Friends of the Bridegroom—by Marc Cardinal Ouellet

I am reading Friends of the Bridegroom: for a renewed vision of priestly celibacy by Cardinal Marc Ouellet.   Above is an interview with the Cardinal about the book.

It’s good for us coming from an Anglican background and the experience of married priests and a family being at the heart of the parish, to understand the reasons behind priestly celibacy in the Latin Rite.


Approaching The Cloud of Unknowing

Lisa Nicholas, a former English professor who is also an Anglicanorum Coetibus Society member, responded to my post yesterdayin which I mentioned the impact The Cloud of Unknowing had on my faith journey and deeper conversion.  I had also written that what I remembered from the Cloud resonated with some of my recent reading on St. John Henry Cardinal Newman.

She wrote:

I believe almost every Christian has “missed a vocation as a contemplative,” because the contemplative life is the essence of that to which every Christian is called: union with Christ, which we approach in this life along the contemplative path. This, at least, is what English spiritual theologian David Torkington argues, and he has convinced me.
In fact, reading Torkington’s work (beginning with Wisdom from the Western Isles) has led me to start a new blog in which I read and comment on great works from the English spiritual tradition, beginning with The Cloud of Unknowing. In one post, I addressed the paradox of how, the more our faith draws us closer to Christ, we all inevitably encounter this “cloud of unknowing,” which is beautifully illustrated in the mandorla (a nimbus surrounding Christ which is darkest at the center) used in Eastern Christian iconography. Read the post here:

So, I went on over to read her wonderful piece on Approaching The Cloud of Unknowing and I encourage you to do so.  Here are some highlights.

It’s a good thing that my re-introduction to the long literary tradition of writings on Christian contemplation has come about, in part, through my interest in reviving forgotten books, because, judging by the editions being offered today, one might be forgiven for thinking that The Cloud of Unknowing was some kind of New Age work of “spirituality.” As it happens, however, I have for some time been mining the Internet Archive for lost treasures from the English spiritual tradition, many of which were rediscovered and published in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These had long been buried in personal libraries of handwritten manuscripts, many of which were literally hidden for centuries by Recusant Catholics who wanted to save them from the anti-Catholic campaigns of the Tudor monarchs and, after them, the bloody-minded Puritans.

In the nineteenth century, a combination of several disparate occurrences worked together to bring these forgotten works to new light: the development of modern textual scholarship, the Oxford Movement’s interest in reclaiming the spiritual heritage that Henry VIII and his successors had stolen and buried, and the availability of reasonably inexpensive printing. Thus, works such as Julian of Norwich’s Shewings and an anonymous Carthusian’s The Cloud of Unknowing (not to mention lost literary treasures such as Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight) were being rediscovered by English Christians, for English Christians. Although scholars might argue about the extent to which Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight were informed by a Christian outlook, it did not, at that time, occur to anyone to dispute the fact that Julian’s Shewings or The Cloud of Unknowing are thoroughly imbued with Christian — in fact, Catholic — spirituality.

It’s interesting she brings up the potential New Age association with the Cloud.  Later in the piece she also brings up the potential dangers of entering into contemplative prayer before one is well-grounded already in Christian prayer disciplines.   She writes:

Alas and woe is me! It seems that every work the pre-Reformation English contemplative tradition has been hijacked by New Agers and “Catholic” syncretists who don’t seem to recognize the (to me, glaring) differences between Christian contemplation and the mind-altering behavior called “contemplation” which is practiced by Buddhists and Hindus.

So, let me make this very clear: Christian contemplation is always centered on Christ, God made Man, in union with the other Persons of the Holy Trinity. Contemplation is a form of prayer and Christian prayer is always Trinitarian, aimed at knowing the Triune God. This is the God to whom Christians pray and the One with whom we long to be united, both now and in eternity. We do not seek to be dissolved into a great nebulous, evanescent Nothingness, but united to a Divine Person (in fact, Three Persons in One God). Any mature Christian should understand this. And yet there are any number of “contemplative experts” who teach Christians Eastern (i.e. Buddhist, non-Christian, in fact pagan) “techniques,” as if these can somehow help us grow closer to Christ. I don’t know why such people feel the need to go outside the Christian tradition to learn to pray as Christians — except that the modern Church has, to some extent, forgotten her own long, rich history of contemplative prayer. Which is why I’m trying to bring people back to it.

Now, I must admit that, of all the great works on Christian contemplation, The Cloud of Unknowing is probably the one most easily mistaken for New Agey “spirituality,” because it addresses precisely that point in the Christian life of prayer at which images and analogies fail us as we attempt to “see” God. Still, we will be confused only if we come at this book from a perspective of complete ignorance of the religious, cultural, historical, and rhetorical context in which it was written (never, never read anything out of context, dear reader — that is how crazy-wrong ideas are born).

I did read the Cloud out of context, and for a long time, I was persisting in a kind of contemplative prayer —-with trying to set aside all my preconceived notions of God, with the intent of knowing Him more as He is rather than my thoughts or feelings about Him.

On one hand it was productive in bringing me to states of experiencing repentance, of purging deep-seated resentments and blame that hampered me in my early 20s.  But I was seeking understanding in order to believe.  God did answer my cries in that contemplative longing, beyond words, with an intuitive awareness and a discovery of aspects of the Christian faith that I came to know to my core by experience.  Often, I confess, the hard way.   I was committed to the so-called “negative way” before practicing the “positive way.”  That all shifted when I came to see the truth in St. Anselm’s famous dictum:  Credo ut intelligam “I believe in order that I might understand.” 

My journey characterized by entering the “cloud of unknowing” and “cloud of forgetting” on a pretty disciplined basis did bring me to the point where I began to see the importance of having an Apostolic faith.  Where could I find it?  I was a Baptist at the time, and my searching led me to my little parish then in the Traditional Anglican Communion,  that is now part of the Canadian Deanery of St. John the Baptist of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter.  I became Catholic to find that Apostolic faith, and I learned the importance of choosing with one’s will to believe the Catholic faith, even the hard bits one does not understand.

Now I am more likely to be praying the rosary and the daily offices, but I still from time to time feel that call to contemplation—-especially when I have a big decision to make and my mind is churning and grueling and I need to get out of the over-thinking.  I have found that thinking too much can sometimes block the light that God wants to shed on my path–that “Lead Kindly Light” illumination beyond words where you just know which is the right way to go.

I loved this paragraph from Lisa’s essay:

David Torkington, in his wonderful book, Wisdom from the Christian Mystics (chapter 11), refers to this point along the contemplative way as the threshold that leads into the “mystical crèche where purification begins,” a place where even great saints like St. Thérèse of Lisieux find it hard to focus on God, where there are no prayer helps but plenty of distractions. One must simply persevere in faith, feeling one’s way forward, until God has pity and grasps us to pull us up into His presence.

Starting a contemplative discipline is challenging and demands perseverance.  Distractions, unwanted thoughts, the door bell and phone ringing, all conspire to knock one off track.  I would often set a timer and force myself to sit, no matter how bored, or anxious or awful I felt.  Sometimes sitting in God’s Presence and having my sinful nature exposed by His Light was agonizing.  It felt like dying.  And, yes, my old nature was dying, and since I identified with it, I felt what it felt.  And also, doing the discipline did not result in a quid pro quo, or a response like putting some money into a vending machine.   It is so like this:  “One must simply persevere in faith, feeling one’s way forward, until God has pity and grasps us to pull us up into His presence.”

He does show up.  But it is out of your control, and often your efforts only reveal to yourself your utter spiritual poverty and inadequacy.  Oh, how much I would love to see a revival of these disciplines, but in the proper order and context Lisa refers to in her article.  I would love to have a conference on English Mysticism that was as much a retreat and opportunity to do the exercises, have spiritual direction, Confession, and so on.  Something for the Anglicanorum Coetibus Society to look into?

I think Lisa Nicholas has some amazing and importance projects on the go and I want to do all I can to get the word out about them.

Check out her book project here.   All very exciting and important work!


St. John Henry Cardinal Newman on faith and conscience

20191205_145045Prior to the canonization of St. John Henry Newman I ordered Saint John Henry Newman His Life and Works from the Catholic Truth Society.

It’s a slim volume that has a short biography of the new saint and short samples of his writing on various subjects.  I’m finding it a helpful introduction that has whet my appetite for more.

This quote from Chapter 5  “The Way to Faith” has stayed with me.

True faith is what may be called colourless, like air or water; it is but the medium through which the soul sees Christ; and the soul as little really rests upon it and contemplates it, as the eye can see the air. When, then, men are bent on holding it (as it were) in their hands  . . . they substitute for it a feeling, notion, sentiment, conviction, or act of reason, which they may hand over, and dote upon. They rather aim at experience (as they are called) within them, than at him that is without them.

Loving faith leads to Christ. It may be “blind and without feeling”  Lectures on the Doctrine of Justification 336

Contrast the above quote with this one, a more familiar quote of St. John Henry Newman, that is also in the book:

Conscience is not a long-sighted selfishness, nor a desire to be consistent with oneself, but it is a messenger from him, who, both in nature and in grace, speaks to us behind a veil, and teaches and rules us by his representatives. Conscience is the aboriginal vicar of Christ.

The supremacy of conscience

True faith as something as clear as air or water through which one sees Christ;  but then he speaks of conscience as a messenger from Christ who “speaks to us behind a veil.” Continue reading

An Ordinariate Oratory?


While the Personal Ordinariates have been recently celebrating the canonisation of St John Henry Newman, including his work of establishing the first Oratory of St Phillip Neri in Britain, I wonder whether anyone has thought of establishing an Ordinariate Oratory?

While doing research I discovered that in order to establish an Oratory a minimum of four men is all that is needed: two ordained and two either seminarians or Lay-Brothers. I believe this is more than possible in any Personal Ordinariate.

What is an Oratory? Continue reading

CSP: Double Your Donations 3/12/19

If you are a member of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter  in the United States, you maybe able to double your donation to the ordinariate or your parish on the December 3 through Facebook’s Giving Tuesday initiative.

I was made aware of this through the Catholic Fundraiser course, an excellent ministry by Brice Sokolowski, that I have been doing this year through the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross in Australia.

Facebook will match up to $100,000 worth of donations to US-based non-for-profits done via Facebook on the 3rd December, and will continue to do so until they have given away $7 million dollars.

All the information regarding the matter can be found here.

If your parish has not been involved with Giving Tuesday before, then tell your priest ASAP and give them some time to alert their Ordinariate community and associates about the opportunity.

Here’s a link to a Facebook fundraiser for the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter.

Papal Nuncio greets Anglican Tradition Conference on behalf of Pope Francis

Attendees of the AC Society’s 2019 Conference on the Anglican Tradition in the Catholic Church received programme booklets for the conference that included not just the conference schedule, the liturgical orders of service, and bio material on speakers, musicians, and special guests, but also letters of blessing and welcome from Bishop Lopes our ordinary, and Cardinal Collins in whose Cathedral we celebrated our liturgies. But we were particularly honoured to receive a letter of greeting from the Papal Nuncio to Canada, Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi, on behalf of His Holiness Pope Francis:


His Excellency’s letter is a most generous affirmation of Anglicanorum Coetibus and our conference in thanksgiving for its tenth anniversary. Saying Pope Benedict’s creation of the ordinariates showed “his pastoral heart as a father” for the Church and for Anglicans approaching full communion, the Nuncio spoke very touchingly about our community and imparted to us the Apostolic Blessing of Pope Francis. Read the whole letter!

David Warren on Prayer in English

20191116_113401 (1)David Warren, shown above speaking Nov. 16 at the Anglican Tradition in the Catholic Church Conference in Toronto, has a piece at The Catholic Thing on Prayer in English that picks up on some of the themes of his engaging talk that was both uproariously funny and erudite. Though I don’t happen to have a photograph of John Covert laughing, every time I checked the audience out, there he was seeming to enjoy the talk immensely.

One of the things Warren told us at the conference was his surprise at discovering that St. Thomas More had said he thought the Mass should be translated into English.

He picks up that idea in his piece at The Catholic Thing.

Thomas More’s acknowledgment of the possibility of the Mass in English surprised me. Did he know what that could lead to?

But degeneration is possible in any language; and conversely, the sacred can be assimilated within all. While Latin must, through any foreseeable future, remain the “lingua franca” for the universal Church, she must also accommodate a “pentecostal” world that often resists Latin.

The significance of the Anglican liturgical tradition cannot be detached from Protestant history; herein lies the danger. The beauty of it cannot be overlooked, either. Generations of Anglicans trying to be true to the traditions of the Western Catholic Church were its authors.

Moreover, it coalesced at a time when this living tradition was still within touch, and when the English language was at its greatest.

Not only “great” in “the language of Shakespeare” sense, but too, as a practical matter. Those who have studied will realize that it’s much easier to translate the classics as well as the Bible into Elizabethan and Jacobean English WITHOUT modern idiom and cliché.

Of course, go on over and read the rest!  Also in that vein is a piece by Tim Stanley at The Catholic Herald entitled Cranmer’s Accidental Gift to Catholics.

I was a member of the Church of England myself once, but only very briefly – so I didn’t get to fully appreciate Cranmer’s intelligence and poetry. Recently though I’ve become heavily involved with the ordinariate – that happy band of ex-Anglicans who have joined the Catholic Church, bringing with them some of the best of the Anglican tradition, including its magnificent thees, thys and thous. Before distributing Holy Communion, ordinariate priests recite Cranmer’s “Prayer of Humble Access”: “We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies.” It’s a profound moment when everyone stops to contemplate just how awesome Christ’s sacrifice is, and it helps explain the emphasis upon reverence in sacramental worship. If you believe that this really is the Body and Blood of Christ, if you are in front of the actual King of Heaven, why wouldn’t you fall to your knees? “We are not worthy,” says the Book, “so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table.”

Now, as I said all of this I was aware that I was speaking to an overwhelmingly Anglican crowd, and the ordinariate is controversial in the CofE because some see it as having stolen their priests. But, I said, isn’t the ordinariate rite a breathtaking example of real ecumenism? Could Cranmer – a man murdered by Mary I – ever have imagined that 500 years later, his words would be spoken by Roman Catholics here in England? It’s a demonstration of the power of beauty to cross boundaries and unite Christians around what really matters. The concern for eternal truths should bring Catholics and Protestants together; it’s a lot more important than the specifics that separate them.

Again, go on over and read the whole thing.  Most interesting.

In the period after Anglicanorum coetibus was promulgated and before the ordinariates were established and well-before we had Divine Worship: The Missal, there was a debate about Cranmer.  Some argued he was a heretic and therefore his work should be disallowed.

What I have to say for Cranmer is that he was a great translator of Latin—many of the collects he translated are true to the Latin—and was able to do so in such a way that the English was pleasing to the ear, poetic, and beautiful.  Thankfully, the Catholic Church has chosen to allow among our treasures to be shared some of Cranmer’s  work.