Friday, 18 April 2014

The Path Less Taken goes black...

As it's Good Friday and the most solemn day of the year, I have changed the design on my blog to a vaguely charcoal black, as a mark of respect when we contemplate Our Lord's Sorrowful Passion. Here is a famous painting of the Crucifixion by Nicolas Tournier.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

British Blogger Eccles may become a superstar in Canada

Eccles might be showcased on TV soon.  It all started when I was being interviewed on Pope Francis by CBC. The news team wanted to film me at my computer and when I said that I got a comment from Eccles on this post, they asked if they could film the screen. 

It may mean a spike in Eccles’ blog stats. But what if some good folk in Canada get it into their heads that they want to come to Britain and pinch Eccles? I fear that they will poach our sensational satirist. 



As anyone can plainly see, Eccles’s good looks and evident charisma mean that he could 
be a television celeb in his own right. Eccles has been hailed on Twitter as Britain’s best-looking blogger. And it can’t have been just me who noticed that Eccles's charming facial features are more on display than ever before because of the intense spring sunshine lighting up his face.  

Whenever I blog about Pope Francis...

....there is a sharp rise in blog stats and there's a surge in comments. On average, I might get 500 hits a day, when I blog about Pope Francis it jumps to a minimum of 1,500. You can't deny that there is an intense interest in our Pope.

But I never thought that my own blog stats would rise, on account of readers wanting to access my blogs on Pope Francis. You see, there is such a wealth of articles, stories and features on the Pope the secular, mainstream media, not to mention the myriad blog posts published about him, that I thought fewer people would be interested in my blogs on Pope Francis. Surely their appetite for info about the Pope would be sated by the glossy mags.

According to my Traddie friends, I have become 'a rare bird', who goes to the Tridentine Mass, but writes favourably about Pope Francis, and writes about his personal piety.  So, I suppose it's the approach that I take when writing about Pope Francis that makes my writings on him a little different and adds variety to the reading diet of people who are insatiable for news about His Holiness. In my mini-bio of Pope Francis, I included that he says 15 decades of the Rosary each day. This has not featured highly (if at all...) in the mainstream media coverage of him!

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

The Judas Complex

Today, on the eve of Spy Wednesday, I read Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith's blog post entitled, 'Love and envy: exploring the psychology of Judas'.

It's a very good blog. Fr Lucie-Smith entertains the conflicting views on Judas. At school, Fr Lucie-Smith was taught a feel-good version that Judas become a saint because he handed back the 30 pieces of silver and did penance by hanging himself on a tree.  I was also taught this as a kid, in the sense that, 'God even loved Judas so much that he wouldn't have stopped him going to heaven'.

Nowadays, Fr Lucie-Smith does not believe Judas became a saint. But he does caution us to see the warnings stamped all over Judas' woeful ending. 
In those far off schooldays, I learned another important thing: Judas had only to go to Jesus hanging on the Cross and say sorry, and he would have been forgiven. After all, Jesus forgave those who crucified Him, and He promised salvation to the Good Thief. But sorry is so often the hardest word, and for the want of it Judas was lost. In that too, he presents us with a terrible warning. 
Here's my comment on Fr Lucie-Smith's point that Judas 'presents us with a terrible warning'. 
We like to think of Judas as an isolated character, a lone wolf, that bears no resemblance to our very self. It's handy denial of the human condition. People often scream 'Judas' at others, but seldom is the time they apply the label to themselves. But the Judas Complex did not end with Judas, as everyone who has been betrayed knows well. For self-confidence preservation reason, we would hate to look in the mirror and call ourselves Judas, we like to point the finger at another person and call them Judas, but perhaps for the preservation of our eternal soul, we should look inside and see the Judas within, and say sorry in time.

Do pop over to The Catholic Herald and read the whole blog.

Yesterday, I was interviewed on the question, "are liberals in love with a Pope of their own creation?"

 Yesterday morning, it was a luminous, sunny day here in London.  A team from Canadian Broadcasting Corporation came to my small, sunlit flat. Intrepid reporter, Ellen Mauro interviewed me on camera, about ‘the Francis Effect’ and whether or not liberals love the real Pope Francis or their idea of Pope Francis.  
There is an audience of millions the world over, who are fascinated by Pope Francis and they think he will dramatically change Church teaching. They are under the impression that Pope Francis will admit women to the priesthood, lift the ban on gay marriage, allow contraception for married couples, and make exceptions for abortions in hard cases. 

He is of liberal-sounding speech, but conservative action.

Take for example, last autumn when Francis said that he finds devout Catholics who are unhealthily fixated on abortion. This led many to think that Pope Francis would allow for abortions in certain cases. But look back to Pope Francis in 2006 when he fought with the President of Argentine, Mrs Kirchner. He went head-to-head with her because he opposed the loosening of abortion laws in Argentina. Or, during his first year as Pope, when he plucked up the courage to ring a pregnant mother under pressure to abort, and told her that he would personally baptise her baby.

I discussed the above and many more topics such as the sex abuse crisis, was it appropriate for Pope Francis to ask for forgiveness, Pope Benedict’s papacy in contract to that of Pope Francis, gay marriage, contraception, and Pope Francis’s quote that the reservation of the priesthood to males ‘is not a question open to discussion’. 

He is of liberal reputation, but conservative record.

(People who are more open-minded than me, might think at this point, reading this post, that I am underscoring the word ‘conservative’ to serve my own ideals, that I am trying to make Pope Francis look traditional because that’s the way I’d like him to be.) 

But regardless of what I like, or how people like to think of him as a soft lefty, you have to see that there is a huge gap between fantasies about him and the reality of his actions.  

Where will it all end, will liberals be so disappointed that their wishes are not being granted by Pope Francis, that their love will turn to hate? 

The heart of my interview really concerned the unsteady foundation on which the liberals base their love for him. The foundation is based on a false misconstruction – that Francis will re-build the Church in the image of modern secular liberalism. 

When the foundation crumbles, will they disown Pope Francis?  Taking a pessimist view I could see the headlines turning to the 'great disappointment' suffered by liberals. Being an optimist, I could see many open-minded people taking a greater interest in the Church, and even trying out Catholicism, perhaps even converting.  Perhaps the end result will be a bitter-sweet mix of both. 

I was interviewed for over an hour, and it will be heavily edited and most likely only a tiny snippet will be used in the program on Pope Francis that will air this coming Easter Monday on Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.  

The reason they were interviewing me was on account of a post that I wrote for The Catholic Herald entitled, 'Catholic journalists and bloggers have a duty to tell the truth about Pope Francis'.

Watch this space, I will post a link to the episode on Easter Monday, the day it will be broadcast. 

PS - For people reading this post today, Spy Wednesday, and who are looking for something that pertains directly to Holy Week, you might like this most recent post

Sunday, 13 April 2014

I never thought I'd do this...

...but I’ve decided not to read e-mails coming from trolls. It’s been my personal policy since the new year of 2014 dawned. And I’ve made good on my decision in the last month when a group of trolls began – again – to pour their green slime into my in-box. Apparently, you might need to have the green gunk examined at a future date, in the unlikely case that the (cowardly) troll does something in real-life and you can use their poison pen missives as evidence to the police that they had malicious intentions.

A solicitor friend of mine advised me to send the e-mails to ‘someone trustworthy who will keep them in a folder’, for future notice. So, I inflict the vile and vituperative missives on a true friend.
Then, I delete the e-mail from my in-box. At this pleasant and peaceful time of writing: no e-mails from trolls exist in my e-mail account. #Bliss

Two female friends of mine in Ireland have collected scrap books of the vile abuse from the trolls, taken it to their local police station, and the constabulary have gone to the place under the bridge, I mean, the home of the troll and asked him or her to stop.

The caveat, 'don't feed the trolls' does not go nearly far enough. It's better not to read the trolls, and it makes a handy rhyme, 'don't read or feed the trolls'. And it's simply done, whenever you get that bullying e-mail from a known troll, you just click delete.

If only there were a way of telling the trolls that you don’t read their nasty nay-sayings. I had been thinking of sending an e-mail with the line, “I don’t read your e-mails, they are deleted from my in-box.” Trolls, by their nature, are usually power-hungry control-freaks, they get a sense of power from dis-empowering you, so they would hate to think that the toxic text they spent so long writing, has ended up in the bin folder. If, however, you reply at all, you are 'feeding' them and they will keep coming back for more, and the vicious cycle starts again.

In previous years, I had prided myself on being able to read e-mails from people who were determined to put me down and/or rubbish my beliefs. I was sure that I could read, reply and reason with them and that if I treated them nicely enough, they would be nice to me, in a sort of 'you-get-what-you-give' way.  Ah, I laugh at my former naïve self. It has been good for my humility to see that I can't change these people one tiny bit.

It's a source of sun-burnt sadness to me that these people, I mean, trolls, spend their time and energy concocting Molotov cocktails of e-mails that are designed to land in someone's in-box and create chaos. But if you don't read the e-mail, then it becomes like refuse that's thrown in the bin. 

Monday, 17 March 2014

The art of wearing a pint of Guinness on my head...

A very happy St Patrick's Day to all my readers and dear friends

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Catholic journalists and bloggers have a duty to tell the truth about Francis

The secular media are in love with a pope of their own creation...

Over at The Catholic Herald, I wrote a blog calling on Catholic writers to seize the golden opportunity before them.  

It was only a year ago I felt very out-of-place among my secular journalist friends. They found it painful to hear of my affection for Benedict and were very critical of him. Now, Pope Francis has spent one year in office. Amazingly, I find myself on the same page as writers in the mainstream media. But if I’m brutally honest, fondness for Francis is the only thing that an unfashionable writer like me and more liberal writers have in common.

For one thing, my peers are in a state of total disbelief when they hear His Holiness will not allow women to become priests. They say something to the effect that, “Pope Francis is so open-minded – he’ll change Church teaching utterly!” Then they point out stories from a media powerhouse that supports their claims.

Most people see Pope Francis solely through the prism of the mainstream media reportage and I believe this is the origin of the conundrum, “is Francis all style and no substance?” It’s not for a second that Francis lacks substance, but much of the mainstream media coverage of Francis is high on praise and low on substance, and thus people’s perception of him is shallow.

You won’t find a left-wing editorial offering apologetics to support Pope Francis’ statement, “the reservation of the priesthood to males, as a sign of Christ the Spouse who gives himself in the Eucharist, is not a question open to discussion”.

Here’s where Catholic journalists, bloggers and broadcasters must come in. We need to go into more theological and spiritual depth when discussing the Pope’s words and his gestures. For starters, what about more analysis of His Holiness’ quotes that are completely ignored by the mainstream? Instead of just repeating the well-known stories, we need to go into more detail on the Pope’s biography and on his role as the Vicar of Christ.

When we explain why Pope Francis is not dismantling the Church’s teachings, we need to provide relevant apologetics that will make sense to people living hard lives and who feel the Church’s teachings are above them.

Francis’s immense popularity translates as credibility and for the first time we have a worldwide audience of Francis fans who are willing to listen to what Catholicism has to offer. We may risk getting frowns from our more trendy friends in the media, but the greater risk is losing this golden opportunity to be taken seriously as Catholic writers and to change the perception of Mother Church, one word at a time.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Pope Francis's Vocation Story

The future Pope was 16 years old and in love. It was 1953 and he had met the young woman he hoped would agree to be his wife. The day of September 21 dawned and he was summoning the nerve to ask his sweetheart to marry him at an al fresco lunch that his school held every year. Walking to the event, he passed his local church and felt compelled to drop in for a visit. 

On entering the church, Jorge noticed a priest he had never seen before. It was Fr Duarte, a cleric who was very ill and slowly approaching death but who still exuded an infectious holiness. He asked him to hear his Confession. It was to be a moment that his life changed forever. 

As he spoke to Fr Duarte his soul was filled with a yearning to offer his life to the Church. He would renounce his sweetheart and give all his love to the Church. In his 2010 book-length interview with Sergio Rubin, the then Cardinal Bergoglio reflected: “In that Confession, something very rare happened to me ... It was a surprise, the astonishment of an encounter. I realised that God was waiting for me.”

At first he hid his vocation to the priesthood, telling his mother that he wanted to study medicine. Impressed that her son had such noble ambitions she did a clear-out of the attic and transformed it into his study. Instead of dancing the tango or playing football, which were two of his favourite hobbies, he gave his time to long hours of swotting up – but not on medicine: he was reading theological books.  

His mother was shocked when she went to tidy the attic and found no medical textbooks. Extremely agitated, she confronted her son. His answer contained a hint of the Jesuit rhetorical skills he would later fully develop: “I’m studying medicine, but medicine of the soul,” he said.

As he settled into seminary life in the late 1950s he was certain of his choice. But that certainty was challenged when he met a dazzling young woman at a family wedding. On returning to the seminary, thoughts of the young woman interrupted his prayers. “I could not pray during the following week because when I went to pray, the girl appeared in my mind,” he later said. It was a struggle to decide between pursuing the young woman and remaining in seminary. 

But he re-committed himself to being a man of the cloth and was ordained on December 13 1969, just four days before he turned 33. 

During his early years as a Jesuit, Fr Jorge grew in popularity and his superiors held him up as their golden boy. In 1973, just months after making his perpetual vows, he was made provincial superior, the leader of all the Jesuits in Argentina. 

An enormous responsibility was placed on the shoulders of one so young and he would be sorely tested, not only because of the Dirty War that raged from 1976 to 1983 but also because the Jesuit order was splitting into two blocs: liberal and conservative. What was happening inside the Society of Jesus in the 1970s has come to characterise the worldwide Church. Fr Bergoglio had to hold two sides of an order together. 

Now he has to hold the worldwide Church together. He is doing so not merely by challenging progressives to be more loyal to the Magisterium or by castigating conservatives for being closed-minded. He is also focusing our minds on concrete charity and the need to be more self-giving. 

To understand Francis it is essential to grasp his strong devotion to St Thérèse of Lisieux. When he was a cardinal he could be seen praying before her statue. Pope Francis has adopted the Little Way into his papacy. Just as the Little Flower was mocked by her fellow nuns, there are those who jeer at the importance that Pope Francis places on taking small steps to being more generous while combining piety with good works.

When Francis does a small act of kindness it seizes the imagination of a global audience and encourages people to try to do similar things. Young people who may feel the stirrings of a religious vocation have a good role model in our Pope, who gave up at least two love interests and had the intelligence to be a medical doctor but chose to be a doctor of the soul, persevering through testing times in the 1970s that ultimately prepared his nerves for holding the Office of Peter. 

The way the Pope is influencing young people was made real for me recently when a young man told me that when he embarks on a priestly vocation he would like to combine Pope Francis’s example with that of Fr Ray Blake, the parish priest of St Mary Magdalen in Brighton. Like Francis, he wants to encourage a young woman to continue her pregnancy. Like Fr Blake, he wants celebrate the Extraordinary Form Mass and run a soup kitchen.

When people give a little they may get into a habit of giving more and more and eventually give all of their self to the Church in the form of a vocation to the religious life. In the Francis era it’s not merely about what the Church can do for you, but also what you can do for the Catholic Church.

This article was first published in the March 7th edition of The Catholic Herald

Monday, 10 March 2014

Be happy for me, I have met the perfect... Finally and at long last it has happened to me. After years of chasing dogs in the London parks, asking owners if I could pat the heads of their pooches, and admiring tail-waggers that were near-perfection, but not quite perfect, I met this spirited Italian greyhound.

I had never met one before; they have exceptionally lean legs as though they had leggy chicken ancestors, and a tail shaped like the hook at the end of an umbrella. The bubbly creature that I met has a very sweet-temperament, a lively wit and keen intelligence. By 'lively wit', I mean that she listens very careful when people around her are having a conversation, and wags her tail when the air is filled with laughter.

Never have I met a dog quite so alert and socially intuitive, as she moves her head to the rhythm of the cadences of the voices around her. Alas, she is not mine, but one day I might just get one exactly like her. In the meantime, take it from me - Hyde Park and the Bayswater area are the best places to meet dogs.

Apparently, people chose dogs that resemble themselves in some way. Over the weekend, a friend of mine ventured to ask if one of the reasons that I'm so keen on this athletic hound is because I want a dog who can keep up with me when I walk? I love walking at a fast clip, and having a fast-paced pooch by my side makes sense. I share other characteristics with the greyhound: nervous energy, a love of conversation, an absence of shyness and a tendency to be highly strung. Ah well, the dog may not be perfect per se, but she's perfect for me!

When there are no real-life dogs in the vicinity, I find myself admiring the ingenuity of boxes that are made in the shape of Scottie dogs. Here I am at Christmas, sitting down to a cup of tea and playing with the tin of biscuits. I did remember to uncover the lid and offer the biscuits round.