Saturday, February 28, 2009

First Sunday of Lent

I've given up blogging and facebook forLent, but Sundays are always feastdays, and I intend to celebrate that fact unfailingly.

Lenten reading so far: Mike Aquilina, The Mass of the Early Christians. Very readable, very clearly arranged, and with very short excerpts, it's making me rethink how I'd organise a projected European Identities: A Historical Sourcebook (were I ever to get the go-ahead from a publisher to write the blasted thing). More than that, it's giving me a much clearer appreciation of how ancient some attitudes are that I've always associated with the Tridentine Church and thought of as personal preferences (mostly personal preferences that I share, but have never wanted to press on others). Note to self: must read more Church Fathers.

For reading out loud at bed-time: Thomas a Kempis, De Navolging van Christus. In jonge taal hertaald door Mink De Vries. That is, the Imitation of Christ in a fairly free translation into contemporary colloquial Dutch. Number one daughter is surprisingly unkeen (and it's not as though I'm going to force anyone to listen to it); number one son is surprisingly keen, but in a very understated, not-wanting-to-show-it sort of way that warms the heart. Is it just me being English, or would any parent delight in a child that showed reserve?

Teaching about the end of the British Empire last Tuesday I was amazed to discover that most of my class, second-year undergraduates (so in the 19-21 age range) didn't have any idea what Apartheid was. Even taking into account that most of them would have been just born when it ended, one has to ask: what do they teach them in these schools?

And having just got back from an afternoon at the zoo, I realise I'm missing the first of the planned monthly Taizé prayer meetings in the Salesian house near here. Ack! This is what comes of having the first days of Lent coincide with the half-term holiday.
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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Lenten retreat

I'm fasting from blogging for Lent (that is, I'm laying off my personal blog; I'll be updating the catechesis blog and the course blog).

For daily Lenten reflections from the Dominicans, go here.
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Friday, February 20, 2009

Friends and "Facebook Friends"

In the typical "chain of mirrors" effect of clicking from link to link on blogs and google, I've been reflecting on this reflection on the Pope's reflections on Facebook. And it has to be said: since signing up for Facebook I've extended my range of "Facebook friends" considerably - even to include two people I've never met but who are friends of friends.

But this warning note is worth heeding: We should be careful, therefore, never to trivialize the concept or the experience of friendship.

Most of my "friends" on Facebook are acquaintances from college and former students - people I certainly want to keep in touch with, but not at the expense of old and valued friendships with people not on Facebook, whom I have made precious little effort to contact of late (my slothful nature following the path of least resistance as water flows down hill). And now one of my brothers is here talking about his trip to Vietnam, and I'm trying to finish a blog post before listening, just so as not to have to save it and finish it later. OK, I think we can agree I've got a problem. Perhaps I've just identified what I should be giving up for Lent.
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Translation frolics

It's been a while since I last posted a story of translation-related hilarity; so here's a new one. Dictionaries: never leave home (or the police station) without one!
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Thursday, February 19, 2009

New essay just out

The complementary copies arrived a few days ago: Catholic Communities in Protestant States: Britain and the Netherlands, c.1570-1720. One of the essays that the volume contains, "The Southern Netherlands Connection: Networks of Support and Patronage", is by no means the best, but is drawn to your attention solely as having been written by me.

It's about the way that the area that's now Belgium (plus a bit around Lille and Douai that the French nicked in the 1660s) served as the single most important point of contact with Catholic Europe for the Mission Churches of, as you have no doubt already guessed, Britain and the Netherlands - back in the days when it was illegal to do anything vaguely Catholic in these Protestant states (not, we hasten to add, that it was illegal to be Catholic - that was fine; it was just illegal to do Catholic stuff, or to be a Catholic priest, or to help a Catholic priest in any way). There were English and Scottish seminaries in Douai, Irish and Dutch seminaries in Leuven; refugees in positions at the Brussels court, in the Army of Flanders, and in the chapters of several Belgian churches; exile convents and monasteries (only one of them Dutch, but then the Dutch could happily join Flemish monasteries - and eminent priors in historic houses like Affligem or Sint-Pieters were Northerners); government subsidies for individuals and institutions; diplomatic pressure on behalf of Catholic minorities; special exemptions from the laws on publishing for the production of anonymous and pseudonymous books for export. Probably other things too, that escape me. Anyway, I'm particularly pleased with this publication because of the circumstances in which it came about: it derives from a paper I gave at the Anglo-Dutch Historical Conference in 2006. Possibly only people who do research in Anglo-Dutch history can know what that means. Oh, and the picture on the cover is a Dutch painting of a Catholic family picnic (complete with ruined monastery).
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The rose of last summer

As I sit here housebound (if not quite bedridden) by flu, the urge seizes me to share this view of our garden in a happier season. It was taken last summer by a friend who was visiting. He has some sort of a trick camera - the picture shows little of the evidence of procrastination and neglect that are such obvious features of the garden when seen with the naked eye. (And yes, the plant in the middle foreground is indeed our long-suffering, much-transplanted Christmas tree.)
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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Blackfriars Pub

Well, it turns out there's not just one Irish pub in Louvain-la-Neuve, there are at least two. And one of them is attached to the Dominican hall of residence. Last night I spent an hour there waiting for the start of a talk given by the head of the Jesuit Refugee Service Belgium. The talk was all in French, and to my delight and surprise I understood all of it (but not, by any means, all of the Q&A that followed).
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Sunday, February 15, 2009

By God sir, so you have!

This afternoon number one son watched Waterloo. I watched part of it with him, towards the end, including the immortal exchange:
Uxbridge: By God sir, I've lost my leg!
Wellington: By God sir, so you have!

Which of course prompted the question, "Did that *really* happen?"

So what could I do but whip out the laptop and look up Uxbridge on the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography? It's certainly really reported to have happened - and much more to my surprise: the first articulated wooden leg (rather than plain old "peg leg") was crafted to replace the missing limb!

So, having shared my bit of Sunday night trivia, that's it for tonight.
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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

urgent appeal

I know I don't get many readers, but is there any chance that the two (or three?) of you could get on over to this blog and follow the instructions to petition against the imminent deportation of a well-integrated asylum-seeker?

UPDATING to add: Don't forget to include your full name and address in any email you might send on the unfortunate's behalf (if you're neither living in Britain nor British living abroad, it might not mean much anyway - but then again it might).

UPDATING AGAIN to add: Well, the deportation order was stopped, so the decision can be appealed. More information here.
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Honour system

There's an Irish pub in Louvain-la-Neuve (of course - where is there not?) and I popped in this lunchtime for a quick coffee to buck me up before spending two hours talking about Beveridge, Butler and Bevan. The decor includes bookshelves piled, higgledy=piggledy, with old books - mostly novels I've never heard of by authors whose names mean nothing to me, but also an accounts book for a business in Belfast in the 1910s, some history books, and a biography of John XXIII produced during his lifetime. The effect is rather as though someone had emptied a couple of boxes of their gran's books all in a pile. And among them was a 1938 edition of Murder in the Cathedral (first published 1935).

My late 1980s Faber paperback edition, full of marginal and interlinear notes for A-level English Literature, looks considerably tattier than this third edition hardback, so I asked at the bar: "Would you be willing to sell me one of the books?"
Reply: "They're not for sale, they're for decoration."
Question (holding up Murder in the Cathedral): "So you wouldn't be willing to let me buy this off you?"
Reply: "No, sorry. But you can borrow it if you promise to bring it back. Or another old book to take its place."

And the deal was done.
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Sunday, February 8, 2009


"But he that shall scandalize one of these little ones that believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of scandals. For it must needs be that scandals come [considering the wickedness and corruption of the world]: but nevertheless woe to that man by whom the scandal cometh." (Matthew 18:6-7)

Another's words or deed may be the cause of another's sin in two ways, directly and accidentally. Directly, when a man either intends, by his evil word or deed, to lead another man into sin, or, if he does not so intend, when his deed is of such a nature as to lead another into sin: for instance, when a man publicly commits a sin or does something that has an appearance of sin. On this case he that does such an act does, properly speaking, afford an occasion of another's spiritual downfall, wherefore his act is called "active scandal." One man's word or deed is the accidental cause of another's sin, when he neither intends to lead him into sin, nor does what is of a nature to lead him into sin, and yet this other one, through being ill-disposed, is led into sin, for instance, into envy of another's good, and then he who does this righteous act, does not, so far as he is concerned, afford an occasion of the other's downfall, but it is this other one who takes the occasion according to Romans 7:8: "Sin taking occasion by the commandment wrought in me all manner of concupiscence." Wherefore this is "passive," without "active scandal," since he that acts rightly does not, for his own part, afford the occasion of the other's downfall.

(Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 2a 2ae, q. 43, 1, ad 4)

And there's a line from one of Flannery O'Connor's letters that I'll post when I find it again.
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