The spiritual journey of a boy reporter
The film directors Stephen Spielberg and Peter Jackson are widely and rightly acclaimed for giving us epic morality tales, such as Schindler’s List and Lord of the Rings respectively, in which good overcomes evil. Thus we Tintin buffs were thrilled when it was announced last week that the two men are to adapt tales of the celebrated Belgian reporter in three forthcoming feature films. We were excited, because Tintin tales, despite some shortcomings, are similarly moral narratives. Admittedly, Tintin’s creator, Hergé, left an ambivalent legacy. While Tintin was ostensibly a kind soul, possessed of moral clarity and a mission to banish villainy from the world, he was, particularly in his early books, an imperialist (lecturing African children about the Belgian fatherland in Tintin in the Congo ); a far-Right agitator ( Tintin in the Land of the Soviets ) and a combatant against international moneyed Jewry ( The Shooting Star ). Critics of Hergé usually attribute the early Tintin’s disagreeable disposition to Right-wing Catholic influences in the 1930s. Hergé was a 25-year-old draftsman at Le Vingtième Siecle newspaper in Brussels when he was asked by the editor, Abbé Norbert Wallez, a ferocious anti-Communist and antiSemite who had a signed photograph of Mussolini hanging in his office, to compose a comic strip for children. Wallez sought to inculcate his younger readers with a sense of morality using humour and adventure. A reporter with Boy Scout values was his solution, and Tintin in the Land of the Soviets was the result. In this story the cub reporter exposes the myths perpetrated by the Bolsheviks as to the successes of a famineblighted Soviet Union. I can’t see why this should be a reason to tarnish Hergé; as his contemporary Malcolm Muggeridge discovered, Hergé was right. It must be remembered, too, that Le Vingtième Siecle was not so much “fundamentalist Catholic” but rather virulently anti-Communist. Hergé was later to regret his earlier works, even withdrawing Land of the Soviets from circulation. If Hergé’s Catholicism did manifest itself in his work, it did so in a benign way. It is
Patrick West Notebook
true that the spiritual element of the Tintin books is informed more by Eastern Mysticism but the moral element is evidently Christian. Hergé’s morality is binary, dualistic, concerned with conscience, temptation and redemption. This can be seen in the passages when Snowy the dog feels the allure of whisky, only to have an imaginary angel and devil appear on each shoulder, the former imploring him to resist temptation, the latter urging him to surrender to his desires. When the angelic figure castigates the demonic figure for “dragging an animal down to the level of man!”, Hergé is invoking the concept that only Man is born into original sin. Haddock’s copious whisky consumption is represented as a transgression, and Tintin succeeds, in The Crab With the Golden Claws , in transforming this hopeless alcoholic into a man who, by the end of the Tintin series still drinks, but never gets drunk. Villains, too, are punished, but are often rehabilitated and shown the errors of their ways. Tintin has a clear appreciation of right and wrong, and his language hints at the presence of the Almighty. While readers of the English translations are familiar with Tintin exclaiming “Great snakes!”, in the original he actually cries “ Mon Dieu! ”; instead of lamenting the death of a once kindly character who has erred by saying, “The poor devil”, in the French version he says “ Dieu ait son âme ” (God rest his soul). Both Spielberg and Jackson have consistently triumphed at the box office because their films are clear, positive morality tales. This is why they are the right men for the job.
MASS TIMES IN CENTRAL LONDON
Masses in the Traditional (Tridentine) Rite Thursday 7 June Corpus Christi Church, Maiden Lane, WC2 High Mass for Corpus Christi at 6.30 pm Saturday 9 June Westminster Cathedral, Victoria 11.00 am LMS AGM in Westminster Cathedral Hall (Speaker: Revd Fr John Berg, Superior General FSSP) 2.00 pm High Mass at the High Altar (Celebrant: Fr Antony Conlon, LMS National Chaplain; Sermon: Fr John Berg) 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 Sunday 27th May, 2007 - Pentecost Sunday Mass times: Vigil: Sat 6pm Sun: 8am, 9:30am (Family Mass) 11am, 12:30pm, 4:15pm, 6:15pm (Gretchaninoff, Aichinger & Duruflé) www. farmstreet.org.uk
St Etheldredaʼs, Ely Place, Holborn Circus EC1 Sundays:
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Sat. 9.30 am. Holydays: 8 am, 12.10 pm, 1 & 6 pm.
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MAY 25, 2007 THE CATHOLIC HERALD
How to keep your faith when all about you are losing theirs
Catholics must learn how to thrive in a secularised society, says Quentin de la Bédoyère
Is Britain a secularised country, and does it matter? The 2001 Census reported that 72 per cent recognised themselves as Christian, and only 16 per cent declared no religion. But the Christian figures include many for whom the claim is merely nominal – no more perhaps than a recognition of a traditional culture which has no practical meaning. We find, for instance, that only a quarter of the population believe in a personal God but, surprisingly, about two thirds pray, at least from time to time. A majority want the Christian Church to be there, even though they may make no use of it. Fifteen per cent of the population attend church at least once a month and 10 per cent attend weekly. But congregations have declined between 1989 and 2005 – by nearly half in the case of Catholics and nearly a third for the Church of England. The bright spark shines for Pentecostals, who have increased by over a fifth. The black spots for the future is that attendance is greater in the older generations (raising questions about what will happen when these die off), and that religious affiliation correlates strongly with the affiliation of one or both parents, indicating that this decline may be cumulative. Forgive this flurry of statistics: they are no more than a loose-brush picture culled from several sources. But what emerges is that active religious affiliation is a minority choice, and that the decline will probably continue. And within the unaffiliated majority a militant form of secularism has emerged. Its key message is that religion is damaging to society. Their numbers may be few but they have a powerful intellectual leadership, and a disproportionate influence. However we must not forget that their essential tenet – that there is no truth but science – is a belief not a fact, and has been shown time and again to be
so. I do not intend to discuss here the reasons for this decline, nor what we might do about it. I want instead to question what it means for active religion to be a shrinking element within a broadly secular and democratic society like ours. John Stuart Mill, borrowing the phrase from de Tocqueville, wrote of the “tyranny of democracy” as a danger against which society must be on its guard. And there is the pith. There is always the possibility of struggle between minorities and the majority. Yet it is a commonplace to assume that democracy has a sacred quality which makes it the unfettered arbiter of right behaviour. Mill was not speaking particularly of religion but it applies to all religions, including, as an obvious example, Islam. Britain has no written constitution but we do have legalised human rights, yet both of these – as experience has shown – cause as many difficulties as they solve and, in themselves, are ultimately susceptible to the democratic will. In the old days we cheerfully, imperfectly, but with reasonable practicality, muddled through on the basis of Common Law and common sense. But we are no longer a society built on shared Christian values. In fact, it would be hard to list what values we do share in our society. As Archbishop Nichols suggested in April, the vastly increased list of criminal offences over the last few years is an indication of our loss of shared morality, and an unsatisfactory substitute for it. While it may be right that secular attitudes to religious discrimination are coloured by concerns about Islam, we should be the first to remember that the general Muslim community has beliefs and consciences too. Nor are our hands clean. Take a look at the former Catholic concordat made with Franco’s Spain, or
the special status once given us in the constitution of the Irish Republic, and blush. The general principle that we should enjoy the maximum freedom which does not interfere with the freedom of others is a good one – and perhaps necessary in a society which is veering towards the idea that there is no freedom unless the law specifically allows it. But it is difficult to apply when one gets down to cases. Take, for example, Muslim state schools. Should they be obliged to adhere to the letter and the spirit of the National Curriculum? Should they be required to teach integration with British society as a practical requirement rather than an academic subject? Would it be incumbent on a business with Muslim employees to give time for prayer rituals, and provide acceptable canteen alternatives? I would accept all of these. Would you? And what deference should we give to the Sabbath of Orthodox Jewry, or Sunday as a Christian day of rest? There is no formulaic way to solve these problems. My own view is that we need, in general, to err on the side of respect, taking each issue as it comes. Muslims, Christians and Jews are not tangential members of our society but substantial, tax-paying constituents of it. There will be questions around which values clash, but the secularists, active or passive, have no more intrinsic right to their values than any other part of society. Let them preach their gospel, and argue their case – but do not let them enforce it by virtue of their creed. And we must claim the same rights, but no more than those rights. We may preach our gospel, whether Christian or otherwise, and demonstrate the worth of our belief by our practice. Our values will no doubt guide our votes as they may do for any citizen. But in the public forum we should
mount arguments that appeal to the latent grasp society retains of the law of God written in men’s hearts. Reason, the balance of benefits and the traditions of courtesy which exist but are not invariably practised in the world religions, should be our way. It is simply counterproductive and provocative to bolster our public case with “God commands this” or “Allah demands that”. Nor should we be unduly sensitive, but reserve our big guns for big targets: it is the soft answer which turns away wrath. We should major on explaining our positive values rather than attacking the values, however mistaken, of others. The late John Rawls, a distinguished philosopher, argued that just decisions should best be made as if behind a “veil of ignorance”. In this context it means that we should strive for shared social values and choices which would preserve the rights of all – no matter what religion or none – as if we were ignorant of the category into which we should ourselves fall. This principle of fairness is not as radical as it may at first seem for it is only a practical route to loving our neighbour as ourselves. Do as you would be done by is an ethic which is recorded from the second millennium BC and is to be found in virtually all cultures. Darwin, often invoked as the father of scientific scepticism, calls it “the foundation-stone of morality”. We need to think deeply about how we must conduct ourselves in a secular society, and what I have written is no more than some opening points. You may want to criticise or expand them. But let us do our thinking now and not when it is too late.
Give pupils a second chance to excel
As I left school at 16, and was always in the bottom stream (and often bottom of the bottom stream), I am hardly in a position to give either David Willetts or David Cameron advice on the grammar school issue. On second thoughts, though, perhaps it gives me all the more reason to reflect on issues of school failure. So hark. It seems to me that something like a “grammar school” will always be required. Because you will always need a place in education for very brainy youngsters who do particle physics. Modern societies need educational elites, just at an operational level. But the big problem with grammar schools, I would say, is not that they cater to exceptionally clever young people; the problem is that the 11-plus type of selection makes the selection too early. It is cruel to decide upon a child’s future at the age of ll. To paraphrase Tallyrand: “Worse than a tragedy – an error.” Many young people develop in quite unexpected
directions between the ages of 11 and 14. Why not devise a system which allows a grammar school elite – for very bright children from all backgrounds – but which also allows a “second entry” chance at 14? Looking back, I think I could just about have been redeemed, educationally, at about the age of 14. It was around then that I started getting interested in being a writer; at 15, I was into some quite deep reading, including Ibsen, Chekhov and even the decadents such as Huysmans. But it was all completely anarchic and educationally unguided. Unfortunately, because my school record was appalling, I was more or less written off by 14. Yet these teenage years can be a period of educational redemption, if the kids get the right teachers, guidance and opportunities. The German Gymnasium system separates academic pupils from those with more practical abilities – and, moreover, German education has never looked down on technical skills as inferior. They have
always esteemed engineers just as much as classicists. But they also provide a “second chance” entry to gymnasium at 14 to 15. The grammar school polemic should not be the black-andwhite question of whether they should be maintained or abolished. They should survive – but adapted and evolved in a more flexible way. There is a General Election in Ireland this week, with much heated arguments batting back and forth on the
television screens, and much frantic electioneering activity all around the country. When in Dublin I watch these fiercely contested debates and think of William Ewart Gladstone. How he has been vindicated by history, in his dogged and persistent mission to allow the Irish to manage their own affairs. Gladstone was abused by everyone from Disraeli to Queen Victoria, from Lord Randolph Churchill to all the Cecils, but he said the Irish could govern themselves better than an Imperial parliament could, and he was right. His Home Rule Bills were defeated time and again, and he might have died a broken man, yet his Christian faith kept him buoyant to the end. What is most noticeable about these current Irish political debates is the ultra-smart dressing of the candidates. Gerry Adams is now the last word in chic. “That suit,” said my niece as we watched, “it’s surely Armani.” “Armani nothing,” I retorted. “I’d say Savile Row. Only a bespoke jacket sits so perfectly on a man: it must be lined with silk.” The
hair is coiffed, the nails manicured. He looked so stunning we didn’t hear a word he said. There is a film in production about the couture pioneer Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, in which Audrey Tatou will play Coco. It will be interesting to see how Chanel’s formative years in an orphanage run by the Sacred Heart nuns in the small town of Aubazine are treated. This is far from being the usual “cruel orphanage” story. The institution was a refuge for Gabrielle and her sister after the death of their overburdened mother and abandonment by their feckless father. The nuns taught Gabrielle how to cut and sew – the basic skill on which her entire empire was built. Chanel died in 1971 holding a picture of St Anthony of Padua and a religious icon given to her by Stravinsky in 1925. At her funeral Mass at the Madeleine, her couture models formed a kind of guard of honour for her coffin.
A novel way of being humiliated
It is a cliché that life often seems to imitate art, but the principle is capable of refinement, in that our lives occasionally fall slap into the oeuvres of certain writers. Let’s keep it light, and not go into the Conrad moments, or the Hardys or the Kafkas. Any time you get nobbled by a bore at a bus stop you are living Flann O’Brien; whenever a circumstance accumulator lands you hot, late, and inexplicably ill-dressed in a gathering of the scandalised, the young Kingsley Amis has taken over. And so on. Having just decided to propose marriage to the lady who is now my wife, I was walking west along High Holborn from Hatton Garden, having secured the engagement ring, when I ran into an old chum from Oxford who was walking the other way to do exactly as I had just done; so naturally we dived into the nearest hostelry for a chat about life and matrimony and the meaning of it all. It was a P G Wodehouse moment, except of course that,
had the Master actually been in charge, a few other fellows would have popped in and I would have ended up betting the jewellery on a terrier, and losing. Then last year, when I was leaving hospital after a bit of urgent care and the once-over needed to prepare the ground for an operation, I asked the physician for guidance on life outside. Could I drink? Apparently, yes. Could I work? He cocked an eyebrow and replied, “You’re a writer, aren’t you?”, as one who would say: “Why certainly you can work, if that’s what you call it!” Jerome K Jerome, straight off the page. In fact the only inconvenience in my pre-op regime was the need to take diuretics every morning, which meant hogging the bathroom somewhat for a couple of hours thereafter. By this time my wife was well into her pregnancy, and had called in an antenatal yoga specialist (highly recommended, for anyone who’s interested) for home visits. I made myself scarce.
One morning I was hiding in our bedroom with a good book, and thought I’d open the window for some breeze. Then I remembered that the door handle was broken, and we’d nearly been trapped in there once, so I’d better get a doorstop before... slam! I rattled, I pulled, and the thing wouldn’t budge. No matter how far I tried to twist the brass to widershins, the catch remained firm. And I had just taken the diuretics.
I considered my position. I knew my wife’s mobile was off, so I picked up mine and called the landline in the sitting room; but the only people who use that number are BT and people in call centres trying to sell us things, so of course she ignored it and carried on going “Om” on her big rubber mat. And one thing you don’t do to a wife who’s five months gone and knows her husband is awaiting a heart operation is start screaming for help. We’re on the third floor, so escape was impossible, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I dragged the fire brigade from vital duties because I needed the loo: halfremembered stories about people who call out the GP for a head cold sprang to mind. I looked around vainly for jugs and vases, speculated on the practicality of unscrewing the radiator. I started wondering about the frequency of hatless pedestrians on the pavement three floors below the window. Finally I gave the door handle a mighty wrench, and it came off
in my hand (amazing how strength comes from desperation), leaving a hole into which I inserted a pair of nail scissors, and by some native burgling skill that might have made me more money than journalism if properly trained, sprang the lock. Then I yanked the crippled wretch from its cradle, and laughed manically at it for one brief, bursting moment. I emerged from the bathroom just in time to say a polite goodbye to the yoga consultant. My wife was relaxed and radiant. “Was that you doing all the crashing and banging?” she asked. “Yes,” I said, “That was me. I’ve fixed the bedroom door.” “Oh, well done,” she said, “My big strong man.” Yes, I thought. That’s me. I will confess to having felt under some pressure during that little episode, but even at the time I was alive to the humour of the situation, and distracted myself from the pain in the bladder by trying to put it in the right box. And I got it in the end. The whole thing had been pure Patrick Campbell. THE CATHOLIC HERALD MAY 25, 2007
THE CATHOLIC HERALD
Making political capital out of Pope Benedict’s words
The Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has accused Benedict XVI of denying the “aboriginal holocaust” in the Americas during his recent visit to Brazil. This is a serious accusation for one head of state to level at another. So it is worth asking whether there is any truth in the claim. Speaking to the bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean, the Pope argued that the proclamation of Jesus and his Gospel had fulfilled the spiritual longings of the natives of the New World. This proclamation did not, he said, “at any point involve an alienation of the pre-Columbian cultures, nor was it the imposition of a foreign culture”. Contrary to Mr Chavez’s assertion, Benedict XVI did not deny that European colonisers treated the indigenous American peoples with abysmal cruelty. His point was rather that Christianity didn’t destroy local cultures; it brought them to fruition through the gift of the Holy Spirit. Might Mr Chavez have an ulterior motive for accusing Benedict XVI of denying the sufferings of indigenous people? Consider that a) he considers the Catholic Church to be a major obstacle to his “Bolivarian Revolution”, and that b) he has shored up his shaky legitimacy by casting himself as a defender of indigenous rights. His accusation simultaneously blackens his episcopal enemies and reassures his core supporters. So far, the Pope has not responded to Mr Chavez’s outburst. There is no need for him to. But he may want to reflect on whether there is anything that he can do to prevent his speeches from being aggressively manipulated by his opponents. Again and again during his pontificate (notably at Auschwitz and at Regensburg) the Vatican has had to publicly rebut malign interpretations of his words. Perhaps it is indeed time for media experts to read through his speeches before they are delivered with an eye for what might be ripped out of context and used to attack the papacy. But even with professional modern communications advice, Benedict XVI is likely to face attack from those who would rather make political capital from his words than listen to them with an open mind.
Behind the dark curtain
In Pakistan, as in so many other Muslim countries, tolerance is disappearing under a dark curtain of theocracy. In Pakistan, as in so many other Muslim countries, it is the followers of Christ who suffer most. Earlier this month Christian communities in northern Pakistan were told that they had 10 days to convert, under pain of execution. Thankfully this terrible promise had not been fulfilled as The Catholic Herald went to press. But the Islamist menace has hardly vanished. It is not simply the threat from violent extremists that intimidates Christians in Pakistan. The faithful are tormented in the courts under iniquitous blasphemy laws. Every month we learn of a new, shockingly unjust charge against an innocent believer. The trials are often farcical, with the judicial process constantly undermined by baying local clerics and bloodthirsty Islamist mobs. Even if the judge is able to resist such pressures, the life of the accused is invariably ruined. As the Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS) points out in our report this week, the Pakistani government’s promises of moderation and interfaith progress are heard in the West but not followed by effective political action where it matters. On May 8 an appeal to Pakistan’s parliament to reform the blasphemy laws was rejected as “repugnant”. The situation will not be amended without loud and persistent international pressure. While Britain acknowledges that President Musharraf faces a tremendously difficult task in combating Islamic fanaticism, it must urge him to do more to help oppressed non-Muslims in Pakistan. Our current foreign policy seems to revolve around a selfish fear of Pakistan as a “breeding ground” for terrorists who will blow themselves up in the United Kingdom. Rather, the Government must insist on the importance of religious and intellectual freedom for all. Only in this way can bigotry be defeated. British Catholics complain unceasingly about the rise of secularism, and with good reason. But however much our cultural climate may discriminate against religious believers, we can be profoundly grateful that we do not have to live our faith in Pakistan. At the same time, Muslims who complain about “Islamophobia” in Britain should consider the treatment meted out to religious minorities in many Islamic nations.
By Fr Tim Finigan
The God of the Old Testament seems to be cruel in some cases. How can we accept this?
Christians have always accepted the Old Testament as inspired by the Holy Spirit and revealing to us the one true God. Nevertheless, we are not bound by the dietary laws, for example, nor do we offer burnt offerings in sacrifice. The Second Vatican Council ( Dei Verbum 15) said that the Old Testament contains some things that are incomplete and temporary, speaking of a “divine pedagogy” which was suited to the state of mankind before Christ. God brought the people to a deeper understanding of himself and of the right way to live. In the ancient Near East it was common for parties in dispute over territory or, more importantly, religion and culture, to destroy whole cities of their enemies and all the inhabitants. For the emerging Israelite nation it was crucial to establish a religion and culture that was not contaminated by such practices as human sacrifice or temple prostitution. Under the divine pedagogy God taught the people gradually
that such wholesale slaughter was no longer to be a part of their way of life, limiting vengeance by such prescriptions as “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”. Our Blessed Lord came to fulfil the old law, to establish a new covenant, and to offer the one perfect sacrifice. In the Sermon on the Mount he taught: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Mt 5:38-39). The Christian abhorrence of the slaughter of the innocent is in accord with this fuller revelation of the love of God and the deeper understanding of his commandments. The Fathers of the Church teach us to read the Old Testament passages about violence to our enemies in a spiritual sense, applying them to a determined rejection of sin and evil through prayer, penance and works of charity.
What’s your view? And do you have a dilemma of your own? Write to us at the address on this page or e-mail email@example.com
THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK
“We assert both that God knows all things before they happen and that we do by our free will everything we feel and know would not happen without our volition.’ – St Augustine
Letters to the Editor
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The pros and cons of celebrating the Ascension on a Sunday
A secular imposition?
From Mr James Scott
SIR –Fr Joseph Silver’s letter (May 18) on “inconvenient faith” struck a real chord with me about some of the fundamental reasons for my conversion to Catholicism as a young person. I left the Church of England because I admired the Catholic Church for its obedience to truth, sense of tradition and resistance to conforming to the pressures of modern-day living. Having feast days midweek, regardless of whether I can attend Mass, reminds me that my faith is to be lived 24/7 and not just on a Sunday. Moving feast days to Sundays seems to take away some of that tradition and unique nature I love about the Church. As a 19-year-old Catholic I hope we are not finally giving into the pressures of modern living.
Yours faithfully. JAMES SCOTT Berkhamsted, Herts
From Madeline van Pelt
SIR –Further to Fr Joseph Silver’s letter, I agree that the Church is bending over backwards to encourage Catholics to celebrate feast days by transferring these days to the nearest Sunday. Talk about being “spoonfed”. Do we really need such action to make us celebrate feast days? They should be a joy and not a chore. Who ever heard of Ascension Day not being on a Thursday? Fr Silver is right when he says: “However many Catholics choose to ignore these wonderful feasts they should still be celebrated on their traditional days rather than making another concession to the age.”
Yours faithfully, MADELINE VAN PELT Witley, Surrey
From the Rev Dr Adrian Graffy
SIR –Maybe I can offer Fr Joseph
Silver (Letters, May 18) some further reflections on the Ascension. It was a happy coincidence that on the first occasion of celebrating Ascension on a Sunday in this country the first reading from Acts described the ascension on the 40th day, and the reading from Luke’s Gospel an Easter Sunday ascension. It is not the day but the meaning of the feast which we must not lose, that “he has passed beyond our sight, not to abandon us, but to be our hope”. The mystery of the Ascension, with its message of hope for humanity, needs to be properly celebrated and, amid all the stresses of our secular society, this is better done on a Sunday. The bishops’ decision was motivated by theological, liturgical and pastoral concerns, and the subsequent approval by Rome should have reassured those who felt troubled by it.
Yours faithfully, ADRIAN GRAFFY Brentwood, Essex
From Mr David V Barrett
SIR –I found last week’s Charterhouse Chronicle interesting. I agree that the promotion of Mothers’ Day (and Fathers’ Day etc) by greetings card manufacturers is objectionable. But perhaps Anna Arco is unaware that in Britain the American Mothers’ Day latched on to a traditional Christian commemorative day, Mothering Sunday –not “a secular imposition” at all. Originally, the fourth Sunday in Lent (March 18 this year, not May) was when people returned as a family to their “mother church”, the main church in their area. As servant girls were given the day off to visit their mothers on this day, the emphasis became transferred to mothers rather than the mother church. My late mother always insisted that her children give her Mothering Sunday cards rather than Mothers’ Day cards. With the increasing Americanisation of the day it became more difficult to find these each year.
The truth of Islam The Church had good reason to back Franco
Yours faithfully, DAVID V BARRETT London E13
From Fr Gerald Freely
SIR –In your review of Islam: Past, Present, and Future (Books, May 18) the author concludes that “the Prophet Mohammed must be regarded by Christians as a true messenger from God. The Koran is in principle God’s word.” This is seemingly misleading. We believe that Christ was God, and that his revelation on Earth ended with the Holy Spirit confirming his Apostles, which we commemorate with the renewable Feast of Pentecost. The age of prophets ended 700 years before the advent of Mohammed. Therefore, in so far as Islamic teaching coincides with that of Jesus and His Church, it is good. When it differs from that teaching it is misleading. In these days of multi-beliefs it is important for the Church to teach, and each Christian to understand, clearly and simply, that salvation is achieved through Jesus Christ Our Lord. We have all we need to achieve our eternal end. Anything else is at best probably a distraction.
Yours faithfully, GERALD FREELY Harrow on the Hill, Middx
From Mrs Susan Carson-Rowland
SIR –I agree with Mary Kenny’s criticism (May 18) of the ineptitude of some modern biblical translations. To her prime example of a limp rendering –“Jesus burst into tears” –I’d like to add the wishy-washy “I feel sorry for all these people”, which replaced “I have compassion on the multitude”. Also, I cringe on Good Friday during the Passion when we hear that St John took Mary “to his own home”, as if which house Mary lived in is the point here, rather than that St John “took her to his own”, as his own, from that moment regarding Mary as his mother, from which fact we learn of her motherhood of all mankind.
Yours faithfully, SUSAN CARSON-ROWLAND Forres, Morayshire
From Mr Guy Stair Sainty
SIR –Rachel Everett Guasch (Letters, May 4) wrongly holds the Church in Catalonia responsible for the Franco dictatorship – it had sought protection from the Nationalists because the Leftwing governments of the Republic and Generalitat were bent on its destruction. In the preceding two and a half decades Russia had tried to eradicate Christianity, France had forcibly suppressed the religious orders and Portugal had energetically persecuted Catholics following the 1910 revolution. It is not surprising that when fanatical anti-clericalists abused the rule of law the Church should align itself with those who allowed Catholics to practise their religion and educate their children in their faith. Franco’s government honoured the Concordat’s terms and the Church, in return, had little choice but to obey the law prohibiting the use of the Catalan language. The suppression of Catalonian identity has its roots in much earlier conflicts. Until 1700 the Spanish Empire was both federal and global, but faced an ongoing assault from France and Great Britain, both ready to grab as much as they could of its Continental and American possessions. A state formed of autonomous regions could not effectively stand on its own so Philip V determined to unite his new country under a centralised administration. Catalonia had sided with Philip’s rival, the Archduke Charles, during the Succession War and the abolition of self-government there in 1713 was seen
as a necessary step in forging a unified state. From the 1830s the Spanish Church was under constant assault from liberal reformers, so the staunchly Catholic Carlists allied themselves with conservative Catalonia, reigniting aspirations for autonomy. Two civil wars followed, after which the central government determined to suppress separatism in both Catalonia and the Basque provinces. Until the rise of the Left-wing dominated workers’ unions at the end of the 19th century Catalonia was devoutly Catholic and traditionalist. When the Monarchy fell in 1931 the Left saw its chance – by uniting the cause of autonomy with Catalan socialism and, with the enthusiastic support of anarcho-syndicalists, anti-clericalism flourished. The Church was brutally persecuted and the republican government showed little regard for equality before the law for priests or religious. Catholic schools were closed and it was made illegal to have a child baptised, while many on the Left either participated in the persecution or stood aside and did nothing. Is it surprising that the Church endorsed Franco? Those separatists who want to break up Spain may be no longer explicitly anti-clerical but it serves their purpose to blame the Church for past injustices and to propagate a version of history which justifies the crimes committed against ordinary Catholics by their predecessors in the 1930s.
Yours faithfully, GUY STAIR SAINTY Le Vésinet, France
The Carmelite connections of Malta’s saint
From Miss Amanda C Dickie
SIR –Blessed George Preca (Feature May 18), who will be canonised on June 4, was a Third Order Carmelite. As a secular priest he joined the Carmelite Third Order in 1918 and made his profession the following year. He was greatly influenced by Carmelite spirituality and frequently referred to himself as a Carmelite in his writings, often using the Carmelite name of Franco, which he took at Profession (after Blessed Franco of Sienna).
In 1952 he was officially affiliated to the Carmelite Order in recognition of his efforts to spread devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel. He always wore the scapular, as indeed did Pope John Paul II who beatified him on May 9, 2001. The late Pontiff’s inclusion of the luminous mysteries in the rosary were inspired by a similar meditation on the rosary by Blessed George Preca.
Yours faithfully, AMANDA C DICKIE By e-mail
From Francis Beswick
SIR – Discussions of Scottish independence (Letters, May 18) overlook the key Christian principle that the human race is one community under God. It ought not be divided into exclusive nations or tribes. This universal community should be governed at various levels corresponding to cultural and geographical boundaries. Thus there should be a European level of government, a British level and a Scottish level, according the principle of subsidiarity. In the light of these principles I would consider that an English parliament would be right and proper for the one nation in Britain to be deprived of its own national assembly.
Yours faithfully, FRANCIS BESWICK Stretford, Manchester
Feeling under siege
From Amanda Hewett
SIR –Legislation, legislation, legislation. And now a Government whose leitmotif seems to be largely one of banning, and being seen to ban, is making noises about new restrictions on family freedoms –this time on giving alcohol to children under 15. I wonder where this leaves Catholics preparing children for the sacrament of First Holy Communion. As a parish catechist working with Year 3 children, as well as a parent of a primary school-age child, could I be facing prosecution if the latest social policy goes ahead? As I work in adoption and fostering, and am still smarting from recent decision-making on the rights of gay couples, I am feeling just a little under siege.
Yours faithfully, AMANDA HEWETT Berkhamsted, Herts
Letters should include a genuine postal or e-mail address, phone number and the style or title of the writer. Letters over 300 words are likely to be cut
Clothed (hurriedly) in Christ
Every so often in the life of a parish priest you have the feeling that you are living in a stage farce. It is fairly normal for people to pop up unexpectedly in the living room to count the collection or materialise in the office to use the photocopier when you are singing with abandon, thinking you are alone in the house. This week we are having the outside of the church painted. This is, believe me, infinitely less stressful than having the inside of the church painted. But still, it has its moments. To do it, the painters need access to the back garden of the presbytery, not unreasonably, since it is behind the church. They have taken to letting themselves into the garden at all hours of the day and night and in doing so, I fear, have set a worrying precedent for the local thuggery. I
am now besieged throughout the day by them popping through the back door asking whether I have the key to the boilerhouse or the shed, whether I want the grilles put back on the clerestory windows and whether they could boil a kettle in the sacristy for their tea. Don’t mistake me, they are very pleasant and somehow old- fashioned in that they wear proper painters’ overalls and call me “Father” and not “Mate”, and are clearly professional painters, rather than unskilled people who are just slapping a bit of gloss around. There is substantial evidence of a good day’s work even on those days when the rain must have made it difficult. But there is something faintly farcical about finding them on the roof above you as you emerge from the sacristy, or today standing vesting at the press and finding a head popping in at the window facing to paint the frame. I vest and he paints – and we both pretend in an embarrassed way that we are oblivious to one another’s presence two feet away. Vesting is one of those things which can become slapdash with habit. I started out always saying the vesting prayers.
There are increasingly times now when I seem to be rushing in to say Mass late from a sick call, or some other pressing need, and vesting is done at the same time as reminding the servers of their tasks. I was profoundly moved and inspired by the Holy Father’s homily for the Chrism Mass this year. Surrounded by the priests of his own diocese, he gave a characteristically beautiful meditation on what the vestments say about priesthood, and contrived to draw out the meaning of the old vesting prayers. He pointed out how Scripture uses the images of clothing to speak of the many different “layers” of our conversion and
calling. St Paul speaks of baptism as “putting on Christ”, and the Holy Father expanded this idea. Christian vocation is always putting on Christ – being clothed in the love of the crucified. In baptism we are clothed with a white garment as a sign of our calling, and the need to be clothed in Christ acquires a new insistence on priestly ordination. The reality of the new clothes with which the priest is vested as part of the ordination rite make “visible and comprehensible the interior event by which the priest is to put on Christ and to give himself to Christ as he gives himself to us”. It is the opposite of merely dressing for a role. The Pope went through the vestments as the priest puts them on one by one and reflected on each in turn. Of the amice, which evolved out of the monastic hood, he said it symbolised the “discipline of the senses and thought” required to celebrate Mass, “so that my thoughts may receive their orientation from the words of proclamation and prayer”. The alb and stole reminded him of the festive robes which the father gave to the prodigal son who had come
home dirty and in rags. It is Christ alone who can give us such robes and make us worthy to minister at the altar and serve him. The alb reminded him of the crowd of the elect in Revelation, of the “garment of light “which the Lord gave us in baptism”, and also it should remind the priest of the wedding garment spoken of in the parable of the great feast. Referring to a homily of Gregory the Great he spoke of the true wedding garment as the “clothes of love” and said that as we prepare for Mass we “ask ourselves whether we are wearing these clothes of love”, and we ask the Lord “to remove from us every feeling of self-sufficiency”. The prayer that accompanies putting on the chasuble says it represents the yoke of the Lord, which he promised is “easy”. With characteristic humility and humanity the Pope said: “At times we would like to say to Jesus: ‘Lord your yoke is far from light. Indeed, it is tremendously heavy in this world.’ But then looking at the One who bore everything these complaints of our fade. His yoke is that of loving with him.”