THERE ARE TIMES when I wonder whether this is a column or a commune. The latter is the desirable state. Indeed, you may have noticed that the Editor of the Catholic Herald has been trying to encourage this with more and more reader-participation in the work of the paper and not merely to save money.
Ideally of course, a reader should identify with his newspaper, which is not quite the same as agreeing with everything it says; but he or she should feel that. in the last instance, they can influence it and even get some passionately held view heard.
I can report that columnar participation is on the increase. I had this week a telephone call about something I had written about the United States. I settled down for an easy and protracted conversation with someone who had clearly been at some pains to find out where I lived.
We rabbited on until my wife nudged me with the sardbliere to remind me that the call was coming from Arizona.
A sardiniert is an obsolescent piece of tableware used for serving sardines nicely. Ours was last used at the consecration of our church. It was used as a delicate trowel for laying the mortar that sealed the relics of some martyrs into the altar. They as usual, were from that inexhaustible quarry in Rome the Catacombs. They usually have names like SS Foritunatus and Euphoria. We have ihesitated to use it domesitcally 'since (and ilkuit lies around). Then therE-was the case of St Maria Goretti of whom I professed a rather cavalier ignorance. The details of her life (and canonisation which was attended by her rapist and murderer) are both distressing and un-English and I am not surprised I had forgotten them. And English rapist and murderer, however repentant, whould have had the decency not to attend the ceremony but would have been busy selling his memoirs to a Sunday newspaper.
Anyway, I now not only know a great deal about her, but a priest has sent me a relic of her in a charming locket which I am told should not be left about.
Then I was sent a cutting of a book review in a marvellously well written paper called the Western Journal from Co Mayo. I hate Irish stories because nowadays they usually contain a kernel of hatred. But this one was about a fierce Republican book of clearly unattractively violent views. However it did tell of some hunger-strikers who gave up eating against the Free State Government (in 1923).
When they called off the strike, a doctor told one that they had fasted for 41 days. "Be cripes." was the reply, "we bate Christ by a day."
And there was a eri de coeur which will be familiar to any hack who has had a letter from someone expecting him to do their research for them. This one from Ireland's Own.
"Quite often we get requests for information which could easily he obtained in a public library. It is not that we do not want to help, but we believe that a greater interest in the public libraries would enrich the lives of those concerned.
"These marvellous public service centres are really treasure caves and their staffs are invariably courteous and helpful and anxious to encourage the public to make better use of the facilities available."
After all, in a commune, we all pull our weight.
Eight reasons for shortage
THERE IS SAID to be a shortage of ordinations in Nottingham and that they have no new priests this year, The complaint, except in Communist countries, is almost universal.
So why do the young men no longer crowd towards the altar to be ordained? Charterhouse made one of its now excathedralically accepted surveys and came up with several causes, some of which are here set down:
1. H. was all right when you had six sons, to give one or two to the Church. What with family planning and inflation, such families are more rare and maternal generosity has shrunk with the size of the family. The desire to perpetuate one's name and genes in a sort of vicarious immortality remains, however, a powerful, natural and irrational factor.
2. " Mixed" marriages are now accepted, and almost without conditions. This change has increased the sum of human happiness. It has, however,
probably decreased the urge to give almost the whole of one's life to the Catholic Church.
3. There is a general uncertainty, shared by many priests, about what a priest does. This is really a sociological question. Some of his functions in society have been taken over by doctors, some even by the landlords of public houses, and the function of priest as teacher and leader and arbiter has been diminished.
It takes a better and more discerning man to be satisfied with the .purely sacramental functions of which, anyway, society itself is less confident.
4. There is now a suggestion of financial insecurity about the priesthood. In fact, this has always existed and has been part of the vocation. But in a Welfare World, it seems to matter more. The confident assertion that ordination conferred, inter alia, three square meals a day (and a roof over a man's head for the rest of his life) no longer seems enough.
do not think that this consideration greatly concerns a young person considering his vocation, but it could lie there, nagging, in the sub-conscious.
And the arrangements made for elderly priests are generally unloving and inadequate and a 5. The priesthood is no longer i quite the status symbol t once was. A man or woman called to a life of service can find more choices than ever before. Not so long ago there was little for a Catholic girl but marriage or a nunnery. Spinsterhood was not only slightly ridiculous, it was financially dangerous. Service was a sort of slavery. The great world at least appears to offer more than it ever did before.
6. There may be an unspoken understanding that the shortage matters less than it seems. Corn
pared to South America or Africa, for example, Britain is almost crowded with priests.
And it is possibly God's will that the priesthood should be small and select, and that far, far more of the word and learning of the Church should be carried on by the laity.
This is an open-ended subject, but the idea that real holiness really only lay in Holy Orders has gone, and we are better for its going.
7. There is a basic lessening of generosity in society, and the idea of real self-sacrifice comes less readily. The reward rather than the job is the prime consideration.
8. Sophistication and cynicism have set in earlier. The once usual picture of a boy of IS setting out to be a priest is now aimost unthinkable. The real contemporary recruiting ground should be in universities and among skilled or professional workers. This a matter of ecclesiastical tactics, and in the end you simply have to believe that the gates of hell will not prevail.
Why bishops are bad risks
AS INSURANCE RISKS, bishops probably rate with motor cyclistshigh.
They tend to overwork. They can seldom be complacent. They have to eat as a matter of duty quite unsuitable meals. They live wildly irregular though irreproachable lives. They are pestered by nuns and journalists. They sit in motor cars too long.
They have to be too polite too often, and the strain of keeping a vaguely benign expression let alone a smile on your face all day, must be killing.
A few years ago, it seemed that almost every one of them in this country was having the odd heart attack, Though, come to think of it. a number of Cardinals in Rome do appear to live to the most venerable old ages. But that may be different.
The oldest living bishop appears to be Antonio Teutonico. He is 103. Could he have been the one who was excused attendance at Vatican II even though he could dimly remember Vatican 1?
He comes from Sant' Elia a Pianisi in Italy. That is somewhere in the middle. He was ordained in 1897 and got his mitre in 1936. He lives reasonably spryly, with a nephew in his home town. The second oldest is an American of 100. He is Archbishop Edward Howard, whose See used to be Portland, Oregon. Both bear the extra title of Assistant to the (Papal) Throne, though one might think they would not be of much help, especially at the portable one
The Patriarch strikes back
GOA is now one of the constituent states of India and the sort of earthly paradise
that does a great deal for its own but which yet attracts the wrong sort of stranger.
It was a Portuguese colony, in theory a part of the Mother Country, until Nehru took it back into India by force. The British left it alone because in their time it was neither a threat nor a prize worth the expense of an expedition.
There was also the fact that the Portuguese were our allies a matter which has usually been a thing of passing convenience to be involved or broken as suited at the time.
When the Indians came all the remaining Portuguese had to leave. The only exception the Indians made was for the Catholic Archbishop who, like the Archbishop of Lisbon, bore the resounding ceremonial title of Patriarch this one of the East Indies. And he went back to Portugal too. In the 16th century, with a sense of glory we never attempted, not even in the Viceregal splendours of Delhi, they built a town near the mouth of the Mandoui River. Here was a great square ringed with churches.
But for about 100 years malaria did its anti-colonial work and the town was left almost deserted except for the cathedral and four or five other carved and painted churches which look baroque but of a sort that has gone native, with ranks of chubby saints above their altars that look as if they'd like to he doing something else.
• One of them contains the i
body of St Francis Xavier n a high Renaissance tomb presented by a Duke of Florence. But the churches and their colleges are high and dry, and I thought that the canons in the cathedral were not getting enough to eat. The churches were richly restored by the government it may have been an act of reparation and the place is one of the wonders of the world.
You get all the languors of India, a soft wind off the river, the magical morning mists, the smell of spices, palm trees waving like papal fans, beaches of a disturbing purity.
I see that early this year Goa at last got a new Indian-born Patriarch, Raul Goncalves. Thirty-five per cent of the population is Catholic. There would be more if fewer of this most gentle minority did not emigrate or go to sea.
The Patriarch is in the middle of a political fight with the rather dreary administration. I suppose even Patriarchs should not really do this, but he has espoused the cause of the small boat shrimp-fishers against that of the mechanised trawlers. Seventy-five per cent of the shrimpers are Catholics.
The trouble is to get the government to act, and inactivity comes easy in Goa. It's a mystery how the Portuguese founded an empire from such a place or how so many men stayed saints in,such soft airs.