NINETEEN eighty six is the Year of International Peace, the Year of the Spitfire, and the Year for Industry. Who thinks up all these "Years" and what good do they do? Is it about time such quasi-commercial catch-phrase "Years" were brought to an end?
Perhaps Osbert Sitwell unconsciously hinted at an answer when, many years ago, he was approached by a beggar who opened his bidding by reminding Sir Osbert that they were just embarking on "SelfDenial Year".
That splendid, essentially Edwardian, eccentric figure rich but not necessarily lavish in his spending — crushingly replied: "My good man, for some of us every year is selfdenial year."
I am thus emboldened to suggest that, by contrast, 1986 should be considered as the year of Father Sylvester Mooney. For on June 11 next, Fr Sylvester will be celebrating his 100th birthday. Before that, on. March 30, he will be able to look back on no less than 80 years as a Benedictine monk.
The achievement is so rare that no one can find a title for an 80th Jubilee. Such titles seem to end with Platinum for a 70th Jubilee. But what about White Gold, a precious metal even more valuable than platinum?
Fr Sylvester attended Douai school in its French days. He went there as a student at the age of 11 and came to England with the other Douai boys to Woolhampton in 1903. For it was in that year that the French government expelled the community.
He is the last survivor of those boys. In 1904 he became a Benedictine novice at Belmont. But this did not necessarily mean that he was destined to remain in that monastery. For in those days Belmont was the common novitiate for all English Benedictines.
In fact, Fr Sylvester returned to Douai of which he became Abbot in 1929, subsequently being re-elected to that office four times, thus becoming its ruling Abbot for no less than 40 years.
Since 1969 he has remained in retirement at Douai, humbly refusing offers to assume a titular abbacy and asking to be called plain Father Sylvester.
This bit of news is contained in the 1986 Benedictine Yearbook, an indispensable volume containing, as usual, a mine of valuable and interesting information about the Benedictine communities in Britain and Ireland and their foundations overseas.
THIS YEAR is also the Year of Energy Saving. An irreverent wag has suggested that it might have been this which prompted the Vatican to proclaim that those who could not actually travel to Rome could nevertheless gain the plenary indulgence normally associated with receiving the Pope's blessing (together with the other usual conditions) if they witnessed the giving of this blessing on television, or even just heard it cut the wireless.
Cynics might.. smile but the Vatican was presumably thinking of the bedridden and others who had little hope of being physically present in St Peter's Square at the moment when the Papal blessing is given.
The marvels of technology have made such developments possible. How much further can they be extended in the spiritual sphere? If you are dying, for example, can you, if all else fails, dial the number of a priest and go to confession by telephone and receive absolution over the wires?
The question is not new but was seriously considered many years ago. I believe that the famous Jesuit, Maurice de la Taille, gave much thought to the question and came to the reluctant conclusion that absolution by telephone was impossible.
When, eventually, televisiontelephones come into general use, will that opinion still hold?
Considering that, until the time of Paul VI, you had to kneel when in telephonic communication with the Pope, it might be arguable that the benefit of the doubt should go to those in extremis.
No one, after all, would be denied absolution just because he had to use a hearing aid to take in the words of absolution.
THERE was a serious suggestion, as emerging from the recent Extraordinary Synod in Rome, that there should be a new catechism which would be valid for every country in the 'world. Many have expressed misgivings.
Meanwhile, moreover, the French Bishops are on record as saying that Anglicans prefer to live their faith rather than try to define it.
Long ago Thomas a Kempis, in the Imitation of Christ, said it was better to love much than to know much.
Is the Imitation now read as widely as it once was? Pope John Paul I was reported to have been reading it at the moment of his sudden unprovided death.
But this turned out to be one of the many falsehoods emanating from the panicstriken Cardinal Villot after discovering the dead Pope's body.
To make good his story he ransacked the Vatican to secure a copy of the Imitation but failed to find one. The Pope had left his own — formerly part of his favourite reading — in Venice.
JUST NOW, many newspapers, particularly last week's Sundays, have been carrying mouthwatering advertisements with regard to foreign travel. Italy crops up often.
Winter in Rome and other Italian cities can be particularly enjoyable. And I have seldom enjoyed a trip to Venice as much as once in January. The crisp air and the lack of seething tourists does wonders for such historic places.
Sicily, moreover, is a positive playground in the (usually extremely mild) winter months. Sicilians need little excuse for throwing festivals, and, coming up soon (in February) will be the feast of St Agatha, a signal for much festivity in Sicily.
As a practical suggestion I might mention that it is always wise to consult a specialist when travelling to Italy, rather than just any old travel agency.
My recent trip to Rome, for example, was engineered through Citalia, and I have consistently found them to be the most reliable and obliging agents for trips to Italy.
You can, as I have often done, drop into their plush West End office at 50 Conduit Street, near Berkeley Square, or contact their Croydon office at Marco Polo House, 3/5 Lansdowne Road, Croydon CR9 ILL (01-680 5536).
IF YOU do go to Rome, you might like to drop in for dinner at the most unusual restaurant in that city, or, perhaps, anywhere. It is called L'Eau Vive — The Living Water — and was opened about eight years ago in unusual circumstances.
The head waitress is a nun, and so are all the other waitresses. They wear gaily coloured oriental costumes. Many come from Africa and the Far East. They are all Missionary Workers of Mary Immaculate of L'Eau Vive.
When they went to see the Pope — see picture — he said "Carry on with your work."
What is their work and how does it fit in with running a smart (and by no means cheap) restaurant?
The answer is that all those who have dinner at this restaurant indirectly share in the Church's life of Mission and prayer. At ten precisely all the diners are interrupted by an announcement that a hymn usually the Lourdes hymn will be sung. And it duly is.
So mixed a cross-section of visitors does this gourmet restaurant attract that many have been converted to a new view of life and mission.
The unusual "waitresses" meanwhile live as a community and say in their brochure: "Those who come to L'Eau Vive and see the Missionary Workers serving at table look for or discover with astonishment the feeling of the presence of God and the experience a vital union with Christ."
(It is advisable to book a table.)
TOWARD the end of this month, on Wednesday, January 29, at 3 pm, there will be an ecumenical service at Peterborough Cathedral. It will commemorate the 450th anniversary of the burial in this Cathedral of Queen Catherine of Aragon.
Prominent among visitors to the Cathedral that day will be members (and their friends) of the Anglo-Spanish Society who will stop on their way at Buckden Palace.
This is a very ancient manor now in the possession of the Claretian Missionaries, an international missionary order founded by St Anthony Mary Claret, in Spain, in 1849.
Earlier on that same day, the twenty-ninth, the Brothers will be singing a Requiem Mass for Catherine of Aragon at Buckden, the palace to which Queen Catherine was sent by order of King Henry after the annulment of their marriage.
This was in 1533. Soon afterwards she moved to Kimbolten where she lived until her death in 1536.
WHO WILL be the next Apostolic Pro-Nuncio to Great Britain? The question has aroused unusual interest and prompted some rather wild speculation.
The latter might not have come about had those who inspired it known more of the very delicate and complicated procedure that lies behind such appointments.
Whatever may have been the case when the Holy See was represented in Britain by an Apostolic Delegate — whose mission is merely to the Catholic Church in the country in question rather than to the government thereof Archbishop Heim was elevated to the rank of Pro-Nuncio. His successor will thus, ab initio, be the Papal Ambassador to the Court of St James.
The Holy See cannot nominate anyone it likes to this position. Their nominee must have what is officially called the agrement of the Foreign Office. This in practice means farreaching consultations in this country, involving Cardinal Hume and others. But above all it requires, in the final analysis, the good pleasure of the Queen herself.
We can thus be assured that no undesirable candidate will slip through the mesh of protocol. But the fact that nearly five months have elapsed since the departure of Archbishop Heim suggests there may have been some hitch along the way. Possibly lack of agrement.
We will never know for sure.
CONGRATULATIONS, finally, to the Duke of Norfolk on becoming, in the New Year's Honours List, a Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order (GCVO). This is one of the honours personally conferred by the monarch.
The Duke is already a Knight of the Garter but not, surprisingly, a member of the Privy Council. (Another mystery in high places.) Perhaps politics come into it somewhere. The Duke, once or twice, has, as is his wont, been a bit too outspoken on controversial political matters to please certain people.
But he will surely be a Privy Councillor before long. Such an appointment is long overdue.