Friday, 20 April 2018

The Resurrection

We have just celebrated the most important moment in human history. The Easter Triduum (the three days) recalls the Last Supper, the death of the Lord, and His most glorious resurrection. The resurrection shows us many things. It shows us things about Jesus, things about God, and things about ourselves. Over the next few weeks, we will look at each of these three aspects of the resurrection.

What then does the resurrection tell us about Jesus? It seems quite a silly question really. It tells us that He died and rose again. And because we have faith, and know what it teaches us, then it shows us that He is God. But that last fact - that Jesus is God - was not immediately understood by the disciples, and it took a few years for our brothers and sisters in the early Church to work that out. Of course it was all there in what Jesus had said and taught, but we human beings are never the quickest people at times!

First of all, the resurrection gave a strength and validity to what He had said. Before that, He was just a good teacher, a gifted preacher, even a moral leader. But after the resurrection, it changed all of these things from something you or I could have done, and lifted them to another level. You see, had I said these things, then it would have remained the message of a human being, and lets face it, we can take or leave the message of someone like us. But when He rose from the dead, then we listen to it in a different way. We have to take this man seriously if He is not bound by the same laws of nature as we are. This is not just a teacher - special or otherwise - no, this is something more.

And when we look at what He said, then we realise that He claimed divinity for Himself: He is God. Either He was lying, or mad, or telling the truth. The resurrection shows is that He was not mad. And He was not lying… no, He was telling the truth. He is the way the truth and the life. He and the Father are one. And when He raised up bread and said it was His body, and wine and said that it was His blood - then guess what? It was. No longer bread and wine, but now His body and blood, truly and really. And the teaching that He gave us could never be up for grabs, we could not just argue it away. The resurrection proves that He is God, and we have to listen to the TRUTH that He teaches us.

The temptation has always been to downplay Jesus into just an inspiring man. After all, we can control a historical figure. We can say that what He said and what He did was influenced by His time and His society… but if He is God, proven by His resurrection, then we cannot ignore Him, or put Him into a box, or on a shelf. The resurrection breaks into our life, and forces us to know and love this man, this God, this God-made-man.

Monday, 26 March 2018

Holy Week

The Times of the 
Ceremonies of the Sacred Triduum

Maundy Thursday
7.30pm Mass of the Lord's Super 
with watching until midnight at Glastonbury

Good Friday
Solemn Liturgy of the Passion
Noon at Glastonbury
3.00pm at Shepton Mallet

Holy Saturday
9.00pm The Easter Vigil
at Glastonbury

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Thesis online

This is not my thesis
It is all official now. My minor corrections have been accepted and my thesis has been uploaded to the Durham University website, and is now there for all eternity (or until the revolution when imperialist theses concerning Nostra Aetate and the covenant - an ill conceived concept stretched beyond its limits, will rightly be consigned to the flames as propaganda).

If you want to see the great work, then here.

Come the revolution, I will have a few things to say about Nostra Aetate, let me tell you... and a certain German Cardinal...

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

The Agony in the Garden (2)

The Agony in the Garden (2)

In the Garden of Gethsemane, while the disciples slept, Our Lord prayed to His Father: “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass me by. Nevertheless, let it be as you, not I, would have it.” Then after this prayer, and checking on the disciples, He said “If this cup cannot pass by, but I must drink it, your will be done!”

For you or I the agony in the garden would be easy to understand. If suddenly you realised that you were going to be betrayed by your friend, taken away, mocked, spat upon, beaten to a pulp, dragged through the hideous streets to your death with your skin hanging from your bones and your blood congealing in the scorching heat while people laughed at you, and threw stones at you, then you would be in agony. And if you could see your mother over there, behind that crowd, her heart breaking, her soul being crushed by aching love and screaming horror; if you knew that all that was about to happen to you, then would you not fall to your knees and plead - no, not plead, but beg - that you did not have to go through it? For us, then, the agony in the garden would be fear of pain, fear of humiliation, fear of failure, fear of death. Yes, we can understand it well enough, if it had been you or I in that garden.

But it was not you or I, it was Our Lord, and it was His agony. All of those fears I have just described must have been there in the background (Our Saviour is fully man as well as fully God) but I guess that they were held in check, held at arms length by His divinity. So perhaps God’s agony was not so much that He knew what was going to happen, but rather that He knew that it had to be this way. That this was what His creation, His beloved creation, was going to do to Him. These men and women, who He had made, and who He loved with all His heart and soul, who He had walked among, ate with, laughed with, cried over. These men and women were going to do all of these things to Him. Indeed that these men and women would do these things to anyone.

Perhaps the agony in the garden in part was the final realisation of the depravity of human beings, baying for His blood like dogs. His blood which He still poured out for them, despite everything. His agony would not be the same as ours, for we would fear for ourselves. The agony of Our Lord would be that we would do these things to Him.

Saturday, 10 March 2018

The Agony in the Garden (1)

The Agony in the Garden

After the Last Supper, Our Lord went away with Peter, James and John to the garden of Gethsemane to pray. He had just celebrated the first Mass, when Our Lord had miraculously changed the bread into His Body, and the chalice of wine into His Blood. This miracle of the Mass is celebrated every time the Priest offers the sacrifice of God to God.

The time line was now fixed. The Mass had been given for all eternity. Judas had gone from it to betray our Lord - and whenever the reality of the Mass is denied and people depart from belief in it, the Lord is again betrayed. And then Our Lord goes off with this small group of His disciples to pray. The Gospels do not say that the disciples thought that this was a strange thing to do, and indeed, we know that Our Saviour would often go off on His own to pray, so perhaps it was not out of the ordinary for Him. And perhaps after such an evening - full of meaning and significance - the disciples were happy for a few moments of quiet and reflection.

We, of course, know what is to happen. We know that Our Lord is preparing himself for the final moments before His death. But the disciples, of course, do not know that. For them it has been an extraordinary evening, one which they will not fully understand until after the resurrection. In fact, that very evening they had become the first Bishops of the Church; a Church which would be born from the side of Christ as He hangs dying on the cross, and which would be constituted on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit would breath life and courage into the terrified Apostles. But for Peter, James and John, this was all in the future. All they knew was that their master had asked them to go with Him to Gethsemane, and there to wait for Him, while He prayed.

It was not much that He asked. Just to wait and pray with Him. But they fell asleep. The unutterable loneliness of bearing the burden of the sins of the world was taken on His shoulders, and all He has asked was that they wait for Him. He was contemplating His duty, His task for the salvation of the world. All He wanted was that humanity would be there are witness His prayer. But they could not stay awake. And for all eternity, we do not. We fall asleep to the presence of God. We take Him for granted, and He waits for us… not far off, just a stones throw away. Praying for us.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Strange Bed Fellows

No I am not talking about Morecambe and Wise - though I suppose that nowadays certain German Cardinals would be jumping through hoops to bless a couple of blokes sharing a bed. Though interestingly they would probably condemn the fact that Eric is smoking a Pipe. How things have changed - how funny!

I am talking about the aligning of Dr Rowan Williams and Richard Dawkins in common cause against the opening of new Catholic Schools (whoops, 'faith schools'). See link here from the Catholic Herald website. I shall refrain from saying 'by their friends shall ye know them' as Dr Williams lends his signature together with Dawkins and "Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of Humanists UK, Rabia Mirza, Director of British Muslims for Secular Democracy" inter alia. I shall also refrain from reflecting on the fact that it is rather difficult to know what the CofE stands for on any number of issues - and I'm sure this is not their official position.

Simply let us reflect on the one phrase quoted on the website (as I cannot get the premium site):

[it is] difficult to bring to mind a more divisive policy, or more deleterious to social cohesion
Really?? I knew Dr Williams at Oxford, and there is no way he would have allowed such an unsubstantiated phrase in an undergraduate essay. How about wealth inequality? How about unemployment? How about class cohesion? How about Freemasons?

Really?? Nothing more deleterious then allowing Catholics to open schools? What does he fear - that we will be teaching the moral basis on which this country and Western democracy was built? That we will be teaching complementarity of the sexes? That a moving, wriggling, sensing baby in the womb shouldn't be able to be treated as unwanted matter? That we shouldn't allow great aunt Alice to be bullied into telling her doctor to inject her with death? That we shouldn't allow state sponsored self harm?

I hope I'm wrong, but it seems that this fine intellect, this fine mind has been momentarily seduced by good old fashioned anti-Catholic bigotry. What a pity.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

How have we got here?

I was just reading the report on the Catholic Herald website about Cardinal Sarah's comments about "high ranking prelates betraying the Church". And I realised that I didn't even turn a hair. The report is here.

The fact that one Cardinal is calling out Bishops and Abbots for teaching heresy, betraying the teachings of Christ, with a spot of arrogant first-world quasi-colonial post-Christianity thrown in for good measure...

And I simply go on the next article!!!

What has happened to the immutable teaching of Christ? What has happened to the Church standing against the changing standards of society?

In the old days we used to get flustered because the Pope wore a new hat. A NEW HAT!!!

Now, communion for the divorced and remarried is OK, blessing gay couples is OK (according to the Germans), artificial contraception is OK (well, we're having a 'study group'), euthanasia is OK (if you''re a bunch of Belgian brothers)...

There is only one creature who is taking pleasure in this. Only one.

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Lent Things

Lent Things

The great Lenten practices are prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Of course the cynical ask “But Father, shouldn’t we be doing that anyway? Why is it different in Lent?”

Actually it is a good question (unless the reason for asking it is to get off the hook and do nothing for Lent at all). We know that we all have the obligation to say a Morning and Evening prayer - and for those of us in vows or promises, those prayers may have a special form. And we know as well that (almost) every Friday through the year we must abstain from eating meat (by the way this is not an optional extra for the keen, or religious fanatics. Nor is it something that a mere Priest can exempt you - or himself - from). And as for almsgiving, then we only have to hear the words of Our Lord in the Gospel of St Matthew to know the consequences that await us if we do not give drink to the thirsty, food to the hungry, clothes to the naked &c. So if we have to do that anyway, why is Lent different? Well, apart from us trying to mirror what happened to Christ in the desert in a small way, it points to something much deeper.

We know that cream cakes, and sherry (or fizzy drinks), and sitting around watching Casualty, are good things. But they are not good things if all you do is spend your life slumped in an armchair, with the remains of custard slices and empty sherry bottles (or fizzy drinks bottles) around you. We also need exercise, health drinks and nourishing food, to keep our bodies, and our minds in a good state, to keep us fit and active. And if we are about to do anything important, be that running a marathon, or trying to get into that little black dress again, or listening to your doctor, then we have to prepare for it. There is no magic wand to make us healthy and fit. We have to work at it, bit by bit, so that as we become fitter, or slimmer, or healthier, and so we can reach our goal. So it is with Lent. It is, if you like, our spiritual work out regime - preparing us for life. Even though we may fall into bad habits at other times of the year, Lent gives us the opportunity to refocus, and get in shape. So, although we should be doing these good things at other times of the year as well, Lent is a (not so) gentle reminder of what we should be doing and how we should be living.

Keep spiritually fit this Lent through prayer, fasting and almsgiving!

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Statues for Sale

The Shrine has commissioned statues of Our Lady St Mary of Glastonbury. They are made of resin, and stand at 8 1/2 inches high (21cm).

Generally they are sold in the Shrine itself or during the Diocesan Pilgrimage, but I want to spread devotion to Our Lady of Glastonbury, and statues are a time-honoured way of encouraging prayer.

The cost is £25 (plus postage - see below). If you would like to buy one, then email me at and we can arrange payment etc.

Postage is as follows:

UK £ 3.40
Europe £ 7.20
Zone 1 (USA) £ 10.70
Zone 2 (Australasia) £ 11.40

Monday, 19 February 2018



What a strange word ‘Lent’ is! In most languages this period of preparation before Easter has something to do with the word ‘forty’. In Latin it is quadragesima: in Italian it is quaresima; in Spanish cuaresima; in French carême. German is a little different with Fastenzeit - ‘the time of fasting’. Japanese is 四旬節  - but I have no idea what that means.

These words, then, either tell us something about the season (a time of fasting) or how long it lasts (forty days). Of course, in English we do not follow this practice. For us ‘Lent’ comes from Old English lencten which means Spring, or the time when the days are getting longer. We just have to be different! The forty days mirrors the forty days when Our Lord was in the desert preparing to begin His public ministry. This is why we begin Lent on the Wednesday before the first Sunday of Lent. The Latin West has never kept Sundays as fast day because the day of the Resurrection has always been held most important that fasting. But if we remove the Sundays from Lent, then we no longer have forty days. To make this up, Lent was extended before its first Sunday by adding the missing four days, thus arriving at Ash Wednesday.

This is not a fish
We fast, because Our Saviour fasted while He was in the wilderness. Although the great Lenten practices are prayer, fasting and almsgiving - fasting has always been the most important. And we know that it has been important, because we have document after document for centuries upon centuries trying to get out of fasting! We have endless questions about what counts as a meal, and what we can eat, and how much of it, and if it includes wine or not. By the way, having to give up wine went out in the 13th century.  So you can still have a dry sherry - but not too many! It was often the case the Kings and princes (and the Queens and princesses) were exempt from fasting, but this smacks of favouritism if you ask me. I believe puffins were defined as fish for a while, so could be eaten during Lent. Hunting and other celebrations were also banned during Lent, so that the whole season was focussed on God.

Anyway… Lent is a time when we follow the example of Our Lord, and as He prepared Himself for His Father’s work, so we prepare ourselves to be His followers and faithful servants. May your Lent be spiritually fruitful, full of the love of God.

Saturday, 17 February 2018


I have been crossing out the "This is..." from the New Lectionaries that the Shrine has bought. The readers stand more of a chance of remembering if there is a nice pencil mark through it. Of course in the great tradition of mutilation of liturgical books, I should have done it in biro - I have several altar missals desecrated by scrawls and crossings out - but pencil it is.

Anyway, I am starting on Volume III. I noticed that the options for the reading for confirmation are as follows:

Old Testament (or New as a first reading ) - 10
Responsorial Psalm - 5
Second Reading - 7
Alleluia - 5
Gospel - 12

Now, any boy who I have taught will be able to tell you that to get the correct number of possible combinations you multiply the numbers together.

So, for the rite of confirmation we have a possible combination of



Monday, 5 February 2018

What now for Pope Francis?

A victim who was sexually abused by a Priest has said that the Pope has lied to him. The horrible story is recounted here on the Catholic Herald website. Actually it is now in the hands of the Associated Press.

There had been much confusion at Pope Francis' promotion of Bishop Juan Barros in Chile. There were demonstrations when he was installed as Bishop because of his knowledge of the sex abuse. And now, contrary to his public statements, it seems that Pope Francis knew of the situation all along.

This, of course, was made all the worse as Pope Francis claimed that he had never heard from the victims, but now it seems that he had been give a horrendously descriptive 8 page letter in 2015, by Cardinal O'Malley.

As a Priest, let me tell you that you can forget a lot of stuff, but not things like this.

I do not know what is going on here. But I do know that you cannot lie to a survivor of priestly sex abuse.

Or even, with the most generous explanation possible (and then some),  you cannot get yourself into a situation where a victim of priestly sex abuse thinks that the Pope has lied to him... and do nothing about it.

Friday, 2 February 2018

Happy feast day to you

Happy feast day to you,
Happy feast day, dear Oriel,
Happy feast day to you!

Monday, 29 January 2018

My Address for Holocaust Memorial Day

Holocaust Memorial Day
The Power of Words

I would first like to thank you for the great honour which I feel in standing here tonight addressing you on Holocaust Memorial Day. The publicity for this event first called me a specialist, and then a scholar in Catholic/Jewish relations. I am neither, but I have just spent three years examining the Catholic Church’s documents from the past fifty years which speak of Judaism. So, I suppose I am, if not a specialist or a scholar, then at least a ‘something’.

I speak of honour. And with the theme of ‘the Power of Words’ I use the term wisely. I feel honour tonight, honour which comes for myself, that I have the privilege to stand and speak to you, as well as honour in the occasion. As a Priest, week by week, indeed day by day, I stand in a pulpit and preach, but only occasionally do I write down what I want to say. This is usually because the subject I am going to talk about is tricky, or too liable to be misinterpreted, or too important, for me to make mistakes. There is always someone who will hear my slip of the tongue and say “but Father didn’t you just say…”. I need to know that what I am saying is going to be interpreted correctly, and that I can stand by it. Perhaps I should do that every time I open my mouth. But you will notice that tonight I have notes, and I want to tell you that this is not my normal way of addressing people. But, if you like, it is a sign of honour. I do not want to be misinterpreted, I do not want to make mistakes. The words are important. Not because you might think me a fool (I really don’t mind about that – just say it behind my back and not to my face), but because the subject, the holocaust, and the occasion, this day, is too filled with unspoken meaning that just any old words will do.

The very title of this day shows us the power of words – ‘Holocaust’ Memorial Day.

It is a ‘day’, and that is fine, we set aside one day each year to commemorate and remember the horrors of the last century. And in that sense, it is a ‘memorial’ – a memory, a reminder of something which deserves not to fall out of human remembrance. And indeed, the object of this day, this memorial, is the ‘holocaust’. But we are thinking about the power of words, and the very title of this day begins to show us the power that a word can have. It is this word, the word ‘holocaust’. In everyday usage people really only think of one thing. Although it may refer to the destruction brought about by some natural disaster, its primary meaning, its primary image is the German/Nazi death camps. The ‘holocaust’ is the attempted destruction of an entire people because of their race/religion. The ‘holocaust’ is the combination of the ideology which dehumanised a people, and then the manner by which it sought to eradicate them. It reminds us of the motivation, the means and the object. Although other groups were caught up in the horror, and we remember them also today, the object of this destruction, of this holocaust was the Jews. There were others, of course, who had already been dehumanised (such as the physical or mentally defective), there were those without state or blood (such as the Romany or traveller), those who were politically subversive ( either in religion or ideology), there were the morally defective – all of these were rounded up and dealt with in the holocaust, and indeed at various times this was attempted independent of the death camps, but the ‘holocaust’ as a word, even though it may have included these groups, is filtered by and takes it primary meaning from the experience of the Jews. The attempted destruction of the Jews. The annihilation of the Jews.

And this is the power of words, even in the title of this day. For ‘holocaust’ is not a new term coined for those horrors. Even if for the majority of our contemporary world, it has only one meaning – this is not the case. For a holocaust, is a sacrifice offered to God, burnt up totally before Him, a pleasing odour to Him. A sacrifice offered and received. If our modern term holocaust points to the death camps, for us of faith, in the Torah or the Old Testament, a holocaust has a first meaning: a grounding, a  foundation, which layers the later use of the term. For us, this is no ‘holocaust’ in the religious sense, this is no pleasing offering to God. This is ‘Shoah’, this is destruction, annihilation. This Hebrew term, ‘Shoah’, is more descriptive, more fitting as a reference for this day. And for the Jewish, and I would say, for the Christian community, this is the word which should be used. But the power of the word cannot easily be changed. The world knows the Holocaust. And I do not think the world has the religious sensibility at present to understand the discomfort the word may bring. Although we may not like it, we are perhaps tied to the term, for its greater power, in reminding the world, is perhaps more important in the everyday, than is its inexact nature with inappropriate levels of meaning.

But words are not the only way in which we communicate, nor are they the only ways in which the past is brought before our eyes. It is said that a picture paints a thousand words, and so it may be that images rather than words would be best to help us to remember. And indeed, who could not be but moved by images that we have seen. If you are tidying out a drawer or an old box, and come across a picture album, then it captivates and encompasses the mind and heart. If we were there, then we are transported back to the moment when the picture was taken. And if it shows a loved one who you have not seen for a while, or who is no longer with us, then our heart is swept up in a tide of emotion. But images do not even have to be personal for them to tug at our heart strings. Anyone who watches television adverts knows this to be the case – “just ten pounds will provide clean water, will allow this child to learn, will stop the torture of this animal.” The power of those adverts is the shock of the image. And iconic images of our age, which conform to reality, are seared onto our collective memory. We know the same pictures: the little girl running for the horrors of atomic war, emaciated bodies marked for death, but stubbornly clinging to life being liberated from the camps. But these pictures evoke a response in us which is different from words. Words can also move us, and can engage with our emotions, but the picture does it in a more immediate way. We respond to the image before us, as if it were real. We are transported to the moment when it was taken, or we place ourselves at the viewpoint of the one taking the picture. We are there, we see, we hear, we feel. But here, in its strength is also its weakness, because we cannot live that moment over and over again with the same intensity, with the same feeling. The emotions have that power over us because they take us by surprise. They appeal to our senses first: to our empathy, to our compassion, and only secondarily to our mind, to our reason. It is true that we cannot un-see what we have seen, and those images are there, potentially, for all time, but the horror of the first emotional response is by definition limited. We can deal with the emotions, we can put them to one side. We can change and modify them, because they do not hold the same power over us when we see them again. They do not reside in our intellect. Words, on the other hand, are things which abide, words are the things which change hearts, words can move the will in a way which is different from an image or a picture, because words can appeal to our mind, to our higher being. Words explain. They can give context and background. They can give access to the mind of another, to the world view of another. Words can form our own opinions in our minds, and then can express those opinions to others. They can flatter and lie, of course, but they can also convict others of the truth. Words can persuade and correspond to the reality of the world.

Words can give testimony.

As the last survivors of the death camps come to the end of their lives, they testimony, their witness is being preserved in a most wonderful way. It combines the word and the image. But this is not a picture or a photograph, a flat two dimensional image, with text attached. No, it is something which keeps alive the source of those words, those words which are so powerful. The image and the message are kept together in true integrity. These words are not just preserved in books, or writing, or even in spoken recording, for now, through the wonderful technology of our age, they are preserved in the witness of the very people themselves. These are the recordings of thousands of answers to questions and statements, explanations and descriptions – thousands upon thousands of words – but spoken by those who were there. The result is a hologram, a virtual recording of a survivor of the holocaust, as it were living before you for all time, speaking the words of testimony, as if they were responding to questions which the person in front of them poses. In a hundred years, a boy or girl will be able to ask, “What did you miss most, in those camps?”, “Were you allowed to bring anything with you?”, “What did you eat or drink?”, “Did any members of your family survive?” and they will receive the answer from a human being, virtual, yes, but there. This extraordinary development keeps the power of words in their true context, in the power of lives, in the power of testimony, of witness. If words can give access to the lives of those who experienced the sufferings and horrors which we need to remember, then how much more powerful, how much more human, how much more (if I may dare say it) how much more divine, is this development. The words, the testimonies are not theoretical, they are not conjectures in a history book, they are not manipulated records or events from one point of view or another – fake news is not new – they are real because, the person says, ‘I was there, this happened to me’. The truth of words in the lives of people is the most powerful thing on earth, and if part of this day is to shape the future as well as remember the past, then testimony, witness is the most powerful weapon we have. It happened to you, and I see you, I hear you, I am in your presence and you speak to me, to my mind as well as my heart.  

Words have the power not only to depict or represent, but also to persuade and explain. In this they are more powerful than images. As human beings we are created to do more than simply react to stimuli around us – to see an image and emotionally react to it. With out mind, with our intelligence we must seek the truth of a situation, delve into it, and make decisions, make judgements. In this way we will inform our will, that part of us which is most like God, that ability to make decisions, to weight up good and evil. In this a memorial, a remembrance is essential, for if we do not have this then we do not have the data with which to come to a decision. We need information to process, and then we need the ability to process that information. As we grow older, and none of us are getting younger, what seems normal for us, because it resides in our experience, and what does not need to be said, for we can take it for granted, is different for a younger generation. A few years ago, I was teaching mathematics in a school in France, and was talking about exchange rates between currencies. I waxed lyrically about the old ten Franc note. The boys were polite, but my words could never have the same meaning for them. None of them were born when France had its own currency. What I, as a member of my generation, could take for granted in my everyday conversation, was not accessible to the youngsters. How can I make an appeal, one way or another, about the beauty of a ten Franc note, the smell, the texture, the excitement that it symbolised not just another currency but being abroad, on holiday, in another country – to a generation for which it is not a reality.

Some of these things are important and some are not, but they need to be explained so that they can be understood. And in the realm of the horrors of war, or torture and mutilation, then words need to convey not just historical facts, but motivations, reasons, and descriptions, so that the mind and the will can judge and resolve to turn from such actions. We must learn that there are consequences to words, or thought patterns, or assumptions, or actions. To realise that one thing leads to another is an important stage in our development. And although it is not necessarily inevitable, to realise that words, attitudes, and actions can make consequences more likely to happen rather than less is a lesson for all people at all times.

In our present day, we must not think that we have sorted out the past. The Jewish community, through the continued work of the Ant-Defamation League, continues to be vigilant, and rightly so. Words continue to be wielded for ill, as well as good. Although motivations may be good, language may be slippery. Let me give you an example from the Catholic Church. In his statement “We remember the Shaoh” of 1998, St John Paul II attempted to make a distinction in Catholic history between anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism. The latter he deplored, but the first he tried to explain in the context of Christianity. I do not want to go into this document now. All I want to say, is that while the distinction makes sense within the context of Catholic theology, to the man on the Clapham omnibus, it is a little more stretched. What does it mean, and what is the difference between anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism? Let me say first of all that the Pope’s motives were blameless, but I want to point out two other things. First there is a problem for those who simply do not understand the distinction being made, and second there are those who understand it perfectly well, and yet interpret it in a manner which is contrary to its meaning. The words are spoken, some do not understand them, and some misinterpret them.

We have become much more sensitive to the language that we used to be. We know that it influences not only us who use it, but also those around us. If you think for a moment of the kind of ‘banter’ of informal talk that was acceptable fifty years ago, it is very different from what we would think of as normal today. Just watch one of the re-runs of a television program to see who much things have changed. And if it changes us, then it will most definitely change the younger generation, especially those still in formation in our schools. The names that we call people, both within our own communities and without, are simply different. Perhaps we can say that ‘we didn’t mean any harm, any offence’, but that only concerns me, what did I mean, how did it affect me. The power of words to communicate means that there is also someone else, the one to whom the word was directed, and also the way in which is affected those around us. The demonising of a person, or a community is the first stage in dehumanising them. They are no longer seen as an individual but rather as a member of a collective, a collective who can then be branded in the same manner The dehumanising of a group of people, reducing them from their individuality to being a member of a group, and then that group being condemned and vilified. Why should this group have the same rights and privileges as you or me, when they are so different, so guilty, so culpable.

And so, although we have tried, successfully in many cases, to clean up the language used our society, precisely because of the power of words, we have to be honest and say that it will be a never ending battle, because if there is a power to words, then they will always be used in the power struggle, the battle between one group and another. We may say that the horrors which lead up to the Shoah could not happen again, but any society which says that ‘such a thing could no longer happen here’ is playing a dangerous game, a game of complacency.

I just mentioned St John Paul’s distinction between anti-Judaism and anti-semitism, and I would finally like to challenge one other such distinction which is now often made, which I fear can fall into a similar trap – namely one which may be morally neutral on the outside, but which can be misunderstood or wilfully misunderstood, and I hope that it will both challenge us, and also show us the continuing power of words.

The distinction this time, is not between anti-semitism and anti-Judaism, but anti-semitism and anti-Israel. In our political rhetoric we make a fine distinction between the national state of Israel, a political body, and the Jews and Judaism as a cultural/ethnic/religious group. We can criticism the political decisions and actions of any country, and indeed we should do so, but I would say that we would do well to look deeply at what the language that we are using is actually saying, and what audience is picking it up and internalising it. Too often the language, subtle though it is, is based around Palestine good/Israel bad – based in political reflection and political decisions, but presented in a broad brush stoke. To the subconscious, the unthinking base layer of our minds which connects words with groups or things in the world or ideal, Israel means ‘the Jews’. And so, putting aside the truth of a political situation or otherwise, what is presented is Palestinian good/Jew bad. I would also say that I think Christian language, action and rhetoric plays into this. It ignores, of course, the reality of lumping a state with a religious people, and it gives Palestinians (a term itself which is loaded with meaning and submeaning), an identity which may or may not correspond to that group itself.  For the Christians, it means, oppressed Christians, for the Arab, appressed Islam. But the dichotomy which it sets up, one group against the other, is not, and cannot be morally neutral in the light of the Shoah. The power of words demands that this situation is different, and should be dealt with differently.

This is not a political statement that I am making, and it is defending neither the actions of the Israelis nor the Palestinians, I am simply saying that the words that we use find their meaning in the context not only of the present, but also in history. The clever distinction which we use uses words and is framed in words which have a historical meaning which transcends them. Insamuch as such words influence and shape generations to come, then we must be more circumspect and sensitive in the discourse that we use.

It may be that we must use different language, more subtle language around those involved in the Shoah, in the Holocaust, but that it a task which I think we must perform. Words demand it, not of themselves, but by their power to give meaning to and persuade individuals.

As I come to the end of this address, I would again like to thank you for the honour which I feel here tonight, and want to point out that although you may have judged me according to my dress, my face, my appearance, the only important thing that I have done this evening is to speak to you. I have given you words from my mind, my will and my heart, to convey something to you. The power and force of my argument, or otherwise, is based on those words.

We must, we can, never forget the power of words to change the world, for good, or ill.


Saturday, 27 January 2018

Holocaust Memorial Day

This Saturday, 27th, is Holocaust Memorial Day. I will be in Bath, giving the address. I'm not sure I am a 'scholar' - but there you go.

Monday, 22 January 2018

The Visitation (3)

The Visitation (3)

When Our Lady came to St Elizabeth, the latter exclaimed, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

We can see in St Elizabeth’s words the beginnings of the Hail Mary. Sometimes we are accused of making too much of Our Lady, of putting her in the place of God, or even of worshipping her, but there is nothing further from the truth. All we do is follow the example of what holy men and women have done through the ages, starting with St Elizabeth. When she says that Our Lady is ‘blessed’, then we might think of the Beatitutes (blessed are the pure in heart, blessed are those who mourn etc.) and if we can all be blessed, then Our Lady is no different. But this is not the case at all, because the word that the Bible uses in these two places is different. We make the connection because we have used the same word (‘blessed’) to translate two different Greek terms. The beatitudes says makarios (μακαρίος), while the Visitation uses eulogetos (ʾευλογητος). So when St Elizabeth says that Our Lady is ‘Blessed’ it points to the One in her womb, rather than to us. 

Also eulogetos (the ‘blessed’ of the Visitation) has the sense of being well spoken of’ or being praised’. We praise Our Lady because she is worthy of it, and we know that it true, because St Elizabeth tells us.

So, when Elizabeth says this, she connects Our Lady with her Son in a most intimate way, and says that we must praise Our Lady in the same kind of way that we praise her Son. She is Blessed, or to be praised, because she said yes to the angel, and as a result she has Jesus within her: the author of all life. In the way that we praise Him, so should we praise her too.

How then could it be that we could praise the Virgin too much? St Elizabeth tells us that she is Blessed, and we know and act accordingly. Know that when you say your Hail Marys you are putting our Lady in the same camp as her Son - worthy of praise and Blessed indeed!


This originally appeared on the back of the bulletin of the Shrine of Our Lady St Mary of Glastonbury, and St Michael Shepton Mallet

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Doctor... nearly!

I am so pleased to say that I had my viva examination in Durham this week, and that after rigorous and taxing questioning, thumb screws and all,

I have passed my PhD!

I have to make minor corrections (so not a doctor yet), and then have to graduate (in the summer, so really not a doctor yet), and then, I shall be able to respond to the question in the theatre that I have waited for all my life...

"Is there a doctor in the house?"
"Yes, but only if you want to discuss Vatican documents relating to the Jews."


Friday, 19 January 2018

The Visitation (2)

The Visitation (2)

We left the Visitation at the moment when Our Lady and St Elizabeth greeted each other. This whole episode is rich in meaning, but let us just concentrate on the bare bones.

The first thing to say is that this is just so in keeping with the personality of the Virgin Mary. Never having been pregnant myself, I have no idea if a long journey, while pregnant, in the heat, not in a comfortable car, is something I would jump at… but Our Lady knew that her cousin needed her, and so she went. We know that Elizabeth was of a certain age, and no matter what her own personal circumstances (Angel, Father of the child being God, St Joseph being wobbly), Our Lady simply saw someone in need and thought of Elizabeth, before she thought of herself. Perhaps this is one of the results of being conceived without the stain of Original Sin, that she responded to the needs of others before thinking of herself. Now there is definitely a lesson in there for us.

But the meeting of the Visitation was much more than the two women, because there were four people present - St John the Baptist was in the womb of St Elizabeth, and Our Saviour in the womb of His most holy Mother. When they met, the child in St Elizabeth’s womb ‘leapt for joy’. Before his birth, John recognised his creator and Saviour. Indeed perhaps it was because he had not yet been born that it was easier for him to recognise the divine. This world can dazzle us so much that our eyes become distracted and our heads befuddled. But in the womb, St John saw’ much more clearly than many would even in the flesh.

Is it then any surprise that St John became a wild man, living in the desert, eating honey and dressed in animal hides, preaching a message of repentance and the closeness of the Kingdom of God? What attractions has the world, and what can it put forward as important, when you have known the presence of God Himself before your earliest memory? John had experienced God in the womb of Our Lady, and there was nothing, and there could be nothing, more important that that. How his heart must have leapt for joy again on that day by the waterside when John pointed his finger at his cousin and said, “Behold the Lamb of God, Behold Him who takes away the sins of the world.”


This originally appeared on the back of the bulletin of the Shrine of Our Lady St Mary of Glastonbury, and St Michael Shepton Mallet

Sunday, 7 January 2018

The Visitation (1)

The Visitation (1)

The Gospel of St Luke (1.39-56) tells us about the visit that Our Lady made to her cousin St Elizabeth. Elizabeth, you will remember, was miraculously pregnant with St John the Baptist. We are told that she was ‘well on in years’, and, in one of the most wonderful phrases in the Bible, that ‘her days of girlhood were over’! She and her husband Zechariah wanted a child, but they were unable to conceive. When Zechariah was serving in the Temple, the archangel Gabriel appeared to him, announced that Elizabeth was pregnant, that the child was going to be called John, and that he would be ’filled with the Holy Spirit’, even before his birth.

And to think that all Zechariah had wanted to do was a spot of sacrificing in the Temple!

We know that Zechariah was struck dumb until he confirmed that the child’s name was to be John, and we next pick up the story of what Elizabeth, Zechariah and bump (filled with the Holy Spirit bump), were up to when Our Lady went to visit her kinswoman.

By now, the Archangel Gabriel had been busy, and had also been to see the Blessed Virgin, and after the action of the Holy Spirit, Our Lady too was pregnant. By the time of the Visitation St Elizabeth is six months gone and as Our Lady stays with her for three months, she must have stayed for the birth itself. Elizabeth and Zechariah lived in Hebron, which was quite some distance away, and this must have been quite a thing for Our Lady to do. After all, it is not as if Our Lady’s life had been exactly quiet. After the annunciation, word had got round that she was pregnant, and we are even told that Joseph, an honourable man, was going to spare her from more gossip by not going forward with the marriage. Then ’an angel of the Lord’ appeared to St Joseph in a dream and the marriage was back on. OK, so we don’t know who this ‘angel of the Lord’ was, but I’d put a crisp £5 note that it was Gabriel again - that Archangel gets around!

So after all that, Our Lady sets out on a journey to visit Elizabeth. It may have just been kindness, and an outpouring of charitable love, but God had great plans for this meeting between the two women. Great plans indeed!


This originally was on the Back of the Bulletin of the Shrine of Our Lady St Mary of Glastonbury, and St Michael Shepton Mallet

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