Wednesday, 24 April 2013
With thanks to Albino Luciani - the smiling Pope.
Four Paintings in the Old Castle
Dear unknown painter,
‘I have not been able to discover your name; but your four pictures, hung in that corner room of that old castle, illuminated by little Gothic windows, caught my fancy. Their artistic quality seemed scant to me; but their moral significance was persuasive and made me stop and think.
The first painting represents childhood. A sailboat has just left the harbour. In the middle of it a boy is sitting, looking idly at the play of the waves. He can sit there, he can be idle, because facing him, firmly at the tiller, there is an angel. Behind at the poop, there is a dark figure, true; but he is asleep and shows no signs of waking up.
The second painting represents adolescence. The boy in the first painting is now a young man; standing, he casts a curious gaze from the boat toward unknown distances, where he imagines there are endless beauties. The tiller is still in the angel’s hand, but the waves have grown rougher, and the dark figure is no longer asleep: his grim eyes promise no good; they are yearning for the tiller, and they herald attacks.
The third painting represents maturity. In the boat now, there is a man, struggling with all his strength against the hurricane raging in a kind of witches’ Sabbath; the sky is dark; the man is dark; the tiller is in the hands of the dark figure; the angel has been relegated to the background.
In the fourth painting, an old man is seated in the boat. The storm has calmed down, the harbour is in sight, the sun gilds the waves. The angel is steering, and the dark figure is firmly in chains.’
‘I agree with you, dear painter, that our life is a voyage, with a point of departure and one of arrival: our twentieth, fiftieth, sixtieth years are only intermediary stations between these two extremes.
But there is this also: whereas we know our precise distance from the point of departure, our distance from our destination is completely unknown. How many years still? We are acquainted with many fine people; they know all about design and mechanics, English and trigonometry; but nobody knows this little matter, this insignificant detail of the years that remain to us. The spirit feels a shudder run through it and makes a declaration: “The years may be very few, it may be only a matter of months or of days. Lord I will not waste a minute!”
There is an even more worrying problem. Two harbours exist: Heaven and Hell. Only the first is desirable, the greatest of good fortunes. Will we arrive there? Here is the problem. All others, compared to this, are nothing. “I was rich, I was famous, I had a splendid career. All this is nothing but disaster if I do not arrive there. I mean at that first, blessed harbour!”’
‘I agree with you that to be good one must struggle, especially in certain, more difficult moments. It is true that two opposing forces fight for the tiller, that is to say for the guidance of our life. It is true that holiness is the fruit of conquest and of victories won day by day at sword’s point.
It is all true. Paul VI wrote: “We are not in conflict with weak and fragile human beings, but against …….. the cosmic dominators of this murky world, against the spirits of evil roaming through space.” The Pope, just recently, reminded us of this truth.’
‘I agree with you that a tactic must be used: the tactic of human passions. Dante describes it when, at the beginning of his journey, he finds the way barred by three wild beasts: the leopard, the lion, and the she-wolf.
The leopard, which, swift and light, shows no quarter, is sensuality: it takes advantage of everything to extinguish in us the tastes and joys of the spirit and to kindle desires that are not good. We sense it everywhere, at our heels, and it would be capable of discouraging and humiliating us, if we did not have the help and the protection of God on our side.
The lion, “its head high”, represents pride, which aims, in fact, at heads, seen going off high and erect, while, below, the body swaggers, the belly, as one walks, is thrust forward. But there is no reason to be so proud.
In the time of Giuseppe Giusti there was the president of a court; he preened himself when he presided; he wore a top hat and set it on a chair during sessions. But one day somebody sat on it by mistake and the poet fired his shaft:
"They have broken a president’s top hat;
Luckily, inside it, there was nothing!"
Oh, certain characters march along, top hats on their heads, even in front of God, people who know everything, non-conformists, self-sufficient folk, protesters! But what then? Underneath? What does all their knowledge amount to?
The wolf, lean and filled with desires, could be worldliness, which devours us with endless engagements: visits, examinations, competitions, business affairs, sports events, performances. We allow ourselves to be engulfed by these things as if by an abyss.
And God? And our soul? They become two minor, secondary matters, which we glimpse now and then like distant dots, to which we grant a few instants, rarely and rapidly, with a sudden and absurd reversal of values.
‘I agree with you that the forces of good unleash the counter-offensive with a tactic opposed to that of the wild beast. Fortunately!
For sensuality the tactic of 'the void' is valid. Yes there are moments when God creates the void in us. We realise that certain things are unworthy of us, insufficient, they do not sate us.
This year, 1973, is the centenary of the birth of Trilussa. He once wrote:
There is a bee which lights
On a rosebud:It sucks it and flies away …….
All in all, happiness
Is a small thing.
Very often, besides, it is not a question of happiness, but only of fleeting pleasure. Often of unhappiness. One feels a kind of toothache, as a voice shouts: “Go to the dentist!”
Saint Augustine, referring to the time when he was seventeen, leading a debauched life, confesses “rodebar, crucibar” --- I was gnawed, I was tortured in those years; that was not life, Lord! “Talis vita, nunquid vita erat?”
Saint Camillus warned himself and others in this way: “Doing evil one feels pleasure, but the pleasure passes quickly and the evil remains; doing good costs an effort, but the effort passes quickly and the good remains!”
For pride one wants the Gospel, which is very clear on this point: “Put yourself in the last place”; the Lord lived among His Apostles as “one who serves”; and taught: “You ought to wash one another’s feet ….. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”’
‘Friend painter, you have managed, with your paintings, to strike some response in my spirit. It was a pleasure for me.
Too bad that now a sorrow begins. “What?”- you will ask.
I will tell you in confidence: it is a suspicion that I may have irked my readers. Some will have found me romantic, ingenuous, and out of date, thinking about castles; others will have broken off their reading as soon as they caught a whiff of “moralism”.
One of the many risks of my job.’
(Ack. ‘Illustrissimi’ by Albino Luciano – ‘Letters from Pope John Paul I’)
On August 26, 1978, Albino Luciano was elected the 263rd Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, in one of the shortest conclaves in Church history. He was 65 years years old, and adopted the name of John Paul I. Thirty-three days later, he died unexpectedly in his sleep. He will always be remembered as the smiling and unpretentious Pope, who radiated a Christ-like spirit of joy. From 1969 to 1978 he was Patriarch of Venice, during which time he wrote a series of articles and letters addressed to famous personages, living and dead, factual and fictional, all of which encompassed the spiritual frailty of mankind, but always compassionate and pastoral in content, and always expounding Christ’s love for those seeking Him. These letters and articles were published over a period of time in the Italian Press and subsequently reproduced in book form after the Pope’s death, under the title of ‘Illustrissimi’.
Friday, 15 March 2013
'We can gain some insight into the humility and spirituality of Pope Francis from the letter below that he published at the beginning of this Lent 2013 for his faithful people in the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires, Argentina. His writing style is more simple and direct than the, at times, lofty intellectual reflections of Papa Emeritus. This is not to detract from the immensely valuable writings and speech of Benedict, it is simply to point out a difference between the teaching style of the two men.'
Cardinal Bergoglio’s Diocesan Lenten Letter, 2013'And rend your hearts, and not your garments, and turn to the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, patient and rich in mercy, and ready to repent of the evil. (Joel 2:13)'
Rend your heart, not the clothing of technical fasting of compliance that only serves to keep us satisfied.
Rend your heart, not the clothing of egotistical and superficial prayer that does not reach the inmost part of our life to allow it to be touched by God.
May God bless and Our Lady guide and protect our Holy Father, Pope Francis. Amen.
Tuesday, 12 February 2013
Already we have the primary and natural authority of parents being eroded in schools in the matter of sex-education and sexual health , for the government intends the homosexual agenda to be taught whether parents or teachers agree or not, and we have a situation where young girls can be proscribed contraceptives and even referred for an abortion without the parents knowledge!
Regarding the recent vote on 'same-sex marriage', a combination of government backing, political opportunism, peer pressure, collective media bias, and a generally secular, anti-faith ethos in society and Parliament, ensured that the Bill successfully passed its second reading.
Full marks to those parliamentarians who showed moral courage, intellectual honesty, and above all common sense, in declining to share the poisoned chalice inherent in this legislation.
I can remember a popular song of many years ago - ‘all we need is love, baby’ or words to that effect, and this expressed so well the shallow over-riding sentiment of many supporting the Bill. I found myself becoming increasingly angry, frustrated, and cynical - did these supporters really believe in what they were saying, or was it a matter of political correctness or perhaps political opportunism?
Coincidentally, a day or two later, I picked up one of my favourite books from which I hoped to gain inspiration, and I was not disappointed. By an extraordinary coincidence I happened on a short story by G.K.Chesterton which could have been especially written to explain the unedifying and irrational support of the majority of our M.P.s, for the above mentioned 'same-sex marriage' Bill. Of course this story was actually written over one hundred years ago, an age when anybody preaching 'same-sex marriage' would probably have been immediately locked up in a mental institution! But it does emphasise the danger of self-deception in the face of constant and repetitious presentation of fallacies presented as truth, which might explain why the 'same-sex marriage' Bill is 'proudly' 'misrepresented' by its proponents as a victory for 'equal rights'.
Which, of course, is where we started!
Read for yourself and see what you think - I wish GKC was around today, he would be in his element demolishing this whole preposterous concept of 'same-sex marriage'!
'THE EXTRAORDINARY CABMAN'
From time to time I have introduced into this newspaper column the narration of incidents that have really occurred. I do not mean to insinuate that in this respect it stands alone among newspaper columns. I mean only that I have found that my meaning was better expressed by some practical parable out of daily life than by any other method; therefore I propose to narrate the incident of the extraordinary cabman, which occurred to me only three days ago, and which, slight as it apparently is, aroused in me a moment of genuine emotion bordering upon despair.
On the day that I met the strange cabman I had been lunching in a little restaurant in Soho in company with three or four of my best friends. My best friends are all either bottomless sceptics or quite uncontrollable believers, so our discussion at luncheon turned upon the most ultimate and terrible ideas. And the whole argument worked out ultimately to this: that the question is whether a man can be certain of anything at all. I think he can be certain, for if (as I said to my friend, furiously brandishing an empty bottle) it is impossible intellectually to entertain certainty, what is this certainty which it is impossible to entertain? If I have never experienced such a thing as certainty I cannot even say that a thing is not certain. Similarly, if I have never experienced such a thing as green I cannot even say that my nose is not green. It may be as green as possible for all I know, if I have really no experience of greenness.
So we shouted at each other and shook the room; because metaphysics is really the only thoroughly emotional thing. And the difference between us was very deep, because it was a difference as to the whole thing called broad-mindedness or the opening of the intellect. For my friend said he opened his intellect as the sun opens the fronds of a palm tree, opening for opening’s sake, opening infinitely for ever. But I said that I opened my intellect as I opened my mouth, in order to shut it again on something solid. I was doing it at the moment. And as I truly pointed out, it would look uncommonly silly if I went on opening my mouth infinitely, for ever and ever.
Now when this argument was over, or at least when it was cut short (for it will never be over), I went away with one of my companions, who in the confusion and comparative insanity of a General Election had somehow become a Member of Parliament, and I drove with him in a cab from the corner of Leicester-square to the members’ entrance of the House of Commons, where the police received me with a quite unusual tolerance. Whether they thought he was my keeper or that I was his keeper is a discussion between us which still continues.
It is necessary in this narrative to preserve the utmost exactitude of detail. After leaving my friend at the House I took the cab on a few hundred yards to an office in Victoria-street which I had to visit. I then got out and offered him more than his fare. He looked at it, but not with the surly doubt and general disposition to try it on which is not unknown among normal cabmen. But this was no normal, perhaps, no human, cabman. He looked at it with a dull and infantile astonishment, clearly quite genuine.
“Do you know, sir,” he said, “you’ve only given me 1s. 8d?”
I remarked, with some surprise, that I did know it.
“Now you know, sir,” said he, in a kindly, appealing, reasonable way, “you know that ain’t the fare from Euston.”
“Euston,” I repeated vaguely, for the phrase at that moment sounded to me like China or Arabia. “What on earth has Euston got to do with it?”
“You hailed me just outside Euston Station,” began the man with astonishing precision, “and then you said —”
“What in the name of Tartarus are you talking about?” I said with Christian forebearance; “I took you at the south-west corner of Leicester-square.”
“Leicester-square,” he exclaimed, loosening a kind of cataract of scorn, “why we ain’t been near Leicester-square today. You hailed me outside Euston Station, and you said —”
“Are you mad, or am I?” I asked with scientific calm.
I looked at the man. No ordinary dishonest cabman would think of creating so solid and colossal and creative a lie. And this man was not a dishonest cabman. If ever a human face was heavy and simple and humble, and with great big blue eyes protruding like a frog’s, if ever (in short) a human face was all that a human face should be, it was the face of that resentful and respectful cabman.
I looked up and down the street; an unusually dark twilight seemed to be coming on. And for one second the old nightmare of the sceptic put its finger on my nerve.
What was certaintly? Was anybody certain of anything? Heavens! To think of the dull rut of the sceptics who go on asking whether we possess a future life. The exciting question for real scepticism is whether we possess a past life. What is a minute ago, rationalistically considered, except a tradition and a picture?
The darkness grew deeper from the road. The cabman calmly gave me the most elaborate details of the gesture, the words, the complex but consistent course of action which I had adopted since that remarkable occasion when I had hailed him outside Euston Station. How did I know (my sceptical friends would say) that I had not hailed him outside Euston. I was firm about my assertion, he was equally firm about his. He was obviously quite as honest a man as I, and a member of a much more respectable profession. In that moment the universe and the stars swung just a hair’s breadth from their balance, and the foundations of the earth were moved. But for the same reason that I believe in Democracy, for the same reason that I believe in free will, the reason that could only be expressed by saying that I do not choose to be a lunatic; I continued to believe that this honest cabman was wrong, and I repeated to him that I had really taken him at the corner of Leicester-square.
He began with the same evident and ponderous sincerity, “You hailed me outside Euston Station and you said —”
And at this moment there came over his features a kind of frightful transfiguration of living astonishment, as if he had been lit up by a lamp from inside.
“Why, I beg your pardon, sir,” he said, “I beg your pardon. I beg your pardon. You took me from Leicester-square. I remember now. I beg your pardon.”
And with that, this astonishing man let out his whip with a sharp crack at his horse and went trundling away. The whole of which interview, before the banner of St George I swear, is strictly true.
I looked a the strange cabman as he lessened in the distance and the mists. I do not know whether I was right in fancying that although his face had seemed so honest there was something unearthly and demoniac about him when seen from behind. Perhaps he had been sent to tempt me from my adherence to those sanities and certainties which I had defended earlier in the day. In any case it gave me pleasure to remember that my sense of reality, though it had rocked for an instant, had remained erect.
From 'Tremendous Trifles' by G.K.Chesterton
Published by Sheed and Ward, New York, 1955.
At this momentous time, we pray especially for our beloved Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. We also pray that God, the Holy Ghost, will guide the consistory of Cardinals in their choice for a new Pope. Amen.
Monday, 14 January 2013
'This Introduction contains nothing which has not already been written; the bouquet that I offer you is made up of the same flowers, but I have arranged them differently. Nearly everyone who has written about the spiritual life has had in mind those who live apart from the world, or at least the devotion they advocate would lead to such retirement. My intention is to write for those who have to live in the world and who, according to their state, to all outward appearances have to lead an ordinary life; and who often enough, will not think of undertaking a devout life, considering it impossible; no one, they believe, ought to aspire to the palm of Christian piety, while surrounded by the affairs of the world.
I will show them that a strong and resolute person may live in the world without being tainted by it, find spiritual springs amid its salt waters, and fly through the flames of temptation without burning the wings on which they soar to God. True, it is no easy task and must be undertaken with much more zeal than many have so far shown, and I hope that this work will help those who undertake it with a generous heart.
My words are addressed to 'Philothea', because it is a name signifying one who loves God, or at least desires to do so.'
In considering the 'Practice of Virtue', which occupies one section of the book, St Francis de Sales has this to say on the subject of fidelity:-
Fidelity on all Occasions
'The sacred Spouse in the Canticle of Canticles says that his beloved has ravished his heart with one glance of an eye, with one ringlet straying on her neck. Now of all the exterior parts of the body none is more noble either in the way it is made or in its action than the eye, and none of less account than the hair, and so the sacred Spouse indicates that he finds not only the great works of the devout acceptable, but also their very least, and that to please him we must be faithful in all things great and small since we can in either case ravish his heart by love.
Be prepared then, Philothea, to undergo many great trials for his sake, even martyrdom; resolve, should he ask, to give him all you hold most dear: father, mother, brother, husband, wife, children, your eyes, your very life; such sacrifices must find your heart ready.
But as long as his Divine Providence spares you these great and painful trials, does not, for example, ask for your eyes, at least give him your hair; in other words, bear patiently the small trials that are your daily lot, those little inconveniences and trifling losses which are so many opportunities for proving your love, winning his heart, and making it all your own. A headache, a toothache, or a cold; the bad temper of one’s husband or wife; meeting with disdain or sulkiness; a glass broken; gloves, a ring, or handkerchief lost; the inconvenience of going to bed early or of rising early to pray or go to Communion; a feeling of embarrassment in performing certain devotions in public; all of these things, when accepted and embraced with love, are most pleasing to God who for a draught of cold water has promised his faithful a sea of perfect happiness, and as such opportunities occur every moment they enable us to heap up spiritual riches if only we take advantage of them.
When I read about all the raptures and spiritual transports of St Catherine of Siena, of her wise counsels and conferences, I had no doubt that she had ravished the heart of her heavenly Spouse with the eyes of her soul; but I was equally impressed to find that she worked in her father’s kitchen, humbly turned the spit, looked after the fire, cooked the food, kneaded the bread and carried out the most menial household tasks with a heart full of burning love for God; and I set no less store on the humble reflections she used to make while performing such lowly tasks than on the ecstasies and raptures she so often experienced, as a reward perhaps for her humility and abjection. She used to imagine, for example, when cooking her father’s meals, that she was another Martha doing it for our Lord; she saw our Lady in her mother and the Apostles in her brothers, encouraging herself in this way to serve in spirit the heavenly court, and carrying out her menial tasks with great delight seeing them as the will of God.
Saint Catherine of Siena (1347-1380)
I give you this example Philothea, to show you how important it is to direct our actions, however humble, to the service of God and advise you most earnestly to imitate the woman praised so highly by Solomon who put her hand to strong, noble and lofty things yet did not neglect her spinning wheel, she hath put out her hand to strong things, and her fingers have taken hold of the spindle. Put your hands to strong things, Philothea, by prayer and meditation, by frequenting the sacraments and teaching others to love God, inspiring their hearts to good; in other words by doing all the great and important things whenever you have the opportunity. But do not forget your spinning wheel, that is to say, practise the humble and lowly virtues which grow, like flowers, at the foot of the cross: helping the poor, visiting the sick, looking after your family with all that this involves, above all practising that diligence which permits no idleness, all the while making use of such considerations as I have mentioned in the case of St Catherine.
Great opportunities of serving God are rare, but little ones are frequent, and our Lord has told us that if we are faithful over little things, he will commit great things to our charge. Do everything in God’s name, then, and it will be done well; whether you eat or drink, take recreation or turn the spit, you can profit in God’s sight by doing them because it is his will.
"Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men" Mark 1: 17-20
Wednesday, 12 December 2012
O LORD DELIVER US'
"Euthanasia 'trivialized' in Belgium: report by European Institute of Bioethics" - Michael Cook, 'BioEdge'.
of necessity' gives the medical profession enhanced
powers of decision over life and death issues concerning
the most vulnerable patients. Besides dialogue with
close family members, how is one to assess the degree
of “necessity” invoked and to ensure that the patient’s
interests always come first ? Do not such practices not
bear witness to a form of abdication on the part of the
medical sector when faced with certain pathologies?
I have this horrible feeling that the more I learn of this type of legislation, the more I become sub-consciously hardened to the evil that it espouses. I totally abhor it, and yet constantly reading and hearing about it and knowing that such evil is brazenly advocated and practised, seems to numb that innate sense of horror and anger that arises in me. I think that this 'anaesthetizing of evil' is deadly dangerous, for inevitably over time, evil will no longer be recognised as such, becoming commonplace and even the norm in society. A classic example of this is the UK Abortion Act which whilst enacted with stringent rules and conditions, has over time, been manipulated by certain medical, scientific, and commercial interests, to effectively allow 'abortion on demand'. Constantly we hear demands that 'assisted suicide' and euthanasia should be legalised, and should either of these, together with the aberrant 'same-sex marriage' proposals become enshrined in law, our society will be engulfed in a sea of immorality, in which without God's grace, we will surely perish. Thank God for our holy Catholic faith, our priests and religious, our churches and our Sacraments, which offer solace, hope and strength to suffering souls.