Monday 31 August 2015

The Synod and Choice

There is a significant moment approaching the Church in the forthcoming Synod in which the Pope and Bishops will decide for or against the Gospel. I am confident the Synod will stand by the Gospel because of the many orthodox voices from all parts of the world that are calling for it to do so. I believe it will be a watershed moment when those who play footloose and fancy free with moral doctrine will realise they have had their day; that with Pope Francis and his avoidance of speaking doctrinally they had their best shot at overturning the ancient moral doctrine based on natural law and Sacred Tradition, so that from the Synod onwards the Church will once again set course on a way of orthodoxy, the liberal battle lost. I am a great believer that Truth will win out (can God be overcome?).
I am not for a moment underestimating the danger: it seems to me that for decades the Roman Curia has engaged in a way of speaking that so lacks in clarity that it borders on engaging in double-speak; often simply repeating excerpts from the texts of Vatican II, which doesn't do anything to clarify things. Further, she has been weak in calling to order errant theologians. In addition, she has been so anthropocentric in her worship that she has put man at the centre of her life. Having lived this way for the last few decades it is possible that Synod members may be unable to see any further than these few years, rather than keep in view the Church’s entire doctrinal, liturgical and pastoral history (to say nothing of her mission). But we have not been promised the assistance of the Holy Ghost for naught. It is at times like this that He will ensure the transmission of The Faith to future generations and prevent the loss of the Gospel.
Resistance to the Holy Ghost is always possible, but verbalising heresy and promoting pastoral innovations that are not in accord with orthodoxy would not have the final say; by the power of the Holy Ghost the Church would rise again. A burning ember is all that is needed, and there are some world-class lights, veritable faith-fires, shining in the Church of today among the Bishops who will cooperate with the Holy Ghost. The Book ‘Remaining in the Truth of Christ’ by the five Cardinals; the Book “Eleven Cardinals speak out” and “Christ’s New Homeland – Africa: A contribution to the Synod on the Family”, written by African Cardinals, who are some of those lights. We can add to this Bishop Schneider, and Bishop Jean Laffitte, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Family, with his new book “The Choice of the Family: A Call to Wholeness, Abundant Life, and Enduring Happiness”.
There is a question asked by some that is typical of today’s relativist Catholics in the street: What would Jesus say if He was a Synod Father? The answer is: Exactly what He said in the Gospel: “one who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery”....”You know the Commandments: 'You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony’” (Lk.16v18/Mk.10v19), for ‘Christ Jesus is the same today, yesterday and forever. Do not let yourselves be led astray by all sorts of strange doctrines’ (Heb.13v8).
Unbelievable as it may seem the reigniting of the Church just might, if we pray hard enough, be led by Pope Francis who, when push comes to shove, will not (we pray) allow himself to make room for practices contrary to the Gospel –and for which he would have to answer to the Lord. It is tempting to simply enjoy being adored by the media and by liberal men (as Pope Francis and the progressive Bishops undoubtedly are) but alone with the conscience it will be very hard for any of them to live having supported or promoted in either word or deed, a course contrary to the Gospel. Such contravening of the law of God is always a source of disturbance to the conscience, and denies the soul inner peace. Yes, Francis may put into the Apostolic Exhortation things not accepted
by the Synod. But this is where we must pray that his conscience, where he is alone with God, prohibits him. In any case, we must remember that an AE is not infallible teaching. and any pastoral innovations approved can be easily swept away in the future -especially if we refuse to follow pastoral innovations that are discordant with The Faith. I prefer to trust in the Holy Ghost that such a predicament for faithful Catholic clergy will not come about.

Come Holy Ghost, fill the hearts of Thy faithful, and kindle within us the fire of Thy Love. Come forth, O Spirit, and we shall be created, and Thou shalt renew the face of the earth. 

Friday 21 August 2015

Cilla Black's Funeral. R.I.P

Ever since the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, I have had requests to have pop songs played at funeral Masses, from ‘My Way’(Sinatra), through ‘Fields of Gold’(Cassidy) and ‘Someday, We’ll be together’(Supremes) to ‘Another one bites the Dust’(Queen). I have been asked to replace the Word of God with the words of man (‘Footprints’ or ‘Death is nothing at all’). Explaining that I am bound by the liturgical books to use the Word of God in the worship of God, and that just as we don’t sing hymns in the pub we don’t sing pop songs in Church, is usually met with “Well, they did it in Saint N’s at a friend’s funeral” leaves me less than happy with my brother priests, who thus make me appear uncaring, un-pastoral and inconsiderate as they turn the liturgy into a Service Of Remembrance of the deceased. I am now likely to be told, "Well, they did it at Cilla Black's funeral". 

We have nothing for which to thank the clergy for who celebrated Cilla's funeral. What are priests doing, ditching the word of God in favour of the word of man, and playing pop songs instead of singing the liturgy itself? They may think they are being pastoral but they are not: they are setting themselves up over-and-above the authority of Rome and Tradition to people-please. They will be loved by the people of course, and it is perhaps not wanting to upset the folk that keeps them from celebrating Holy Mass according to the liturgical books. But this comes at a great cost at any funeral: clergy taking lordship over the liturgy may at the very least be an occasion of missed opportunity for grace or an actual diminishing grace in their own souls, while mourners may have missed an opportunity for grace or been diminished in grace by clergy facilitating not the worship and petitioning of God but the adulation of their loved one. Meanwhile the deceased is denied proper intercession for the repose of their soul. An overview of the how the prayer for Cilla’s soul went can be found at Torch of the Faith.

Cilla may well have been a great celebrity in this life, celebrated by other celebrities now her life on earth has ended, and we make no judgment about anyone's sincerity, only about the inappropriateness of what went on at her funeral as permitted by the clergy. This lady deserved better from the Church, upon which we rely for intercession, not adulation. A correctly celebrated Requiem is what ‘our Cilla’ needed, followed at a later date with a memorial service where all sorts of readings, pop songs and eulogies could have been utilised. The Holy Sacrifice for the repose of her soul was not the place for this. I'm sure all went as Cilla's family hoped as their loving tribute to her, and who can blame them for seeking what they felt was the best? They took her to the very Church in which their parents were married and to the Faith in which she was raised. And I can understand the clergy wishing to accommodate her sons' needs, but why didn't those clergy offer two services: the Mass, and a memorial at a later date? This would have safeguarded both the integrity of the liturgy and taken full account of the needs of Cilla's family (needs which ought not be dismissed).

Still, whoever approved the Order of Service for Cilla’s funeral (God rest her soul) should have kept it in conformity with the liturgical books, particularly since Cilla was such a well-known lady and her funeral attended by the media. There was an opportunity here to publicly show how well the Church prays for her children at their death rather than demonstrate how far her children have come in celebrating themselves and one another. Our bishops must issue a reminder to all clergy –themselves and the presbyters- that funerals are not a celebration of the deceased, but the opportunity to beg God’s mercy for the response of the deceased’s soul. Cilla has been deprived of the fullness of the Church’s intercession and given a send-off loosely based on the order of Christian Funerals. I do hope those who arranged and presided at the funeral of this much-loved lady have had second thoughts about it, and determined not to engage in such antics again. 

Tuesday 18 August 2015

Dolce and Gabbana, ‘Synthetic’ People & The Assisted Dying Bill

Dolce of Dolce and Gabbana spoke in March of children produced by I.V.F. as children of chemistry and as synthetic babies, asking how we tell a child who their mother is in a world of “rented wombs” and “catalogue sperm”? (I suspect however, that he was referring to the process as synthetic and not the people the IVF procedures generate). Dolce is now, according to Lifesite news, saying “I think everybody chooses for themselves...Science has been put on the table to help people.” I am happy that he is not referring to persons generated by IVF as synthetic as this is clearly not true and offends against their human dignity, but without meaning to do so he has brought to our attention something we need to take on board: misuse of medical science.

I remember when first appointed as a hospital chaplain some twenty-plus years ago that the principal chaplain leading our course stated that many a time he had to reassure Christian nurses that some of the procedures in which they assisted (such as contraception and use of narcotics in end of life care) were blessings from God; that God had given us the knowledge to do these things and that we should therefore not be afraid to engage with them.  He was not happy when I asked if that meant that what happened in Auschwitz and at Hiroshima and Nagasaki were morally good if God had given us the knowledge to engage in mass destruction. The week was very tense after that, since the majority of new chaplains on the course were, like the principal chaplain, either Anglican or some other form of Protestant Christian, and no Protestant denomination has a strong history of moral theology as part of their faith system. I am not surprised, therefore, that Protestant ‘faith leaders’ have come out in support of the Assisted Dying Bill currently awaiting debate in Parliament.

While the babies and people brought into being by I.V.F. are not ‘synthetic’ people but real people with a human soul, the process by which they came into being is indeed unnatural; it removes the procreation of life from the loving, natural act in which it is meant to arise, and from the natural situation in which it should be fostered: the love of mother and father jointly committed to their offspring and one another. While I can see why people generated by I.V.F. procedures are rightly offended by being referred to as synthetic, there is an issue here in regard to transgender surgery, for while such plastic surgery does not make ‘plastic people’, it does produce only a ‘plastic sex’. God forbid, but should a transsexual be caught in a fire and identifiable only by their DNA, they would be identified as their conceived sex, not their plastic-surgery sex. At the biological level they remain unchanged; their sex remains as determined at their conception, and plastic surgery has done nothing to change this reality. This may be why there is, according to LIfesite news, a higher suicide rate among post surgery Transexuals that in the general population. Transgender surgery is actually a lie told to the person and to society about the sexual identity of the person. That does not mean that we can treat transsexuals as any less a person than anyone else, but it does mean we cannot opt into the lie and call Daniel ‘Daniela’. 

We seem to have a society that thinks ‘because we can do A, B and C, we should’. They do not ask the Christian question, which is ‘but should we?’ This is an area where the Assisted Dying Bill is not just questionable but morally wrong: yes we have the technology to kill quietly and efficiently, but should we? If we value human life and are seeking to eradicate problems from people’s lives, the answer to the question is ‘no’ because Assisted Dying –like Contraception and Abortion- does not eradicate problems but persons. We are not expressing our humanity if we eradicate one another rather than care for one another. Rather than push assisted dying we need to advance assisted living. It would be better to channel funds into finding ways which eradicate pain and anxiety while enhancing the life experience of the terminally ill rather than seek ways to kill them quietly, and far better to channel funds into social services for larger or impoverished families rather than eradicate children by contraception and abortion. Eradication of persons is the Culture of Death: Nazism in a white coat. What we need is a Culture of Life; one that seeks to eliminate problems, not people; one that assists people to live a satisfying life rather than end a distressing one; a Culture that empathically walks with folk in their journey towards death rather than one which precipitates that death. Let us train Doctors and Nurses, not Executioners; let us care for the sick and disabled, not kill them; let us build family life, not eliminate it.

Monday 17 August 2015

Reflection on the Mercy of God

Following my heart attack I reflected on God’s mercy, knowing it is upon His Mercy that I depend for salvation. I recalled my favourite statue in Lourdes, which is at the foot of the Stations of the Cross. It is the Angel of the Passion, who holds a cross along which is written ‘In Cruce Salus’: ‘in the cross is salvation’. I always reminded my pilgrims there that Salvation comes from the Cross and cannot be bought, earned or deserved. 

The mercy of God is absolutely free, but it does not come cheap. It comes at the cost of Our Lord’s Precious Blood, and is obtainable by Confession with penance and amendment of life. Amendment does not mean perfection, but it does mean avoiding what we know to be wrong and doing what we know to be right. Faulted we will always be, and we will always have to rely upon God’s mercy, but that mercy is always available to him who seeks to amend his life.

My first reflection was on how the mercy of God is without limit: there can be no sin that is bigger than God; no sin that can be wider, deeper or in any way more extensive than God –how can anything be bigger than He who is without limit? There was a time when I was young that when I looked at the Crucifix I saw Christ dying for the good who sometimes fail and need mercy. But the Cross is not that. It is Christ dying for His enemies (Romans 5v8). One of my favourite bible verses is 1.Tim.1v15-17: ‘This is a faithful saying, and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; and I am the greatest of these. For this reason I obtained mercy: that in me Jesus Christ might show forth all patience, as a pattern to them which would hereafter have to believe in Him for life everlasting. To the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory forever and ever’. It is for sinners, enemies of grace, that God died. By loving Him for all He has done for us (as witnessed by our prayer, reception of the sacraments and charity to all) our life becomes ‘good’.

I then reflected on the fact that the very essence of God’s mercy is that it is totally, completely, undeserved. It is simply accepted by sorrow for sin and the effort to amend one’s life. We need not achieve perfection to be saved; only sincerely aiming at it. We lose hope when we think we have to be good enough for God, for we will always experience ourselves as missing the mark. We do not want to fall into presumption either -a kind of quietism that fails to seek good and avoid what is wrong on the basis of ‘God loves me as I am’. While it is true that God loves me as I am, God wants me to be more the person He created me to be, mercifully absolving us from our failures along the way. When our last moment comes we need only to be facing God: actively seeking goodness and accepting God’s forgiveness for our falls along the way. (I am not referring to the Fundamental Option idea; I am trying to say that we are actively seeking what we know to be good and avoiding what we know is wrong, for one grave sin will indeed eradicate grace from the soul).

I also reflected upon how we hang onto our sins in an unhealthy way, even when they are absolved and our life amended, which comes from a  desire to be worthy of God or at least suitable for life with Him. When in pride we see ourselves as unsuitable, we morbidly hang on to the guilt of what we have done, which is spiritually destructive. It robs us of inner peace, and that is not God’s will for us. God wants us to repent and then rejoice in His mercy. We must let go of morbid guilt which is a trick of the enemy to induce us to lose hope. As St Therese indicates, even if we have committed every sin it is possible to commit, we should still have complete confidence in God. I try to convey this to penitents by saying the more sick the child is the more the predilection of the parent for that child, and is not God our Father? He is not simply a cold, logical monarch to be placated by obedience to His laws, but a Father who creates and redeems out of compassion and love; He is to be loved by the following of His laws as a means of making our character to be like His, not as a test of loyalty.

Finally I reflected upon the fact that if we are to receive mercy we must practice mercy: we can do this by remembering that very few of us are deliberately malicious and wicked; we are all much of a muchness with our own faults and weaknesses which plague us all. So we are to bear with one another; yes we point out areas of sin as areas for change and growth in holiness, but we have to remember that we are to hate the sin, never the sinner. I hate my own weaknesses far too much and have to be careful not to reject me along with them, for I have a tendency to be critical with folk when frustrated at their pace or failure to hear what I am say (ask ‘The Tie’!), and need to be more prayerful and more hard working than I am. But the good thing is that I am working on my faults; I am seeking to affirm folk when an opportunity arises (even when they dismiss it); I am praying more than ever; ensuring my needy folk get regular visits, and I never give a ‘man of the road’ (vagrant or hobo) a cup of tea and food at the door without also giving him my company as a sign of his being valued. Still, I am aware that “My wounds are foul and festering; the result of my own folly” (38v5); but with full confidence pray “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner” (Lk.18v13); for while “our offences are too heavy for us, you, Lord, wipe them away” (Ps.65v3).

Friday 14 August 2015

Silent Ischaemia

Ischemia, lack of blood supply, is fatal to tissues. It is also fatal to the soul if we deprive ourselves of the Blood of Christ and His grace. This came to me very strongly this week as I engaged in a battle with physiological ischemia...
Tuesday evening, August 4th, 2015 I was having pain in my shoulders, but none in my chest or jaw so I put it down to long-standing posture problems which have plagued me since purchasing a computer, and treated it with Anti-inflammatory Cream and Codeine phosphate 30mg. This gave some relief but no real resolution. Next morning (Wednesday) the pain was gone, but that evening it returned. I followed the same procedure as the day before, which provided the same result.

On Thursday the pain appeared quite early in the afternoon, and no relief was obtainable. By midnight it was quite intense so at 3am on the Friday morning I attended the Walk-in Centre at Peterlee. Having told them the family history of early deaths through heart attack they advised that I attend Accident and Emergency (ER) as Peterlee were unable to do ECG or Blood analysis.  I attended A&E at 6am and by 8am, with ECG abnormalities and rising Troponin levels (a heart enzyme released when the heart is damaged), I was being transferred to James Cook Cardiac Centre for care and treatment. That very day they placed three stents in the left coronary artery to the front of my heart with thrombolysis (break-up of clot) and hoped this would fix the problem. I was returned to Durham at 6am the following day (Saturday), with reassurance I would probably be discharged on the Sunday.

I was very eager to be discharged on the Sunday morning, but bitterly disappointed when Sunday came to discover Durham had no cardiology team member on duty to sanction the discharge, so I I had to resign myself to staying another night. This proved to be providential ( a grace from God) as on the Monday morning the Cardiac Registrar came to say that through the night the Telemetry heart tracing had shown ‘nasty ST irregularities’ during sleep(!) An echocardiogram and exercise ECG (treadmill test) were arranged on Wednesday which showed my heart was damaged and really struggling; that I was told not to leave the ward (or even go for a shower without informing nursing staff) in case I suddenly collapsed, so I was to be referred back to James Cook Hospital. At the same time, the telemetry ECG was removed, which left me feeling unsafe and vulnerable as I was now on a ward and not in Coronary Care. I asked to have my feeling of being safety-compromised recorded in my medical records since  it was removed after being I was told not to leave the ward or even go for a shower. Durham did their referral and on Thursday night I was taken back to James Cook, where next day a fourth stent was placed in the artery which circumvents the back of the heart. A post-procedure ECG looked fine so I was allowed to come home, where I am now, with strict inductions to stop smoking, reduce my salt intake and do gentle exercise.

I have had no chest pain at all throughout all of this, a condition described as ‘silent ischemia’ (once known as ‘Silent Myocardial Infarction’ or ‘silent heart attack’). Basically, one has a heart attack and does not know it.  I have been prescribed GTN spray in case I get chest pain -but will I?  I may simply infarct and arrest! A good reason to make sure I am at rights with God at every moment of every day, rather than giving in to sloth and the sharp tongue! A time to build prayer, patience, purity; charity to others and trust in God  -a good way for us all to live! 

Thank you, everyone for your prayers. Keep them up if you want to keep me on my feet!

Troponin –an enzyme released by heart muscle when it is damaged by ischemia (decrease in or loss of blood supply to the heart’s own muscle)

A way of gaining a live recoding ECG rhythms at a distance (patient is mobile and not present on the Coronary Care unit

A tracing of the electrical rhythms of the heart, showing the conduction of the electrical stimuli through the heart’s muscle (it is poor where muscle is damaged).

Use of a contrast medium to show the position and state of the Coronary Arteries

Placing of a stent in an artery blocked by atheroma (deposits in the artery)

A metal mesh-like tube placed inside a blocked artery to allow blood to flow to the heart muscle itself resume.


Following a cardiac event such as this one has little energy but a lot of anxiety as to when the next heart attack will occur. There is also some pain as the stents settle into place in the heart, so one is always on edge, added to which there is the possibility of kidney failure following use of the contrast medium for the angiogram (bloods are taken to check for this ten days after the angioplasty). Add to this the stress of having to alter one’s habits (reduce salt intake and quit smoking) and the anxiety only increases. It is said to reduce after some time, as patients learn to live with their condition. Roll on! In three weeks time I am to begin proper rehabilitation exercises led and supervised by health-care professionals in the next door village. Thanks be to God that at present Father Tully is saying the Masses here for me, allowing me to rest (and follow the gentle exercise plan!) and focus on life-style changes. But I must get back to offering Holy Mass soon; like a married man without his spouse the priest without his Mass is a man without his life.