Essays in Idleness


The handcart chronicles

Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia, in his Erasmus Lecture for 2014:

“If we ignore the poor, we will go to Hell. If we blind ourselves to their suffering, we will go to Hell. If we do nothing to ease their burdens; then we will go to Hell. Ignoring the needs of the poor among us is the surest way to dig a chasm of heartlessness between ourselves and God, and ourselves and our neighbours.”

This is so true that, it would seem, the opposite is also true. This is Christ’s dismissive reply to some liberal posturing from Judas, when He said, “the poor you will always have with you, but me you will not always have.” I quoted this recently, to the end of suggesting that if we ignore God, we will go to Hell.

The Nanny State, in which we willingly participate, provides us with a wonderful opportunity to ignore the poor, in our spare time while we are ignoring God. It allows every enfranchised taxpaying citizen to declare glibly, “I gave at the office.” Meanwhile, the bureaucracy itself ignores the poor, reducing them to an economic transaction, within an administrative routine, whose heartlessness must be experienced, to be believed.

That word, “heartless,” is underused today. It raises the stakes on our idea of “feelings.” We have too many feelings, most of them fake. The genuine ones tend to be quite selfish. We “hurt” easily, we indulge, easily. Empathy and compassion are reduced to “feelings,” and our “concern” is to make the rich pay. The actual poor are subject to our feelings of irritation. When cornered, rhetorically, we may write a cheque, but it becomes a kind of blood money. Living as I do in Parkdale, I am conscious of the ignorance of one street for another, one house for another, one apartment to the apartment next door. I can understand it. I don’t want to know these people, either.

So that my heart breaks — I am “genuinely impressed” — when I see examples of personal outreach to the neighbours. Most often I see this in the form of one rather desperately poor person, spontaneously helping another. Such as offering him a cigarette. (The smuglies in government have made cigarettes expensive.) Such as “being there” when a man is fallen, and not just calling nine-one-one. Such as taking care of the crazies, hands on. Such as — and this is the most impressive thing I’ve seen — teaching a hopeless wretch the use of a rosary. Because that can change everything.

It is no accident that the best work around here comes out of churches (and of course, not just the Catholic ones). That is where God is most likely to put ideas into people’s heads. It is a little known fact that helping the poor requires imagination; and that the average person needs divine help to acquire any.

“Someone will take care of it.” This, in my experience, is the true basic attitude of the citizen today. And that someone will have to be well paid. And if he is not, no one will take care of it. We are, if I may speculate, all going to Hell.

Quietly from Rome

Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI made a wonderful statement this week, some traces of which I have been able to find through such obscure media as the Catholic News Service. It was a letter to some students and faculty in Rome’s Pontifical Urbanian University, read to them, Tuesday, by his secretary, Archbishop Georg Ganswein.

At a time when modern, secular, revolutionary forces have again been unleashed in the capital of Christendom — when a synod on the beleaguered Christian family could be hijacked by a proposal to welcome polygamy and sodomy — it provided this reader, at least, with relief from desolation. The Emeritus Pope’s as-it-were “encyclical,” was about as long as my last Idlepost, but as ever, much holier in tone. It was one of several modest but characteristically penetrating statements that have come from him, since he went into his prayerful retirement.

Let me plagiarize the reports I have read. Benedict writes:

“The risen Lord instructed His apostles, and through them His disciples in all ages, to take His word to the ends of the earth and to make all men his disciples. …

“But is this still possible? Many ask this question, both inside and outside the Church today. Wouldn’t it be better for all religions to get together and work for the cause of peace in the world?  The counter-question being, Can dialogue substitute for mission?

“In this way of thinking, it is usually taken for granted that different religions are variants of one and the same reality; that religion is a common category, which assumes different forms in different cultures, but amounts to the same thing. The question of truth — that which originally motivated Christians more than any other — is here put inside parentheses. It is assumed that the authentic truth about God is, in the last analysis, unreachable; that at best one can represent the ineffable with a variety of symbols. Better to put the question of truth aside,  for the sake of peace among the world’s religions. …

“This is, however, lethal to faith. In fact, faith loses its binding character and its seriousness: everything is reduced to interchangeable symbols, capable of referring only distantly to the inaccessible mystery of the divine.”

End quote. The miserable Warren will now resume his diatribe.

The good, the true, the beautiful. Each opens the gates into each of the others, and into the heart of the mystery of the Triune God. Not one of these is expendable. And the Truth is indivisible.

Our English word “truth,” from its northern etymology, denotes steadfastness and fidelity, the genuine and consistent. It reaches beyond this to connote the apt, the fitting — in parallel with the old Greek aletheia (misappropriated by Heidegger in a gnostic way), which meant “the evident” — the being and becoming evident, connoting its presentation.

In our Christian universe, truth is manifested in the sublimity of holiness, so that in moments the word stands not for truth alone, in the narrowest “factual” sense, but for the convergence of the transcendentals: for goodness, truth, and beauty, all three. It is suddenly embodied for this world, in the very person of Our Lord.

Those who seek the truth may find it. The Christians of the ancient world announced that they had actually found the answer to the questions of the philosophers: the truth itself. They did not merely claim to have made a little academic progress. Conversely, they were very plain: that if this truth is not true, it must necessarily be a lie. “And if Christ is not risen again, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.”

This declaration is of course in Saint Paul’s first “encyclical” to the Corinthians (15:14); the same in which he was laying down the law on faith and morals and ecclesiastical discipline to a people who might strike us today as peculiarly “modern”; who were themselves rather inclined to substitute “dialogue” for mission. The proper purpose of “dialogue” is to lead us from error into truth; it is not to compromise on what that truth might be. And from the moment in which, through grace — and in “the peace which passeth all understanding,” that eureka of the deepest joy, deeper than mere “feeling” — we find ourselves in possession of the truth, our task is not “to deal,” but to proclaim it.

Yet — plagiarizing again — Pope Benedict writes that some religions, the “tribal” ones especially, are “waiting for the encounter with Jesus Christ.” And when they have found Him they have, in their turn, not only something to take, but something to give: “Christ is waiting for their history, their wisdom, their way of seeing things.” The Christian Church herself, “grown tired in its historical heartlands,” is waiting to be re-animated by them. (God bless Africa! God bless Africa!)

“We proclaim Jesus Christ not to procure as many members as possible for our community, and still less in order to gain power. We speak of Him because we feel the duty to transmit that joy which has been given to us.”

In the Eucharist — in the Adoration to which all men are called, including every kind of sinner — in the presence of the Truth — let us reclaim that unutterable Joy. For as the first apostles first proclaimed: We have found the Messiah!


Note: A full translation of Benedict’s remarks, by Fr Richard Cipolla, is now available at the Rorate Caeli website (here). I revised my own excerpts in the light of it.

Ottawa in the news

It is interesting to observe — in oneself — the power of media to implant false impressions on a lazy mind. I noticed this from listening to a television speech by Stephen Harper, after the terrorist event in Ottawa, yesterday. (Harper has now been Canada’s prime minister for almost nine years.) He was described as “shaken” by several of the websites I had consulted for news, and in quickly reviewing the tape of his short talk, I formed that impression myself. It was only when an American correspondent, who had perhaps missed this Canadian media prep, told me Harper did not look shaken to him, that I went back and watched the video again, this time paying close attention to his delivery in both English and French. I realized he was not shaken at all; that his pauses and swallows were characteristic, and would not have been noticed by anyone had he been speaking on any other subject.

Now, Harper’s genius, as a power-seeking politician, is the opposite of Obama’s (the once popular USA president). He carries the “Conservative” label, of a party slightly to the right of the others in our Parliament. Therefore he has most of the liberal media machinery against him. Obama, as perhaps we all know, has enjoyed until recently a compliant and fawning media, that do not criticize their darling, nor hesitate to suppress news that would be unfavourable to him. Obama’s tactic has been to draw attention constantly to himself. He has something to say on every subject, empty of content, but dramatically insistent in its repetition of the first person singular. By contrast, Harper goes out of his way to distract attention from himself, and when he can’t, to avoid vehemence of any kind, or anything resembling drama.

This is not to say he isn’t ruthless, as a political operator, and backroom settler of scores. Anyone associated with Christian causes, such as the defence of human life, will know how he rules his pro-life backbenchers. His intention is to keep the party “on message,” with a message that will not excite media attention, so he can get on with normal administration. His strength is his reputation for management: he has not, like Obama, made a hash of everything he has touched. The Canadian budget is actually in surplus, and while our cumulative debt is substantial, and we face the same unfunded welfare liabilities to an aging population, we have not the bottomless debt and fiscal chaos into which Obama and other irresponsible politicians have delivered the United States. (Notwithstanding, when they crash, it will be right on top of us.)

But of course, this is a “democracy,” and the great majority of our population, as those in all other countries, are almost entirely ignorant of public affairs. Like children, they get bored with good government, but unlike children they have, collectively, the power to do something about it.

At the next election a young political huckster, who happens to be the son of the late Pierre Trudeau, and enjoys something of his father’s winning ways with the women, and a matching cynicism, is likely to win. Young Justin Trudeau is unlike his father, however, in having little in the way of an agenda, beyond power and prestige for himself. Like Obama, he is not an ideologue, only a typical product of our public universities: a mind half-baked with “progressive” platitudes and clichés. He has no discernible discernment, and there is still a chance that the electorate will see him for what he is. Nevertheless, he can already count on the protection and support of our liberal media, which, like musk-oxen detecting a threat, instinctively form a stomping circle around the little fellow, knowing he will be unable to defend himself.

(The situation is complicated by the existence of a socialist party, which itself displaced the Liberals in opposition at the last general election, thanks to a demagogue at their head, who knew how to pander to Quebec. This man has since died, but the party may still be attractive enough to split the opposition vote. In the past, Harper has been rather good at playing the two parties slightly to his left against each other, but after years of isolation in the prime minister’s office, he may have lost his edge.)


What impressed me, was how easily I fell for the “media narrative” on Harper’s speech, simply by paying insufficient attention. At the back of my mind I was assuming there must be some truth in it, when I ought to be aware that the media specialize in analyses which contain no truth at all. When I am paying attention, with the benefit of my own long experience within the media, I am able to identify the game, and understand what the players are up to.

It is important to understand that, except a few, the journalists are not ideologues. They are, once again, typical products of our drive-in universities, and journalism schools which have, if possible, even lower intellectual standards. They know no history, nor anything much about the topics on which they write, and can be easily mesmerized by a narrative they have themselves written, by rote. Such is the nature of promotion within what has become a niche of the entertainment industry, that those of independent mind and moral fibre are quickly weeded out.

I’m inclined to use the term “progressive” rather than dwell on Left and Right wings, for there is some contrast between, say, MSNBC and Fox in the USA, between CBC and Sun News up here. There is a growing Right — an opposition within the media to itself — but it is not a significant improvement on the monotony that preceded it. The idea that, as a form of entertainment, news coverage should aspire to “tabloid” conditions, and avoid subjects which require knowledge, governed the rightwing impresarios from the start. The Right is fresher and feistier than the Left, and by its Pavlovian habit of reacting to Left agendas, sometimes traps itself in a principled position; but this is a random, not intended effect. Both sides continue to share the post-Christian worship of abstract “liberty,” “equality,” and material “progress.” They clash on who can deliver these empty buckets quicker. But the battle is fought from both sides with the same weaponry — platitudes and clichés — in a kind of unending spiritual Verdun. “Progress” invariably emerges as the victor.


“Democracy,” or populism, has always delivered the Nanny State — which to my understanding is something more than a centralized bureaucracy. The Communists tried to deliver it by force, but politicians in our parliamentary free markets advance it by appealing to the lowest common denominator. The two systems — falsely contrasted “socialist” and “free market” ideologies — are animated by the same Enlightenment ideals. Both claim to speak for the mute and anonymous “little man”: to stuff him with material goods, and inflate him with rhetorical gases. Both play, directly and indirectly, on the envy in that little man, and his resentment of his betters. Both are thus effectively in opposition to the natural hierarchical ordering of society (which made and would make most politics unnecessary). Both promise, as a matter of course, what the serpent offered to Eve and Adam: the fruit that will make the little men “like gods.”

The purpose behind this is not to build the bureaucracy, as an end in itself, but bureaucracy as the means towards moral debilitation. The excellence of bureaucracy, from the diabolical point of view, is that it reliably punishes the good, and rewards bad behaviour. Its weakness remains an inability to predict that human behaviour, including sudden manifestations of the “hostile inflexibility” mentioned in my last post.

For there is in nature something besides the original sin that felled our first parents, and has been the trickster of history ever since. There is also a positive, which I’m inclined to call “human decency,” or in its most extreme and inflexible form, Love. This cuts across all diabolical intentions, and in moments of grace even faces them down. It should be said that the free market approach to moral debilitation leaves rather more scope to this human decency, though it tends to draw the line at Love. Violent tyranny leaves no scope at all, but as a consequence of plugging every vent, triggers the response of pent-up forces. At some point, the signal from a fracture spreads, and in a kind of earthquake, Berlin Walls come down. The genius of the rival consumer democracy is that it releases the pressure, one riot at a time.

But democracies, too, are fated — like every material aspiration on this earth, to die and leave no traces. When they deny the immortal dimension of man, the unchanging reality of creature and Creator, they become dry husks. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and in every direction the dry husks are scattered away. Only by God is the living implanted, and only on God’s terms will it grow. That jealous God, who will have no other gods before Him; against Whom we have, in truth, opposed our little “democratic” pie-in-the-sky.


Returning to Ottawa, by way of virtual reality, I note the media headlines this morning. The lockdown is lifted from the middle of the city, and led by their progressive elites, Canadians are congratulating themselves on their “defence of democracy.” In fact the credit should go entirely to Parliament’s Sergeant-at-Arms, in his wonderfully quaint neo-mediaeval costume; and to his 9mm pistol. He was fortunately pitted against only one Muslim psychopath and, laudate Dominum, had a good angle.

Thanks to such events, the mental lockdown of “political correctness” is also lifted, if only for a moment, allowing people to see what they can see. Muslim fanatics are running successful social media operations, recruiting openly in our prisons, and grooming terrorist hitmen in the mosques. To this I would add the phenomena of our universities, where many of the young have discovered it is “cool” to identify with the latest, Islamic, revolutionary cause. The old New Left are converting, or when not, at least giving their lip service to Hamas, Hezbollah, or any other enterprising group who will promise carnage. Indeed, direct anti-Semitism has come back into vogue among our cutting-edge progressive intellectuals: you’re considered a wimp if you say “Israeli” when you mean “Jew.” But these are people who all along have been, quite obviously, inhabited by devils, and as a Catholic friend observed, it is a great pity we have bishops in our Church who have never performed exorcisms.

“Our dear old bag of a democracy” (Auden’s charitable description) believes it has faced another challenge down. One editorial is headed, “Nothing will be the same again”; another declares, “After the attack, we’re still Canada.” These are two ways of saying the same thing, which could be combined as, “Everything will be the same again.” For we live in an age which gathers records, and stores them carefully away, but has no sense of historical time; when it is almost illegal to note that, for instance, “this sort of thing has been going on since the VIIth century.”

Our opponents are not after our dear old bag. “Democracy” is not relevant to their intentions. If we think it is, we have entirely missed their point. Our enemy is after us, body and soul; wants us enslaved, converted, or dead; and does not share in our nice sentimentality. I would further observe, that against such an enemy, platitudes and clichés are ineffective; that his will has embodied a demonic force; that it is encountering no spiritual resistance, whereas: we are going to need God on our side to defeat it.


My brain hurts, from trying to follow reports from Rome, in languages I imperfectly understand, about the relatio mentioned in my post yesterday. Let me recommend this morning’s synod briefing by Robert Royal (here) as the best and most reasonable summary of the riotous proceedings. To my mind, it becomes more apparent that a coup is being attempted, to foist a load of liberal rubbish on the world, and give it the appearance of revised Church doctrine. But to my relief, the best of the cardinals left by Saint John Paul II, and Benedict XVI, are aware of what is happening, and have begun to take action against it. We still have good men.

Let me also recommend a patient and attentive reading of Beati Immaculata — the long Psalm CXVIII — for some context on divine law, natural law, and ultimately civil law. It is an “ABC” on these matters, following the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and may be mastered through diligent prayer. (Our monks would break it down into eleven successive pairs of the eight-verse stanzas, to pray it carefully.)

And then, the remarkable encyclical of Pope Leo XIII on human liberty, Libertas (1879, here), which I don’t think has dated as an explanation of why the Church can make no truce with modernism. The modern man thinks he has a “right” to the manipulation of his own conscience. But our ability to err is not a right to err, and the perfect liberty which Christ bestows is freedom from the tyranny of sin and error. This liberty is ancient, indeed immortal, and can never be revised or “reformed.” On the contrary, the modern project to extend liberty — to discover and to legislate new liberties — is, “to tell the plain truth, of a vitiated kind, the fruit of the disorders of the age, and of an insatiate longing after novelties.”

“Insatiate.” There is no compromise to be had with the “reform” faction. Like the Islamists we have been dealing with, in another theatre, they will take each concession as a proof of weakness, and immediately press for more. It is suicidal foolishness to believe that one may negotiate with a serpent.

Set before me for a law the way of thy justifications, O Lord: and I will always seek after it. Give me understanding, and I will search thy law; and I will keep it with my whole heart. Lead me into the path of thy commandments.

Something to declare

There is a wonderful passage in a memoir by the Orcadian poet, George Mackay Brown. (For the Islands I Sing, 1997.) He finds himself in a drunk tank in Edinburgh, with two other gentlemen: one a sailor, “who had damaged his hand in a fight in a respectable coffee-house”; the other an English tourist, pleading for a cup of tea. Brown himself had been arrested for “drunk and incapable” in Hanover Street. The three, though seriously hungover, and in some misery, spent much of the long day in laughter together.

Night came, and the policemen added a fourth customer: a gentleman blathering obsessively about his hatred of Catholics. When this became insupportable, the sailor declared himself a Catholic, in a decisive yet understated way. The Englishman then announced that he would be a Catholic, too. Our poet became the third to realize that he was a Catholic, even though he had not entertained the possibility, before. The scene ends with the fourth shrieking to the guards, to let him out of this cell full of Catholics.

I think it is the happiest triple conversion story I have read. I must thank my gentle reader, Lord Jowls, for sending the book to me.


My intention had been to write, today, about the bizarre document that came yesterday out of the Vatican. It is the relatio post disceptationem, for the first week of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family. ​I’m scratching my head trying to guess what it was meant to accomplish, and whom it was meant to please — besides people who loathe the Church, both within and outwith her. Scratching my head till it is bleeding.

Questions come to  mind. Do the bishops not know what this is doing in the parishes? What doubts and divisions are being sown, by their posturing vanities? The discouragement they are spreading among Christ’s faithful and obedient? The encouragement they are giving to the wolves? About the rancid smell in the peanut gallery?

Maybe they don’t know. Maybe they don’t care. Maybe they just want to pleasure one another.

It is statistically unlikely that all two hundred bishops are at fault. We know with certainty that many in there must be as appalled as many out here. But it is becoming apparent that a considerable number, perhaps even the majority, are devoid of shame.

We should pray for them, I suppose, as we pray for practising homosexuals, and the squalidly remarried, and others who find themselves trapped in a situation that is objectively and inherently disordered, just as they begin to realize that it is disordered, and there will be no easy way out. Bishops playing fast and loose with Church doctrine are especially in need of our prayers. Christ give them strength to confront their own degradation.

The press conference after the release of this relatio was, if possible, worse than the document itself: the sight of bishops tacking and weaving in the spin mode, which we rightly associate with sleazy politicians. Christ inspire them to begin answering direct questions, honestly.

Meanwhile: “Whatever they do in the Vatican, I’m staying Catholic.” Even if the pope should be objectively disordered — and we have had some right scoundrels in the past — we must stay the course. It is up to us now, to show an example to our bishops, and hope they come to their senses, soon.

My particular prayer is that, in the face of this Vatican abomination, people may react by Grace, as the gentlemen did in that Edinburgh drunk tank. I pray that Christ may come to us directly: in His unexpected ways.

To those sincerely Christian, but not Catholic, I would plead: come. Come into the Church now, and help us fight the contagion within.

Whom to thank?

Canadian Thanksgiving is the second Monday in October. It is earlier than American Thanksgiving, because we are farther north. Our growing seasons are shorter, and our farmers need more wit. Comparing available arable land between the two countries (which are approximately equal in total land area), a geographer could explain why the USA has ten times the population. It is because our farmers have approximately the same amount of wit.

Farmers: God love them. There was once a time when four in five of our Canadian workforce were farmers or fishermen; now they are perhaps one in fifty. Those still in the trade grow older; the median age of farmers in Canada is now fifty-six, and so retirements are accelerating. There are far fewer farms than a century ago; but much, much larger. The industrialization of agriculture, and the persistent growth of government regulation, has changed the nature of farming; and methods of distribution have been centralized to the point where I know country people who drive into the big city, specifically to buy fresher food. The transfer of population from rural to urban locations likewise changes consumer attitudes, including those towards politics. City folk tend to have no clew what is involved in food production; contemporary “environmentalism” depends upon this profound ignorance. We think there are “solutions,” that can be legislated.

According to the city dweller, the world has become over-crowded. It certainly uses a lot more electricity, as we may see from satellite photos, overhead. But over most of the world’s habitable surface, the density of population is actually less than it was a century ago.

When the cost of labour goes dramatically down, and the cost of materials proportionally up, the “natural environment” will be restored. All trends in the last couple of centuries have been the other way; yet it is easy to imagine combinations of circumstances which might restore that natural order, and meanwhile solve all the infrastructural problems in the cities: by depopulating them. (Do not allow yourself to wish for that.)

Assuming some memory of technology is retained, the situation would not last long. We don’t need old machines when we can build new ones. For that matter, the evidence of the past speaks for quick recoveries. In looking into, for instance, the Black Plague, I am often impressed by this speed. Within a generation, “normal” seems to have resumed, even in places that lost more than three-quarters of their people. True, many villages are no longer there, and open spaces remain available for market gardening within city walls; but life goes on as if nothing much happened. Glibness rules.

This is why, I think, we would have to choose to live differently: to make genuinely hard choices, collective as well as individual, towards a simpler and more independent way of life. We would have to agree to be, on balance, poorer in conventional material terms, to become richer in the moral, aesthetic, and spiritual. We would have to do something frankly faith-based. This is also why I think we are unlikely to choose, until, like illness or death, the choice is made for us. Human sloth — the habit of following the path of least resistance — is not an especially modern phenomenon.

The farmer had time to read, and make his own music; to enjoy his family, and make real friends; to attend to the requirements of God, and of his neighbour. He could afford to be “idle” in this way. Paradoxically, our sloth now dictates that we participate in a rat race, mostly on terms resembling those of old-fashioned indentured labour. It is not that we work as hard as old farmers; but our exhaustion, at the end of the day, is a spiritual exhaustion, that leaves room only for passive entertainment. It blights the lives of employees and employers, alike.

Notwithstanding, the sense of gratitude, for life and the means of sustaining it, seems innate. Even in the heart of the city, we want to thank someone. We live, necessarily, in a state of confusion. And yet the clock still hasn’t run out on us. If only we knew Whom to thank.

Kojo no tsuki

Twice this evening I have played through “Kojo no tsuki” — the jazz version by Thelonious Monk. It is nearly seventeen minutes, on the 1996 CD re-issue of his album, Straight, No Chaser, from 1967. The full recording was resurrected from the old tapes; time limitations on the original LP had made abbreviation necessary. On that LP, the piece was identified as “a Japanese folk song.” This it was not. It began instead as an offering by the Japanese composer, Rentaro Taki, to his high school music students around the turn of the last century. The title means, “Moon over ruined castle.” Several Japanese musicians had already adapted both song and lyrics. It became a popular hit in Tokyo, in the early 1930s, changed from B minor to D minor, and slowed to a dirge: impossibly exotic to my Western ears. Monk probably had heard this best known version, and instinctively sped it up again.

The correct attribution might have been supplied sooner, had Monk bothered to tell anyone where he had found the extraordinary tune. A musician, not a punctilious scholar, he did with the Japanese raw material what he’d done with standards by Ellington and Arlen. There was no intention of plagiarism. The very idea is missing from traditional art. He was doing just what “early musicians” did when, for instance, they picked up tunes from the street, and transformed them into profound Mass settings. “Classical music” tends to trickle upwards, or percolate. What emerges is shockingly original: extremely complex, and totally unified. But it began with some tune someone was whistling. (Sometimes it is an angel who has whistled the tune.) Great art is like that. Inferences are drawn from a simple mystery: a few notes strung together that mean more than they can ever say.

Monk’s setting of “Kojo no tsuki” was one of my mother’s favourite pieces. That’s why I put it on my machine, this evening: she died one year ago. It is Canadian Thanksgiving again; a year has passed. Mama seldom admitted to preferences in music; I did not know she adored Thelonious Monk, until she mentioned the fact, at age ninety. It was something I could not have guessed. There are many things people don’t say, or may not get around to saying unless they live a long time.

Time hurries on. I left home at the age of sixteen. Then four decades passed, very quickly. Then I was attending to my mother in a nursing home, around the corner in Parkdale, here. We had been around the world together, when we were all young (my father and sister come into this). She was in a bad way her last few years, after my father died; my hardest task was to jolly her. (My sister worked harder.) We drew closer to each other than we had been since, I think, she had been pushing me in a stroller. Her remarkable memory held out to the end. My memory was inherited from her: the ability to recall small things from many years ago, “as if they happened yesterday.” Between the two of us we could reconstruct quite a lot of pointless detail. Except, as one grows old, one begins to know that every detail is important.

That was one of the details: “Kojo no tsuki.” She didn’t remember the title, but when I asked for it, she hummed out the melodic line in her fading mezzosoprano voice. It was an “aha” moment: I loved that piece myself. “The two of us must be related.”


I have a picture here, of refugees, fleeing across France (I think it must be) in the last World War. There is a mother clutching a little baby; a boy fitted out as a beast of burden, carrying what he can; a girl, being yanked along, looking to one side. She’s a child, but there’s an adult expression on her face. There is no man with them. They appear to be walking fast, through open country. They look Jewish to me. No caption: and I have no idea what their story was. But there are four of them, and one can see they are related.

The picture fell out of a book. I was thinking about “family,” and there it landed. Horrible cruelties are endured in this world; the “culture of death” is all around us. But there are families; and there will be families.

Synod on the family

The Pontificium Consilium pro Familia has begun in Rome, God help us. This “extraordinary synod” will feed into a general synod next year, with plenty of opportunities for mischief along the way. Already, all over this continent, and I should think the world, liberal clergy are using the new signals from the Vatican — of which this unprecedented synod is the most spectacular — as their cue to “make a few changes.” We have a resurgence of the fever that swept the Church in the 1960s as “the spirit of Vatican II” — to my mind, a kind of spiritual Ebola that left churches closed and pews empty throughout the once-Christian West.

We now have two hundred bishops discussing e.g. how to deliver Communion to people who have failed to conform to the long-settled arrangements of Holy Church; and the dogma that follows, slam-dunk, from Christ’s plain words in the Sermon on the Mount. This is a marvellous opportunity — but only for the Devil to excite factional emotion and magnify dissension within the Church. Those who continue to adhere to what she has taught these last twenty centuries can now be cast as “a faction” in themselves, and faithful priests mocked as “old celibates.” (Jesus was a celibate male, incidentally.) Given our experience since Vatican II, our prelates should have known better.

There is no satisfying demands for “reform”; there never will be. It is a destructive force. It is a political rather than religious inspiration, directly opposed to reverence, and like a cancer it will attack every form of continuity which it is capable of reaching. It conducts the voice of worldly power — the howl of the wolf in his insatiable hunger — and when challenged it answers with a sneer. The vocation of the shepherd is not to negotiate with the wolf, but to guard his sheep. Read again the 10th chapter of Saint John.

“Reform,” in the sense of change and novelty, is what you wish upon your enemy. What you wish upon yourself is recovery.

Contrary to the argument of the wolf, circumstances have not fundamentally changed. Men have long been sinful, and long have tried sophistical arguments to justify themselves. It is for the Church to tell them they are in the wrong: the more brutally if they have convinced themselves they are in the right. The task of the Church, in this instance, is to change the squalid public view of marriage, not accommodate it. It is the task of restoration; of restoring Christendom. Paradoxically, it is most likely to begin again among the celibates — both male and female — rekindling the fires of the monastic life, and restoring the prayers by which the world is invisibly warmed and enlivened, against the cold shadow of the “culture of death.”

We might charitably argue the difficulty is that reading standards have sunk so low: an argument, I suppose, against spreading literacy too widely. Those who wish to finagle on the sanctity of marriage, point for instance to “if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out” in the same section of Scripture. No, Christ was not telling us to gouge out our eyes, immediately after noticing a pretty girl. This was an example of a rhetorical figure — it is called hyperbole — which Christ employed, along with many other figures of speech, and an array of parables. It was recognized as such from the beginning, for it required only moderate intelligence to get the point. It is indeed hard to help the clever types, who pretend to be unable to tell the difference between a rhetorical figure, and laying down the law. By context, and allusion to Moses, Christ’s ruling on marriage was made abundantly clear.

Modernists who imagine themselves very clever, as the Scribes and Pharisees before them, try to work around this unambiguous ruling by constructing hard cases. For instance, what about the guy who married some strumpet when he was very young and stupid, later resorted to civil re-marriage, and now has an adoring mate and five smiling children? Should the Church tell him to abandon them, now that he is starting to feel some compunction for his past mistakes, and instead resume his devotion to the little vixen who has moved to another country and is “married” for the fourth time?

No, the Church is not that obtuse. The man in this example should face the music, however. He should attend Mass like any good Catholic, and rather than take Communion in his present state, he should approach the rail and ask a blessing — alongside the mother of his children. And he should do so until his annulment comes through, and his marriage to her can be recognized.

Rather than demand the Church change her ways — which suggests the man is still too stupid to contract a valid marriage — he should use this potentially humiliating situation to wise himself up. He should set an example to his children of just how seriously marriage is to be taken; and Christ is to be taken. He should extract himself from the mess he has made in such a way to show — before Christ, and his fellow Catholic Christians — that he is now, finally, capable of love, and honour, and obedience. Likewise, this is an opportunity for the couple to show, before God and man, the sincerity of their attachment.

Demanding to have things both ways is not a sign of sincerity.

Communion is not to be taken lightly. It can be a source of tremendous strength: but only if it is received humbly, and faithfully, and reverently. To acknowledge the truth in the presence of Christ is also a source of strength. This is why men and women in a state of mortal sin attend the Mass and do not take Communion — until they have fully confessed their sins, and received full absolution, after the restitution that this may require. To take Communion some other way — as if it were an energy wafer — is to compound the sin. And liberal priests are doing their penitents no favours by helping them compound their sins. Nor — need it be mentioned? — are they doing themselves any favours, with respect to the fate of their own immortal souls.


My mention of Immanuel Kant, over at Catholic Thing yesterday, was to a single purpose: reminding the philosophical types of his role, anticipating Hegel’s, in shaping our modern or post-modern notion of History, and thus the full modern jet stream of “progress.”

Kant came late in the Enlightenment, as the Prussians generally came late to things, therefore had the advantage of his precursors. The hose of the Enlightenment was already flowing copiously. What Kant did was to choke the nozzle, in order to increase the spray velocity. He was a Christian, at least in his own mind: a forward-looking, “Evangelical” Christian (in the conventional Lutheran sense). But the fluid passing through the hose of the Enlightenment was not Christian. It was the aspiration to a pure Reason, which could be pursued without any need of Revelation.

Two things were being accomplished, by focusing this stream. The first was to make religious belief “optional.” Without, I think, intending it, Kant helped to re-set the default position of Western Civ to Atheism, from Christian Faith. This he did for the benefit of intellectuals and elites in society, who would actually be attracted to his impenetrable jargon. But the loss of faith is something that trickles down — like cowardice, from a field commander.

It would of course be devilishly unfair, to say nothing of untrue, to give Kant sole credit. As I say, he only worked on methods for narrowing the nozzle, at the delivery end of the hose. Many others contributed to the pneumatic adjustments (replacing water with air), and the swirling techniques.

Kant’s other transcendental accomplishment was to secure the triumph of “theory” over “praxis.” This latter term is inadequate, and perhaps a better juxtaposition would be, theory over knowledge. The latter presupposes, among many other things, an intangible which we might label “wisdom.” The former, to paraphrase Laplace, has no need of that.

In the old intellectual regime, which had largely survived the Reformation, hypothesis had not yet graduated in the elegant robes of Theory. I don’t think they even knew what it was. True, by acts of theological reductionism, the human brain had already been made self-idolizing. And the greatest accomplishment of all had been that of René Descartes — the man of awesome genius who had “split the atom,” of body and soul. (In the Anglosphere, Francis Bacon is usually credited with inventing our “scientific method” but, alongside Descartes, he was a conceptual bumpkin.)

This is rocket science. Normally one mentions these names as part of a paean to modernity — liberation, democracy, penicillin, and so forth. “Ideas have consequences,” as the Owl of Minerva mutters at dusk, and these were the men whose ideas cleared the ancient, church-ridden ground for the factory of science and technology. Their portraits are hung like those of Marx, Engels, Lenin, above the reviewing stand in modernity’s Red Square.

They are the prophets of speed; a speed disencumbered from the old constraints of wisdom and experience, anchored as they were in the hard goo of Revelation. While the utopian conception of where we are going can itself be shrugged, as a thing of the past, we may nevertheless boast that we are getting nowhere faster and faster.

Yet the signpost persists of that old destination: a cradle-to-grave Nanny State embracing the whole planet, from which everything “non-rational” has been scoured, by the hose of pure Reason. I mentioned Kant in this connexion for it was he who drew the arrow pointing “forward” in his Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose. Philosophers could thenceforth forget about God, and focus on the velocity issues.

We need to draw an X through that arrow, and scrawl underneath the words, “Wrong way!” For it is because we have come such a long way, that we have such a long way to go: backwards.