Monday, August 25, 2014

The Dominican Way - Arundel to Canterbury

From 7 to 17th August, a group of more than 20 young pilgrims walked from Arundel to Canterbury, a distance of about 130 miles. This was The Dominican Way, the national event for the Dominican Youth Movement this summer, bringing together young Catholic adults from all over the country and even from overseas. In fact, we calculated that between us some 12 nationalities were represented!

The pilgrimage was inspired by the Routes Dominicaines run by the French brethren, but was adapted to the English context. Canterbury is in many ways the heart of English Christianity and was frequented by thousands of pilgrims a year following the shocking martyrdom of St Thomas Becket in the cathedral on 29th December 1170. At the the other end, Arundel is the the seat of the Dukes of Norfolk, the premier Catholic noble family in the land, and has an inspiring recusant history - the skyline is dominated by their castle as well as the magnificent cathedral dedicated to Our Lady and St Philip Howard, Earl of Arundel and martyr during the penal times. In between, we visited many religious communities, shrines and other places of great historical and religious interest.

But this pilgrimage was not just about discovering the glories of a historic Christendom. It was a living adventure, through which we young Catholics entered more deeply into our spiritual heritage and received blessings and inspiration for our mission as Christians in the 21st century. Along the way we encountered countless strangers and friends who shared our passion for the Faith, or simply offered us their kindness and hospitality. In particular, we were very grateful for the warm welcome we received at the places we stopped for the night, including cathedrals, religious communities, Catholic and Anglican parishes - and some individual parishioners even welcomed us into their own homes.

The pilgrimage aimed to realise the four pillars of Dominican life - community, prayer, study, preaching - while on the road. So, besides the obvious benefit (and challenge!) of walking some 20 miles a day, we were making friends and learning to live together; learning about the places we were visiting; being schooled in the lives of the saints; praying the Divine Office using our Dominican melodies; sharing short thoughts from our experiences; and preaching in diverse ways to people we met along the way - in the countryside, in churches, and even in pubs!

After successfully navigating several perils of the English countryside - including hornets, black sheep, and Brother Jordan singing - we arrived safe and sound in Canterbury. The joy of reaching our destination quickly outshone the memories of the difficult terrain we had traversed. This short pilgrimage gave us perhaps a foretaste of that greater destination we hope to reach at the end of our pilgrim lives on earth. But meanwhile, we look forward to the next DYM pilgrimage!

Here are some photos to give you a glimpse of what we did. You can find more through the Facebook page for The Dominican Way.

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Saint Hyacinth

St. Hyacinth
About the same time that Dominican brothers came to England founding their first priory in Oxford they also came to Poland. The first priory was established in Cracow by St. Hyacinth, who was the first Polish Dominican and whose feast day is celebrated on 17 August. Hyacinth was born about 1183 in Kamień Śląski near Opole (southern part of Poland) in a noble family. He studied in Paris and Bologna and after his return to Poland he became a priest and a canon of the cathedral of Wawel in Cracow. In 1220 he accompanied Iwo Odrowąż, who was bishop of Cracow, to Rome where they met St. Dominic. There in 1221 he received the religious habit from St. Dominic himself. After a short stay at Santa Sabina he came back to Poland. On his way Hyacinth established a Dominican priory in Friesach in Carinthia. In 1223 he settled at the Holy Trinity church in Cracow where he founded the first Dominican priory in Poland that since that time has been existing without interruption.

The statue of St. Hyacinth on Bernini's colonnade in Rome
St. Hyacinth was a tireless apostle and a great missionary. He established Dominican priories in many Polish dioceses as well as he went to Prussia, Ruthenia and Lithuania spreading the faith. Because of his zeal and evangelizing work a lot of people were converted and  many churches and priories were built. He came back to Cracow in 1243 and he died there on 15 August 1257. He was beatified by Pope Clement VII in 1527 and he was canonized by Pope Clement VIII in 1594. His tomb is in the Dominican church in Cracow.

The tomb of St. Hyacinth
There are many legends associated with St. Hyacinth. One of them explains why he is very often depicted with a monstrance containing the Blessed Sacrament and with a stone statue of Our Lady. This legend says that during a Tatars attack on Kiev Hyacinth wanted to prevent a sacrilegious attack, so he went to the chapel to take and save the Blessed Sacrament from the tabernacle. But at the same time he heard the voice of Mary asking him why he takes her Son, but he leaves her. Hyacinth was worried, because the statue was very heavy, it was made of alabaster, but Mary promised him to make it very light and so it was, so Hyacinth could carry it. For this reason he is usually shown holding a monstrance and a statue of Our Lady.

There is also an interesting fact that St. Hyacinth is the only Polish saint whose statue can be found among statues of other saints on Bernini's colonnade surrounding St. Peter's Square in Rome.

Ave, florum flos, Hyacinthe,
omni flore purior.
Ave, gemma pretiosa,
cunctis gemmis clarior.
Ave, protector omnium
ad te confugientium.
Ave, caelestis incola:
succurre prece sedula.
O Hyacinthe sanctissime,
o Confessor dulcissime.

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Monday, August 11, 2014

Third Glorious Mystery: The Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost

“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

It is easy to think of the Descent of the Holy Spirit as something that hap-pened to the disciples, but we have not fully understood the signif-icance of the event recorded unless Acts, unless when we read "you shall receive power . . .", we read it aware that that "you" is as applicable today to you and me as it was to the disciples present at the time. Similarly, with the power we receive from the Holy Spirit, we must also take on the responsibility of bearing witness to Christ to the ends of the earth.

As we reflect on this beautiful mystery, we would do well to imagine ourselves there with Mary, who is intimately connected with Holy Spirit. She conceived her son by the power of the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is often poured out in her presence. Thus it was fitting that Mary should be present at the birthday of the Church, for as she is the Mother of Jesus, so she is also the Mother of the Church. We are told how Mary would ponder things in her heart, and we would do well to follow her example in pondering on what the Holy Spirit brings to us. Now would be a good time to reflect on the gifts of the Holy Spirit at Confirmation. For if we do not know what gifts we have been given, we are unlikely to utilise them fully, and we might neglect to play our part in aiding the renewal of the face of the earth. So then let us pray for Mary's intercession that we might better appreciate and cooperate with the workings of the Spirit within us and then be witnesses to Christ to the ends of the earth.

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Saturday, August 09, 2014

Second Glorious Mystery: The Ascension

Even after enduring death, and overcoming it in the Resurrection, Christ does not do away with his humanity. Christ’s humanity is not like a garment that is discarded once it has been worn. The real and enduring reality of Jesus’s humanity remain the point of connection between man and God, just as it was in his earthly ministry so it remains today: the Sacred Humanity is the organ through which redemptive grace flows to us (especially in the Sacraments). Christ, then, continues to relate to us in and through his humanity, even though we do not see it (except sacramentally). Thus the Ascension is not a moment of sadness—the definitive disappearance of the Messiah from the world that He has redeemed—but the glory of a bodily ‘withdrawal’ that is enacted precisely—and only—so that the Lord can be present to us in a new and more intimate fashion. The coming of the Holy Spirit (the Third Glorious Mystery) casts this in stark relief. 

In the context of the Glorious Mysteries of the Holy Rosary, however, the link between Christ’s Ascension and Mary’s Assumption is particularly evident. Christ’s Ascension, and the bodily Communion with God that the Incarnation makes possible, does not merely return the world to a pre-incarnation, or even pre-fallen, state. Rather the Ascension is a creative act, one that inaugurates something new: a new for humanity to ascend, through the gift of participating in Christ’s own life, to bodily communion with God. This is communicated pre-eminently to Mary, attested in her Bodily Assumption (the Fourth Glorious Mystery).

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Sunday, August 03, 2014

First Glorious Mystery: The Resurrection

The First Glorious Mystery – the Resurrection – is the master-key to all the others, the fulfilment of God's plan. Out of the despair and grief we follow and experience in the Sorrowful Mysteries, we find hope in life after death with Christ.

In this mystery we share the sense of joy that the women outside the tomb felt as the angel told them that He had risen. If we remain steadfast, we too can share in the glory of everlasting life. That promise sustains us in our earthly mission. We do well to dwell on it in praying the Rosary and more generally, letting it imbue us and inform our actions.

One good intention to remember in praying this mystery is the Holy Souls in purgatory, that they might share in the the glory of the Heavenly Kingdom.

– Br Samuel Burke OP

Rubens, The Resurrection of Christ (1612)


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Friars' Walk: Coast-to-Coast Pilgrimage update

Many of you will be following the Friars' Walk blog which is charting the progress of our four brothers walking Coast-to-Coast across England, including two members of the Godzdogz team.

You can now click the icon to the right of this page to reach that blog, or follow the link below:

Here's a quick illustrated digest of what they've achieved so far....

24/07/14 – Feast of the Cumbrian Martyrs


Our Four walking Friars, two from Cambridge and two from Oxford, met at Carlisle at 2.30pm to take the Cumbrian Coast Line to Corkickle, which takes in some spectacular views over the Irish Sea to the West and Lakeland foothills to the East.

A hearty welcome awaited us at St. Begh’s, Whitehaven... Fr. Joseph Parkinson OSB and Deacon Stephen Scott received us at the Presbytery before allocating us to parishioners who, showing famous Northern hospitality, took us into their homes. Thank you to Sue, Sandra & Ian, and Roy. Special thanks also to Deacon Stephen for all his efforts in putting these arrangements together.

We met again for Mass at 6pm at St. Begh’s where Fr. Richard Finn OP preached on the significance and meaning of parables. He referred to the parable-like Dominican charism and our mission both generally and on this walk. After Mass, parishioners showed great generosity of spirit, wishing us well on our trek, and generously contributed to our fundraising efforts.

DAY ONE: 25/07: Feast of St. James

St. Bees to Ennerdale

An auspicious day (St James is the patron saint of pilgrims) to start our Coast to Coast fundraising pilgrimage!

We pray for vocations, our fundraising efforts, and the intentions of our benefactors and friends. Today we also remember Iraqi Christians especially in our prayers.

DAY ONE: Arrived at Ennerdale Bridge

In the glorious Cumbrian sunshine, we reached today’s destination at Ennerdale Bridge! We were delighted to be joined by Mary Clarkson who was wonderful company!! We encourage others to join us if possible. Details here:

Please tell us via Twitter or Facebook if you would like us remember any intention in a decade of the rosary.

Our route today took us along the spectacular coastland from St. Bees to Whitehaven. ...

In the afternoon we scaled Dent Fell, looking out over a West Cumberland to the West and the daunting fells that awaited us to the East. The views were spectacular. A steep descent from Dent brought us finally to Ennerdale Bridge.

On arriving at Ennerdale, we were taken back to Cleator by our invaluable support crew consisting of John and Sue Collins from our Cambridge Priory and Br. Andrew Brookes OP

Vespers, a shower, Dinner and a drink rounded off a very successful first day. Thanks be to God!!

DAY TWO: 26/07: St. Joachim & St. Anne

Ennerdale Bridge to Rosthwaite

We contined to pray for the intentions of our benefactors and friends. The intentions entrusted to us, each of which is remembered at a decade of the Rosary, are often very grave. It was a comfort to us that we could pray for people who are facing all manner of difficulties; we hope it will be a comfort for them. ...

Over the next 1/2 mile, we climbed 340m, as we took the steps up Loft Beck. We met Australians Sue and Elaine near the top. They were in their 70s, and doing the Coast to Coast walk for third time! They were in a spot of bother because the steps seem to disappear and Elaine couldn’t work out where to place her feet in a particularly demanding scramble up the mountain stream. When we reached the summit, after some help and encouragement, they reported that they were now quite convinced of the existance of Guardian Angels!!

DAY THREE: 27/07: 17th Sunday of the Year

Rosthwaite to Patterdale, via Grasmere

...This promised to be one of the most demanding days of walking before us, a walk of over 17 miles over some long and step climbs.

The first major ascent is Lining Crag, a glacier smoothed fell of some 1778 ft. Upon reaching the top, we were greeted by a wonderful belvedere, a sort of hidden valley within a valley.

We then descended into Far Easdale before continuing to the outskirts of Grasmere at Goody Bridge. After a hard morning’s walking, the team felt it entirely necessary (!) to avail ourselves of the opportunity for tea in one of Grasmere’s many tea shops.

After a welcome breather, we began the formidable climb up beside two fells known as the Lion and the Lamb. Then we came up the Tip of Great Tongue, before traversing to Grisedale Tarn, a lake at the top of the mountain with views of the Old Man of Conniston.

There followed a long and invigorating descent leading to the valley of Patterdale, named after St. Patrick. William Wordsworth’s poem Brothers Parting is carved in stone in the valley: the evocative poem describes the parting of Wordsworth and his brother, John. ...


See here for some photos from the last couple of days.

DAY SIX: 30/07: OT.17.Wednesday

Kirkby Stephen to Keld

After a night of camping at Takoma Campsite, and a bacon muffin, we prayed Lauds with Maria, our host. Fellow campers awoke to the chanting of the Benedictus, which must have been something of a surprise!

... we met a British couple, Dave and Jacqui, and an American couple, John and Caroline. We spoke about our mission and the walk, speaking over the strong winds, which blew across the valley.

Both couples, like many other walkers we have met, were kind enough to make donations to our cause. Incidentally, anyone wishing to make donations can do so here, through Just Giving.

Our route continued across the boggy moorland, through the clouds. Once we emerged from the clouds, the views were impressive, if not somewhat bleak. As we came down from the higher ground, we stumbled across a wonderful farm at Ravenseat, which served that delightful English staple, “Cream Tea”. It would have been rude not to have availed oneself of the opportunity to sample such an idle pleasure.

We learnt that the remote farm was famous and had been the subject of television programmes and a book. During our short tea-time, we met some delightful friends including Denise Rowland a Catholic lady from Carlisle, with her friend Doris, and her granddaughter – also called Denise. One brother also made friends with Pippin, the farm hound.

When we arrived at the sleepy village of Keld, we discovered that our wonderful support team of John and Sue Collins had found Caroline (of the aforementioned American couple) injured by the roadside, and – playing the role of the Good Samaritan – conveyed her and her husband, John, to Keld by car.

Our support team then took us to St. Catherine’s Penrith where we spent the night.

DAY SEVEN: 31/07: Feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola

Keld to Reeth

Today’s walk was a relatively easy stroll along the riverside through the Swaledale Valley from Keld to Reeth, covering just over 10 miles. Since we have not scheduled any rest days in our 12 day trek, a lighter day was a pleasant contrast to some of the more intense earlier legs through the Lakes. The landscape of the Yorkshire Dales, though similar, is altogether more gentle.

Just before we set off from the small village of Keld, a young chap approached us for a photograph. He said he had heard about some walking friars at the youth hostel where he was staying with a friend. His friend, however, had decided to take a rest day and not walk this particularly stretch. “Let’s have a photo so I can show my friend”, said the young chap, “he’ll be so jealous that he’s missed you!” Word is getting round, it seems!

...The gentle rolling hills, trickling streams, and dry stone walls made for a most pleasant walk. On the Feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, that great Saint, one was reminded of verses from the hand of the Jesuit poet, Gerald Manley Hopkins “Glory be to God for dappled things..”

DAY EIGHT: 01/08: Feast of St. Alphonsus Liguori

The day’s walk was much the same as yesterday in that we meandered through fields and countryside hamlets en route to Richmond. We stopped for Midday Office under the protection of a large tree as the rain came down around us.

Next, we continue to our overnight accommodation at Catterick Garrison.

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Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Rosary: The Glorious Mysteries

The Glorious mysteries are one of the three traditional sets of events of the life of Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary. Pope Leo XIII said of the Glorious Mysteries that they reveal the mediation of the great Virgin, still more abundant in fruitfulness. She rejoices in heart over the glory of her Son triumphant over death, and follows Him with a mother's love in His Ascension to His eternal kingdom; but, though worthy of Heaven, she abides a while on earth, so that the infant Church may be directed and comforted by her "who penetrated, beyond all belief, into the deep secrets of Divine wisdom" (St. Bernard). The first three meditations are taken from scripture. The Resurrection of our Lord, His Ascension into heaven and the Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost are all meditations on scriptural events. The fourth meditation (the Assumption of Mary) and fifth meditation (Coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven) are part of Catholic devotion, and contemplate beauty and hope in the human condition.


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Monday, July 28, 2014

Fifth Sorrowful Mystery: The Crucifixion of Our Lord

That we Catholics so frequently see crucifixes in our homes and churches might, in a certain way, desensitize us to the horrors that it represents in a relatively sanitised form. The crucifix—which we proudly wear as a symbol of our faith and a sign of hope—is a remembrance of a gruesome and barbaric act of inhumanity, a depiction of the gravest historical injustice imaginable (simultaneously the cruel murder of a totally innocent man, perpetrated for personal expedience but enacted in the name of a fake justice, and the desecration of God’s only begotten).

Yet it is in this moment—the moment when Jesus looks most unlike God, most reducible to that which is rejected by humans—that the depths of divine love are revealed: in the veiling of his death, Christ’s true identity as God's own way of reaching out and loving humanity is revealed. God wills, in the mystery of Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection, to love us into new communion with Himself, thereby bestowing new meaning on human suffering itself. This man of sorrows was never without the joy of the beatific vision.

Through the eyes of faith, then, we see Christ’s own perfect self-offering as priest and victim, a true and proper sacrifice offered for our ransom and reconciliation, atoning for our sins and meriting all the graces that we receive and could ever receive. The eyes of faith allow us to see already, here at Calvary, the glorious conclusion of Christ’s work of redemption in the resurrection and ascension: this authentically human death in obedience to the Father merits the rewards of exaltation from God, firstly for Himself and (God-willing) for we who appropriate it in our own lives.

In times of sorrow, it can be difficult to sense God's presence: suffering seems meaningless and it is as if the ink of God's handwriting is invisible against the darkness of life's paper. Yet, as we endure the sorrows and mini-'crucifixions' that come in our own lives, may Mary's prayers helps us to unite our sorrows to Christ's death, so that we may experience a foretaste of the joy of our own resurrection, and come to see God's handwriting by the light shed from the empty tomb.
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Saturday, July 26, 2014

Book review: Green Philosophy by Roger Scruton

There have always been different perspectives on how we interact with animals and the environment. Saint Francis loved birds landing on his arm, with animals beside him as he contemplated brother sun and sister moon. On the other hand, according to Blessed Cecilia, Saint Dominic when preaching to nuns from behind a grille in their convent, plucked the feathers from a sparrow that had flown into the church, shouting that it was the devil that had came to interrupt his sermon!

Someone with an alternative perspective on the environment is Professor Roger Scruton, a fellow of Blackfriars Hall. In his book Green Philosophy, Prof. Scruton calls for a greater focus on how non-political grassroots and voluntary organisations can address both local and global scale environmental issues. His main premise is that a top-down, government-directed approach is never going to fully address global problems like climate change. Scruton has grave concerns that such an approach is counter-productive and only serves to take power away from individuals, bankrupt small businesses and favour those with an interest in gaining a competitive advantage with new legislation being introduced. Scruton is particularly critical of the European Union and the seemingly endless number of regulations aimed at protection of the environment. His philosophy is that such top-down directives become a burdensome array of counter-productive legislation at both a local and national level.

Scruton gives examples where various systems of top-down government have caused massive damage to the environment. The ‘tragedy of the commons’ happens when everyone has access to unowned or commonly owned resources (such as fish in a lake, the air we breathe). Such resources are easily depleted by our use of them, particularly if there is a situation where it is in the interest of individuals to take as much as they can before others deprive them of the chance. Natural resources or ecosystems become someone else’s problem. When there is no accountability for stewardship of a common resource, the result is usually environmental degradation.

The evidence is certainly there to prove his point on the issue of climate change. Global COconcentrations in the atmosphere are at the highest levels ever recorded and show no signs of stabilising. Deforestation continues across the world. Despite all the attempts at gaining a global agreement on climate change, the problem of increasing carbon emissions and decreasing capacity of the planet’s ability to cope is only getting worse. Scruton sees some climate change activists as being less interested in society adapting to climate change, and more interested in perpetuating a system of government which provides them with a cushy job role. Scruton also criticises the approach of many unaccountable non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in their blatant bypassing of the democratic system through lobbying Government or even donating to political parties.

Poundbury: the type of development which Scruton advocates

Overall, Scruton proposes that we should switch from a fast-paced, fossil-fuel intensive living, to a local way of life focused on organic agriculture, farmers’ markets, locally-sourced food, more local holidays and so on. Scruton suggests we abandon the impossible task of getting all nations to implement treaties on carbon trading and limiting greenhouse gas emissions. Instead, he proposes that we should invest in developing clean technology, and agreeing on treaties that can actually be globally implemented. He also suggests we radically reform (or indeed get rid of) the system of agricultural subsidies which generally favour corporations and resource-intensive monoculture farming. In other words, taxes should be funding the technological advancements and local-scale innovation that is needed to deal with climate change in the 21st century, rather than more bureaucracy on carbon emissions. Prof Scruton outlines a philosophical term ‘oikophilia’ or love of home, as the primary motivation for care of the earth. Scruton believes oikophilia can be promoted with a shift away from government-shaped solutions and instead sees non-political ‘grassroots’ organisations like the National Trust, Womens Institute, RSPB, and so on as the ones which should be protecting the environment.

Prof Scruton’s proposals are not a silver bullet to environmental concerns, nor does he claim to have one. Of course, not everyone is able to commit to supporting a grassroots organisation, or has the income to buy locally-grown food from independent stores. However, Scruton does put forward a theory that oikophilia is degraded by modern pursuits such as home entertainment, television, and other activities which instead of building up virtue in our lives, leave us empty. In traditional moralising language, vice and sin are what degrades oikophilia, with greed driving a consumerism that is ultimately unsustainable.

In our Dominican tradition, I should recognise the truth contained in Green Philosophy and applaud Scruton for the very useful criticisms of the government-led approach. However, Scruton’s deregulated and small government framework for ‘green conservatism’ seems to neglect the positive achievements on certain environmental issues through a ‘top-down’ approach. For instance, EU regulations on vehicle emission standards is reducing toxic air pollution from vehicles in European towns and cities. This was done by forcing car manufacturers to increase engine efficiency and improve pollution control. The EU is also requiring energy companies to use less polluting fuels and use more renewable sources of power. The top-down directive approach has revolutionised how we view waste as a resource in this country, with the EU setting waste targets and offering best practice on new waste treatment technology. Government grants are supposed to be available for businesses and organisations to access, in order to deal with the anomalies that occur in this top-down approach. 

Waste not: EU directives have revolutionised how we manage waste as a resource

As for green conservatism, placing an emphasis on tradition in architecture, and starting up permaculture projects are good things. However, I cannot see how small government and a volunteer based approach would work in some cases. It is hard to see the Womens Institute coming together to remedy the problem of contaminated land from the old gasworks in the nearby industrial estate. Or the National Trust appearing with volunteers to clean up Sellafield, with their membership passes in the pockets of their radiation suits. Although Scruton points out failures in certain top-down legislation on habitats and protected species, the general trend is that things have improved greatly over the last 40 years in terms of protection of the environment. European legislation and international treaties have delivered positive results on protection of endangered species. Accession countries such as Poland who are new members of the EU, are being forced to clean up their industries, deal with major pollution problems and protect sites of ecological importance. The collaborative international approach with some degree of top-down government directive has been successful in meeting environmental objectives.

As for the skeptics who do not believe climate change is something to be concerned about, Scruton helpfully recommends reading Global Warming: The Complete Briefing by Sir John Houghton, which is a balanced and comprehensive overview. He also cites Sustainable Energy without the Hot air by David JC MacKay as a good source of further information on energy related issues. I do agree with Prof. Scruton that non-political and accountable local associations, and indeed local churches will, at the end of the day, achieve more than any attempt at having a global carbon trading ‘market’ or the futile attempts at trying to get another Kyoto agreement on greenhouse gases. Going to Church to pray will likely have more of a positive overall impact than either of these.

Scruton makes an interesting point that we must recognise the difference between a religion directed towards salvation (which tends to ignore the environment), and a religion focused on the immediate presence of the sacred, as this is revealed in the here and now. The two may of course be combined, but are clearly different as motives. A care for sacred places is an obstacle to destruction of the environment, and Scruton’s argument is that care for sacred places is part of the domestication of religion. This means attaching the Christian faith to local saints, shrines, towns and civic ceremonies, even the law of a nation. This personalising of our connection to the environment is of course lost through rampant consumerism and the extremes of individualism. 

In the meantime, our sacristy in Blackfriars has an infestation of flies which will be duly sprayed with chemicals so we can get on with our preaching.

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Friday, July 25, 2014

Fourth Sorrowful Mystery: The Carrying of the Cross

Titian, Christ Carrying the Cross (c.1565)
When we pray the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery we bring to mind our Lord's anguish and pain as he carried the weight of our sins on the cross, knowing the greater sacrifice that awaited him on the summit of Calvary.

Recalling our Lord's act leaves us feeling humbled, contrite but encouraged by his overwhelming love for us, His children. Our cross is light to bear, by comparison with Christ's inestimable sacrifice. 

A good intention, therefore, when praying this mystery is to pray for those who are without hope, and feel overburdened. That they may take up their cross and follow Him, for it is only in carrying our cross with love, in faith, and for the hope of the life to come that we find happiness.

– Br Samuel Burke OP


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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Could you sponsor the Friars to help train new priests?

Today, four Dominican Friars will take the first steps on a 190-mile trek across England. This is a final plea for sponsors – many men are currently joining our Order, and we urgently need to raise money to fill a gap we have in our funds for training them.

So far we have reached 76% of our sponsorship target - £15,196 out of £20,000. Could you help us get closer to our goal?


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Monday, July 21, 2014

Third Sorrowful Mystery: The Crowning with Thorns

Mantegna, 'Ecce homo' (1500)
Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. (Luke 23:34)

These words of Jesus hanging on the Cross reveal a profound truth about the present scene of his crowning with thorns. What must have pained our Lord above all is the knowledge that his own people, these sons and daughters of God, were tormenting him to death without knowing his true identity or the depth of his love for them. The worst pains we suffer are inflicted by those we love.

All the Sorrowful Mysteries invite us to weep for Jesus, in his terrible sufferings, but also to weep with Jesus. As the unruly crowd calls for his blood and looks on at this scourged and bleeding man – Ecce homo! Behold the man! – our Lord is silently looking back at them and loving them. He is grieving not for his own pains, but for the sins of his beloved people who have turned against him.

So it is not just the sheer cruelty that makes me want to recoil from this scene. It is also the dramatic, even tragic, irony of it all. The Roman soldiers are mocking Christ and, specifically, his claim to kingship. They have wrapped him in a robe of royalty, put a pathetic stick of authority in his hand, and a twisted crown of thorns on his head. I wince at the thought of those thorns – superfluous, barbaric cruelty. And this cruelty exacerbates the fact that the mockery is totally unjustified: for Christ is just, Christ is innocent, and Christ is king. He is true man – 'a man of sufferings and acquainted with grief' – and also true God, the God who looks upon us with infinite love despite our sins.

It is good to pray this mystery for all those in authority, for those suffering persecution or torture, and for those who do not recognise Christ as king.


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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Assisted Dying: Love vs autonomy

The Good Samaritan
In a previous post I discussed some of the issues with the proposed “Assisted Dying” legislation from a procedural perspective in a Parliamentary democracy. In today’s post I want to give some consideration to the values which underpin our society and what the implementation of the proposed legislation would mean for them.

Now depending on who you speak to, the United Kingdom is a Christian society or used to be one. However, regardless of where they stand on this issue, few would argue that many of our most cherished institutions and many of our accepted moral norms have their root in Christianity, even if some believe that they are now divorced and independent from it.

Take, for example, the NHS; it’s not hard to see how an institution like this arises out of Jesus’s commandment to “Love thy neighbour”. Similarly, the welfare state is another example of society collectively living out the Parable of the Good Samaritan: we do not wish anybody to be left by the side of the street destitute, simply because they do not have a job or money. Whilst there are arguments of scale and scope, I have never actually met anyone in this country who would wish to get rid of welfare or the NHS. Such institutions send a message that everyone, irrespective of who they are now, or what they have done in their past, merits a certain level of respect and care; derived from their basic dignity as a human being.

At a more local level, there are tens of thousands of different groups, organisations, and individuals working up and down the country to improve the lives of others; and not because they are being forced to, but because they wish to help and care for others. This, too, is “Love they neighbour” in action.

Furthermore, implicit in all these good works at every level of society is an acknowledgment that loving can mean putting the interests of others before our own immediate interests. When you pay National Insurance and do not resist doing so, you are willingly receiving less of your salary than would otherwise be the case, so that others may benefit from the fruits of your labours. This is noble.

Thus it would not, I think, be an exaggeration to say that love of neighbour underpins many of the ways we seek to behave in this country. Furthermore, I suspect if many were asked what their ultimate moral value was they might reply with the Golden Rule, “Do as you would be done by”. We remain a loving society and one which respects acts of kindness to others. You only have to observe how feel-good YouTube videos showing kindness in unexpected places go viral.

What then is the ultimate value which underlies the campaign behind the “Assisted Dying” campaign? Is it to make us more loving? No, ultimately it is about autonomy. There are other values mixed in there, and that people may cite: care and compassion, love and the desire not to see another suffer (and I don’t doubt the sincerity and good of them); but whilst "assisted dying" remains a voluntary decision, then the ultimate value remains autonomy. The proponents of the legislation are not saying that somebody with a limited amount of time to live and certain level of suffering should request help to commit suicide, but rather they want a situation where that person could request the necessary help. Thus the choice of individual is the heart of the argument, and autonomy is key.

In fact in many areas of life at the moment there is increasing propensity to talk in terms of autonomy, generally at the expense of absolute values. Autonomy itself becomes the absolute value. There is a creeping trend to define us as beings that choose, not as beings that seek to choose well. Autonomy, not love, is at the heart of the sexual revolution; autonomy, not love, is at the heart of the pro-choice campaign; autonomy, not love, is at the heart of the liberalisation of pornography; and autonomy, not love, is at the heart of the current campaign.

Choice is not in and of itself a good thing
Choice is not a good in and of itself. Its good is dependent on there being a good choice for us to make. The choice between being able to become addicted to heroin or crack-cocaine is not a good. The choice between mutilating my left side or my right side is not a good. The introduction of a choice so that we can now assist somebody to kill themselves with the backing of the law is not a good. It is a choice we would be better without.

The obvious riposte to this is that I do not have to live with terminal illness, with pain and suffering, and with the fear of it getting ever-worse. This is true, and I have great sympathy for someone who wishes to take their own life and feels there is no other option, but I cannot condone them in this choice and always find suicide tragic. My reaction to cases of suicide is to think about what we could have done to make that person feel that taking their own life was not their best option. And the fact is that palliative care is far more effective than many realise and is improving all the time. And it is also as the law currently stands a responsibility on us to fund adequately and to make sure it is available to all who need it. However, should the “Assisted Dying” Bill pass into statute, it will absolve us of this responsibility. Where appropriate palliative care is deemed too onerous or too expensive, we will be able to respond to the patient, “Ah, well you do have a choice you know, you don’t have to suffer like this.” In short, the triumph of autonomy will excuse us from being more loving, from valuing someone, even when they don’t value themselves.

There is also an inherent problem with choice; for it is incumbent upon us to consider whether we should choose one option or another. “I choose death” is not a response which we should be building into our legal framework. Patients should be able to focus on living well. That does not mean prolonging life just for the sake of it, but rather that everything should be done to be make life as good as possible whilst we still have the gift of it. Similarly families and doctors should be single-minded in their provision of love and comfort, not working and caring with the alternative of helping the patient to kill themselves if it all becomes too much. It's hard to fully commit to the sometimes onerous task of loving fully, when the spectre of an easier way out is in the background. Such a choice not only undermines love and trust between patient and carer, but also puts doctors in the invidious position of having to help kill people, not what they will have joined the medical profession to do. What would it to the emotional well-being of a doctor to make them an agent of death?

There is still the riposte from those in favour of the legislation that the choice is only for those who want it and that is exactly what the issue of autonomy is all about. However, this is just naive. As John Donne astutely observed in his poignant meditations, “No man is an Island”. Every human action affects the rest of humanity in some way. Patterns of behaviour create expectations of behaviour. “Alice chose not to be a burden, are you sure you want to carry on, what with so much pain and everything?” . . .  “Obviously, we don’t want you to die, BUT have you thought about. . . ?” One person’s struggle for autonomy forces a choice on many who just want to live the term of their natural life. Uncomfortable as it feels to say it, even in extreme suffering we have a responsibility to think about how our actions impinge upon others. There are disabled and terminally ill people already scared by the pressure that they feel will inevitably be place upon them to take their lives, and saying "don't worry, it's your choice" is not going to reassure them.

For an eloquent account of the very real fear of the pressure to choose to die and the way that the doctor-patient relationship is affected I would recommend Penny Pepper’s moving article . She has the following to say:

I tried to commit suicide when I was 19. How tragic, you might say, so young and so unhappy. Yet if I tell you I’ve had a chronic illness since early childhood that is known for excruciating pain, for causing immobility and secondary – sometimes life-threatening – conditions, does that change your view of my suicide attempt?

I was unhappy and badly needed mental health support to treat depression. Sad to say that the standard response was to link my illness and disability automatically to my depression – and my “understandable” suicide attempt. There is a link, but not the one perceived by mainstream thought, medical or otherwise. I was stuck in an isolated dead-end existence within the family home, and as I wrote in the Guardian recently my mother was my only carer.

It felt like there was no chance of escape from a pointless existence; frustration dragged my depression into a downward spiral and I attempted suicide. I was in despair with barriers, with limits on personal freedom, and lack of independence – issues that can be alleviated by proper social care and the adaptation of physical boundaries.

Pain was, and is, a constant. But for the rest of my life I want to experience, to feel and to create as much as I can. I believe I am as valuable, with all my flaws and contradictions, as any other average human being. Yet the bill to legalise assisted dying – to be debated in the Lords on Friday – puts us on a dangerous road of devaluing disabled people. It frightens many; it frightens me.

The final point I want to make is that for all the talk about autonomy there is another more pernicious under-current behind the proposed legislation. It is simply that some lives are worth less than others. Penny Pepper alludes to this above with reference to depression and disability. People with severe disabilities and terminal illness are to be considered less worthy of the full spectrum of medical treatment than those it is considered have “something to live for.” If this were not the case, then why would the “Assisted Dying” Bill restrict its remit to the provision of assistance with suicide to those who are terminally ill. Why should anybody who wishes to kill themselves not have their autonomy respected? Surely this can only be because the life of the terminally ill is less respected.

Nazi Euthanasia Propaganda Poster
Euthanasia Propoganda Poster

Evidence of this dangerous type of thinking is evidenced by many of those who argue for the Bill. It is sad to see that it has crept into the thinking of the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, formerly a staunch defender of the current legal position. Notice that in saying how his mind was changed, he cites the case of Tony Nicklinson – a man who was not terminally ill and would not have been assisted by the proposed legislation. Tony Nicklinson was severely disabled, but this neatly illustrates the way that even thinking about this sort of legislation gets us into the mindset of apportioning different value to different lives according to their different physical states. Surely the tragedies of the last century are not fading from our memories so fast that we think this is anything other than an abhorrent way to think? Do we really want to live in a society where on encountering the man on Beachy Head we attempt to talk him out of jumping, but on finding out that he has terminal cancer, we agree to give him a helpful shove?

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2nd sorrowful mystery: the scourging at the pillar

The most shocking and realistic account that I know of the scourging at the pillar is the scene in Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ. The brutal treatment of Christ by the Romans as they scourge him is probably the most accurate and moving depiction of events that a film could capture. The implements of torture, even the brutish behaviour of the guards and their superior, is made so realistic that it is impossible not to be horrified at how this could be done to anyone. This ritualised mutilation of another human being was probably a regular occurrence in the Roman empire. The blood of Christ was on the faces of the men scourging him, and so much blood spilled on the courtyard it was cleaned by the women with cloths afterwards. As written in Luke 6:22, Blessed are you when men hate you, and exclude you and revile you on account of the son of man. Rejoice on that day and be glad, for great is your reward in heaven. 


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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

"Assisted Dying" Bill - Is it really democractic?

Lord Falconer, the man behind the current Bill

As I write, Lord Falconer’s “Assisted Dying” Bill is currently scheduled to be debated in the House of Lords this coming Friday, 18th July 2014. In this first of a series of posts I wish to examine some of the many problematic aspects of the proposed legislation. This first post will focus on the democratic and legislative issues with the Bill.

One of the organisations backing the Bill explains the rationale behind it as follows: “Dignity in Dying advocates a change in the law on assisted dying. We believe that, subject to strict upfront safeguards, the law should  allow terminally ill, mentally competent adults to request life-ending medication from a doctor. The dying patient would then have the choice to self-administer that medication at a time that was right for them.”

There are three points that I shall make in this post. The first is that this is a Private Member’s Bill. It is was not a Government manifesto pledge, it is not a policy that has been developed by the Government during its term in office, rather it is a Bill introduced by an individual and reflects that individual’s own particular concerns. That is not to say that it does not have the backing of others, but it is not the policy of a political party and its democratically-elected members. Nor in fact is it even the Bill of a democratically-elected individual. Lord Falconer is a peer in the House of Lords and has no democratic mandate.

Houses of Parliament - is the process for this Bill and its implementation the way democracy should work?

The second point to note is that the basic substance of the Bill has already been rejected by Parliament on several occasions before. Lord Falconer appears to have picked up the mantle of Lord Joffe – another unelected member of the House of Lords – who on four previous occasions put forward a Bill for “Assisted Suicide” (NB see how Lord Falconer is now using the word “dying” rather than “suicide”, more on this very serious wordplay in a subsequent post). Now, if a man were repeatedly to ask a girl out, despite her adamant rebuttals of his intentions, we might start to speak in terms of harassment. Similarly, one might ask how many times is it appropriate to ignore the repeated will of Parliament and seek to persuade it otherwise through the repeated introduction of private member’s bills, where nothing has substantially changed since the last time either House was asked to examine the Bill? In fact, with advances in palliative care, the case for assisted dying to relieve undue pain and suffering actually seems to have diminished since Lord Joffe first tried to introduce his Bill. It would also be naive to think that the progress of such private members bills, and the profile that they attract, has nothing to do with lobbying and the resources that requires.

The third point is that whilst Dignity in Dying and Lord Falconer seek to provide reassurance with calming talk of “strict safeguards”, the fact is that beyond a few very high-level points of principle, no safeguards are in fact introduced with the Bill. The safeguards that would actually operate in hospitals in practice do not form part of the Bill, but would be introduced at a later date by a Code of Practice. Thus a Bill introduced by an individual would have the key points of its implementation determined by an individual: Codes of Practice are drawn up by the Secretary of State for the relevant department. They are not debated by Parliament or made subject in any other meaningful way to parliamentary scrutiny.

Subsequent posts will go on to look at the unfair pressures that would be put on the medical profession by the proposed legislation: the inevitable pressure to choose death for patients who want to live; the abuse of language by the proponents of the Bill; and finally that the Bill absolves us of our responsibility to be more loving, not less.

In the meantime though you may wish to consider reading the Bishops’ Conference document on ‘Sense and Nonsense on “Assisted Dying”’  and any one of a series of excellent articles on the Oxford Students for Life blog

Finally, but most importantly, please do not delay in making your voice heard on this matter. All the resources for all the different ways you can help are available at


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Sunday, July 13, 2014

The First Sorrowful Mystery: The Agony of Our Lord in the Garden

Matthew (26: 36-46); Luke (22: 39-46)

Everyone, it is said, has their Gethsemane moment. The First Sorrowful Mystery then is a place of profound encounter.

In the Garden we see the Son of Man praying in solitude, his disciples a little way off. As Jesus contemplates his passion, which is to begin that very evening, his heart recoils from what is to be a cruel and ignominious death, he asks of the Father “if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matt. 26:39).

The natural, and in some sense praiseworthy, approach to this mystery is to try and associate ourselves as much as possible with Christ’s agony by placing ourselves in his shoes. We associate some mental anguish over some trial we have had, or are having, with Christ’s agony. However, Our Lord never considered acting against the Father’s will, he never thought that he might just run away or that he might call upon a legion of angels to deliver him (cf. Matt. 26:53). Our Lord was like the brave soldier who feared the battle but never contemplated desertion.

'Could you not watch with me for one hour?'

But for us, though we might often utter ‘Father, remove this cup from me…’ we always keep open the option of desertion. Most of us are more like the disciples in this mystery; we attempt to accompany the Lord’s agony but in fact we fall asleep. “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

So, as we begin the sorrowful mysteries we might ask, not so much for the strength to endure great spiritual ordeals, but rather, more modestly, we ask for the grace to be able to at least stay awake in the spiritual struggle that we might learn to complete our prayer and say ‘not my will but thine be done.’


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