Jesus and the apples

I note this morning that this blog had been operating since 2008. Since then it has carried over 130 articles of substance. That’s by no means a record but I think it tells us that Christians of intelligence are more than ready to think, to consult, to agree and to disagree. I have no firm picture of the contributors who take part in the discussions. Clearly, the majority are Catholics, and a proportion are in religious orders. But there are plenty of other Christians, and of course we have non-believers. The standard of comments is high. And they are frequent – often approaching, and sometimes exceeding, a hundred.

Not surprisingly we often come back to the question of communication within the Church. For me, that was triggered by a major study of communication within hospitals. It contrasted hospitals with poor communication upwards, downwards and sideways, with those who put emphasis on their internal communication. The outcome was that the communicating hospitals were significantly better at curing patients. Round about that time, businesses were finding good internal communication to be a big factor in success.

And, at first sight, it appeared that the Church by its very function was a non-communicator. Its chief, the pope, was absolute in authority and, in certain cases infallible. He was surrounded by a bunch of senior clerics, known as the Curia – a kind of administrative government. Then come the bishops – seen as the descendants of the Apostles, and, in turn, the obedient parish priests. Finally, there’s us, our hands inevitably in our pockets – because that’s where the money comes from.

The 1960s was a key decade. The second Vatican Council took place and demonstrated at least that the bishops were free to discuss issues which historically had been fixed by tradition and authority. Even today there are those who believe, and have argued strongly, that the Council was fundamentally wrong in freeing up the long held ecclesiastical Church authority. We see an outcome each week when we attend Mass in English as an expression of the whole community, and not one in a foreign language exclusive to a minority. It would be interesting to know how well we think the Church nowadays communicates with its members.

I attended Mass this morning on my computer. I am fortunate to have the best parish priest I have ever encountered. I just finish with a story he told.

‘I am reminded of a story told to me of a group of salesmen who had been on a conference. They were running late on their return trip and in their rush through the airport one of the group inadvertently knocked a basket of apples off a table. Apples were everywhere. The group kept running and reached the plane just in time.
All except one. He told his colleagues to go on without him and he went back to where the apples had been knocked off the table. He was glad he did. The young girl selling the apples as a sixteen year old blind girl. She was trying to recover her produce by feel, no one was helping all were trying to get to their departure gates. The salesman knelt on the ground with the girl and gathered the apples into the basket, replacing it on the table and rearranging the display. When he had finished he gave the girl some money to cover the cost of any damaged fruit. As the salesman started to walk away the bewildered blind girl called out “Mister, are you Jesus”.’

Posted in Church and Society, Moral judgment, Quentin queries | 83 Comments

Love, Love, Love

Every Thursday, I take part in a sacrament. And so do many of you. Yes, at 8pm, I join my immediate neighbours and we clap to express our gratitude towards the members of the NHS who, despite their danger, work to save us.

A sacrament? Surely that’s the wrong word. But perhaps we should consider the traditional definition of sacrament: ‘an outward sign of inward grace’. Is not the inward grace my personal intention of thanksgiving? And does that not go directly to the Almighty?

In this respect we could consider a formal sacrament, such as baptism. While, depending on our particular Christian understanding of grace, we know that through baptism we are joined to Christ. But even the outward sign can vary. I remember my wife miscarrying at three months and, alone in the house and bleeding, she got her child to the bathroom and baptised him (or her). And as in many cases. the recipient was not aware of what was happening.

Of course, the New Testament goes to great pains to teach that formal baptism is essential. And not surprisingly so: Christianity was a new religion born from an old religion. For practical and hierarchical reasons, it was necessary to distinguish between the one and the other. But we know that even the most wicked man can turn towards Christ at his last moment. “betwixt the stirrup and the ground, mercy I asked, mercy I found.” (Camden)

What does turning towards Christ mean? We all know the answer to that – it is clearly described in orthodox Christianity and of course again and again in Scripture. But it must be more than that unless we think that everyone in the world, going back to our earliest ancestor, failed to get to Heaven because they never had the opportunity to know Christ, let alone follow him. Of course, we cheerfully invented Limbo which conveniently allowed us to resolve the problem without feeling guilty. Tosh! I say.

My answer is simple: love. And I mean love of self and love of neighbour. Love of self is not selfishness it is the intention and the action to develop as a fuller human being. Love of self and love of neighbour are intermixed. Even the walled in hermit must love his or her neighbour because God loves his neighbour. The self-styled atheist who seeks to save his neighbour from the nonsense of religion can be loving that neighbour through doing so.

Why must this be so? That’s an easy one: We can describe God in a myriad of ways, but they are all partial. Quite simply – God is love. Every atom of love is the expression of God – mixed up perhaps, or in the wrong context, or mistaken. But, in the end, it is God.

Posted in Quentin queries | 97 Comments

A breath of air

The post this week is entirely different from the usual material. This time it is wholly practical. Our computers are filled with information about the Virus, but little has been said about how we can improve our performance if we are unlucky enough to catch it. In fact, what I am about to write may save a life or two. It will help others as well if they take it on as a habit.

You will have read that one frequent element is damage to the lungs. While that damage will affect most sufferers, it is at its worst for older people. And I imagine that will include many of the readers of this Blog. I am now going to give you a simple description of how to help your lungs to be more efficient.

Sitting down in a comfortable chair, consider your lungs. See them as having three layers. The top layer if just below your collar bone. Put both your hands on your chest and breathe in – but only at that high level. Once you are conscious of this level, relieve it and move your hands to the centre of your chest, over your ribs: now breathe in at this level – and feel your central chest expand. Relax. Finally put your hands on your tummy (cf tummy button). Breathe in from the bottom of your lungs. You may be surprised at the amount of air you can suck in.

Practise all three at random, until you are able to choose readily whichever part of your lungs you want to use.Now that you can clearly recognize the levels of your lungs, use all three. Fill your tummy level, add to it your chest level, and add to that your high level. Now, perhaps for the first time, you have really filled all your lungs.

But you haven’t really started – you have the equipment, but you have not yet learned to develop it as a constant habit. And that’s demanding. Even now, after several years, I spend a few minutes every evening extending my lungs this way. I get an extra advantage: practising my lungs for a few minutes, brings me quietness and calm. The anxieties of the day float away – and I am ready for bed.

You may say “What does Quentin know about this – he’s not a doctor or a psychologist.” True, although as a marriage counsellor I used it successfully dealing with moments of distress, and occasionally with friends of mine. But, if you think about it, you may agree that it’s common sense – and well worth trying –particularly at a time when we may need our lungs in their best form.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 45 Comments

The Mass on my screen

I have just finished watching the Easter Friday service on my computer. It was sent by my local church – which is one of the finest parish churches in the country. And, when I say ‘nearer’ I mean that it is less than fifty yards from my house. The only human figure on the screen, the celebrant, was my parish priest. He has a fine singing voice, and I listen to every word of his exceptional sermons.

Some of what I write now will look odd to non-Catholics who use this site. Just forgive me: please pray for us, and we will pray for you.

Despite hermits, and such like, Catholicism has always been a social religion. Even praying on our own we include the whole Church: “Our Father” not “My Father”. The Mass itself is social: a kind of latter-day re-presentation of the Last Supper, and so leads up Holy Communion – where most of us will receive the Blessed Sacrament.

So that creates a problem for a computer Mass, even if it is not a recorded item but sent directly at the speed of light. I happen to be on my own, but in other circumstances my family and/or my friends could be with me. Nor can I receive Holy Communion. So it’s really second rate.

The problem for me is that I find the computer Mass much more satisfactory. First of all, I find a much stronger focus. I listen to every word, instead of being distracted by other people around me, or trying to find a spare place. I have to sit, kneel or stand – simple enough but less simple with increasing age. I can hear clearly every word from the altar. As for sermons – pot luck. We seem to have range of African priests – no doubt for excellent reasons. I can tell that they have spent a long time preparing their sermons but, for me at least, they are incomprehensible. In fact, most sermons are far too long. The exact timing of a computer Mass fixes the maximum time for a sermon – so I come away with a coherent message which I can then think and pray about.

But, of course, this is a computer Mass, you can’t really compare it with a real Mass which I can attend – or at least when the Virus allows me. Well I’m not entirely sure about that. You see, at a real Mass it all happens in our brains. We hear noises which our brains interpret into comprehensible language. We only have a sense of space because our brains are capable of interpreting the space. We are only aware of people around us because our brains tell us so. Without a loudspeaker system, those at the back hear the Mass fractionally later than those at the front. No one hears a word of Mass at the moment the celebrant says it.

So what? In the computer Mass it is just the same. Its occurrence – visibly and orally goes straight to our brain at the speed of light. In fact, the brain gets it fractionally faster than the attender who has to allow for the slower speed of sound. Is there any relevant difference between the two?

Of course we can’t receive Holy Communion. But do we think that Christ refuses us the grace of Holy Communion simply because our actual attendance is impossible?

Posted in Advocatus Diaboli, Bio-ethics, Neuroscience, Quentin queries | 53 Comments

Words of Wisdom

I had a telephone call this morning from my son. He wanted me to know that he had got back to the UK following his lecture tour in the Australian universities. He is one of our leading romano–british historians. It reminded me of a conversation we had when he was fourteen. He said that I was unlike other fathers. He claimed that most fathers answered their children’s questions whereas I simply asked him questions back. I like to think, though I cannot confirm, that this triggered him into investigating the truth rather than looking for someone else’s answer.

This wasn’t original to me. I was fortunate to have had a Jesuit education. There I learnt that I couldn’t make statements of significance unless I was prepared to support them with logic and evidence. Nor, as far as I was concerned, could my son.

I have little knowledge of the status of regular contributors to this blog. The odd hint gives me clues of course. But I have the impression that many are highly educated, sometimes clerical, and, most often, with views worth reading and thinking about.

So today I am asking whether any of you recall a remark, or an idea, from a parent, or a teacher, or a friend which you took on board and which has continued to influence you since then.

In my case, it was many years back. I was in a high- level business meeting where we were looking at how we could improve the business organisation. We went through a lengthy discussion reviewing all the different aspects, and potential improvements. When we finished, our chief actuary asked: “But, in the end, what are the things which really matter?” In five minutes, we knew the answer.

So, since then, whether it’s family, or business, or my health, or investments, or my plan for the day, I start with the question “What are the things which really matter?” It has been invaluable.

So I ask you to think through your own mind and memory and see if you can remember the principle, or principles you have picked up over the years and are still benefitting in your life.

Posted in Maxims, Quentin queries | 57 Comments

Boule de Suif

We all know the parable of the Good Samaritan. The priest and the Levite ignore the man lying damaged in the road, only the Samaritan (a member of a despised group) stops to help the wounded man. We are being told that the action of love, not an individual’s status, is the measurement of love.

Fewer perhaps know Boule de Suif, a story by Guy de Maupassant – perhaps his most famous. A coach of French bourgeoisie is escaping from the Hun lines. In their number is Boule de Suif — a prostitute. The other passengers deplore her presence, though they are quite happy to share her food. The Huns capture them: their price for escape is the willingness of Boule de Suif to sleep with them. She refuses, she hates the Huns. The passengers all demand that she should pay this price for their liberty. Under enormous pressure she eventually agrees, and they are released. On the rest of the journey they do not share their food with the prostitute and continue to regard her as dross.

We might imagine that, a few miles, further on, a Hun shell hits the coach: everyone is killed. Now, for the next five minutes, you are God. How will you judge the coach load? Do you favour the bourgeoisie – religiously orthodox and given to correct behaviour? Or do you prefer the whore who, even in her good intention, employs an activity which is evil in itself and directly against the Natural Law.

I am talking about love. On several occasions in the New Testament we are reminded that the Law exists because it is the basis for love. The Ten Commandments, and their extension to the whole web of morality, tell us how we must express our love – through positive and negative choices. And we are continually reminded that to breach the law even if the ultimate intention is loving cannot be excused. To take two obvious examples: first, the Allies’ destruction of civilian towns in WWII; second, a homosexual who enters a committed relationship with another homosexual, and believes it to be marriage.

Posted in Bio-ethics, Moral judgment, Quentin queries | 15 Comments

How odd of God!

We all know about Adam and Eve – their role as the ancestors of the human race, their Original Sin which separated us from the Almighty, and the redemption to be offered by God through Christ. Now let us consider how much of that story is true.

Putting a date on Adam and Eve is tricky – it depends of course on the discovery of fossils. But we would be safe if we settled for some 200,000 years ago. Now that is rather a long time for a story to survive. And a new species is unlikely to start from one individual or, in this case, two individuals; the process of evolution tends to work through numerous species rather than solo individuals. I suspect that, like the account of creation over 6 days, we should think of the Adam and Eve story as a fable: the narrative is imaginary but, within it, a deep truth.

We learn that the couple initially have no understanding of good and evil. The tempter uses this as his bribe: he tells Eve that eating the forbidden apple will open their eyes and they will be like gods, knowing good and evil. The moral sense of homo sapiens requires consciousness, the rational ability to distinguish between good and evil and the freedom to choose between the two.

It is significant that, although we are now able to understand the workings of the brain down into the tiny details, science is unable to understand consciousness, reason, and freewill. It cannot even describe what a causal solution would look like. We, on the other hand, recognise these elements as spiritual, and implicit in the story of Adam and Eve.

The outcome of our forefathers’ choice is extraordinary. Every human being thereafter would be born separated from God. However, we have one more chance: we may be redeemed through the salvation offered to us by Christ. But there is one condition: the acceptance of Christ through Baptism. The New Testament refers to its imperative again and again.

So what are the numbers? Here’s my best guess. Looking at the proportion of Christians today they number about one third of the world’s population. Take that back through the 200,000 years to Adam and Eve and we would get a huge number. Our Catechism expresses a hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without baptism. There are tiny exceptions for the older people such as “baptism of desire” and “baptism of martyrdom”. But that’s about it.

Now, were I a very brave person (and thankfully I am not). I would be somewhat critical of the Almighty. Yes, Adam and Eve sinned, but why should their punishment apply to every created person? None of us chose to be created. Of course, we all have a get-out through Christ. I, and perhaps all those reading this, will have had the opportunity to be baptised. But how about the others? If, in our communicating world, only a third of humans have been baptised, what proportion of the whole human race – back to Adam – could have had a chance? The remainder, perhaps nine out of ten, are in deep trouble. And not just for a day, or a lifetime but for ever – and ever – and ever.

Do you think God got it wrong?

Posted in Advocatus Diaboli, Quentin queries | Tagged | 53 Comments

I want more women

You will have read recently that Pope Francis has not supported the Amazon Synod’s recommendation to allow married priests in the Amazon. We are talking about a country where some 85 per cent of the villages cannot rely on having Sunday Mass because of the shortage of priests. Since the contributors on this site have recently shown a mixed verdict on Pope Francis, a good discussion here would be valuable.

We know that some priests are married. These are primarily the ex-Anglican priests who have converted. As far as I know, it has worked well. It tells us that current teaching is a rule rather than a doctrine. But it is based on the idea that a priest must commit himself completely rather than adding the responsibility of a wife and probably children.

So that you know my instinctive view. It goes like this: I believe that a good marriage for many parish priests would be a positive improvement. I don’t know how we could establish this, but I know that a long and loving marriage has enabled me to be more mature and a more balanced person. I tended to think intellectually where my wife tended to think emotionally – so we helped each other to grow.

Now I am going to take a big jump – and many of you will not like it. I believe that women should potentially be ordained as priests. The prohibition here is not just a rule but a firm teaching. I do not read it as infallible. Why on earth (or in Heaven) should we exclude women from representing Christ as a priest? We can understand why in earlier times a female representative would have been socially impossible, but do we think, in 2020, that this is still so?

Good, overall info at https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-51474009

Posted in Advocatus Diaboli, Pope Francis, Quentin queries | Tagged , | 110 Comments

What is your conception?

No. I am not going to write about artificial contraception in the terms of natural law or the attitude of the Church, as confirmed in Humanae Vitae. I want to look at it as a phenomenon. Throughout the whole history of the human race the possibility of pregnancy has controlled the use of sexual intercourse and led to the confining of its practice to marriage or, at least, to a long-term formal relationship. The strict punishments applied to those who broke the rules were understandably harsh, particularly for the poor. By the 20th century, methods of contraception were being broadly used. They tended to be crude and often unreliable. Most importantly, they were primarily controlled by males. In practice, females had to depend on their partners being responsible, and were often ill served.

Then came the 1960s and the ‘pill’. At last there was a reliable and convenient method, and, importantly, one which was under the control of the female. Given that this was a change in a most fundamental element of homo sapiens, not surprisingly over time society changed. And it is still changing.

While, at the biological level, intercourse may remain the ‘marriage act’, and is so used by married people, the connection is weakened. It can range from casual sexual physicality to compassionate romance. Our young millennials accept without further thought that living together as though they were man and wife, is a natural route to marriage at some later time. Sadly, in too many cases, the lack of formal commitment turns out not to be commitment. I imagine that parents and grandparents, Catholics or not, would hope that the unmarried couples are using proper contraception.

While contraception and abortion are very different things, I wonder whether the assumption that we can, and perhaps, should, control fertility by modern methods, contributes to the acceptance of abortion when everything else has failed. Wikipedia, reporting on Catholic attitudes to abortion, tells us “Although the church hierarchy campaigns against abortion and its legalization in all circumstances, including threats to a woman’s life or health and pregnancy from rape, many Catholics disagree with this position, according to several surveys of Western Catholic views”.
None of this is surprising. When the human race changes the way it does things, and particularly when it occurs as something so fundamental as sex and breeding, we should not be surprised if the mores of society change as a result. And we are only just at the beginning.
How do you see the future?

Posted in Bio-ethics, Moral judgment, Quentin queries | Tagged | 31 Comments

The Jesuit and the Benedictine

Have you heard the story of the Jesuit and the Benedictine? It seems that they were both heavy smokers. Chatting about this one day they agreed to ask their superiors to give them permission to smoke while reading their Daily Office. When they next met, they compared the outcomes. The Benedictine was crestfallen. He asked his Abbot if he could smoke while he was saying his prayers – and got thoroughly told off for his impiety. The Jesuit had no trouble. He asked if he could pray while he was smoking. He was congratulated for his virtue.

We can all see what happened, but it raises an important point. They were both asking for the same thing, and the only difference was the order of the request. It reminds us that our brains are often illogical in their work – sometimes for the good and sometimes for the bad.

A very common illogicality is the danger of first impressions. For example, at a job interview, the decision tends to be made in the first few minutes. The first impression colours the later information. I suspect that many university acceptances are influenced by the candidate’s accent. This tendency of first impressions appears to be genetic. Many thousands of years ago our ancestors survived to breed because they immediately avoided situations of possible danger.

We have a built-in tendency to look out for evidence to support our views, and to dismiss evidence which may show otherwise. Take for instance, global warming or choice of political party. How often do we sit down, try to blank out our minds, and start again from scratch?

Here’s a job lot: tall men are more likely to get senior positions; bespectacled people are judged to be more intelligent; women’s eye pupils dilate when they are aroused; successful shops know every trick in their displays and advertisements.

Another genetic outcome is the influence of the groups to which we belong. In primitive times, belonging to your group made for safety, and to disagree with your group made you an outsider. For instance, if I took to slagging off Our Lady on this Blog I doubt if it would last very long.

You may well be aware of many such influences. But just knowing the possibilities is not enough. We must from time to time explore our views and check their truths. It’s a tough task but very worthwhile. And, what better occasion than the New Year?

Posted in Bio-ethics, evolution, Quentin queries | 25 Comments