see that all the works of perfect Christian virtue spring from love and have no other objective than to arrive at love. This is the sense of Cardinal journet's arrow, and - to my mind - the heart of the teaching of Benedict XVI too.

I am praying for you.

God bless,
Yours ever,
Ferdi

Monday, 20 July 2009

Soft-boiled traditionalist ...

There was once a time when I used to spend a lot of time discussing the liturgy and debating with 'integristes'. At the time, my friends tell me, I was spikier than I am now, but I always managed to stay within the 'una sancta' and keep my love for dear John Paul II and for his Catechism, a document that made a big impression on me when I was a university student.

I remember about 10 years ago an English priest friend called me a "soft-boiled traditionalist." And I hope that is the way I have remained.

I used to spend a lot of time online trying to convert Protestants to Catholicism and Lefebvrists to the Catholic mainstream in the early days of the internet; and then I decided to move on and concentrate on real life. It is great, however, to see that there are still people with the energy for this kind of thing. Here is a one-stop shop of arguments regarding positions of the Society of St Pius X: http://jloughnan.tripod.com/chetshet.htm . I came upon it today quite by accident, and learnt a thing or two.

There are so many battles to fight, aren't there? The hardest one, and the most important, is for one's own soul.

That's a lesson that the beleaguered Legionaries of Christ are facing up to, as they contemplate the truth that sometimes very good work can be done by people with - it would appear - bad faith.

It's also a lesson for Catholic teachers, like me, who live a life of constant activity. We get caught up in our good work and forget why we are doing it. And then when periods of rest come along, we don't know what to do and have forgotten how to pray. It always takes me a couple of weeks to adjust to the holidays, every time they come along. At least the summer holidays are long enough to get the adjusting done and spend some fruitful time in that contemplative mode. One discovers things in that quiet holiday mode: the saddest of them is one's own spiritual emptiness.
I shall be praying to the Holy Spirit that wonderful prayer of renewal, the Veni Sancte Spiritus, over the next few weeks. It always makes me cry when I hear it sung on the Chartres pilgrimage (something I missed for the first time in a decade this year.)

Let the Great Comforter give me the shake-up I need to keep my soul on the right track:

Come, Holy Spirit, and send down from heaven the ray of your light.
Come, father of the poor, come, giver of gifts, come, light of hearts.
Best consoler, sweet host of the soul, sweet refresher.
Rest in work, cooling in heat, comfort in crying.
O most blessed light, fill the innermost hearts of your faithful.
Without your power nothing is in man, nothing innocent.
Clean what is dirty, water what is dry, heal what is wounded.
Bend what is rigid, heat what is cold, lead what has gone astray.
Grant to your faithful who trust in you, your sevenfold holy gift.
Grant us the reward of virtue, grant us final salvation, grant us eternal joy.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

A few good men ... real Conservatism in Parliament

http://cornerstonegroup.wordpress.com/about/

Have recently come across this group of 40 Tory MPS who have the courage and sense to speak openly about the wisdom of conservatism and the need for a return to God and virtue in modern Britain.

Bravo!

Monday, 18 May 2009

Butcher Obama and the Reverend Father Colonel Norman Weslin, (US Army Retired)

In the week Notre Dame University sold its soul to Obama and his radical abortion agenda, here is what the same Catholic university is doing to an 80-year-old priest.



One would have thought that for a Catholic institution, the courteous response to a peaceful protest like this from a good and holy priest would be to invite him in to the Vice Chancellor's office to make his case.


With the latest Guantanamo news, it seems now that Obama is failing to deliver on all his manifesto pledges. Thank God that even his abortion promises are having to be toned down too, although no doubt he can still do great damage in four years.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Chavagnes: for a real Classical education!!!

We just had a great Roman banquet for the young intellectuals in my Latin class. Check out the College website for details and photos.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Claus von Stauffenberg, Hitler and the Catholic Faith. Thoughts for VE Day 2009

Tom Cruise's film 'Valkyrie' about the failed assasination attempt on Hitler by Colonel Count Claus von Stauffenberg was, according to critics, a film about Cruise trying to kill Hitler, rather than about Stauffenberg trying to kill Hitler. But it was a great movie, nonetheless, according to one of my pupils who really enjoyed it.

The media was fascinated by the Stauffenberg family's criticism of the casting of Cruise as Stauffenberg, lest this would be used as a platform for promoting Scientology. The Stauffenbergs are staunch Catholics. The German state also attempted to ban the film, because Scientology is (quite sensibly) considered a ridiculous financial scam in Germany. In the end the film was shown, and it reflected well on Germany and Germans as a whole, though it amost totally omitted mention of Stauffenberg's Catholicism, except for one quick prayer.

In the recent Figaro special edition « Opération Walkyrie. Ils ont voulu tuer Hitler », Jean-Louis Thiériot gives more detail: « In his youth Stauffenberg had been a Catholic by habit. Confronted with the horror of nazism, he returns to his religious upbringing. He consults good authors. His reflections on the idea of the just war are informed by a reading of St Thomas Aquinas.». Philippe Maxence, in L'Homme Nouveau, explains, in an article dedicated to the Catholic-inspired plot, that Stauffenberg had given a lot of thought to the morality of tyrannicide : killing a tryant.

The Gestapo also found in his papers the papal encylical Mit Brennender Sorge as well as the sermons of Bishop Clemens August von Galen, Bishop of Munster, indefatigable opponent of Nazism, and recent Beatus.

Another recent film, Katyn, directed by Andrzej Wajda tells the tale of the massacre of 21,857 civilian and military prisoners by the Russian Red Army. Interestingly, Article 9 of the French Law of 14 July 1990 (still in force) forbids me to tell you about this film, because it goes against the judgements of the Nuremberg trials. At Nuremberg the Germans were blamed for this massacre, but now the Russians have admitted it was them and apologised for it (on 13th October 1990).

WorldPay CARD transaction Confirmation

If you get an email with the above header, don't open it. And, most especially, don't open the attachment. Apparently, it is a virus that interferes with (or steals) your email addressbook information and other similar data.

I got this today and was careful not to open the attachment, although I did open the email.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

150 years of evolution

We had a debate last night about Evolution. On the motion 'This house believes that men and chimpanzees have a common biological ancestor' the result was 10 against, 6 for and 4 abstentions. Of course, people were voting partly from conviction, partly on the quality of the arguments.

A thought struck me afterwards: the chance of one species mutating into another (presumably at the moment of conception) is pretty slim, even by the standards of a fully-fledged evolutionst. That's why it only happens every few million years. So, if Adam and Eve's parents were apes, and one day, perhaps after having several ape children, they had a child which turned out to belong to a brand new species (pre-historic man), how could they be sure that the same statistical miracle of chance would happen again so that the child could find a mate of the same species to mate with? After all, he/she would not be able to mate with the old species (ie of his parents), because whenever one species mates with another close species (like lions and tigers or donkeys and horses) the offspring are always sterile, or do not make it to birth.

The chances of several apes having human mutant children at the same time (in order to provide breeding stock for the original humans) seems highly unlikely; and there would be no guarantee that the mutations would be the same. They might - after all - evolve into completely different species with each new significant inter-species mutation.

Another problem is that gene mutations can be dominant or regressive. There would be the danger that the ape to human mutation might produce a human, but that a few generations later the mutation would regress, so that we would be back to apes again.

Then, there is the whole problem of intermediate forms and the fact that evidence for them is so scant or non-existent. If chimpanzees can have a happy life and thrive; if human being can do the same; if humans in the rainforest can survive untroubled by the outside world for milennia; then why on earth are they not various intermediate and variant forms of humanoid life, belonging to different species?

The human evolution story is this: Amazingly, several scientifically and statistically unlikely identical genetic mutations occur in one group of 'apes', at the same time, and in the same place, producing a brand new species, so as to provide a gene pool for the original human beings.
And, according to the theory, this only happens in one place. Or, at least, only one humanoid lifeform survives the evolutionary story. Any other similar beings are wiped out, leaving only men and chimps, which aren't close biologically close enough for any meaningful inter-species dialogue on the question.

If other species of humanoids really did exist before, in various places, why have they all so conveniently died out? Couldn't they have hung on in there, living up trees in distant rainforests?

Every time a forgotten tribe is discovered, it turns out to be human and capable of interbreeding. Is there, perhaps, a prehisoric tribe out there somewhere that does not belong to the race of homo sapiens? It would be exciting, wouldn't it, but probably rather unlikely.
I am not, as it happens, a fully paid-up member of the 'creationists', nor am I devotee of evolution. But it seems to me that modern genetics, and the whole DNA adventure (the human genome project is not completed, I understand) does raise questions for evolutionists to answer.
150 years after Darwin's watershed book, perhaps it is time to reexamine all the data again, without all the heavy baggage of the last century or so, and see whether all the new information we have leads to different, more nuanced conclusions, or even the admission that we don't actually know the answer to one of mankind's biggest ever questions: where do I come from?

The advocates of Intelligent Design, sum up their case as follows: Darwinian evolution, or the idea that highly complex systems developed by random chance and environmental pressure from simple, ancestral life-forms - remains highly speculative and statistically problematic. Therefore, they say, a design (non-chance)-based theory of origins is more consistent with the evidence.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

http://www.cathwiki.org/ A new international Catholic wiki

Help us to help inform the public about the Catholic faith and Catholic view of our culture and history. We are building an International Catholic Encyclopedia and Directory at http://www.cathwiki.org/

Anyone can help; it's easy to do, just like wikipedia. A team of editors will be making sure that we try our best to prevent any anti-Church statements creeping in, and also to help coordinate and plan the project.

We are using previously published materials, especially the old Catholic encyclopedia, but we are keen for this to be edited and brought up to date, and for new entries to be written.

come and join in the fun at http://www.cathwiki.org/

Thursday, 16 April 2009

We're having a ball ...

For more information on our forthcoming Summer Ball at Chavagnes, visit: http://www.chavagnes.org/news/Chavagnes_Summer_Ball_2009.shtml

All welcome. Especially old boys and their friends, families, existing pupils.

Dress: Exisiting pupils will be in uniform. Otherwise, black tie.

Monday, 6 April 2009

Computer Assisted Animation- the best

This was made by a parent of one of our pupils. Great work, isn't it?

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Prayers for Vincent Nichols

We at Chavagnes are very grateful to Archbishop Vincent Nichols, because - as Archbishop of Birmingham - he was kind enough to send us a chaplain for our school, Fr Anthony Talbot! On a personal level I remember meeting Archbishop Vincent at a conference of Catholic and Orthodox believers a few years ago, and was impressed by his kindness and courtesy on that occasion.

Also, when I organised a conference on the liturgy in Oxford a while back, Archbishop Nichols was very encouraging and helpful.

And so now that he is moving to Wesminster I am happy to support him with my congratulations and prayers and will certainly be asking the boys to pray for him, when they come back from their Easter holidays. The Archbishop spoke the other day of his obedience to the Holy Father, a theme which will be further emphasised no doubt once he is made a Cardinal. Obedience to Pope Benedict is certainly to be encouraged and applauded ...

Eyes are now on Birmingham, of course. As Archbishop Nichols said in his press conference the other day, Birmingham was at the heart of the nineteenth century restoration of Catholicism in England. So it's an important appointment. We need to pray that the Holy Spirit will help Pope Benedict find the best man for the job. Perhaps Pope Benedict is saving the other Nichols (Fr Aidan Nichols OP) for that ... I hope so.
There are interesting times ahead for England now, especially as Pope Benedict might well be coming to visit the UK.
And a general election looming ...

The truth about Barack Obama

It is painful, but it is true. Obama is an impressive figure. He is handsome, intelligent, competent and charismatic. He is a brilliant leader and much more impressive than the presidential candidate he defeated.

And yet ... his total commitment to tha cause of abortion on demand, and to forcing Catholic hospitals and doctors to perform abortions, is a sad proof that Christians are having to face hard choices in their assessment of political life and in the exercise of their democratic life. Archbishop Burke, the highest ranking judge in the ecclesiastical courts of the Catholic Church, gave an interview on this situation. He subsequently apologised for any offence he might have caused to his brother bishops in seeming to criticise their less forceful stance on these issues, but the interview is still a very valid take on the dilemmas faced by faithful Christians in the USA and worldwide. You can hear it online at: http://gloria.tv/?media=23853

The other tragedy is that Obama, in supporting the Freedom of Choice Act, has missed a chance to unite America and end the painful divide in American society. Far from ending the culture wars in the USA, Obama's current course is simply going to make that divide a more bitter one and the problem even more intractable. We need to support the American pro-life movement, and the American people in general, with our prayers.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

London-Nantes back with a vengeance!!!!!

Hallelujah! Just when Chavvers folks were starting to panic about Ryanair withdrawing their daily London-Nantes service, now for some great news. KLM is bringing in a twice daily service from 27th April. So we'll be even better connected - and what's more London City Airport is much more convenient for London. Thanks be to God!

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Marx, Human Rights, Conservatism, English Renaissance literature ...

Interesting mix, isn't it? Someone was telling me today that I ought to start a French language blog to discuss some of my preoccupations of the day. I will mull this over, but my first reaction is that this is a good idea, even if it means the French state's equivalent of MI6 will probably start tapping my phones (if they aren't already doing so ...)

I have just written something on Marx and Satanism to be published elsewhere (in English) in a month or two. So perhaps I'll start by translating that into French. But first, I'll need to think of a name for my 'frogblog'.

In the meantime - and just to prove that even if I think Marx was a Satanist, I am still a fully-fledged freedom-fighter - check out my French human rights moonlighting on http://justsolmond.wordpress.com/ (I have been recruited to the ranks of JSM, a French organisation that helps spread information about offences against conscience (usually the persecution of Christians) in various countries around the world.

Good night. God bless.
Ferdi McDermott.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

A good source of Catholic news

For those who don't know about it, here is a very good source of important Catholic news, seen from Rome by the journalist Sandro Magister: http://chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it/?eng=y

The Midas touch, in reverse ...

Imagine a king who could turn everything he touched into rubbish! That is exactly what the state does, when it takes total control of education, healthcare or social services. Don't believe me? Check out Professor Terence Kealey's introduction to this BIG IDEA in an article in Prospect: https://www.prospect-magazine.co.uk/article_details.php?id=7833

Monday, 16 March 2009

Classical education and how governments want to kill it ...

Classical education and how modern politicians have killed it
In Ancient Greece, two strands of thinking in education were current in what we know as the Classical Age, from about 500BC: that of Sparta, where education was the business of the State and sought to breed a resilient warrior citizenry, and that of Athens where education depended on the free choices of parents and aimed at producing intellectual maturity. As we shall see, it was the spirit of Athens that then dominated our approach to education until relatively recent history.

A Christian classical education, such as later led to the creation of the late medieval and renaissance universities was first seen in Alexandria, at the heart of the meeting of East and West, in about 190AD. Here St Clement, very much of a disciple both of Jesus and of Socrates, established what could probably be called the first Christian academy, educating boys and men, mainly, but not exclusively, for the priesthood. They studied the Trivium of logic, grammar and rhetoric, followed by the Quadrivium of arithmetic, music, geometry and astronomy, leading to studies in philosophy and theology. We also know that Clement attached great importance to sport and dance. These had been central in the Greek education of boys: gymnastics for the body, music for the soul. The imagery of the hymn which may have been sung by the boys at the school is strongly suggestive of a circle dance:

Holy shepherd of the flock divine,
king of unspoilt youth,
Lead the way!
The footsteps of Christ
Are the track to Heaven.
Word who always was and is and ever shall be,
Life immeasurable,
Unfailing light,
Compassion's very source!
Craftsman forging virtue
For the holy lives
Of all who sing to God.
Christ Jesus,
Heavenly milk pressed from your Bride's sweet breasts
To nourish tender mouths of sucklings with grace and wisdom:
the guileless take their fill with reason's milk,
the dew of your Spirit.
All together dance and sing
Our simple praise and heartfelt song
For the Christ the King.
So may we pay our holy fees
For schooling in the way of life.
Dancing in the ring of peace
We are the simple escort of the young Pantocrator.
Race sprung from Christ,Wisdom's own people
All praise together the God of our peace.
Creator of all things.

(Trans. Canon John Mooney. For Original Greek text see Le Pedagogue, Livre III, pp. 192ff.. in Source Chretiennes, Editions du Cerf, Paris, 1970.)

This text, to me, breathes a warm gust of Christian Hellenism across the centuries: many of the enduring educational themes of the ancients are there but with a new freshness and clarity of purpose.

This truly classical education within a Christian context was expounded in great depth in Clement's work The Pedagogue, a fascinating, if somewhat rambling synthesis and history of education from the viewpoint of Hellenic Christians, and the first real Christian handbook for teachers. It was not, however, a tremendous success; at least not in the intense and thorough form envisaged by Clement. The stress of the collapse of the Roman Empire in the West, the rise of Islam in large parts of the Empire in the East, the destruction of libraries, the mistrust of classical civilisation by some Christian clerics, general political instability in the vacuum created by the collapse of imperial Rome; all of these things contributed to the classical tradition's being somewhat sidelined for a time. In outposts of the Roman empire, such as in much of Britain, people suddenly abandoned the cities as they had done when Mycenaean civilization collapsed in Greece towards the end of the second millennium BC.

And yet, before imperial Rome sank another great man arose to ensure that the ideals of a classical and Christian humanism would not be forgotten. Augustine, a Roman of the fourth century, was a professor of classical rhetoric who became a Christian and then Bishop of Hippo in North Africa. In Augustine's day, scholars speculated about whether Virgil had read Isaiah, and this itself is an interesting indicator of how many in the Graeco-Roman world were already looking to the Jews and to their sacred literature with an air of expectancy. We know, however, that Augustine had read Isaiah and Virgil, and in his Confessions, and in the City of God, the two worlds meet completely and a fruitful synthesis is attempted. St Paul, with his obvious familiarity with Greek philosophy and worship (seen as pointing to Christ) and even his positive references to athletics had shown long before the supposed Platonist hijack of the second century that a continuity was achievable, and that is why he converted so many Greeks.
Now Augustine, with all the weight of his spell-binding rhetoric and learning, as Homer had done at an earlier stage, now set a seal on the direction of "the great conversation" for at least the next thousand years.

The cultural achievements of the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Counter-Reformation and the modern age are many, but none of them is as significant as that momentous and humble openness of the Early Church to the weight of human experience and learning that preceded what they saw as God's total self-revelation to man in Christ. It was an attitude quite remote from the prophetic traditions of the Old Testament. Perhaps it was precisely the belief in the Incarnation, and the optimistic view of human nature propounded by Paul that made it possible for Christians to hold fast to so much of 'the best that known and thought in the world' (Matthew Arnold’s phrase) and to add to that store. Perhaps more remarkable still was the openness of the whole area around the Mediterranean, subdued by the Roman Empire, to this new chapter of man's history. For despite the persecutions of Domitian, Nero and others, a new idea and culture - for the first time in human history - took control of man's destiny not with armies but with argument.

Later reforms within this Christian tradition can all be seen as efforts, more or less efficacious or reasonable in themselves, to restore the freshness and vigor of Christianity as it was at this time of triumph. The scholastics revived the classics and gave a new impetus to the study of Aristotle and Plato (under the aegis of a now long dead Muslim philosophical school), the excesses of Renaissance neo-paganism were corrected by the Reformers and their excesses, in turn, tempered by the Counter-Reformers.

At the beginning of the modern age, then, we see a western Christendom where Christian humanism is the norm of education on both sides of the Reformation divide, so that the Ignatian Paideia of continental Europe and the grammar schools and public schools of England, all train young men in roughly the same disciplines and essentially with the same view of man and his history. More importantly, both sides generally believed that education was for the betterment of the human spirit, not merely to prepare men for war, or trade. True enough, many received more training than they did education, but the distinction between the two was clear, and everywhere, for nearly two millennia, the State had been keeping out of education.

Sister Miriam Joseph CSC, a leading Catholic educationalist in 1940s America, explains: "The utilitarian or servile arts enable one to be a servant - of another person, of the state, of a corporation, or of a business - and to earn a living. The liberal arts [that is, the Trivium and the Quadrivium], in contrast, teach us how to live; they train a person to rise above his material environment to live an intellectual, a rational, and therefore a free life in gaining truth" (in The Trivium.) That is a description of education that no serious western writer or thinker would have disputed from the time of Constantine until the eighteenth century. But they speak in a very different language to that of most educationalists ever since.

The impact of Rousseau, writing in the eighteenth century is still felt today in pedagogical circles. He promoted (in Emile ou de l’Education) the hugely successful (however erroneous) idea that we have nothing of objective value to teach our children. They will, he suggested, teach themselves, given a little encouragement. His Confessions paint a picture of a young man motivated by a profound egotism and self-righteousness often attributed to religious people, and yet he was in fact someone who had left religion behind; the first in a long line of modern `victims' of the seminary system who proceed to make a living out of burning what they once adored. He consigned his own illegitimate children to an orphanage and took no interest in their education whatsoever.His influence, and that of the other philosophical thinkers of the siècle des lumières, had an important part to play in the thinking behind the French Revolution, followed by Communism and Nazism in the twentieth century. They all tended to a view of man that rejected completely the Christian chapter in man's story.

There had been previous attempts to short-circuit back to Antiquity, by-passing Christianity, but these modern attempts have been especially thorough. Such movements do not so much seek to put man back in touch with an older, purer truth, so much as to deracinate him completely, so as better to control and manipulate him. One educational thinker, Matthew Arnold, wrote that a man out of touch with what has been called “the great conversation” would be a “stranger to the human condition”, and it is this state of disorientation that any cunning dictator will want to foist on his followers. Hitler, Stalin and Mao are striking examples, but our modern politicians are still playing the same game.

In this climate of wholesale rejection of the continuum of the classical tradition as it had been mediated by the Church, it is no surprise that all the revolutionary movements of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries promoted the role of the state as educator. And with the benefit of hindsight, we can observe that they all have their similarities with ancient Sparta, described by Hitler as “the first National Socialist state.”

Ferdi McDermott, founder of StAR, is founder and Principal of Chavagnes International College, a British Catholic boarding school in western France. Together with Robert Asch, co-editor of StAR and Professor Anthony O’Hear of the University of Buckingham, he will be leading a course on The Great Books, this summer in France. For details: http://www.thegreatbooks.chavagnes.info/

Friday, 13 March 2009

Persecution of Public school types

A recent interesting article in the Daily Mail raised the question of how the current breed of Labourites is able to get away with so many sideswipes against one of the UK's once distinguished and respected minorities, the Anglo-Saxon public schoolboy.

Certain ministers and civil servants are able to treat this important minority group with contempt and daily conspire to bring about its extinction as a social grouping.

And yet, until very recently 7 or 8 % of children in then UK were privately educated. That makes a very important minority. Bear in mind that according to the 2003 census the percentage of non-white UK citizens was 7.9%, and it becomes clear that in fact all the talk about misrepresentation of minorities is a lot of nonsense.

The main reason for showing concern about representation of different groupings is not to do with skin colour, but to do with the distinctive perspectives and contributions that different cultural traditions can bring to public life. Politics and the public service are certainly the poorer if they do not include those who can share something of Indian, African and Chinese culture and values with the rest of us. But they are also the poorer if they do not have a healthy contingent of those whose minds have been formed without the direct involvement or interference of the government, in a strong, native cultural tradition which has so much valued the pursuit of excellence, the defence of custom, the genius of place, the sense of duty, the value of truth. To push such people out of public life by stigmatising the 'public school white male' is to advance one step closer to a totalitarian state.

I would wager that statsticians could easily show that all of Labour's new quangoes and bogus ministries seriously under-represent the nation's historic administrative and ruling class. And those who make it in are expected, just like the acolytes of Mao and Lenin, to make a public show of disdain for their own cultural background and upbringing.

This, despite the fact that the private sector has, since its inception in the middle ages, often sought ways to be socially inclusive. The grammar schools shared in this tradition and further perpetuated it. (A recent LSE study showed that the abolition of grammar schools was the single greatest blow to social mobility in the 20th century).

So it's not about snobbery, but about handing on a culture that deserves to be treated with respect and may yet have much to give to Britain.

Great Books Programme for adults

Just a reminder that from 26th July to 4th August, Chavagnes is organising a superb 10-day course for adults on 'the Great Books'. Great Books, great company, great value: a cultural holiday of a lifetime in rural France. Join in the Great Conversation: 10 days in the Vendee with Professor Anthony O’Hear, StAR (St Austin Review) coeditor Robert Asch, writer Denis Boyles and StAR’s founder, Ferdi McDermott … … plus Homer, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Plato, Socrates, Virgil, Ovid, St Augustine, Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Cervantes, Milton, Pascal, Racine + Goethe! visit http://www.thegreatbooks.chavagnes.info/ for more details ...

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

A GAP Year for God ...

If there are any committed young Catholic men out there, perhaps in the closing stages of a degree course at university, this is for you:

Each year at Chavagnes International College we are keen to recruit volunteers who will give one or two years of their lives to the cause of Catholic education. It is a rewarding experience, even if not financially. If you would consider making a commitment to being a member of strong Catholic community at the service of youth, for a limited period of time, and would like to gain teaching practice (or help in some other way), then check out: http://www.chavagnes.org/help/internship.shtml

Monday, 2 February 2009

Locus Iste: beautiful ...

Our boys sing Bruckner's Locus Iste (June 2008).



Translation: This place was made by God, an inestimably holy place. It is without blame.

Friday, 30 January 2009

Lefebvrist bishops

I am impressed by Bishop Fellay's apology to the Pope. I think that it is the first time that the SSPX has officially apologised for anything. It shows that there is a desire for healing there.

As for Bishop Williamson, he is an embarassment to everyone. A number of years ago he wrote a Christmas newsletter from their Seminary in Winona, Minnesota, blaming all the world's moral problems on The Sound of Music and signing himself "+Ebenezer" ...

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Israel: a wider perspective

Someone sent me a link to the Daily Telegraph blog of a leading Catholic journalist, re the troubles in Israel and Palestine. It was replete with all sorts of Zionist luvvies baying for Palestinian blood. One of them even expressed his thanks to Israel 'for killing all those Muslim terrorists, to save us the trouble' ...

I wonder whether these same people would have been asking for Northern Ireland (at least the Catholic-dominated areas) to be nuked during the troubles. That was never the official policy of the DT in those days, though it came close. It is a paper I like a lot, but not uncritically.

For years, Israel happily confiscated Palestinian land, built new settlements, filled with new arrivals from the USA, with their coffee bars and kosher McDonalds, only allowing the original locals in to clean the toilets, labelled with a little badge saying 'foreign worker'. When water was in short supply, the Palestinians had their water cut off, while Jewish settlers kept the sprinklers going on their lawns. Open sewers conveyed the new settlers' waste through the villages of displaced Palestinians.

In the Lebanon, refugees pushed out of their historics lands in the 1940s, still live in makeshift accommodation, never having received compensation from the State of Israel.

In Jerusalem, Jewish companies buy up ancient Christian homes in christian quarters, using nominee companies with misleading identites. As soon as the sale goes through all the ancient Christian signs are defaced and remaining Christian neighbours are put under pressure to leave. In this same city families who have lived there for 800 years have no right to citizenship, while the new arrivals, providing they claim to be Jewish, can quickly obtain full Israeli rights.

I am not defending Palestinian attacks on Israel. I am simply attempting with these few short observations to draw attention to the incredibly complicated situation that exists in this area, and to the tragedy of the disposessed. Disposessed people always feel bitter; the miracle of modern Palestine is that people do not feel more bitter, and that so many ordinary Palestinians just want peace; but peace with justice. Not peace in a concentration camp.

Some great Jewish figures have publicly borne witness to the humanity and goodness of ordinary people on both sides of the divide. Poignantly, the great musician Daniel Barrenboim quoted the founding declaration of the state of Israel (1948) when he was awarded a medal from the Israeli culture minister a few years ago. His acceptance speech consisted only of these words, from Israel's founding document:

"[Israel] will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations. "

Sixty years on, Israel is in breach of a long list of UN demands and shows no sign of fidelity to its original combination of welcome to homeless and persecuted Jews coupled with respect for the rights of the indigenous Christians, Moslems (and Jews) who had lived in the land for centuries.

All the while, the Israeli politicians (a bunch of crooks, by the standards of most western democracies) denounce the Palestinian politicans as a bunch of terrorists, which is - unfortunately - not far from the truth.

It is in this context that Palestinians, in their prison-like state, in the shadow of a hardened and secularised Israel, have made the mistake of continuing their guerilla attacks, with the horrible consequences that ensue for all. Even if I condemn them, I think I understand what they are feeling.

Twenty-five years ago, I remember talking with cousins in Dublin about the problem of Northern Ireland. They told me how they had been up in Belfast for a party and how they had seen British troops drive through their Catholic area shouting anti-Catholic taunts, for no other reason other than that they could get away with it. Since then, and despite much deep hurt on all sides, relative peace has come to the North, because men on all sides have realised that it is time for the taunts to stop.

I hope that our journalists and their friends will take note.

A good read, from about ten years ago, is William Dalrymple's From the Holy Mountain. He captures many of the sad nuances of the conflicts and sufferings of the disposessed across the whole unhappy region. I recommend it wholeheartedly: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Holy-Mountain-Journey-Shadow-Byzantium/dp/0006547745

Monday, 26 January 2009

Gong Xi Fat Choi!

We celebrated the Chinese New year today with special fried rice and spicy turkey at lunch and then battered prawns, aniseed flavour chicken and stir fry vegetables, with banana spring rolls (?), yoghurt and honey. All washed down with a nice white wine.

These culinary delights were lost on many of the boys who weren't able to finish it all.

Quite a contrast after last night's haggis, neeps and tatties.

The Ref was beautifully decorated with chinese lanterns, dragons and streamers and Fabrice, our chef, reminded me of Cato from the Pink Panther films with a little red silk betassled Chinese hat.

Boys and school

Some interesting recent releases on the benefits of single-sex education from the boys’ viewpoint, and the evidence that boys are short-changed by co-ed schooling:

Kathleen Parker's Save the Males: Why Men Matter; Why Women Should Care … “Saving the males – engaging their nobility and recognizing their unique strengths – will ultimately benefit women and children, too.”

Sociologist Michael Kimmel’s Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men dissects the Guy Code … “Today’s young men are coming of age in an era with no road maps, no blueprints, and no primers to tell them what a man is and how to become one”, he writes. … “As a society, we must be active, engaged, and interventionist, helping America’s guys find a path of emotional authenticity, moral integrity and physical efficacy”.

Richard Hawley’s Beyond the Icarus Factor: Releasing the Free Spirit of Boys occupies some of the same territory in this elegaic exploration of the “puer myth” – that creative, imaginative energy in boyhood - and of the ways in which our cultural and educational expectations lead to “successful” but hollow men. The story is told with great sympathy and sensitivity, and prompts readers to see their work in boys' schools in a different light.

Peg Tyre’s The Trouble with Boys explores the reasons for the growing gender gap in school achievement and engagement.

In Boys Should be Boys: 7 Secrets to Raising Healthy Sons, pediatrician Meg Meeker explores the trends – ranging from the absence of positive role models to a toxic media culture – that throw obstacles in the way of boys’ maturation to manhood. “My concern is not with what is politically correct, but what is true and what is best for boys”.

with thanks to www.theibsc.org

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Robert Burns for Catholics: Singing Auld Lang Syne with the Angels

Tomorrow night, the 25th January, has been a deeply anchored part of my personal calendar since I became a student of Edinburgh University nearly twenty years ago. That night is the night of heavily distilled Scottishness that commemorates the nation’s most famous and beloved bard, a night known throughout the world simply as Burns Night.

Robert Burns, known by Scots as Rabbie Burns, was born into a farming family at Alloway in Ayrshire in 1759. He died in Dumfries at the early age of 37. During his short life he took the Scottish literary world by storm, and secured a place for himself in history and in legend. Every year, lovers of Scotland throughout the world mark the 25th of January, the day of his birth (in 1759) with an evening of song, poetry, speeches, comradeship, food and what he affectionately called Scotch Drink:

Gie him strong Drink until he wink,
That's sinking in despair;
An' liquor guid to fie his bluid,
That's prest wi' grief an' care;
There let him bowse an' deep carouse,
Wi' bumpers flowing o'er,
Till he forgets his loves or debts,
An' minds his griefs no more.
Solomon's Proverbs, xxxi. 6,7.[1]

Of course, there are other occasions where people praise each other, celebrate their friendship and let the emotions flow freely; some dry, and others not. I remember experiencing something like this many times at a certain kind of prayer meeting, and similar scenes can be witnessed in Glasgow pubs on most nights of the week. But there is something particularly striking about a setting which combines this with the solidity of ceremony and tradition. It is a noble thing, I think, to confer a sense of the sacred on such a celebration of comradeship and gratitude. It reminds us of the deep dignity of the simplest of our emotions. It does the religious man no harm to remember that these things are always and everywhere sacred, even for non-religious people.

After all, a man’s a man, for a’ that, as the Bard would have it. God created men to live in friendship and good cheer, and Rabbie Burns famously saw through the pessimism of Calvinism to the Catholic truth that all men, places and things have an intrinsic goodness about them that we should try to love.

Somehow January seems just the right time for this kind of consolation. It is such a long month, and in this part of the world much colder and darker than December. The solace in winter that Burns Night undeniably brings is probably the only reason why, in modern times, the Scots managed to resist the public celebration of Christmas for so long; until the nineteen seventies, in fact. They already had one winter feast of loving, forgiving and remembering the poor. Why spend good money on another? (You know how careful the Scots are with their money.)

Which puts me in mind of an occasion, about ten years ago, when I borrowed 7o pounds 50 pence from my friend, Mr Asch; you know that he is called Rabbie, like our Bard, tonight, and that with his family’s Hebrew origins, his brother Russell, nearly became a Rabbi. That would have made a Rabbie and a Rabbi, which would have been confusing for the postman.

Anyway, back to the 70 pounds and 50 pence I once borrowed from Mr Robbie Asch.
A week later I pressed three twenties and a tenner into his hand and thanked him warmly. “What about the 50p” said Mr Asch.
“Ach, Robbie,” said I, “only a Jew would ask for the 50p!”
“Aye,” said Mr Asch, “And only a Scot would begrudge giving it.”

Thirty years after Scotland started celebrating Christmas publicly, we have managed to spoil it (or at least our public observance of it) in Scotland and everywhere else. But the potential for genuine cheer that Burns Night possesses remains mysteriously intact, and so for any of you with the scantiest claim to Caledonian kinship, I recommend its observance without reserve.

Burns and his poetry evoke all the joys and sufferings of raw humanity, and with the help of the whisky that accompanies the other traditional fare for the evening – haggis (a surprisingly delicious sausage made of minced sheep offal, oats, onion and pepper), turnips and potatoes – the event, with all its speeches, laughter and song brings people closer together as they reflect on what makes us human and why, despite its hardships, life is always worth living. (Burns had, incidentally, no time for those who would disagree with this sentiment. In his On a Suicide, he harshly quipped: Earth'd up, here lies an imp o' hell, /Planted by Satan's dibble; /Poor silly wretch, he's damned himsel', /To save the Lord the trouble. )

Scottish culture is about heavy and unsubtle things: the pipes, haggis, potatoes, predestination. Even the nation's favourite drink, the Uisce beatha (water of life) can be very un-nuanced in its effects on man. The architecture too is heavy and solid.
Perhaps all this heaviness owes something also to Scotland’s historic poverty, geography, climate and the rugged closeness of its people to the harsh realities of existence.

It is in such circumstances that sometimes the purest and most enduring expressions of human emotions are forged. Because with those bass notes reverberating in our bones – the drone of the pipes, the swell of the ocean, the reality of constant wet weather, the closeness to death and illness - we are apt to express deep emotion with great facility.

Millions living today have (even many times) sung these words of Burns: “Now here’s a hand, my trusty friend; and gie’s a hand o’ thine … We’ll tak’ a cup of kindness yet for the sake of auld lang syne.” And that moment for all of us, I wager, has often been one of great emotion.
But Burns’ passion was not just reserved for brotherly love. His fascination with the ladies was a constant leitmotif of his short life. It puts me in mind of a scandalous thing an old priest of the Isles once said to me, as I enjoyed his Gaelic hospitality: “you’ll find us all a bit Jansenist, but at least we enjoy our falls from grace.”

A similarly bracing (if somewhat theologically problematic) message is found in Burns’ popular song, Green Grow the Rashes O’.

Green grow the rashes, O;
Green grow the rashes, O;
The sweetest hours that e'er I spend,
Are spent amang the lasses, O.

There's nought but care on ev'ry han',
In ev'ry hour that passes, O:
What signifies the life o' man,
An' 'twere na for the lasses, O.
Green grow, &c. …

For you sae douce, ye sneer at this;
Ye're nought but senseless asses, O:
The wisest man the warl' e'er saw,
He dearly lov'd the lasses,
O. Green grow, &c.

Auld Nature swears, the lovely dears
Her noblest work she classes, O:
Her prentice han' she try'd on man,
An' then she made the lasses,
O. Green grow, &c.

Burns fathered twelve children by four women, including nine by his wife Jean Armour. Seven of his children were illegitimate, including the first four by Jean before they were married in 1788. So the man knew his subject.

The poet himself analyses “the various species of young men” whom he divides into two kinds: “the grave and the merry”. The former are either “goaded on by the love of money,” or wish only “to make a figure in the world." He much prefers "the jovial lads, who have too much fire and spirit to have any settled rule of action, but without much deliberation follow the strong impulses of nature”. “I do not see,” he continues, “that the turn of mind and pursuits of such a one as the following verses describe - who steals thro' the vale of life, amusing himself with every little flower that fortune throws in his way, is, in the least, more inimical to the sacred interests of piety and virtue. I do not see but he may gain heaven as well as he who, straining straight forward, and perhaps bespattering all about him, gains some of life's little eminences, where, after all, he can only see and be seen a little more conspicuously than he whom in the pride of his heart, he is apt to term the poor, indolent devil he has left behind him.”[2] But perhaps we will hear more of this anon, when we come to toast the lassies.

Burns is a proto-Romantic. His poetry is in clear continuity with the medieval machars of Scotland, professional poets who composed poetry to mark the highs and lows of everyday life for recitation to their noble patrons. He shared with later Romantics such as Scott a nostalgic affection for his country’s medieval heritage, an attitude which went some way to healing the historic distrust for all things Catholic. Burns, in common with most of his generation, certainly perceived Catholicism as ‘other’ and laying no particular claim on his universe, but he had Catholic friends and admirers.

In a day when most of Scotland’s chattering classes were content with the new appellation ‘North British’, Burns made a stand for the defence of Scottishness and what he saw as the Scottish virtues of honesty, simplicity and natural nobility:

What though on hamely fare we dine,
Wear hoddin grey, and a' that.
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine,
A Man's a Man for a' that.

For a' that, and a' that,
Their tinsel show, and a' that;
The honest man, though e'er sae poor,
Is king o' men for a' that. [3]

He bewailed the fact that Scotland was content to sell her culture and soul for English gold:

The English steel we could disdain,
Secure in valor's station;
But English gold has been our bane,
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation! [4]

One of Burns’ most enthusiastic admirers was Dr John Geddes, Catholic bishop and Vicar Apostolic for the Lowlands. He was the elder brother of the biblical critic and priest Alexander Geddes, also known to Burns. John and Alexander Geddes knew something of the harsh, rural life that Burns had lived: the two brothers had been junior seminarians at Scalan, a tiny (illegal) house of formation near Glenlivet for lads destined for the priesthood. They wore the kilt, lived on salmon and porridge, and washed in an icy stream each morning, in a valley surrounded by moutains where, according to Alexander, the sun never shone.

Burns first met Dr John Geddes at the house of Lord Monboddo in Edinburgh during the winter of 1786-7. Geddes took an interest in the poet's work, and was responsible for persuading five seminaries, including that of the Scots College at Valladolid (of which he had once been Rector) to subscribe to the Edinburgh Edition of Burns’ work in 1787. Burns took Geddes's own copy, bound with blank sheets for taking notes, with him on his Highland tour, and delayed returning it for two years. Writing to Geddes from Ellisland on 3rd February 1789, the poet apologised for having kept the book so long: 'You will see in your book, which I beg your pardon for detaining so long, that I have been turning my lyre on the banks of the Nith. Some larger poetic plans that are floating in my imagination, or partly put in execution, I shall impart to you when I have the pleasure of meeting with you...'

Letters of Bishop Geddes about Burns were recently discovered in a collection held by the Scottish Catholic Archives[5]. They give us an interesting snapshot of Burns' activity in Edinburgh and Ayrshire, at a time when, although on the brink of literary success, he was still effectively on the run from the parents of his future wife, by whom he had already sired two illegitimate children. His star was clearly rising nonetheless.

In one letter, Bishop Geddes writes:
“Burns, with whom I am intimately acquainted, though he was only Hireman to his elder Brother until August 1786 and never before that time master of ten pounds: yet read a great deal having been for many years a subscriber to a circulating library at Kilmarnock; had a little chest for holding books at the fireside, and on the Sundays, if the weather was good, instead of going to the Kirk, went to a wood with some Poet[ry]. Amendments were offered to him by Dr Gregory and others; but he would not adopt one of them; because he said; he was to publish his own Poetry. The Excuses he made to me for the Irreligion and some Licentiousness in the book were, that he only attracted the wild notions of the Religionists in the west, and that he had done good [and] that when he published his Poems he was not acquainted with that, [but of that] I am not a competent judge.”

In many letters throughout 1787 Geddes introduced, with some considerable zeal, more and more of his acquaintances to the work of Burns:
“You will have heard of the Ayrshire Poet Mr Burns, who was a ploughman until a few months ago. His poems have been lately printed here, and the subscribers were near to three thousand: he has truly a great genius and might improve himself much, as he is only twenty eight years of Age: but, I think, he will not be easily advised: he is one of those, who think for themselves, which to some degrees is laudable. I have been twice in company with him, and we are great friends.”

Another manuscript in the collection highlights Burns’ discreet Jacobite sympathy that has become synonymous with most Scottish patriotism, and his nostalgia for the Stewart (Catholic) kings.

“Wrote by Burns on the window of an Inn at Stirling at the sight of Stirling castle:
Here once the Noble Stewarts reigned
and laws to Scotia well ordaind
But now unroofd their palace stands
Their sceptre swayd by other hands
In idiot race to honour lost
who knows them best despise them most”

Burns was a fine satirist. His victims included the political and religious hypocrites of his day. When Burns was made to do public penance for three weeks, after his being admonished by the Kirk for his dalliance with Jean Armour (whom he later married), he recast in immortal Scots the Pharisee’s prayer of our Lord’s parable, featuring a drunken and debauched elder who has a lively appreciation of God’s mercy for himself but not for others. The elder Holy Willie praises himself and God in the same breath:

I bless and praise Thy matchless might,
When thousands Thou hast left in night,
That I am here afore Thy sight,
For gifts an' grace
A burning and a shining light
To a' this place.[6]

The irony is delicious; and the conceited attitude it commemorates is - we must admit - a familiar part of everyone’s experience of religion. Of course, we are always ready to see Holy Wille in anyone else but ourselves. But Burns was aware enough of his own wretchedness, and frequently begs Heaven for mercy.

He also, famously, asks for self-awareness:
“O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see ourselves as other see us.”[7]

A journalist visiting us a couple of years ago was bemused to hear one of our boys talk about St Burns. The poor innocent had assumed that with all the fuss we made of the man he must surely be a saint.

For my part, I certainly pray to meet old Rabbie one day, with his ‘enthusiastic heart of love’ alongside his generous and courteous friend, Bishop John, if – that is – I am forgiven all my sins as I pray the Power above has forgiven them theirs.

The Bard made these verses for the family of a Minister whose hospitality he once enjoyed. Turning to the angels, we can make them our own: for all those we have loved and lost, and all those we have loved and kept, over the years.

The beauteous, seraph sister-band-
With earnest tears I pray-
Thou know'st the snares on ev'ry hand,
Guide Thou their steps alway.

When, soon or late, they reach that coast,
O'er Life's rough ocean driven,
May they rejoice, no wand'rer lost,
A family in Heaven![8]

[1] ie. “Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts. Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more.” Proverbs xxvi 6,7.
[2] Burns’ 1st Commonplace Book (April 1783 - October 1785)
[3] For A’ That and A’ That
[4] Such a Parcel of Rogues in a Nation
[5] Facsimiles of some of Geddes’ letters can be consulted on line at http://www.catholic-heritage.net/
[6] Holy Willie’s Prayer
[7] In To a Louse, where the poet records the shame of a lady in church who is unaware that a large louse is crawling around on her new hat.
[8] From O Thou Dread Power