Tuesday, 8 March 2016

The crushing depths of feminism

In a recent blog post [1] @ccfather suggests that "the reality is that sex is about bonding and babies; that is an empirically verifiable fact. So in order to justify other uses of sex, and the ways in which the natural consequences of sex can be thwarted, elaborate theories have to be developed, to flee that reality."

One of the most insipid of these theories is a form of feminism which appears to denigrate every unique aspect of femininity in favour of a vision for women which takes it's inspiration from the worst behaviour in man. Sexual licence is at the core of this ideology which eulogies the errant belief that men are capable of indulging in sexual activity without consequences. To mimic the behaviour of the "men" which they idolise, women must frustrate the natural function of their own bodies, pumping it full of hormones to frustrate their reproductive potential. When this fails, the ideology encourages them to go a step further, leading them to reject motherhood; the scourge of abortion is the cornerstone of this insipid form of feminism. Thus women are betrayed into the hands of men who welcome them into this mutually destructive ideology which sees fellow human human beings as ends to be used and abused.

The degree to which abortion is a mainstay of this movement can be evidenced in this picture which was posted on Instagram:

Words failed me when it was first brought to my attention by a friend; I was equally disgusted, sad and angry. I then had the misfortune to read some of the comments underneath it which truly reveal the depraved depths to which this ideology has pulled our society and culture. Here's a sample of the callousness which encompasses this world view:
  • "Let's get matching ones"
  • "Awesome. I love her work"
  • "Abort Meee!" (Followed by a number of heart emojis)
  • "Does it come in men's?"
  • "Need this for work"
  • "My birthday is coming up..."
  • "There's a knitting needle joke in here somewhere"
  • "All women need that dress"
  • "Found my future wedding dress"
In contrast to this aberration, the Catechism of the Catholic Church offers us a vision of a mutually beneficial complementarity which challenges men to be men and women to be women:

"Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity. Physical, moral, and spiritual difference and complementarity are oriented toward the goods of marriage and the flourishing of family life. The harmony of the couple and of society depends in part on the way in which the complementarity, needs, and mutual support between the sexes are lived out. In creating men 'male and female,' God gives man and woman an equal personal dignity. Man is a person, man and woman equally so, since both were created in the image and likeness of the personal God. Each of the two sexes is an image of the power and tenderness of God, with equal dignity though in a different way. The union of man and woman in marriage is a way of imitating in the flesh the Creator's generosity and fecundity". [2]

[1] http://ccfather.blogspot.co.uk/2016/03/the-flight-from-reality.html

[2] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2333 - 2335

Saturday, 19 December 2015

The Force is strong with this one... (No spoilers)

After a year of tense anticipation during which we have been tantalised by cleverly crafted trailers and TV spots which gave very little away, today was the day I finally got to see Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens.

Since the news broke that George Lucas had sold Lucasfilm to Disney and that Episode VII would begin production, I had caught between between contrasting emotions: giddy with excitement at the prospect of a new Star Wars film, haunted by the spectre of the immense disappointment that was Prometheus (the last film I anticipated with such great expectations), worried that the mistakes of the prequels would be repeated in the sequels. The trailers were a resounding success, the character and look of the originals leapt of the screen, so I dared to dream; I am happy to report that Star Wars: The Force awakens is a resounding success.

The real triumph of Episode VII is that it manages to maintain the spirit and tone of the original movies as it integrates the new characters into the legacy created by the old. When I realised that the film was coming to it's climax, I found myself thinking that I could quite happily have continued watching the film for another four hours. The pace is enthralling, the action sequences are a visual feast, the dialogue is light years away from clunkiness of the prequels and a perfect balance is achieved between answering questions raised by the 30 year gap from Return of the Jedi and raising new ones to be addressed in Episode VIII.

Being hyper critical, one could argue that Episode VII is a little too deferential to the original films; many of the plot devices (and one could argue some of the minor characters) are recycled and tweaked ever so slightly. An attack on a First Order base which should be a gargantuan undertaking is actually accomplished with relative ease, perhaps because it is simply a stage on which to set the emotional finale.

Star Wars: The Force awakens is a welcome addition to the Star Wars cinematic universe and I look forward to seeing it again, and again, and again and again. In case you're wondering, yes, I did cry during the film. I'll wait for you to watch it and see if you can guess where and why!

Monday, 30 November 2015

Little lights

The candle is one of the most enduring images of Advent and those which adorn the Advent wreath remind us that we wait in anticipation for the coming of Jesus, the light of the world. This year, I've ordered a wreath for our home and in doing so, I was reminded of the song "All the little lights" by Passenger.

The span of human life is often likened to that of a burning candle which will inevitably go out but "All the little lights" has a slight twist on this theme as the singer suggests that "we're born with million of lights shinning in our hearts" which "die along the way" till "we're old and we're cold and lying in the dark" because "they'll all burn out one day". In the course of the song, the source of these lights is revealed to be love, the loss of which also leads to their death, and the singer takes us through few life events which resulted in the extinguishing of his own "little lights". These include lying to his mother about smoking, the occasion his uncle's cancer and unnamed occurrences in the backstreets of Manchester, a bus stop in Edinburgh and an English park.

In many respects, despite the sweet accompaniment by the xylophone, this is a rather sad exploration of the human condition. To be sure, sin and the difficulties of life can extinguish our "little lights" leaving us in darkness and despair but, thankfully, two essential elements are missing from the song's narrative; hope and grace. We are certainly capable of extinguishing the effects of Grace within our souls but, thanks to the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary which demonstrates God's great love for us, this need not be the end. By seeking forgiveness and reconciliation, God is willing to expose us once more to the light of His Grace. Confession is the "little light" lighter par excellence. Likewise, Jesus is the personification of Hope; this is not a hope to cling to despite the odds but rather a relationship of Love capable of healing any wound.

Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

Sunday, 29 November 2015

A path in the wilderness

Today is the first day of Advent, the beginning of the new liturgical year and the time during which the Church reminds us of the historical reality of Christ's birth into our space and time. In commemorating the Nativity, we come to understand that the incarnation is an invitation to all to enter into a personal relationship with Jesus, sent that we might be freed from our sins, finally to realise our true dignity as sons and daughters of the Father. At the first Christmas, Jesus entered into history and, each year, the liturgy of Advent helps us to renew our resolve to accept and make a place for Christ in our own lives.

Advent is not merely a time of joyous anticipation of Christmas day; properly observed, it is a time of spiritual preparation which will necessarily include penitential observances. The penitential character of Advent is perhaps more imperative than ever given that Christmas is increasingly subsumed beneath layer upon layer of secular largess and sentimentality.

This Advent, I have decided to give up social media and I hope that I will have the discipline to use the time I would otherwise spend trawling through my Twitter feed on prayer and spiritual reading. As a theme, I have decided to reflect upon Isaiah 40:30, "The voice of one crying in the desert: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the wilderness the paths of our God". Though this passage is usually used to allude to the role John the Baptist played in preparing the people of Israel for the coming of the Messiah, I have chosen to focus on the requirement to "make straight" the "paths in the wilderness". I perceive that within myself, I posses (and perhaps have cultivated) spiritual deserts which are not a fitting places to receive Jesus, God made man. I hope that this Advent will help me to identify those aspects of my life which are responsible for these wastelands so that I might pray for the graces to water their arid soils.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

My hopes for the synod

When the synod on "vocation and mission of the family in the Church and in the contemporary world" was announced, it had my wholehearted support. As a result of poor catechises and a failure to challenge destructive social trends, the Catholic vision for family life is misunderstood by many Catholics, woefully misrepresented and choked by the vagaries of prevailing western culture. Catholic families (and families in general) now struggle for life in societies which assault and undermine them from every conceivable economic, moral and spiritual angle. 

As the synod nears its end and prepares to produce its final document, I hope for three things.

1. Reaffirmation of the beauty and necessity of the Christian understanding of marriage

The starting point for any discussion on marriage should be incredible dignity it affords to the human person. Marriage is fundamentally a reflection of the communion of the Trinity, the source of all goodness and beauty. Yes, we need to recognise that we live in a fallen world which has produced a staggering array of brokenness in our relationships but we should start with the glory and the promise of the original marriage, God, one in three. If we are to start with the brokenness, we face an insurmountable climb to the summit but if we begin instead with God's grace and vision for marriage, we can begin to understand that "all things are possible to God". We should not be afraid to proclaim the Catholic understanding of marriage; people will wrangle over words claiming offence at this term or that but if they are utterly opposed to the very concept of sacramental marriage, semantic gymnastics will not make them more disposed to accept it. We need to be bold - profess what we believe to be true and allow people to accept or reject it. 

2. Better catechises

The release of the answers to the Church wide survey in England and Wales in preparation for the Synod shows the startling depths of the problem of catechises in this country [1]. Though we all have some share in the blame for this sorry state of affairs, the buck stops with the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales who have utterly failed us. Nobody can love what they don't know and this is incredibly problematic as the sacrament of marriage is "an encounter with the risen Christ". If we do not understand the sacrament of marriage, how can we expect to help married couples love Christ?

A plan of action needs to be drawn up to catechise the entire country and the "vocation and mission of the family in the Church and in the contemporary world" is the perfect place to start because it touches almost every aspect of Christian life. 

As a starter, perhaps every parish should have a prepared sermon on the first Sunday of each month on the theme of marriage, taking the Catechism as its template. The talk could be followed up by workshops and discussion groups with a special focus on the examples of the saints and how Church teaching is backed up by current research. The goal should be to help people understand and live Church teaching and to help them articulate our beliefs to others.

3. Better support

From my own experience, and from what I've been told by a few people I have left, the Catholic Church in the western world is rather poor at building living communities. This is perhaps even more detrimental to Faith for those who find themselves in difficult family situations. If the Church really is to be a source of mercy and grace for such people, our parishes need to take on some of their burdens. This could include practical things like childcare, clothing and furniture, opportunities for socialising and prayer groups which attempt to address the particular spiritual difficulties they encounter. The support structure of each parish should be geared towards strengthening those who attempt to live the Christian idea of marriage. It should also encourage those who want to move away from lifestyles at odds with that ideal in their efforts. 

[1] http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/news/2015/09/24/catholic-church-survey-results-divorcees-marriage-family/

Monday, 19 October 2015

A test of faith

I do not pretend to posses a heroic or saintly Faith but what little I do have has sustained me in my darkest hours. Despite my sinful inclinations, I have tried to make it the basis for my growth as a human being and it has been all things to me: an inspiration, a crutch, a source of strength and of weakness, a friend, a guide, something quite profound, something beautiful. Though I have often experienced a spiritual dryness, rather less dramatic dark nights of the soul, I have never suffered a sustained test of Faith. When I felt furthest away from God, I still knew He was there despite not being able to understand the reason for His distance. The papacy of Pope Francis however has presented me with something new - it has provoked the greatest crisis of Faith I have known.

Mary, Exterminatrix of Heresies
I have written about my misgivings regarding Pope Francis (after an initial period of great hope) in a previous post. [1] Over the last year, those misgivings become serious doubts which have sadly been confirmed by the great debacle of the Synod on "vocation and mission of the family in the Church and in the contemporary world". When the synod was first announced, I believed it would be a great opportunity to re-present the beautiful teaching of the Church on marriage and family life. Catechises in this area is sorely lacking and the consequences are self evident - society is built upon the bedrock of marriage and the family and it is beginning to crumble. I knew that some liberal minded priests, bishops and cardinals together with their lay supporters would attempt to use the synod to vocalise their dissent from Church teaching but nothing could have prepared me for the reality: they have centre stage and an ability to control proceedings. The pearls of church teaching are being substituted for swine fodder.

The synod has been a shambolic farce from the attempt to doctor the Relatio Synodi of the 2014 sessions to the gerrymandering of the committee which will produce the final report of 2015. There has been a complete lack of discipline amongst the attendees who have used the opportunity vent every kind of liberal spleen and hair brained scheme imaginable. It has shown the Church to be divided, disorganised and woefully lacking in understanding with regards to the modus operandi of modern media.

Why has all of this been a challenge to my Faith? One of the most beautiful things to me about Catholic teaching is its paradoxical simplicity and complexity. Each teaching is part of a wider web which gives it structure, meaning and purpose. If you destroy one thread, the whole is compromised. The threads put at risk by the outcome of this synod are the Church's teaching on the Eucharist and Marriage. The marriage union is a mystical symbol of the unity of the Trinity and the Eucharist is body of Christ; as such our very understanding of God is at stake. Even if no changes are promulgated by the synod, it has been made known that Pope Francis intends to commit to the Church to a process of synodisation which will give greater scope to local bishops' conference to determine their own practice. Faith is as Faith does - changing practice changes doctrine. What we are facing is a profoundly un-catholic and un-Catholic Church, no longer One, no longer Holy, no longer Apostolic.

Catholic teaching is presented as universal - it applies to all equally across time and space because its source is God who made the human heart to be restless until it rests in Him. The thought of being part of a Church which changes its teaching to match the prevailing social wind or allows for local variation in its application is anathema to me. Such Faith is pointless as it will necessarily pander to human weakness - its ultimate destination is idolatrous self-worship.

In previous years, safe in the pontificates of Saint Pope John II and Pope Benedict XVI, I always believed that the institution of the Church was a mighty bullwark against those within the the fold who would seek to harm the bride of Christ with misguided teaching. To see them now, emboldened at the centre of the Church, to recognise the head of one's own bishops' conference among them and to believe that the Pope favours a course which will bring ruin to something I have come to love is a terribly sobering experience.

In all this, I can perhaps perceive that I am being taught a lesson. Maybe, I have placed too much trust in the personality of the Pope rather than the promise of Christ. It is after all Christ that I follow, not man. It was Jesus who promised that "the gates of hell should not prevail" against his Church, not Peter. In feeling a little helpless amidst the events at the Vatican, I have turned to prayer and that is no bad thing. For man, a positive outcome may be impossible but not to God. For God, all things are possible.

Please pray for all the fathers of the synod, especially for Pope Francis. Pray also for the Church that it may be truly One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic.

St Michael: Pray for us.
Holy Mary, Exterminatrix of Heresies. Pray for us.

[1] http://lucascambrensis.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/the-francis-effect.html


Thursday, 24 September 2015

Pray, Hope and Don't Worry

It makes me happy to suffer for you, as I am suffering now, and in my own body to do what I can to make up all that has still to be undergone by Christ for the sake of his body, the Church. [1]

The tomb of Padre Pio
Today is the feast day of one of my favourite saints; Saint Pius of of Pietrelcina, known to the Catholic world as Padre Pio. My father has a strong devotion to this enigmatic friar from Italy and spent a lot of time in the years preceding his canonisation spreading his message around the country. From an early age, I remember attending Padre Pio Days which included talks on his life and ministry together with slide shows, film reels, book stalls and piety stalls. I was amazed (and rather terrified) by the stories of his battles with devil and marvelled at his ability to bilocate, prophecy and discern the true state of a person's soul (For those who don't know much about him, I've included a short biography at the end of this post). Padre Pio's life was marked by extreme physical suffering, mental anguish and spiritual assault yet he was able to inspire others to live holy and fruitful lives: 

Joy, with peace, is the sister of charity. Serve the Lord with laughter.

This year, towards the end of May, I managed to fulfil a life long ambition and make a pilgrimage to San Giovanni Rotundo with two friends. Here, I use pilgrimage in the loosest sense of the word; we flew to the closest airport and stayed at a four star hotel literally a stone's throw from the shrine but I believe we all received immense spiritual benefits from the experience despite cheating.

San Giovanni Rotundo is located in Apulia region of Southern Italy. It's set on a plateau at the foot of a small mountain range in the Parco Nazionale del Gargano. As we had limited time, we decided to hire a car and drive from the airport so we were able to appreciate the geographical characteristics of the region. Driving in Italy is a thoroughly nerve wrecking experience especially when one's SatNav decides take routes through the narrowest streets in town or over a ten kilometre stretch of road which hasn't been built yet. I am quite sure that Padre Pio was largely responsible for returning the car to the hire firm in the same state in which it was leased to us. As taxing as driving was, the car did afford us one of the highlights of the trip - we were able to visit Monte Sant'Angelo and the shrine of Saint Michael. In doing so, we had a better understanding of why Padre Pio had such a strong devotion to the Prince of the Heavenly Hosts.

Mass at Saint Michael's Cave
Apart from Gargano, the land was only a little above sea level and most of it was given over to the cultivation of olives, fruit and grains. Though nearby Foggia is a large city, the rest of the countryside appeared to be sparsely populated with isolated farm houses and the odd coastal town. It was great to get a feel for the landscape in which Padre Pio would have undertaken his ministry. Though a lack of time meant that we weren't able to explore San Giovanni as much as we would have liked, it owes most of it's modern character to Padre Pio and the pilgrims he attracts. May appears to be a very quiet period for the shrine and the town itself felt a little empty.

View from Monte Sant'Angelo to the sea
Due to the nature of its expansion over the years, the Padre Pio shrine complex is set on several levels (though we only discovered this on the penultimate day). The new Padre Pio Pilgrimage Church is a massive structure with an upper and lower church, a blessed sacrament chapel, a museum, shops and a huge piazza. Designed by Renzo Piano and completed in 2004, it can accommodate 6500 pilgrims in the upper church and 30,000 outside. To my eye, the upper Church is a monstrosity; it looks like the set off one of the alien films and I didn't find it at all conducive to prayer. Thankfully, the lower church which houses the crypt and the tomb of St Padre Pio is far more intimate and I spent many hours there either in prayer and discernment. The walls of the passage way to the lower church and the interior of the church itself are decorated with mosaics designed by Fr. Marko I. Rupnik. Though the style of the mosaics is not to my taste, the theology behind them (gratefully explained to us by a friend who joined us from Rome) is both profound and awe inspiring. They tell the story of Padre Pio with collieries to the life of Saint Francis and depict scenes from the Bible.

Mosaic of Padre Pio and St Michael
The Holy Family
The piazza
The lower church
The second church on the site is Santa Maria della Grazie and it was built in Padre Pio's lifetime, again in response to the number of pilgrims visiting San Giovanni. Unfortunately, as it was built in the 1960s, it had little to please my more classical tastes. It does however posses a striking mosaic of Saint Pope John Paul II, a beautiful statue of Our Lady and the Child Jesus and houses the confessionals made available to pilgrims during their time there. Going to confession under the patronage of Padre Pio was a deeply significant spiritual experience which strengthened my commitment to a sacrament which has been a great source of solace to me in recent years.

Santa Maria della Grazie
Unfortunately, I only discovered my favourite church in the shrine complex on the last day. Originally dedicated to Santa Maria degli Angeli in 1529, it is the original church attached to the monastery in which Padre Pio would have heard confession (the confessional he used is on display there). It was small, intimate and very prayerful and proved to be the perfect spot to reflect on the the life, sufferings and message of Saint Padre Pio. 

Santa Maria degli Angeli
I am truly grateful for my quasi-pilgrimage to San Giovanni Rotundo and I definitely intend to go back, hopefully for a longer period of time and perhaps in a more penitential manner. In the Year of Mercy, there could be few better patrons than Padre Pio; Pray, Hope and Don't Worry!


Born in Pietrelcina, Italy on May 25th 1887 to a deeply religious family, and given the name Francesco, Pio was thrust into spiritual battle from an early age. He regularly suffered physical and spiritual attacks from the devil but was able to find solace conversing with Jesus, Mary and his guardian angel. In 1903, at the age of 15 and with the blessing of his parents, he took the Habit of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin and selected the name of Pio in honour the patron saint of Pietrelcina, Saint Pius V.

In response to Pope Benedict XV's call for prayer to end World War I in 1918, Padre Pio offered himself as a sacrifice for peace. In August and September of that year, he received several visions of the crucified Christ from which he received the physical stigmata. For the next 50 years he would exercise his priestly ministry in San Giovanni Rotundo, becoming renown for his devotion to Mass, confession, guardian angels and the rosary, for his fortitude in the midst of immense physical and spiritual suffering and for a mystical union with Christ which granted him miraculous gifts. On occasion, he was able to be in two places at the same time (bilocation) whilst in the confessional he was granted the ability to see the true state of a penitent's soul. Padre Pio's physical suffering led him to establish homes for the relief of suffering whilst his spiritual suffering encouraged him to set up prayer groups to spiritually sustain the patients in their care.

As news of Padre Pio's unique gifts and charism spread, pilgrims flocked to San Giovanni in their hundreds of thousands and this forced the church to ascertain the veracity of his character and vocation. On June 9, 1931, the Feast of Corpus Christi, Padre Pio was ordered by the Holy See to refrain from all activities except the private celebration of Mass. Padre Pio humbly submitted to his superiors and eventually restored in all his priestly faculties. By the early 1960s, he was attracting pilgrims from across the world and they came in such numbers that a new church, Santa Maria delle Grazie, had to be built to accommodate them. By the time the church was completed, Padre Pio's always precarious health began to deteriorate. He died in the early hours of September 23rd 1968, shortly after making his confession and renewing his religious vows.

Following his death, Padre Pio's cult continued to grow; over six million pilgrims visit his shrine in San Giovanni every year. In 2004, an even bigger church, the Padre Pio Pilgrimage Church, was opened to accommodate the influx. The small town is also home to one of the finest hospitals in Italy, constructed at his behest and paid for by donations made by pilgrims. 

Padre Pio was canonised in 2002 by Saint Pope John Paul II who named him "a living image of Christ suffering and risen". [2]

[1] Colossians 1:24 (Magnificat, September 2015, p330)
[2] Magnificat, September 2015, p331