A “footnote”, as it were, to the entry that follows it below

I spent this last weekend in the Vineyard where, with lamentation and bitter weeping, Rachel was mourning her children, because they are not. [c.f. Jer.31:15]. As on several previous occasions, I was privileged to be serving as spiritual director (soul friend, to use the medieval terminology) at a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat, for women and men who had had an encounter with the impenetrable and terrifying darkness of death through the procuring of abortions. Rachel is devastated, mentally and physically, carrying an insupportable burden of guilt, sorrow and despair. If anyone thinks that it could be otherwise, then they must be deluded by the devil or be immensely insensitive, cruel and cynical. But there is hope; we have a loving Father who calls us by name, enfolds in his arms, and heals us of all our sin and sorrow. If you know of anyone, young or old, who strruggles with this devastation, tell them about the Rachel’s Vineyard ministry.

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Zo-ee-phobia – The fear of life

Mrs Clinton: “You know, to just be (sic) grossly generalistic (sic), you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call (habitually, as implied?) the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic – you name it.”

I am not too fond of spiders, so I suppose that I am arachnophobic: I am afraid of them. I would not want to be confined for long in a small dark space, so I suppose that I am claustrophobic: I would be afraid of that.

But “Islamaphobic”? As a Christian, I believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that he is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life”, and that no one comes to the Father except through Him. Now: ipso facto, that means that I deeply believe that Islam is a false religion. But am I afraid of such error? Of course not.

Do I suffer from xenophobia, the fear of foreigners? Well, hardly – being one myself, both in the sense that I am an immigrant to the United States of America and also in the far more profound sense that, as Holy Scripture says, that we are all strangers and pilgrims who have here no abiding city.

So what of “homophobia”? Well, the word itself is intrinsically meaningless. Who on earth is afraid in general of men/humankind? Wild animals that are prey to hunters, maybe? If this odd neologism refers to homosexuals, well yes, I do regard that orientation as being – as the Catholic Church clearly teaches – disordered, and its practice sinful. But do I have a phobia, a fear, with regard to homosexuals? No – except for my fear of the destructive damage which disproportionate and self-serving homosexual militancy is inflicting on the fabric of society.

But there is another, and far more terrible, phobia at work in our world; I am not sure whether I have invented the name for it – the word shown above – “ZOEPHOBIA”: the fear of life itself. The Almighty God says to us: “See, I have set before you this day, life and good, death and evil.” [Deut.30:15] “I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore chose life”. [Deut.30:19]

Mrs Clinton, in a remark about reproductive (barren, surely?) rights declared that “deep-seated cultural codes, religious biases have to be changed”. Thank about it: just how profoundly sinister that is! Yes, I am deeply afraid of her, of Planned Parenthood et al, and their evil works, all of which I label ZOEPHOBIC.

I commend to you something written a few days ago by Fr. C. John McCloskey III. You can find it on-line at The Catholic Thing, in an article archived on September 10, 2016. In it he says:

“The choices this year are momentous – and troubling. But I believe that we can find answers for perplexed voters – ourselves as well as others – by taking a look at the encyclicals of John Paul II.

“He was a great saint who wrote many great things worth reading and re-reading, in particular (the greatest one to my mind) Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life). Never was he as much of a prophet as in this encyclical, where he not only diagnosed the problems of his time, but also prophetically showed what lay ahead by way of threats to innocent human life, to marriages, and to families.

“An excellent preparation for entering the voting booth would be reflecting on the following. As he put it, today we see:

extraordinary increase and gravity of threats to the life of individuals and peoples, especially where life is weak and defenseless. . . .The end result of this is tragic: not only is the fact of the destruction of so many human lives still to be born or in their final stage extremely grave and disturbing, but. . .conscience itself, darkened as it were by such widespread conditioning, is finding it increasingly difficult to distinguish between good and evil.’

“This “culture of death” (a phrase, it ought to be remembered, that he invented) into which increasingly godless societies – aided and abetted by their governments – have fallen, pits the strong against the weak without compunction for the innocence of the victims.”

ZOEPHOBIA: let’s use that word, and apply it to Hillary and to all who approve the 55 million innocent, God-given, lives that have been thrown back in the face of him who is the Lord and Giver of Life. Her name means “laughable” does it not?  No: ‘terrible”, surely.

The British.Expeditionary.Force in France in 1914 consisted of a cavalry division and several infantry divisions. Its commander was Field Marshal Sir John French. Their name ‘Old Contemptibles’ arose from an Order of the Day issued by the Kaiser, which mentioned ‘Sir John French’s contemptible little army’. Thereafter, they have been universally known as the ‘Old Contemptibles’.

In like manner I proudly sign myself: an Old Deplorable.

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Straight and Crooked Thinking: the Eccentricity of Hilarity

old-men-south-beachSo there were these three elderly retired gentlemen, sitting on a park bench on a warm afternoon. Lifelong friends, they were just passing the time of day; and they had already thrashed out matters of sport, politics, the activities of family and friends. What next?

After a time of drowsy silence one of them said: “Let’s talk individually about what part of one’s anatomy one would least like to be without”.

After momentary surprise, one of them said: “Well, I could least well do without my ears, because I like to read – and I need my ears to hold my spectacles in place.”

The second said: “I love mathematics, so I could not do without my fingers that I use to count and calculate.”

Turning to the third, they said: “And what about you?”

“Ah,” he responded, “I just couldn’t do without my navel.”

“What on earth ……”

“Well, you see,” he said, “I love to eat celery in bed – and my navel is such a useful place to keep the salt.”

Eccentric, you may think!

The late Professor Robert Thouless (of Cambridge University), in his book Straight and Crooked Thinking, pointed out that the idea that truth lies always in the mean position between two extremes is of no practical use as a criterion for discovering where the truth lies, because every view can be represented as the mean between two extremes. He points out that “when we have two extreme positions and a middle one between them, the truth is just as likely to lie on one extreme as in the middle position.”

Thouless may well have overheard a further conversation between our three elderly and leisurely gentlemen. The first of them had firmly asserted that two and two make four, but the other two wanted to debate this. One said: “No, two and two make five.” “You are both wrong,” said the third: “I have counted it out on my fingers – and two and two make six.”

Thouless concluded that if he wished to convince us that two and two makes five, he might commend it to us as the safe middle position between the exaggerations on the one hand of the extremist, who asserts that two and two makes four, and on the other of the one who holds the equally extreme view that two and two makes six. “I should appeal to you as moderate men and women not to be led away by either of these extreme parties, but to follow with me the safe middle path of asserting that two and two makes five. As moderate men and women, perhaps you would believe me — but you and I would alike be wrong because the truth would lie with one part of the extremists.”

We are currently engaged in a Presidential electoral campaign that pits the eccentric against the crooked. One of these campaigns has just described the Vice-Presidential nominee on the other side as the “most extreme pick in a generation.” Crooked and hilarious, you might think!

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My cat Poppet

PoppetQuestion the beauty of the earth, the beauty of the sea, the beauty of the wide air around you ……Question the living creatures ….that roam upon the earth …… Question all these. They will all answer you: “Behold and see, we are beautiful.” Their beauty is their confession of God. Who made these beautiful changing things, if not One who is beautiful and changeth not?

Saint Augustine

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“Ordinary” Time

Passover2

Thus writes Marvin Olasky: “Passover and Easter are the only Jewish and Christian holidays that move in sync, like the ice skating pairs we saw during the winter Olympics.” But the question of a fixed date for Easter, the Christian Passover, is once again under discussion, at the highest ecumenical levels. The well-known English writer, A.N. Wilson, says in his column in the Spectator (January 23, 2016) that the purpose of this discussion “is to allow people to plan their holidays”. This destroys all the poetry and symbolism of Easter’s relation to the Jewish Passover. Apparently Pope Francis, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Coptic Pope Tawodros II – presumably in consultation with Ryanair, Tesco and Disney World – are all agreed on the plan to turn the central mystery of the Christian faith into a mere spring break”. It is inconceivable: but just remember what vandalism has been wrought on the celebrations of Epiphany and the Ascension.

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The sedge has withered from the lake, And no birds sing.

The People’s Democracy of Australia has decided to abolish the titles of Knight and Dame, on the grounds that such titles are “anachronistic”. It is sad but hardly to be wondered at, given the contemporary evisceration of all that has hitherto been honored as chivalrous and truly romantic. I assume that the Prime Minister will no longer be addressed as “Mister”, for that is every bit as much a title. What then? Will he now be addressed as “Citizen” or “Comrade”? But we know very well what joyful societies that would lead to.

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The Preacher sought to find pleasing words, and uprightly he taught words of truth — Ecclesiastes 12:9

Preacher

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Well, not entirely. Things have changed a bit, even here in Texas. These days, when I go into our local grocery store (even if, rarely, I am not in clerical attire) I am regularly addressed as “Father”. But, years ago, a check-out clerk, seeing my collar, would ask, “Are you a preacher?” – to which I would smile and respond to the effect that preaching was indeed one of things I do.

I have been doing it now for more than fifty-five years. And it gets easier as the years pass because, now, the lectionary and the cycle of the seasons have been pondered so often – and not only easier, but also ever more enjoyable. To spend a morning at my desk (often with music in the background), reading and reflecting on the appointed scripture passages, consulting commentaries and the teachings of the doctors of the Church, scouring my files for hopefully vivid – and, perhaps, amusing – illustrations, praying over it all: what a pleasure it is to spend such a creative morning, as unhurried as “retirement” allows.

The Roman Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments recently published its Homiletic Directory that provides immensely valuable and practical assistance to the preacher. In particular, it insists that an effective homily always requires prayer — an invitation to the Holy Spirit “as the principal agency that makes the hearts of the faithful amenable to the divine mysteries … The homily should be delivered in a context of prayer, and it should be composed in a context of prayer”.

In that the homily is preached in a liturgical setting – the Mass or the Divine Office – the prayerful context of its delivery is assured. But perhaps we should do more to ensure that the words are received by the congregation in a conscious context of prayer.

Many years ago, a priest whom I had invited as guest preacher at the Church of St Mary the Virgin mounted the pulpit after the proclamation of the Gospel. After what seemed like a very long moment of silence he turned to the sedilia and said to me: “What do I have to do to make the people sit down?” With some laughter the congregation sat. What they had been waiting for, what they were accustomed to before sitting for the sermon, was some preliminary invocation – “In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit”, perhaps, to which they would affirm by their “Amen”.

When I was young, Anglican preachers (I can’t speak of others) would often begin their sermons by quoting an adaption of Psalm 19:14 – “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in thy sight”, and the people would complete the verse by responding “O Lord, our strength, and our redeemer”. Thus they would assert some personal investment in what would follow.

A great Anglican theologian and preacher, who married great scholarship with profound spirituality, Warden of Keble College, Oxford, Austin Farrer (with whom I had some personal contact more than fifty years ago) would bring his eloquent, moving and instructive sermons to an end by prayer. Thus: “The best way to assure a constant supply is not to gaze into the bottom of the pool but the drawer water out and scatter it on the garden, so as to make room for more to flow in below. Be with me, O God, and help me to obey thee in using and spreading abroad thy grace.” (The end of a sermon entitled The Hidden Spring.)

Or this: the last words of his sermon on The Ultimate Hope, preached a few days before Christmas 1968, just a week before his sudden and premature death: “ … passing from the great Begetter to what is begotten by him, we shall see his likeness in his creatures, in angels and blessed saints: returning at long last the love that has been lavished on us, and reflecting back the light with which we have been illuminated. To that blessed consummation, therefore, may he lead all those for whom we pray, he who is love himself, who came to us at Bethlehem, and took us by the hand.”

But to me, Austin Farrer’s most engaging sermon conclusions consisted in his practice of enfolding, in varied form according to context, a formula of prayer which I can only track down to a small manual of pulpit prayers compiled by T. W. Wood and published in 1876. One example, from many (see Austin Farrer’s sermons in Said or Sung, and A Celebration of Faith): “You gave, beyond taking back, you were committed, when you gave your spirit into your Father’s hands: and so I am contented to know that I am committed into yours. For you are our everlasting shepherd, with the Father and the Holy Ghost, one God; to whom be ascribed, as is most justly due, all might, dominion, majesty and power, henceforth and for ever. Amen.

Perhaps we should return to such sanctifying eloquence.

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