Only Christians can betray Jesus Christ
Only Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens (oh, and maybe the Rt Revd Richard Williamson of the Society of St Pius X) could be offended by the message inside the this year’s White House C----tm-s card (by Hallmark). It reads: “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. Psalm 119:105.” That is followed by the tasteful, non-divisive: “May the light of the season shine bright in your heart now and in the new year.” Nowhere is Christmas mentioned. Bless. George W Bush has again sent out his traditional non-Christian Christmas card. So what is the difference between President Bush and the earnest lesbian social worker in south London – the stereotypical Daily Mail hate figure –who not only refuses to send out Christmas cards but won’t even allow the C-word to be used on council premises for fear of offending ethnic minority groups? One difference is immediately obvious: the leader of the free world does not wear Doc Martens. Another is that Bush is not a free man. He has to do as he is told. Perhaps, however, the social worker is a more principled figure than the President. Both she and Bush are driven by fear and fashion, and by revolutionary internationalism, but at least she does not claim to be a friend of Jesus. In the past few weeks a fair amount of pious nonsense has been spoken about the War on Christmas. It really won’t do to play the martyr and blame the secularists. At its most deadly, the war on Christmas is being waged by Christians. Only Christians can betray Christ. Afew months ago, on this page, I mentioned an Anglican friend of mine who, in response to the Pope’s reflections on the tyranny of relativism, had declared: “The Pope rocks.” Last Friday this witty, charming, gifted, bossy, beautiful woman was received into the Church at Farm Street. Afterwards we all had fish pie, or at least I hope we did. Since this is being written 12 hours before the event I cannot be certain. Nor can I in all honesty say that it was a lovely evening, and that we were all so happy we cried. So let me be dishonest: it was
Stuart Reid Notebook
a lovely evening, and we were all so happy we cried. We have installed another swear box at the Spectator. In a few days last week, while producing the brilliant bumper Christmas double issue, we collected £10 or so. If we had been more diligent, or more honest, the sum would have been closer to £100. It is shameful, but at least we should be able to bung some worthy cause –and I do not mean a slap-up meal, necessarily –a few quid in the New Year. Just as I finished this Notebook, a friend rang me to say that Frank Johnson had died. So last Friday became a day of mourning as well as of joy. I had known Frank for 30 years. He was my age, 63, and had been unwell for several years. He was very brave throughout his illness, continuing to write columns for both the Daily Telegraph and the Spectator , of which he was editor from 1995 to 1999. I shall remember him chiefly as the parliamentary sketch writer of the Telegraph in the 1970s. He mocked politicians without mercy – but without malice, or at least with no more malice than was absolutely necessary. He coined the phrase “the chattering classes”. Frank was a learned man, though he had little formal education himself and left school at 16. He reminds us of the time when humble subeditors in Fleet Street had a good grasp of politics and history, even of syntax. In those happy days newspapers and newspapermen were more serious than they are now, but they were also funnier. RIP.
Stuart Reid is deputy editor of The Spectator.
MASS TIMES IN CENTRAL LONDON
Masses in the Traditional (Tridentine) Rite New Year’sEve 11.30pm St Bede, Thornton Rd, Clapham Park, LONDON SW12 (Benediction followed by Mass at midnight) New Year’sDay 12.30pm St James, Spanish Place, George St, LONDON W1 Epiphany, Saturday 6 January 12.00 noon Corpus Christi, Maiden Lane, LONDON WC2 Details of other Traditional Masses in Central and Greater London from: The Latin Mass Society, 11-13 Macklin Street, London WC2B 5NH Tel: 020 7404 7284 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
JESUIT CHURCH FARM STREET, MAYFAIR 24th December, 2006 CHRISTMAS EVE 6pm Children’s Mass of Christmas and Blessing of the Crib, with congregational carols and organ music 11.30pmReadings and carols for choir and congregation 12.00am Midnight Mass (Schubert, Piæ Cantiones & Rutter) 25th December CHRISTMAS DAY 9.30am Nativity of the Lord Mass with carols and organ music 11.00am Nativity of the Lord Solemn Latin Mass (Haydn, Handl, arr. Praetorius, Victoria & Bach) 31st December HOLY FAMILY OF JESUS, MARY & JOSEPH 9.30amMass - with congregational carols and organ music 11.00am*Solemn Latin Mass with organ and congregational singing * The Choir is on holiday on December 31st 2006, and will sing again at the 11.00am Solemn Latin Mass on the Epiphany of the Lord - 7th January 2007.
St Etheldredaʼs, Ely Place, Holborn Circus
9.00 am & 11 am.
Mon.-Fri. 8 am, 1 pm,
Sat. 9.30 am.
8 am, 12.10 pm, 1 & 6 pm.
20 Phoenix Road, NW1
(Off Eversholt Street, east side of
8.30 am, 10.30 am, 12.15 & 6 pm.
12.30 & 6 pm.
9.30 am, 12.30 & 6 pm.
DECEMBER 22, 2006 THE CATHOLIC HERALD
Stop worrying, and accept the magic gifts of Christmas
Jaded adults should try to see Jesus’s birth through the trusting eyes of children, says Sarah Johnson
‘Iwish I had magic powers,” said Aggie just before Christmas. I was sad, because she has always assured me she does have magic powers. But she is nine, and growing out of childhood. Hoping to catch the child in her before it disappeared, I said: “But you do have magic powers. You can play the violin at Grade One, you can jump up and down on a trampoline.” “They aren’t proper magic powers,” she said. OK, I said; think of this: if a shrimp, whose ancestors had colonised a dark underground lake millions of years ago, heard of your amazing ability to detect things by use of reflected light, he would say (if shrimps could articulate such ideas) that this was an astounding, nay, miraculous power. “But seeing’s not magic,” she protested. “Everyone can do it.” “Not a sightless cave-dwelling shrimp,” I insisted. The subject moved on –to animals with bad eyesight. What I wish I had said was this: “Well, probably one day you will be able to have a baby, and if you described that to someone who didn’t know anything about it, they would say that it was a magic power.” Think of how we imagine magic to be: as Aggie has begun to do, we think of it as something beyond the ordinary. We ignore the familiar, just because it is familiar. So we lose sight of the thing we are looking for: we cannot see the wood for the trees, nor the baby for the bathwater. Here’s the thing about God’s love. It is not external to our daily experience. It is our experience. Children are the only people who can bear the unbearable sweetness of the story of the star and the baby. Children, who can believe a dozen impossible things before
breakfast, are almost the only people who understand that for a king to be born in a stable makes perfect sense. Children effortlessly absorb the beauty of the birth, which seamlessly blends the spiritual and the animal: surrounded by the warm bodies of oxen and asses, Mary felt safe and secure enough to deliver her baby –a straightforward labour, for, young as she was, untroubled by the dismal stories with which women beset each other, she simply, humbly saw birthing as a bit of hard work that needed doing. At last, she sank back on the straw, utterly happy; tired, but inwardly drenched in oxytocin –the hormone which promotes childbearing, breastfeeding and –most magical of all –the complete adoration of a newly delivered mother for her baby. Was this not magic? The magic of love, God’s love, working its unexpected, unplanned wonders? We –the adults –are pantomime dames in our finery and rouge, who always turn around too slowly to spot the mysterious figure darting away when the children shout “it’s behind you”. Clumsily, we fret about being somewhere on time, or having enough money, or whether things will go according to plan: and the moment for love and magic slips away. Christmas is when we have a chance to look more carefully for the love and magic; a chance to be humbled by their unbearable beauty, and to realise they were there all the time, but we were too busy ordering turkeys to see them. I always cry when I see children on stage. Six pm: school nativity play starts; 6.15pm: Mrs Johnson starts blubbing, is the usual routine. Incidentally, Aggie’s primary school has, in the past, treated us sobbing parents to “The Grumpy Sheep”, “The Hopeless Camel”, “The Hoity Toity Angel” and “The
Lost Wise Man”. This year we had an Elvis-impersonating Herod in white lamé. He was booted off the stage by the entire cast singing “There’s only one King, and his name is Jesus, Oh Yeah”, and we discovered that if you laugh while you are crying, you really do need an extra Kleenex Pocket Pack. You want to know when the White Witch of C S Lewis’s Narnia will come to power on this planet, for real? When it really will be “always winter, and never Christmas”? It will be when humans finally give up their magic powers to her. It will be when they willingly and compliantly hand over their ill-disciplined tendency to have children at inconvenient times and in awkward situations to the tidy, forward-planned, government-regulated fertility business as ordained by scientists and government quangos. People will do this because, like Aladdin’s foolish wife, they do not recognise the magic object in their own hands, but give it away to a cunning pedlar. And it will make such good sense. The White Witch does not take over suddenly, in a coup d’etat. She creeps across the land, spreading frost and snow with her nice, commonsensical suggestions, until one day we will look up and realise she is at the castle gates, and turning all to stone. At first the White Witch said: “It is not reasonable to ask a woman to carry a child against her will.” That sounded sensible enough. Then she said: “It is not reasonable to ask a woman to carry a child she may not be able to look after.” We bought that, too. Then she said: “It is not reasonable to carry a child who has Down’s Syndrome.” Now, she says: “It is not reasonable to carry a child who might develop a disease... who is the wrong sex for the balance of the family, for surely a balanced family must
be a happier family?” And eventually, she will hold sway among the rich and powerful, and only very poor children will be born in their own time, sent by God and nature. We won’t know it, until suddenly we will realise that Christmas comes no more. Oh, the shops will still put up November tinsel, the magazines will still offer shopping advice: “Ideal gift for your best friend: a Prada handbag, £900”, assuming that the spending habits of an overpaid fashion editor with a hedge fund executive boyfriend are a useful model for the rest of us. The television diet of violent films and public humiliation will continue to be watched by the sad and the lonely –an ever increasing number of them –unvisited, unremembered (for there will be no one to remember them) in old people’s homes. And there will still be children: solitary little things tucked away out of view, protected from the cold by virtual entertainments, elbowed from the TV schedules, and so showered with gifts all year round that the arrival of Christmas morning hardly makes a blip on their radar. It will look like Christmas and sound a bit like Christmas, so we will call it Christmas. But it will not be Christmas, because we –aiding and abetting the White Witch by our own greed and stupidity –will have forgotten that the unexpected and glorious arrival of a child in the most inauspicious circumstances is the heart of Christmas. So while the White Witch is still not quite at the gate, my prayer this year to stop worrying about what cannot be planned or provided for; and to open my eyes to the love and magic; the love and magic which are there to be found within that imperfect but blessed institution (for what family can be “perfect”? What child, what parent?) of the family Christmas.
When compliance follows tragedy
There has been a compassionate – indeed, Christian – response to the murder of five prostitutes in Ipswich. It was impressive to see photographs of the dead women at a candlelit prayer service held in their memory at St Peter’s Church, Copdock. Christianity has always had a tradition of compassion towards women who have been involved in prostitution – starting with Mary Magdalene. Although the coda to forgiveness should also be recalled: “Go and sin no more.” Real compassion for prostitutes is about helping women to get out of the trade of selling themselves. Where I dissent is in the wave of general compliance and complacency which now seem to follow public expressions of compassion. Especially do I dissent from the suggestions that as a result of these murders, both prostitution and heroin should be legalised. (What the dead women had in common was heroin addiction.) Legalising prostitution or hard drugs is a counsel of despair. You could, after all,
wipe out every crime on the statute book just by legalising the activity. It is also a counsel of naivety. And established failure. The decriminalisation of prostitution has already been tried in the Netherlands. In Amsterdam, the authorities licensed certain premises for the use of “sex workers”, with the added support of Government inspection for health reasons. The outcome was an increase in both legal and illegal brothels. Where legal prostitutes were doing business, an illegal, cheaper service sprang up nearby. Where established Dutch prostitutes were plying for trade legally, very poor and young girls were being trafficked from Eastern Europe illegally. Where the legal prostitute was health-inspected to prevent the spread of disease, her illegal sister was evading inspection, to keep costs down. As for the pimps who exploit, abuse and take money from young women in the sex trade: they were renamed “managers” and “facilitators”. They still exploited, abused and took
money from the women. You don’t change human nature just by passing a new law or calling something by a different name. The Dutch authorities are now tightening up their regulations on prostitution. They will continue to “tolerate” aspects of the sex trade – and it’s a fact that it is seldom repressed entirely – but the aim now is to restrict rather than to enable a trade with endless potential for damage. The second experiment – with drugs – has also occurred in the Netherlands. The Dutch
were to the fore in tolerating the use of cannabis. It was all the rage to go to Amsterdam and visit a cannabis café, where you could smoke the weed, or even eat it in a chocolate cookie. Cannabis does have some medicinal applications, and should be available for patients with MS, for example. And some people can indulge without serious harm to themselves or others. But what the Dutch found was that their permissive attitude attracted every dopehead and squalid drug-dealer in Europe to their country. For that reason, besides the growing awareness that for some individuals – especially those with schizophrenia – cannabis is a murderous deinhibitor, the Dutch are now restricting access to the opiate. Can’t those who plead for more accessibility to heroin for addicts see the point? Once you make any drug easy to obtain, you automatically create a greater demand for it. We shouldn’t rule out fresh thinking on the drug problem, but making a dangerous substance free will not cure the problem, and is more likely to
expand the number of users. Oscar Wilde once said in jest that the only way to cope with temptation was to yield to it. Increasingly, this seems to be the first answer now given to any social problem: yield to every human weakness and legalise it. Compassion for the dead women is right and proper. Exporting their way of life to countless more young persons is wrong and tragic. The decline of the “Christian” Christmas card was one of the themes observed this year. Friends in Essex scoured the High Street shops for any Christian theme in the local card shops, without success. It proves what we already knew. The tide of secularism swells with the shopping season. But the essence of Christianity is not found in cards, nor in tinsel, nor in decorated pine trees, but in the hearts and souls of those committed to the Incarnation: and there, I believe, it still runs deep and strong.
The family man for all seasons
In the season devoted to celebrating the Holy Family, and therefore the hopes of every couple, there is an image this Christmas which deserves particular attention. It is a rough sketch of St Thomas More at home with his grown-up family, which is to be found in the Holbein exhibition at the Tate Gallery in London. The artist executed the painting while living with More in Chelsea in 1527. Measuring some 39 centimetres by 52 centimetres, it is a preliminary drawing for a painting in tempera, and is best likened to a photograph. The 10 figures are shown with their own thoughts as they wait to pray with their books of hours. The saint has his hands inside his sleeves to ward off the cold, which is indicated by a sputtering candle; he stares ahead as one who knows that he can never escape the cares of royal service. On his right, his father is doggedly failing to listen to what his granddaughter-in-law is saying in his ear. Standing
behind More is his 19-year-old son John while before him his daughter Meg is steadfast in thought. Behind her, his second wife Alice kneels at a prie dieu, though a note by the artist adds that she is to sit. An indifferent copy of the finished painting, made before it was destroyed in a fire at a German bishop’s palace during the 18th century, shows her sitting while some musical instruments have been added to the background. The sketch does not emanate the power of Holbein’s portraits of King Henry VIII in his disturbing magnificence, or match the emotional strength of the Nativity scenes produced by some of the greatest artists down the centuries. Yet it has a unique charm. This lies in its being an informal portrait of one extraordinary man’s ordinary family, with every member accepting and accepted in their different ways. The love More bore them all is plain to see. But the historians and biographers who have
David Twiston Davies
crawled over every aspect of his life in recent decades have found much to query, even while admitting that the courage he showed on his journey to the block was exemplary. They note his relish for being in the world’s spotlight. They point to the harshness with which he ordered heretics to be burned as Lord Chancellor, and the inflexible way he
ruled his children’s education, though it is interesting that there seems to have been no hint of the rebellion which today’s experts on the family would consider healthy. They note his habit of teasing his wife, and they bridle with disapproval at the fool retained to entertain his household. Yet Henry Pattenson, who was probably mentally retarded, is the only figure in Holbein’s picture looking straight at the artist; and, in doing so, he seems to challenge our assumptions. Such criticisms show that More was a real human being. If he did not lose his temper often, there were occasions when he did. If he teased his wife in a way we consider embarrassing, such as by drawing attention to the size of her nose and referring to her stupidity, they had a marriage of give and take. She knew how to deploy her ignorance against his intelligence, and when she visited him in the Tower of London, the boot was on the other foot;
she called him a fool for giving up so much. As for More’s principled stand in refusing to support the King’s renunciation of the Pope, he must have been hurt in the knowledge that, however great was his family’s love, they wanted him to compromise. Even his beloved daughter Meg wrote a letter begging him to swear the oath accepting the break with Rome, and after his death she and her husband William Roper, who wrote the first biography, remained Catholics yet took the oath. These considerations, of course, demonstrate that nobody can reach the standard of unblemished rectitude demanded of saints by nonbelievers. But they also show the very real dilemmas that confronted More in the family he loved and why he was, as his friend Erasmus said, “a man for all seasons”.
David Twiston Davies works fo r The Daily Telegraph