Saturday, 13 December 2014

Advent: Frustration and Regression

Since my last post, all my advent resolutions and intentions have completely failed. Though I have managed not to use Twitter and Facebook, I have found that I have replaced the time I believed I was wasting on social media on other forms of digital distraction such as Reddit. I have actually begun to get up later than I was before advent and my poor excuse for a prayer life has deteriorated even further.

Though my schedule was slightly put out by time I spent time in London last weekend, it does not explain why things have gone so poorly. I very much enjoyed my time in London as I was able to stay with some good Catholic friends with whom I was able to discuss some of my issues and benefit from some down time during which I was able to forget my difficulties. Unfortunately, the solace I received from the visit soon dissipated and I was soon thrust back into the maelstrom of my thoughts.

As the week has progressed, I have felt increasingly tired, irritable, stressed and introspective and things reached a head today when I over slept and was late and rushing for a dentists appointment. For most of the day, I felt positively grumpy and angry and was unable to stop thinking of things which tax my emotions - anything from Christmas shopping to extensional musings. Even my tried and tested method of pummelling emotional and psychological distress in the gym failed to help as I became frustrated by not being able to reach my goals.

So, here I am at square one. I came home from the gym, ate some beans and cheese on toast and indulged in my mother's home-made peanut butter fudge. After a warm bath, I watched a bit of Stargate Atlantis with a five year old port as company. Hopefully, my anger and stress will dissipate a little through the night. Tomorrow, I will go to confession and hope to start again - as the Rule of St Benedict says "Always We Begin Again".

Monday, 1 December 2014

Advent: Day 2

Besides giving up social media, I have also resolved to try and get up earlier during Advent. I've been a poor sleeper since my late teens and it often takes me several hours to finally doze off at night. I have tried every possible recommendation to try and improve my sleep patterns but nothing (other than a little to much alcohol) seems to work. I never wake up refreshed and ready to face the day and would much prefer to stay in bed most mornings. As a result, I usually get into work around 10am and the rest of the day seems rushed as I try to compress the gym, relaxation and prayer into the remainder of the evening.

With that said however, I know that with the right motivation I am capable of getting up at a reasonable hour (I even had a job in Marks and Spencer once which required me to get up at 5:30am). Today I managed to get up at 8am and take the dog for a walk before going to work. I felt shattered for most of the morning but I managed to get the gym at 5pm and was therefore home by 7pm rather than 9pm. After having dinner and watching a little Stargate Atlantis, I said some prayers, did a bit of spiritual reading and am now settling down to a Patrick O'Brien novel. I intend to have lights by 10:30pm and hope to get up at 7:30 am tomorrow. Maybe one day this Advent, I may even make it to the gym before work!

Advent

Today is the start of Advent and to help me prepare to make the most of Christmas, I have decided to give up all forms of social media. Twitter and Facebook offer many benefits; Facebook keeps me in touch with close friends and family (and help me keep track of birthdays and important events) whilst Twitter has enabled me to make new friends. It has also been a good source of information in a professional and personal sense and a source of light relief. Social media has been particularly useful for keeping in touch with fellow Catholics, something which is quite important given that I have no Catholic friends who live in close proximity.

The downside of social media however is that it is very easy to waste time using it, sometimes on issues and topics which as Bruvver Eccles (@BrotherEccles) might say are "not spiritually nourishing". One must also consider if one's real world friendships are suffering as the result of maintaining virtual friendships. I often find myself trawling Twitter, waiting to be entertained, when I know that my time would be better spent elsewhere. It therefore tends to feed a general lethargy which I feel has crept into my life.

Through my phone, I am constantly linked to Twitter and Facebook and I have begun to consider that social media may be doing me more harm than good. I hope to use my time way from it in a constructive manner, reflecting on spiritual and personal matters and taking the chance to read more. During Advent, I will also decide if I want to return to social media after Christmas. In such matters, I'm very much an "all or nothing" kind of person - I think I would find it very difficult to regulate my usage of social media to what I may consider as acceptable levels.

As a precursor to Advent, I stayed for a few days at Belmont Abbey. I spent my time there in prayer and spiritual reading (with good Patrick O'Brien novels for entertainment in the evening) as I had come to feel a little stretched and jaded in recent months. The two topics I focused on while I was there were spirituality and living the single life. 

I have long felt frustrated with my spiritual life. I find it difficult to pray beyond reciting the basic words of prayer and like many things in my life, I don't take enough care in making adequate preparation for it. In doing so, I do not feel that I am engaging in a full relationship with God. To explore and address this issue, I took the advice of Mark Lambert (@sitsio) and read "Forming Intentional Disciples" by Sherry A. Weddell [1], a fascinating book which explores the state of Catholicism in America (with implications for Western Christendom). In doing so, Weddell also provides a template for truly engaging with a personal God, something which I have come to realise I must make a priority in my life.

The second book I read on the topic of the spiritual life at Belmont was "The Spiritual Combat" by Dom Lorenzo Scupoli [2]. Though it is widely considered to be a classics in ascetic theology, I only really connected with it on an intellectual level and I didn't feel that it afforded me any important insights into my own spiritual difficulties. I will however return to it - one can't afford not to look for wisdom in any book which was a favourite of Saint Francis de Sales.

As I am getting older, being resolved to the single life, I have found that I am beginning to contemplate the importance of friendships, especially as friends and family get engaged, married and have children. To help me explore this increasingly difficult aspect of my life, I read "Men, Women and the Mystery of Love: Practical Insights from John Paul IIs 'Love and Responsibility'" by Edward Siri [3] and "The Courage to Be Chaste" by Benedict Groeschel. I can highly recommend both books as they offer practical advice from spiritual, emotional and psychological perspectives, many of which I was unaware.

So, my two topics for this Advent are spirituality and living the single life. Please pray that I may make some progress in understanding God's plan for me in each.

[1] http://www.amazon.co.uk/Forming-Intentional-Disciples-Knowing-Following/dp/1612785905
[2] http://www.amazon.co.uk/Spiritual-Combat-Treatise-Peace-Classics/dp/0895551527
[3] http://www.amazon.co.uk/Men-Women-Mystery-Love-Responsibility/dp/0867168404
[4] http://www.amazon.co.uk/Courage-Chaste-CFR-Benedict-Groeschel/dp/0809127059

Monday, 13 October 2014

The synod on the family discovers a new law

The synod on the family has produced its first momentous result, the discover of the "law of graduality". In what is surely the theological equivalent of the discovery Higgs Bosun, a new era of doctrinal discovery and innovation dawns upon us.

The thing that strikes me about an appeal to graduality in Old Testament is yes, God stoops to conquer but he does so in ways which ensured that His people never lost sight of what was expected of them and the glory to which they had been called. God never lowered His expectations for His people, he simply used different means to raise them to the required standard, by carrot and stick. For their transgressions, the Israelites were required to sojourn in the desert for 40 years whilst Moses never got to see the promised land over what some lawyers might claim was a technicality and yet both chastisements were a lesson which brought His people into a more loving relationship with their creator.

God's graduality is not a watering down of his requirements for His people - it is rather an intimate knowledge of the gap between between His expectations for His people (both collectively and as individuals) and their capacity for responding to these expectations. God uses this knowledge to formulate his blueprint for our Salvation at the heart of which is His Son. Yes, God will never tire of going back to the drawing board whenever we fail to follow his blueprints (and they all begin with repentance, confession and penance) but human nature suggests that the longer we fail to follow his them, the more likely we are to give up reading them altogether.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

On Graduality and the Synod

Today is the fourth day of the extraordinary general session of the Synod of Bishops on pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelisation and the buzz word doing the rounds in the liberal press is "graduality".

Graduality is, according to the Catholic Herald, "a way of thinking about morality that allows for human imperfection without compromising ideals" [1], recognising that individuals are unlikely to make the immediate jump from antipathy or agnosticism to acceptance of a moral truth. On the outset, this makes sense; given the acceptance, prevalence and promotion of contraception in western society, it is unlikely that an individual confronted by Catholic teaching on the subject is going to immediately put it into practice. A number of other related concepts are usually explored (e.g the effects of contraception on health) before the plunge is taken into the waters of the Tiber.

The prevalence of graduality in our moral development has been recogised by many a thinker, including Pope Benedict XVI. In his oft misquoted comments on male prostitutes, he stated that using a condom to reduce the risk of HIV infection "can be a first step in the direction of moralisation, a first assumption of responsibility". [2]

Here's the thing however: graduality may make a lot of sense in academic learning (a student can't possibly go from knowing nothing about the basic laws of physics to understanding the theory of relativity) but if it is taken as a starting point for teaching a moral truth, it will eventually undermine it because it gravitates towards relativism. No-one is hurt by only being taught complex scientific laws a step at a time, even if for the sake of simplification at a particular period, appropriate to one's age or comprehension, one is taught something which isn't entirely accurate (I remember being told that the shell particle theory we were taught at GCSE was factually incorrect by smug A-level students for example). By contrast however, one can be hurt if one is taught incomplete or false moral principles because the consequence of that is sin. Furthermore, if the behaviour becomes entrenched or habitual as we call it, the ultimate moral endpoint may be lost forever. Incomplete moral principles are also apt to be misunderstood or wantonly abused - this can be seen in the Guardian's report on Pope Benedict's comments regarding a male prostitute's use of a condom which held the headline "Pope Benedict says that condoms can be used to stop the spread of HIV"; he said nothing of the sort! Graduality also appeals to our wounded nature - why strive for moral perfection when one can appeal to a more relativistic measure of our moral progress?

So, graduality is useful to explain how a moral sense might awaken and can be used as a guide for compassion but as a starting point for teaching with authority, it is bankrupt.

[1] http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/news/2014/10/08/family-synod-participants-emphasise-importance-of-graduality-in-discussion-of-moral-issues/

[2] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/nov/21/pope-benedict-condoms-hiv-infection

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Dealing with the fallout from Bishop Conry's resignation

It was with great sadness that I read the news on Sunday that Bishop Kieran Conry of Arundel and Brighton had resigned after revealing that he had been "unfaithful to his promises as a priest", admitting to two affairs. [1] [2] Given his support for ACTA and general tenure of his bishopric, I had little regard for his apparent vision for the Church but I am nonetheless sorry to see a soul brought so low in so public a manner. With great power comes great responsibility and Bishop Conry will be held all the more accountable for his sins because he has abused the trust placed in him by the parishioners with whom he had an affair, their families, the diocese of Arundel and Brighton and the universal church. The Body of Christ has been dealt a serious blow not just by the direct consequences of the sins of the those involved in the affairs but also by the ridicule and mockery the Church will garner from the publicity. Bishop Conry's priesthood and Faith may now stand before a precipice so we should all endeavour to remember him in our prayers, regardless of our opinion of his character, as we fervently remember those affected by his sins. Indeed, we have a great duty of care to those mistreated by one of our own. All Catholics are placed in a position of greater responsibility by the gift of their Faith and all human beings are called to repentance and forgiveness for our transgressions.

Unfortunately, some have reacted to his resignation with what can only be described as glee, revelling in his humiliation in a profoundly un-Christian manner. There are others who are "taking the opportunity to have a pot-shot at everything they regard as liberal and wrong in the Church, with dark mutterings about who knew what and when. Others again are calling for a change in the Church’s celibacy rules". Amidst the hyperbole, the Body of Christ is struck again as onlookers regard a Church imploding, rent asunder by internecine strife. Such events should not be used as fuel for brinkmanship, nor should they be used to score points against perceived opponents - this is not to say however than lessons cannot be learned from them.

I think Bishop Conry's statement regarding his resignation offers a number of topics for further discussion:

1) “In some respects I feel very calm. It is liberating. It is a relief.... I am sorry for the shame that I have brought on the diocese and the Church and I ask for your prayers and forgiveness.”

The first step in dealing with sin is admitting its existence, asking for forgiveness and seeking repentance. Sometimes we gather the courage to take that first step ourselves or sometime it is thrust upon us; regardless of how the opportunity presents itself, it is still an invitation to grace from God. I have often found myself praying for the grace to be able to refrain from a particular habitual sin only to have the temptation removed in an unexpected manner.

2) "I have been very careful not to make sexual morality a priority [in my sermons]"

One might suggest that this hints that Bishop Conry was more concerned by the charge of hypocrisy than the affairs themselves but this statement highlights what an impediment sin is to the office of teaching. As the Catechism suggests, Bishops "have as their first task to preach the Gospel of God to all men, in keeping with the Lord's command.... They are "heralds of faith..., authentic teachers" of the apostolic faith "endowed with the authority of Christ." [4] Sin is pernicious and its effects will not be limited to the faculty it initially impairs, it grows like a cancer, rotting the soul, curtailing the spiritual life and numbing our capacity for virtue. 

3) "I don’t think it got in the way of my job, I don’t think people would say I have been a bad bishop."

To be a Bishop is to accept a vocation, a calling from God, and to treat it as anything less would be a terrible disservice. It is an awesome responsibility as Bishops, like all priests, receive "the mission and faculty ('the sacred power') to act in persona Christi Capitis" [5] from Christ himself. All vocations be they to marriage, the priesthood, the diaconate, religious life  or any other state rely on the wellspring of grace for nourishment - if they are not treated as such they will wither an die.

Today is the Feast of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael - let us pray for protection against all temptation to evil, for the grace to submit to God's will for us and for healing wherever it is needed.

O Lord, the angels' sheer delight,
Their life reflects your splendour bright,
As we today their praise declare,
May we their joy forever share.

Saint Michael, be our refuge here,
Preserve us from all useless fear;
Through you may God his peace bestow
On all the nations here below.

Saint Gabriel, be with us this day,
Reveal God will to us, we pray;
As Mary once did answer you,
May our response be form and true.

Saint Raphael, heal our sinful heart,
May God his grace to us impart,
And may you guide us on the way
That we may never go astray. Amen.

[1] http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/news/2014/09/27/english-bishop-announces-shock-resignation/
[2] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2772203/Bishop-affair-married-parishioner-quits-shame-ANOTHER-romance-Bishop-Arundel-admits-relationship-broke-clerical-vows.html
[3] http://www.ibenedictines.org/2014/09/29/kieran-conry-st-michael-and-acceptable-evil/
[4] http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p123a9p4.htm#888
[5] http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p123a9p4.htm#875

Sunday, 21 September 2014

When I Started School....


Mary O’Regan from The Path Less Taken nominated me to write a post on what I was like when I started school.

You don’t need a blog. If you have a blog, you can do the post there, but if not, you can do the post on Twitter or Facebook. Some people might like to do all three: post on their blog, Facebook and Twitter. Please always use the tag, #WhenIStartedSchool to keep us together.

The rules are that you must…

Post a photo of yourself from your early school days.

Answer the questions:

What kind of child were you? Are you a very different adult?

Nominate at least three other bloggers and/or social media users. Tell them they have been nominated by leaving a comment on their blogs or by tweeting to them or posting on their wall on Facebook OR whichever method you prefer.

I think it's very difficult to give a definitive answer to the question of what kind of person one was or is. How I perceive myself is likely to be quite different to how others perceive me - the eye of the beholder passes through the prism of our individual experiences effecting how we view others whilst we also often guard our true selves from others. Having said that, here's my attempt to analyse my younger self.

Here's a picture of me from the first year of primary school at Saint Joseph's Roman Catholic School:



What kind of child were you?

I seem to recall being a happy and contented but sometimes nervous child. I grew up in a family with two brothers and though we were like chalk and cheese, we never really fought or indulged in sibling rivalry. I was generally well behaved and eager to please my parents and teachers but was headstrong if I thought I was in the right or had been wronged. Confident within my own friendship group but, timid outside of it, I enjoyed both physical and intellectual activity. I was always reading something and particularly liked to flick through encyclopaedias and books on science and history, often when waiting for dinner or tea. Up until secondary school, I was convinced in the superiority of my own intelligence and this contributed to my sometime sense of defiance. Aside from my first year in comprehensive where I was separated from my friendship group, I thoroughly enjoyed going to school and learning all I could. Thoroughly convinced I would get a great job and earn lots of money, I envisioned a future with a family, a big house and a lavish garden.

Being raised in a Catholic household with a devout father and (eventually) convert mother, Jesus and the saints were always a part of my life. I remember being utterly convinced in the existence of God and, even from an early age, I took the time to learn more about the Faith by reading about the saints or church history.

I had bags of energy as a child, getting up early on weekends and school holidays to go bike riding or adventuring with friends. I loved my action figures from Star Wars, He-Man, Thudercats and Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles to Transformers and quickly developed a fascination with the neighbours' computers. It was an incredible day when we were finally bought a Spectrum 128k for Christmas.

Are you a very different adult?

Though in some ways I think I am radically different in how I approach certain aspects of life (some of which no child has to contemplate or comprehend), there is much continuity between the child I once was and the adult I am now. Some might rightly say that even at the age of 34, I still haven't completely left my childhood behind. The differences I suppose are born of experience and the sad realisations one is faced with as one grows up. As Indiana Jones says, "It's not the years honey, it's the mileage".

I still enjoy both mental and physical activity though I get injured far more regularly and probably have 10% of the energy I did as a child. I love reading as a source of learning but now also as a form of recreation and relaxation.

Paradoxically, though I am more aware of my character defects and limitations, I am more confident in the person I am but less confident in my own abilities. I care less about what other people think about me and am far more content with the simpler things in life, taking great comfort in natural beauty.

My faith has become even more important to me as an adult. It helps me make sense of the world - to truly appreciate the beautiful things life has to offer and to deal with the disappointments and difficulties it places in my path.

Nominations:

The Thirsty Gargoyle

Recusancy

Journey of a Catholic Nerd Writer

Sacred Sharings For The Soul

Linen on the Hedgerow