Monday, 14 December 2015

Year of Mercy Field Hospital

The Holy Father Pope Francis has mentioned many times that the Church should behave as a field hospital. It is possible to wonder if the Holy Father has ever visited a real field hospital or indeed how many of us have done so even once in our lives. A field hospital is not for the squeamish: a visit may render you vomiting or fainting and you would be one of many brave people who has done so. The army used to lay on realistic simulated field hospitals for staff college officers to visit and these protected nobody from the awful scene of pieces of flesh scattered here and there, skulls draining of brains, dead bodies, pieces of bone or sawn off limbs in buckets and simulated stench. Once visited never to be forgotten.

The representation of the Church as field hospital has many parallels:

Once entered, in order to survive spiritually, psychologically or physically a different person has to exit, and this can mean, in many cases, radical changes.

The illnesses or injuries (sins) sustained can never be glossed over by anybody and have to be faced up to in all their gory detail: nothing and nobody is spared.

Parts of a person may have to be removed: limbs, features, eyes, ears, and internal organs; nothing can be spared the knife and the same would apply to sin - everything must be done to ensure that the person is relieved of it by removing the causes of such sin - "if thine eye offend thee, cut it out".

After the medication or surgery comes the period of rehabilitation which may take weeks, months or many years; any failing to keep up the recovery work many mean relapses.

(These two pictures show Stu Robinson, a Corporal in the RAF Regiment, who lost both legs after his vehicle went over an Improvised Explosive Device in Afghanistan. After rehabilitation, Stu was able to compete in the Invictus Games in autumn 2014 and this Remembrance Sunday he was able to march to the War Memorial and back.)

Some people will cope and achieve a new, even better, life but others will succumb and even turn their faces to the wall and be lost. Some may be hopeless cases and soon pass away: all that might be given is some small comfort or palliatives, accompanied by wretched sadness and. if capable. prayer.

Yes indeed, seeing the Church as a field hospital is an imaginative reminder to Cardinals, Bishops, Priests, Religious and Laity that they will do nobody any favours by ducking issues if the patient is to recover, otherwise they will be left to die in their ailment, physical or spiritual. Also notice the changes that will have to be made and in many cases the pain will go on with less intensity allowing the person to live a near normal life as possible. As in the case of the field hospital all are affected for the rest of their lives by the experience and going back to the previous life is rarely an option.

So Pope Francis, and he appears to mean what he says, is offering us no soft option and in doing so, in this Year of Mercy, is making us face up to the reality of sin and to do what is necessary to ensure a speedy recovery for the patients who enter through the Holy Door: surgical tools or medications of truth have to be applied as acts of charity or else the patients will never recover. The blame will rest with those who, through misguided sparing of knowledge or pain for the patients, gloss over the reality of their states. Doctors, nurses and orderlies can never kill the patient out of misguided kindness nor can we do likewise to the souls of those who enter the Holy Door in this Year of Mercy.

Monday, 30 November 2015

Europe's moral and spiritual vacuum invites acts of terrorism

This article from Russia Today RT Op-Edge makes chilling reading:

"These days the media are overflowing with comments and analyses of last Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris. One particular angle is consistently ignored – or banished: religion.

This is a curious omission since the terrorists themselves issue statements that indicate that religion is their motivation.

The statement in which IS accepts responsibility for the attacks in Paris is made in the name of Allah and the killings are referred to as “a blessed battle whose causes of success were enabled by Allah”. It states that Paris was targeted because it is “a capital of prostitution and vice” and “the lead carrier of the cross in Europe.”

IS is consistently referring to the Parisians as “crusaders” – the audience at the Bataclan, however, are called “pagans gathered for a concert of prostitution and vice.” The statement closes with a terror threat to strike those who “dare to curse the Prophet and boasts about their war against Islam”.

A further look at the character of the attacks reveals with ever-increasing clarity their symbolic significance. They were carried out on a Friday, the Muslim holiday. The victims at the Bataclan were listening to music, which is banned in fundamentalistic Islam, and the first targets to be shot were guests at the bar drinking alcohol. The symbolism assumed a new dimension when the perpetrators started firing on the audience of a performance by the band 'Eagles of Death Metal' of its popular tune “Kiss the Devil”."

Read the whole article here

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

G K Chesterton on Suicide

 Taken from his book "Orthodoxy" (1927)

At this time when Parliament is debating suicide yet again and again: between the two Houses it has become an annual event with the underlying theme that if we it do it to cats and dogs in our mercy for them, surely humans even more deserve this mercy. Once when confronted by a catholic gentleman who decried life because he was a burden to others, the riposte was to accuse him of preventing others from getting to heaven by preventing them from providing him with acts of charity.

Pre-mediatated suicide, assisted or otherwise, removes the one and perhaps only last chance for the person concerned to save their soul by accepting their cross and thereby closing the gate into heaven: so-called christians like Dr Carey who advocate mercy killing of terminally ill people have lost the plot, and the cross is not only a stumbling block to them but by declaring undignified to have a suffering death, hurl insults at Jesus on the Cross and worse still at the Father for requiring this of Jesus and us for our redemption. We suffer and die for the sake of ourselves and others: what a noble cause!

Chesterton does not mince his words:

Mr William Archer even suggested that in the golden age there would be penny-in-slot machines, by which man could kill himself for a penny. In all this I found myself utterly hostile to many who called themselves liberal and humane.

Monday, 3 August 2015

In times of peril

The Litany of the Saints has long been used to invoke God's protection in troubled times. Find it here

To meditate on just how troubled our times are going to become take a look here

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Climate Change and the Sin of Man (Laudato Si)

I accept with deference and discernment the recent Encyclical Laudato Si of the Holy Father, Pope Francis. I have a Masters (Hons) in Astronautics, a keen interest in Space Physics especially in the Sun and its impact on our environment which I have learned to ignore at our peril, and a cautious view of the predictability of computer simulations used to underpin the global warming paradigm with their myriad assumptions, any one of which may be biased by the perception of the model-maker or tweaked to provide a desired result. I have also had many years in the research field ending up as Chief Research Engineer and Chief Research Fellow; hence my obligation to write these words recommending prudence and caution.

There is, unfortunately, an inherent weakness underpinning the Encyclical, and that is its reliance on Global Warming Science, which has yet to be rigorously proven and has been protected from any criticism which could prove it to be false: in Science this is an indication of a lack of confidence and meekness.

True Science requires that all theories and hypotheses throughout their life to be open to be proved wrong overall or under certain conditions, that is 'falsification' (Karl Popper) or else be condemned. For to silence scientific debate without proper refutation of the arguments against it in any field is, in my view, a crime against Science: a case in point is Darwinism. Therefore, it has to be accepted that the science supporting the Encyclical may one day be proved false, otherwise it is not science but tending towards religion. Should this happen, and we cannot ignore the possibility, then what would become of Laudato Si, which has so much in it that is good and praiseworthy?

Anyone who claims that a scientific issue is settled and there should be no further debate, shows the height of ignorance and arrogance that beggars belief. A scientific matter only remains so-called settled until it is replaced by something better or is falsified. In all strategies I have been associated with using scientific or technological forecasts, we always allowed for alternative scenarios recognising the limits of our knowledge at any point in time.

I have for very many years accepted a transcendental belief, not a scientific view, that the ecological problems we are facing today are due to the unprecedented global sinning which is escalating daily and becoming embedded in the Earth and Universe; a case in point is the blood of more than 60 million abortions each year, and the Earth and Universe are reacting with increasing violence to this encroaching darkness.

I am not going to enter into a Climate Change Debate of Warmists vs Coolists; the next ten or more years will most likely prove which side is right. I do have, however, substantial concern over the closing of the door on sound debate which could result in catastrophes much worse than envisaged in the Encyclical. Just, for instance, let us assume we are facing a mini-ice age due to a cooling of the Sun, as some firmly believe: surely we should, at least, consider the possible impact on agriculture, the way we build and cluster our homes and businesses, the sustainability of our energy systems, the effects of intense cold on our transportation systems and so on? 

The sun is currently exhibiting one of the lowest sunspot cycles in 100 years which ranks among the lower order of cycles in earlier years, see pictures: a fact that is becoming increasingly difficult to deny. Should we continue along current proposed strategies our world could become rapidly depopulated due to hunger and lack of adequate warmth.

Much of what is recommended in the Encyclical can be applied to scenarios based on global warming, global cooling or even a mixture of both. We must be much more flexible in the way we read the signs of the times. In all possible scenarios it is vital that we change our ways such as the use of energy and by husbanding our resources, but under current thinking we may end up developing global infrastructures that could collapse should a different scenario occur.

If we maintain an open mind, keeping alternative scenarios in view, it should be possible to develop more robust infrastructures capable of providing for either extreme rather than wasting ourselves chasing down one alleyway which may end up being a blind one. For instance, conserving energy by properly insulating our homes to the highest of standards, never buying a new item which has no need to be replaced or repairing broken ones, and avoiding all waste especially water and food, apply to all scenarios. However, focussing on carbon might be detrimental in other possible scenarios. I, for one, have for many years been doing all I can afford to prepare for Global Warming or Cooling.

The jury in reality is still out and we must not stifle debate or worse still remain one-track-minded as at present. From a transcendental view we must answer the deeply worrying question, are the sins of man resulting in a fiery or deep freeze future? Remember that Our Lady at Fatima used the sun to warn mankind of God's power to intervene in our world and the sun is the focus of those promoting a global cooling scenario. Also in St John's Apocalypse Chapter 8 verse 12, “And the fourth angel sounded the trumpet and the third part of the sun was smitten, and the third part of the moon, …..”

We were warned by Jesus himself to stay awake and read the signs of our times. We must do all we can to implement the wise advice given in the Encyclical, leaving out the questionable science but accepting that we are destroying our planet in so very many ways, and even more we must convert or perish. Is the Encyclical a Nineveh wake-up-call, irrespective of which side of the scientific debate we each reside? Today's Gospel (Mk 4:35-41) is about being not afraid if we have faith.

The Scientist's Beatitudes
1 Praise be the Scientist who remains detached, free of personal biases or opinions, and refuses to compromise or accept any reward, uses any other field including metaphysics in his search for the truth.

2 Praise be the Scientist who remains meek, always accepting that he may be wrong and shunning arrogance or pride: what appears correct today may be proved false tomorrow.

3 Praise be the Scientist who mourns over the abuse of science and malpractices of his colleagues, resolving always to shun such practices himself.

4 Praise be the Scientist who hungers for correctness and truth, recognising that such prizes are not easily gained.

5 Praise be the Scientist who corrects or helps others, never flinching to do so when the truth is at stake, adhering to solid theory rather than extrapolations, speculation or empiricism, and refuses to become involved in any developments that might harm mankind.

6 Praise be the Scientist who seeks purely after the truth with a will to change course irrespective of adverse consequences on personal reputation or career.

7 Praise be the Scientist who maintains a harmony within his field by avoiding all emotive arguments or heated debates, relying on logic and sound reasoning.

8 Praise be the Scientist who suffers persecution in the form of ridicule by colleagues, frozen pay or promotion or even dismissal for his search for the truth.

The rewards for a good scientist following these precepts are: a good conscience, respect from those who understand him, relative poverty, highest integrity and the internal joy of in the end being right even if others refuse to acknowledge this.

Bob Latin

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Reality Check

St Paul to the Romans, 1:22 – 32

It would appear that as we step back and review what is happening in the world, we hear increasing numbers echoing the voice of Satan inside and outside the Church, “I will not obey. I will not serve.” The consequences of this gross disobedience is that God is leaving increasing numbers to their own devices, and the Holy Spirit, who cannot abide sin, is withdrawing. The consequences of this is astonishingly clear to those who can still see and hear: violence, apostasy, arrogance, ignorance, lack of creativity, growing stupidity, culture of death, gross immorality, break up of the family (the building block of civilised society), fornication, redefinition of marriage, euthanasia, disarray within the Church, climate change, gross debt, corruption in high places, abuses of all kinds against every person irrespective of age or position, ISIS (which is becoming unstoppable), war-like sounds and threats, and global economic crisis. We could fill pages with what is taking place as nations fall like ninepins to the siren calls of Satan and his demons. A senior Irish politician, speaking after the recent same-sex marriage referendum, said this is equivalent to the Russian Revolution. Poor people; does that mean they should expect the march of the Gulags into Eire. Will there indeed be any faith left on earth?

Weak as we are the faithful need to consolidate, strengthen the Faith and hang on in there even if it means going underground as so many had to do in Russia. We must stop all back-biting and criticism, and love one another despite our individual frustrating weaknesses. We have to be the seed-corn for the future generations and if necessary be buried in the ground.

Please re-read the parable of the Prodigal Son and pray for Eire, Germany, Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, United Kingdom, France, Spain, Italy and all nations who have turned increasingly away from God and His Commandments. Pray that when they come to eat the husks of swine that they will have acquired the humility to turn back to God in repentance. Then and only then may we see the darkness now prevailing turn to light.

Meanwhile hang on in there and if necessary batten down the hatches, for we are indeed going through unprecedented stormy times.

God bless you all.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Reflections on Mass at Sizergh Castle Chapel

During the summer months, the followers of the Extraordinary Form in the Lancaster Diocese have two or three jaunts away from where we usually meet for Mass.  We gather near Kendal at Sizergh Castle, a National Trust
property but also home to the Hornyold-Strickland family, and to the Strickland family since 1239. It's possible that Catherine Parr lived here for a while, and Sir Thomas Strickland was a member of the court of James II in exile. 

While it's probable that the pele tower contained an oratory, the current chapel is at the end of one of two wings forming a
courtyard.  Walking about while serving Mass is always entertaining as the floor is far from level.  You can set off intending to walk forwards, and end up heading off to one side, like an errant shopping trolley!

The congregation numbers up to forty people, who travel from the further reaches of our Diocese and even beyond, and we are fortunate to have priests willing to travel some distance to say Mass for us.

Why do we do this?  It would be easy to dismiss this as an excuse to go and have Mass "in a castle", and it's true, there is something a little special about the location, and being there after-hours.  

I've visited the gardens many times with my family, and it still feels a little naughty driving in the gate next to the car park to reach the castle itself directly.

But there's more to it than that.

Until the election of Pope Benedict XIV and what followed, looking backwards at the Mass and its development was rather unfashionable and more than a little frowned upon in many places.  This isn't a good thing, as the Mass didn't spontaneously appear in 1970, and Pope Benedict was clear that there was no rupture, simply two different forms of the same rite, continuity being maintained.  It is, therefore, not a bad thing to have some idea how we got to where we are - in fact it's actually a very good thing.

These days, we're used to having Diocesan Bishops.  We've always had them, and our grandparents always had them, but before the restoration of the hierarchy in 1850, and the establishment of fixed territories, things were a little different, and had been right through penal times when we had no churches.  We did, in later times, have Bishops in this country, but their sees were in partibus infidelium and they functioned as Vicars Apostolic.  Throughout these trying times, an alternative system of provision had existed, arranged through what is sometimes called the "squirearchy" - to celebrate Mass, you needed a priest, and a room large
enough to hold the other thing that justified the whole risky business - a congregation.  Priests came to this country not to say Mass, but to say Mass for us.  To do this, and to keep the priest safe and well, and to help him move around required the help of good Catholics with the necessary resources - generally old families with land and property. 

Of course, we're familiar with the priests who ran the ultimate risk and lost all, but it's important to remember that these families also risked, and sometimes lost, a great deal by doing such a service to the local Catholic faithful.

So, meeting a few times during the lighter part of the summer in the chapel of the ancestral home of a long-standing Catholic family is not just a novelty, it's a reminder of how the
Faith was kept alive, and a way of acknowledging that - remembering where we came from, and how we got to where we are, with the freedom to build public churches on the High Street as well as private chapels hidden on estates.

For the invitation to say Mass in the chapel, we are grateful to the Hornyold-Strickland family and to the National Trust staff for making the necessary arrangements.  We are fortunate to be able to continue using the chapel after the death of Mrs Angela Hornyold-Strickland this spring. Please
pray for the repose of her soul; she was always pleased to welcome us to the chapel and accommodate the Extraordinary Form, and also spare a prayer for vocations, and for priests to learn the Extraordinary Form of the Mass.

John Rogan

There will be two more Masses at Sizergh this summer, on Friday 26th June at 12.15 pm when the celebrant will be Fr Simon Henry, and on Friday 3rd July at 7.00 pm with Fr John Millar.

Friday, 27 February 2015

How to handle the de-Christianisation of our country

When I was a boy I was taught how to live in the world of the early 20th century which was as alien to Catholics as it is today. I was taught that we Catholics did not become involved in the unworthy or immoral practices of non-Catholics. We stuck to the Penny Catechism: kept our virginity until marriage, did not participate in perverted practices, kept away from corrupting influences and so on. We were brought up to treasure our faith above all things and to be aware that the world outside would do all it could to either dilute our faith or make us compromise it.

The problem today is simple: too many have compromised their faith which is no longer a bulwark against the influences of the external world. So when confronted by the alien ideologies concerning marriage, euthanasia, contraception, abortion, embryo research, medical-biological "developments" and so on, people capitulate. Someone said to me, "I wear my cross hidden under my coat". This is the same as saying, "I am a private Christian and fear what the alien world might say or do, more than I fear God". 

Bear this in mind when you come to vote in May.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Death and Lent

The Whys of Life and Dying a Good Death
A Meditation for Lent

Reference: Fr H J Coleridge SJ: "Return of the King", discourse on the Latter Days

During this Lent we should pause, take stock of our life, exactly where we are: why are we here and where do we think we might end up, putting firmly aside the liberal idea that God is so good that all shall be saved, even the most wicked, including those who crucify His Son every day.

Fr Coleridge's leads us in his prophetic "Return of the King" to understand the state of the World as it is, even today, even though he gave these homilies in the late 1800s, and how we could achieve a blessed, even happy death. If we wish to have an invaluable meditation for this Lent which will most certainly change our life and increase our chances of getting to heaven, we could do no better than to download his book from Internet Archive: Digital Library.

The quotes have been taken from "Return of the King" and dovetailed to form a comprehensive whole; however they do not do justice to a highly complex subject requiring many pages to explain, over 200 or so!

The Great Whys?
Why do we not know whether we are in grace or out of the grace of God? Why are even the servants of God afflicted with the perpetual doubt whether they shall be saved?
Why are the wicked, the heirs of misery, not forewarned of the doom that awaits them?

Why do we not know when we have to die and how long we have to live?
The hour of our death is the one most important moment for us, on which eternity depends, and why do we not know when it is to come?
Why do the wicked prosper in the world?
Why are the just afflicted in the world?
Is it not the world of God, and has not our Lord come down for the purpose of redeeming it, and why then is vice rampant and sin unpunished and virtue persecuted and humility laughed at and the whole favour of the world given to the enemies of God?
Why do the good die young, when they might live on and be so great a benefit to the Church and to the world, and on the other hand the wicked live to a green old age, prospering all their lives, and by their prosperity, leading others to blaspheme, and loading the earth with the moral and physical ruins which they cause all around them?
Why are children snatched away even before baptism, why do they suffer for the sins of their parents, while hoary-headed sinners are spared to live out their days ?
Why is the grace of perseverance denied or not granted to many who have begun well, and many others who have offended God for many long years, saved at the very last by a deathbed repentance?
Why do the servants of God themselves fall, and why are any, whom God has made capable of eternal happiness, plunged forever into Hell?

Such are some of the questions which are constantly arising in the minds of men as they speculate on the action of God in the government of the world, and though we know much about God, there is much more that we do not know.

Some Answers
Now, it is easy to see that if men knew now what their eternal lot was to be, the just would run the risk of greatly diminishing their glory by carelessness or presumption, if they did not altogether forfeit it, and the wicked would be deprived of their one best hope of diminishing their punishment in the next world by carefulness and the endeavour to do some works of penance, and by the restraint which their conscience now exercises over them.

In the case of the uncertainty of the hour of death, we can see again that all the blessings which our Lord attached to the virtue of vigilance and holy fear would be taken away, if the moment of death were revealed to us beforehand. And indeed the revelation would defeat itself, for as it is the just are secured a holy death by being always uncertain of the moment when it would come, and the wicked are preserved from an immense number of additional sins by the fear of death.

In the case of the prosperity of the wicked and the afflictions of the just, the very fact that so it is in the world which is governed by God, is a proof that the good things of this world are not true goods, that God desires His elect to win their crowns by suffering. God desires His elect to win their crowns by suffering and by the practice of all the virtues which make up the character of our Lord, despised and rejected and afflicted, and the whole light which His example has shed on the path to Heaven would be thrown away if virtue was to be rewarded here and if God was to be served by the hope of temporal goods. Where would be the great Christian truth of the Cross?

Do the just die young when their life might be of so much good to the world, and do the wicked live on to the end of a long life, causes of mischief and of ruin? But we are told in Scripture that the good are often taken away lest the beauty and purity of their souls should be marred, and the wicked are left to live on and prosper partly because they have a few good works which can be rewarded in no other world but in this, and partly because God uses them for the chastisement and correction of His own children.

Do children suffer for the sins of their parents? Yes, they do (think of AIDS in babies, the impact of contraception, IVF and Genetic Engineering on future generations or cancers caused today by the pollutions, including the impact of nuclear radiation fall-out from nuclear testing in the 50s), and it would be a lesson lost to fathers and mothers if this were not so. Yes, they may suffer even eternal loss of banishment from the presence of God in Heaven; and yet it is not the doctrine of the Church that any one will be punished in Hell for sins not his own, or that those who lose the supernatural happiness of the saints of God, without any fault of their own, will know what it is they have lost.

Do the just often fall, and are the life-long sinners sometimes saved? Certainly, and if the just never fell through their own negligence, where would be, again, the truth of the necessity of continual vigilance and prayer? And if the sinners were never saved at their end, where would be the glory of God in the salvation and sanctity of Peter or Paul or Magdalene or that blessed thief on the Cross, the first trophy in the world of spirits of the power of the redemption of Jesus Christ?

The government of the world by God then is a scheme of infinite beauty and magnificence, and the answers of the saints are but the sign-posts which point out some of the principles in which it is conducted. All shall be made manifest in the last day, and all will begin their eternity with the full knowledge of this, as of the other great things that shall then be revealed. Now we know that He is good, wise, merciful, all powerful, all holy, but not how good, how wise, how holy.

Every death testifies to the truth of God and the falsehood of Satan
And every single death of a child of Adam, of the babe of an hour of life, or of the aged sinner of a century, testifies to the truth of God and the falsehood of Satan. But again, when man chose to sin, he rebelled against his Lord, and from that moment that beautiful Kingdom of God which He had made for Himself in man became a Kingdom divided against itself, a scene of rebellion and discord and warfare against God.

Pride rose up to defy God. Sensuality broke loose, and degraded and debased and defiled the nature which He had made pure and upright. Avarice, selfishness, greed of temporal goods, hardened, perverted, blinded, man, and bent him down. Charity was extinguished, anger and cruelty were raised in its place. These are the enemies of God; in man, and in death God acts like a great King, who by a single word or touch tumbles in the dust all who have lifted themselves up against Him.

The soul has sinned against Him, by the use it has made of the body, of the objects of the senses, of the world in which it was set to serve Him. The soul itself is indestructible, but at the moment of death it undergoes a complete humiliation before the Majesty of God. All human pride is brought to nothing, and those things which have been the instruments or the occasions of sin are reduced to dust. The world of sense vanishes. The strength of the mighty, the wealth of the rich, the greatness of noble race, knowledge, or talent, or power, or beauty, or grace, or excellence of any kind of which our poor human nature can plume itself all are cast down and come to dust at the foot-stool of the throne of God.

Death ends all falsehoods and pretence
The moment which brings the soul into His presence puts an end to all false greatness, to all pretenses and shams and impostures. All become nothing, emptiness, vanity, corruption in His Presence.

Men may make even gods in this life of money, or pleasure, or power and when the touch of death comes, these idols which they have worshipped are broken to pieces before them.

The flesh which has been indulged, is chastised by falling to dust and becoming food for worms, and all things else that men have delighted in and set their hearts upon are annihilated. The slave of avarice becomes poor, naked, miserable, and has to leave all his goods and possessions.

God's Justice Prevails
The justice of God falls on everything which has been His enemy in the soul of man, everything that has been set up in His place, everything for the sake of which His law has been forsaken and His rights despised. You may remember how in one of His parables, our Lord describes the King who returns from a far country to take account of his servants, and how He makes him say, “As for those mine enemies, who would not have me reign over them, bring them in hither and kill them before.” This is what takes place at death.

God, the Master of life and death, sometimes takes weak men and women like ourselves, He has taken them from all ranks and ages and conditions, and without requiring in them beforehand any consummate sanctity, but simply Christian faith, and then He has put them to the test, to confess their faith under pain of mortal sin, and by confessing it, to suffer excruciating tortures and to die. This sacrifice, which He has actually exacted of some, He might exact of all, just as the service of the country may require the sacrifice of the life of every single soldier in the ranks as it does actually require the sacrifice of the life of many.

An Accepted Death is a Sacred and Holy Act, giving Glory to God and ourselves
But what God does not actually require of us, though He might, that it is our wisdom to voluntarily to offer to Him, and we do this by accepting our death whenever it comes, and however it comes, willingly, and making it a free sacrifice to Him in perfect conformity to His holy Will. Then indeed death is made a sacred thing, it is not merely sacred in itself, and independently of us, in all those ways of which we have been speaking, it becomes an act of worship and of religion, it gives glory to God by this beautiful act of submission, of resignation, of love for Him and His glory, by which it is accompanied.

In death we can be come priests, martyrs and confessors
We are not all priests, we are not all ministers of the altar, we are not all called to the life-long martyrdom of consecration to God by vow in an apostolic and penitential life. No, but once at least in our existence we may make ourselves priests, and martyrs, and confessors, and consecrated to God, when the time comes for us to pass out of this world, and we rise up, as Abraham did, in the strength of faith, and take our life and being in our hands, as he took his one child Isaac, and present ourselves on the holy mountain of sacrifice, ready to give up our life for His glory, bidding Him take back what is His own, rejoicing in the triumph of His glory, in the destruction of all that has rebelled against Him, in the humiliation of the proud human flesh, in the reducing to dust of all that has hindered His perfect service in the existence of His creature.

This type of death is the holiest and most blessed sacrifice of which our poor humanity is capable. It requires no priestly unction, no apostolic mission, no religious consecration, no martyr's vocation. Yes, and so meritorious is it, so full of love and of conformity and of imitation of our Lord, that I do not fear to say that such a death may be made so sacred, as to have a marvellous power of expiation from the Sacrifice of our Lord.

In the old Christian times when the Catholic religion penetrated every department and corner of life, it used to be considered that those who died by the hand of justice, with all the spiritual aids which religious charity could provide, wiped away, by that involuntary sacrifice, the guilt of the crime for which they suffered, and died holy deaths.

The place of execution, the act of execution itself, both were considered holy. And no doubt it has often been true that such sufferers, when they have been perfectly contrite and resigned and submissive in their suffering, may have been heirs of the crown of that blessed penitent who hung by our Lord's side and said, “Lord remember me when Thou comest into Thy Kingdom”, and who heard those gracious words, “This day thou shalt be with Me.”

Accepted suffering and death is our submission to God's Justice and Mercy
The death-bed of every Christian is the place of solemn submission to God's justice, and all who render up their souls to God may do that last act of their lives with faith, hope, confession, and contrition, and resignation, and love, before which the gates of Paradise will roll back at once, through the merits of Him Who has tasted death for all men.

Death may be willingly accepted and embraced, and that when we accept and embrace it we have an opportunity of winning from God the very highest graces, such as those which make the words true, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints”, and that this is true, not of what we call heroic deaths only, or rather, every Christian death may be made heroic by the exercise of the virtues which belong to that blessed moment which is the end and crown of life. My brethren, what is the lesson of this truth, but that we should strive and pray for ourselves, and others, that we may have intelligence to see all the opportunities that are offered us, and grace and will to use them?

This I take to be one true reason why God so constantly warns us of death, and yet leaves it uncertain, and why we are so continually urged by the Church to prepare ourselves for that last moment. It is not only that we may be in a state of grace when we come to die, that we may persevere to the end in the faith and the service of God. That is an ineffable grace, but it is not all. Our Lord would have us miss no beauty, no perfection of virtue, of which life and death are capable. And so we may take this third truth and apply it thus. As, from the sacredness and loneliness of death we learn to live in God's presence, as from the consideration of the glory which death gives to Him, we learn to mortify ourselves in the practice of virtue, so also, from the thought of the sanctity of which death is capable, we may learn to practise ourselves in heroic and special exercises of resignation, humility, mortification, and charity, such as may make our death most precious and most holy. (This why suicide or assisted suicide is so terrible because it robs the soul of the cleansing action of a Sacred death, including its Holiness. Above all, it robs God of His glory in this final act to life.)

God foresees when our lives ought to end to save us from ourselves
God foresees that this or that person, who is now dear to Him, will, if he lives longer, fall away, it must also be true that many sinners may be cut off by death, when God knows that if they lived longer they would offend Him more. And as it is the mercy of God, in the case of the just who are snatched away while yet undefiled, that saves them, as it were, from themselves, so it is the mercy of God, in the case of the wicked, who, if they live, will be still more wicked, which saves them from themselves. And in this way we come to see how that may be true, which some of the saints of God have said concerning His providence in death, that every one, even the sinner, is called away by death when it is better for him to die than to live.

We live in an intensely wicked world
For as it is, the world is intensely wicked. As it is, the fear of God, the voice of conscience, the danger of death, all the terrors of God's justice and all the pleadings of His grace, have little enough power to check even enormous sins, general depravity, the mad revellings of sensuality, cruelty, tyranny, pride, the oppression of the weak, the grinding down of the poor, the hard treatment of those who are unable to help themselves in this life.

If there were no such decree as that of death, the struggle of life would be far more intolerable than it is, and the greatest support of conscience, the one great daily interference of God which reminds men what they are, that dust they are, and unto dust they must return, the one great leveller and equalizer of all under the varieties of human conditions, would be swept away. If the merciful law of death could be abolished and abrogated, the world would become ten times more the ante-chamber of Hell than it is.

Christians, and we have to see how to them death may not only be an occasion of great thoughts and actions, a sacred holy time, when they may give great glory to God, and add immensely to their own eternal reward, but also a happy time, a time of peace and content and rejoicing and exultation.

The body in which we live is marvellously made, but, after all, it is in our present existence often a prison and a house of bondage and even of torture, and among all its great capabilities there is none more striking than its capability of suffering.

We begin to die as soon as we are born, a great part of our life is suffering and pain, and, the older we grow, the more do we rehearse our death, time after time.

Again, another motive which may be assigned for welcoming death, is that it not only puts an end to our bodily miseries, but to our dangers, our temptations, the life-long struggle between matter and spirit, reason and concupiscence, the lower and the higher parts of our nature, the continuance of which struggle implies our continual danger of sinning. And it is only foolish and thoughtless persons who can undervalue this danger, and who in consequence can think it a light blessing when it comes to an end.

Saints have such a horror of any offence of God, that the tidings of their release from the possibility of committing it cannot but be tidings of joy.

It is not Christian to rail against the world, in the way in which satirists and cynics rail against it. There have been and are many gloomy, angry, self-centred, self opinionated men, men of dark, saturnine, fretful, malignant minds, who find no occupation so congenial as that of perpetual fault-finding with everything around them, and this temper and character sometimes infects half a generation, in consequence of the prominent influence of some poet or prophet of despair, sometimes it gives a tone to literature, especially newspaper literature, which is neither healthy nor Christian. These men are angry with God for making the world, and they are angry with all the world for not making gods of them.

Death now as it comes to us in the present Providence under which we live, and so it is arranged, by God's mercy, that even that partial happiness which we can have in the society of one another is dashed to pieces by losses, and estrangements, or separations, or bereavements, by the fleeting fickle instability even of what is best. Those who live the longest know the most truly how uncertain, how unsatisfactory, is life, and they long, as the Apostle did, for the sentence which is to set them free from: the sentence of death in ourselves.

It is better and nobler, and happier, in a Christian sense, to die for the faith, to die for charity's sake, rather than simply to die, so it is far better for us, being what we are, and with the prospect of Heaven before us, to die rather than not to die at all, and thus it is that this enemy is kept by our Lord, as it were, to be executed last. Death has become the servant of God and of His children, the gloom has been taken away, the fearfulness destroyed, the penal character changed into an occasion of merit.

He has taught us how to die. If there were no other value to us at all in His Blessed Passion, there would be in this alone enough to make it our greatest treasure. Well may we spend our Lent in the study of His Passion. There is not a step in the Passion of Jesus Christ, from the beginning to the end, which is not a special lesson to the Christian how to die, how we are to look forward to death, how to prepare for it, how we are to fit ourselves to meet our God, how to take leave of the world, of our friends or of those who are not our friends, of worldly goods and duties and relations, and all around us, how we are to bear the pains which precede it, how we are to pray, and fortify ourselves by the sacraments and the other aids of the Church, what acts of faith and hope and forgiveness, and humility and contrition and conformity and resignation, we are to exercise.”

Jesus's triumphant last strong cry, “Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit”, should be ours too. In the crucifix is the treasure of the Christian life, and there we can read all that we have to do to live well, but above all to die well: have a blessed and fruitful Lent.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Are there limits to insults?

Pope Francis was correct in his interpretation of the Gospel when a person one loves is deeply insulted or hurt by the behaviour of others. Unfortunately today, secularists and public leaders confuse insults against a person with insults against that person's loves.

This is all embedded in Christ's reaction to those who insulted his Father's House by turning it into a marketplace, and He, “meek and mild”, reacted angrily by taking up cords, whipping those involved, turning over their tables and chasing them out of the Temple.

In that very same incident He responded to those who questioned His authority by pointing out that they could in fact insult and destroy His person, which they later did, and He would undo all their evil by re-building Himself. From this we can accurately conclude that Christians must follow the practice of turning the other cheek when somebody insults them or even kills them, but woe betide anybody who insults those whom he loves and that includes the Church and all therein.

Let us put this into a secular context: you would be in trouble if you burned the Union Flag in the USA, or if you threw your shoe at the Head of a Country, and in the Armed Services all have to show the utmost respect for the Queen, her Ministers, the Flag and Officers who are her representatives by Royal Commission. These very forces are used to defend the national way of life and their loved ones or else they would be mere mercenaries offering their lives for worthless money. Heroes are created by this love for what is dearest to them, and few service personnel would fight merely to support law makers' dubious overseas policies. The only acceptable justification for risking one's life is to defend that which one cherishes and loves in our families and our country.

We cannot condone those Muslims who react to those who insult their beliefs - which they would die for and many do - by killing them. We also cannot condone those Muslims who destroy Churches and kill Christians because they don't accept their beliefs while paying lip service to respecting elements of their belief. What we do demand is that their reactions should be within the norms of acceptable behaviour: to punch a person on the nose when seriously provoked may be frowned upon but viewed sympathetically within the context of the provocation, but killing is rightly viewed as a punishable crime.

So Christians should react to defend that which they love: their families, way of life, culture, Church and Sacraments. Otherwise, people will rightly conclude that they don't care about these things and will continue to attack and insult them. The authorities today are quick to admonish any sign which might upset Muslims because they know that Muslims care, and rightly so, about matters concerning their beliefs. Christians have the right to the same consideration or one day they will angrily react to the increasingly insulting provocations and attacks on their way of life and faith in increasingly godless Western countries.

Those law makers and churchmen who cried out against Pope Francis are either hugely ignorant of the Gospel or hypocrites. These very people would be the first to hit out in outrage against anybody who insulted or attacked their precious views, loved ones or sacred cows.

Placing this issue in its right context: if there is nothing which we feel strongly enough about and would react to defend then either we have no feelings whatsoever or are, worse still, psychopaths. There are acceptable ways of reacting and sometimes in the last resort in defense of our loved ones and way of life, it may require force within the bounds of a justifiable and proportional response.

So thank you, Pope Francis, for reminding us of the difference between personal insults and insults against what we love and cherish; one we have to accept, the other, if we care enough, we cannot.