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Sunday, 20 December 2009

'Jesus Christ, God made Man, conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary'

With Christmas almost upon us it seems fitting to address our thoughts to Mary, the holy virgin Mother of Jesus Christ.
         In pre-Reformation Catholic England, devotion to the Virgin Mary was an integral part and parcel of people's faith and  lives.  Referring to England of those times in his book  'Our Lady's Dowry', Father Bridgett C.SS.R  describes how  'devotion to Our Lady had the time, space and opportunity to work out its results thoroughly in England;  which devotion sprang from a lively faith in the Incarnation, and in its turn acted as the safeguard of that faith;  how it was an exercise and a stimulant of Christian hope whether in the sinner or the saint, looking as they did on our Lady as the great channel of the mercies of God purchased for us by Jesus Christ;  how it is one of the noblest acts of that charity which makes us love what God loves, and how it led to innumerable works of love and mercy to men; how it gave a charm and attraction to the Christian heart, without in any way substituting mere poetry and sentimentalism for solid virtue'.

Even writers who had least sympathy with the Catholic faith, openly praised the effect of this devotion to our Lady, in developing respect for women.

A certain Mr Lecky in his 'History of Rationalism' wrote:-

'The world is governed by its ideals, and seldom or never has there been one which has exercised a more profound and, on the whole, a more salutory influence than the mediaeval conception of the Virgin. For the first time woman was elevated to her rightful position, and the sanctity of weakness was recognised as well as the sanctity of sorrow.  No longer the slave or the toy of man, no longer associated only with ideas of degradation and of sensuality, woman rose in the person of the Virgin Mother into a new sphere, and became the object of a reverential homage of which antiquity had no conception.  The moral charm and beauty of female excellence was, for the first time, felt. A new type of character was called into being, a new kind of admiration fostered.  Into a harsh and ignorant and benighted age this ideal type infused a conception of gentleness and purity unknown to the proudest generations of the past.  In the pages of living tenderness which many a monkish writer has left in honour of his celestial patron; in the millions who, in many lands and in many ages, have sought, with no barren desire, to mould their characters into her image; in those holy maidens who, for the love of Mary, have separated themselves from all the glories and pleasures of the world, to seek, in fastings and vigils and humble charity, to render themselves worthy of her benediction;  in the new sense of honour, in the chivalrous respect, in the softening of manners, in the refinement of tastes displayed in all the walks of society;   in these, and in many other ways, we detect its influence.  All that was best in Europe clustered around it, and it is the origin of many of the purest elements of our civilisation'.  

The 19th century in England brought  Catholic emancipation involving considerable public controversy, particularly following the dogmatic papal  decrees of the Immaculate Conception (1854) and Papal Infallibility (1870).  These were strongly condemned by,  among others, the Rt Hon W.E.Gladstone in his book 'The Vatican Decrees', who stated that 'the growth of what is often termed among Protestants 'Mariolatry' was notoriously advancing of late years, and that the recent papal decrees were deadly blows at the old historic, scientific, and moderate school, and an act of violence'. On the other hand, he also stated  that 'in days within his own memory, the constant, favourite, and imposing argument of Roman controversialists was the unbroken and absolute identity in belief of the Roman Church from the days of our Saviour until now'. 

Fr Bridgett comments that it is certainly not true that 'Rome has substituted for the proud boast of 'semper eadem' a policy of violence and change of faith, and it assuredly ill befits those who accept the inheritance of Henry, Edward, and Elizabeth, to make charges so easy of crushing retort'. 

Furthermore Fr Bridgett continues, 'Could our ancestors, whether Saxon or Norman, rise up at the present day, they would have to make no change of faith, and do no violence to their own feelings, in accepting either the Vatican decrees or any dogmatic decree that has ever issued from the Apostolic Chair of St Peter.  But seeing the face of England, and the ruins of all the things they loved, they would indeed lament that England had substituted for her proud boast of being our Lady's Dowry, a policy of violence and change of faith.' 
Fr Bridgett quotes the following prayer of St Anselm, the great and saintly Archbishop of Canterbury in the 11th century, and inviting the reader to repeat this prayer suggests that in reading it he will have no difficulty in recognising the faith and devotion of the Archbishop of Westminster of the 19th century.
                               Prayer of St Anselm (11th century)

      ' Of a certainty, O Jesus, Son of God, and thou, O Mother Mary, you desire that whatever you love should be loved by us. Therefore, O good Son, I beg Thee, by the love Thou bearest Thy Mother, and as Thou wishest her to be loved, to grant to me that I may truly love her.  And thou, O good Mother, I beg thee by the love thou bearest thy Son, as thou wishest Him to be loved, to pray for me that I may truly love Him. Behold I ask nothing that is not in accordance with your will. Since then, this is in your power, shall my sins prevent its being done? O Jesus, lover of men, Thou wert able to love criminals even so as to die for them; canst Thou then, refuse me, who ask only the love of Thee and Thy Mother? And thou too, Mary, Mother of Him who loved us, who didst bear Him in thy womb, and feed Him at thy breast, art thou not able, or not willing,  to obtain for one who asks it,  the love of thy Son and of thyself?  O, may then my mind venerate you both as you deserve! may my heart love you, as it is right it should! may my body serve you, as it ought! in your service may my life be spent! and may my whole substance praise you in eternity!  Blessed be God for ever.  Amen, amen.'

             Wishing you peace and happiness for Christmas and the New Year.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

The Desert Fathers - holy inspiration in a pagan world

'In the year 420 A.D. about the time that Cassian was writing his memories of the Desert Fathers, Palladius, now bishop of Helenopolis, was busy with his own – the ‘Paradisus’. They covered much the same period, the last ten years of the fourth century, but have little else in common. For Palladius took the short view: he is nearer his own Apollonius, in and out of every door with pomegranates and raisins and eggs, than the Fathers of whom he spoke with bated breath.  For Melania who so honestly told this story against herself, he had a deep admiration: so had a saintlier and more discriminating judge, Paulinus of Nola.'
             'Melania was a Spaniard, daughter of a consul and widow at twenty-two of a Roman of vast wealth. Came on a pilgrimage to Egypt, braved the Arian persecution with a courage so indifferent that it seemed like arrogance:  and fought like a lioness with her wealth and her prestige for the Fathers who were meeting their enemies with a different kind of courage. Rufinus, himself a monk in a desert community, writes of  persecutors coming into the desert, horse and foot, tribunes and prefects and captains, to make war on quiet men.  “And when they had come there, they found a new kind of fighting:  enemies that bowed their necks to the sword, and said nought else but this, Friend,wherefore art thou come?”
When the troubles were ended, she and Rufinus met in Jerusalem.   Melania set up a convent and enabled Rufinus to establish a monastery at the Mount of Olives. Jerome called Melania "the nobleness of our time", although this was before he quarrelled with Rufinus: after that, he muttered comminations.  Yet not even Jerome spoke a word of scandal against the friendship between these two, a friendship that was to last until the death of both Rufinus and Melania in 410 A.D.'

Fragments from the 'PARADISUS' of Palladius
             ‘The blessed Pambo was a dweller in this mountain (Mt Nitria)…….  In many and diverse virtues he had the prerogative and the palm, but was in this especially memorable, that he made so light of silver and gold that verily he seemed to have fulfilled the Lord’s commandment..  I had it myself from the worshipful lady Melania, that after she set out from Rome and first reached Alexandria, she heard much of his virtues from Isidore the priest and overseer of the church, and with him as guide came to him in the desert, and offered him three hundred pounds of silver, praying him to accept somewhat of her wealth.  “He was sitting there,” said she,  “and weaving a basket, and he blessed me with a single word saying,  ‘May God reward thee.’ Then he said to his steward, “Take it carefully, and divide it among all the brethren that are in Libya and the islands, for these monasteries seem more needy than the others.”  He also bade him give none of the money to those in Egypt, because he knew that these parts have abundance of food.  So, as she herself told me, she stood on, waiting for some blessing on her gift or some praise;  and hearing nothing from him, at last she spoke.  “I would have thee know, my lord,” says she, “there are three hundred pounds in that casket.”  But again without looking up he made answer,  “He to whom hast offered it, my daughter, has no need to learn its bulk from thee, for He who weighs the mountains in a balance knoweth far better than thou dost what the weight of this silver may be. If indeed it were to me thou didst offer it, thou didst well to tell me:  but if not to me, but to that God who we know did not despise but gave most honour to the two mites, hold thy peace and be still.”
         Now God so ordained it, she said, that a little while after she came to the mountain, this servant of God went to his rest:  with no sickness, no fever to weary him, but stitching together a little basket, he slept in peace, in the seventieth year of his age.  “A little before the hour that he went out from the world, commending his soul to God, he called me, and as he came to the last finishing of his work, he said to me, undismayed, ‘Take this little basket from my hands, for I have naught else to leave thee, to remember me by.’ So when his body was wrapped in linen and carried to its grave, I left those solitudes, but that which the holy man left me I keep with me, until my own end.”


   ‘A certain Apollonius, that had been a merchant and renounced the world, came to live on Mount Nitria:  and since he could learn no art, hindered as he was by weight of years, nor could practise the abstinence laid down in Holy Writ, he laid down a rule of continence for himself.  For out of his own purse and labour he bought every kind of remedy and food-stuffs in Alexandria, and provided the brethren that were ailing with whatever they needed.  You might see him from early morning till the ninth hour traversing up and down through all the monasteries, whether of men or women, in and out of door after door where there were any sick, carrying with him raisins, and pomegranates, and eggs, and fine wheaten flour, especially necessary for the ailing.  To such a life for which alone he was adapted, did this servant of Christ devote his old age: nevertheless before his death when he had found another like unto himself, he handed over to him all the paraphernalia of his ministry, entreating him to have the same care of the brethren.  And since there be five thousand monks dwelling in the aforesaid mountain, such tendance and comforting is indeed called for, for without it in those desolate places man could not live.’


To conclude with a short story from the PRATUM SPIRITUALE by John Moschus

  ‘A certain old man lived in the monastery at Cuziba, of whom the old men of the place told us that when he was in his own village it was his custom if he saw anyone in the village unable through poverty, to sow his field, he would go by night, carrying seed with him, and sow the poor man’s field, the owner knowing nothing of it.  And when he came to the desert and lived in the monastery at Cuziba, he did the same works of compassion.  For he would go along the road that leads from the Jordan to the Holy City, carrying bread and water. And if he saw someone growing weary, he would shoulder his load and climb as far as the Holy Mount of Olives, and return again with others by the same road, carrying their burdens as far as Jericho.  You might have seen the old man sometimes carrying a huge bundle and sweating under his load:  sometimes carrying a youngster on his shoulder; sometimes two. Sometimes he would be sitting patching the broken shoes of some man or woman:  he used to carry with him whatever was needed for that task.  He would give some a drink of the water that he carried, to others he would give bread; and indeed if he should come on any naked, he would give him the cloak that he wore. It was sweet to see the old man toiling day after day.  And if he found one dead on the road, he would say over him the wonted psalms and prayers, and give him burial.’
(The Desert Fathers - translated by Helen Waddell.  Published by Constable,London. 1936)

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Feast of Christ the King - last Sunday in October

It is 84 years since His Holiness, Pope Pius XI, issued ‘Quas Primas’, the encyclical on the Kingship of Christ. Today, the last Sunday in October, is the feast-day of ‘Christ the King’, and it seems appropriate to reflect on a few observations in ‘Quas Primas’  which apply as much today as at the time it was written.  The encyclical is too long to quote in its entirety in this setting, however for those interested it is readily available on the New Advent website.  The extracts in this post, speak for themselves.

‘Quas Primas’
Encyclical on the Feast of Christ the King
His Holiness Pope Pius XI
December 11, 1925

To Our Venerable Brethren the Patriarchs, Primates, Archbishops, Bishops, and other Ordinaries in Peace and Communion with the Apostolic See.

Venerable Brethren, Greeting and the Apostolic Benediction.

‘IN THE FIRST ENCYCLICAL LETTER which We addressed at the beginning of Our Pontificate to the Bishops of the universal Church, We referred to the chief causes of the difficulties under which mankind was labouring. And We remember saying that these manifold evils in the world were due to the fact that the majority of men had thrust Jesus Christ and His holy law out of their lives; that these had no place either in private affairs or in politics: and we said further, that as long as individuals and states refused to submit to the rule of our Saviour, there would be no really hopeful prospect of a lasting peace among nations. Men must look for the peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ ….’

‘Before the Roman magistrate He (Jesus Christ) declared that His kingdom was not of this world. The gospels present this kingdom as one which men prepare to enter by penance, and cannot actually enter except by faith and by baptism, which, though an external rite, signifies and produces an interior regeneration. This kingdom is opposed to none other than to that of Satan and to the power of darkness. It demands of its subjects a spirit of detachment from riches and earthly things, and a spirit of gentleness. They must hunger and thirst after justice, and more than this, they must deny themselves and carry the cross ……’        

 ‘Thus the empire of our Redeemer embraces all men. To use the words of Our immortal predecessor, Pope Leo XIII:-  "His empire includes not only Catholic nations, not only baptized persons who, though of right belonging to the Church, have been led astray by error, or have been cut off from her by schism, but also all those who are outside the Christian faith; so that truly the whole of mankind is subject to the power of Jesus Christ.’

‘Nor is there any difference in this matter between the individual and the family or the State; for all men, whether collectively or individually, are under the dominion of Christ. In him is the salvation of the individual, in him is the salvation of society. "Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given to men whereby we must be saved."

 ‘He is the author of happiness and true prosperity for every man and for every nation. For a nation is happy when its citizens are happy. What else is a nation but a number of men living in concord?’

‘If, therefore, the rulers of nations wish to preserve their authority, to promote and increase the prosperity of their countries, they will not neglect the public duty of reverence and obedience to the rule of Christ. What We said at the beginning of Our Pontificate concerning the decline of public authority, and the lack of respect for the same, is equally true at the present day. "With God and Jesus Christ," we said, "excluded from political life, with authority derived not from God but from man, the very basis of that authority has been taken away, because the chief reason of the distinction between ruler and subject has been eliminated. The result is that human society is tottering to its fall, because it has no longer a secure and solid foundation.’         

‘If We ordain that the whole Catholic world shall revere Christ as King, We shall minister to the need of the present day, and at the same time provide an excellent remedy for the plague which now infects society. We refer to the plague of anti-clericalism, its errors and impious activities. This evil spirit, as you are well aware, Venerable Brethren, has not come into being in one day; it has long lurked beneath the surface. The empire of Christ over all nations was rejected. The right which the Church has from Christ Himself, to teach mankind, to make laws, to govern peoples in all that pertains to their eternal salvation,that right was denied. Then gradually the religion of Christ came to be likened to false religions and to be placed ignominiously on the same level with them. It was then put under the power of the state and tolerated more or less at the whim of princes and rulers. Some men went even further, and wished to set up in the place of God's religion a natural religion consisting in some instinctive affection of the heart. There were even some nations who thought they could dispense with God, and that their religion should consist in impiety and the neglect of God. The rebellion of individuals and states against the authority of Christ has produced deplorable consequences. We lamented these in the Encycyclical ‘Ubi Arcano’, we lament them today: the seeds of discord sown far and wide; those bitter enmities and rivalries between nations, which still hinder so much the cause of peace; that insatiable greed which is so often hidden under a pretence of public spirit and patriotism, and gives rise to so many private quarrels; a blind and immoderate selfishness, making men seek nothing but their own comfort and advantage, and measure everything by these; no peace in the home, because men have forgotten or neglect their duty; the unity and stability of the family undermined; society in a word, shaken to its foundations and on the way to ruin. We firmly hope, however, that the feast of the Kingship of Christ, which in future will be yearly observed, may hasten the return of society to our loving Saviour. It would be the duty of Catholics to do all they can to bring about this happy result. Many of these, however, have neither the station in society nor the authority which should belong to those who bear the torch of truth. This state of things may perhaps be attributed to a certain slowness and timidity in good people, who are reluctant to engage in conflict or oppose but a weak resistance; thus the enemies of the Church become bolder in their attacks. But if the faithful were generally to understand that it behoves them ever to fight courageously under the banner of Christ their King, then, fired with apostolic zeal, they would strive to win over to their Lord those hearts that are bitter and estranged from him, and would valiantly defend his rights.’

‘Pope Leo XIII, twenty-five years ago to the bishops of the Universal Church:- "then at length will many evils be cured; then will the law regain its former authority; peace with all its blessings be restored. Men will sheathe their swords and lay down their arms when all freely acknowledge and obey the authority of Christ, and every tongue confesses that the Lord Jesus Christ is in the glory of God the Father.’

‘ Moreover, the annual and universal celebration of the feast of the Kingship of Christ will draw attention to the evils which anti-clericalism has brought upon society in drawing men away from Christ, and will also do much to remedy them. While nations insult the beloved name of our Redeemer by suppressing all mention of it in their conferences and parliaments, we must all the more loudly proclaim His kingly dignity and power, all the more universally affirm His rights.’         

 ‘Therefore by Our Apostolic Authority We institute the Feast of the Kingship of Our Lord Jesus Christ to be observed yearly throughout the whole world on the last Sunday of the month of October--the Sunday, that is, which immediately precedes the Feast of All Saints. We further ordain that the dedication of mankind to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which Our predecessor of saintly memory, Pope Pius X, commanded to be renewed yearly, be made annually on that day’       

‘The last Sunday of October seemed the most convenient of all for this purpose, because it is at the end of the liturgical year, and thus the feast of the Kingship of Christ sets the crowning glory upon the mysteries of the life of Christ already commemorated during the year, and, before celebrating the triumph of all the Saints, we proclaim and extol the glory of him who triumphs in all the Saints and in all the Elect. Make it your duty and your task, Venerable Brethren, to see that sermons are preached to the people in every parish to teach them the meaning and the importance of this feast, that they may so order their lives as to be worthy of faithful and obedient subjects of the Divine King.’        

‘Nations will be reminded by the annual celebration of this feast that not only private individuals but also rulers and princes are bound to give public honour and obedience to Christ. It will call to their minds the thought of the last judgment, wherein Christ, who has been cast out of public life, despised, neglected and ignored, will most severely avenge these insults; for His Kingly dignity demands that the State should take account of the Commandments of God and of Christian principles, both in making laws and in administering justice, and also in providing for the young a sound moral education.’   

Given at St. Peter's Rome, on the eleventh day of the month of December, in the Holy Year 1925, the fourth of Our Pontificate.    
 For the record we were privileged  to have a sung traditional Mass today in Our Lady's Chapel, Stronsay, celebrated by Fr Anthony Mary F.SS.R., with the full proper of the Mass of the Kingship of Christ, with plainchant Mass 3 (Kyrie Deus sempiterne) and Credo 1.   Mass was followed by the consecration of mankind to the Sacred Heart of Jesus,  and the recitation of the litany to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.  


I recommend the post - ‘The Homily Catholics Long to Hear’  (22nd October) on Mary Anne Kreitzer’s website, ‘Les Femmes – the Truth’.  I have not read the book from which she quotes, ‘Fatherless’ by Brian J.Gail, but the extract  reproduced in her post, is metaphorically speaking, ‘spiritual dynamite’. 3 days ago

Hot off the Press!    The weather in Orkney over the last few days has been wet, windy and generally wild! Last night the Kirkwall lifeboat was called out to rescue a yacht which had broken its anchors whilst riding out the storm in Mill Bay, Stronsay. The yacht I believe, had several on board, and with its sails shredded, had to be towed by the lifeboat into Stronsay harbour. The sea was very rough, resulting in one of the lifeboat crew falling on deck and injuring his back.  The Air/Sea Rescue helicopter attended, collected the injured man and conveyed him away to hospital. This all happened during the hours of darkness and in atrocious weather conditions. Thank God for these brave and skilled rescuers, and may He bless them, and may Our Blessed Lady, Mary, Star of the Sea, protect and guide them.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

'Medieval Monasticism' and Betjeman's 'Felixstowe'

I have recently been reading 'Church Life in Medieval England - the Monasteries', by Rev Mgr Laurence Goulder M.A. published by the Guild of Our Lady of Ransome, in the series 'Pilgrimage Pamphlets'. This revised edition (1990) contains a wealth of information concerning the nature and number of monastic institutions, both male and female, in England prior to the Reformation. From the time of St Augustine's arrival in Kent in 596AD and the conversion of Aethelberht, King of Kent, until the invasion by the Danes in 865AD, monastic establishments increased and flourished. Most were based on the rule of St Benedict, and once established many became renowned as seats of learning. Scholars like St Bede (673-735AD), contributed greatly to the civilizing of western Europe , and the preservation of the learning of the Greco-Roman world was largely due to them. Most of the bishops of this period were recruited from the monasteries and proved invaluable as the counsellors of kings. In addition the English Benedictines provided a constant stream of missionaries to mainland Europe. The Rhineland, the Low Countries, Germany and Scandinavia owe their conversion chiefly to English monks- St Willibrord, Bishop of Utrecht (695-739); St Boniface, Archbishop of Mainz (748-754) -martyr; St Willibald, Bishop of Eichstadt(741-786); and St Winnebald, Abbot of Heidenheimm(752-761). English nuns were also involved in missionary work- St Walburga, Abbess of Heidenheim(c761-779); St Lioba, St Thecla, and Chunihilt. Between 865 and 878, the Danish invaded England, pillaging and destroying, with the monasteries a prime target. When the invaders were finally defeated at Edington by King Alfred (871-899), no religious house was functioning in the traditional manner with the possible exception of St Augustine's ,Canterbury. Most were totally destroyed or uninhabited, with a few in the hands of secular clerks. There followed a period of gradual monastic rehabilitation, quickening with the accession of Athelstan in 924, when a period of peace and prosperity began in England, continuing through the reigns of his successors, Edmund (940-946); Eadred (946-955); Eadwig (955-959); and Edgar (959-975). During the latter's reign, England experienced a significant revival of the monastic life influenced greatly by St Dunstan,Bishop of Worcester (957-961) and Archbishop of Canterbury(961-988); St Oswald, Bishop of Worcester(961-992) also Archbishop of York(972-992); and St Aethelwold, Bishop of Winchester(963-984). Over the next 500 years until the time of the Reformation, the numbers of monasteries and convents increased generally, with many new religious orders established. There were many problems to be overcome and tribulations to be endured. Religious communities were subject to the temptations of the devil, the world, and the flesh, as much if not more than the laity. Wars and intrigues at home and abroad, and civil unrest, were virtually endemic, affecting all of society including the monasteries. Economic and natural disasters and disease took their toll. The 'Black Death' in 1348/49 decimated the entire population, hitting the religious communities particularly hard, forcing many to close, and reducing communities of 50 or 60 down to 10 or 12. Nonetheless, in England by the time of the Reformation, there were 1,119 male establishments (monasteries), 169 female establishments (convents), and 13 combined foundations. The Benedictines, together with the English Cluniacs, the Carthusians, the Cistercians, and the Congregation of Savigny, all based on the rule of St Benedict, had their own monasteries, as did the Franciscans, the Dominicans, the Carmelites, the various orders of Canons Regular, the Austin Friars and numerous lesser orders of Friars. Most orders had religious congregations for women, following the same rule as their male counterparts, but living usually in separate foundations. The English monastic houses ranged in size from the Abbey and Cathedral downwards. Many incorporated huge estates, employing local people and providing them with homes, educating the children and caring for the sick and those in need. The dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII was driven by pride and greed, for the monastic institutions were the custodians of many treasures, material as well as spiritual, the former often comprising endowments by benefactors over the centuries, perhaps 'for the glory of God and His holy Church', or as 'reparation for sins committed', or 'in thanksgiving for blessings received'. Thus the dissolution of the monasteries was a carefully planned and precisely executed operation, with the sacred and holy artifacts of gold and silver melted down for the king's coffers, the precious stones and jewels stolen and distributed, and the magnificent buildings ransacked and destroyed. To add to this, the rich and fertile lands and the farmsteads belonging to the monasteries, were acquired by the Crown and 'given' by the King as a reward to those of the nobility who supported him. Many thousands of monks and nuns became homeless, and many were persecuted and martyred for their loyalty to Rome, refusing to recognise Henry as the spiritual head of the Catholic Church in England.

Once the Church of England had become the established religion, Catholic monastic foundations were forbidden by law until the Catholic Emancipation Acts of the 19th century. There was then a gradual increase in the number of religious institutions, many started up by religious refugees from post-Revolution and anti-clerical France, and from Ireland where famine and deprivation had driven many to England in search of a better life. Suffice to say here that the end of the 19th and the first half of the 20th century saw a significant revival in English monastic life, and many are the books and substantial the literature concerning this. In the early 1950s I can remember the 'Vocations Exhibition' held in Olympia in London, where virtually all the Religious Orders were represented, with their own individual sites manned by their own priests, monks, or nuns, hoping to encourage aspiring boys and girls, young men and women, to perhaps consider the possibility that they might have a vocation for the religious life. Who would have believed that 20 years later, many, if not most of those religious institutions would be closing their doors yet again, this time the victims of rampant secularism in society,and destructive liberalism and modernism in the Church. We have experienced liturgical 'disruption' - some would say 'demolition', the abandonment of traditional and beautiful Church music and the despoilment of so many lovely churches, doctrinal confusion, false ecumenism, and the tragic diminution of the sacred and unique role and 'persona' of the priest. Many religious orders pressed the 'self-destruct' button, adapting tried and trusted Rules to fit in with modern trends, doing away with the traditional religious habits - particularly applicable to women religious, losing in the process their very identity. We know that Christ will never abandon His Church, and with the encouragement and blessing of the Holy Father, there are signs of a spiritual renaissance within the Church for all things traditional, particularly for the Mass and for the religious life. With this resurgence of tradition, perhaps in another thirty years or so, our monasteries and convents will once again flourish offering prayer and service to God, and bringing great spiritual blessings on our Church and our country.

Before moving to Orkney we lived in Devon for many years, and I recollect that in a relatively small area of S.Devon, at least three convents closed down and the houses were sold for property development. At Chudleigh, the convent cemetery became part of someone's garden; that these generous and devout women who had devoted their life to the service of God in their small convent, should have their final resting place sold as part of someone's garden, is indeed sad. It may be that in the circumstances prevailing at the time, it was difficult to see what else could have been done. Respect for these graves, is perhaps, as much as can be reasonably hoped for.

John Betjeman wrote a rather prophetic poem in the late 1950's entitled, 'Felixstowe, or The Last of Her Order'. Betjeman was I think, of Anglican High Church orientation, and I suspect that the subject of this poem, an elderly nun, was of the same faith. Nevertheless she could equally be a Roman Catholic nun, for I suspect her destiny in this world was that of many an elderly Catholic nun in the late 20th century.

'Felixstowe, or The Last of Her Order'

With one consuming roar along the shingle
The long wave claws and rakes the pebbles down
To where its backwash and the next wave mingle,
A mounting arch of water weedy-brown
Against the tide the off-shore breezes blow.
Oh wind and water, this is Felixstowe.

In winter when the sea winds chill and shriller
Than those of summer, all their cold unload
Full on the gimcrack attic of the villa
Where I am lodging off the Orwell Road,
I put my final shilling in the meter
And only make my loneliness completer.

In eighteen ninety-four when we were founded,
Counting our Reverend Mother we were six,
How full of hope we were and prayer surrounded
"The Little Sisters of the Hanging Pyx".
We built our orphanage. We ran our school
Now only I am left to keep the rule.

Here in the gardens of the Spa Pavilion
Warm in the whisper of a summer sea,
The cushioned scabious, a deep vermilion,
With white pins stuck in it, looks up at me
A sun-lit kingdom touched by butterflies
And so my memory of winter dies.

Across the grass the poplar shades grow longer
And louder clang the waves along the coast.
The band packs up. The evening breeze is stronger
And all the world goes home to tea and toast.
I hurry past a cakeshop's tempting scones
Bound for the red brick twilight of St John's.

"Thou knowest my down sitting and mine uprising"
Here where the white light burns with steady glow
Safe from the vain world's silly sympathizing,
Safe with the Love that I was born to know,
Safe from the surging of the lonely sea
My heart finds rest, my heart finds rest in Thee.

John Betjeman (written after 1954)

Monday, 31 August 2009

'Tooth - Fairies' under threat ...............

I'm sure that we must all have a soft spot for the 'tooth-fairies', those magical creatures who visit sleeping children during the night, and replace the 'lost' tooth placed under the pillow, with a small compensatory gift, in my childhood days usually a 'sixpenny piece', in today's world probably a' fifty pence piece ' or £1 coin.

Imagine the shock when I saw the following advertisement in the most recent edition of the Orcadian.

Please note that three 'Toothbrushing Supervisors' are required, not just one, which surely represents a virtual declaration of war against the entire 'tooth - fairy' kingdom!

Reading the advertisement further, I notice that 'basic knowledge of the toothbrushing techniques would be an advantage'; also ' the post will involve organising and supervising children brushing their teeth as part of the NHS Orkney Childsmile Toothbrushing Programme'; and ' you will work on your own supervising children brushing their teeth, but you will have regular contact with the NHS Orkney Dental Health Worker.' Finally, ' while your role is not to brush children's teeth, you will be there to encourage the young children to brush their teeth well and develop this important lifetime habit'.

What is there to say?! Orkney is truly a wonderful place to live, unless you're a 'tooth-fairy'.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Birds of a Feather ............

We have enjoyed a lovely summer here in Orkney with long periods of warm sunshine, blue skies, and gentle breezes, with just the occasional wet day sufficient to keep the farmers happy. If all summers were like this there would be no need for trips to the Aegean, for looking across the clear, blue sea to other Orkney islands with the lovely clean white sandy beaches, with the sun shining and the birds singing, there can be few more beautiful sights. Early in the morning, seals young and old, can be seen sunning themselves on the beaches, and occasionally if you are in the right place at the right time, you might catch sight of a sea-otter making his way across the beach to the nearby mill in search of duck eggs or other delicacy for lunch. We have a small bird Reserve on Stronsay, owned and run by ornithologist, author and artist, John Holloway and his wife. He is very knowledgeable and enthusiastic on the subject of birds, and many are the rare migrants and visitors that he is called to confirm and identify. My wife and I love the bird-life here, and since we moved here six years ago have been fortunate to have seen many birds which we had not seen before. Experience has shown that it is advisable to photograph any bird whose identity is uncertain, so that the photograph can be studied at leisure and a reasonably accurate identification made. Having said this, it is not always possible to do this, with the inevitable result that when trying to identify and recollect ‘from memory’, the imagination encroaches on the memory to such an extent that the resulting identification becomes very dubious. Reproduced here are some photographs taken by my wife, of various birds, some resident - others migrant, all taken on Stronsay and many taken in our garden. I think pride of place must go the ‘blue-throat’ seen earlier this year in the driveway leading to the Bird Reserve; we were parked in our car just a few feet from it. The photograph of this beautiful bird is used in the ‘heading logo’ for this blog-site. There are many birds regularly seen at different times of the year, but not yet photographed, these include green plovers (peewits), golden plovers, redshanks, wrens, curlews, wheatears, redpolls, song and mistle-thrush, skylarks, blackcaps, lesser-whitethroats, twites, and a variety of marine birds and waders. Rare visitors recorded during the six years that we have been here, but not seen by us, include bee-eater, snowy owl, golden oriel, and tree-creeper. Other less common birds seen by us include waxwings, sedge warblers, gold-crest, red-backed shrike, woodcock, hen-harriers, peregrine falcon, tawny owl, bullfinch, and cuckoo. These are not exhaustive lists of the Stronsay bird life, but those shown in the photographs together with these listed, do give some idea of the wide variety of birds to be seen. I urge any bird-lovers who have the opportunity to visit Stronsay, or indeed any of the Orkney Isles, to seize it with both hands.














A delightful story from 'Beast and Saints' translated by Helen Waddell, published by Constable (London) 1934.

St Cuthbert's Birds and Bartholomew, the Hermit of Farne.

From ancient time long past, this island has been inhabited by certain birds whose name and race miraculously persists. At the time of year for building nests, they gather here. And such gracious gentleness have they learned from the holiness of the place, or rather from those who made the place holy by their way of living there, that they have no shrinking from the handling or the gaze of men.They love quiet, and yet no clamour disturbs them. Their nests are built everywhere. Some brood above their eggs beside the altar. No man presumes to molest them or touch the eggs without leave........... And they in turn do harm to no man's store for food. They seek it with their mates upon the waves of the sea. The ducklings, once they are reared, follow behind their mothers who lead the way, and once they have entered their native waters, come no more back to the nest. The mothers too, their mild and gentle way of life forgotten, receive their ancient state and instinct with the sea. This is the high prerogative of the island, which, had it come to the knowledge of the scholars of old time, would have had its fair fame blazoned through the earth.

But at one time it befel, whilst a mother was leading her brood, herself going on before, that one of the youngsters fell down a cleft of a creviced rock. The mother stood by in distress, and let no one doubt but that she was then endowed with human reason. For she forthwith turned about, left her youngsters behind, came to Bartholomew, and began tugging at the hem of his cloak with her beak, as if to say plainly: "Get up and follow me and give me back my son." He rose at once for her, thinking that he must be sitting on her nest. But as she kept on tugging more and more, he perceived at last that she was asking something from him that she could not come at by voice. And indeed her action was eloquent, if not her discourse. On she went, she first and he after, till coming to the cliff she pointed to the place with her bill, and gazing at Bartholomew, intimated with what signs she could that he was to peer inside. Coming closer, he saw the duckling with its small wings clinging to the rock, and climbing down he brought it back to its mother, who in high delight seemed by her joyous look, to give him thanks. Whereupon she took to the water with her sons, and Bartholomew, dumb with astonishment, went back to his oratory.
'God also said: Let the waters bring forth the creeping creature having life, and the fowl that may fly over the earth under the firmament of heaven. And God created the great whales, and every living and moving creature, which the waters brought forth, according to their kinds, and every winged fowl according to its kind. And God saw that it was good' ( Genesis I vs. 20/21)

Friday, 10 July 2009

Stronsay in June, and Reflections on Section 28

There have been unaccountable 'technical' problems presenting this post, resulting in having to delete it several times. I apologise for this, and am indebted to 'Antony Bidgood' who kindly advised me of the problem of which I was totally unaware, as everything appeared perfectly normal on my own computer, but not on others. I have no e-mail address for you 'Antony Bidgood' but please accept my thanks. We hope that all is now well, so here goes ....!

Until the start of this week when temperatures dropped considerably with the return of cool northerly winds, Stronsay had enjoyed two or three weeks of warm sunshine, clear blue sky and gentle breezes, with calm seas and beautiful, white sandy beaches. During this time Our Lady's Chapel on Stronsay was the focal point for daily and Sunday Mass attended by all the Brothers from Golgotha Monastery, with Fr Anthony Mary F.SS.R celebrant. Fr Michael Mary was in Rome for two weeks, accompanied for the first week by the five F.SS.R seminarians currently on summer 'recess' from the seminary in Nebraska, four of whom then returned to Papa Stronsay, with one remaining with Fr Michael Mary in Rome. Normally the monks would have Mass in their own chapel on Papa Stronsay, but in the absence of Fr Michael Mary, Mass has been celebrated daily at Our Lady's Chapel, Stronsay, necessitating a two-way boat trip each day for the monks. A sincere 'thank you' to Fr Anthony Mary and all the Brothers, for their consideration in ensuring the availability of daily Mass on Stronsay. For a full report on the visit to Rome, including some wonderful photographs, I strongly recommend the monastic blog-site 'Transalpine Redemptorists at Home' - see link on sidebar. Fr Michael Mary's comments on behalf of himself and his community, reflect absolute faith in God and total loyalty to the Holy Father and the Church. We in Stronsay are truly blessed to have with us these good and inspiring priests and religious; may God bless them and Our Lady protect and guide them.

We had two lady visitors at Mass on Sunday. They were from Northumberland and when speaking to my wife after Mass, expressed pleasurable surprise that the Mass had been a traditional Latin Mass rather than the 'Novus Ordo' Mass in English, as they had been led to expect by friends 'down south'. It is amazing that such misapprehension still exists, for Fr Michael Mary has repeatedly made it clear that only the traditional Latin Mass would be celebrated on Stronsay and Papa Stronsay, never the 'Novus Ordo' Mass. Indeed some weeks ago, Bishop Peter Moran of Aberdeen visited the monastery and himself celebrated the traditional Latin Mass there.


On a rather different note, I could not believe my eyes when I read in the Daily Telegraph of 2nd July, that
'Cameron says sorry to gays for 1980s Section 28 law'. Apparently David Cameron recently publicly apologised at a 'gay pride' event in London, on behalf of the Conservative party, for Section 28 legislation introduced by the Margaret Thatcher Conservative Government of 1984, which effectively banned Local Authorities from promoting homosexuality. Regrettably but unsurprisingly, this legislation was abolished in 2003 by the present Labour Government under Tony Blair. Reading further into the Telegraph report, it transpired that David Cameron made his apology while speaking in London in support of Margot James, the Tory candidate for Stourbridge, who apparently is the party's only openly 'gay' woman candidate. I would like to know by what authority David Cameron can make such an apology, indeed it could be said that the Thatcher Government enjoyed the support of the electorate because it was prepared to stand up for many traditional moral values, and had the courage to take the necessary political action to safeguard these. In later years, when the Conservative Member of Parliament, Jill Knight, the promoter of the legislation, was asked her reason for doing this, her reply was:-

"Why did I bother to go on with it and run such a dangerous gauntlet? I was then Chairman of the 'Child and Family Protection Group'. I was contacted by parents who strongly objected to their children at school being encouraged into homosexuality and being taught that a normal family with Mummy and Daddy was outdated. To add insult to their injury, they were infuriated that it was their money, paid over as Council Tax, which was being used for this. This all happened after pressure from the Gay Liberation Front. At that time I took the trouble to refer to their manifesto, which clearly stated: 'We fight for something more than reform. We must aim for the abolition of the family'. That was the motivation for what was going on, and was precisely what Section 28 stopped ...... Parents certainly came to me and told me what was going on. They gave me some of the books with which little children as young as five and six were being taught. There was 'The Playbook for Kids about Sex' in which brightly coloured pictures of little stick men showed all about homosexuality and how it was done. That book was for children as young as five. I should be surprised if anybody supports that. Another book called 'The Milkman's on his Way' explicitly described homosexual intercourse, and indeed glorified it, encouraging youngsters to believe that it was better than any other sexual way of life."

So there we have it, David Cameron, why the apology?
I suspect that the vast majority of the electorate agreed then with Section 28 and the need for such legislation, and would still agree. Could it be that 'principles' have been sacrificed on the altar of 'political expediency'? I don't think that you have done yourself or your Party any favours, Mr Cameron.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Wimbledon College 1949-1953. A few recollections.

Today’s event is tomorrow’s history, thus my recent decision to join my school Old Boys Association, having left that particular establishment a mere 56 years ago, is presumably history in the making. I must admit that this step has been taken rather late in the day, but a combination of nostalgia and suppressed guilt has eventually forced my hand.
I ask for your forebearance as I reminisce on school days from 1949 to 1953 at Wimbledon College, in SW London, a part-aided Grammar school run at that time by the Jesuits.

My first headmaster was Fr John Sinnott SJ who died at a relatively young age, I think in his early 50s, possibly from tuberculosis. He was succeeded by Fr Ignatius St Lawrence SJ (died 1999). There were numerous Jesuit priests on the school staff, including Fr Hayward SJ, teacher of chemistry, and community bee-keeper and gardener; Fr Scholes SJ, physics teacher; Fr Hamer SJ, a gentle, soft-spoken man, who I think would have preferred sporting activities to academic ones; Fr PhilipWetz SJ (died 1999), a veritable human dynamo, involved in almost every sporting activity at the school, but particularly rugby and boxing; Fr Bermingham SJ, geography teacher of nervous manner, believed caused by wartime experiences; plus two or three others whose names elude me. We had several lay teachers including Richard Milward (died 2006) a brilliant history teacher; Mr Ennis, geography teacher; and Mr Ferdnand Lalou, music teacher and composer, with Mr Salmons (ex Commando P/T instructor) an excellent PT teacher.

The school occupied part of a very large, rambling, Victorian red-brick building, on three floors, which included residential rooms for the Jesuits on the top floor, numerous adapted classrooms for students on ground and first floor, a refectory, library and chapel all on the ground floor, with changing rooms and a gymnasium adjoining the quadrangle/playground.There was a small playing field at the side, used mainly for training purposes for rugby, cricket, and athletics, with the main Sports fields situated 3 to 4 miles away in Raynes Park. Boxing was encouraged, as also was cross-country running, usually over a course through nearby Wimbledon Common.
The school week commenced with Mass at the fine Sacred Heart Church, Edge Hill, Wimbledon, with all classes attending. Learning our Catholic faith by way of the catechism was a priority in all classes, particularly in the lower and middle school, with homework set and tested every morning, and woe betide those who were found wanting! I remember that Richard Milward, a young man in his mid-twenties and our form-master in that particular year, who had suffered severe spinal deformity as a result of contracting polio in his younger days, was very strict about this. He was an excellent and enthusiastic teacher, specialising in history, a subject which he really brought to life. He was liked and greatly respected, but also feared (at least by me) when it came to catechism tests. Corporal punishment, by way of the ferrula, a type of thick leather strap, which was administered on the hands by a member of staff specially appointed for this duty, was distinctly painful and definitely to be avoided. Erring pupils who chose to deliberately ignore the rules, and in spite of warnings were still found wanting, knew what to expect, and it is fair to say usually accepted their punishment manfully!
I lived in Wallington, Surrey, about one hours journey, necessitating a train journey and two bus rides. When I was late, I sometimes cycled to school on an old bicycle, originally belonging to my father, which had unusually large 28” wheels. It was not a posh bike, in fact I’m convinced that it was designed to foster humility. It had straight handlebars, three gears and very large wheels, which meant that when you were on a level or downhill terrain, especially with a following wind, and you were in top gear, you could absolutely fly along without seemingly pedalling very fast, no doubt to the chagrin of other youthful cyclists with their sporty, drop handlebar models. I seem to remember that I could cycle to school in less time than if I travelled by public transport, but it was a hard ride and much depended on the weather. On the subject of weather, I remember in early 1950 or thereabouts, we had a period of dense fog (or smog as it was later called) in London when you could hardly see your hands in front of your face. I can still visualise sitting on a double-decker trolley bus travelling to Wimbledon Railway Station from my school at Edge Hill, and the fog was so thick that a person had to walk in front of the bus carrying a torch to enable the driver to see where he was going!
The school years went very quickly. I enjoyed sport, particularly cricket, and managed to represent the school in all age groups up to the 2nd XI, which meant quite exciting trips to compete with other schools, which included St Georges, Beaumont; Whitgift School, Croydon; Rutlish School, Merton; and other formidable opponents. I suppose my one moment of minor sporting glory was playing for the under 13’s or perhaps 14’s, when I won an ‘Evening Standard’ cricket ball for taking 5 wickets for 4 runs. If I had done a little better I might have won a cricket bat! Academically I was about average, but I did win a prize for ‘Religious Knowledge’ in 3rd or 4th year, which rather pleased me, as to win any sort of academic prize was quite an achievement, bearing in mind the competition from some very bright students! Memories come back to me, of volunteering as a 2nd or 3rd year boy, to help with the teas at various sporting events involving senior teams, thus guaranteeing a share of what inevitably was a delicious tea! Don’t forget that food rationing for certain products had, even then, only just ended, so opportunities for treats were not to be dismissed lightly! Similarly, volunteers were regularly sought from the middle-year classes, to read aloud to the Jesuit community at their meal-time. Their early evening meal was taken in silence and the reader was given a book from which to read. I think that on completion of his 'shift' he was rewarded with a meal, although I am not so clear on this. I remember the religious ‘Retreats’ held for different school ‘years’. Two 'Retreats' that I can remember, were given by Fr Bernard Bassett S.J. a very highly sought-after ‘Retreat Master’. A positive and encouraging priest, he provided traditional, sound Catholic teaching, backed up with genuine humour, and always with a clear spiritual message. Fr Bassett wrote several books, and in later years I believe that he moved to the Scilly Isles where, in addition to his many other commitments, he was also the parish priest.
It is strange that even after an interval of 55 years, I can remember the names of many if not most of the boys in the same school year as myself. I remember going to tea with Gerald Conway who lived in Chelsea; he was a good rugby player, academic and well organised. Another classmate, surname Tracey, lived at Mitcham, where his father kept racing pigeons, and another Basil Last, who lived at Merton, had an extensive model railway layout in the loft of his house, in which we spent many enjoyable hours. By the law of averages, inevitably some of my old classmates and almost certainly all my old teachers, are now dead. I pray that they may rest in peace. Indeed I can remember visiting a monastery with Basil Last and another classmate Hilary Sutton, I think it may have been the Carthusian monastery of St Hugh , Cowfold, Sussex. I vaguely remember that Hilary had been invited to visit the monastery, together with a friend or two, and on arrival we were treated with great hospitality, being shown around the working area of the monastery, and being given a very simple but appetising meal. Recently I learnt that Hilary died last year. One day, we know not when, will be our last day on earth. This is not morbid thinking, just the truth. I pray that my life, our lives, will reflect if only in a small way, the spiritual ‘logo’ attributed to St Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit Order, the shortest form of which was often written at the beginning of school work:- ‘AMDG’- ‘Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam’ - ‘To The Greater Glory of God’.
One final reflection concerns the school week, with compulsory in-house sports every Wednesday afternoon, and inter-school sports matches every Saturday afternoon, preceded by studies on a Saturday morning. The six-day week didn’t seem particularly strange or arduous to us at the time, it was just accepted as normal. I wonder if this is still the same?
By the way, in the unlikely event that an OW commitee member might read this, I am still awaiting receipt of the OW membership application form - applied for on the OW web-site admittedly not that long ago. But 'tempus fugit' (I was no Latin scholar-but I think this is correct!), and having at last taken the decision, I can't wait to pay my £30 fee!

Thursday, 14 May 2009

More from 'Beasts and Saints'

As you may have noticed from previous posts, I have a gentle addiction to that delightful book ‘Beasts and Saints’ translated from the Latin by Helen Waddell. I find these stories magical in the best sense of the word, and I love to read and re-read them. They are filled with a simplicity, and love and respect for God and His Creation, which is truly infectious. I find them a wonderful tonic, especially on a grey day, and I hope that you too will enjoy these little gems.

The first story today concerns ‘The death of King Teudiric’ which in the words of the translator, “belongs to that century and country about the Severn Sea, which is the matrix of the legend of Arthur and the last fight with heathendom. It is embedded in the Book of Llan Dav, among charters and boundaries, its purpose there being to explain the possession by the bishops of Llandaff of the lands about Mathern, free of tax or impost to any secular man, inasmuch as Mouric gave the earth upon which his father died, to St Oudouceus, Bishop of Llandaff, and his successors in the see, for ever. St Oudouceus died early in the seventh century: the book was compiled in the twelfth: but the story, like its more famous counterpart, has the quality of timelessness.”

The Death of King Teudiric

“King Teudiric had kept peace and justice with his people for the years that he held kingship, till such time as he laid aside the temporal power for ever, in that he commended his kingdom to his son Mouric, and began to live a hermit life in the cliffs of Tintern. But while he was in that life, the Saxons began to invade his land against Mouric his son, and beyond himself there was none to help, that his son might not be driven from his inheritance by strangers. Of Teudiric it was said in the days when he held his kingdom, that never had he been vanquished by the enemy but ever was the victor, and that once his face was seen in the battle-line straightway the enemy were driven to flight. And the night before, the angel of the Lord said to him: “Tomorrow go to the help of the people of God against the enemies of the Church of Christ, and the foe shall turn their face in flight as far as Brockwere, and do thou stand armed in the battle-line, and when thy face as in time past is seen and known, they shall take to flight. And hereafter for XXX years they shall not dare to come against thy country in thy son’s time, and the men of thy land and their sons that come after them shall be in quiet peace: and thou thyself shalt be wounded with a thrust above Tintern, and after three days thou shalt die in peace”
So in the morning he rose as the army of Mouric, his son, came by, and he mounted his horse and rode with them, joyous of the bidding of the angel. And he stood in armour in the battle-line above the bank of the Wye near Tintern ford. And at the sight of his face they turned their backs and fled, yet one of them hurled a lance and the lance wounded him even as he had been told, and he rejoiced over it, as a man rejoices over the rout of his foe and the taking of the spoil. Then Mouric, his son, returning victorious with the captured spoil, would have his father come with him. And he said, “I will not go from this place until my Lord Jesus Christ shall bear me hence to the place of my desire, to the island of Echni, where I have willed to lie after my death”
And in the morning at dawn, there were two stags yoked and ready with his bier before his lodging. And the man of God, knowing that they were sent on God’s behalf, ascended the bier; and wherever they rested, there springs welled up, until they came to a place beside a meadow towards the Severn Sea. And after they had come to that place, a spring of clearest water welled up and swept the bier asunder, and straightway he commended his soul to God and bade the stags depart: and there he remained alone, and after a while gave up the ghost.”


The next two short stories concern St Malo, the saint of Brittany, who died in 618, and whose life was written five centuries later by a quiet scholar, Sigebert of Gembloux, about whom, said his admiring disciple, there was always an air “of antique knowledge and reverence”

St Malo and the Sow.

“At one time when he was going up and down through Brittany to sow the seed of the divine word in the field of the husbandry of God, he came upon a swine-herd in a meadow, twisted with bitter grief. He had been herding a drove of pigs, and a greedy unmannerly sow among them was destroying a field of standing corn, and he, trying to save his neighbour’s crop, had thrown an ill-directed stone at her and killed her. And now he was in dread of his lord’s wrath on his offence, and what he knew would put a keener edge upon it was the seven piglings trotting about, trying to draw milk as of old from their dead mother’s dugs, and able to find no stay for their own lives from that lifeless body. St Malo, whose heart had room only for compassion, could not watch the swineherd’s tears without tears himself: and pouring out a prayer to God, he laid his staff on the ear of the dead sow, and raising her up by that sole touch, he brought back joy to the mourner. The swineherd told the story to his master, and had the praises of the servant of God in every man’s mouth. And the master, mounting his horse, came to give his thanks to the saint, face to face, and offered one of his farms to the church, for the use, under him, of the Servants of God.”

St Malo and the Wren

“And another miracle he wrought like to this, worthy of record for its compassion alone. He was a follower of Paul the Apostle, whose hands supplied his wants, if aught were lacking: and when he had leisure from his task of preaching the Gospel, he kept himself by the work of his hands. One day he was busy with the brethren in the vineyard, pruning the vines, and for better speed in his work took off his cloak and laid it out of sight. When his work was done and he came to take his cloak, he found that the small bird whom common folk call a wren had laid an egg on it. And knowing that God’s care is not far from the birds, since not one of them falls on the ground without the Father, he let his cloak lie there, till the eggs were hatched and the wren brought out her brood. And this was the marvel, that all the time that cloak lay there, there fell no rain upon it. And whoever came to hear of it, they glorified the power of God, and they praised God’s own pity in man.


The final story relates to ‘Benno, Bishop of Meissen, a spirited saint who died at a great age in 1106, and who took the precaution, before obeying a summons to Rome, of bidding two trusty canons lock his cathedral doors in case of trouble, and throw the keys into the Elbe: whence they were recovered, under the fin of an obliging fish, upon its astute bishop’s return. His life was written in 1512 by Jerome Emser, a Doctor of Canon Law, author of a dialogue as to whether potation is to be tolerated in a properly constituted State, and of tracts against the more spiritual intemperances of Luther and Zwingli.’

St Benno and the Frog

It was often the habit of the man of God to go about the fields in meditation and prayer: and once as he passed by a certain marsh, a talkative frog was croaking in its slimy waters: and lest it should disturb his contemplation, he bade it to be a Seraphian, inasmuch as all the frogs in Seraphus are mute. But when he had gone on a little way, he called to mind the saying in Daniel: “O ye whales and all that move in the waters, bless ye the Lord. O all ye beasts and cattle, bless the Lord.” And fearing lest the singing of the frogs might perchance be more agreeable to God than his own praying, he again issued his command to them, that they should praise God in their accustomed fashion: and soon the air and the fields were vehement with their conversation.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

A Joyous Easter, Stronsay 2009.

Here on Stronsay we have been privileged to enjoy a wonderfully full week of Holy Week ceremonies. On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, in Our Lady's chapel Stronsay, we had the traditional Latin Mass with a sung Passion each day, and a sung 'Proper of the Mass' taken directly from the Liber, together with the appropriate plainchant Mass. On Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, the ceremonies were held in the chapel of Golgotha Monastery, Papa Stronsay, again with full plainchant accompaniment. The weather was kind to us, if perhaps a little breezy in midweek, and the boat crossing to and from Papa Stronsay - particularly during the hours of darkness, added yet another dimension to our unforgettable Holy Week experience. All the members of the 'Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer' (F.SS.R) community from Papa Stronsay attended the Masses in Our Lady's chapel, Stronsay, which were celebrated by Fr Michael Mary F.SS.R and Fr Anthony Mary F.SS.R. We were very fortunate to have Br. Martin F.SS.R home on a short break from the seminary at Nebraska, who assumed the role of Musical Director and leader in what proved a most demanding but very fulfilling musical week. We were without four additional seminarians who remained in Nebraska over the Easter period, and of course Fr Clement F.SS.R and Br. Paul F.SS.R who are in the Mission Church in Christchurch, New Zealand. All these were with us in spirit if not in person.
Easter Sunday saw us back in Our Lady's chapel, Stronsay, a day of rejoicing and gratitude to Our Lord Jesus Christ, for all He has done for us, and for all our blessings spiritual and material.
Many superb photographs of the Holy Week ceremonies can be seen on the blog-site of the 'Transalpine Redemptorists' ( see link), viewing strongly recommended.

On a rather different note, many will have seen in their newspaper - 'Nurse who filmed suffering is struck off'' (D. Telegraph April 17th). It would appear that a nurse - Margaret Hayward, secretly filmed the neglect of elderly hospital patients at the Royal Sussex Hospital, Brighton, recording patients suffering in appalling conditions, later shown in a Panorama programme screened in July 2005, subsequently leading to a public apology from Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust. Apparently on 16th April, 2009, some 4 years later, at a hearing of the Nursing and Midwifery Council, the nurse was found guilty of misconduct and ordered to be struck off, on the grounds that her actions constituted 'a major breach of the code of conduct' regarding patient confidentiality. The nurse's defence was that she considered the filming to be in the public interest, and she received support from the shadow Health Minister Anne Milton, who said, "She took extreme measures because she felt she was in an extreme circumstance where her concerns were not being litened to." Now clearly I know nothing more than appeared in the Daily Telegraph, and which I have quoted. But I do know that the more I think about this the more my hackles rise, and the more convinced I become that a major injustice has been done to this nurse. Immediate questions that come to mind include; Why has it taken 4 years for this decision to be made? The facts and film provided by the nurse were clearly true, as is shown by the public apology of the hospital Trust. It appears that this harsh punishment is for daring to tell the truth. Is the truth an outmoded and unfashionable virtue in the view of the Nursing and Midwifery Council? The nurse, a 58 year old woman, would clearly have been aware of the implications of her actions, and would presumably not have taken such action unless she felt it was the only way that the truth could be known and accepted, and that this was the only option left to her, as her concerns were not being listened to by those in immediate authority. Using 'breach of patient confidentiality' in this case, as grounds for striking the nurse off the nursing register, and effectively preventing her working in her trained career and vocation, is to me maliciously spiteful, unjust and totally out of proportion to any 'technical misdemeanour' of which she might be guilty. This lady clearly acted in the best interests of her patients, and I don't believe for one moment, that these patients were not grateful to her or that they made any serious complaint against her for her actions. When I think of the legalised evil carried out by doctors and nurses in the abortion clinics, and the lies and malice publicly proclaimed by so many supporters of abortion, euthanasia, and embryonic cell research and experimentation, my blood boils! Nothing happens to these people, yet one honest nurse doing her best to improve the appalling conditions of elderly patients in the hospital in which she works, is treated as a common criminal. I intend to write to the Nursing and Midwifery Council to express my disgust at this sentence, with a request to reconsider the case, and I would ask that others who share my view, do the same.

My final remarks concern the possibility of 'abortion facilities' and 'contraceptives' being advertised on the television. This is truly appalling and has already been strongly and publicly condemned by Archbishop Nichols, the newly announced Archbishop of Westminster, and other Church representatives. This matter became public several weeks ago and I rather expected that a Petition would appear on the internet condemning this proposal, and inviting signatures which would ultimately be forwarded to the appropriate body with a view to trying to prevent such advertisements from appearing. Surprisingly, to my knowledge no such Petition has appeared. Let me say straight away that I would be happy to set up such a Petition, but technically I just do not know how to start. I think it important to do something even though it is a bit late in the day. If someone out there is prepared and able to set up this Petition, please take courage and do so. Alternatively if someone could advise me how to do it, I would be most grateful. To facilitate this, my email address is ''.

Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat. Alleluia, alleluia!

Sunday, 29 March 2009


This post comes to you courtesy of an interesting and informative book, 'Our Lady's Dowry' by Rev T E Bridgett C.SS.R , published by Burns & Oates in the late 1800's.

In mediaeval Catholic England, the mysteries of the Faith were brought to the hearts of the people through popular drama, often more effectual than sermons. The following lines are part of a sacred drama, intended to be presented on the afternoon of Good Friday and Holy Saturday. The MS from which it is taken is from the early years of the 16th century (Reliquae Antiquae vol ii. p.124).

Due to the length of this extract, it was originally intended that it be posted in two halves. On reflection, I think that this might be detrimental to the overall effect of the work, and have therefore included it in the one post. I hope that you agree.

Scene—the Foot of the Cross
Joseph of Arimathea and Mary Magdalen, and other Maries.

I hear thee, Magdalen, bitterly complain;
What good creature may himself refrain?

O friend Joseph, this Prince had never peer,
The well of mercy that made me clear!
Now, good Joseph, come near and behold.
O, had you seen His pains manifold!
Joseph, look better, behold and see
In how little space how many wounds be.
Here was no mercy, here was no pity!
O good Joseph, I am all dismayed
To see His tender flesh thus ruefully arrayed,

Wounded with nail and spear.
O dear Joseph, I feel my heart wax cold,
These blessed feet thus bloody to behold,
Whom I washed with tears manifold,
And wiped with my hair.
O, how rueful a spectacle it is!
Never has been seen, nor shall be after this,
Such cruel rigour to the King of bliss,
The Lord that made all
Thus to suffer in His humanity!
O Maker of man, what love and pity
Hadst Thou for us so thrall?

Alas, Magdalen, you make my heart to relent,
Beholding His body thus torn and rent
That inwardly I weep;
But, good Magd’len, show unto me
Where is Mary, His Mother, so free,
Who hath that Maid to keep?

Ah, Joseph, from this place is she gone.
To have seen her a heart of stone
For ruth would have relent.
Many men speak of lamentation
Of mothers, and of their great desolation
When that their children die and pass;
But of His piteous tender Mother, alas!
The woe and pain passes all other;
Was there never so sorrowful a mother.
When she heard Him for His enemies pray,
And promised the thief the blisses aye,
And to herself no word would say,
She sighed, be ye sure;
The Son hung and the Mother stood,
And ever she kissed the drops of blood
That so fast ran down;
She extended her arms Him to embrace,
But she might not touch Him, so high was the place,
And then she fell in swoon.

Ah, good Magdalen, who can her blame
To see her own Son in so great a shame?
But, Magd’len, had He of her thought in His passion?

Yes, yes, Joseph, of her He had great compassion,
For, hanging on the Cross most pitifully,
He looked on that Maid, His Mother, ruefully,
As who say, ‘ Mother the sorrow of your heart
Makes my passion more bitter and more smart;
Dear Mother, because I depart now,
John, my cousin, shall wait on you,
Your comfort for to be.’
Lo, He had her in His gracious mind,
To teach all children to be kind
To father and mother of duty.

Ah, good Lady, full woe was she!
But can you tell what words said He
There in that great distress?

O Joseph, this Lamb so meek
In this cruel torment and painful eke
But few words He had;
Save that in great agony
He said these words: ‘I am thirsty!’
With cheer demure and sad.

Magd’len, suppose ye His desire was to drink?

Nay, verily, friend Joseph, I think
He thirsted for no liquor.
He thirsted water of charity
For our faith and fidelity.
He pondered the rigour
Of His passion done so cruelly:
For the health of man’s soul chiefly
He thirsted and desired;
And then, after torments long,
And after pains fell and strong,
This meekest Lamb expired.
O, what displeasure is in my mind,
Remembering that I was so unkind
To Him that hangs here,
That hangs here so piteously,
For my sins done so outrageously!
O meekest Lamb, hanging here on high,
Was there none other mean, but Thou must needs die,
Sinners to reconcile?
O, where shall any comfort come to me
And to His Mother, that Maid so free?
Would God I might here die!
Come hither, Joseph, behold and look
How many bloody letters be written in this book,
Small margin here is.

Yes, this parchment is stretched out of size!
Remember, man, remember well, and see
How liberal a man this Lord was and free;
Which, to save mankind,
One drop of blood has not kept or spared.

**** **** ****

O Lord, by Thy death we are preserved,
By death Thou hast slain death.
Was never no love like unto Thine,
That to this meekness Thyself would incline,
And for us to yield Thy breath.
Thou knew there was no remedy to redeem sin
But a bath of Thy blood to bathe men’s souls in;
And Thou wert well content
To let it run out most plenteously.
Where was ever such love?

**** **** ****

O ye wells of mercy, digged so deep,
Who may refrain, who may not weep?

Other Mary
Magd’len, your mourning avails nothing;
Let us speak to Joseph, him heartily desiring
For to find some good way
The crucified body down to take
And bring it to sepulchre, and so let make
End of this woful day.

Enter Nicodemus
O worthy Lord, who made all things of naught,
With most bitter pain to death art thou brought,
Thy name blessed be!
O, how pitiful a sight it is
To see the Prince of everlasting bliss
To hang on this tree!

**** **** ****

Good brother, of your complaint cease;
You renew again great heaviness
Now in these women here.

Great comfort we may have all,
For by His godly power arise He shall,
And the third day appear.
For once He gave me leave with Him to reason,
And He showed of this death and of this treason,
And of this cruelty;
And how for mankind He came to die,
And that He should arise so gloriously
By His mighty majesty,
And with our flesh in heaven to ascend.
Many sweet words it pleased Him to spend
Then speaking unto me;
That no man to heaven might climb,
But if it were by grace of Him
Which came down to make us free.

To take down this body let us essay;
Brother Nicodemus, help, I you pray,
To knock out these nails so sturdy and great;
O Saviour, they spared not Your body to beat!

Good Joseph, handle Him tenderly.

Stand near, Nicodemus, receive Him softly;
Magdalen, hold His feet.

Haste now, good Joseph, haste you quickly,
For Mary, His Mother, will come, fear I,
Ah, ah! That Virgin so sweet

I saw her beneath on the other side
With John; I am sure she will not abide
Long from this place.

Alas, she comes! Ah, what remedy!
Good Joseph, comfort her steadfastly,
That Virgin so full of woe.

Enter the Blessed Virgin with St John
Stand still, friends; haste ye not so;
Have no fear of me.
Let me help to take my dear Son down.

**** **** ****

Take comfort, Mary; this wailing helps nothing.
Your dear Son we will to His sepulchre bring,
As it is all our duty.

God reward you of your tenderness!
I shall assist you with all humbleness.
But yet, ere He depart,
Suffer me my mind for to break;
Howbeit full scantily may I speak
For faint and feeble heart.
O Gabriel, Gabriel!
Of great joy did you tell
In your first salutation;
You said the Holy Ghost should come in me,
And I should conceive a Child in virginity,
For mankind’s salvation!
That you said truth right well know I;
But you told me not that my Son should die,
Nor yet the thought and care
Of His bitter passion which He suffered now.
O old Simeon, full soothly said you
To speak you would not spare!
You said the sword of sorrow should enter my heart;
Yea, yea, just Simeon, now I feel it smart
With most deadly pain.

**** **** ****

St John
You should leave off your painful affliction,
Calling to your mind His resurrection:
This know you, and that best.

I know it well, or else in rest
My heart should never be;
I might not live nor endure
One minute, but I am sure
The third day rise shall He.

**** **** ****

O Judas, why didst thou betray
My Son, thy Master? What canst thou say
Thyself for to excuse?
Of His tender merciful charity
Chose He not thee one of His twelve to be?
He would not thee refuse.
Gave He not thee His body in memorial,
And also in remembrance perpetual,
At His supper there?
He that was so comely and fair to behold,
How durst thou, cruel heart, to be so bold
To cause Him die thus here?
By thy treason my Son here is slain,
My sweet, sweet Son; how should I refrain
This bloody body to behold?