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Age and decay ...

The winter brings thoughts of mortality. Someone was asking me the the other day about a 20 year plan for the school, and the thought of what the world and I might be like in 20 years' time kept me awake much of the following night.

Now in my 40th year, I thought I would dig out a photo of me at 20, for everyone's amusement. I think I was better-looking then, but rather too dreamy ...

Deep in school reports today, but looking forward to a trip to Nantes on Saturday: Christmas shopping, Advent confession, a change of scenery.

Seasonal song
This year's Carol Service was quite a success. We have about ten trebles at the moment, so the choir is improving. Our CD from 2004, Les Choristes de Chavagnes, has been re-issued, and is available from me for 15 euros including post and packing. (Send orders to cdorders@chavagnes.org)

New photo book from Chavagnes

Father Talbot and I have produced a photographic record of life at Chavagnes, available now from Amazon. (see link, left).

The book contains portraits of the College's office-holders (including our house captains), plus images from the sciences, arts, sports (boxing, fencing, rugby, rowing, rising ...), music, worship ... every aspect of school life is represented. And Father Talbot's photos are also beautiful works of art in their own right.

An ideal gift, this book should also help to promote the College to a wider audience.

How boys become men: advice for quiet dads and over-protective mothers ...

I have just read a fascinating book by a New Zealander lady who worked for fifteen years as a prison officer in prisons for young men. (He'll Be OK: Growing Gorgeous Boys into Good Men, by Celia Lashlie.) She was commissioned by a group of private boys' boarding schools in New Zealand to carry out a large research project, 'The Good Man Project', interviewing pupils, parents and teachers in about 25 large schools across the country.

Her aim was find out what is going wrong, and right, with the raising of boys.

This book presents the conclusions of 18 month of intensive 'action research'. In action research, the focus is on collecting testimonies and opinions from large numbers of people, and then coming to general conclusions. The result is chatty and easy to read. There are no tables or graphs.

There are some interesting conclusions, especially about the role of men in guiding adolescent boys through the most difficult time in growing up (around age 14, the au…

Well done, Monsieur le President

I saw President Sarkozy on the television the other day, being savaged by three interviewers at once. I had never seen anything like it. Three against one didn't seem fair. But Sarkozy equalled his performance in the interview just before he was elected, in which he showed up Segolene Royale for the sanctimonious old volcano of hatred that she is.

Sarkozy is a bit of a chancer, but he is a survivor also. And his public speaking gifts, born of his time as a lawyer no doubt, are impressive.

One issue he tackled was the high taxation and social security in France that made the country uncompetitive in the European market. He cited Spain as an example of a country in which even a socialist government was realising it had to keep tax and social security low in order to let the economy compete. All of this was of course completely rejected by Royale and Co. afterwards.

Sarkozy actually promised not to increase taxes, but instead to replace only one in two civil servants leaving for retirem…

Poland's whodunnit: paranoia or are they on to something?

A number of years ago I visited Poland and stayed in a special hotel attached to the parliament, as a guest of one of the deputies. It was an interesting experience: there was a gas mask under the bed - only one, even though we were two friends sharing a room, so thankfully I never had to face that dilemma, and in any case the instructions were in Polish and Russian neither of which are my strongest languages ... The only MPs around at the time (it was a recess for the parliament) were draped in gold bling, and looked decidedly unparliamentary. The old coldness and reserve of communist times was still tangible, especially among the staff ... and when I took my Polish friends out for a couple of bottles of Russian champagne (for the price of a London cup of tea) it felt like a revolution for them.

The country was in the throes of an identity crisis. Catholic or progressive; nationalistic or mulitcultural ... it was a long list of dilemmas. And on the country's western borders the G…

Was Shakespeare Irish?

On this blog I have discussed before the vexed question of whether Shakespeare was a Catholic. Listening to the following rendition in 'Original Pronunciation', the Bard certainly sounds very Irish, which is almost as good ... enjoy:

Mel Gibson needs our prayers

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Of course we all admit to being sinners, and draw comfort from Our Lady's prayers.

But does your average Catholic sinner spare a prayer for those people whom in gossipy conversation we simply write off as hopelessly beyond the Pale? Perhaps we need to develop the reflex of praying earnestly for every soul we publicly denegrate, as well as remembering to repent of our general lack of charity, good manners and discernment.

One man who has been battered by life recently is Mel Gibson, and it's no consolation for him to hear that it's all his own fault. About a year ago, when his wife of many years (and mother of his children) filed for divorce, he begged the Bishops of the Eastern Catholic Church in the US to pray for him, flying in for their conference especially to enlist their intercessory help. Since that time, a great many difficult and embarassing things have happened to Mel, and I own up to being uncharitable about hi…

Philippe de Villiers and the Vendee

The Vendee was yesterday shaken by the news that Philippe de Villiers, who has been President of the Department's Conseil Général for 22 years, has resigned.

It all follows a vote of no confidence last week, precipitated by the disillusionment of Senator Bruno Retailleau, a spiritual son of de Villiers, and Vice-President of the Vendee, who has resigned from the party (de Viliers' Mouvement pour la France). Shades of Julius Caesar and Brutus ... I know how de Villiers feels, because I have been stabbed in the back a few times in my life. Unlike Caesar, I have somehow managed to get up and keep going. And I suspect that de Villiers will do the same.

Perhaps at 61, he feels that if he is going to make his mark in another kind of public life, he needs to make a start now. He has also just got over a rare form of eye cancer; and there are other problems the family.

The national papers are speculating that perhaps he will join the government. My gut feeling is that he will move into a…

My first laptop

Yesterday, as a belated birthday present, I bought myself my first ever portable computer. I am even looking forward to my next journey on a French train now: all the commuting gentlemen are well-ensconced with them, thought I suspect that most of them are just watching films. The man in the shop tried to sell me a more expensive one because the "entry-level" model I settled for "would only store 300 films" ....

It was only when I returned home from the shop that I realised it had a French keyboard. I am getting used to its vagaries now and will have to start thinking about all those accents I had become accustomed to leave out.

I have been listening to BBC Radio 3, with wonderful sound quality. It's almost as if I had never left Blighty.

On ‘Empathetic Capacity’ in the perspective of Eternity

I recently read about some 17th century Dominican dialogues with Zen Buddhist monks and the many interesting and moving consequences that such cultural openness brought to the men of that age. I am also currently engaged in some research into the work of Matteo Ricci, the Jesuit missionary in China. These men were Christian humanists, engaged in bold cultural outreach in faithfulness to the Gospel injunction to preach to all nations.

Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive of the Royal Society of Arts (of which I am a Fellow) recently gave an illustrated talk, now available online, which calls for a ‘21st century enlightement’, or a new humanism for the new century. This is going to be the RSA’s new ‘strap’ or byword. You can watch his fascinating, entertaining (and short) lecture, complete with cartoons at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AC7ANGMy0yo&feature=player_embedded

Taylor speaks of progress in the development of ‘empathetic capacity’ and notes what he sees as the decrease in person…

Father's photos

Father Anthony Talbot, our chaplain at Chavagnes, has launched a website featuring his photography. Please do pay him a visit at http://www.anthonytalbot.com/

Today in the Old Roman Martyrology ...

From the third lesson at Matins:

"On the same day, at Imola, the martyr Cassian was put to a most cruel death. He was a schoolmaster, and was given up to his scholars, with his hands bound behind his back, to be stabbed and torn to death with steel pens. Owing to the weakness of the means, the suffering of his martyrdom was very grievous and long, and his palm all the more glorious."

Scouts de Chavagnes

My colleague, Mr Crawford, has been putting some of his scouting reflections online on the new Scouts de Chavagnes website. Stirring stuff ...

Praying for Patrick

Any of you who have been praying for our former pupil, Patrick de la M., will be pleased to hear that after news that his chimotherapy had not worked, there is now some more encouraging news.

Things are looking up for Patrick, as some more digging has removed all the cancerous material; tests of the leg and lungs are showing all clear. He has 3 days of chimo then 2 weeks holiday with his family and then a month of super-chimo in a sterile room to try and make sure everything is ''nuked'. So keep praying.

Lithuanian monks

It seems that there are French (and Lithuanian) monks just a few miles away from where I am going in Lithuania. The Priory of Palendrai is presiding over a new liturgical movement in the country, with promotion of liturgical catchesis and Gregorian chant workshops ...

It is a daughter house of Solesmes. So it looks like I am going to have to include this splendid site (beautiful stone buildings, only built a few years ago) in my itinerary.

Lithuania, here we come ...

I have recently booked myself a ticket to Lithuania in early August, to give me a little break from Chavagnes. I have always been a fan of Scandinavia and the Baltic, and Lithuania is the one country (other than Iceland) that has so far escaped me ...

From a Catholic point of view, I am interested in discovering a Nordic/Baltic culture that is still in touch with its medieval roots. However, it seems that there are some unpleasant surprises in store. I had been aware of the Lithuanians' terrible suffering under communism, and in particular of the suffering of the Lithuanian Church. And yet I had no idea of how the functioned under Nazism. My first little researches seem to suggest to me that the attitude that Lithuanians demonstrated to the Germans in 1941 was essentially enthusiastic. They felt that the Nazis were coming to liberate them from Russian communist domination: they were liberators who would restore the relatively new idea of a Lithuanian state (like all the Baltic stat…

Hallowing the Flesh

Strict Protestants, Manicheans and over-Augustinian Catholics take the view that the flesh is just bad news. And they have a number of Scripture quotes to throw at us: ‘All flesh is grass’, “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” … OK, more than a few in fact. There are hundreds.

But St Thomas favoured Aristotle over Plato, and so did, on the whole, the mainstream of the western Catholic tradition. The same St Paul who opposes flesh and spirit (Gal 5:13-18, echoing Mark 14:38 ) also resists a dichotomy of body and soul whose separation at death is a mere temporary aberration, awaiting the correction of the general resurrection of the dead. Indeed, the human body, for the same St Paul, can be an instrument for God’s glory here and now (1 Corinthians 6:20).

The flesh is good news, because the human body is a precious reliquary for the human soul and an icon of it. In fact, they are just aspects of the same reality.

Human bodies are, or can be, very beautiful. That’s no surprise if th…

More on the New York Times smear campaign against the Pope

The Pope, the judge, the paedophile priest and The New York Times
From Damian Thompson's blog ...



Fr Thomas Brundage, the former Archdiocese of Milwaukee Judicial Vicar who presided over the canonical criminal case of the Wisconsin child abuser Fr Lawrence Murphy, has broken his silence to give a devastating account of the scandal – and of the behaviour of The New York Times, which resurrected the story.

It looks as if the media were in such a hurry to to blame the Pope for this wretched business that not one news organisation contacted Fr Brundage. As a result, crucial details were unreported.

Moreover, Fr Brundage – who seems to have shown admirable tenacity in pursuing the loathsome Fr Murphy – claims that a document of questionable provenance was quoted authoritatively by the media as a source for his own opinions. At the very least, The New York Times and many other organisations have some explaining to do. They must be held to account for the way they pursued this story, which l…

The Pope and the Press ...

Thanks to Jack Valero (forwarded to me by email) for the information I am going to post here, explaining how the attack on Benedict XVI re two cases of child-abusing priests is - though sad and shameful in itself - just a stick with which to beat the Pope.

Valero writes: "The idea of some in the media was then to find a story that involved Cardinal Ratzinger directly, before becoming Pope. First there was a story based in Munich, where Cardinal Ratzinger had been archbishop and he had authorised for a priest from another German diocese to come to Munich for treatment. He was an abuser. Without Cardinal Ratzinger’s knowledge, he was placed in a parish situation where he abused again. By the time this was found out Cardinal Ratzinger had been in Rome for a few years. So he was not involved.

The second story broke in the New York Times on 25 March and was about a Fr Murphy who had abused deaf children in the 70’s. He had been reported to the civil authorities who investigated him but …

On us thy dear children ... St Patick's Day 2010

Singing 'Hail, glorious St Patrick' always brings a tear to my eyes, especially the verse about the exiles keeping alive the fire lit by the man at Tara, now spread throughout the world. In our own school we have the relics of a 7th century Irish missionary saint in our altar, one of the early spiritual sons of St Patrick.

This year my Irish sentimentalism was tinged with a dose of collective shame about the whole saga unfolding in Ireland regarding child abuse. It is just all so horrible.

But, let's get one thing straight: to pretend that priestly celibacy is the problem is a very myopic idea. How many women do you know who would have liked to marry one of these men? It is blindingly obvious that in the case of sexual abuse, we are concerned with men who enter the priesthood for false motives. In the famous case of Father Sean Fortune, and in almost all the others, the abuse starts as soon as the priest has the chance, shortly after ordination. The issue for ths Church is t…

To be a Leader: lessons from Richard Branson and Jesus Christ

Every human community has a leader, starting with the smallest of human communities, the family. And the quality of life of those within a community depends to a significant extent on the quality of leadership exercised within it. At a national level, this is why leadership change is hailed each election time as a time of new opportunities, or new frustrations, depending on one’s point of view. One of Britain’s recent leaders was prepared to go to war, in Iraq, to achieve ‘régime change’ for that country, which effectively amounted to the removal of a strong (and admittedly rather unpredictable) leader to be replaced by a weaker (and much more controllable) one.

Even in our scientific age the mysterious and risky business of leadership is what determines, on all sorts of levels, the content and quality of our lives at home, at work, at church, in the world at large, in fact; but perhaps especially in those unique, self-contained worlds to which we consign our children for somewhere be…

Just for kids ...

My good friend Denis Boyles is this year continuing to host the Brouzils Seminars, courses for aspiring writers.

This year I am especially happy to be associated with the Turner-Tripp Workshops, which will focus on empowering aspiring creators to launch books, screenplays, teleplays, or other projects intended for children and their parents.

In an age when wholesome entertainment for children is sometimes hard to find, this initiative will help new writers with good ideas to bring their projects to completion.

The course is being hosted by two world experts in the field:

Jenny Tripp was recently nominated for the Sequoyah Book Award for Children's Literature. She’s the author of Pete and Fremont and Pete's Disappearing Act (Harcourt), and Fais Do-Do, a children's picture book, forthcoming from Harper-Collins. She is a Lifetime Member of the Writer's Guild of America and has written for most of the major studios in a variety of genres, from feature animation, to live actio…