Contemplata aliis Tradere

A meagre contribution to the mission and work of the Order of Preachers: my reflections, thoughts, ideas and the occasional rant on matters mainly theological, philosophical and ecclesiastical, drawn primarily from my reading and experience of life and the world. Striving to be always Catholic, firmly Christian and essentially Dominican, flavoured with dashes of Von Balthasar.

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Location: Oxford, United Kingdom

A son of the English Province of the Order of Friars Preachers (Dominicans); born in Malaysia but have lived in the USA, Singapore, the UK & the Philippines for varying durations. A pilgrim and way-farer, a searcher for Truth on the journey of Life... "Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, There’s always laughter and good red wine. At least I’ve always found it so. Benedicamus Domino!" - Hilaire Belloc

Thursday, June 30, 2005

The Prayers of the Saints

These past few days has seen a wonderful manifestation of the Communion of Saints for me. In fact, ever since I began this blog, I have been aware of the way the baptised are linked virtually and spiritually. In particular, the days surrounding the Coetus meeting on 8 June and this past week has powerfully reminded me of the great number of witnesses who surround me in prayer. For without the grace of God mediated through the prayers of the saints - you here on earth and those in heaven, now with the Lord in glory - I would not be here today and that Te Deum would not have been sung yesterday.

Yesterday, after 48 tense hours of waiting and fervent prayers, I was relieved to finally receive an email from fr Allan White, OP. He wrote, accepting me as a candidate for the Novitiate in the English Province of the Order of Preachers, which begins in September in Cambridge. I was over-joyed and my eyes filled with tears and my heart with gratitude! For the one thing I have realised in the past months is that this has happened not for any merit or worthiness on my part. Only by the grace of God has this vocation been given to me and only by His grace will I proceed. Ultimately, the glory, honour, praise, thanksgiving and recognition goes to the Triune God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

I thank the Lord for the many people who have been witnesses to His love and care for me. This blog has been an unexpected blessing. Looking at my Statcounter, the peak numbers of visitors to this blog have certainly been on those days when important decisions were being made... clearly concerned readers do check in for the latest news on my vocation and my faith journey. I am truly humbled by this. I am also very touched whenever a stranger, someone who has dropped in on my blog by chance, emails or comments that he or she will pray for me. I am thankful also for the prayers of Dominicans around the blogosphere. Such acts are a revelation of God's love to me.

Over and above this, the constant love, support and prayers of my friends and family have been an unfailing source of strength. In the 'real', non-virtual world, there are countless parishioners here in Skipton who have been praying for me, asking me frequently for news. It was frustrating when I had none to give them, but their loving concern was much appreciated. In a special way, I give thanks for and to Fr Peter Dawber, my parish priest who has stood by me and with me for years now - a true friend and pastor. My friends and former colleagues in the seminary have also been praying for me, asking me to keep them informed. They may not write or email much but I know that they have been waiting and praying with me. There has also been my friends in the Philippines and Singapore who have been praying for me earnestly. In particular, I am thinking of the Dominican family in Manila. There is the home of my vocation, the seed-bed where I grew to love the Order for its people and began to see in them a joyous family which I wanted to be part of too. They have been waiting on the edge with me, praying for me, offering Masses and sending me lovely text messages and emails. In my hardest moments, they have been a beacon of hope, love and faith. And like a solid foundation, one that is hardly noticed, but always there, my family in Malaysia, the USA and Singapore have been praying too, assuring me of their support. Without any of you, but especially without the love and understanding of my family, I would not be here today.

These people with whom I am connected by the bond of love and faith in the One God are all manifestations of God's love and care. Every time I felt I needed some encouragement, and another email or telephone call came, just at the right time, I knew God was saying, through them: "I love you".

But the communion of saints is much more than just the Church Militant; it is also the Church Triumphant, the saints in heaven. In these past days, I have prayed the Dominican Litany of Saints, I have said a Novena to St Dominic and to Our Lady of Guadalupe. To Our Blessed Lady, I offer praise and thanks and continue to entrust myself to her motherly protection and guidance. I recount all this not because I think I am saved by my works, nor do I want you to think I am boasting of how hard I prayed. No, I wish to recall my indebtedness to the saints in heaven and glorify God in my thanksgiving to them for their heavenly aid. It is fitting and wonderful that this grace has come to me on the great feast of St Peter and St Paul, my beloved patrons. Their lives are a constant source of inspiration and hope, as I mentioned in yesterday's post. I have also implored the help of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta and the Servant of God, John Paul II and received their aid and comfort in prayer. To these holy saints, and also to you, readers, friends, benefactors, I wish to offer my thanks and gratitude.

Together, we have journeyed this far, and with so great a company around me, I am confident that with your prayers and support, the grace of God and the intercession of Our Lady, St Dominic, Ss Peter & Paul and all the saints, I shall find the strength and courage to begin the work of Preaching and the Salvation of Souls with my Dominican brothers and sisters. With humility and hope, some fear and much joy, I set out on this stage of my pilgrimage of faith. I place all my trust in God:

You, O God alone are the source of every goodness and blessing; You are the
fulfillment of the saints, the joy of the righteous. You, dearest and Most High
God, are the hope and strength of mankind in every age, the One from Whom all
good things come, full of compassion and mercy. You have begun this good work in
me; may You O Lord bring it to fulfillment, perfection and completion! Amen.

The photo above was taken in San Lorenzo Ruiz church in Dagat-dagatan, the Philippines with a new statue of St Dominic, a gift to the parish. I am dressed in a barong Tagalog, the national shirt of the Filipino people on the occasion of the graduation of my students. Lovely statue of Sto Domingo... pity about that bloke in the way!!

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

I have been accepted!

"Te Deum laudamus: te Dominum confitemur.
Te aeternum Patrem omnis terra veneratur.
Tibi omnes Angeli; tibi Caeli et universae Potestates;
Tibi Cherubim et Seraphim incessabili voce proclamant:
Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Dominus Deus Sabaoth.
Pleni sunt caeli et terra maiestatis gloriae tuae.
Te gloriosus Apostolorum chorus,
Te Prophetarum laudabilis numerus,
Te Martyrum candidatus laudat exercitus.
Te per orbem terrarum sancta confitetur Ecclesia,
Patrem immensae maiestatis:
Venerandum tuum verum et unicum Filium;
Sanctum quoque Paraclitum Spiritum.
Tu Rex gloriae, Christe.
Tu Patris sempiternus es Filius.
Tu ad liberandum suscepturus hominem, non horruisti Virginis uterum.
Tu, devicto mortis aculeo, aperuisti credentibus regna caelorum.
Tu ad dexteram Dei sedes, in gloria Patris.
Iudex crederis esse venturus.
Te ergo quaesumus, tuis famulis subveni: quos pretioso sanguine redemisti.
Aeterna fac cum sanctis tuis in gloria numerari."

'O GOD, we praise Thee: we acknowledge Thee to be the Lord.
Everlasting Father, all the earth doth worship Thee.
To Thee all the Angels, the Heavens and all the Powers,
all the Cherubim and Seraphim, unceasingly proclaim:
Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts!
Heaven and earth are full of the Majesty of Thy glory.
The glorious choir of the Apostles,
the wonderful company of Prophets,
the white-robed army of Martyrs, praise Thee.
Holy Church throughout the world doth acknowledge Thee:
the Father of infinite Majesty;
Thy adorable, true and only Son;
and the Holy Spirit, the Comforter.
O Christ, Thou art the King of glory!
Thou art the everlasting Son of the Father.
Thou, having taken it upon Thyself to deliver man, didst not disdain the Virgin's womb.
Thou overcame the sting of death and hast opened to believers the Kingdom of Heaven.
Thou sitest at the right hand of God, in the glory of the Father.
We believe that Thou shalt come to be our Judge.
We beseech Thee, therefore, to help Thy servants whom Thou hast redeemed with Thy Precious Blood.
Make them to be numbered with Thy Saints in everlasting glory.'

P.S. Turn your sound on! The Te Deum, when loaded should be playing!!

O Roma Felix!

NB: This is posted on the eve of 28 June, the Vigil of Ss Peter & Paul (but dated for 29 June), in time for First Vespers of the Solemnity!

"Rejoice, O Rome, this day; thy walls they once did sign
With princely blood, who now their glory share with thee.
What city's vesture glows with crimson deep as thine?
What beauty else has earth that may compare with thee?"
These words, a translation of the Office Hymn, "Aurea luce" (possibly by Elpis c.4th cent.) refer to Saints Peter and Paul as the "princes of God's church" and this is perhaps fitting on a day when the Church in Rome, celebrates the feast of her Founders. Incidentally, this day 29 June, superceded the annual Roman celebration of the mythical foundation of the City under Romulus and Remus.

However, with all the triumph and glory of this day, from the statue of St Peter in the Vatican basilica who is today robed in a jewelled cope and the triregnum to the vast image of St Paul, sword in hand, which welcomes you to the Pauline basilica, it may be difficult to recall the humanity of the men who have been given these tremendous honours and titles. And yet, what attracts me so much to St Peter and St Paul is their humanity, their weaknesses and faults, their frailty and propensity for mistakes. In their sinfulness and humiliation, I can identify with them. But more than that, they offer me hope. To me, they are a great example of God's grace working in and building on human nature. Jesus, who called them, obviously saw in them a potential which they would not have recognized themselves and indeed no one else might have either. For who would expect the blood-thirsty and zealous persecutor of the fledgling Church to become her greatest apostle to the Gentiles and first theologian? Or who would have chosen a simple fisherman, a lying coward and boast, to lead the first Christians? Would our bishops or seminary formators choose such men today as priests and religious?! Who, indeed, would elect such men as leaders of the Church?

No one, but God. For only God takes such risks and is so profligate with His love. With love, God called these men out of their fears, sinfulness and ill-fated proclivities and with love, he taught them, nurtured them and built them up to do great things for Him. As such, St Paul, recognising his weakness and God's great love and mercy can say, "We have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us" (2 Cor 4:7). Or as St Peter is attributed to have said about the Christian people, "Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy" (1 Peter 2:10).

God gave these men his love, His grace, His mercy and empowered them to preach His Word to the ends of the earth, and indeed tradition holds that they went precisely to Rome, the centre of the known world, in order to enable that. For just as all roads led to Rome, so too those same roads took the Good News to the edges of the Empire and beyond. When Jesus Christ chose Ss Peter and Paul, He gave them an opportunity, a chance, the benefit of the doubt. He recognized their potential and used them for the glory of God and His Church. By choosing them, Christ saw into their hearts, and having implanted the seed of grace deep within their hearts, He brought that seed into full flourishing, watering it with the grace of the Holy Spirit. These men, rewarded Christ's faith in them, by tirelessly and fearlessly preaching His salvation to all people and eventually gave their lives in martyrdom for the sake of the Gospel. Redeemed by Love, they were consumed and spent by Love.

This is the reason, Holy Mother Church revels in St Peter and St Paul, for their preaching and witness is ultimately a Gospel of God's love and salvation, writ large in their very lives. We praise God for the wonders He has wrought in them, and we ask St Peter and St Paul to intercede for us, that we, who are still on the journey of faith, may receive God's mercy, love and grace and also the opportunity to flower to our full potential.

The photo above is from a 'Book of Epistles and Gospels for the Whole Year' published in 1864 (Ratisbone, New York, & Cincinnati).

You may wish to read the excellent homily by fr Denis Minns, OP which says with so much more eloquence and depth what I have attempted here!

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

An Ecclesiastical Ice-Cream Menu!

The Curt Jester has a rather amusing post which church musicians and others may appreciate. It's called Haugen-Haas and features some new 'flavours' in the Church. Check it out and have a laugh!

The Play of Virtues

On Sunday night, I was privileged to attend a rare performace of 'Ordo Virtutum' (The Ritual of the Virtues), believed to be the oldest existing musical drama and morality play in the West. The music and libretto were by the mystic and abbess Blessed Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179). In the beautiful setting of Scargill House, surrounded by the serene Yorkshire Dales and bathed in a gentle summer evening sunlight, this play unfolded in austere and contemplative splendour. It was performed by 'Vox Animae' and accompanied only by a hand-held harp. On only two occasions the music broke in harmony but was otherwise monophonic and chant-like.

The theme of the morality play is the struggle of the soul between the pleasures and lures of the flesh (embodied by the Devil) and the Virtues (personified and beautifully sung). The Soul is captivated by the Devil who offers her the world. Meanwhile, the Virtues are each expounded in song and led by the Queen of Virtues, Humility. Eventually, the Soul, ravished by the world returns and, with the help of the Virtues, conquer the Devil and they lead her to God where together, they praise Jesus Christ.

It is a wonderful libretto and the theme ever relevant for it speaks of the human condition.

"I am the sinner who fled from life: covered in sores I'll come to you - you can
offer me redemption's shield. All of you, warriors of Queen Humility, her white
lilies and her crimson roses, stoop to me, who exiled myself from you like a
stranger, and help me, that in the blood of the Son of God I may arise."

This is my prayer today, as I await Fr Provincial's decision. Please pray with me that they may find in me a worthy son of St Dominic.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Day Trip to London...

Please remember me especially in your prayers today. I am going to London today for my final interview and meeting with the Prior Provincial. I entrust myself to the care of Mary Immaculate and St Dominic.

"Memorare, O piissima Virgo Maria,
non esse auditum a saeculo, quemquam ad tua currentem praesidia,
tua implorantem auxilia, tua petentem suffragia, esse derelictum.
Ego tali animatus confidentia, ad te, Virgo Virginum, Mater,
curro, ad te venio, coram te gemens peccator assisto.
Noli, Mater Verbi, verba mea despicere;
sed audi propitia et exaudi. Amen."

'Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary,
that never was it known that any one who fled to thy protection,
implored thy help or sought thy intercession, was left unaided.
Inspired with this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of virgins my Mother;

to thee do I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful;
O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions,
but in thy clemency hear and answer me. Amen.'

attrib. St Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1154).

May St Cyril of Jerusalem, whose feast is today, intercede for me!

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Love and Self-Denial

I recall quite a few years ago, I said to a Catholic friend in Singapore that I believed self-denial was at the core of the Christian way of life. I said this in the context of urging him to try to live the ideal of chastity proposed by the Church. He retorted that surely, love, was at the heart of the Gospel (thus attempting to justify his deeds). I don't remember how the conversation proceeded but somehow that little exchange has remained in my mind. I believe that we were both right because love and self-denial in the light of the Gospel is not mutually exclusive. In fact, I would suggest that the latter makes possible and manifests the former and vice-versa. As such, they are complementary, and I feel that the readings of today's Sunday Liturgy elucidates this.

In today's Gospel, the Lord challenges his disciples with some rather radical (and to some, confusing perhaps) statements. In Matthew 10:37-19, Jesus says we are to prefer Him above all else, even our own families. Particularly in the Asian context, where family ties and obligations are very strong, this can be a considerably challenging and nigh impossible prospect. It would be unthinkable in many traditional Chinese families, for example, for a child to choose his or her own career - it is chosen by one's parents or grandparents. I know of many friends who studied law, or medicine, or some other 'respectable' profession against their own better instincts because they wanted to bring honour to their families and obey their elders. Nevertheless, we have the example of saints such as St Thomas Aquinas who took the risk of following God's call into the Dominican Order against his family's vehement protests and we behold in his life the utter fruitfulness of a total surrender to God's call. Thus, following Christ takes us to places our own families and loved ones may well not choose for us, and understandably so, for it is a Way fraught with risk and uncertainty. But the child who chooses to follow Christ does so in trust and hope and inevitably the family is caught up in the drama of God's love and call. Already, this idea of surrender to God's call pre-supposes a denial of self.

However, the crux of discipleship and being "worthy" of Christ is that we are to "take [our] cross and follow in [his] footsteps..." (Mt 10:38). In fact, St Matthew repeats these words of the Lord again in 16:24-25 and re-iterates that "those who lose their lives for [Jesus'] sake will find it" (Mt 16:25). There is a tendency to reduce the cross which Jesus mentions to a mere metaphor for the trials and sufferings of life; difficulties inflicted upon us. However, I believe the Lord is not just speaking of these, as the Cross He bore was not inflicted upon Him but something He freely took up. As he says in John 10:17-18: "For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again." As such, the Cross is a choice and something freely and lovingly willed. So too, the Father loves us for choosing to lay down our sinful lives in order to take up our new life in the Spirit.

Therefore, it would appear that the call to self-denial - to lose one's own life - which is a voluntary and willed act, is fairly central to the Gospel. Indeed, it is regarded as a key to following the Lord and thus finding eternal life. Therefore, St Paul in the Second Reading explains to the Romans that in our baptism, we have died to our former selves, our old life, and been raised to a new life in Christ Jesus. (cf Rom 6:3-4). This of course, is a rich theology of baptism expounded by St Paul, but it's not just theory. The drive of St Paul's message and the reason he invokes the theology is very practical - to encourage the Romans (and us) to live according to the metaphysical reality. In fact, this is a call to righteous living, according to the Spirit and the regeneration of baptism; it is the call to holiness. And St Paul knows the inherent inner conflict and struggles of righteous living (cf Rom 7:14-25) but he speaks of the triumph of grace over all our weaknesses thus alluding to the grace and power of the Resurrection. However, prior to the Resurrection must come the agony of the Cross.

For before we can rise with Christ, we truly have to carry our cross and die with him; we have to struggle against our sinful desires and passions and deny ourselves. And this denial of self is precisely a putting-to-death of the old sinful life and a rising to new life in Christ. In a consumerist age wherein we are encouraged to indulge our every desire and give in to impulse, self-denial is a strongly counter-cultural value and yet it is at the core of growth in Christian perfection, the universal vocation to holiness. But it is not sufficient that one merely denies oneself. This is not merely a test of self-control and will-power; it is above all else, an expression of Love and a means to Love. For when we die to ourselves, it is Love that must replace our former sinful selves, and it is Love - God Himself - who will raise us up. Moreover, we are called to take up our cross, and the Cross of Christ manifests itself especially as the very sign of divine Love, which conquers even death (cf Song of Solomon 8:6). Therefore, when the Lord, in today's Gospel, calls us to follow in His footsteps (cf Mt 10:38), he is calling us to walk the Via Dolorosa with him and take the road to Calvary! This Way of the Cross, which leads one to die for another, is essentially the Way of Love... As we are told: "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends" (Jn 15:13).

In the 20th century, this paradigm has been borne out by St Maximilian Kolbe, who offered his life to the Nazis that others might be spared the furnace of hate. I have little doubt that his sacrifice, a powerful witness to the sacrifice of Calvary and Christ's undying love for all people, has also been borne out by many unsung martyrs of the Holocaust and the many wars and tragedies that have blighted this age. The powerful witness of these martyrs is that Love is first and foremost an act of the will, in which one makes a conscious decision to sacrifice oneself for the good of the other. And this is the very essence of Love. As St Thomas Aquinas (drawing upon and modifying Aristotle) put it: "The first thing that a Lover wills is for the Beloved to exist and live" (cf ST IIa IIae, 25, 7). Another way to say this is that the Lover seeks the ultimate good of the Beloved. It is surprising how few people realize this... In my many conversations with friends encountering 'relationship problems', I believe that this simple but profound realization lies at the heart of any solution. Rather than to ask what joys and pleasures the other can give me or what I can get out of a relationship, we should ask what we can do for the greater good of the other. That is a fundamental question for all would-be lovers and this axiom holds true too for all Christians (and indeed all men and women of good will), for we are called by baptism to a vocation of Love; called to be Lovers!

St Therese of Lisieux realised this and this little doctor of the Church has much to teach us about the Way of Love. St Therese's 'little way' sought to do little things well, as acts of love for God. This unassuming but practical humility is a hallmark of Love which is a diminishment of the ego, of self and a desire to serve God and neighbour. In loving another and being mindful of the good of another and their needs, we have to give up something of ourselves; we essentially deny ourselves for the sake of another. I am sure that married couples will have experienced this, for being coupled with another and indeed even living in community with others or in a family, means that we think of others' needs and good before our own... Or at least, in an ideal situation, that is what we strive for! We learn to die to ourself, becoming less selfish, and consider what is the ultimate good of the others around us. Parents too will know this dynamic especially well. They give up so much for the good of their children and the larger the family, the more true this becomes. The tragedy of our selfish and self-obsessed age is the advent of men and women who want small families or even no children because they do not want to give up careers or luxury holidays in exotic locales or large, expansive homes, or (perhaps most difficult of all) time to do whatever one wants.

All these indicate the very nature of Love which is about self-giving and self-denial, ultimately even to the denial of one's own life (figuratively and literally if necessary) and we see this most explicitly in the life and unqualified self-giving of Jesus Christ and the saints who bask in the radiance of His love. As Von Balthasar puts it so beautifully: "In his kenosis as the 'servant of God', [Christ] becomes the manifestation of God's eternal love for the world... it is the radiant paradigm of divine love itself: precisely in -and only in- the kenosis of Christ, the inner mystery of God's love comes to light..." ('Love Alone is Credible, pp86-87) and this 'inner mystery' is the fact that God in Jesus can freely and paradoxically lay down His life and die for sinners. Thus at the very heart of Love is the Cross, the ultimate self-denial and self-gift: death that others might live.

It may be necessary for me to clarify too that when the Church speaks of self-denial she is not encouraging self-hatred or a casual disregard for oneself. For there is a paradox, that one can only love others truly if one firstly loves oneself. Even the Scriptures tell us that we must "love your neighbour as yourself" (Lev 19:18). St Thomas Aquinas expounds on this at length, drawing on self-love as the "origin and root of friendship" (cf Josef Pieper, Love, p236ff) but it is St Augustine who plainly says that, "If you do not know how to love yourself, you cannot truthfully love your neighbour."

Finally, we see something of that love of neighbour in today's First Reading. The Shunammite woman, although wealthy, was not therefore hoarding and self-obsessed (which is the wont of many of the rich)! Instead she noticed the need of Elisha and offered him her home; she extended hospitality to him. This motif of hospitality as a fine indication (and duty even) of Christian love and self-giving was highlighted in yesterday's Liturgy and I have written about that. Today it is re-iterated and the Lord goes on to say that a reward is due those who welcome strangers in his name (cf Mt 10:39-42). But Love gives to others with no need nor desire for reward, for Love delights in self-gift, welcoming others into the warmth of the heart. Indeed St Augustine tells us that, "the Beloved himself is Love's reward". Thus, Love leads us to consider ourselves less and to live solely for others, mindful of their needs; it leads us to deny ourselves and eliminate selfishness. Therefore, as one grows in Love, one actually dies to oneself and denies oneself, not as sufferance or penance but rather, because of Love. When we have allowed this dynamic of the Cross, the Way of Love, to consume our former selves we will find ourselves transformed, made new and "alive for God in Christ Jesus" (Rom 6:11) and so, worthy of Christ and eternal life... and this surely, is the ultimate reward, the fulfillment of the very longing of the human heart.

The photo above of a stained-glass Crucifix, the ultimate symbol of self-denying Love, is taken from the West Window of St Stephen's church in Skipton.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Hospitality and the outrage in Zimbabwe

Today's First Reading at Mass, taken from Genesis 18:1-15 is sometimes called the 'Hospitality of Abraham'. It is a popular subject for iconographers and none is so famous as the beautiful and serene icon by Andrei Rublev (c.1370-1430), a Russian monk of the Trinity and St Sergius Monastery.

There is a wealth of writings and reflections on this icon of the Holy Trinity and its rich symbolism: one only has to google it to come up with many interesting results and indeed, I might encourage you to do so, or you may simply click on this link here.

However, I just want to say something of the theophany which Abraham received here. Although the Genesis account is concerned with the hospitality of Abraham and Sarai towards their three visitors as they sat under the famous oak at Mamre, there is also a wondrous realization of God's hospitality. As that modern hymn with the rather whimsical tune puts it: "God and man at table are sat down."

Far more beautiful is George Herbert's (1593-1633) poem simply entitled 'Love (III)':

Love bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack'd anything.

'A guest,' I answer'd, 'worthy to be here:'
Love said, 'You shall be he.'
'I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on Thee.'
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
'Who made the eyes but I?'

'Truth, Lord; but I have marr'd them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.'
'And know you not,' says Love, 'Who bore the blame?'
'My dear, then I will serve.'
'You must sit down,' says Love, 'and taste my meat.'
So I did sit and eat.

What has always struck me about this lovely poem is its tenderness, its sense of enticement and attraction, the gentleness of Love with the Beloved. For the truth expressed in that poem and in the Genesis account is the truth of the Eucharist. It is the truth of God's love for humankind. It is the truth of God's longing for us to share in the divine life. Indeed, God's longing for us to have communion with Him is so great that he not only shared Abraham's meal under that oak tree, He also took human flesh and became one of us and He continues to give Himself to us in the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ. Moreover it is the Eucharist that draws us into the very midst of the divine Trinitarian life. This accounts for the symbolic 'chalice' in the icon above, which is the central object.

However, this radical hospitality of God is such that it places upon us a grave duty to give hospitality to others, especially to strangers, the lost, the dispossessed, travellers and the poor; all in need. As St Paul said to the Corinthians: "Make hospitality your special care" (1 Cor 12:13) or indeed, the Rule of St Benedict, 53 (echoing Hebrews 13:2) says: "All visitors who call are to be welcomed as if they were Christ..." It seems to me that a people who take these admonishments very much to heart are the Filipinos, whose hospitality is justly famous as the warmest in the world. Never have I encountered such generosity, warmth and love; a veritable glee in welcoming the stranger and making him part of the family. For hospitality is not just welcoming guests with courtesy but to take them into your heart and make them one of your own... Again, the Eucharistic motif of communion comes to the fore as we ourselves are drawn into the very life and heart of God.

In contrast, I must mention the terrible, heart-breaking and heinous deeds perpetrated by Mugabe in Zimbabwe. There, a man who is sadly among the baptised, one who shares the Eucharist with us, commits the most horrifying violations against the Christian duty of hospitality. Just yesterday, his police bulldozed houses so quickly that two children were trapped and killed in their own homes! Daily reports of these acts against the already desperate, sins against God's justice and love for his 'little ones' continues unabated... and the world seems helpless, only able to watch in horror and shake its head piously as world leaders - once so eager to oust dictators in the Middle East - allows this one to destroy his nation and torment his people.

The Bishops of Zimbabwe, in their recent Pastoral Letter highlight the situation thus:

"Countless numbers of men, women with babies, children of school age, the old and the sick, continue to sleep in the open air at winter temperatures near to freezing... These people urgently need shelter, food, clothing, [and] medicines... Any claim to justify this operation in view of a desired orderly end becomes totally groundless in view of the cruel and inhumane means that have been used. People have a right to shelter and that has been deliberately destroyed in this operation without much warning."

Surely the very ground cries out to God for vengeance! As the prophet Habakkuk said:

"O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and thou wilt not hear? Or cry to thee 'Violence!' and thou wilt not save? Why dost thou make me see wrongs and look upon trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law is slacked and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous, so justice goes forth perverted." (Hab 1:2-4)

How long indeed? The Church, the Body of Christ, suffers with our Zimbabwean brothers and sisters... Let us pray for mercy and Our Lady's intercession and expect the return of justice and peace and where possible, let us act and speak up in their behalf, for that is surely what genuine Christian hospitality demands of us.

Friday, June 24, 2005

"I must decrease, that He may increase"

The Nativity of St John the Baptist is one of only three birthdays celebrated in the Sanctoral, the others being the births of Our Lord and Our Lady. The Eastern Church celebrates not just two but as many as six feasts of the 'Forerunner' or 'Precursor', as St John is known. This attention paid to the last and greatest of the prophets, the second Elijah is not surprising. Of him, Jesus Christ himself said: "Among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist..." Of course, what is startling about the Lord's proclamation is that he concludes by saying that, "yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he" (Mt 11:11). It is with this perspective that we celebrate today's Solemnity. This is not by any means to lesses the Fore-runner's importance but it is once again a reminder of just how awesome is the redemptive work of Christ. For the least in the kingdom of heaven share in the very Godhead of the Most Holy Trinity, divinized by the condescension of Christ and given the Spirit of adoption (cf Rom 8:15ff).

Among those who consider St John the Baptist as their patron are French Canada, tailors, shepherds and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. To give the latter its full name, it is the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes, and of Malta. This is the oldest chivalric order in the world and was founded in 1070 in Jerusalem by Bl Gerard Tonque as a hospice for Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land. The hospice was named in honour of St John the Baptist and thus they claimed him as their patron. Following the crusades and with the vissicitudes of time, the Order retreated from Jerusalem and then Rhodes and finally Malta, but rather unusually, they are still afforded sovereign status and their 'headquarters' in Rome on the famed Via Condotti (the Magistral Palace) can lay claim to being the smallest state in Europe! As such, the Order is ruled by the Prince Grand Master who is currently an Englishman and carries the style of 'His Eminent Highness'. Among its current membership is this Pope, Benedict XVI. The Order's unique history and position unfortunately gives it an air of anachronism and it is frequently misunderstood and regarded as elitist because of its 'proof of nobility' requirement for membership. This is far from accurate as the Order (quietly) still does a tremendous amount of good work, serving those they call "our lords, the sick." Their annual Lourdes pilgrimage manages to link the Order to their original aim of hospital work among sick pilgrims.

A good friend of mine is a member of the Order and when appropriate he dons their habit which is called the cuculla. It is basically a black woolen long tunic emblazoned with the Maltese cross and sporting cuffs and a cowl of white watered silk. Incidentally, the eight-pointed Maltese cross is so formed because the eight points remind us of the Beatitudes which the Order took as their Constitution. When the Postulant is invested in the habit, the Grand Master says:

"This is our Habit, in the form of the garment of camel-hair which our Patron, St John the Baptist, wore in the desert for his severe penance. Therefore you shall strive to wear it as a penance for your sins..."

However, I fear the watered silk rather betrays the idea of penance and I think it is rather fanciful to compare the long medieval garment of wool to the camel-hair garb of St John! One source reveals that the habit used to made of camel-hair. Presumably when they were expelled from the Holy Land, this became a rarity?! But such idiosyncracies add to the charm and mystique of this ancient order of knights...

St John's day is also associated with some interesting practices, some of pagan origin. In the Philippines, I was warned not to walk about the streets as passers-by were given dousings in dubious honour of the Baptizer on this day. Throughout Europe and especially in Scandinavia, bonfires were lit. The Dominican Bl Jacobus de Voragine who wrote the charming 'The Golden Legend', perhaps the most widely read book in medieval Europe after the Bible explains it in this way:

"There are people who on this day burn the bones of dead animals, collected wherever they are found... A preventative against [the danger of plague-causing dragons] was invented that consisted of making a bonfire of the bones of animals, the smoke from which drove the dragons away. Since this was usually done around the time of St John's feast day, some people continue to observe the custom. The other reason is to represent the burning of St John's bones by the infidels in the city of Sebaste" where he is reputed to have been buried by his disciples. "Lighted torches are also carried around this bonfire, because John was a burning and shining torch, and a wheel is spun because the sun then begins to be lower in its cycle. This signifies the decline of St John's fame, by which he was thought to be Christ, as he himself testified when he said: 'I must decrease, but he must increase.' According to St Augustine, this is also signified in their births and deaths. About the time of John's birth the days begin to be shorter, and about the time of Christ's birth they grow longer..."
Whatever the reasons for these festivities, it remains that St John the Baptist's day is a significant date in the calendar, not least for us Christians because it gives us pause to reflect on his words mentioned above. Echoing John's humility, whose voice gave way to the Word, we too can deflate our egos, humble ourselves and allow God's grace, Jesus himself to be seen through our lives. Only then shall we be least in the kingdom of heaven, when we are caught up in the divine life of God, consumed by Love.

The photo above shows the Child Jesus with his cousin, St John. It is a hand-illustrated detail taken from 19th century 'Term Books' in the archives of Ushaw College.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

BBC reports on the secret 'ordination' of a woman...

This morning BBC Radio 4 featured the clandestine 'ordination' of a German girl to the diaconate, with a view to being 'ordained' a priest. You can listen to the program or read about it at this link, but the pictures are not for the faint-hearted!

The 'ordinand' was reported saying this:

"I am a strong woman... other women are in the background but I like to be in the front. That place on the altar is my place..."

After the ceremony, she then said:

I feel very happy and strong..."
The emphasis she made on strength and her own willfulness really struck me. How unlike the attitude of Our Lady whose hallmark is humility! Leaving aside all theological issues and questions of validity, feminism etc, my only comment is that any person, man or woman, espousing such individualistic and pride-filled attitudes is surely not worthy of Holy Orders. Rather, in the words of Mary's Magnificat: "He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts" (Lk 1:51b).

To make matters worse, a woman called Patricia, who had been a Dominican (!) sister for 45 years in South Africa, then said that having lived under apartheid she knew that unjust laws had to be challenged and broken and she equated the injunction against women's ordination with apartheid rules. She said it was a denial of human rights. For all her supposed learning, I'm surprised she felt that ordination was a human right! And all along I thought it was a vocation to service in the Church. Oh dear...

These people need not anticipate Pope Benedict's writ of excommunication. I regret that by their actions and indeed, their words and attitudes, they have testified against themselves, and already excommunicated themselves. I thank the BBC for recording and broadcasting this evidence.

When I first heard the program this morning, my immediate response was to kneel and pray for them. May Mary, Mother of the Church have mercy on us all.

Pilgrim Songs

The beautiful and idyllic village of Grassington in the Yorkshire Dales has an amazing Arts Festival every year and is currently celebrating its Silver Jubilee. Last night I was fortunate to attend a most unique performance of music - dances and songs from medieval Spain. As we sat in the candle-lit hall listening to the exotic instruments - shawms, recorders, vielle, harp and drums - and swayed with the rhythmic drum beats, the singer (a lone soprano voice) recounted tales of the Virgin Mary's miracles, deeds of betrayal and lust, and sang plaintive love songs. The music was exuberant, toe-tapping and joyful in moments; the stories were earthy and full of human folly and foible but at the same time full of a child-like trust in the Virgin's intercession.

These songs were taken from a manuscript called the 'Llibre Vermell' which is housed at the Monastery and Shrine of Montserrat near Barcelona. These songs were sung by the countless pilgrims who flocked to the shrine of Virgin Mary, hence she features prominently. There is another shrine in Spain which rivalled and indeed surpassed Montserrat, Santiago de Compostela. Compostela was the greatest pilgrimage site in Europe after Rome and pilgrims walked here from all over to honour St James the Greater, apostle and patron of Spain. Manuscripts of songs and dances played and sung by the pilgrims survive. There are Latin motets, marching songs, love songs and laments. Many tell of adventures along the road and the Virgin Mary's help. When one considers the 'Canterbury Tales' by Chaucer and these songs, one gets a very rich picture indeed of medieval pilgrimages. All of life with its joys, sorrow, expectations, hope, failures, love, fear, lust, greed, piety, humour; every human emotion and experience is caught up in these pilgrim songs and tales.

As such, a pilgrimage is a fitting image for the journey of life. What struck me as I listened to these exuberant and earnest pilgrim songs was the realization that many of them originated from the homeland and time of St Domingo de Guzman. It seems unlikely (although I can find no records) that someone like St Dominic who walked the length and breadth of Europe several times would not have walked to Montserrat and Santiago de Compostela too. I can imagine him, one of those many pilgrims on the roads to these shrines, singing these songs. It is well known that St Dominic often sang as he walked and I myself enjoy singing and making up tunes as I walk from place to place. It is said that St Dominic sang the 'Salve Regina' or the 'Veni Creator' as he walked. Perchance he also sang some of the 'Llibre Vermell' songs? I can see him singing (and even dancing along with) the joyous tune and words of this perhaps:

"Mariam Matrem Virginem attolite: Jhesum Christum extollite concerditer."
'Praise Mary, the Virgin Mother: praise Jesus Christ with all our hearts.'

Many of us still allow music to accompany us as we travel. The ubiquitous iPod, the radio in the car, the humble Walkman are all signs that, as for St Dominic, music is an integral part of our journey. However, there is the greater journey that we are all on, the journey of life that needs to be marked by music and song, dance and joy. I wonder, how many of us as we awake and begin our daily grind, as we travel from place to place actually sing along the way? It is one thing to listen to recorded music piped into our ears, but I rather suspect that for the medieval Spanish pilgrims and St Dominic, it is an altogether different thing to sing (even in your hearts!) as you tread the pilgrim way. The pilgrims sang from their hearts, songs and dances that expressed their hopes and fears and ultimately, their trust in the Virgin Mary; in divine providence.

When one listens to this music (and I would recommend the excellent recordings by Philip Pickett's New London Consort) and then sings them, one is caught up in the sheer humanity of the songs. They are full of humour, some are slightly risque, others far-fetched or even farsical and human weaknesses are exposed. But it does not stop there; this is no hedonistic revelry in human sinfulness! In the midst of all our human needs and ills, our delights and triumphs, there is the very real sense of faith and reliance on God's grace, as mediated through the Blessed Virgin. The songs, with their delightful tunes and jaunty rhythms are appealing and secular yet marked by Godly morals and dialectic. I see in them a beautiful integration of faith in everyday life and a very Dominican delight in human bodily-ness, avoiding any stain of Manichaeism. These are not the dour hymns or serious tunes one popularly associates with pilgrimages or even the Church and Christians(!) - it is joyful, lively and fun! What a marked contrast from the average parish singing at a Sunday Mass! The journey was, and indeed is, hard but that did not prevent the pilgrims from expressing their hope and confident joy that stemmed from their trust and faith in the Virgin or St James.

Interestingly, this faith and joy of the Spanish medieval pilgrim has spilled over into one of Spain's former dominions: the Philippines. That nation and its people truly embody the faith and hope combined with very earthy and fallen humanity that the pilgrim songs express. Here are a people who celebrate life frequently and flamboyantly, always with a song in their hearts and cheerful smiles, despite the sin, corruption and poverty that surrounds them. I surmise that this is only possible because the Filipino has such great faith in God and love for 'Mama Mary'. Perhaps we, the Pilgrim Church, need to re-discover that sense of joy and delight in our humanity, to learn to really celebrate life, and to express this in such a way that all people can see that we embrace all of life - the "joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age" ('Gaudium et spes', 1) - and present all these to God in action, prayer and song, trusting in his aid, his grace, his mercy and above all, his redeeming love. "Thus the mission of the Church will show its religious, and by that very fact, its supremely human character" (GS, 11).

In the words of this 13th century Spanish pilgrim song:

"Now we languish, suffering our earthly torment. Yet I have seen many men and women who have been aided by Mary.Just as a star may direct the sailor, so St Mary is the pilgrim's sure guide."

Whether the destination is Montserrat, Compostela or Paradise, this will ever be the pilgrims'
song and prayer.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

The king's good servants... but God's first!

On this day, 470 years ago in 1535, the crown of martyrdom was bestowed on a bishop and cardinal of God's Holy Church. John Fisher, the austere and scholarly humanist Bishop of Rochester, who was born in Beverley in 1469, was beheaded on Tower Hill under the orders of the schismatic king, Henry VIII. This man was reputed to be the "most holy and learned prelate in Christendom", a former Chancellor of Cambridge University and the trusted chaplain of the pious Lady Margaret Beaufort, Henry's grandmother. His treason against the king was to resist Henry's divorce of Queen Catherine, his first wife, and to refuse to take the 'Oath of Succession' which acknowledged Henry as Supreme Governor of the English Church and thus severed the realm's communion with the Successor of St Peter. The irony is that St John Fisher was Henry's mentor and had helped and influenced him to write his 'Assertio Septem Sacramentorum adversus Martinus Lutherus' in 1521. This defence of the Sacraments against Martin Luther won Henry the Pope's gratitude and the title 'Defender of the Faith'. Strangely, he used it throughout his life and all monarchs of Britain, even though Protestant, continue to employ this papal title: Fidei Defensor. St John Fisher shepherded the See of Rochester for 33 years, was imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1535 and when Pope Paul III elevated him to the Sacred College as Cardinal-priest of St Vitalis, an infuriated Henry VIII had him executed. So, he bore witness to the pledge of cardinals to defend the faith even unto death. As he said at the block before his death, he died "for the faith of the Catholic Church and of Christ". Even after his death, a vengeful king Henry exposed his head on London Bridge for two weeks before throwing it into the Thames.

A fortnight after John Fisher's death, on 6 July, Sir Thomas More, England's most famous humanist, dear friend of Desiderius Erasmus and trusted Lord Chancellor of England was led to the scaffold and also beheaded on Tower Hill. He died claiming to be "the king's good servant, but God's first"... His earthly lord, the fickle and greedy Henry VIII was out hunting in Reading as his faithful friend and servant died at his rapacious command. Thomas More was born in London around 1477/8, studied in Oxford and read law in Lincoln's Inn. He was one of the most brilliant classical scholars of the age, being skilled in Latin and Greek and had a distinguished legal career. A married man, he was described as a "laughing philosopher", witty and wise, a man of staunch faith and ascetic, a family man and called the "only genius in England." In 1516 he wrote his book, the satirical 'Utopia'. He could not in conscience accede to the king's demands, preferring Truth above self and for his Catholic principles and steadfast faith, he was martyred. In his words, "No more might this realm of England refuse obedience to the See of Rome than might a child refuse obedience to his natural father." St Thomas More is patron of lawyers and politicians. Incidentally, his home in Chelsea, London now forms part of the seminary of Westminster Archdiocese, Allen Hall.

Two of the realm's most gifted and holy men, faithful sons of the Church, were killed by their king in his vainglorious lust for more power, wealth, influence and that ever illusive son and heir. As a result in 1935 Pope Pius XI canonised them, the most illustrious of a large company of martyrs of England and Wales, and established their feast on this day, 22 June. The English Church rejoices today in these men whose witness to the faith and unity of the Church still gives English Catholics such inspiration and hope. May they always pray for this land, Mary's Dowry. In St Thomas More's words: "Pray for me as I will for thee, that we may merrily meet in heaven."

In this Year of the Eucharist, a final quotation from St John Fisher written to the Bishop of Winchester, for your contemplation:

"First, you chide Catholics in general, as if they did not believe in the Eucharist, because they do not prostrate themselves day and night before It; and then when you find some who do this, you chide them too and call them superstitious. Had you but tasted one drop of the sweetness which inebriates the souls of those who are religious in their worship of the Sacrament, you would never have written as you have, nor have apostatised from the faith that you formerly professed."

Today too, Daniel Jeffries begins his mission as a Dominican Volunteer in Dagat-dagatan where I have just served. Please pray for him and his work. May Ss John Fisher and Thomas More be with him.

The photo above of the saints is from a reredos in St Cuthbert's Seminary, Ushaw. The seminary (illustrated below) has roots in the English College, Douai, founded in 1568, the first seminary after Trent and training ground of many of the English Martyrs, who laboured in Protestant England to return her to the Faith of Ss John Fisher & Thomas More.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Beauty and the Liturgy

Andrew at the Shrine of the Holy Whapping has written on the authority of beauty and his post
prompted me to think again about the role of Beauty in our lives. The theme of Beauty and the inherent beauty of God's revelation is particularly marked in the theological aesthetics of Von Balthasar. In fact, the beauty that is God has an inner splendour that shines forth in what he calls the Herrlichkeit, the subject of his 7 volume 'Glory of the Lord' (GL).

For Balthasar, Beauty "dances as an uncontained splendour around the double constellation of the true and the good and their inseparable relation to one another" (GL1, 18). There is something objective about true beauty. Thus Richard Feynman (a Nobel laureate in physics) can say: "You can recognize truth by its beauty and simplicity". It follows, that God himself is quite simply Beauty.

However, beauty is not aestheticism and Balthasar is at pains to point this out. Rather, beauty is intrinsic to the form, the very essence (or Being) of a thing. As such, a flower, trees, poetry, a Mozart sonata, a Fra Angelico fresco, all have a form, a pure essence that radiates its truth and goodness - this radiance we call beauty. As Balthasar says: "Both natural forms and the forms of art have an exterior manifestum which appears and an interior depth radiating through the external aspect, neither of which, however, are separable in the form itself" (GL1, 151).

Art is meant to be at the service of Beauty, a contemplation of Beauty, and such art points to truth and goodness. It has always struck me that on a visit to Durham with some non-religious and atheist friends, they were all drawn to the splendid cathedral. I walked with them as they exclaimed in awe of the beauty of the building and were drawn into the building and to spend time within to contemplate Beauty. These same friends of mine are musicians, drawn to classical music, which is yet another manifestation of true Beauty. Somehow, beauty has a power which attracts and sparks a thirst for the divine... if someone can help them link it to God who is Beauty.

I think this is why (until recently) the Liturgy and liturgical arts were marked by Beauty. I don't believe that beauty is about individual taste. In this sense, Beauty is not just in the eye of the beholder; it has an objective quality. For example, I may have a preference for a Roman rite liturgy in Latin with Gregorian chant and polyphony in a Gothic chapel. This may be because I believe these externals radiate a true inner beauty that points to a contemplation of the divine. However, I would not expect to find this in Africa or the Philippines. Instead, I expect to find there, a liturgy that employs indigenous forms but nevertheless true and good form that radiate beauty. Indeed, this was sometimes the case, as in a place like Caleruega in Batangas, the Philippines. Even if my aesthetical taste indicates a preference for one over another, (eg: Palestrina over Tavener) both are beautiful and both should lead us to contemplate the Beauty that is God.

Balthasar recognizes that beauty often has an element of subjectivity but he presses on with the task of an aesthetical theology and I believe we must press on in the Church to re-discover beautiful Liturgy. Beautiful and sacral Liturgy tends to be inbued with transcendence and contemplation. The true and good which radiate from its Beauty-filled form speaks for itself, needing no gimmickry or explanation. Such liturgy, experienced as an integral whole leads to God.

Every budding liturgist knows the story of the ambassadors of Vladimir of Kiev who experienced a Byzantine liturgy and being enveloped in beautiful sounds, images and sights they knew not if they were in heaven or earth. So converted by divine beauty, they advised the Emperor to choose the Christian faith for the Russian people and so he did. This story indicates to me that the Liturgy of the past existed as an integral and holistic action that involved everything of the senses. Every sense was bombarded by beauty and moved to contemplate the divine. One example suffices: Listening to a recording of a liturgically reconstructed Mass in the Sarum rite today, the polyphony emerging from the monophonic chant moved me to tears and I felt my senses had exploded - it's like eating boiled cabbage everyday and then discovering curry! Harmony in this context is like seeing technicolour after years of black and white TV! Liturgy that is beautiful in a beautiful church has this power to move us into a different world, to see God in Beauty.

Sometimes we hear people complain that beautiful things are too costly and the money could have been spent on the poor. There are echoes of Judas in this complaint! But I am drawn to the experience of the Oxford Movement and a friend of mine in Manila who reflected that her parish church needed rebuilding and beautification because too many of the poor and destitute opted to go to another parish which had a more beautiful church building and liturgy! In their experience, Beauty attracts. It seems tragic that the poor, who already have so little should be deprived of beauty and art! There has also been a certain regard that the Mass is all that matters and one need not bother with beauty; a minimalistic attitude characteristic of modenism. I believe we have an instinctive feel for when beauty falls prey to mere aestheticism. Sometimes, vesture, art and music become too ornate and self-serving; it has lost its form. But in desiring simplicity as a foil to aestheticism, we have often thrown out the baby with the bathwater!

In the via media that is the way of Beauty, Vatican II advises "noble simplicty" (SC 34) in the Liturgy. Cooks among us will know that when one has good ingredients, the food should be cooked simply but well to bring out the natural flavours. Masking the food with a host of exotic ingredients and spices would be to spoil the dish. In the same way, the Liturgy should not be masked by fussiness but should be allowed to speak for itself, letting its natural Beauty shine forth. To assist this are the arts which clothe the Liturgy in splendour, to bring forth its Beauty. Too much lace and silk damask can certainly spoil the Liturgy just as a sloppy attention to Liturgy can degrade it. As such, one seeks not simplicity nor lavishness alone but "noble simplicity". The Liturgical Movement of Dom Gueranger et al. has this solidly in mind, restoring the form of Beauty in the Liturgy.

I did say last week that in the Liturgy, we are schooled in a certain detachment from feelings and subjective tastes but I don't think that beauty is excluded from liturgy because of this. Beauty is not subjective but has an objective quality. Liturgy can and should enable us to see and feel God, we should encounter him in Beauty.

As Balthasar said: "We can be sure that whoever sneers at [Beauty] as if she were the ornament of a bourgeois past - whether he admits it or not - can no longer pray and soon will no longer be able to love" (GL 1, 18).

As such, it is imperative that we re-enchant (to use Aidan Nichols, OP's turn of phrase) our liturgy with Beauty.

A Dominican Blessing in farewell to Cardinal Sin

This beautiful Dominican Blessing was well-known in the Philippines among the Dominicans and was used often but I was surprised that when I googled it today, I came up with nothing un-adulterated...

So, I offer it here to mark the death of His Eminence, Jaime Cardinal Sin. May he rest from his labours.

May God the Father bless us, May God the Son heal us,
May God the Holy Spirit enlighten us
And give us eyes to see with,
Ears to hear with,
Hands to do the work of God with,
Feet to walk with
And a mouth to preach the Word of Salvation with.
And may the angel of peace
Watch over us and lead us at last to
The Lord’s gift of the Kingdom.

The photo is taken from a stained glass panel in the Novitiate of the Annunciation, Manaoag in the Philippines.

As an aside: the BBC interviewed someone in Manila early this morning on the radio. She was asked if there was likely to be another prelate like Cardinal Sin. Her reply was:
I think not... Sin, was, in a sense, original! Hmmm... Indeed.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Does the CDF read blogs?!

Curiousity often leads me to see who is reading this blog. I suspect my vanity also wants to ensure that someone is reading!

The very handy Statcounter I installed answers some of my questions and I was surprised to note that at 11.45am today, someone from the Holy See viewed this blog! However, the visit was reputedly for 0 seconds, so my writings did not come under extended review by the CDF, I suppose!

On the other hand, one visitor from the USA was supposedly timed at this site for over 16 hours. I know some of the blogs are long but I don't think it would take that long to read! Maybe he or she just fell asleep?!

My appetite for books

Finally, an explanation for my girth...

The Curt Jester commented on my book meme:

The responses to the meme have been interesting. I read one by an aspiring
Dominican which has the most quintessentially Dominican answer that I have seen
thus far

If books on three contintents isn't enough to get you into the Dominican
order I don't know what is. As a caveat of course book reading should only be a
foundation to preaching as is proper for their charism.

I hope Fr Provincial agrees!

But what made me laugh was a comment posted at that blog by someone called Lucy:

Yikes!!! This guy has the digestive abilities of an Anaconda. Way too much time
on his hands. Did he say when he started reading. What age 2 or 3?
I actually don't think I read as much as I ought to... but perhaps my anaconda-like appetite for books may account for my stomach size - I eat them!

The Blood of the Martyrs is the Seed of the Church

The British Isles have long been known as a land of saints and shrines and indeed is so hallowed by the blood of martyrs and the lives of saints that it was declared the 'Dowry of Mary'. Today, the Church in England celebrates the Feast of St Alban, protomartyr.

Albanus lived in the 3rd century in the Roman city of Verulamium. When the Roman Emperor began his persecutions of the Christians, Albanus (who may have been a Roman soldier) sheltered a priest known later as Amphibalus. The pious example of this priest moved Albanus to be baptised a Christian too. When the soldiers stormed his villa, Albanus took the place of the priest by wearing the priest's cloak, allowing Amphibalus to escape - hence the nomenclature! Amphibalus means cloak in Latin! Hauled before the magistrate, Albanus refused to offer incense or sacrifice to the gods. Echoing the passion of Christ, he was scourged and taken to the top of a small hill outside the town and he was executed. The legionary charged with the task of beheading Albanus was so moved by his fortitude that he refused to carry out his orders, preferring to die with the saint. So, they were both killed c.287 AD on that hill and Amphibalus was also caught later on and martyred. In this manner, Albanus became the first to shed his blood for Christ in England. It is noteworthy that Christianity had reached England long before St Augustine was sent by Pope St Gregory the Great, and this fact later gave fuel to the Protestant invention of the Church of England, severed from communion to Rome.

In time, a shrine and then a Benedictine monastery rose in the town which was renamed after him. Adrian IV (1154-1159), born Nicholas Breakspeare and the only Englishman elevated to the Chair of St Peter, was himself from the town of St Albans, although the abbey refused to admit him as a novice! Pope Adrian IV was not one to hold a grudge obviously: in 1154 he issued the Bull Incomprehensibilis which elevated the Abbey of St Albans as the premier abbey of England and the abbots of St Albans were accorded the mitre by the Pope, (giving them the rank of barons of the realm) and they ranked above all the other abbots in Parliament.

The Abbey of St Albans boasts the longest nave in the land and housed the shrine of St Alban (reconstructed in the photo above). England was then a land criss-crossed by pilgrims' paths as the famous Canterbury Tales attests to. From all over the country, pilgrims flocked to St Albans, once the richest monastery in England and prayed at the saint's shrine near to the shrine of St Amphibalus. In a gallery over-looking the Shrine of St Alban, the monks kept watch night and day for once the elaborately carved shrine (adorned with scenes from St Alban's life and the royal coat of arms) was surrounded by gold, jewels and other treasures left as votive offerings by grateful and hopeful pilgrims. Among these pilgrims were kings and queens of England. Twice these treasures were sold by the abbot to feed the poor after famine struck the land.

This rich life of devotion, charity and pilgrimage came to an end in the 1530s when Henry VIII under the insidious influence of Thomas Cromwell dissolved all the approximately 820 religious houses in the realm. The shrine of St Alban was destroyed, the saint's relics scattered and the treasures and wealth of the monastery and shrine appropriated by the king for his wars, palaces and whores. One of the monastery's few remaining treasures: the beautiful St Albans Psalter may be viewed online. All the religious orders were driven out of the country and the monasteries were either demolished or converted into cathedrals for Henry's 'reformed' church of England. The monastic buildings of St Albans no longer exist - only a 14th century gatehouse remains. The church is now St Alban's cathedral, although it only gained this status in 1871.

St Alban stands as the first of a long line of martyrs in this land. The destruction and turmoil wrought by Henry VIII and his successors was to see a fresh outpouring of blood as brave men and women martyrs died to defend Christ and his holy Church. Like St Alban, they defied the tyranny of the state, defended their ancient belief in the whole Christ - Head and Body, the Church - and they fought for the freedom to worship the living God without fear of persecution and discrimination. It is by their blood and witness that the Church in England is watered.

Prayer to the Saints of England:

O Merciful God,Let the glorious intercession of Thy saints assist us;
Particularly the most blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Thy only-begotten Son,
And thy holy apostles, Peter and Paul,
To whose patronage we humbly recommend this country.
Be mindful of our fathers,Eleutherius, Celestine and Gregory,
Bishops of the Holy City;
Of Augustine, Columba and Aidan,
Who delivered to us inviolate the faith of the holy Roman Church.
Remember our holy martyrs, who shed their blood for Christ;
Especially our first martyr,Saint Alban, and thy most glorious bishop,Saint Thomas of Canterbury.
Remember all those holy confessors, bishops and kings,
All those holy monks and hermits,
All those holy virgins and widows Who made this once an Island of Saints,
Illustrious by their glorious merits and virtues.
Let not their memory perish from before thee, O Lord,
But let their supplication enter daily into Thy sight;
And do Thou, who didst so often spare Thy sinful people for the sake
of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, now also,
Moved by the prayers of our fathers, reigning with thee,
Have mercy upon us, save Thy people and bless Thine inheritance;
And suffer not those souls to perish,
Which Thy Son hath redeemed with His most Precious Blood,
Who liveth and reigneth with Thee,
World without end.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

O Felix Culpa!

Today's Liturgy proclaims Christ as "a mighty hero" (Jer 20:11) who is at our side, our salvation. The Second Reading in particular instigates the beautiful and ultimately optimistic doctrine of original sin and it is this beleagued and oft misunderstood fundamental doctrine that I hope to share my understanding of.

The 'Praeconium Paschale', the solemn Easter Proclamation is a wonderful poetic blessing pronounced over the Paschal candle by the deacon at the Easter Vigil. It is a wonderfully evocative and solemn text, having its roots in the theology of St Ambrose. It is replete with the theology of atonement and ransom but these verses are particularly striking:

"O certe necessarium Adae peccatum, quod Christi morte deletum est! O felix culpa, quae talem ac tantum meruit habere Redemptorem!"
'O truly needful sin of Adam, which was blotted out by the death of Christ! O happy fault, that merited so great a Redeemer!'

This echoes and develops the idea of St Paul expressed in his letter to the Romans: "Adam prefigured the One to come, but the gift itself considerably outweighed the fall... divine grace came to so many as an abundant free gift" (5:14b-15). In similar vein, St Thomas Aquinas writes about the work of redemption and justification in Christ as "God's greatest work" because "the gift of grace is greater, exceeding the worth of the unrighteous man..." (cf ST IIaIIae, 113, 9; McDermott trans.).

All these texts are optimistic about something normally viewed with pessimism: sin. As St Paul goes on to say in Rom 5:20, "where sin increased, grace abounded all the more." Truly, the Christian Gospel is Good News because it proclaims the victory of God's grace over sin and human weakness. Moreover, the effect of grace is to enable us to receive and achieve eternal beatitude; to share the divine life, what the Fathers call theosis. It is an amazing work far surpassing creation for it makes us no longer slaves but "heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ" (Rom 8:17).

In recent decades the Catholic doctrine of original sin has been challenged, most notably and sadly by Matthew Fox, then a Dominican friar. Seldom does a son of St Dominic persist in heresy but here was one, whose views led him out of the Order and eventually out of communion with the Holy See. A tragedy indeed and an irony for his persistant arrogance and his subsequent actions seem to me to reveal the result of original sin which in Aquinas' words, "inflict these four wounds blunting reason's practical sense, hardening the will against good, increasing the difficulty of acting well and inflaming desire" (ST IIaIIae, 85, 4). People object to original sin because there is a resistance to a sense of inherited sin transmitted from Adam; indeed a general rejection of sinfulness, wanting instead to emphasise the original innocence and goodness of creation. Moreover, there is a reduction of evil to socio-economic factors and our social environment or a specious theory of human moral evolution along the lines of Teilhardism.

However, Christianity stresses the unity of humanity and the human experience and thus "all men born from Adam can be thought of as one man sharing one nature derived from him" (ST IIaIIae, 81, 1). This is contrasted to the individualism of modernity which refuses to see humanity as sharing a common nature and destiny in Christ. Rather, individualism strives to perpetuate the rupture in human relationships brought about by sin. Again, like Fox's fallacy, such individualism (under the guise of 'common sense' - "How can an innocent baby be guilty of sin?") is a blatant result of original sin; the objection actually proves the doctrine! It is no wonder then that having severed oneself from the common human condition of sin and having rejected sin itself, one does not need Christ as Redeemer. Such persons subsequently embark on new age and Buddhist-inspired quests to liberate oneself; one becomes one's own redeemer, god and saviour! And so, Christ's awe-ful warning in today's Gospel comes to fruition: "The one who disowns me in the presence of men, I will disown in the presence of my Father in heaven" (Mt 10:33).

As our Pope Benedict XVI, said in 1985: "If it is no longer understood that man is in a state of alienation (that is not only economic and social and, consequently, one that is not resolvable by his efforts alone), one no longer understands the necessity of Christ the Redeemer. The whole structure of the faith is threatened by this..." (From 'The Ratzinger Report', p79).

It strikes me as odd too, that some people reject the doctrine of original sin, because it seems to me that this would place a crushing burden on the individual. Just as the communion of saints and the fellowship of the Church makes the pilgrim journey to God lighter and easier, because it is a shared journey, so too the doctrine of original sin alleviates the burden of sinfulness somewhat, because it is shared and common to all humanity. Moreover, we have course for joy because we are not left to our own efforts and devices to heal the wounds caused by human sinfulness - selfishness, hate, anger, greed, pride and the like. Instead, we have a Redeemer, one who is sinless and has the power as the new Adam to save us; the re-created Son of Man in whose image all humanity is redeemed and made new. We don't do anything to deserve this grace; Christ effects the redeeming work because of his love for us! Why, in the light of such wonderful gifts, would one reject them? It must be a kind of blindness effected by sin, what Aquinas calls ignorance because sin has wounded "reason's response to truth." (cf ST IIaIIae, 85, 4).

Again, as the Holy Father says: "Self-salvation does not lead to redemption but to destruction... in order to be saved, it is necessary to abandon oneself to Love" (ibid., p81). This abandonment to Love is in fact the very means to our salvation. As St Thomas Aquinas explains: “Setting the unrighteous to rights, then, requires a free turning of humanity’s spirit to God, the first step of which is an act of faith: for whoever draws near to God must believe that he exists. If the movement of faith is to be perfect it must be inspired by the love of charity, so in setting the unrighteous to rights two movements, of faith and love, occur together. One and the same act of free choice exercises two different virtues… We cannot turn to God as object of our eternal happiness and cause of our reconciliation sheerly by natural knowledge: for reconciliation we need to make an act of faith that God is reconciling us to himself through the mystery of Christ. And the movement of free will has another side: in desiring God’s rightness it also renounces sin; for since charity is love of God, it is also renunciation of the sin which separates us from God” (ST IIaIIae, 113, 4 & 5).

God himself provides the grace of faith, hope and charity which enables us to turn to him in love. All we need to do is to freely will it and choose to accept this grace. This act of free will, of 'yes' to God's free gift of "divine grace, coming through the one man, Jesus Christ" (Rom 5:15) overturns the sinful disobedience of Adam. As such, when we allow God’s grace to work in our hearts, we allow ourselves to grow in every virtue and eventually in the ‘form’ of all virtues which is charity; to become infused with charity such that we “are not just passive recipients of divine charity or mere channels of it but active mediators of it” (cf 'Discovering Aquinas' by Aidan Nichols, OP; p107). This process is seemingly infinite because God is love and is by nature infinite, and our wills (which charity acts upon) is also infinite because we can always will more, so essentially, we begin to love infinitely and so participate in the Trinitarian life of infinite love. Quoting St Augustine, Aquinas states: “Charity is a virtue which, when our affections are perfectly ordered, unites us to God; for it is by charity that we love Him” (ST IIaIIae, 23, 3). Thus the Angelic Doctor concurs with the Doctor Gratiae that ultimately it is love that will lead our humanity to eternal beatitude, the bliss of truly loving as God loves.

This beautiful and grace-filled vision of eternal happiness (what we might call 'heaven') is our human destiny because of our Redeemer. It is the promise of our inheritance given us through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Seen in this light, we can understand why the Exsultet proclaims the sin of Adam as not only necessary but felicitous! Therefore, the Church's understanding of original sin is not cause for misery and self-pity but exultation, for "the true nature of [original sin] is only gradually revealed in the light of the future which is Christ” (From 'Theological Investigations' vol. 11, p254 by Karl Rahner, SJ). As Jeremiah proclaims in today's First Reading: "Sing to the Lord, praise the Lord, for he has delivered the soul of the needy" (Jer 20:13).

Therefore, the doctrine of original sin is one that complements, and even makes possible, the proclamation of the grace and salvation that Christ brings. For as Rahner says: “Original sin is ultimately contained as a simple implication in the truth that all of us as sinners have been redeemed by Christ, and must be redeemed by him” (op.cit., p260) and moreover, “…the mystery of original sin has its ground in the mystery of the bestowal of sanctifying grace” (From 'Encyclopedia of Theology: A Concise Sacramentum Mundi', p1150). Indeed, without acknowledging that we dwell in the dark night of sin, how can we ever recognize the radiant glory of salvation in Christ, our "Morning Star which never sets" (cf the Exsultet)?

The photo above shows Fr Allan Lopez, OP lighting the Paschal candle from the blazing Easter fire, an image of Christ's redeeming light conquering the darkness of sin.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

The future of Sino-Occidental relations

A month ago, I blogged on China and I am currently reading about the Opium Wars which took place in the 19th century. It now appears that barely 200 years after that, we are back at a situation in which the Western powers are experiencing a trade deficit with China. And already the US and the EU have taken measures to prevent this, placing quotas on the importation of China-made textiles.

These powers were once so ready to force open China's markets and have found, once more, that they are on the losing end. These powers who champion free and open trade systems (when it suits and profits them) engage wantonly in protectionist measures. And to place themselves on a moral high ground, they raise the bogeyman of China's communist regime and human rights record. The day the West apologizes for the appaling Opium Wars and their regime's direct involvment in drug trafficking and takes steps for reparation will be the day they can take any moral high ground. Until then, such powers should get off their high horse!

I think we are in for a rough ride if superpowers with cowboy egos don't wise up a little and learn some humility and try to work together! A thoughtful article by Martin Jacques in today's Guardian voiced some of my thoughts giving rise to this post. I commend it to you.

Incidentally... today is the 190th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo which ended the Napoleonic Wars!

The Gift of Vocation

A good friend of mine asked me yesterday about my vocation and why I felt called to be a Dominican. I feel it would be right to share this with my readers and other friends and even family who may also be wondering... Below is the essay I wrote as part of the application process to join the English Dominicans and above is a photo from the 7th International Dominican Youth Movement (IDYM) gathering in Caleruega, the Philippines. It was a preaching workshop given by Fr Jerry Stookey, O.P.


"Often the things closest to ourselves like the mystery of love and faith in God can be the most difficult to explicate and explain. It is simply a feeling that inclines towards happiness and truth. The mystery of vocation falls into this category but since this is the task set out for me, I shall attempt to explore into why I want to be a Dominican. Happiness and Truth I believe are two key aspects for why I feel called to this way of life.

Even as a child, I remember being curious about life and existence, and I recall vividly asking my grandmother when I was six years old: “Grandma, how do I know you’re real?” Unfortunately she merely frowned at my odd and sudden question and told me to shut up, eat my porridge and get ready for school! As an only child, I had plenty of time, while at play with myself and my toys to ask questions about life, to ponder existence and basically to philosophize as a child can. I also developed an avid appetite for reading. I loved to read and would read anything – from billboards to the back of cereal boxes to books. I learnt from my mother to read the dictionary and encyclopaedia as a way to while away the afternoons and enjoyed learning. In retrospect, I recognise in these childhood endeavours a search for Truth.

I was born into a Brethren Protestant family but I later imbibed some rather anti-Catholic views from my peers in church and from fundamentalist comics and tracts, so I was rather shocked when upon moving to Singapore at the age of 12 my mother enrolled me in a Catholic school run by the La Salle brothers. This changed my life. Keen to engage with my new Catholic friends and searching for a church to belong to, I began to quiz them about their faith. Not entirely satisfied by their answers, I read all the books I could find in the library about Catholicism. Many of these happened to be works of apologetics and slowly, I was drawn by the truth I found in Catholicism. I began to attend liturgies and was attracted by the beauty and symbolism of the Liturgy, which was an entirely new world for me. With great enthusiasm, I plunged into this new and fascinating world of Catholicism, joined the RCIA, was baptised and found delights to hold my fascination and interest all my life; I discovered the Church and the communion of saints and these led me closer to Christ, her Bridegroom and Head.

Even then, study was an intrinsic part of seeking the answer to a question. If I was troubled by an issue, I read, observed, asked and sought passionately until I arrived at some grains of truth. Some may even call my research into issues obsessive! I remember as a sixteen year old rushing to the local shop to buy the newly published ‘Veritatis Splendor’ and read what I could of it. The profundities of that document still elude me but I was prepared then and still am to grapple with complex issues in the search for truth.

It would be another decade before I encountered the Order of Preachers which has ‘Veritas’ as one of its mottoes but as soon as I discovered this, I felt as if all my questioning and searching did not made me odd. I felt that at last I had found a family which would welcome my questions and not tell me to shut up and eat my porridge! In the time I have spent among the Dominicans and reading works by English and French Dominicans, I have always admired, enjoyed and thrived on the questions that are asked and the brave attempts to answer the pressing questions of each generation. Above all, I have valued the way communities of friars thresh out issues and share ideas and problems together as brothers.

Having Truth as a motto is not easy; I have found its imperative to be both frightening and exhilarating, dangerous but necessary. I cannot profess to being as truthful as I would always like to be and sometimes I even hide the Truth from myself but I know with a deep inner conviction and a passion that I constantly seek after Truth and thirst for and desire to be purified by it. It is an imperative that I believe will drive my life, purify my motives and keep me restless in the search for God until I finally come to rest in Him. In fact, the opening words of psalm 63 have become a personal motto, expressing this thirst for Truth, for God: “O God, you are my God, for you I long, for you my soul is thirsting…”

In this process of seeking and finding God, I have also found lasting happiness. I believe, having spent a year with the Dominican friars in Manila that here in the Dominican Order is a home I will be happy in; this is a way of life that I will find fulfilment in and also allow me to be faithful to God’s call to serve him and the Church. A noteworthy feature of almost every Dominican I have met is joy. Yes, they are sometimes tired, over-worked and burdened but this does not eclipse the inner joy and happiness I have seen and experienced. This joy is most evident when we gather as a family – Dominican women and men, sisters and brothers, lay and ordained. This unity in diversity is truly beautiful to experience and be a part of, as I was privileged to behold so often in Manila and in the 7th IDYM Gathering in Caleruega, Batangas. Witnessing this joy and being a part of the Dominican family as a Dominican volunteer has truly spurred me on to seek admission as a friar in the Order – to become a part of this family of joyful Christians, witnessing together to the Gospel of life, hope and resurrection joy; in dialogue with one another and the world in their common search for Truth.

Perhaps all the above boils down to yet another Dominican motto I find so apt: “To contemplate and to hand on to others the fruit of our contemplation”. I believe that my love for Jesus the Truth, and the happiness that I find in Him through the Order will help me to share with others the essential experiences of Love, Joy, Hope, Peace that our world is aching for, “like a dry weary land without water…” The search for Jesus and the desire for Happiness is not for me alone; it is fruitless if not sown and shared, in dialogue with others. I believe Jesus and his Gospel is a ‘pearl of great price’ to be shared with others; good news to be heard and seen by all; vital answers to human longings to be preached, in love and humility.

Ultimately, I desire to be a living Gospel to others, a bearer of Christ’s love and good news and I believe that here in the Dominican Order is the home where I will be prepared to be sent out to do this and where I can return to rest from my labours, refreshed by prayer, affirmed by fraternity, challenged by brothers and the communal life and purified by love, truth and faith and then sent out again to carry on the work of St Dominic in emulating Christ, the preacher. It scares me to say so, because I believe that the most effective preacher is one who lives what he says. However, I have faith that I “can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” and with his grace, I will persevere and strive to be as effective a preacher as I can be. In this vocation, I truly rely on God’s grace and mercy and the mercy of my brothers and sisters in Christ; of the whole Dominican family to put up with me patiently, to love me when I lose my way and to gently lead me back. I know I will need the support of community life to grow as a person and as a Christian. I believe these traits of compassion and fraternal love are more than evident in the Order and I have been very inspired and moved by the example of so many wonderful Dominicans, not least of all the fathers and sisters I have met in the Philippines and fr Timothy Radcliffe, OP. I only hope that one day, I may be even half the example that they are so as to be able to move and inspire other young men and women and aid their search for God.

I feel unworthy of so noble a vocation and privileged to find a life’s work that will bring me happiness but I humbly pray that I will be allowed to grow in God’s wisdom and grace as a Dominican friar, for here in the Order of Preachers, I have found my home."

Could this be your vocation too?! Read the Master, fr Carlos Aspiroz Costa's reflection at Moniales OP.

I have to get this off my chest...

Two things which I saw or heard about yesterday made me sad... they seemed to me a reflection of the relativism or religious-indifference which pervades too much of modern society. We will all have things which irk us and by and large, I often let it slide - I certainly don't blog about it! But this bugged me all night (!) so I think I need to get it off my chest!

1. Tom Cruise announces his (third) marriage to Katie Holmes... This may surprise some of my readers, but I was a 'Dawson's Creek' fan. I was not keen on the immorality portrayed (and one can debate on whether this was just verisimilitude or encouragement) in DC but I thought some of the lines on friendship, parental relationships, teenage angst etc were brilliant and I loved the Wilmington, NC location. So... I was naturally curious about Holmes' career and was pleased to discover she was Catholic.

Now, it appears she will enter into an irregular marriage and worse still, she has declared her intention to become a Scientologist. This so called "religious philosophy" is a man-made cult which rejects the divinity of Christ (reducing Him to some kind of enlighted soul), rejects the Triune God (instead leaving it to the individual to discern the Energy of the Soul) and rejects doctrines like eternal life (but going for the depressing cycle of re-incarnation). Ultimately this 'church' rejects the salvation offered us in Christ.

Tomorrow's post will highlight the joys of Christianity and the optimism of Catholicism in contrast to such self-deluding systems of belief. I feel that somehow the Church has failed her because she does not seem to have grasped this. If we cannot be a sacrament of salvation and people leave the Barque of Peter for something as annihilistic as Scientology, something is wrong!

It is a crying shame to see Katie Holmes publicly choose to fall into apostasy. To choose Tom Cruise (who himself is an apostate!) over Christ... it's a premonition of our Lord's words in tomorrow's Gospel: "But the one who disowns me in the presence of men, I will disown in the presence of my Father in heaven." (Mt 10:33). Let us pray for Miss Holmes and her conversion to the Truth and the One who alone brings salvation.

2. The second thing that bugs me, and it was triggered by seeing it on a very public and live television program here in Britain, is the use of Rosaries as a fashion accessory. Over the years, the Rosary has indeed been made of all manner of materials and can be very beautiful objects indeed. But they are not decorative. They are sacramentals; an aid to prayer and a symbol of Our Lady's closeness.

My objection to this is the uncaring secularisation of religious objects and places. This creeping secularisation aims to make profane what is sacred. Church buildings converted into pubs or night clubs, religious furnishings and art chopped up and used to re-fit pubs, religious art seen as mere museum pieces, great cathedrals and church buildings viewed as mere museums or architectural gems... Secularisation sucks the soul out of these objects.

Moreover, the use of the Rosary - which bears the image of Our Lord crucified, the sign of our faith and salvation - as a fashion accessory is a mockery surely of the Christian faith. I recall a few years ago, a designer made shoes with Arabic verses from the Quran as decoration, and the Muslims (rightly) made such a fuss that he withdrew them from sale. But it seems people wear a symbol of our faith with no compunction. Are designers really so uncreative that they have to resort to using religious texts and sacramentals?

This kind of disrespect has truly reached an apogee with people attempting to sell a Consecrated Host on Ebay! What annoys me about that saga is that it took Ebay weeks to pull the Host off the auction site after complaints from Catholics but it took only 2 days for Ebay to respond to complaints of sales of the 'Live 8' concert. Where's their sense of proportion and respect for religious belief?!

The fact is people don't care - they tread roughshod over our beliefs and what we hold to be sacred... and I fear sometimes the people who started this trend were Catholics themselves! Witness the wholesale vandalism of church interiors, shredding of Latin missals and dumping of vestments and other liturgical accoutrements. And this is say nothing of the dismantling of theology and Catholic culture by clergy and religious! All these (documented elsewhere or part of our own experience) point to the shocking secularisation within the Church. When we ourselves seem to clamour for secularisation or pedestrianise our liturgy, is it surprising when society follows suit? Can we actually blame them when we, the Church, are the Sacrament of Salvation?

A comment made by the then Cardinal Ratzinger a few years ago struck me. He said an institution loses credibility when something which it once held as the most sacred or revered is then suddenly discarded and disregarded. This comment (which I can't locate the original of today) was made with relation to the Liturgy and in particular the pre-conciliar Roman rite.

May Our Lady, Queen of the Holy Rosary, pray for us!