Reaching the Young

In a recent gathering in Greece, my friend Father Theodosios Martzouchos, longtime protosynkellos to the great Bishop Meletios of Preveza and now parish priest in the city, reflected on the urgent challenge of passing on the faith to the young in today’s weird, fast-moving world. He spoke of faith and doubt: ‘Faith in God is a kind of struggle. Faith is not unprovable metaphysics, it is a constant overcoming of both reason and lack of reason. That is why it never becomes irrefutable certainty, it becomes irrefutable doubt. It is not a frenzy of self-convincing reason, but an awakening of reason’s doubt of itself. Doubt is the dawn of faith and the criterion of its value-quality.’ He remarked that the Church often tells the young they ‘are the Church of tomorrow, while in fact they are the Church of today! The Church wants to accompany them for what they will become; while they want to be taken into account for what they are now!’ I am grateful to Father Theodosios for sharing this insightful talk with us. You can read it here.


Guts Into It

I love this documentary portrait of Jini Fiennes, novelist, essayist, painter, photographer, so talented in so many ways, who nonetheless, whenever she had to fill in her profession on a form, always wrote just, ‘mother’. She would tell her seven children, in pursuit of some goal or other, that they’d ‘got to get their guts into it’. She herself lived viscerally, though at the same time with consummate intelligence. She turned a childhood marked by absences and an early breakdown into tasks to be fulfilled creatively, with precision and beauty. She demonstrated by her life a most important point: it is possible, by perseverance and grace, to pass on graciously to others what one has not received. In a poem she spoke of her freedom being ‘spilt and poured’ into others’ needs, though because the spilling and pouring were desired ends, her freedom was not ultimately compromised. It grew. It became love.

Bishops’ Sermons

I am made thoughtful by a remark of Christopher Isherwood’s cited by Zachary Leader in a review of Katherine Bucknell’s new life. It concern the turning of Isherwood, ‘an unlikely convert’, to Vedanta. He explained it thus: ‘My prejudices were largely semantic. I could only approach the subject of mystical religion with the aid of a brand-new vocabulary. Sanskrit supplied it. Here were a lot of new words, exact, antiseptic, uncontaminated by association with bishops’ sermons, schoolmasters’ lectures, politicians’ speeches.’ Isherwood, as Leader remarks, did not have much of a predisposition for the chastity and asceticism Vedanta presupposes; but that is by the by. His point is an important one, it seems to me. At the best of times, bishops’ sermons have been charged with the irreducible newness of the Gospel, a resonance audible, for example, in the Ambrosian texts the breviary has given us this week. When did they turn tedious? How to convey Christ’s perennial novelty today? The question is an essential one.


For Vigils today, on the feast of St Bonaventure, the Church gives us a passage from his Itinerarium mentis in Deum. A passage reads like this in the breviary: ‘For this passover [into life in Christ] to be perfect, we must suspend all the operations of the mind and we must transform the peak of our affections, directing them to God alone. This is a sacred mystical experience. It cannot be comprehended by anyone unless he surrenders himself to it; nor can he surrender himself to it unless he longs for it; nor can he long for it unless the Holy Spirit, whom Christ sent into the world, should come and inflame his innermost soul. Hence the Apostle says that this mystical wisdom is revealed by the Holy Spirit.’ That is already wonderful. But it becomes even more striking if you look up the original and realise that the word translated ‘innermost soul’ is medullitus, which means ‘in his marrow’, i.e. in his most physical interiority; and that Bonaventure’s word for ‘longing’ is desiderare. Why do we shy away from and paraphrase the Fathers’ (and Scripture’s) stress on the physical and affective dimension of the spiritual life?

On Priesthood

I recently met a priest who had attended February’s Roman conference on ongoing formation for the clergy. He said that by far the most valuable contribution, rapturously applauded, had been that of Mother Martha Driscoll. Having listened to Mother Martha’s talk, I can see why. She said among other things, having exhorted priests to become contemplatives: ‘Being contemplative doesn’t mean being a saint. Ordination does not automatically confer sanctity. In fact, contemplatives are more aware of themselves as sinners in constant need of mercy. The love of Jesus is light and so he shows us our darkness – our faults, limitations, selfishness, our inner divisions and pride. He leads us into self-knowledge so that we can be more and more emptied of self, more and more united to Him so that it is no longer I that live but Jesus who lives in me. […] Priests need the joy of deep understanding of their priesthood as the fulfilment of their heart’s desire. Christ came not only to reveal the Father but also to reveal us to ourselves. If they know their identity in Christ, they can help others to find theirs.’ This is an important talk. You can find it here, from ’47:50.

Sven Åge Varden RIP

Maybe there is only a strip
of shadow between their world
and ours? Maybe they are
as near to us now as the tall
handsome ferns in the garden
or as the sounding river
or as the light in the darkening sky
or as the balm of jasmin
in the air, or as those lifting
sparks, the tiny fires of
glow worms glimpsed, half-glimpsed
in the bonfire-smoky dusk?

Fr Paul Murray OP

Summer Break


I am taking a vacation.

CoramFratribus will have a break, too, but will be back in a couple of weeks.

Happy summer! And thank you for your interest in the site.

+fr Erik Varden

God’s Pleasure

Today’s Vigils reading from a treatise by St Cyprian tells us: ‘We should know and remember that when we call God our Father, we must behave as children of God, so that whatever pleasure we take in having God for our Father, he may take the same pleasure in us.’ I am brought to think of an observation the Reverend John Ames makes in Gilead: ‘Calvin says somewhere that each of us is an actor on a stage and God is the audience. That metaphor has always interested me, because it makes us artists of our behaviour, and the reaction of God to us might be thought of as aesthetic rather than morally judgemental in the ordinary sense. How well do we understand our role? With how much assurance do we perform it? […] I do like Calvin’s image, because it suggests how God might actually enjoy us.’ A wonderful perspective.


Valerie Stivers on how Kristin Lavransdatter made her discover that Catholicism was something quite other than she had imagined: ‘Religious people, places, and traditions are not there to condemn Kristin for breaking the rules—though she has broken them. For her sins, she is mostly punished by life. The religious people, places, and traditions are there to meet her in the pain of her struggle and offer things: forgiveness, wisdom, tradition, community, advice, punishment when needed, endless fresh starts. I had always imagined the Church as a distant and cruel regulatory body, and suddenly I saw it as Undset did, as the place you turn with the whole unregulated mass of your life—as the only place large enough for it.’

Having Time

I am often helped by something Mother Maria Gysi wrote in a letter to Professor A.H. Armstrong more than fifty years ago:

‘I already begin to feel that I have time again. Time that I never had for six years. Time is so little connected with actual work. It is something quite different, I believe. It is the absence, or relative absence, of pressure on the mind.’

This rings true. The secret is to learn to resist the pressure, or to let it, I suppose, just pass through one.