05 March 2009

What Qualifications are Needed for a Job like this?

There's a fine passage in Chesterton's introduction to The Everlasting Man where he comments on the character of so many opponents of the Church in his day:
'They still live in the shadow of the faith and have lost the light of the faith. Now the best relation to our spiritual home is to be near enough to love it. But the next best is to be far enough away not to hate it. It is the contention of these pages that while the best judge of Christianity is a Christian, the next best judge would be something more like a Confucian. The worst judge of all is the man now most ready with his judgements; the ill-educated Christian turning gradually into the ill-tempered agnostic, entangled in the end of a feud of which he never understood the beginning, blighted with a sort of hereditary boredom with he knows not what, and already weary of hearing what he has never heard. He does not judge Christianity calmly as a Confucian would; he does not judge it as he would judge Confucianism. He cannot by an effort of fancy set the Catholic Church thousands of miles away in strange skies of morning and judge it as impartially as a Chinese pagoda.'
I've found it difficult not to think of this over the past week, when following Ruth Gledhill's Twitter feed and Blog. Ruth has apparently been nominated as 'Digital Journalist of the Year' in the British Press Awards. I've been reading her stuff for years, though I've done so in the full knowledge that she doesn't seem particularly highly regarded among Catholic bloggers, with Mark Shea, for example, dismissing her as 'perhaps the single most clueless religion reporter on earth', and Jimmy Akin regularly refering to her as Ruth 'I'm Too Dangerously Unqualified To Keep My Job' Gledhill.

After this week, I'm starting to understand why. The Times ran an article by her a couple of days ago under the heading 'Give up Tweeting? Tell it to the birds, your Holiness' in which she said:
The Roman Catholic Church in Italy wants us to give up texting, Tweeting and other tecchie messaging services for Lent. This is the organisation presided over by a Pope who claims he did not know Bishop Richard Williamson was a Holocaust denier when he lifted the excommunication on him last month. [...]

This was even though Italian blogs had been writing about it, The Catholic Herald in England had covered it and I had blogged and reported it extensively for The Times.

These reports were easily accessible online. They had been the subject of debate on blogs, Facebook and Twitter. But they were not picked up by clerics who, we now know, believe texting is tantamount to sin.
Now, as I mentioned a couple of weeks back, it's a regrettable fact that as a rule you should never trust what the mainstream media says about religion. Seriously. Take anything you read or hear with a barrel of salt. In this case, take a look at the premise, itself not quite accurate, but let that go, that 'The Roman Catholic Church in Italy wants us to give up texting, Tweeting and other tecchie messaging services for Lent' and then look at the assertion that these clerics 'believe texting is tantamount to sin'.

Right. So the Religion Correspondent for the Times is reporting that the Church in Italy is recommending that we stop sinning for Lent, presumably being free to start again afterwards. Does that sound remotely likely to you? It's the nature of Lenten fasting that in order to develop our self-mastery we renounce good things, not bad ones! We're not meant to be doing the bad ones at all!

The rest of the article's pap too, but the fact that such a fundamental misconception underpins it should be fair warning that the whole thing needs extensive unpacking. For what it's worth, though, yes, the Archbishop of Modena has indeed suggested that young Italians might indeed 'cleanse themselves from the virtual world and get back into touch with themselves' by fasting from text messaging and social networking sites, say, over Lent. Although other bishops have echoed this call, not one of them has even hinted that these things are wrong in themselves, instead merely pointing out that they can all too easily become obsessive behaviour, the sort of thing from which we might do well to free ourselves.

The point of Lenten fasting, after all, is that 'by denying ourselves these good things we encourage an attitude of humility, free ourselves from dependence on them, cultivate the spiritual discipline of sacrifice, and remind ourselves of the importance of spiritual goods over earthly goods.'

And then there was the Trad Mass
The other lowlight of Ruth's week was her attendance at an Extraordinary Rite Mass at the SSPX church of St Joseph and St Padarn in Holloway in north London. In itself this would hardly be a bad thing, you might think, but Ruth appears to have gone mainly with a view to catching a glimpse or even exchanging a few words with Bishop Richard Williamson, a buffoon on whom I'd rather not waste words at the minute. Throughout the service she twittered away, reporting the mass as it happened with a view to having the whole affair explained to her -- and her readers -- by Chris Gillibrand of Catholic Church Conservation, who tweeted back over the course of the morning.

She's edited the conversation down into something fairly manageable on her blog, but I've managed to assemble a slightly less coherent but more comprehensive version of it here.
RuthieGledhill: Church absolutely packed men in black women in lace headscarves. No sign of Bishop Williamson. My neighbour is two-year-old old girl... priest wearing biretta like my dad used to wear on moped when doing parish visits in gratwich kingston and uttoxeter
Gillibrand: What better place to celebrate St David's Day than a church dedicated to St Padarn, with St Teilo a companion of St David.'.. If it wasn't so packed -- people tend to sit near the front rather than at the back at Latin Masses.'
RuthieGledhill: No sign of Bishop Williamson.
Gillibrand: Suspect the SSPX will have locked the Bishop in a chapel at Wimbledon and be tempted to throw the key away.
RuthieGledhill: Priest delivering homily. Warns against speaking to the press in case we 'twist' words.
Gillibrand: Expect a long sermon. Traditionalists sometimes in far-flung places don't get to a Latin Mass so often... so priests preach long and repeat in different ways to get many messages across.
RuthieGledhill: Priest says desert fathers in Egypt determined to stamp out bodily desires in order to raise up the soul... the derts the hermits monasteries prayers fasting charity the love of God... What is the relevance of fourth century hermits to 21st century life?
Gillibrand: Epistle has a message for the Bishop - "Give no offense to any man that our ministry be not blamed."
RuthieGledhill: What should drive us is the desire to imitate the desert fathers - do similar great works for Lent.
Gillibrand: Back to the early church was the watchword of Vatican II.
RuthieGledhill: Homily over, Nicene creed. Genitum non factum. We all kneeling. A lot of kneeling and standing.
Gillibrand: In a modern Mass, there is no longer a requirement to kneel at the mention of Incarnation which I find strange!... Will be kneeling again at the Incarnation during the Last Gospel -- John 1 which will be read at the end of Mass.
RuthieGledhill: Two young men at back leading the sung recitation. Surprised priests don't have backs to us but facing across sanctuary... Put two pounds in collection plate. Not the kind of place that gives receipts. Can I claim it on expenses? Every penny counts these days.
Gillibrand: They turn their backs to the congregation for the canon of the Mass.... Your reward will be great in heaven.

Maybe I will let the two pounds go for the good of my soul. Lavabo inter. Hand washing and sprinkling tinkling sounds. Sit kneel stand. Find nice young intelligent girl at back of church to show me where we are in missal.
Gillibrand: I was wondering if you had the texts.
RuthieGledhill: Bell rings loudly. Sanctus spiritus. Even I recognise this...
Gillibrand: I wash my hands among the innocent, and. ... and tell of all Thy wondrous works, O Lord, I have loved the beauty of Thy house and the place where Thy glory dwelleth
RuthieGledhill: adoration and elevation over. stand. Pater noster, qui est in caelis
Gillibrand: Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord ... which is said by only the priest. Some people familiar with Latin but new to the old Rite sometimes join in.
RuthieGledhill: Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi... priest reading in silence we skip three pages. Love the singing and the long amens.
Gillibrand: Symbolism being that it is the prayer Our Lord teaches us and the priest is acting in persona Christi. ... Agnus Dei and prayers of penitence prior to communion
RuthieGledhill: Libera me. yup i go along with that.
Gillibrand: ...also in Gregorian Chant - the music of the church... are there three or just one priest celebrating?

[Holy Communion.] Do i go up for a blessing? As my mind has been on work and not the service praps not. what do you think Chris? ... 'Turn off that f*****g mobile' says woman.
Ask the priest afterwards - wouldn't want to alarm the faithful.
RuthieGledhill: woman tries to grab BlackBerry and raises fist at me. Heart beating v fast.
If you had asked the priest before hand it would be easier and would have been given. ... Retreat.
RuthieGledhill: Nice woman whispers: 'Don't let her worry you. We have quite a lot of nutters here. We have normal people too.'
Gillibrand: Home for sinners, the lonely the dispossessed and the just plain angry... All OK?
RuthieGledhill: 'I've a good mind to hit you,' says woman. 'Please do,' I say thinking of the copy.
Gillibrand: rather I suggest retreat to the doors and carry on.
RuthieGledhill: 'Oh you'ld love that wouldn't you,' she hisses, and backs off... Angry woman comes back for the killer blow. 'You aren't even wearing a headscarf.'
Gillibrand: She has hit you?
RuthieGledhill: Placeat tibi. Isn't what I am doing a form of homage to truth and justice? No-one asks me to leave, so I don't.
Gillibrand: Exactly.
RuthieGledhill: Angry woman left. I feel sad. Obsequium servitutus meae.
Gillibrand: May the tribute of my worship be pleasing to Thee, most Holy Trinity, and grant that the sacrifice which I, all unworthy... And now comes the Last Gospel sending Christians out into the world... Deleted from the new Mass, where the belief is that the Holy Spirit comes during the Mass rather than in the Commission. ... at the end
RuthieGledhill: Retreat to empty side chapel. sing beautiful hymn.
Gillibrand: Pray for her. When early Christians turned the other cheek, they weren't thinking about copy.

Priests processing out. All my sins I now detest them, Never will I sin again, we sing...
Gillibrand: Dedicated to which saint?... What's the hymn?
RuthieGledhill: Waiting at back of emptying church to see clergy and apologise for upsetting worshipper... Hymn was God of mercy and compassion
Gillibrand: 'French Melody, adapt. from G.B. Pergolesi, d1736... Au sang qu'um Dieu, lyric writer unknown... French... Hymn magnificent espec for Lent where even the French put aside joie de vivre... Canadian possibly.
Nice whiskered man apologises for angry woman and says best way to speak to priest would be join confession queue. I do... pulled from confessional by a bald worshipper bloke before have chance to apologise or receive absolution... Priest intervenes in corridor and hears my apology and thanks me, says he can make no comment... Go for coffee. Nice whiskered man says I can join him...
Gillibrand: Suspect he would give a blessing if asked - absolution is a different matter.
RuthieGledhill: Afro-Carib from on our table asks about Williamson. Whiskered man says he won't be leaving Wimbledon... afro-caribbean man from deptford produces a pic of him and family with Rowan Williams. I start to feel better... going now. if u have come late to this and are puzzled see blog. timesonline.co.uk/gledhill On Chris's advice go back and asked for blessing. Was freely given....
Gillibrand: That's a relief.
I suppose I ought to feel slightly impressed that she went at all, and Chris Gillibrand defends her actions by saying 'As someone who, albeit at a distance, could be considered an accomplice, I think Ruth should be congratulated on boldly going where Protestants rarely if ever have gone before and indeed via twitter to take others with her, even if only in a virtual sense. An enlightened idea and enlightening to others.'

The thing is, though, I can't help but be disheartened by her observation on her blog that 'Today, as Richard Owen reports, the Catholic bishops in Italy have said the faithful should give up texting for Lent. I know from personal experience now that some Catholics detest people who text.'

That's hardly fair, is it? The angry woman may well have been out of line with how she behaved and what she said, but I can kind of see where she was coming from. I'd be aghast if somebody sat beside me at mass spent the whole service texting away -- I'd find it generally rude, but probably contemptuous towards both the congregation and indeed the object of worship Himself. To be fair, I'd not be impressed if I went out for dinner with someone, and they did that throughout the meal.

Ruth defends her own conduct by saying:
'I was as far to the back as I could be without being outside the church, and when I sensed my neighbours were finding the constant movement of my thumbs an irritant, I slipped into the side chapel or a corridor. At no point did I make a call on the phone, which was switched to silent. Maybe I did cross a line, but I reckoned at the time that given this was a church that regularly welcomes a Holocaust denier to speak, any sin I committed in reporting a service there was under the circumstances forgivable.'
I'm not sure that works, though. Most of the 'traditional' Catholics who'd attend such services seem to go because of what they see -- rightly or wrongly -- as the beauty, the purity, and the authenticity of the liturgy. They don't go to hear crackpot political or historical theories.

It seems to me that if she really wanted to report the news, rather than make the news, she ought to have done her research in advance, maybe by reading something like Ronald Knox's old and elementary but genuinely excellent The Mass in Slow Motion, and then gone along with a Catholic friend, with whom she could have discussed any points of confusion after mass.

After all, would her actions have been greeted any more favourably in an Anglican church? Or a mosque? Or in synagogue?

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