Thursday, 16 October 2014

Stormy Waters under the Bark of St Peter?

Upon this Rock I will build my Church! I do not mind admitting and probably I am repeating that during the last conclave I secretly hoped the Church would be guided by the Holy Spirit to chose this man as our next Pope.

Cardinal Bagnasco
Yes, I mused Cardinal Bagnasco was the man for the job. He had credentials which seemed traditional enough. He would be like Benedict XVI I assumed - the first Pope I had seen elected on TV and seen in the flesh on Scottish soil. Yes there were others in the running for my approval but they didn't look like a cool world famous forty-something Italian composer.

Ludovico Einaudi
Quite a contradiction in my logic there I see. I think it is fair to say that since I discovered Cardinal Bagnasco I have become somewhat intrigued by him. But never-mind the Holy Spirit decided differently in any case. 

It is not that I do not love Pope Francis, or pray for him every day, but I think you can sense my concern at how things are turning out. The "Relatio" report produced from the Synod has been said to have produced an "earthquake" in the Church and maybe more profound and damaging than any pastoral one. From what I can gather this is going to remain the state of affairs until the next Synod in 2015?

Yes, I think I do appreciate all the nuances on this issue. The previous doctrinal statements, interpretation of what is meant by gradualism, the status of the document and indeed the Synod itself, but this continued uncertainty, whatever the final outcome,  I can only conclude will be very harmful for Mother Church. These are seemingly dark times and stormy waters on the bark. At least in comparison to any other time since I scrambled aboard I can not remember feeling so anxious and troubled about Church politics. 

The irony in all this is that these are the very things Pope Francis warned us against. To be fair his concentration on the simplicity of the Gospel message has helped me in many respects. Francis keeps reminding us of the difference between the Spirit and the Law. This left one of yesterday's Readings from Mass timely in that respect.

Letter to the Galatians 5:18-25. 
Brothers and sisters: If you are guided by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ (Jesus) have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit. 
(Sure Pope Francis' "gossipping" isn't on the list, literally at least, but what I am saying is that before Francis I might be guilty of having seen impurity, idolatry, drunkenness and sexual sins as being further from God's law than the others.)
So, I give Pope Francis partial credit for redressing the balance for me at least here. He is teaching me something - a new approach. Yet being the Rock is important too, and the spiritual health of the whole Church is more important than mine alone.  I will leave that to the Holy Spirit, and take Pope Francis' advise yet again by trying to avoid getting too embroiled in it all. I have made that mistake far too often in the past on matters far less trivial. 

Yes maybe in many respects we could do worse than take more of a lead from him? After all, I know what I think, but "Who am I to judge?"

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Crosses and Blessings

I saw this posted on Facebook. "Being myself" has been something that I have been giving some thought to recently. This message struck me as wrong and dangerous. I suppose it depends on what we truly think of ourselves. I would consider being myself as a spiritual objective. But I am being myself when I am following the path God wants for me, being fully and truly human. I am not being myself when I am following the whims and distractions which distance myself from communion with Him and reduce my humanity to following my own passions and desires.  

While travelling recently I was in a seated area behind a husband and wife who had a disabled son who also seemed to suffer from a mental condition which caused him to scream and shout at random. He needed constant care and attention. Some friends or family came to care for the son for a short while to give the parents the opportunity to go and get some dinner. I was full of admiration for all these people, The whole experience struck me. I can not quite put my finger on what it was. A realisation maybe. This disabled person was likely being truer to himself than I was. Certainly the self-giving of those around him seemed to shame me somewhat. 

I was informed today that a dear friend who has been struggling with depression for more years than I remember her not, has been admitted to hospital yet again and is very dangerously ill. Her husband works away from home, Their children are just finding their way in the world post studying. I prayed for her most mornings. For what, I could justifiably wonder? Her recent life has been a constant struggle.  

And I, for all my faults, have been greatly blessed. Sure there are things that haven't turned out my way and crosses I have had to bear. Readings such as from last night's Vespers are a stark reminder at times.

            The Lord bestows sons as an heirloom,  the fruit of the womb as a reward.Like arrows in the hand of a warrior –  so are the sons of one’s youth.Happy the man who fills his quiver thus:  when he disputes with his enemies at the gate,  he will not be the loser.
My crosses seem light at times and in any case I am not only able to bear but to share. It is obvious to me they are as nothing when I look around me.  And can our crosses not become blessings and our blessings become crosses? It seems to me to be so. 

So I am consoled in all this by knowing that God knows what I do not know. He understands what I do not. I only see dimly what He sees clearly. He giveth and He taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. 

May He bless me with the grace to be my whole (holy) self as he intended me to be.  Not a theologian, academic or mystic. Just myself. I suppose the trick is discovering what God intended and following that path and not our own. 

Saturday, 20 September 2014

The Dream Will Never Die

Well I am devastated. I went to mass this evening and ended up doing the reading. The Prayers of the Faithful sneaked out from the lecturn and under the Missal and I saw the word "Scotland" springing out at me as certain words can do from text when they are on your mind. When I got back to my pew for the Gospel Reading I realised I was going to have to go back up there and recite something along the lines of "We pray for Scotland" or "We pray for the people of Scotland." I was choking back the tears just thinking about it. I was horrified. I would break down. This was impossible for me to do. I struggled to compose myself and missed so much of what I was supposed to be hearing just trying to prepare myself and wiping away the tears running down my face at the prospect. 

I had decided it was impossible for me to do such was my emotional state and to shake my head at the priest when he looked up for me to approach the lecturn again but thankfully he had decided to recite the Prayers of the Faithful himself. Maybe it is the norm at the Vigil. I don't go regularly enough to know. In any case the text wasn't as emotionally charged as I thought.  "We pray for those in public office in Scotland..." 

I know a lot of Catholics voted "No" out of the frightening prospect even for myself of some kind of secular independent government with Patrick Harvie as Deputy First Minister closing Catholic schools and making the experience of gay sex mandatory. Meanwhile others envisaged the sectarianism of the times contemporary with the Irish troubles would be back upon us as Scotland became akin to East Belfast. 

The irony of watching National Front Loyalists take over George Square to gloat and the Green Party membership rocketing by 1,500 (and counting?) memberships in the few short hours after a No vote is not lost on me in that context. 

My dad voted No and I fully support him. He is over 80 and sees the  UK as his "country" which of course it isn't but I don't hold it against him or anyone else that voted No on these grounds. It is an honourable position. The pensioners that didn't already think that way but who were scared witless about their pensions I also understand. They trust the BBC and their newspapers to give them the facts. Its not their fault they didn't and Better Together was hell bent on spooking people. Those well above the the breadline who worried about how they might lose out financially are a little less high on my Christmas card list at the moment. 

So today in Scotland the pensioners are feeling a bit more secure, but the majority of the others beneath 55 years of age are feeling a little disillusioned. The fight to regain Scotland her independence will have to go on. And it will. As retiring First Minister Alex Salmond said in his retiring speech "the dream will never die". 

Monday, 15 September 2014

So Here We Are Scotland!

I guess when I stumbled upon and read a Scottish history book thirty five years ago and became a supporter of Scottish Independence I didn’t in my heart of hearts dream that I would be given an opportunity to see it happen.  When you read the history of your country for the first time as a schoolboy and realise that in the classrooms you have been getting taught somebody else’s you conclude that something is amiss.

Things have been amiss for me ever since. The North Sea oil con, the flawed 1979 devolution referendum, Poll Tax, Trident, Iraq, I never again trusted a government that taught me their own history and not mine, or their submissive media mouthpieces which constantly told me Scotland was too wee and too poor. With age I found far from diminishing, the reasons just started stacking up. 

One vote for Labour in a General election to help their promise of outing the Tories aside (it never happened by the way, I voted Labour, so did the rest of Scotland in huge numbers, they lost) I have always been a single issue voter. Independence. Party politics has just been a means to an end. In that time I helped out at elections and even stood in a council election. It has shaped who I am and the friends I made.  

In my mid-thirties I in a sense bound myself to the pre-reformation history of our ancient nation by converting to the Catholic faith. There was nothing of this in my reasoning at the time but It was a great delight to later discover more about Scotland’s Catholic history and the likes of St Margaret of Scotland, Cardinal Beaton, some famous Jacobites by name and many converts like myself in St John Ogilvie and more recently Sir Compton Mackenzie who became a Scottish Nationalist too.

So here we are Scotland! 

It seems that the very same Westminster of which I became so suspicious as a young lad has this past few months proven my case to hundreds of thousands of other Scots who had never seen it that way before. That seems to be what has put this referendum on a knife-edge. There is a certain delicious irony that it is their attempt to create fear and awe, that has at last awakened the nation to the fact this was no union of equals and it never will be, and that you can’t trust a word they say about Scotland.

I have seen my fellow Catholics try to reconcile their voting intentions to their religious beliefs and I know Catholics are voting in different ways for different reasons. Some still feel let down badly by the Scottish Government in Holyrood on homosexual marriage. Others seek more social justice in what they see as a grossly unequal society. Witness todays advert in the Herald supporting Yes by a “cross-section of the Catholic community”. 

Me? I’m just a Scottish nationalist who happens by the grace of God to be Catholic. The two are not related in any other sense than the history of our nation at times in varying degrees and also for me the story of my wonderful and blessed life.  

Maybe if I realise on Friday morning that my fellow countrymen living and working in Scotland have voted Yes I will inadvertently drop to my knees in thanks, and maybe if it is No I will do sackcloth and ashes.  I don’t know. God willing I will go to Mass on Thursday Morning and the days following and that is as religious as the referendum will get for me.