Thursday 24 September 2015

Secularism as war.

Secularism, the movement which seeks to build the world on a new basis, one which avoids the human condition of original sin, and seeks a world where God is no longer a part. This movement, which has its roots in the Enlightenment, blossomed in that decadent era just before WWI, and took off in the most hideous way with the outbreak of war, only to blossom again in the decadence of the inter-war era, and then again in WWII. In just that time, Tolkien was preparing his 'parable' of nature and grace, the great story of The Lord of the Rings, a story which speaks about a society seeking to be built upon God.
This book (photo above), a gift from Tolkien to his wife in 1956, beautifully inscribed, is another historical record of the genuine, Catholic, plan for humanity which the secularism of the twentieth century has never had the power to overcome.
After both WWI and WWII, the societies of Europe and the West sought a merely political and social way of managing the aftermath of war and of rebuilding. Secularism since WWII has confined itself (until now) with seeking to 'iron out' all sense of nature and grace, of man and God together, and to provide a sense of life in which man is alone and entirely autonomous.
Not so for Tolkien, who returning to the roots of humanity, which are nature and grace, wrote his mythology as something which was completely counter-cultural, and into which he poured his high, linguisitic, learning. 
The Lord of the Rings is a book about nature and grace, about good and evil and their power. The Ring is the focus of evil in the story, an evil which seeks to dominate and suppress all that is good, true and beautiful in people. But crucially, Tolkien wrote about the most powerful power of all, which is mercy. In The Lord of the Rings this overriding power for good is expressed in Bilbo's and then, Frodo's pity, compassion, for Gollum and the evil which eats away at him. It is this power that ultimately overcomes the vastly evil power of the Ring.
In some way, Tolkien's writing of this book was unthinkable. After all, secularism was trying to rebuild itself in a milder way after WWII, and the last thing that it wanted people to be reminded of was their relationship with God, and His wonderful Lordship of all creation. Of course, for my part, I am delighted that The Lord of the Rings came into being and has caught the imagination of the people of this age, expressing to us, in literary form, the interplay of nature and grace, and for giving us, in a sense, a tool for navigation in this dark age that we inhabit.

Monday 21 September 2015

In a time of war.

As a fan of Tolkien, his writings and his person, some of his personally signed books, which were a gift to me many years ago, are among my few most treasured things. They are links to me of the flowering of Catholic thought and life which took place during the early and middle part of the twentieth century.
Tolkien's tale, The Lord of the Rings, stands at forefront of this flowering for me; a tale which speaks of light, hope and grace in the midst of a century which was plunged into war and destruction.
It seems to me that the emergence of Tolkien's mythology, which took place as he participated in the unspeakable horror of the First World War, and that what flowed out of that experience was precisely a tale which, in some way, parallels the horror of war, enlightened as it was by false human 'lights' (in other words, secularism), and yet seeks the true light, that of God, which no human efforts can ultimately eradicate.
The Lord of the Rings, whose dark power controls the innumerable armies of orcs and seeks to overthrow all that is good, and true, and beautiful, is an analogy for that dark force which plunged so many nations into mutual obliteration in 1914. Yet all along, the true project of goodness, which is the Mercy of God (the most powerful force in the Universe) revealed in Jesus, who seeks the true flourishing of peoples, is ever present.
Everytime that I have read The Lord of the Rings, I have been entranced by how Tolkien weaves grace into his tale. Yet, knowing that the story had its beginning during one of the darkest hours of the twentieth century, and came into being during and after the Second War, is itself a sign and icon of great hope for our times. 
Secularism is again immensely strong, yet Catholic thought and life, which picks up and mirrors that true human project (which is Christ), stands as a beacon for all humanity: God is indeed in charge, and Jesus Christ in the Lord of History.

Sunday 13 September 2015

A soul for Europe.

This year in our SJMV fraternity we have been making a discursive reading of the second edition of the Directory on the life and ministry of priests. This is a very valuable document which reveals the depth of the Diocesan Priesthood, and goes some way in expressing what a magnificent vocation it is.
However, I include a short piece below which is given in the text as a sort of preface to paragraph 46 of the document. In this few words is contained the inner vision of the priesthood - it is one of the finest statements which this Directory makes. Here is expressed the very core of our lives, and I am grateful to Cardinal Piacenza for ensuring that this paragraph was included in the text. These words should be writ large, for so much depends upon their lived reality:  
The spirituality of the priest consists essentially in the profound relationship of friendship with Christ, because he is called “to go to Him” (cf. Mk 3:13). In this sense, in the life of the priest, Jesus will always have pre-eminence over everything. Each priest acts within a particular historical context with its manifold challenges and requirements. Precisely for this reason is the guarantee of the fecundity of his ministry rooted in a deep interior life. If the priest does not count on the primacy of grace he will not be able to respond to the challenges of histimes, and any pastoral programme is destined to failure, no matter how elaborate it may be.
The cord which tied St Edmund Campion to the hurdle, and the Corporal used by saints who were priests, for the celebration of the Mass in cells in the Tower of London (both relics are kept at Stonyhurst), are witnesses to a past, Golden Era of the priesthood. Today however, priests - in many parts of the world - are free, but it is in Christ that we find our greatest freedom and, although these words are used with reference to the priesthood they also speak, by analogy, of a much wider population. Europe today is called to an intimacy with Christ in which the various peoples of Europe can be established upon their true identity and vocation. These words speak about the true soul of Europe, by which it might know how to live and act, and how to build its life, for the good of many.

Thursday 3 September 2015

England's memory on-line again.

Taking part in the Youth 2000 Prayer Festival at Walsingham is wonderful. This past weekend, from Thursday through to Monday, there were about 1100 young people engaging with Christ, His person and His mission, in the fields opposite the Slipper Chapel.
I have just got back to the parish but I am full of the experience of these last few days. England's Nazareth, as it is known, is entering into the mind and soul of successive generations of young people through the annual Youth 2000 Prayer Festival at the Shrine.
Our Lady's Shrine at Walsingham is a place of extraordinary memory. Not only does it encompass the last millennia of this country's Christian personality with its Christian origins, but because the heart of the Shrine is the Holy House of Nazareth, it takes us back into the intimate experience which the Blessed Mother had, and has, of Jesus her son. That there is such a place in this country is sometimes hard to take in!
The Youth 2000 Festival breathes this memory, and the young people respond with great joy to this new life which opens up for them, especially in the main tent of the Festival. It is now for this generation to take part in the next stage of the renewal and development of the Shrine under the practiced and priestly directorship of Mgr John Armitage.
Dear Young people, you have so much to offer to England's Nazareth; may it be a part of your whole lives!