Sunday, 29 March 2015

Pope Francis declaring Mary Aikenhead 'Venerable' is fantastic news for Ireland

You might like to pop over to The Catholic Herald, where I wrote a post on Mary Aikenenhead. A fellow  Cork woman who was born just off St Patrick's Street in the heart of the city (there is, of course, no lovelier city than Cork).

Films such as Philomena and The Magdalene Sisters were not based on the likes of Mary Aikenhead.  

Raised as a Protestant, Mary Aikenhead converted to Catholicism after hearing a sermon at Mass about the poor man Lazarus and the rich man. Lazarus went to Heaven, the rich man went to Hell.  It is possible that Mary Aikenhead feared that she would meet the same end as the rich man, and this prompted her to begin a life of dynamic service to the poor. 

200 years ago in 1815 Venerable Mary Aikenhead founded the Sisters of Charity, and sisters in this congregation were the first to visit the prisoners in Kilmainham jail.  Perhaps Aikenhead's most notable achievement was founding St Vincent's Hospital in 1834. 

Úna O'Neill sums up Aikenhead well when she says, 'born to privilege, she left it behind to walk with the Lazaruses of the world'. 

Saturday, 28 March 2015

St Teresa of Avila was a charming, droll and tough-minded reformer

500 years ago today St Teresa of Avila was born.  Over at The Catholic Herald,  I have written a post commemorating that half a millennium has passed since her birth.  

This marks the sixth online article that I've written for the Herald in this month of March 2015.  To see a fuller list of some of my work, visit my author archive

This is my favourite quote from St Teresa of Avila. 

Pope Francis has launched a global prayer for peace in the wake of the 500th anniversary since St Teresa of Avila's birth.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Dog of the week

The Wolfdog has been bred
to be a domesticated wolf 
As I wrote before, West London is a dog-lover's paradise.  This week, when strolling down Gloucester Road, I met a Czechoslovakian wolfdog puppy

I'd always dreamed of meeting one. They are a hybrid of German Shepherd and Carpathian Wolf, the original hope was that they would have the physical strength and stamina of a wolf and the obedience of the German Shepherd. 

In 1955, the Czechoslovakian government bred them to be military attack dogs. I had thought a wolfdog would have a sharp-toothed ferocity. So, never in my wildest imaginings, did I think I could rub and play with one. 

I got a lovely surprise when I cuddled this chap.  He can only speak Czech, but like all dogs, he understood a gentle tone. True to wolfdog form, he cannot bark, but has a low whistling whimper that sounds like a human doing a throaty, 'hmmmmm'. 

His owner told me that the wolfdog has a very tricky and long adolescence. When puppyhood ends and youth begins, they become rebellious, testing their owner and being deliberately naughty, so as to find out what they can get away with.  Perhaps, the characteristic that defines them the most, is their zero-tolerance for isolation. Unlike a German Shepherd, they cannot abide being sequestered in a dog kennel for any length of time. It is unnatural for them to be alone, owing to the pack instinct they inherited from their wolf ancestors that would have roamed together in the wild.  For this reason, I wouldn't own one as a pet, it would be too much of a time-commitment to fulfil their emotional needs and recreate a pack-like environment for them. 

Other people have great sights of the world that they'd like to see, or celebs that they want to be photographed with.  I'm happy to seek out the esoteric breeds of dogs that are marvels of nature. 

One good thing is that I'm becoming less of a dinner-time bore who drones on about my love for dogs. I went out for a lovely meal in Paddington where me and some friends shared plates of the best seafood, and I resisted the temptation to wax lyrical about the Czech wolf dog...

The Czech that bounces...

John Paul had a prophetic message on the role of post-abortion women in the pro-life movement

I was in primary school when Evangelium Vitae was promulgated twenty years ago today. Over the years, it has become my all-time favourite papal encyclical. As a pro-life manifesto, it informs, edifies and encourages. Quite an achievement because a lot of pro-life texts that reveal the nastiness of abortion should have a warning label that they’ll make the reader feel dispirited.

Not all tonics come in bottles, and if you are feeling worn out from fighting the pro-life cause, there is no better pick-me-up than reading Evangelium Vitae.

One reason that it is so uplifting is that Evangelium Vitae put forward great ideas that have been adopted by pro-lifers to tremendous success. One of the best was that St John Paul II tapped post-abortion women as having an influential role. Two decades ago, St John Paul II said to them, ‘as a result of your own painful experience, you can be among the most eloquent defenders of everyone's right to life.’ This has turned out to be prophetic.

We have seen this in recent years with the growth of such noble organisations as Silent No More, Rachel’s Vineyard and the platforms afforded to post-abortion women by parishes and pro-life societies. The advent of the internet has allowed post-abortion women to blog, tweet and put up Facebook statuses that can change the minds of other women who may be thinking of abortion.

It is often quite a heroic sacrifice for post-abortion women to talk about their past, often times they do not paint themselves in a good light. Some of the women have suffered more than others; those who took to substance abuse or those who were never able to conceive another baby. They are being selfless in that they do not want another woman to endure the pain of an abortion and so they speak out, honouring their consciences even at great personal cost.

Very articulate women have come forward, such as Martin Luther King’s niece, Alveda King, who has remarkable calm and credibility. Steven Tyler’s ex-fiancée, Julia Holcomb, tells a harrowing story about how she came to abort Tyler’s baby that would melt the hardest of hearts.

Some years ago, when I was doing pro-life work in New York, I worked alongside an African American lady who had undergone an abortion in her younger years. She was extraordinary in convincing young black women not to have abortions, sharing her own testimony with them and shattering the myths that they would be ‘empowered’ by abortion. First-hand, I saw that she saved dozens of babies.

Women who bitterly regret having had an abortion, and who honestly and with great humility admit their mistake, are a thorn in the side of the pro-abortion lobby.  It is easier to attack an argument, a moral precept or a slogan than a subjective personal experience. Yet, they are often insulted as hypocrites, on the basis that they had an abortion, but speak out against it.

It’s is the pro-abortion campaigners that are the hypocrites, they say they champion women’s rights, but they censor a post-abortion woman’s right to free speech. It is precisely because, as St John Paul II said, these women can be ‘eloquent defenders’ of the right to life that they rattle the pro-abortion providers who took the right to life from their unborn children.  

I wrote this post for The Catholic Herald on the 20th Anniversary of the promulgation of Evangelium Vitae

Monday, 23 March 2015

Pope Francis should pay a visit to Ireland

If Pope Francis were to visit to Ireland, it would not be his first time there.  In 1980, when the Pope was in his 40s, he spent two months in Ireland learning English.

According to comments made by the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Charles Brown, Pope Francis has a love for Ireland. The nuncio also said that a brief trip in 2016 is ‘possible’.  

I fear that if planning a papal visit is not prioritised now, it may never happen. Pope Francis has a foreboding that his pontificate will only last four or five years.  Pope Francis is not a travelling pope, being very certain that he is the Bishop of Rome. But owing to his unassuming personality and his popularity, he has a golden opportunity to change hearts and minds during a visit to Ireland.  

Pope Francis has an unpretentious manner and the Irish, who despise airs and graces, would take very well to him.

There has already been a sea-change in Irish attitudes to the papacy.  Today is St Patrick’s day, and it was revealed in The Irish Times that poet, Paul Durcan has written a poem in honour of Pope Francis in his new book of poems, entitled The Days of Surprise.  In the times of Benedict’s papacy, had a poet paid tribute to Benedict with a poem, he would have been excoriated in the press.

If Francis visits Ireland, then it can’t just be a charming social occasion. Pope Francis could do as Pope Benedict did, and meet privately with some abuse victims.

Relying on his popularity to lend greater influence, it would be a daring move if Pope Francis were to invite the Irish nation to forgive the clergy and nuns who brought the name of Ireland into disrepute by their actions.  As the Vicar of Christ, Pope Francis could recite the Gospel passage where Jesus urges us ‘to forgive seventy times seven’. 

I wrote this post for The Catholic HeraldTo see a fuller catalogue of my work for the Herald, check out my author archive

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Why I'm renewing my devotion to St Joseph

St Joseph and the Christ Child by Guido Reni

Over at The Catholic Herald, I have a piece on why St Joseph is so powerful a saint.  St Teresa of Avila had a neat explanation; it is that Our Lord Jesus Christ had to obey St Joseph when He was a Child, and so in Heaven, Our Lord still does as St Joseph asks. 

Underneath is the novena that ends on March 19th.  This prayer is not exclusively a novena prayer and may be said at any time or any day for any intention.  If you need an urgent favour from St Joseph, and you don't have nine days, you can say the prayer once. 

Novena to St. Joseph
Oh St. Joseph whose protection is so great, so strong, so prompt before the Throne of God, I place in you all my interests and desires. Oh St. Joseph do assist me by your powerful intercession and obtain for me from your Divine Son all spiritual blessings through Jesus Christ, Our Lord; so that having engaged here below your Heavenly power I may offer my Thanksgiving and Homage to the Loving of Fathers. Oh St. Joseph, I never weary contemplating you and Jesus asleep in your arms. I dare not approach while He reposes near your heart. Press Him in my name and kiss His fine Head for me, and ask Him to return the kiss when I draw my dying breath. St. Joseph, Patron of departing souls, pray for us. Amen Say for nine consecutive mornings for anything you may desire. It has seldom been known to fail.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Should we pray for ISIS? Taking Jesus at His word, only prayer and fasting will drive out some demons

It really is the stuff of Hellish nightmares.  While 19 of the Assyrian Christians kidnapped by ISIS in north-eastern Syria have been released, around 200 are still being held hostage. 

Over at The Catholic Herald, I have a post on the need to pray and fast for ISIS terrorists...

ISIS supporters in Libya

Sunday, 22 February 2015

The rewards of a little self-denial in Lent are extraordinary

A Stanford academic, Walter Mischel devised the ground-breaking 'marshmallow test’.  It was a very simple test. They put a young child alone in a room with a marshmallow. The child was given a choice; they could eat the marshmallow straight-away, or wait 15 minutes and be given a second marshmallow in reward for waiting. They were filmed and those kids who succeeded in waiting were given a second marshmallow.

In the decades that followed, they kept tabs on the kids.  In 2013, Walter Mischel was interviewed by Charlie Rose on his findings, notably that the kids who resisted eating the marshmallow got better marks in school, were less likely to take drugs and predictably were less likely to be obese.

Now that we are entering the season of Lent, many of us are a little bit like the kids in the experiment, willing ourselves to ‘give up’ something sweet and pleasurable for a set time.

If we’re giving up chocolate, paying for our groceries in shops that place keyboard sized bars of Cadbury’s around the tills will be a time when self-discipline is required.  Those of us who give up gin and tonics may have to go to functions and parties where the smell of juniper is heavy in the air, but doing our Lenten penance will mean saying no to the offer of a drink.

We won’t be video-taped and a team of psychologists will not be pouring over our responses.  And we’re not doing Lenten penances as some academic experiment to measure our self-mastery. Rather the Christian is doing Lenten penances with the view to being rewarded with grace and growing in holiness.

At the same time that we are trying to grow in holiness, there could also be added psychological benefits to undergoing Lenten penance. Another Stanford psychology academic Kelly McGonigal spoke on the finding that willpower is like a muscle, it gets stronger the more you use it (see seven minutes into the lecture). 

By giving up sugary snacks, beer and wine, we could very well improve our strength of will and feel good about ourselves for having stayed the course.  

I wrote this post for The Catholic Herald.  You may see a fuller list of my work by perusing my author archive

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Don’t denounce the people who go to see Fifty Shades of Grey – just tell them about this book

The film is a deceitful fantasy. 
A book about a girl's murder tells the real story
Many years ago, a Traddie friend of mine was round at my place when they let out a squeak of shock, “Mary, what is this book?!”  It was Judith Rossner’s Looking for Mr Goodbar.  It had a book-cover of a dead girl in a bed. After all, it is a novel based on the real-life murder of Roseanne Quinn, a school-teacher who was a lonely singleton in New York City.

In 1973 Roseanne was a 28 year-old Catholic girl who haunted single bars to pick up men for one-night-stands. It is said that Roseanne became addicted to the ‘high’ that she got from having increasingly abusive sex with violent men.

‘Why are you reading it?’ asked my friend.  They began to understand when I explained that it was an honest portrayal of an insecure woman who sought out sadomasochistic sex, until she was slain. Putting it into today’s disgusting language, she wanted to be ‘sexually dominated’.

Looking for Mr Goodbar has themes in common with Fifty Shades of Grey. Yet while I recommendLooking for Mr Goodbar, I avoid the filthy flick Fifty Shades of Grey.  Here’s the difference: Rossner’s novel serves as a truthful story (and cautionary tale) as to what ensues when self-doubting women look to cruel, vicious men to validate their sense of self-worth. Ahem, Fifty Shades of Grey is a deceitful, glamorised fantasy. The nasty truth is that it will pack cinemas because an audience can ‘get off’ on the scenes of a young woman being gladly and gratefully sexually abused.

Even if I wanted to see Fifty Shades of Grey, I’d have to refuse because I hold that watching it is a sin. It entails looking at impure images which inevitably give rise to impure thoughts.  That said, while I slam the film, it doesn’t mean that I’m entitled to denounce people who will watch it. Looking down our noses and treating them as if we are better than they are – will alienate them from us. We need to have more compassion than reviling them as consumers of filth.

For one thing the film is released on St Valentine’s Day (poor St Valentine – his feast day is being used as a sordid marketing tool). This means that a lot of young women will be forced to decide between going on a date to see Fifty Shades or sitting home alone. 

If you have a friend who is an avid fan of Fifty Shades of Grey, consider ordering them a copy of Looking for Mr Goodbar. It’s the work of a brilliant Jewish novelist, a page-turner and will de-glamorise abusive sexual relationships.  

I wrote this post for The Catholic Herald, do visit the magazine for breaking news and lively debate and discussion. 

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

2014: my year in review

Tom Leopold, Yours Truly, Gussie Leopold, Barbara Leopold
I will always remember 2014 as, 'the year of Tom Leopold's biography'.  The idea for a book grew from the positive response to my interview with Tom Leopold. The 1,800 word piece on Tom’s conversion story is the most popular piece of journalism that I have ever done. 

I knew that we’d done something right when Stuart Reid, former deputy editor of The Spectator, wrote to me and called the interview, ‘your fine piece’.  

Tom and I set about planning a book on his conversion-to-Catholicism story, and began approaching publishers.  During the summer, we were offered two different book deals, which didn't work out. Then, third time lucky, we found an interested publisher. 

I hold dear to the fact that a great friend’s prayers were the reason for this good success...

Goodbye, great friend…

In August, my best friend and I took a trip to Wales and saw Richard Collins for the last time.  It was one of my happiest memories of 2014, eating cheese and a fine red wine with Richard and his family. 

Then on the 11th of October, we lost a great friend, the prayer warrior, Richard Collins. It’s still hard: in the past month my brain has been planning e-mails to Richard with shopping lists of prayer requests. He was one of the most generous people that you could ever meet. 

When God brings takes one light, he gives another. I have become good friends with John Carmichael, a lawyer extraordinaire, in fact it would be hard to find a brighter legal eagle. 

TV production and TV appearances…

Filming the first episode of Extraordinary Faith in California
I had a hand in producing the first few episodes of a new show on the Tridentine Mass, Extraordinary Faith. The scripts that I co-wrote were broadcast on EWTN in April and July.

Following a piece I wrote, my giddy self was invited onto Canadian TV to spout the opinion on Pope Francis, ‘the liberal media are in love with a Pope of their own creation.’

I still think that many liberals have concocted a Pope of their own making: when they opine that he will allow gay marriage and ordain women priests. While ahem, the interview that Pope Francis did with La Nación may mean that me and many orthodox-minded people have been slightly in love with a Pope of our own creation. 

The first full 12 month pontificate of +Francis was 2014. The year saw a role reversal of epic proportions: in the reign of +Benedict, it was Catholic bloggers who loved him, and the mainstream media who loathed him. In the time of +Francis, it is the Catholic bloggers who are reluctant to love, and the secular media who are very eager. 

In November it was an amazing experience to put on my TV producer’s hat, and advise on getting a comedy script onto US television. 

TV celebrity Paul Shaffer kindly put in a good word for me with David Letterman, so that 'Dave' may be induced to give me an interview for The Spectator. No joy yet, but I live in hope.

My greatest passion: interviewing people

I was granted an interview with Nigel Farage in late May.  After UKIP had victories in the European elections, leaving the Conservatives in third place for the first time in a nationwide pole. 

On a frosty day in November, I spent some time with Cardinal Dolan in New York. +Dolan ate three juicy hamburgers from the buffet. He was familiar with my interview with other princes of the Church.  +Dolan has agreed to do an interview with me, but we have not set a date. 

Winter 2014   Mary O'Regan,  Cardinal Dolan,  Regis Philbin

New York, New York

In November, I made a trip to New York, and spent time with Tom Leopold and his family.  Staying with the Leopolds, I had that strange feeling in the same manner as, ‘have I been slipped hallucinogenic magic mushrooms?’ It felt surreal and dream-like to travel in the Leopold’s car that has a Rosary hanging from the mirror, and a gold cross that glimmers when the New York winter sun shines on it. In their Manhattan apartment, Tom has a life-sized Rosary with wooden beads as big as cups. 

You see, I had been praying the Rosary for Tom for years before his conversion.  I never thought that he would become Catholic, never thought that I would meet him and NEVER in my wildest dreams did I imagine that he and I would be writing a book together!  

On the subject of the Rosary, I can say that I’ve offered the Rosary every day for the past 365 days.  Phew, made it!  Let’s hope that my feeble efforts at prayer will mean that I can say of 2015 that I said the Rosary every day. 

I introduced Tom and his beautiful wife, Barbara to the world of Padre Pio.  2014 marked the 50th anniversary that Pope Paul VI lifted the restrictions on Padre Pio. 

While in beautiful America, we passed many a serene day in Connecticut, where the sun was incredibly strong, warming the brown forest floors that would break like bread-crust underfoot. 

 A few more New York photos...

Here we are meeting the stars of the reality TV show, The Sisterhood...

A literary love affair…

My novel, Love for Beginners has given people laughs and given sensitive souls a few shocks. It continues to enjoy a lot of attention from Russian readers. It brings in a small income. I’ve been given cause to be delighted that I turned down one publisher who didn’t have enough funds for a print-run, and who asked if we could publish it online and split the proceeds.  Having published the novel the way that I did, I don’t have to share the profits. 

All you need is LOVE… 

Faithful readers may remember a post that I wrote complaining about the time a young lad rejected me on account of my pious witterings. Never fear, things turned around. During the feverishly hot London summer, I dated a fabulous guy, who had that rare combination of being extremely wealthy and generous. I have two spiritual directors; a priest and an archbishop. On my first date with Mr Marvelous, my archbishop-spiritual-director was texting me to find out how things were going.  In due course, I told His Excellency that wedding bells would not ring. 

Still a singleton, walking in my natural habitat of West London
 New Year’s Resolution

OK, I confess, I LOVE being introduced to young, hot actors at parties. It strokes my 30 year-old ego to have a celebrity think I’m younger and worthy of selfies (amusingly sad, I agree).   It’s the ‘young’ part that’s troubling. I have decided to give a wide birth, I mean, berth to the younger of the young uns. 

I re-read my life’s script, and decided there is only a walk-on role for a much, much younger actor. So, I will avoid robbing the actors’ nursery of their most baby-faced.
Proof of my commitment:  I was really very taken with Ansel Elgort, after watching The Fault In Our Stars four times. (You don’t want to know how many times I’ve read the novel). A friend of mine in NYC offered to introduce me to him, and I said no, on the basis that he’s 20.  If on the very slim chance that he liked me back, I doubt he’d be ready to marry me for some time.  *SIGH*

St Anthony found me a bed…

I’ve written about St Anthony finding me soap. Now, he’s onto bigger and better things! In my flat, I had an ordinary, decent mattress. But I wanted something that would be found in the presidential suite of a five star hotel.  I asked St Anthony to find me such a mattress.  My landlord was moving away from the UK, and volunteered to give me their ‘old’ mattress that is so luxurious it would trump the ones found in a palace. 

Take note, Papal Nuncio, + Menini, if Pope Francis ever visits England, I’ll let you borrow my mattress for the Nunciature’s papal bedroom. Papa Francisco, que duermas y descanses bien…

I’d like to finish this reflection and look forward to the future.  I wish all my readers and friends a HAPPY NEW YEAR! I hope you enjoy a new year that is one of the best you will spend on this earth.  

Let’s remember St Thomas More’s letter to his daughter, Meg where he wrote:
Pray for me, as I will for thee, that we may merrily meet in heaven.

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Merry Christmas, everyone!

I'd like to wish all my readers and friends a very happy Christmas.

Aside from Christmas day, the only time that I genuinely appreciate ‘the Christmas spirit’ is when I offer the Rosary. I imagine myself as a fly on the wall of the stable. Slowly, I am surrounded by the joy of seeing Our Lord as an adorable newborn. 

Summer 2013, on the sun seared sands of Miami beach, I felt like I was celebrating Christmas when willing myself to feel Our Lady’s joy on becoming a mother. In deepest January, when the sky is a dirty black velvet and the ice and snow freeze me, I think about the Baby put into Our Lady's arms, and the warmth of their bond and their closeness, Mother and Son warming each other. The heavenly beams of light shining from them. The Son of God cradled in Our Lady’s arms and being suckled by the best woman that ever lived... When I pray at St Anthony's statue, there is a similar connection, in that the Capuchin shared one of Our Lady's privileges in holding the Christ Child.

Thankfully, I've been enjoying a sublime Christmas 2014 here in Kensington.

I raise a glass to you; all the lovely souls that light my path

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Evelyn Waugh’s novel Black Mischief is Humanae Vitae as a novel

This week marks the end of an era: The Catholic Herald is morphing from a weekly broadsheet newspaper into a magazine. From now on, the website will have the news stories, and the magazine will specialise in colourful features and be more of an erudite digest.  

The content from the magazine will be available online - from behind a pay wall. So, I may not have permission to post on my blog the stuff that I will (hopefully) get published in the new magazine.

I've been writing for the paper for over six years.

Here is the first full-length article that I got published in the print edition of the newspaper in autumn 2008. When Ed West commissioned the piece, it was the 40th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, and also Evelyn Waugh's name was in the air because there was the disappointing film version of Brideshead Revisited in cinemas. 

Bear in mind that I was much younger, not long out of university and I think that I strung my points together in a cluttered way. I think my thesis still resonates: that Waugh's work Black Mischief is a literary portrayal of Paul VI's lesser known teachings....


Of all the 20th century Catholic novelists, Evelyn Waugh is among the best and Brideshead Revisited is generally considered his best work. Waugh himself described Brideshead Revisited as ‘my magnum opus’. The novel is a quintessential literary parable of lives spent in vain glories, languishing in human weakness, until redemption is sought in Christ.

Brideshead Revisited is all the more powerful because it charts the very real lives of sinners. It doesn’t shy from detailing the vicissitudes of the Flyte parents’ marriage break-up; Sebastian’s extravagant alcoholism; or the adulterous affair between Julia Flyte and Charles Ryder. Also a historically important work, it is frequently lauded as an apt portrayal of ‘that
generation’ between the two great wars: the generation that were too young to fight in the First World War and too old for the second.

Support from Catholics for Brideshead Revisited is unanimous; all the
important characters convert in the end and there are plentiful references
to Scripture. Few fans of Brideshead, however, are as fond of Black

Black Mischief: Waugh's first novel as a Roman Catholic and initially
regarded by the then editor of The Tablet as ‘a disgrace’. The reception it
receives now is like that in 1932; pious Catholics are either scornful or

Mostly Catholics are uncertain. Is Black Mischief, to use the honoured word among the scrupulous, ‘scandalous’?  With the crude sexual and
exploitative motives of the characters and their language it does challenge our politically correct and feminist sensibilities. Yet, does it fall squarely into the category of vulgar books? 

In my judgment the poor understanding of Black Mischief is not fair or of benefit to Catholics. It is my contention that Black Mischief, like Humanae Vitae has never been given its due recognition. Remarkably, like Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical, Waugh’s work Black Mischief was strangely prophetic. But what compelling similarity is there to be made between novel and encyclical? 

It is this: when Waugh fictionalised an account of a country’s indefatigable drives to force contraception on the nation’s people, it is a drama of Pope Paul VI’s most unheeded warning; that governments would use contraception for coercive purposes.

It can be easy to laugh one’s way through the novel and miss Waugh’s dire
warning.  Black Mischief is hilariously funny and unashamedly irreverent.
The plot revolves around the misdemeanours of Emperor Seth of the country
Azania. In case anyone has run to check the atlas, Azania is a fictional
East African country. Emperor Seth has a monomania about everything he
perceives as 'modern', particularly birth control.

With the help of the British Basil Seal, Seth re-orders Azanian society; hoping to dismantle tribal life by seducing the masses into contracepting. Seth renames the site of the Anglican cathedral 'Marie Stope’s Place', displays a ludicrous birth
control poster everywhere, and organizes a 'Birth Control Pageant'.

It is all the more pertinent that the leader Seth is Azanian; it is he who
is obsessed with foisting contraception on his own people.  Why, may you
ponder, did Waugh, a Catholic convert who accepted the Church's teachings
without protest, go to the trouble of inventing a society obsessed with
birth control endorsement and with no obvious arguments against birth

But no, Waugh lets the ensuing irony do the teaching. The
landmark ‘Marie Stope’s Place’ is as meaningless to the indigenous
illiterate population as every other government led contraception drive.

The poster advertising contraceptive devices contrasts two families; a
one-child family with material comfort, and the other a scene of poverty
with many children and a tired wife working in the field while her husband
relaxes. WHICH HOME DO YOU CHOOSE? is the caption.  Stock contraception
propaganda, not unlike what Planned Parenthood use today in Nigeria.  But
the Azanians construe that the one-child family is most unfortunate, because
the parents could not possibly be fertile!

Most comical of all, is that the Azanian populace misconstrue the birth
control pageant to be a fertility festival and behave in the opposite way to
how the pageant organisers had expected; they celebrate their fertility as
the mere concept of curtailing fertility is unknown. The emperor issues lots
of contraceptive devices — 'jujus' as the people call them — and the native
Africans perceive them as something, which will increase their fertility.

The idea of posters, devices and even festivals that would promote embracing
the means to limit your family's number, is anathema to the Africans. Should
Black Mischief be required reading for all aid workers who pawn off first
world state-funded contraceptive devices on native Africans?

The novel takes a more sinister tone when leader Seth dabbles in primitive
IVF. One day Seth announces, “I have read here,” he said, tapping a volume
of speculative biology, that there is to be no more birth. The ovum is
fertilised in the laboratory and the foetus is matured in bottles. It is a
splendid idea. Get me some of those bottles.”  Such is Seth’s very real
disrespect for his native people that he will force them to acquiesce.

Thankfully, the government in Azania collapses in a shambles. Seth is
murdered, before he can coerce his people into following the dictates of his
own type of HFE Bill. Reading this, as if it were true, the augury of
Humanae Vitae becomes real: that governments may use contraception for
‘coercive’ purposes.  The dire fact is that tenets of Black Mischief have
become reality for us, as have the consequences of widespread contraception,
spelled out in Humanae Vitae.  The irony remains; Humanae Vitae was
dismissed as being ‘out of touch’ whilst Black Mischief was ‘just a laugh’.

Few have dug deep enough to see the parodies of Black Mischief are often
clever didactics in Catholic teaching.  

Religious dogma becomes seamlessly thematic to the story, so much so, that one could assert that Waugh was trying to skillfully hide his intentions of simultaneously
teaching dogma and writing good satirical fiction. Seen in its proper light,
the novel is a subtle mockery of artificial contraception and its advocates.
Waugh died before Paul VI issued Humanae Vitae, but Waugh’s narrative teaches the quintessential truths Paul VI wished to convey.