HOW MUCH BRIGHTER things look this morning for Notre Dame. So many of us were riveted to last night’s live footage of what seemed a hellish conflagration. The fall of the spire drew an audible gasp in this presbytery. The passion of this gothic symbol of faith and history was sobering, indeed ominous.
It still is, mind you.
But it is an ill wind indeed that blows no good at all. The fire started after the busy tourist time so there were not so many to evacuate. No lives were lost. Rendons grâce au seigneur.
NOTRE DAME IS IN FLAMES. The spire has gone; the roof has collapsed. It appears no one has died—Deo gratias—which is a real mercy. The cause is as yet unknown but no doubt we shall no soon enough. The recent spate of attacks on churches in France hangs heavier in the air tonight, but this incident may merely be due to a fault in the current renovation work. It is hard not to dismiss a terrorist attack but by now surely some extremist would be claiming credit for it.
The passion of Notre Dame matters not just for Paris, nor just for France, nor for those who merely love beauty. It matters for our Judaeo-Christian civilization.
It is about a gorgeous gem of Gothic architecture more than 8 centuries old, but it is more than about that. It is about the wonderful works of art and craft within its walls—a stunning Pietà; statues of the 28 kings of Israel; an immense rose window with exquisite stained glass—but it is about more than these. It is about the role and status of the cathedral in the history of France, but it is about more than that. It is about a testament to humanity’s fertile, fruitful and beautiful devotion to God, but it is about more even than that.
On the CBS live coverage on Youtube, a reporter mentioned that a Parisian had told him that the fire has a symbolic significance for Christianity in France and Europe.
IF YOU READ BLOGS or the Catholic press you will probably have seen that it is 50 years since St Paul VI promulgated the apostolic constitution Missale Romanum on 3 April 1969 as an implementation of the reforms mandated by the second Vatican council. By this decree a new order of Mass was proposed, replacing the order of Mass in use for 1500-odd years in the form that emerged with the seal of St Pius V after the decrees of the council of Trent. The UK’s Catholic Herald asked me to write a brief essay on it for last week’s edition, and it can be found on its website but for my own record I include it here below (the headline is the CH’s).
Not surprisingly there were several commemorative pieces to be found here and there. Some which I found were by Dom Alcuin Reid, Joseph O’Brien, and Fr Andrew Menke at Adoremus, while America reprints an article from 1970 by G B Harrison and Professor Peter Kwasniewski offers a more searching and detailed reflection. Curiously, most progressive journals seem not too concerned to mark the anniversary; certainly there was nothing in The Tablet last week.
IN RECENT WEEKS came news of the approval of another miracle attributed to the intercession of Bl. John Henry Newman. This means that there is now a high probability he will soon be canonized. October seems the propitious time for all things Newman, and if it comes on my birthday—13 October—I shall be chuffed indeed!
Also in recent weeks came news that the courts have finally directed New York to surrender the body of Archbishop Fulton Sheen to Peoria, the diocese of his birth and upbringing. This unseemly squabble between two dioceses has not been edifying to Catholics, and a cause of mirth, or worse, to non-Catholics. Hopefully this means the cause for canonization of Fulton Sheen can now advance. The first prelate to engage with modern media, he was new-evangelising before the term New Evangelisation was coined. First on radio broadcasts and then on the new-fangled television, he cut no Catholic corners, but spoke in terms both dignified and comprehensible that made his message attractive. Chalk in hand and standing before a clean blackboard, garbed in full episcopal fig—including ferraiolo—he would be seen as quaint today if he did the same, and probably clericalist, given that the mob simplistically equates clericalism with clerical dress. For his time, however, he was an adept and engaging preacher of the faith and even Protestants were impressed. Of course, since he cut such a fine figure and moved in elevated and even fashionable circles, he was accused of vanity and self-promotion. Self-conscious and self-confident he was; utterly faithful and, when it really mattered, selfless he was in equal measure, if not more.
Both these men are worthy of canonization, not least because they were men of their day, aware of contemporary spiritual needs and adept at serving them. Both were of towering intellects, though Newman spoke more directly to the upper and more educated classes, whereas Sheen had a gift of distilling complex teaching into digestible servings for the ordinary man and woman.
THE THREE ANCIENT mainstays of Lenten observance are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Needless to say there is a dizzying array of worthy objects of your almsgiving attention. Some are more obvious than others; some suffer for their lack of, for want of a better phrase, instant gratification.
One of the less obvious objects for almsgiving is a religious house or order. It used not to be so. Monasteries and convents used to be a standard target for benefactions, often to support a liturgical devotion for which monasteries were particularly well suited. The Reformation struck a grievous blow to that wholesome, if occasionally abused, tradition. Secularisation of western society has landed a second blow. Benefactions, legacies and donations are just not as common as they used to be.
In the midst of the gloom the monastic life is giving off small and tender new shoots. New foundations are springing up that seek to reinvigorate the monastic vine. The Benedictine life is far from dead. Some will fail; this is an historical reality. Some others will prosper: taking the right approach at the right time in the right place. Continue reading “Lenten Almsgiving: an Option”→
Sydney seems to have a hotter summer than I remember from my youth. There were hot days then of course, but it seems more unrelentingly hot now. Global warming? Or has absence disacclimatized me?
This trip to Sydney was planned in haste, a result of the slings and arrows of outrageous monastic life. This visit I find myself more engaged by the city’s colonial history. My reverend nephew—also sojourning in Sydney at present for some restorative rest with the family—and I have visited a number of colonial houses both private and public. For example, there was Elizabeth Bay House, a compact but grand house with now-lost extensive gardens, and Vaucluse House, more modestly grand and still with substantial gardens. The former is very much an house, the latter feels far more an home. My reverend nephew prefers the house, my reverend self prefers the home. Make of that what you will.
As a sequel to the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross the Church keeps the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, whose heart was pierced by the nails that pierced Christ’s hands and feet, and the lance that pierced the Lord’s side.
One of the most typical images for the feast today is that of the Pietà. The most famous representation is, of course, Michelangelo’s sculpture in St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. Yet his is very far from the only one.
It struck me at Mass today how powerful an image it is for the Church in its current crisis of sexual and physical abuse by clergy and religious, and the negligence, or worse, of some in the hierarchy in dealing with such abuse. The scandal of deposed-Cardinal McCarrick truly merits the label scandal, as it has become for many a true stumbling block for a peacefully fruitfully life in the Church. Who really does believe that so many of McCarrick’s fellow bishops and cardinals knew nothing of Uncle Ted’s activities? I suspect only fools and the terminally idealistic. Continue reading “The Sorrowful Mother Today”→