Thursday, 17 April 2008

Deliciae Latinitatis

The other day saw another Latin class with Fr Reggie Foster. The course has been such a help and I have seen a marked improvement in my Latin. The classes, as noted previously, are always entertaining: firstly, because Fr Reggie's system for teaching is clever and brings out the challenge and the fun of the language; secondly, because his enthusiasm (and that's a weak word) is so evident and infectious.

The other day, one of the class reacted to what seemed an odd facet of Latin by saying, "Ah! It's just perverse!" To which Reggie roared, "Perverse?! It's divine and glo-o-orious!"

Later on he waxed ecstatically, "Latin is the best thing that ever happened to humanity, because without it we would be floating around like a bunch of ninnies."

More Latin to come this afternoon...

I saw the director of my doctorate today, Fr Ladaria. He seems happy with the progress of work and with the title chosen. He is himself an acclaimed theologian and expert on St Hilary. He is Spanish, originally from Mallorca, and has taught at the Gregorian for many years: I remember doing courses with him on theological anthropology, protology and eschatology when I was first here. He is currently a member of the International Theological Commission, having been nominated and appointed for it in 1992.

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Elevamini, portae aeternales, et introibit

For the past two weeks or so a number of us have been tracking Canon Michael Griffiths' progress on the RMS St Helena. The website for the ship has a function which shows on a map exactly where the ship is in the world, its speed, the height of waves and so forth.

I am pleased to say that he has arrived safe and sound at St Helena. He arrived on Thursday evening. There is no port and so he had to climb off the ship into a smaller boat to be taken to shore. There the local Anglican bishop very kindly came to meet and welcome Michael and gave him some generous hospitality. I spoke with Canon Michael on the telephone the next morning and he sounded very well and very excited. He had had a good voyage and had already been given a good welcome by some of the islanders. God is good.

In the circumstances, this is a very appropriate picture of the then Fr Michael visiting St Peter's: I took it with the great statue of St Helena herself in the background.

Surrounded by history

I can't remember if I mentioned that I moved room in February. My new room is on the 3rd floor and is on the inside of the house, overlooking the garden, looking towards the Quirinal Hill. It is quieter than the other room and so I am getting better sleep than before - Deo gratias.

This building was given to the Americans by Pope Pius IX because he wanted them to be closer to him at his palace on the Quirinal. We are at the foot of that hill, not far from the entrance to Trajan's Forum. There must be a wealth of archaeology beneath this site and even in the garden there are remnants of ancient pillars and other assorted masonry. Everywhere in Rome there is evidence of this marvellously alive city's history amidst the teeming of tourists, pilgrims, Italians and varieties of immigrants. For example, on the ides of March some of us passed the statue of Julius Caesar on the way to a Station Church and noticed that some flowers had been placed there by some admirer to commemmorate the anniversary of his assassination. That event was seen by the perpetrators as the only way to secure liberty (or their own interests); it became the means ultimately of ushering in exactly what they had tried to prevent - an on-going royal/imperial style of government.

English Martyrs

If you want to know more about the Martyrs of England and Wales, then please do see Richard Marsden's blog "Bashing Secularism": he has been posting helpful biographies about many of the canonised martyrs. The link is down there ---->

In an age of relativism, the martyrs remind us that there are absolute values and truths that claim our adherence; and they remind us that the only martyrdom worthy of the name is undertaken for the objetive truth, not for what I think is my truth, and it is done in perfect love. Not so long ago I heard a priest preach that we could pray to the Anglican martyrs of the Reformation as well as the Catholic ones. Firstly, I wouldn't presume to have the charism of infallibility to canonise saints and encourage people under my pastoral care to pray to them: that's why we have a canonisation process, otherwise any priest could start getting parishioners to pray to all sorts of exotic people. Secondly, I would be cautious about saying that just because they persevered in their Anglican faith to the end, that means they are martyrs. Just because someone dies for their faith it does not make them a martyr in the proper sense - otherwise we would end up saying the 9/11 terrorists were martyrs: there has to be an objective criteria - that of faith, hope and love - and faith, hope and love are by nature ecclesial and thus Catholic (see Lumen Genium 8!). I hope and pray that those who died so horribly for their Anglican faith are indeed in heaven and that we might merrily meet there, as St Thomas More prayed - but to start equating what they endured with martyrdom in the proper Catholic sense ends up relativising the martyrdom of the Catholic saints. The Forty Martyrs didn't just die for their belief - they died for the Faith of the Church and they did so with an exquisite charity that continues to touch the heart and inspire it.

Salvi eritis, omnes fines terrae

One of the reasons I returned to England on Easter Sunday was to attend the Farewell Mass for Canon Michael Griffiths at Our Lady Help of Christians parish in Luton. Fr Pat Beidelman from the Casa here joined me and we concelebrated the Mass at 10.00am. It was a very moving event. The church was full and many of the people were visibly weeping. Canon Michael himself was moved throughout the Mass and asked them to pray for him, as he would for them, as he made this tremendous move to the island of St Helena. As he left the church the people began to cheer and clap him. He went inside to the sacristy and removed his vestments and began to ready himself to leave the parish immediately. Here he is with St Helena hat ready:

As he left the church, he found the carpark was now full of people who wanted to see him off. The altar servers waved Welsh flags and they had secured the services of the infamous Frosty the Snowman!

Fr Jonathan Hill was driving the Canon down to Portland for his ship, but there were now so many cars parked and people gathered around, cheering, clapping and waving flags, it became difficult for them to get going. Indeed it was proved hard for Michael even to get to the car in the first place, so many people stopped in, shook his hands, hugged hima nd even asked him to bless them!

The next day I drove down to Portland and joined the two priests for an evening. We had a lovely time together. The next day I took him down to the port to board the ship, the RMS St Helena, after Fr Jonathan had bidden farewell. Michael and I spent some time chatting and praying and then the time came for me to leave. Here is the last picture I took as he was about to enter the terminal. I was sad to leave him, and for him to leave so many who love him here, but glad too that the Lord has called him for this generous work amongst a people who have no access to a priest and to the sacraments of eternal life. "What man among you, having one hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it?" Michael goes to an island known as "The ends of the earth": we pray that there too the Lord may continue His work of salvation.

On-going non-blog

Easter came and a trip to England in Easter week and then back here and a steady application to work - these are some of the reasons why the blog hasn't been done. I have had a number of people asking me why I haven't been active, blogging - hence the excuses.

Easter was wonderful in Rome (though Easter Sunday saw a deluge) and with a good number of priests from the Casa I was able to attend many of the Papal Masses and Liturgies and distribute Holy Communion at some of them. Despite the ranting and raving of The Tablet, the Liturgies were conducted prayerfully and beautifully, with a good balance of new and old. I laughed when I read The Tablet's lament about Cardinal deacons dressed in dalmatics and mitres: the implication was that this was PRE-CONCILIAR - i.e. Bad Church Era - but I spotted a picture I took with my family in 1993 of the Easter Urbi et Orbi and (shock and horror!) there were those pesky Cardinal Deacons in dalmatics and mitres who had obviously time travelled either forward from Bad Church Era or back from Bad Church Era - the Sequel (i.e., now). It really does show the silliness of The Tablet and its antipathetic attitude to Rome, to the Pope and ultimately to Catholicism (e.g., frequent dissenting articles concerning contraception, and even editorials implying that the Church is too strict on ruling out abortion in certain cases). Tablet Catholicism, as I like to call it, has evidently found a new recruit in Tony Blair - but you can go to other websites, such as the Hermeneutic of Continuity and others, to find a more detailed analysis of what the "convert" has been saying and doing.

Earlier in Holy Week I was able to go on retreat to Rocca di Papa, to a very cold convent there, and again this was with priests from the Casa. Rocca di Papa is lovely location, with wonderful views towards Rome, Castel Gandolfo and, in the distance, the Mediterranean. It was here that the founder of the Focolari movement, Chiara Lubick, died while we were on retreat. The area has a history that reaches back into antiquity, though the town itself got its name through the residence of Pope Eugenius III (1145-1153). On top of the nearby Monte Cavo there stood a temple dedicated to Jupiter Latiaris and to reach it the ancient Romans had to climb a Via Sacra, that winds its way even today to the top and is in a fairly good state of preservation. In pre-Republican times and after the mountain was a venerated place of pilgrimage for the Romans: Tarquinius Superbus, the last of the Kings of Rome, built the temple here in about 520BC; newly chosen Consuls in the Republican period had to travel to Monte Cavo and sacrifice in the Temple, announcing the Latin Vacations; and a Consul who defeated Rome's enemies in warfare would come to the same place to celebrate the victory given him by the gods. I walked to the top of Monte Cavo following the Via Sacra - a good bit of exercise and an opportunity for some beautiful views.

On the way to the Via Sacra I took a picture from the town: the glow in the distance are not clouds but the reflection of the sunlight upon the sea.

This is part of the ancient Via Sacra which I briskly climbed - the small chapel on the path was a welcome respite: