Pandemic and War.

Covid
Last week, Boris Johnson lifted all of England’s Covid restrictions (read here). If you catch the virus you no longer have to self-isolate. If you travel on public transport, you are no longer legally obliged to wear a face mask. We are back to where we were at the start of 2020. Almost. Self-isolation is encouraged for anyone who has tested positive, and wearing a face mask on public transport is “strongly encouraged”.

When the pandemic first hit, I updated my British Catholic Blogs page to include a series of prayers for the sick, medical professionals, scientists, and so on. The prayers appeared in a post below the weekly calendar of saints and above the A to Z of British Catholic blogs. When I heard that the restrictions were going to be lifted, I decided that this would be the moment when I removed the prayers and let the BCB blog go back to being exclusively devoted to its original purpose.

Then, Vladimir Putin began his invasion of Ukraine in earnest. When that happened, I wondered if I should include a new set of prayers for the Ukrainian people. As I write these words, I’m leaving the blog as it is because I really would like it just to be an A to Z. I am wondering, though, if maybe its worth while including a prayer page – one that could highlight the Ukraine, Covid, and all the other national and international issues that we need to be praying for right now.

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Ukraine
Vladimir Putin has committed a profoundly wicked act against Ukraine. In reply, the Ukrainian people are committing many heroic ones as they defend their country. Governments worldwide have started placing sanctions on Russia in response to what has happened. Although these sanctions will hurt both ordinary Russians and people everywhere, I have to hope that no government holds back. Principally, to help Ukraine, but also because if Putin achieves success in that country, his avaricious eye will surely fall upon other countries on his borders.

How do we as individuals react to the Ukrainian crisis? Prayer has to be at the top of our agenda. What kind of prayer? For peace, certainly. Further to that, though, I have found myself thinking about the Catholic I once met who happily told me he prayed the imprecatory psalms against his enemies. At the time, I thought that a bit stiff but, you know, these psalms are Biblical so they are legit. What I never stopped to think, was, were they legit for the time in which they were written, or for all time? I might have been tempted to say the former – until now. For what he is doing to the Ukraine, Putin surely deserves every imprecation placed upon him. However, our God is a god of love so to put it bluntly it does not feel right to ask Him to punish anyone, much less remove the stain of them from the world. That love, however, is not of the merely sentimental kind, and neither does it exist in isolation. God is also a god of Justice. But, even more than that, of mercy. So, that is where I find myself now: praying that justice – and mercy – may be done to Vladimir Putin.

Praying the imprecatory psalms or simply praying for a person’s overthrow or death is not a thing lightly done. If we say these prayers without a desire first and foremost for the object’s repentance, we risk falling into a spiritual darkness full of malignant desires for vengeance and revenge. That, in turn, could destroy our souls. How do we avoid this? I guess, just as I have said: Yes, pray for Vladimir Putin’s failure, overthrow and/or death, but pray first and foremost for his repentance. The repentance of a sinner, however great or small, is what God is about. If it is His purpose, it should be ours as well.

Our Daily Camino

There is a saying that the Camino really begins when you get to Santiago. Since walking the (French) way of St. James in 2019, I have sometimes wondered what this meant. After all, once you arrive in Santiago de Compostela, the walking is over. It’s time to return home, to work, family and friends, etc.

This morning, it occurred to me that the saying is, perhaps, true by analogy. We leave the way of St. James for the way of our daily life. Our home is our albergue. Our daily walk is our workplace, or the work we must do at home. Our daily destination is to complete that walk, that work. Our ultimate destination is our evening rest, meeting our friends or family, going to the pub, cinema, or simply, to bed. Our ultimate destination is no longer Santiago, but heaven. I am speaking here, obviously, as a Christian. Perhaps a non religious person’s ultimate destination is simply to reach the end of their days having done the best they could during them. That sounds good enough to me.

I make no claim for this realisation being in any way original. I’m not aware that I have taken it from anywhere but maybe I did and I just forgot. It is too neat and obvious to be original to me. What I will say, though, is that when I made the realisation, it really cheered me up because now the daily duties of my life took on a new, brighter, hue; basking in the light of the other Camino, they meant more, and I am most grateful for that.

Waugh on Knox

Having just written my last post, I have to say – and am delighted / relieved to say – that it isn’t all bad news in matters of religion. At the start of Advent, I bought a copy of Evelyn Waugh’s The Life of Right Reverend Ronald Knox.

I set myself a target of reading 17 pages a day so that I finished it on Christmas Day. As of today (21st), I have met this target. Since I am very good at missing targets, I can’t tell you how happy I am at this!

The book is so sweetly written. Judging by what Waugh has to say, Ronald Knox was not always the happiest person it does seem he was a holy one and boy have I needed to read about holiness this month. Between the Vatican’s Old Rite restrictions, omicron sweeping across the UK, and toothache that has bothered me for much of this month (now thankfully reduced thanks to antibiotics but will need root canal treatment in the New year) joy has been in short supply. The Life of Right Reverend Ronald Knox has supplied it. Deo Gratias.

This is my edition of the book (pic from Amazon)

Veiling Heaven

A few days ago, the Vatican published further restrictions on Catholics’ access to the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. You can read about them here.

Despite being, as I said when I discussed Traditionis Custodes in the summer (here), ‘a Catholic middle roader’, the news of the further restrictions felt like a kick in the gut. Why? Because although I am happy to attend a Novus Ordo Mass, I know the beauty and dignity of the Old Rite. I am only able to hear an EF Mass very rarely but it is a great blessing to know that it is being said and that I can attend one if the opportunity arose. Now, thanks to Traditionis Custodes and these new restrictions, that is less likely to happen.

In short, it feels like the Pope is closing off one of the routes to heaven.

And to think that the restrictions are intended to foster unity. Such an idea is laughable.

The Pope is still the Pope but I think this is the moment I lost a little faith in him. And all just days before Christmas. I’m angry but most of all sad.

No Time To Die

Before today, my last post was in September. As a result, I completely missed mentioning No Time to Die when it came out at the end of that month. My mother is a massive fan of Spectre (the film, I hope, rather than the organisation) so we went to our local cinema to watch No Time To Die together.

SPOILERS ARE ON THEIR WAY

Once there, we sat back on our very comfy couch (literally) and got ready for the action.

Upon our arrival at the cinema, I had ordered a hot dog. It arrived literally (repetition, sorry) as the gun barrel sequence started. I had to put up my arms in front of my face in order to take the plate from the server behind me. As a result, I completely missed said the gun barrel. I couldn’t believe it! Six years of waiting and I miss what is probably James Bond’s most iconic sequence.

To be honest, though, I quickly got over that disappointment and settled in to the film. Two months on, I think No Time To Die is still my second favourite Daniel Craig picture (after Casino Royale). I know it has its flaws but I really enjoyed it on the day, and as I look back, it still makes me smile.

SPOILERS BELOW!

Except, that is, for the ending. James Bond dying? Never! But no, it happened. It really happened. On the one hand, I would have been very happy had he walked away with the Bond Girl, just as he always does. On the other, I respect the producers for saying, You know what, we’re going to do something different. Very different. As the credits rolled, I stayed in my seat until I had seen the comforting ‘James Bond will return’ message at the end.

When I was young, I so wanted to see the James Bond films reference previous pictures. The Daniel Craig era not only did that but (albeit retroactively) made a story arc that ran from Casino Royale to No Time to Die. Now that his run has finished, what would I like to see the producers do next?

That’s a good question and one to which I have no firm answer. There are a couple of directions that I hope it doesn’t take:

  • No return ever to anything approaching the humour and whimsy of the Roger Moore era. I say this specifically because there are fans of Bond who seem to be completely wedded to Sir Roger’s films. I enjoy them but his style has had its day
  • Let’s draw back from futuristic plot ideas. I didn’t mind the nanobots story line in No Time to Die (and the talk of things like ‘smart blood’ in previous films) but how about we ground Bond more in reality for a film or two?

I hope the producers give new writers a chance in the future, and move heaven and earth to get Christopher Nolan to direct a film! That would be something.

Anyway, whatever they decide, as long as it’s a good adventure, I don’t suppose I will mind too much. James Bond transcends his stories. As long as he is there, being cool, deadly, and fighting for the Queen, so will I be as well.

By the Bye

I know I should have grown out of this habit by now but for a long time I looked at the LGBTQ+ movement and thought, Look at how its members love one another, and indeed, people in general. Some of my fellow Christians compare with them very badly, both ‘IRL’ and online.

But then, times changed and I started paying attention to the B in LGBTQ+. What did people have to say about being bisexual? What was it like for them? I dipped in and out of articles. A decisive moment came when I found the Bisexual Brunch podcast. I discovered that that love is capable of being very partial. There are people who dismiss bisexuality as no more than a ‘phase’, lesbians who will refuse to date a bisexual women, that bi men are often ‘erased’ and so forth.

I shouldn’t have been surprised: people are people, whatever their sexuality. They have their good points, and their bad. We all do. But it was still a really disappointing discovery to make. As a bisexual Catholic you get used to other members of your Church, or the Faith, bad mouthing you: you do your best to stay close to the Lord and carry on. As simply a bisexual you rather expect that you will find there acceptance. Sadly, it is not always so.

The Confraternity of St. James

Three years ago in November, I bought a copy of The Way. A few weeks later, towards the end of the month, I visited the Blackfriars office of The Confraternity of St. James and paid for a three year membership.

A few days ago, I received a letter from the CSJ advising me that my membership was nearly up. I immediately renewed it – for one more year this time – but I felt sad: in the original period of my CSJ membership, I had quit my job and walked the Camino. Between Covid and my precarious finances it is unlikely that I will be able to do so again in the second membership period. That great adventure, therefore, which took me way out of my comfort zone, to a new country, new friendships, the pain and freedom of long walks, may definitively be said to belong to a period that is now over and will not be repeated again, if ever at all. I don’t when or if I will get over this.

Of course, none of us know what the future may bring, but how I wish I was still in that first period of CSJ membership. Then, even though my Camino ended in May 2019, I would still have that point of connection with it.

Two things:
i . Those who say that the Camino begins when you reach Santiago are right. I need to interiorise that more
ii. I know that that ‘point of connection’ is not a real one, that I am as connected to the pilgrimage in the second period of CSK membership as I was in the first, but – but – .

Notes on the Late Summer

Despite Covid, life continues to get back a little more normal…

Two weeks ago I visited the London Library for just the second time since the pandemic started. Being there was bittersweet. On the one hand it was great being back among all the books. On the other, walking among them reminded me of how rarely I have visited the Library these last few years. Since 2015, when I finished my four year career break (yes, it was that long), you could probably count the number of times I have visited the London Library on one or two hands. Disgraceful.). I made a commitment to visit the Library at least twice a month. I will see how that goes.

One week ago, we had a joint family visit to Bateman’s, the home of Rudyard Kipling. It is a lovely little country house in the deeps of Sussex. Representing my side of the family were myself and my mother. Representing my sister’s family were her, husband, and children.

Kipling is famous, of course, for the If poem as well as for being the author of The Jungle Book. He is infamous for his views on imperialism. Not surprisingly for a man of his age, class, nationality, etc he was very much in favour of it. I don’t know if it represented reality, but I was very heartened by the overflowing waste paper bin in Kipling’s study (above). I discovered that T. E. Lawrence once annoyed him by flying low over his house – Kipling was unimpressed by the plane’s noisiness! I came away from Bateman’s with several books including Puck of Pook’s Hill, which I read while at university, and am enjoying reading again.

Six weeks ago, I had a two hour appointment at my dentist’s. A lot of work was done on my poor teeth. Unfortunately, not every problem has been resolved, and I have to go back. Due to the backlog caused by Covid, however, the earliest appointment I could get is at the end of the month. Ouch.

The coronavirus caused a year long delay to my scheduled appointment at the optician’s. Things went better there, when I finally fulfilled it this week; I damaged my main pair of glasses in late 2019 and was finally able to replace them. The frames of those glasses were inspired by John Paul II when he was still Karol Wojtyła (appropriately enough they were made by a company called Religion). The new frames were inspired by Hugh Grant’s in Notting Hill. I love that film and I love Charles Thacker’s glasses even more. What can I say; that’s the truth!

Oh, I almost forgot – I actually had a night out in the pub! This happened a couple of weeks ago with E., my best friend. We don’t see each other very often these days (not a Covid specific thing, just life) so it was a great pleasure drinking and chatting with him. We met on a Saturday night in a pub that would otherwise have been packed. It was instead rather empty. I guess it will take a while before people pick up their social lives again. That’s understandable.

So, life has been getting a little back to normal. It hasn’t been perfect – family members with ill health has seen to that – but I am grateful for what I have all the same. I think I will end this post on that note: being grateful. It’s something I know I am not as often as I should be.

Alex Strangelove

Here Be Spoilers!

Alex Strangelove is a 2018 rom-com about a high school student who agrees to have sex with his girlfriend. He is a virgin, so, unsurprisingly, the thought of sleeping with her threatens to overwhelm him. There is also another problem – a gay friend has a crush on him, and he rather likes them. What will he do?

I started watching this film last week and, while I enjoyed what I saw, I didn’t feel invested enough in it to keep watching. However, when I picked it up again a day or two ago, I watched a little more of it very happily before watching the last 55 minutes in one go today.

It’s funny how that can happen – only to me? To others? I don’t know: I like a film but find it hard to carry on watching it until I actually do and then all is well. Maybe there is a level on which I don’t like it? Or am nervous about how it will turn out? Who knows.

Back to Alex Strangelove. It is a very sweet and engaging film. This is chiefly due to the actors who all inhabit their roles really well – I think here particularly of Daniel Zolghadri, who plays Alex’s clownish friend, Dell. The script is at its best with him.

Ah, the script. Hollywood’s bane. Alex Strangelove is a coming out story. For the most part, it tells Alex’s story well, if not brilliantly. Where it failed, though, I think it failed in a very annoying fashion.

At the end of the film, Alex accompanies his girlfriend, Clare, to the school prom. By this point, he has come out to himself and her as gay. They attend the prom together pretty much for old time’s sake. Except, Clare has invited Elliot, Alex’s crush, with the intention of getting the two boys together, because she knows they won’t manage it themselves.

After meeting Elliot, Alex is once again overwhelmed – this time by the people watching them – and he flees to the toilets to gather his thoughts. Elliot joins him there but when Alex is unable to commit to him, he leaves suddenly, I think in annoyance. Moments later, Alex catches up with his friend. They kiss passionately: it is the start of a, hopefully, beautiful relationship.

Good. But the toilet scene – that annoyed me. I dislike how the script makes Alex look like the ‘baddie’ for not immediately committing to Elliot and making him run after him in order to do so. I felt the script was saying you should not be in the closet; if someone falls in love with you, it’s only right that you go with them. If you don’t, you are acting in some sense badly.

Perhaps in an ideal world everyone would be out, accepted, and living their best life. But we don’t live in an ideal world. Some people are in the closet, and in the closet for good, or at least necessary, reasons. Alex Strangelove isn’t the first movie I’ve seen where I’ve felt that the script was subtly trying to push the viewer, if he or she was closeted, into coming out, and it’s very unfair.

If I had written the film, I would have kept the ending, but had the toilet scene take place earlier so that Alex had more time to process his thoughts, come to terms with his sexuality, and fall more deeply in love with Elliot. At any rate, I would have made Elliot more understanding of Alex’s position so that he didn’t leave so peremptorily.

That’s my gripe. I would rate Alex Strangelove 7.5/10. It isn’t in the first division of teen films (where John Hughes’ pictures reside) but is funny and gentle picture all the same. Worth a shot.

G. K. Chesterton’s Anti-Semitism

A few days ago, Dawn Eden Goldstein published a thread on Twitter regarding G. K. Chesterton’s anti-semitism. The thread begins here. As a fan of Chesterton’s writings, I read the thread with great interest and little shock.

That may seem odd: shouldn’t I be aghast at this dismantling of a beloved writer’s reputation? No. Firstly, neither Goldstein’s thread, nor any book that focuses on the issue of Chesterton’s anti-semitism are the last word about his character. Secondly, while I am by no means an expert in his life, I know enough about it to be able to say that there was a very great deal of good in him. None of it can excuse, much less wipe away, the stain on his character that his anti-semitism brings, but it does put it into perspective.

Dawn Eden Goldstein has done me and all who like Chesterton a favour.
She’s done him a favour as well.

She has done us a favour because she has shone a light on a part of GKC’s character that needs to be known so that we can know him more fully, deeply, and authentically. And she has done Chesterton a favour because a fuller knowledge of the person he was allows us to pray for him more effectively. Lord, forgive Chesterton his sins, particularly those committed against Jewish people through his anti-semitism; remember the good that he did in his life and bring him to the peace of your heavenly kingdom. Amen.

What does all this mean for G. K. Chesterton’s cause? The issue of his anti-semitism has been highlighted before and not prevented its promotion so I don’t think it will again. I still support his canonisation, and will continue to do so unless I see evidence to the effect that anti-semitism poisoned Chesterton’s whole heart.

The Saints, after all, are not people who were perfect on earth. They are people who were centred on God. They were people who committed sins, sometimes many, sometimes serious, but always picked themselves up and turned back to God. The Saints knew they were sinners – even if they did not know all the ways in which they were sinful, because we all have our blind spots – and this informed their actions: a turning back to God, through His Son, Our Lord, Jesus Christ.