Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Aylesford Priory...

On Sunday I drove to Aylesford Priory to meet a friend of mine who has a church nearby. It was just a convenient place to meet; I have no particular interest in the Carmelites, or indeed any Papist religious order that arose in the Middle Ages. I had been to Aylesford before, though. My school celebrated its patronal feast there at least twice in my memory and the priory is in a kind of bucolic idyll so there is a pastoral attraction as well as a religious one. Having said that, despite the affection I have for my friend, it wasn't worth the drive. I have no idea what the priory was like in the Middle Ages but to-day it's full of awful, Modernist ceramic art and a byword for contemporary Popery. Here is an example:

I have to ask: at what point does bad taste become a reflection of interior bad faith? If Simon Stock walked into this chapel, would he recognise it? Would he feel comfortable worshipping at the shrine of St Joseph, a relatively incidental and unimportant saint, catapulted into stardom by Pius IX and Pius XII and who seems to have become a proxy for God the Father? And on that note, if you look closely, there is not one image of the Crucifixion in this chapel. To say nothing of orientation (there are altars all over the place!), or the general "focus" of the place. Years ago I was accused of being a "liturgical fetishist" by an American Uniate, presumably because I believe that liturgy is not simply the window dressing of faith. Well, to him I would say: this image proves my position. If Popery is the true faith, why can't Papists even get the basics right?

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

More on Notre Dame...

I must say I have been surprised and shocked at the reaction of certain people to the burning of Notre Dame. Fr John Hunwicke says he won't donate one sou to the rebuilding. Admittedly, I can understand that as I won't be either, and probably for similar reasons (I anticipate some hideous monument to the burning erected in the sanctuary; perhaps one candle for every lost roof tile, or something equally sentimental). Already huge sums have been donated by faceless companies like L'Oreal and Dior, whose directors may or may not care for the Christian history and nature of the Great Church, and there will no doubt be some hook to those donations. What could a paltry £30 from someone poor like me have against their more worldly influence? My name is hardly going to be carved into the facade as a great benefactor; no stained glass window for me.

But no, my disgust has been aroused by the reactionary ignorance and melodrama of people like this:

It's more than just sour grapes; it's contemptuous. These are the kinds of people who lament the retreat of the Papal Communion from Ireland under a weight, not of scandal and child rape, but a lack of faith or some other scapegoat. And for exactly the same reason. Power. Material, immediate power in this world to coerce you and me. Just like Giant Pope sitting in the mouth of his cave biting his nails in The Pilgrim's Progress; these people are impotent, whining has-been's bemoaning the fact that they can't burn people anymore.

This whining correspondent complains that he can't enter Notre Dame anymore because of some mistaken memory of its former glory. Well, maybe he recollects in centuries, not years. If he knew anything at all about the history of the Great Church, he'd know that the glory of Notre Dame was in the Middle Ages; the canons, vicars, minor canons, chaplains, beneficed clerks and choristers arranging themselves according to rank in the choir (decani and cantoris in the famous "U" shape) for the canonical hours and magna missa...there were hundreds of them on high days. The unique development of polyphony; the unique rite of the cathedral; the scholarly tradition (many canons were theologians and canonists at the university); &c, &c. Much of this was eroded away with the passage of time but the mediaeval choir with its screen and pulpitum was enthusiastically bulldozed in the 17th century by the cathedral chapter in the spirit of the Council of Trent. The old rite was cheaply discarded in favour of the reformed liturgy of Pius V. Oh, I know it's fashionable to blame Huguenots and revolutionaries for the shell that Notre Dame now is but the rot goes back much further. I don't know what Fr Hunwicke's correspondent actually remembers about the place but Westminster Cathedral had a much more impressive timetable of services in 1960 than had Notre Dame. If you ask me, he's just being a drama queen.

Back to to-day...it seems that there is hope amidst the ashes and that the stone structure of the cathedral is intact. Praise God! I hope that Mr Macron makes good on his promise to rebuild and that the French people do so in the style as it was on Sunday. It's too much to hope that things go back to the time Victor Hugo wrote of in his immortal novel because I'm sorry to say that Rome has moved on from that. Still, it was encouraging to see the people of Paris praying and singing hymns in the streets as they looked on at the tragedy. That says more to me about the ineffable work of God than the poetic justice of a lot of fiery debris crushing the kitchen table.

"Resurgam." From the south trancept of St Paul's Cathedral to Notre Dame de Paris.

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Notre Dame de Paris...

At this stage, words just fail me. I have been devoted to and fascinated by this great church for most of my life. I have read Hugo's work (in translation and also in halting French) and have studied the history of the church, from building and glory in the middle ages with its guilds, honorary canons of the city churches, miscreant choristers, the splendid image of the Assumption opened once a year during the Octave, through counter reformation and revolution, botched restoration in the 19th century, through German occupation unto to-day. 850 years brought to an end by fire. Tears are streaming down my face as I write this.

I haven't visited Notre Dame since 2007 and have no photos to share, just an old rosary I have somewhere (bought in the gift shop) and a few books. Tonight I can but say with Victor Hugo

"The greatest products of architecture are less the works of individuals than of society; rather the offspring of a nation's effort, than the inspired flash of a man of genius".

Monday, 25 March 2019


I was moved the other day when I read that a handsome celebrity, the star of some trashy reality show, had killed himself. Mike Thalassitis, a British-Cypriot footballer, hanged himself in the woods behind his house. When people commit suicide or go on a killing spree people invariably ask: "I wonder what brought that on?" On the surface, poor Mike had everything; a nice house, worldly success, good looks, &c. But I think I've just answered that ill-informed question: like a cubic zirconia, his life was all surface shine. It makes one think about the nature of happiness. What is happiness? How do we achieve it, and, having achieved it, how do we hold on to it? Would sharing it diminish it for ourselves? Where does it come from? And so on. I could be mistaken but I doubt I've ever met anyone who is truly happy. Nonetheless I know, having suffered depressive episodes for many years, that happiness is not an unattainable ideal. Like learning a language, you just have to keep at it. I think poor Mike mistook happiness for something else. And the most sobering aspect of his death, for someone who never knew him and wouldn't even if he were still alive, is that in our more foolish moments we look to these people and mistake their money and their success for the very window dressing of happiness. Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher.

Am I happy, do I hear you ask? No. But I never stop trying!

Art: Ted Nasmith. I know I used this one the other day but Tolkien touches upon happiness in his treatment of Saruman, particularly in this scene from "Many Partings." Saruman says to Gandalf and the Lady Galadriel: "All my hopes are ruined, but I would not share yours. If you have any." Look it up, and think.


I have set up an Instagram account. If you would care to follow me, look for "lucernare". Several years ago I turned my back on Facebook for a number of good reasons; it was highly addictive, it was obviously a form of corporate espionage, and there were a few anxiety issues I had comparing my life with those of many of my erstwhile friends. The purpose of this new account is twofold; I'd like to gradually phase myself back into social media as a means to reconnect with both the modern world and people with whom I regrettably lost contact when I deleted my old Facebook account; and I'd also like to move away from this blog. I am still trying to figure out the reasons for this.

Anyway, it's out there now. So far I have one follower!

Saturday, 16 March 2019

Tempus fugit...

This photo was taken exactly 10 years ago to-day. I was still a student at Heythrop College, which is where the photo was taken. My old friend Dom Allan Jones took the photo after our "Pastoral Liturgy" class, the last of the day. It was a Monday evening and I was on my way to Corpus Christi Maiden Lane for the evening Mass, which in those days I thought a bad, but tolerable, thing. It was my 21st birthday.

Sunday, 10 March 2019

Forgiveness Sunday...

Let us set out with joy upon the season of the Fast, and prepare ourselves for spiritual combat. Let us purify our soul and cleanse our flesh; and as we fast from food, let us abstain also from every passion. Rejoicing in the virtues of the Spirit may we persevere with love, and so be counted worthy to see the solemn Passion of Christ our God, and with great spiritual gladness to behold His holy Passover.

Let us pray for God's forgiveness on this, the eve of Great Lent. I ask forgiveness of all my readers for any wrong I have done them as we walk together through the wilderness towards the feast of feasts (I have in mind particularly a veteran reader, let's call him J.C). May God give you all the strength to transcend the passing things of this world and to look with hope and gladness to that which is to come, which shall ever be.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost, both now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Art: Ted Nasmith. It depicts Saruman in his wanderings. I've never seen one of his revenge on the Shire but Frodo's sentiments at Bag End pretty much encapsulate the Christian teaching on forgiveness.

Friday, 8 March 2019

A Tolkien biopic...

I saw in my YouTube feed that a new Tolkien theatrical biopic, entitled, unimaginatively, "Tolkien," is set to be released in May of this year. It looks awful from what I've seen so far but my expectations are low anyway. I expect Tolkien himself would hate it so it's just as well that he's been dead these 45 years. What do you think? It appears that the young Tolkien himself is played by Nicholas Hoult, the man who played the extremely annoying kid in "About a Boy".

Monday, 4 March 2019

An autistic habit...

As many of you know, I used to be a dancer. I enjoyed Irish dancing as much for its vigour as for its rhythm and deliberate, repetitive steps. A friend of mine said to me once that he didn't appreciate dance as an art form because he couldn't see how the music interpenetrates with the dance, or that gesticulation without music had no meaningful affect. That's not a view that I share. Of course, when I was dancing Riverdance was at the height of its popularity. That performance was first seen at the Eurovision Song Contest in 1994, at about the time that I started (it might have been earlier). I'd like you to listen to this piece by Bill Whelan and tell me what you think:

Do you like it? Whether or not you share my friend's view about the translation of music into dance, I'm sure you can at least imagine deliberate, repetitive dance steps.

The title of this post is "an autistic habit." It's not often that I discuss autism here but this piece of contemporary Irish music put me in mind of it. One of my autistic idiosyncrasies is that I listen to music, and not seldom particular parts of music, over and over and over. It's the same with books, which goes to explain my relative lack of culture. If you're in the habit of continually listening to one piece of music, sometimes for weeks at a time, eventually it ceases to sound melodious at all and the only reason we carry on listening is the inability to break the habit, or, as with books, it just passes the time. It's like staring at a beautiful portrait. If you stare long enough eventually you can see demons!

With Bill Whelan's "Riverdance," my favourite part commences at 1:46. My least favourite part commences at 4:43. Do you remember what I said about rhythm? Well, this is where the rhythm conspicuously breaks, no doubt for dramatic affect. It confounds me!

Saturday, 2 March 2019

Are gays really that bad?

The other day Fr John Hunwicke made the mistake of going easy on the gays. Some among his readers dismissed his relative tolerance as an academic license (reminiscent, at least to me, of how Digory and Polly viewed the eccentric Uncle Andrew in The Magician's Nephew); others, notably "Kathleen1031," took the more hysterical approach and took offence. I'm too old now to be personally bothered by the opinions of others. I used to pull at my hair and bite at my fingernails worrying about homosexuality. What's the point? The most revulsion I can now summon at the sin of homosexuality is to be scandalised at some of the excesses of the powerful identity lobbyists or the lewd behaviour of the young, and in many cases the not-so-young, at the "Pride" events which I studiously avoid anyway. But if you're asking me to go about with barbed wire strapped to my upper thigh because I admit to enjoying the sight of pretty young men, well sorry! I am as hypocritical as the next sinner but I humbly suggest that I am not that much.

These days I am as ambivalent about homosexuality as the Papal Communion was at one time about eunuch choirs. Officially castration was condemned as an abomination and yet it carried on well into the 19th century; made composers like Handel a lot of money, and also produced what many considered to be the supreme human voice. Some of my favourite arias, such as Dove Sei and Lascia ch'io pianga,were composed for the castrato voice. I'd love to hear them sung as they were meant to be. To procure that sublime voice would be, however, an unspeakable abuse, and I imagine hearing it would make most people recoil. Still, one looks beyond the operatic stage and wonders how lonely Farinelli must have felt when, in 1733, he fell in love with a ballerina? Canon law and social custom forbade the Castrati from publicly having any relationships and so, like many a contrite homosexual, they were condemned to lives of emotional and physical frustration. I'm not saying that eunuchs and homosexuals are equivalent but there is something palpably innocent about the common desire for companionship and yearning for the solace of reciprocated love. The only difference that I can see can be summed up by Hans Christian Andersen in The Little Mermaid: "The very thing that is your greatest beauty here in the sea would be considered ugly on land." Male and female created he them, &c.

As you know, this is not the position of the Orthodox Church. These are just some thoughts thrown out there based on my personal experiences, feelings, and sexual drives for which I make no apology. I wouldn't want you to think I was ashamed.

Was this Paradise?

I saw in my dreams the other night the edge of a cliff with soft, yielding green grass and blue sky. The sun was shining, it was warm, but I couldn't tell what time it was because I could not see the sun and had no sense of direction. I didn't care and had no sense of caring. There was little sensation at all. Behind me, going into fathoms of trees, was an endless forest; lots of verdant and brown hues, not dull but nothing was going on. There was no birdsong, no sound of leaves. Just trees. Over the edge of the cliff I could see nothing at all, just an expanse of green and blue and white. I had no idea who I was, or where I was. Other people didn't exist. There was no anxiety or desire or loneliness, just peace.

Would that there were such a place!

Saturday, 16 February 2019

Pondering by the river...

Yesterday I drove to Shoreham to make the most of the beautiful weather. I took this picture as I walked by the River Darenth. That's a Cockapoo, I think.