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Sunday, 10 April 2016

Salamanca 1936 and 1999 - War and Peace

This year sees the 80th anniversary of the start of the Spanish Civil War, a particularly cruel and barbaric war which involved the martyrdom of tens of  thousands of Catholic clergy and lay persons, and the pillaging and destruction  of thousands of Catholic churches, chapels, and shrines. We are reminded of  the physical and spiritual suffering of today's persecuted Church, especially in the Middle East, Africa, Pakistan, India, Burma, China , and not forgetting the suffering of the faithful in the so-called free world, Europe, the Americas, Canada, Australia, who are threatened and intimidated by anti-God legislation and powerful secular forces intent on destroying Christianity. Since the time of Christ, the Christian Church has been persecuted and vilified, and  will continue to be  until the end of time.
 'If the world hate you, know ye that it hath hated me before you. If you had been of the world, the world would love its own: but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember my word that I said to you: The servant is not greater than his master. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you: if they have kept my word, they will keep yours also' (John 15 v18-20)                                                                                                           

                                             Christ before Pilate -Munkacsy (1881)

I must confess that I have always found the history of the Spanish Civil War (1936- 1939)  confusing, although less so after reading ‘The Last Crusade’ by Warren Carroll, published by Christendom Press. This account of an extraordinarily complex and ruthless war, superbly written by an eminent  Catholic writer, provides a welcome and refreshing antidote to the anti-Catholic bias adopted by so many contemporary historians. Carroll defines ‘Crusade’ as a ‘war for the sake of the Cross, a war to protect Christian people from persecution and death on account of their faith in Jesus Christ’. The Spanish Civil War was certainly this.  In 1936, the first year of the war, in just six months a total of thirteen Bishops and nearly seven thousand priests, seminarians, monks and nuns were martyred by the enemies of the Church. It was the greatest clerical blood-letting in so short a space of time since the persecutions of the Church by the ancient Roman emperors. Tens of thousands of churches, chapels, and shrines in Spain were pillaged or destroyed. In response, faithful Spanish Catholics proclaimed a crusade against the anti-religious government  and the militarist international communist and anarchic forces backing it. In turn the former, the 'Nationalists', received substantial military support  from Germany and Italy, with history revealing that Germany, under Hitler, regarded the War as an ideal opportunity for executing and perfecting military manoeuvres,  to be subsequently used in World War 2. Additionally, it was important for Germany's future expansionist plans that Communism was defeated in Spain, for if Spain succumbed, so inevitably would Portugal.  Matters were complicated still further by internal divisions  on both sides, leading to fierce in-fighting and factional atrocities.   After three years, and initially against all the odds the crusaders triumphed, and the Church and the Faith in Spain were saved. By astute diplomacy General Franco ensured the basic  'neutrality' of Spain during most of World War 2, thus depriving Hitler of vital sea bases and virtual control of  the Mediterranean. This book, in paperback format (232 pages), once started, is hard to put down.


'In Franco's Spain' by Captain Francis McCullagh, is another book on the Spanish Civil War which I strongly recommend. Published in 1937, this book is effectively primary source material on those aspects of the war personally experienced by McCullagh, an Irish Catholic journalist and renowned and respected war correspondent. I have other excellent books by McCullagh, all of which were based on personal experiences, these include the early years of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, also the persecution and martyrdom of the Catholic people in Mexico by their anti-clerical and masonic  government. In all his writings I have found McCullagh objective and outspokenly honest, which  includes his obvious loyalty and devotion to the Catholic faith. 'In Franco's Spain', is written in  a 'grainy' and anecdotal style which adds authenticity, and includes some remarkable photographs, some lent by the 'Universe' and 'Catholic Herald' of the day. Salamanca was chosen by General Franco as his G.H.Q. base.

Rescued from the Grave - Parish Priest of St Ana, having been buried alive by the Reds, was  rescued by the Nationalists, and is here shown describing his terrible experiences to a sympathetic group of Spanish Legionaries.   Photo taken by correspondent of 'Diario de Noticias' of Lisbon.

The Corpse of a Nun - 'Dug up by the Reds and placed against a wall to be scoffed at.'

At one time, the author had been offered a bed in a building attached to a convent. The author's impression when meeting the two nuns deputed to welcome him,  had been 'of faces as innocent and serene as the faces of the two angels who came to Sodom at even. They had the pure eyes of little children.  These young women know nothing of the iniquity of the world.' 
McCullagh very soon changed his mind, having spoken to the resident Padre, who had this to say:-
    'These nuns belong to an Order which looks after lunatic girls and women. There are fifteen hundred inmates, nearly all of them from off the streets in Madrid. You have no idea of what a vicious city Madrid was. Many of these unfortunate women were caught young, and deliberately trained up in every form of depravity.  The human brain cannot support such a life for long: their brains gave way.  The Reds treated these nuns badly at first, but in the end even they began to realize what noble work they were doing, so they allowed them to carry on as long as they did not wear their habits.They even spared the convent chapel, though they destroyed every church in the town.They also destroyed another convent, down near headquarters, belonging to a different Religious Order, contemplatives I think, murdering the nuns. We dug up one of the corpses the other day while constructing a communications trench. It was by the habit she wore that we recognized her as one of those  nuns. Probably the naked corpse we found at the same time was also that of a nun . Many were taken into Madrid, and we don't know what has become of them. One went mad, and is confined in this house.' .............
 'Although these nuns here have probably never been outside Spain, they would not have been so shocked as you think by the terrible reality of Golgotha.  They witness every day the state of utter degradation to which man is reduced by sin...... I know that they have seen their patients in the last stages of degradation, and that they have had to listen to unutterable things from women in whom mental disease has killed all will-power, all reticence, all self-respect, and all shame, while leaving the memory intact, and increasing tenfold the rapidity of the tongue. These nuns have heard more horrors in this quiet convent than a priest hears in the confessional of any seaport from Suez to Santa Cruz........... Probably that accounts for their perfect calm, in presence of the fire now raining down from Heaven on Madrid. They expected nothing less, any more than the two angels who came to Lot, expected less than fire and brimstone on Sodom. This war is only one more ill, and not the worst; the worst ills are hidden: there are more terrible things in peace than there are in battle, even in that peace which is marked by a brighter tone in the stock markets, and by quiet conditions in the foreign exchanges. Some people in England and America have started a crusade against war: why do they not start a crusade against sin, the cause of war?  But let's say no more about it. In this world which looks so pleasant, there are, beneath the surface, horrors too awful for words.'

 Captain The Rev. Father Mulrean, Chaplain of the Irish Brigade, which numbered some 700 troops. The losses it sustained were relatively light, seven killed and about twenty wounded, with four of the dead shot accidentally by Spaniards who took them for Reds. Of the remaining fatalities, two were due to shells fired from a great distance, and one to a sniper, also afar off. The Irish never even saw the enemy, and in fact went home before the end of the war, as did many German and Italian troops. McCullagh complained that the Germans and Italians did something to help Franco, whereas the Irish did nothing. This was not deliberate or intended, rather a geographical and logistical accident, reflecting the chaotic and uncertain pattern of the war.

The 'Salvo-Conducto' of G.H.Q. - issued to the journalist Francis McCullagh prior to leaving Spain in 1937. Theoretically,  this document guaranteed the holder re-admittance to Spain with a minimum of bureaucratic red-tape. In fact McCullagh did not return to Spain during the the war, not least because he suspected that he had been black-marked by the Spanish authorities who would likely refuse him entry anyway.

          'Holy Spain, set square at the extremity of Europe,
               concentration of the Faith and the sun-baked Sierra,
               invincible fort of the Virgin Mother,
          Ultimate stride of Santiago the Apostle, stride which
               ends only with the end of the world,
          Land of Dominic and of John, of Francis the Conquerer
               and of Teresa,
          Arsenal of Salamanca, and pillar of Saragossa, and burning
               root of Manresa,
          Unconquerable Spain, where refusal and half-measures
               have ever been unacceptable,
                        .          .   .   .        .   .    .
          In this hour of thy crucifixion, holy Spain, in this day,
               sister Spain, which is thy day,
          My eyes filled with enthusiasm and tears, I send thee my admiration and my love!                        
                                      Paul Claudel - French poet (1868-1955)


(The item below is reproduced from a post written some eight years ago - my excuse is that it brings back very good memories! I have added a few photographs.)

Still with Spain in mind but in a rather different context and on a personal basis, I have to admit that I have only visited Spain once - about 17 years ago. At that time I was a member of the Exeter Philharmonic Choir, about 100 strong, and we went to Spain to give two concerts, one in Madrid at the Auditorio Nacional, and the other at Salamanca in the Old Cathedral. Our Conductor and Master of Music was Raymond Calcraft, who as a young man had attended the University of Salamanca and who had been a lifelong friend of the world-famous Spanish composer and musician Joaquin Rodrigo(1901-99). It was undoubtedly through Raymond’s knowledge of all things Spanish and his contacts in the Spanish musical world, that we had the pleasure and privilege of performing in Spain. The first concert was in Madrid and was recorded live on Spanish radio. What I particularly remember about the Auditorio Nacional was the acoustics - or perhaps I should say, as far as it appeared to me, the lack of acoustics. In England many of our concerts were performed in Exeter Cathedral which is one of the largest and most beautiful Gothic Cathedrals in Europe, with huge, high roofing-vaults which echo and carry the human voice as ‘on the wings of a dove’. In the Auditorio Nacional it was as though the walls were encased in cotton-wool, you could not hear yourself singing and you could not hear your colleagues, which I found quite off-putting.

                                                         Auditorio Nacional, Madrid
 I remember that our main programme comprised a Psalm set to music by Gustave Holst – starting off very gently, and ending in a thunderous hymn of triumph ; then followed a relatively short choral work, I think for women's voices only, by Joaquin Rodrigo; and finally Dvorak’s 'Mass in D' for four voices with Organ accompaniment. We were told later that the broadcast had been well received, so clearly (forgive the pun!) my perception of the acoustics was not reflected in the quality of the broadcast!
        Our second Concert was in the Old Cathedral in Salamanca. We travelled by coach from Madrid to Salamanca and I remember thinking how bleak and inhospitable much of the countryside appeared. I recollect small hamlets just off the main road, apparently abandoned with no sign of life except for the storks nesting in the roofs. Salamanca was different altogether, with a wide river and green pastures, and a huge, magnificent central square surrounded by ancient stone buildings and small shops. Dominating the city are the two Catholic Cathedrals, the Old Cathedral and the New, virtually side by side. The former is now used primarily for artistic events such as concerts, and the latter is the main place of worship.

                                                    New Cathedral,  Salamanca

 Our concert was in the evening in the Old Cathedral, and when the time came I was amazed to see that the building was absolutely packed, with people standing in the aisles and right up to the front of the stage where the choir were. It seemed as if the very walls of the Cathedral were bulging! I later discovered that entry to the Concert was free and that it was traditional that all the locals attended such events – which they certainly appeared to have done!      
     The audience comprised people of all ages and walks of life, all of whom showed genuine excitement and pleasurable anticipation. The extremely close proximity of the audience - you could almost shake hands with those in the front, and the attention, concentration, and appreciation that they showed, was something never to be forgotten. We performed the same programme as at Madrid, with everything going well up unto the interval. Unfortunately when we returned to the platform some 15 minutes later, we found that large numbers of the audience had disappeared! We then learnt that many people had left because they thought that the concert had come to an end, apparently not being familiar with the concept of an 'interval'. Although I’m sure that programmes were available, it may be that most of the audience did not avail themselves, or it may have been that the interval was not clearly indicated. Whatever the cause it was clear that drastic steps had to be taken. The choir then retired for a second time from the platform, and search parties were immediately dispatched to scour the neighbourhood in search of the missing audience. Fortunately the extended interval allowed many, if not most, to be traced and thus return in time for the much delayed second half. Cynics might think that the mystery of the vanishing audience was by design rather than accident, but I really don’t think so. Prior to the start of the concert the audience anticipation, interest and excitement, was palpable, and the enthusiastic applause at the end of the first half was absolutely genuine, as it also was at the end of the performance. 
     In spite of the ‘walk out’, I can honestly say that this particular concert is one that I will always remember and treasure, for to have been privileged to sing Dvorak's magnificent Mass in this historic and grand Old Cathedral, enjoying an unusual intimacy and empathy with a highly appreciative and receptive audience, was an unforgettable experience. A long time ago I know, but I wish to express my sincere gratitude to Raymond Calcraft for making this unforgettable experience possible. Over the years I have lost touch with him, but these memories do not fade. Thank you Raymond!
     I would love another opportunity to sing in the Old Cathedral. Realistically this is probably unlikely, but I refuse to give up hope! Salamanca itself, with its fine University and mediaeval buildings, its history and Catholic culture, is a 'must' for visitors.
                                  Old Cathedral, Salamanca - view of the nave  (ack. anotherheader,wordpress.)

      Prior to visiting Spain, a big mistake on my part was the assumption that many, if not most Spanish people speak English. In hindsight I realise that this was somewhat arrogant, for why should Spanish people be expected to speak English? Certainly in England you would not expect the natives to speak Spanish! I suffered for this misapprehension on several occasions. Once in particular, when after a tiring morning sight-seeing on my own in Madrid, I decided that I needed something to eat. Surprisingly I had difficulty in finding a restaurant, and just as surprising, to me at least, was that nobody I approached for help spoke English.  I eventually came across a ‘McDonalds’ type establishment, and through the plate-glass window I could see displayed on the walls, large coloured photographs of particular meals on offer. I deduced that once in the restaurant, I would be able to order a meal by the simple expedient of pointing at one of these photographs, there would be no need to say a single word – and so it transpired! Such was my first and last experience of eating-out alone in Madrid. This was definitely not the most exotic place in which to dine, but highly recommended for those who do not speak the ‘lingo’!
     A rather poignant memory is that of attending Holy Mass at 8a.m. on a Sunday morning in Madrid and finding that there were perhaps 12 people in total in the congregation. The church probably held 2/300 at least, a lovely traditional Catholic church, and a devout young priest. This perhaps is a reminder that the Church in Spain is still suffering from the long-term effects of the Civil War, wounds since aggravated by the liturgical and associated disasters since Vatican 2. 
In 2001 Pope John Paul II beatified 233 of the martyrs of the Civil War, and in 2007 Pope Benedict XVI beatified a further 498 – the largest group beatification ever. 
It is certain  that the blood of the holy Spanish martyrs will not have been shed in vain.
  ‘Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat’.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

'Friends and Enemies'

                 St Peter sinking in the waves (1766) - Francois Boucher

 I have taken another extract from Father Considine's book 'Delight in the Lord',  which is a virtual transcript of  talks given by him to religious  communities in the 1920s, and published in book form 'to help other souls attain something of that loving trust in God and joy in his service which was the aim of all Father Considine's direction.'  
We don't have to be a religious to benefit from his wisdom.

Friends and Enemies

It is very important for us to understand and be able to recognize the different influences which are at work within our souls. Ordinarily there are four.
I.    Human nature (our own).  Very often we get discouraged and think God cannot love us, or we are not called to sanctity, or the spiritual life is too difficult, because we have indigestion or are a bit run down physically.  The devil has nothing to do with this, though he highly approves of it.  It is a natural evil and requires a natural remedy – a rest, or a tonic, or something of that kind.

II.    The devil.  Here are a few helps to recognize his working.
1.    He cannot see our thoughts or the interior of our souls, so he does not start a new disposition there immediately.  He can only work upon us by putting some material thing before our imagination and trying to get us attend to it.
2.    He is not original  -  i.e.  he does not originate ideas in our minds,  but he seizes upon some circumstance which he knows troubles us,  and he aggravates that, so as to cause more trouble.  For example, if someone has (apparently) slighted us, he will take the opportunity to make the grievance appear much greater than it really was; and he will be perpetually bringing it before our minds.  So when anything of the kind has occurred – when we are unwell or irritable, or something has gone contrary to our wishes, or someone has said a hard word to us, we ought to be more than usually upon our guard, knowing that the devil is likely to be busy about that in a few moments.  We see this in the temptations of our blessed Lord, when the tempter took advantage of his hunger and exhaustion.
3.    If the devil has tried a certain method of attack upon us successfully in the past, he will be pretty sure to repeat it.  So be on your guard in circumstances in which you have had trouble before.
4.    The suggestions of the devil often come rudely and suddenly to a soul that is trying to serve God.  Be very suspicious of a sudden impulse, especially when you have laid yourself open to attack by some infidelity.  The devil tries to make you act quickly, without giving yourself time for reflection, or to receive the influences of grace.
5.    In general, the thoughts that make the spiritual life appear difficult or uninviting, that suggest you are not called to high virtue, that God will not forgive you easily, that you have lost your chance of sanctity – all such thoughts come from the devil.  Also, whatever tends to make you seek pleasure outside your religious life, or contrary to the desires of Superiors, is from the devil.
6.    It is a great aim of the devil to interfere with prayer.  So when you go to pray he will often try to bring before your mind all sorts of temptations, troubles and harassing thoughts, or even decisions that have to be made (but not during prayer). He wants you to talk to him or yourself, not to God. You must quietly ignore these things.  Don’t argue with him, but commend yourself quietly and trustfully to God, and occupy yourself with him alone.
7.    As the devil cannot see into your soul, but can only guess at its state, it is a pity to show exterior signs of trouble, by sad or angry words, or depression of countenance.

III.    Our good angel acts in all things contrary to the way in which the devil acts, calming the soul, trying to increase its confidence in God and its attraction towards spiritual things.

IV.    God.
1.    Whenever, without reasonable or gradual alteration, you find yourself changed from a state of sadness or depression to a state of joy and hope and love, this is the action of God.  No one but the Creator of our souls can enter into them thus as Master and fill the chamber of our soul with peace and gladness.
2.    Whatever tends to make the spiritual life seem sweet and easy and attractive – whatever makes you hopeful, makes God appear kind and loving, especially whatever makes you feel that God loves you individually, that He wants you and will help you – all such thoughts and feelings come from God.
3.    God’s suggestions come gently and sweetly to a soul that is trying to serve Him – bringing peace and light, and a peaceful humility.
4.    God’s suggestions are gradual and persistent, tending more or less in one direction. Thus, if God sends you the thought of His individual love and care for you, this thought will return again and again at various times, and its influence will grow stronger and clearer as you correspond.  It is not God’s way to be continually upsetting the spiritual life and starting a soul again in new ways, and making violent upheavals.

                             St Mary Magdalene - Michael Sittow 1469-1525
St Mary Magdalene understood so well how to deal with our Lord, with her pia audentia (holy audacity).  Forgiven sin is absolutely no bar to the closest union with our Lord – it is only another claim on his love. From the time he said to Mary Magdalene,  “ Go in peace, thy sins are forgiven thee,” we never hear of those sins again.  She does not seem at all troubled by them – she never hangs back from our Lord, or thinks that others have a right to be nearer to him than herself.  She gets as close as possible to him always – and our Lord never sends her away.  She thinks of him, not of herself, and that is the secret of peace of soul and of sanctity.
    Once we have realized that we are nothing of ourselves, but full of bad inclinations, weakness and misery, all we have to do is to cast ourselves entirely into the loving heart of Jesus.  He will never despise or reject us.  Then we may forget ourselves and think only of pleasing him. There is no danger of presumption.  Our Lord is more merciful, generous and royal than we can ever understand.  Try to be with him always.  The weaker you are and the less virtue you have, the more need you have of him, and the more you must cling to him, and the more he will do for you.  It is our self-importance, not our misery, that gets in his way.  You can never trust him too much.  So go on your way rejoicing.
    Don’t be foolish and slow of heart any longer to believe in him.

                Ack. 'Delight in the Lord' by Rev. Daniel Considine S.J.

(click on this link for further extracts from this admirable little book)

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Fr Alexander Crow, Martyr. ----- 'Mary's Meals'

You will notice at the top of the side-bar, the prayer for the beatification of the Venerable Bishop Richard Challoner, Vicar Apostolic of the London District in England, from 1758-1781. Among his many literary works was ‘Martyrs to the Catholic Faith’ Memoirs of Missionary Priests and other Catholics of both sexes, that have suffered death in England on religious accounts from the year 1577 to 1684’. This is an impressive and broadly based work, briefly relating the lives and circumstances of death of some three hundred martyrs, ‘carefully collected from the accounts of eye-witnesses, contemporary authors, and manuscripts kept in the English convents and Colleges abroad.’ Reading these accounts is truly humbling, and is a reminder that today there are many Catholics in the world suffering terrible persecution and death for their faith. ‘Please God, give them courage and faith in their suffering, and may we all be loyal soldiers of Christ.’ This post is primarily on one of the English martyrs included in Bishop Challoner’s book, the Rev. Alexander Crow.

                                 'Ecce Homo' - Munkacsy Mihaly (1844-1900)

Alexander Crow,  Priest.

Alexander Crow was born in Yorkshire, and for some time followed a trade in York.   ‘But going beyond the seas, out of his zeal to God and his country,’ says my manuscript, ‘he fell to his studies at Rheims, and became a priest, being, both for his said zeal and virtue, well esteemed of by his superiors, and by them sent on an orderly mission into England for the salvation of souls, anno 1584.  After he had laboured here some time, with much edification to all that knew him, he was taken at South Duffield, coming hither to christen a child of one Cecily Garnet; and at the assize held at York in November was arraigned and condemned for being a priest and remaining in England contrary to the laws of the realm.  He was hanged, drawn, and quartered at York, the 30th November 1586,’ according to this relation;  but Yepez, Wilson, Molanus, Raissius, and the manuscript annals, say 1587, being about the age of thirty-five.
    The manuscript annals give this short account of Mr Crow, anno Eliz.29:- ‘On the 30th day of the month of November, Alexander Crow, a priest of Douay College, after he had strenuously laboured in those difficult times in gathering together the sheep of Christ that had been scattered, falling into the hands of the wolves stoutly laid down his life for Christ and His sheep, being put to death at York in the like manner as the other martyrs above mentioned.’
    But the Bishop of Tarrasona, in his history above quoted, has something very remarkable relating to Mr Crow which we must not omit.  His words are as follow:- 

             ‘Another thing, not less worthy of notice happened to a priest of the Seminary of Rheims, named Alexander Crow, in the year 1587.  This priest and soldier of Jesus Christ was a prisoner in York Castle, where, after much ill-treatment, he received sentence of death; whereupon he began to be exceedingly comforted, and to show so great joy in the court that all that were present took notice of it; and returning to the prison (where he was lodged with another Catholic), he could not contain himself all that day, so great was the satisfaction he conceived by thinking that he was to die the next morning. When the night came, and the time of going to bed, he told the other Catholic to take his rest; but for my part, said he, for this one night which remains of life, I am willing to watch in prayer with Christ our Lord.  And when the other Catholic insisted that either the Father should come to bed also, or should admit him to bear him company in his watching, he would not consent, but bid him go to bed and leave him alone.  The Catholic submitted, and went to bed, and the priest, lighting a taper that was there, and setting it upon the stool, knelt down, and began to enter into very quiet prayer, as his companion took notice, who remained awake to see what passed.

                  Christ's Crowning with Thorns - Carravagio (c. 1604)

 ‘After an hour of silent prayer, the Father began to speak as if he were holding a colloquy, and by little and little to enter into a heat, so that his voice began to change like a man that was disturbed.  At length, getting up, he went to the bed where his companion lay, and touching him with his hand, asked him if he were asleep; his companion answered no. The priest begged of him then that he would recommend him, to the best of his power, to our Lord, because he stood in need of his prayers.  So he returned again to his place, and began in the same manner, to be troubled as before, giving signs in his exterior of being in great anguish, and, as it were, out of himself, till at length he put out with his own hand, like a man in anger, the taper that was burning by him.  With all this his trouble did not cease, but he still continued, as it were, in a conflict and agony, sometimes speaking low, and begging the assistance of our Lord and the Saints, at other times raising his voice as one angry and in a rage; and this lasted for the space of half an hour after he had put out the light, whilst the poor gentleman in bed was not a little terrified at seeing and hearing what passed, and begged of our Lord as well as he was able, to deliver him from this affliction, for he plainly perceived that he was in a conflict.
    ‘At length he saw him coming towards the bed, reciting with much joy the psalm,’Laudate Dominum de Coelis, etc. – Praise ye the Lord in the Heavens, &c., continuing it to the end; and then, as one inebriated with an abundance of consolations, he broke out into other praises of our Lord God, admiring His unspeakable mercies and His divine sweetness towards the children of men.  He set himself down on the bed by his companion, not having been able for many days to lift his feet up from the ground for the great weight of the bolts and chains, and remained as one asleep
for a quarter of an hour; but at length he broke out again into the praises of God, and asked his companion if he had not been frightened.  The gentleman answered that he had, and withal begged of him that he would tell him what was the meaning of that great noise and of those changes and alterations he had discovered that night.  The priest answered, that though as to his own part it would signify little to relate it, yet, as it might be of some comfort to the Catholics to know what had passed, he would tell him the whole matter.

                                           Way of the Cross - Tiepolo (1696-1770)
‘After a while, said he, that I had been in quiet prayer, my flesh began to creep upon me and my hair to stand on end, and I perceived myself quite changed, and on a sudden I saw before my eyes a most ugly monster which began to terrify me, and when I least looked for it assaulted me with these words:  Thou thinkest tomorrow to be a martyr, and to go straight to heaven, but I assure thee it will not be so, for I know thou art condemned to hell, and that the sentence is passed against thee in God’s tribunal, which cannot be recalled;  and tomorrow, though thou shalt be drawn to the gallows, thou shalt not be executed, but they will keep thee two years longer in prison with these bolts and chains which thou hast on, and will give thee only two morsels of black bread and a little water every day, and thou shalt be abhorred by all, and shalt lead the most miserable life that ever man led upon earth; therefore that thou mayest be delivered from so great sufferings it will be better for thee at present to put an end to thy life by a knife or a halter, and not to wait for tomorrow.  And though I shook him off, said the Father, many times, answering what God put in my mind, he never left off importuning me, and whatever way I turned my eyes, he placed himself always before me, giving me intolerable trouble with his horrid figure.  And when I extinguished the light, it was that I might no longer see so frightful a sight; but he still continued terrifying and molesting me very much, and the conflict went on still increasing, till our merciful Lord, taking pity on my weakness, sent me succour from heaven.  And this was, that at the time when I found myself in the greatest straits, I saw a great light come in at the door with two persons, who, as I believe, were our Lady and St John the Evangelist, who by their presence gave me unspeakable comfort; and then the monster that had troubled me began to draw back and tremble; and one of them said to him, Begone from hence, thou cursed creature! Thou hast no part in this servant of Christ, who will shed his blood tomorrow for his Lord, and will enter into his joy.  Immediately the monster disappeared, and they likewise, leaving me so full of consolation that I cannot express it.  Upon this, I came with great joy of heart and canticles of praise in my mouth, and sat me down here in this manner that you saw, not being sensible whether I was on the ground or in bed, in heaven or in earth.  This one thing I beg of you for Christ’s sake, that you do not speak one word of this to any one till you see my race finished, and till I am delivered of the burden of the flesh.  Having said this, they both glorified our Lord, and so continued till the morning, discoursing together with great satisfaction of heavenly things, &c.

                                        Crucifixion of Christ  -  Tintoretto (1568)

 ‘But the impudent enemy was not contented with having failed in this first attempt, but returned again to persecute this soldier of Christ, who being now upon the ladder at the gallows in profound prayer, before the hangman had put the rope about his neck, the devil, envying the happiness with which God rewarded His servant, and the consolation that he gave him in prayer, flung him down off the ladder; but yet he received no manner of hurt, though the fall was very high and with great violence, as it appeared to the standers-by.  This gave occasion to the heretics that were there to cry out that the Papist was in despair, and that he wanted to kill himself. But the Father mounted the ladder again, and told them with great serenity of countenance and of heart, smiling, It is not as you think, my brethren, that I had a mind to kill myself, but it was the enemy who wanted to rob me of this glorious death, and out of envy flung me off the ladder, and this is not the first time he has sought to deprive me of the crown which God gives me, who has permitted him to do what he has done in your presence that you might know how little he is able to do;  for how much so-ever he has sought it, he has not been able to do me any hurt either in soul or body, neither can he do any hurt to the servants of God more than their Lord is pleased to permit for their greater good; and upon this occasion, speaking more at large and with greater liberty to the people, he delivered many things of edification, exhorting them to the Catholic faith;  and passing through the usual course of the ordinary butchery, he gloriously finished his career, and went to enjoy his God for ever.’

                     Resurrection of Christ - Gerard Seghers (1591-1651)

 'Mary's Meals'

 Just a few words about a book I read recently, entitled 'The Shed that Fed a Million Children', by Magnus Macfarlane-Barrow.  The author, born in Aberdeen, and now living with his wife and family at Dalmally in Argyll, tells the extraordinary story of the work of 'Mary's Meals', a charity set up by him, supported by family and friends, some years ago, with the ambitious but simple aim of providing food and education to starving and illiterate children throughout the world. Initially the author's experience of this type of work, involved  organizing the collection and transportation of clothing, medical supplies, and food, to Romania, followed by similar missions to the Balkan countries. The logistics involved considerable organizational planning over many years, leading ultimately to the decision to diversify and expand the mission through the medium of the re-named 'Mary's Meals'.
Incredibly, through belief and deep spiritual conviction, backed up by great courage and perseverance, and the  support of individuals and local communities, the system is now in place whereby 'Mary's Meals' provides a million children worldwide, with one good meal a day and basic education, without which they would be trapped in a life-circle of ignorance and poverty. Many will know of the work of 'Mary's Meals' and many I'm sure support this as far as their means allow, however I strongly recommend to all this inspiring and heart-warming book which once started is hard to put down! It is available through Amazon and no doubt other booksellers, with all royalties from the sale of the book going direct to Mary's Meals.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

'Making Dogma out of Unsettled Science'

Grateful acknowledgement to Fr. George W. Rutler, for the following article published on December 14 in Crisis Magazine.

'In the Broadway production of Pygmalion, Professor Higgins regretted how proper English is considered freakish, and “in America, they haven’t used it for years.” The problem glares in the speech of television commentators, for whom coiffures are more important than diction, while grammar is banished from the social media, our urban landscape has become a jungle of incomplete sentences and dangling participles. By the time one reaches California, the subjunctive has completely disappeared. To have been reared speaking English is a blessing, for it is a language hard to learn by adoption and even native speakers can find its subtleties daunting. Consider, for instance, the differences between affect and effect, whether and if, since and because, which and that, nauseous and nauseated, farther and further, continual and continuous, disinterested and uninterested; and that is just for starters. Many English speakers think that the Greek derivative parameter means perimeter; and that leads to all sorts of problems.

A perimeter is a border, and a parameter — besides its technical mathematical meaning — is a physical property that determines the character of something. It is a measurable factor in the sense of a criterion or framework, a part of a whole. I mention this only because I want to speak of a matter of religion and science, and their parameters complement and serve each other, but are not to be confused. This was well expressed by Galileo’s friend Cardinal Baronio, or at least we may infer that Baronio was the one Galileo was quoting when he said: “The Bible teaches us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.”

Pope Benedict XVI spoke of not a few scientists who — following in the footsteps of Galileo — renounce neither reason nor faith. On the contrary, in the end they find value in both, in their reciprocal inventiveness. Christian thought compares the cosmos to a ‘book’ — Galileo also said the same — and considers it to be the work of an Author who is expressing himself by means of the ‘symphony’ of creation. Contrary to received histories, Giorgio de Santillana, no propagandist for Christianity by any means, said in his 'The Crime of Galileo', which has remained with me since I first read it when I was sixteen: “We must, if anything, admire the cautiousness and legal scruples of the Roman authorities.“ Most of the big ecclesiastical players knew their parameters: “…like Galileo, Copernicus had foreseen resistance not at all from the Church authorities but from vested academic interests.”

In 1576 Gregory XIII licensed a chair  of “Controversies” in the Roman College. The Religious orders and societies tended to line up according to their preferred philosophical systems, the Dominicans being Aristotelian and more disposed to geocentricism. The Jesuits and the Oratorians (of whom Baronio was one) leaned more toward the Augustinian tradition. Saint Augustine warned against resolving difficult questions such as those posited in astronomy by appeal to divine revelation: “We do not read in the Gospel that the Lord said, ‘I will send the Paraclete to teach you the course of the sun and the moon’; in fact, he wanted to create Christians not mathematicians.

                                                                         Pope Sylvester II

The first French Pope, Sylvester II, who reigned during the turn of the second millennium (and upbraided the superstitious Romans who read dire portents in the number 1000) saw harmony and not fracture in his life as Supreme Pastor and his avocation as scientist. (He invented the hydraulic pipe organ, introduced Hindu and Arabic numerals and the decimal system to Europe along with an improved abacus and an astrolabe, and transformed cartography by his use of the armillary sphere.) Copernicus had the same balance, and it is important to remember that he was first of all a priest, and dedicated his prime text “On the Revolution of the Celestial Orbs” to Pope Paul III.

                                                      'Nikolas Copernicus' by Matejko

Here the Church nursed science when the Protestant leaders were condemning anything that did not accord with their reading of Scripture. Martin Luther had called Copernicus “that madman [who] wants to throw the art of astronomy into confusion” by denying that Joshua told the sun, and not the earth, to stand still. The Spanish theologians Diego De Zúñiga and Melchior Cano invoked against Protestant literalists the Augustinian exegetical principle that excluded the human language of Scripture from scientific proof texts. Though a pious Lutheran, the heliocentrist Johannes Kepler, shunned by his co-religionists, found friends among the Jesuits and had the honor of being plagiarized by the Catholic Galileo. Pope Urban VIII, somewhat offended when he sensed that his protégé Galileo had satirized him as “Simplicio” in his 'Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems', patiently urged Galileo to stay on the right track of speculation, and not to declare theory a fact.

                              'Galileo Galelei, 1636.'  by Justus Sustermans

 It may reasonably be said that Galileo was right and wrong, and so were some of his opponents, among whom St. Robert Bellarmine did not distinguish himself. Right in asserting the motion of the earth, which opponents denied, Galileo was wrong about the “solar stasis,” or immobility of the sun, which his opponents accepted. Both succumbed to error when they paraded theory as fact and scorned opponents as “deniers.” That alchemy of pride turns science into a false cult of scientism, which is unscientific science, while clerics abusing their authority descend to a false cult of clericalism, which is irreligious religion. A salutary example of how to order things rightly by humility was Christopher Clavius, the German Jesuit astronomer and mathematician, one of the commissioners for the Gregorian calendar, revered throughout Europe, who was a firm geocentrist. Telescopic observations with Galileo changed his mind, albeit with reservations, and he remained aloof from polemics.

There is a caution here relevant to the current debates, or refusal to debate, about global warming, previously global cooling and now preached as climate change. Its details are proper to physical science, but its moral imperative is rooted in revelation, just as is the very fact of creation in contradistinction to infinity. The human race was given authority to name all living creatures. Stewardship of creation is evidence of human dignity. “Ecology” is the understanding of all things animate and inanimate as part of God’s “household” just as economics is the ordering of that domain. Theories about climate change impose serious moral responsibilities, and require that the parameters of religion and science be identified, lest saving souls be overshadowed by saving the planet, which is an ambiguous concept anyway.

This point is lost on those who acknowledge no creator of creation and consequently make ecology a new theology. In that case, creation is perceived as its own creator with a system of dogmas and heresies, propaganda and censures, and its own secular liturgy, as when a crowd recently prostrated themselves on the floor of a chapel in Paris, chanting and praying for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to save Planet Earth. That salvation was called the most important challenge facing the human race, as though the terrorists who had murdered over a hundred Parisians just days before were regrettable irritants.

Jesus loved the lilies of the field, more beautiful than Solomon in all his glory, but he beautified this world incomparably by passing through it with a reminder of its natural impermanence: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Matt. 24:35). The Church has dogmas and properly so, but they do not include making a dogma of unsettled science, just as in religion “private revelations” are not binding on the faithful. Science, by its nature is unsettled and today’s certitudes may be disproved tomorrow, and the anthropogenic theories held by even a majority of climatologists may fade like the geocentric theories of astronomers in the days of Clavius.

There are legitimate ways to consider the significance of carbon emissions in relation to variations in solar activity, changes in the terrestrial orbit and axis, fluctuations in gamma ray activity, and tectonic shifts, and the solid fact that Earth has been warmer than it is now in 7,000 of the last 10,000 years, but hypotheses should not be pronounced as conclusions. And if the Church’s “voice crying in the desert” is to be prophetic, it should not cry wolf. Nor should the Church allow herself to be appropriated by political elites and business interests and what Santillana in the instance of the Renaissance called “vested academic interests,” whose tendency is to exploit benevolent, if emotive, environmentalists.

 So it was perplexing that on the recent Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the feast itself was upstaged by an unprecedented light show cast on the facade of St. Peter’s Basilica, sponsored by the World Bank Group, an environmental foundation called Okeanos, and Vulcan, Inc., a Seattle-based private company dedicated to exposing “sins against the climate.” Sins? These interests may have good intentions, but the parameters of banking, business and academe do not include imputing sin. There may be offenses and even crimes against the balance of the ecosystem, but not sins, unless science really has become a religion. The irony is that many who impute sins to those who disrupt the balance of nature, also defend and promote unnatural acts among humans. Although the Immaculate Conception was neglected by the New Age light show with its flying birds and leaping porpoises, it is consoling to remember that the Virgin Mary was completely free of sins against the climate, and departed this world without leaving any carbon footprint.

In the saga of environmentalism, the eleventh century Anglo-Scandinavian King Canute is often mistakenly evoked as a symbol of arrogance for setting up his throne on an English beach, possibly at Westminster or West Sussex or Southampton, and ordering the tides to roll back. The details are vague but the real point of the story is that Canute actually choreographed that drama to instruct his flattering courtiers in the limits of earthly power against the seas and skies. The tides did not withdraw, the king and his court got wet, and Canute pronounced: “Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings, for there is none worthy of the name, but he whom heaven, earth, and sea obey by eternal laws.” That was better than any gigantic light show, and better still, King Canute then placed his crown on the great crucifix in Winchester Cathedral and never wore it again. In matters of unsettled science, it would be edifying to see the members of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and the directors of the World Bank Group, corporate executives, and academics, do the same.
(Acknowledgement:  Fr. George W. Rutler and 'Crisis' magazine).


                            'The Nativity of Christ' by Vladimir Borovikosky

"Come, ye monarchs and emperors, come, all ye princes of the world, come and adore your highest King, who for love of you is now born, and born in such poverty in a cave.  But who appears?  No one.  The Son of God has indeed come into the world; but the world will not acknowledge him."
                                                      'Thoughts from St Alphonsus' 

'Wishing all a joyful and happy Christmas and New Year'