Page 10, 1st December 1989

1st December 1989
Page 10
Page 10, 1st December 1989 — All you don't need for a cardboard city Christmas

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Locations: Rome, Privol'noye, Paris


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All you don't need for a cardboard city Christmas

BY co-incidenee the same clay's post brought the declaration by Church Action on Poverty (CAP) and a glossy mag from a well-known credit-card agency (no prizes for guessing which).

By now everyone must have noticed that there are more people begging on the streets, that more people are living in cardboard hoses and are being demoralised by long-term unemployment. You may also know that the number of homeless households has doubled over the last ten years: There are plenty more facts to show that the freeedoin of some is purchased at the expense of others.

Given all this, it is frivolous, cynical, disheartening and in the end blasphemous that a magazine devoted to conspicuous consumption should be giving advice on Christmas presents for those who don't need them anyway.

For a "eccentric son" you are invited to consider a classic British teddy bear (£50 from Harrods) which "growls, boasts a mohair pelt and is terribly rare." Blame Evelyn Waugh for this teddy cult. In Brideshead Revisited-Sebastian Flyte wanted a hairbrush for his teddy not to brush hint with but to threaten to spank hini with. Oh Freudt thou shoulds't be living at this hour,

For the "spoilt niece" nothing less than a toy no one else has Will do. Perhaps -a "C. Rossignol tramcar complete with operating boom" is just the thing. In near mint condition, it will set you back £4550.

Did I say blasphemy? This is worse: it is idolatry. "We turn God's gitts into idols," says CAP, "w Inch promise life hut cannot deliver it, when we enthrone money, power, privilege and pleastit C..

What of liberty?

THERE ought to be sermons on such themes. But reactionary sermons are more common. Bunburying recently and in a strange parish, I heard one entirely devoted to attacking the French Revolution as a masonic conspiracy. There was nothing to celebrate, said the priest, and as St Pius X pointed out "liberty, equality and fraternity" are no more than illusions. The only equality. the sermon concluded. is in the grave. This is very much the view of excommunicated Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre who holds that Vatican 11 was the bastard child (his tertn) of freemasonry and the French Revolution.

Pope John Pau! II, on the other hand, said in Paris in 1980 that "liberty, equality and fraternity are fundamentally (au fond) Christian values liat have to be traced back to their source in the Gospel.

That might be a little difficult to prove, but at least it shows the right spirit in which to approach the question. The French Revolution, like most human events, was deeply ambivalent. But as Adam Michnik, the Polish historian turned editor, pointed out, in the nineteenth century there were always two possible responses to it.

The Catholic "conservative" reaction was to say that it was all so awful that repression at whatever price was needed to prevent it recurring.

The Catholic "liberal" response was to say :that unless the genuine aspit at ions which the French Revolution expressed were recognised and implemented, then the next revolution would be even more terrible and ghastly.

Airwaves test

ANOTHER country sermon, earlier in the year, was entirely devoted to obedience to lawful authority though the congregation looked to me solidly law-abiding apart from a few city-gents who might well be insider-traders.

It included the memorable line: "St Mark does not tell us in this Gospel what Jesus taught, but he does tell us how Jesus taught: with authority." I swear I have not made this up. It gave some point to a remark made after a recent meeting of Diocesan Information Officers: "One Thought for the Day can reach more people than a lifetime of sermons." Just as well.

But perhaps it would help preachers to ask themselves: "Would my sermon pass muster as a Thought for the Day?"

All in a sentence

THE most difficult form of writing, I have just discovered, is writing for the 9-12 age group. I have to do brief biographies of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II for the Oxford Children's Encyclopaedia.

After the date of birth, a single sentence sums up what he or she was "famous for". For example Chaucer "wrote The Canterbury Tales, the first important book written in English." That's easy enough.

But what was Pope John "famous for"? "Calling Vatican 11" isn't the right answer in this context: it needs too much Further explanation. To call him "good Pope John" is fine hut doesn't convey nmeh. Goodness is difficult to analyse or spell out.

What Pope John did was to change the "image" of the papacy. The long reign of Pius XII set the pattern for popes who were thin, ascetical, remote and very worried about the way the world was going. Pope John was fat, seemed to enjoy life, visited children in hospital, prisoners in jail and was seen in the suburbs of Rome. But all that depends upon the effect of contrast. There isn't space for that.

Among the 9-12 year olds I consulted, Pope John Paul II is famous for "getting out of aeroplanes and kissing the ground". I'll have-to do better than that. But my problems fade compared with those of my wife, Margaret, who has bravely taken on, in 450 words, the life of Jesus.

Aunt Sally?

WE did our first joint signing session last month in the enterprising parish of the Sacred heart, Bushey, Hens, which was holding its third annual book fair. Last year Rabbi Lionel Blue signed away, and over £800 worth of books (not just his) were sold. The fair was organised by an enterprising layman, Peter Leeson, and blessed by a sympathetic parish priest. Fr Guy Sawyer.

We decided not to risk family harmony by turning it into a competition to see who signed more books. There were Pope John XXIII interesting discussions about what would make a suitable Christmas present for Uncle Fred or Sister Phoebe. Margaret's Finding God in All Things would do for Sister Phoebe, but Uncle Fred wouldn't get on with her Motherhood and God. My In the Vatican might he too "radical" for some tastes, but John XXIII, Pope of the Council was pronounced safe in anyone's hands.

Europeans all

AS President Mikihail Gorbachev meets Pope John Paul, one may be sure they will talk about "our common European home". This led me to wonder how good Gorbachev's credentials as a Euopean were.

He was born in 1931 in the village of Privol'noye in the Stavrapol krul. That is in Transcaucasia, which between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. To the south lie Georgia and Armenia which, despite their ancient Christian tradition, I have never thought Of as "European".

put the question to some learned people at St Anthony's College. How European is Gorbachev? I asked. One said: "Gorbachev's family were Russian colonists in this region, and Russians remain always Russians. The basis for his European claim is his nationality, not the place of his birth."

Another authority said that Stalin simply decreed that, to the south at least, Asia begins where the frontiers of the Soviet Union end. So Turkey and Iran are very definitely in Asia. and Gorbachev is indubitably a European.

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