My Camino de Santiago at the PGS blog

Camino de Santiago

Well !!!

Hasn’t it been a long time since the last blog entry !!!

I am going on pilgrimage (again) to Santiago de Compostela, and after much thought, I have decided to put my blog posts about this new journey up at my friend Bill Bennett’s pilgrimage blog, PGS The Way.

Bill has written a very amusing account of his own pilgrimage, The Way, My Way (which can be found HERE ), and he also plans to direct a film that he’s written about the Camino.

Bill is not a Catholic, nor even a Christian (though he had a Christian upbringing), but his blog has evolved into a meeting place for some of the more thoughtful and/or experienced multi-Camino pilgrims of whichever religious or philosophical background.

Several of the members there have expressed interest in reading about and discussing my pilgrimage ; so there’s a broader audience than the Catholic for these writings, and I concluded that they would be better published there than here.

Saint Mary

I have seen Our Lady Saint Mary, the Mother of God, Pregnant with the Godhead Itself, and filled with the Shining and Eternal Light and Love of God and of Heaven.

Henceforth, I will proclaim this to all the world, and I will accept any and whichever consequences may arise therefrom, for the reason that there is only One God, One Christ, and One Heaven that we are called towards for the love in our souls in the utter imperfection of our flesh.

May God have mercy on my soul.

Understanding Pope Francis

There seems to be a certain amount of confusion among English-speaking Catholics over how to properly understand Pope Francis — and particularly how to understand the “off-the-cuff” homilies that he has been providing at the Domus Sanctae Marthae, as they are reported variously by Radio Vatican and L’Osservatore Romano.

I’ve no idea how much help the following will be, nor how many people will even see it, however it is certainly possible to make better sense of these homilies, and through this better understanding, to gain a better perspective on the actual personality and ministry of our Pope, in the face of the masses of disinformation that have (inevitably) started circulating about our Holy Father.

The Homilies

First of all, which source to use to make sense of them ?

Straight to the source — http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/francesco/cotidie/2013/index_it.htm (Italian)

1) The English-language translations of these homilies, even those provided at the Vatican website itself, have demonstrated that they are, at least for the time being, untrustworthy sources of information. Avoid them !!!

2) The Pope’s rhetoric is simultaneously Latinate and Italianate in nature, and his sense of humour is mischievous and ironic, so that a surefire way of misunderstanding these homilies is to read them quickly, in their poor English translation, and according to English or American expectations on how speeches should be constructed, and with the expectation that every single off-the-cuff word is to be taken 100% po-faced seriously. Instead, start your reading with the basic assumption that at least one disarming trait of humour will be provided in the homily, always remembering that you’re reading in a foreign language, translated or in the original, and read carefully, and trying NOT to engage your pre-conceptions on what the Pope must be saying. Try and remember how texts are constructed in Latin, or in 16th century literature, or perhaps as Shakespeare wrote them, because these are the sorts of rhetorics that the Pope is using, and NOT the pre-digested sound-byte rhetorics of our Mass Media.

3) There is a certain delightfully spontaneous baroque aesthetic in the Pope’s homilies that one should try and be sensitive to — this is an aesthetic with the direct purpose of causing listeners to approach its contents anew, afresh. It is NOT the type of magisterial exposition of theology and doctrine and of the related morals that Pope Benedict XVI provided for us with such consummate skill, BUT one should also understand that the inner questioning that the Pope’s rhetorics seek deliberately to foster in his listeners, and that many are confused by, is VERY firmly based on the magisterial teachings of the Pope’s immediate predecessor, both as Pontiff, and as the ex-Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The baroque rhetorics are used to try and shake up our intellectual complacency, and try and revive in us the nature of the link between our Souls, our Faith, our Religion, the Revelation, God, and the nature of our vocations in this world.

4) The Pope is teaching us that an intellectualised religion is not really any kind of Christianity at all — but that the intellect should ALWAYS be a servant of the Catholic Religion, but never seek to define it according to its own terms, as ONLY the Revelation provides that definition. This, as many people haven’t quite realised, is also the beating heart of the teachings of Pope Benedict XVI !!!

5) Brush up on your Italian, or your Latin, or your other Romance languages, or by default, brush up on your Shakespeare and your Chaucer — the Italianate aesthetics that are redolent in Pope Francis’ off-the-cuff homilies can be understood better via a prism of thought that is closer to them than by trying to stick to the intellectual aesthetics of a modern UK or US Liberal Arts Education, which they are almost completely incompatible with.

The Spirituality

Pope Francis’ deep spirituality is perhaps most comparable among recent Popes to that of Pope John Paul I. And so it may easily seem to be both mysterious, and confusing, especially in the light of the extreme shortness of John Paul I’s Pontificate.

Pope Francis’ spirituality appears to be centred on a constant awakening to the presence within one of one’s soul, and the outpouring of its divine relationship with God, which in turn provides the living source of ALL proper action, in prayer, in Liturgy, in work, and speech, in homily, in thought, and in deed.

This is not the banal exuberance of a dancing charismatic, it is a deep and thoughtful, prayerful, and Faithful attention within to the Work of the Holy Spirit. It is a devotion that is intrinsically Trinitarian, deeply Marian, and of the highest nature of the Catholicity.

And this is the kind of very deep Faith that the Pope is teaching, instead of an “intellectualism without talent”, as he puts it, an “ethicism without beauty”, that seeks to reduce the Catholic Faith to its sole intellectual, moral, social, psychological components, but that would transform the Church into just another NGO.

Our souls are the children of God, not “adopted” from out of this material world and its worldliness, but vivified in the living relationship of Love with Our Father.

And everything that the Holy Father is teaching is derived from this Eternal Source of ALL Truth and ALL Beauty and ALL Love.

And then people are surprised that his teachings are “confusing” !!! There is nothing more confusing than God when He reaches past the intellectual falsehoods of our worldly pride towards the very intimacy of our Souls.

Intellectuality

Pope Francis is NOT of course suggesting, nor am I, that one’s intellectuality should simply be cast by the wayside !!!

He is suggesting that the Intellect is useless if it is not the servant of one’s Soul, turned towards God.

To deeply understand Pope Francis’ rhetorics, always remember this : that if he asks us, explicitly or implicitly, to always keep our very souls always turned to God in the Holy Spirit and through Christ, that he himself is practicing this very ascesis. The Pope’s own intellect is properly ordered in its processes within this vivification of the Self in Faith, and to read his homilies and to try and understand this Pope via the dead letter of a simply formalistic rationality is to understand nothing either of Francis or of his homilies.

I am asking you to try and understand them in the light of the most child-like Faith that resides in the heart of our love for God and for the Church of His Christ. In the very light of what makes us Catholic Christians instead of just another organisation of intellectuals, moralists, and social workers.

In the light of our very Souls.

Religious Freedom in the European Union

The EU has just adopted a very important text on the question of Religious Freedom.

http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?type=TA&language=EN&reference=P7-TA-2013-279

Whilst its provisions are still not European Law for the time being, this is the final draft of the proposals that will be offered to the Commission for actual legislation.

Happily, several questions that have arisen in recent decades over the intellectual persecution by some radical secularist ideologues of (particularly) the Christian religious freedoms are explicitly provided against in the proposals :

Collective dimension of freedom of religion or belief

(h) It should be stressed in the Guidelines that an indispensable part of freedom of religion or belief is the right of each individual to manifest the freedom of religion or belief alone or in community with others; this includes:

- the freedom to worship or assemble in connection with a religion or belief, and to establish and maintain places and religious sites for these purposes;

- the freedom not to participate in any given religious activity or event,

- the freedom to establish and maintain appropriate religious, media, educational, health, social, charitable or humanitarian institutions;

- the freedom to solicit and receive voluntary financial and other contributions from individuals and institutions;

- the freedom to train, appoint, elect or designate by succession appropriate leaders called for by the requirements and standards of any religion or belief;

- the freedom to establish and maintain communications with individuals and communities in matters of religion and belief at the national and international levels; equally, it should be noted in the Guidelines that the right to exercise religion in community with others (in the context of which ‘individual freedoms must always be respected) should not unnecessarily be limited to officially recognised places of worship, and that all undue limitations to the freedom of assembly should be condemned by the EU; the Guidelines should underline that States have a duty to remain neutral and impartial towards religious groups, including as regards symbolic or financial support;

Education

(k) As recognised by internationally accepted standards, the parents or legal guardians of a child have the liberty to ensure that their children receive a religious and moral education in conformity with their own convictions, and the child shall not be compelled to receive teaching on religion or belief against the wishes of his or her parents or legal guardians, the best interests of the child being the guiding principle; the right of parents to educate their children according to their religious or non-religious convictions includes their right to deny any undue interference by state or non-state actors in their education opposed to their religious or non-religious convictions; the Guidelines should stress these aspects of the right to freedom of religion or belief, and should also guarantee secularisation in public education, and EU delegations should take appropriate action if this principle is violated;

I find these proposals to be an interesting mix of both some intrinsically secularist notions, and some intrinsically religious requirements — and on the face of the more general nature of the proposals, they may end up requiring of the UK that the Church of England shall be disestablished (though I will leave others to read the document for themselves and make up their opinion about these aspects).

My own interest is in the specific protections that are being proposed herein for all religiously-minded folk, including Catholic Christians.

It is a significant step forward for the EU that parents’ rights and the rights of religious communities to provide a religious education to their children is being proposed as a strongly worded inalienable human right !!! This right has been under constant assault from atheists and secularists for nearly 50 years, and it is very gratifying to finally see someone acting to put a stop to this horrendous persecution of religious families in Europe.

That public education is defined as being secularised is of little importance in the face of this great advancement, given that it already has been so secularised throughout nearly the whole of Europe — though here, the public education that is provided in Italy may sadly be put under assault (except that I have great faith in the Italian genius for finding detours around any overly oppressive lawmaking).

The proposals on the Collective dimension of freedom of religion or belief are a LOT more interesting though !!!

It is of the very NATURE of a religion to be collective, and we can see here that the EU is at last decided upon formally defining religion and the associated religious freedoms to be of a collective nature. This is amazingly good news, in the face of the constant barrage of propaganda from the atheists and secularists to try and turn religion into a purely private affair.

Noteworthy, is the expressed desire that religions and religious communities should have a right to establish charities that are consistent with their religious beliefs, and one cannot help but think of the ghastly cases of the Christian Adoption agencies that have been forced to shut down or lose their charitable status in the face of secularist legislative aggressions and persecutions, in the UK for example.

It is very refreshing to see a secular institution of the EU positively recognising that religious freedoms cannot be limited to freedom of belief and freedom of assembly.

This is a great advancement, and we should be celebrating it, notwithstanding the more secularist notions that are simultaneously being vehicled in this document.

A Pilgrim of the Way of Saint James

I’ll NEVER forget my “second” arrival at Santiago in 1993, after a botched pilgrimage where I gave up halfway, hitch-hiked home, rested three days, received a telephone call forcing me to get back walking (very complex reasons, can’t explain here) (time between the phone call and me walking out of the door back towards Compostela was BTW lower than 20 minutes), hitch-hiked back to the Camino, and searched for my friends again thanks to help from a Galician Camino sentry in a Range Rover.

After our arrival in Santiago, we had gone on toward the Altlantic Coast, NOT Fisterra, where we had eaten a perfectly unforgettable meal of fresh-gathered mussels in onion broth on a deserted beach, prepared under a torrential rain and an open fire, washed down with the almost vinegar-bitter but delightfully pure white wine of the coast …

We started making our way back via Compostela, hitch-hike IIRC, and arrived under the Seminary in a back-street, in darkness, no moon, drenching rain, total silence — and a mediaeval stair up between an ancient wall and darkened houses, exhausted, hungry, longing for home, making our way up centuries-old slippery cobbles towards the single light we could see burning in the city up in the Seminary, not knowing if the door would be open, not knowing if there would be a bed, but certain that we would not be eating until the following day, but at the same time marvelling in and humbled by this fact of arriving in Santiago in the EXACT manner of the pilgrims of centuries before.

And burning in me, the knowledge that I hadn’t been a “true pilgrim”, and that I needed to walk to Santiago again, from my home at the time, “properly”, and with no compromises, no failures, no surrender to the weaknesses along the Way.

But with this dark and shining memory always with me, of this unplanned and unlooked-for and utterly beautiful mediaeval arrival, that no matter the difficulties along the Way, the perfect arrival in Compostela was simultaneously in my memory and in my future.

THAT was when I became a Pilgrim of the Way of Saint James.

“For The Poor”

My confessor gave a wonderful Mass at St Joseph’s yesterday evening for the celebration of our Patron Day, but I couldn’t help but feel a stab of black humour listening to both his homily, and the speech later given by our local mayor, at their remarks that “there are no poor here” (paraphrased) and “everyone here has enough to eat” and “our charity therefore needs to be focused on people elsewhere” ; paraphrased : “we here live in wealth and happiness, so we needn’t give our charity to any among us, but only to those living afar” — not only is this attitude perfectly blind to the hardships and poverty existing here and under people’s very noses (and NO, NOT “everyone” here has “enough” to eat), but it’s a complete betrayal of the very principles of Christian Charity, as our Blessed Pope John Paul II once explained them, in one of his more important homilies (given before I was even a Catholic) — Christian Charity ALWAYS starts with those who are closest and dearest to us, and then those living around us, those we can see, and touch, and speak to.

Pope John Paul II rightly reminded us that if we don’t care for and pay attention to the poverty and the suffering that we can see on our doorsteps, then whatever donations and aid that we may provide for those living far away, no matter how worthy our efforts may be, are not Charity in the Catholic Christian sense, because those who we are being asked to help in our own flesh, by our own presence, through the Spirit within ourselves, will have been ignored in favour of some distant strangers.

Our Blessed Pope also pointed out that this sort of help from afar reduces charity to a figure on a cheque or on some banknotes and coins (though I’m paraphrasing here), which is about as far away from true Charity that you can get.

True Charity is to be a Christian presence in the flesh amidst the poor and suffering ; True Charity is to be WITH the poor and suffering in our own persons, to be with them, to accept them into our own lives, our own hearts, into True Holy Communion with our very souls and with their own souls, in the One True Church of our Risen Christ.

Not this bourgeois masquerade posing in its place.