Sunday 24 May 2020

The Margarine of Unreality

Happy Sunday after Ascension Day! I have had a busy day. First I read and marked up student stories. Then I taught the students over Skype. (Subjects: theme, tone and mood.) Next I put my computer on the prepared sofa table, plunked a mantilla on my head and watched Sunday Mass in Warrington.

Once again we had a splendid homily, and when freedom of worship is restored to British Christians, I hope the Warrington FSSP continues to record their liturgies so that we can continue to enjoy their sermons. Today the honours fell to Fr. Henry Whisenant, who revealed that he had been teased about the "cucumbers of servitude" but was nevertheless going to talk about another food item: margarine.

Fr. Whisenant does not like margarine, but he was more interested in what the late, great Fr. Vincent McNabb, OP had to say about the stuff, which was that it was a very poor substitute for butter. Fr McNabb could not understand why something as simple, ordinary and wholesome as butter was being put aside in favour of congealed vegetable oil. Fr. McNabb also had a lot of trenchant things to say about then-modern life in London, and I suspect he would have approved of Fr Crean's and Dr. Fimister's Integralism. 

Fr. Whisenant somehow managed to move smoothly from the consideration of the unreality of margarine to the unreality of COVID-19 news, and I really sat up then.

One of the worst parts of my job is trying to makes sense of COVID-19 news because it is, just as Fr. Whisenant indicated, difficult to grasp. I'm hit with torrents of verbiage which blinds me as I grope around for some solid facts to report on. Today, for example, a researcher is worried that he won't be able to test the vaccine for COVID-19 on Britons because the number of people with COVID-19 is dropping rapidly. What? Shouldn't that story be "COVID-19 dropping so rapidly, vaccine not needed"?

Opinion, opinions, opinions, but not a lot of facts for your poor scribe. My own opinion (and hope) is that COVID-19 will disappear to wherever SARS went by September at the latest. A nice heatwave or two in July might do the trick. But do not report this as news because I really have no idea. I certainly don't want my own parents out gallivanting yet.

One piece of news (or "news") that interests me very much right now is an allegation that the British government would be quite happy to open the churches to private prayer, and it is the CBCEW that is lobbying like mad to keep them locked. England must be a much more pious place than Scotland, for the last day B.A. and I found a church door open, we were the only laypeople within shouting distance; no dangerous, infectious hordes.  But please don't report the CBCEW lobbying as news either, for I haven't verified it yet.

After Mass I watered my plants, and then B.A. and I went for a walk in our nearest countryside. It was very beautiful, and localism must really be getting to me for after pondering that our neighbourhood is certainly much more beautiful than the fields and villages of southwestern Poland in early March, I declared that it is even more beautiful than Italy.

I then remembered that I have an Italian lesson today--but that's not the point. The point is that after two months of lockdown I'm turning into the sort of British person who moans about "the horror of abroad" and says "East, west, hame's best"---and I'm not even British. (A somewhat related point: I discovered today that poor Elodie Belloc, born in Napa, California, affected an English accent after marrying Hilaire. How sad.)

After this walk I sat down with Integralism, Chapter 10. It is only 14 pages long and deals with "International Relations." It declares the unity of humanity but opposes the creation of One World Government, as you can imagine. It's not gung-ho about nationalism, either, in that it states that to attain his natural end, man needs only his family, his friends, and his city.

Presumably by "city" Fr. Crean and Dr. Fimister include the countryside around the built-up community. And, indeed, when I think of our own wee bit hill and glen, I consider that--with a few adjustments--it would be possible to keep our neighbourhood fed, housed, clothed and shod just with whatever we could produce ourselves within 15 miles. The adjustments would  involve a return to coal as our principal fuel, mind you, and we'd still need to import citrus fruit. However, our neighbourhood existed 1,960 years before artificial refrigeration, so my guess is that we'd cope even without limes for our gin and tonic.

Crean and Fimister blow subtle spitballs at the EU, and as the EU was conceived by such Christian Democrats (and Catholics) like Robert Schuman, about whom the latter wrote his first book, it must be a great disappointment to him.  In comparing the Holy Roman Empire to the Unholy European Union, F&C write:

"At the difficulty with such institutions lies in their tendency either to seek to repress the proper autonomy of the temporal commonwealths, violating the principle of subsidiarity, or to usurp the spiritual functions of the ecclesiastical hierarchy or both. [...]  It is hundred times more manifest in the behaviour of the secular supranational entities of modern times who, refusing to acknowledge that supernatural basis for human fraternity, tend, because there is no separate and autonomous temporal common good of the whole human race, to suppress and absorb the naturally occurring particular commonwealths of which they are composed, in order to take the latter's natural bias for themselves."

This sentiment ends in a reference to Footnote 71, which contains a very long suggestion by Pius XI about what a "genuine 'League of Nations'" could look like.

There is also in this chapter a lovely passage by St. Augustine. In it he points out that the very rich man who enjoys waging war is nowhere near as happy as the man of "moderate wealth" who "is contented with a small and compact estate, most dear to his own family, enjoying the sweetest peace with his kindred neighbours and friends, in piety religious, benignant in mind, healthy in body, in life frugal, in manners chaste, in conscience secure."

Sadly, B.A. and I did not win last night's lottery, so no small and compact estate for us yet, unless you count our 700 square feet of flat and approximately 500 square feet of garden.

The chapter eventually goes to Warfare, and thus we have the four conditions of a Just War laid out: right intention, legitimate authority, just cause and suitable conduct in battle. There are two kinds of just wars--defensive and offensive. Violence is supposed to be restricted in intention to combatants, and "some harm to non-combatants, proportionate to the good to be achieved, may be foreseen but not intended."

Missing here is an absolute prohibition on sexual assault and rape of women, children and POWs, which Fimister and Crean may think is out of the scope of this admittedly short chapter. However, rape in warfare is so prevalent and universal (at least where women are the victims) that I think its prohibition should always, always be stressed.

I was surprised to discover in this chapter that Fimister and Crean believe being willing to fight "even against overwhelming odds" is within the definition of a Just War. This seems to pertain only to a defensive war, however. The authors conclude this section with Pope John XXIII's opinion that, thanks to the atomic bomb, war is no longer "a suitable way of restoring violated rights."

The chapter itself ends with a return to the argument that it is always wrong to convert people by the sword and adds that the unbaptised state of a nation is not sufficient excuse to invade it.

To return to yesterday's discussion, I received an email from an American deeply upset that Fimister and Crean do not seem to support the existence of serfdom. On one hand, this American reader may be trolling me. On the other, he may like to know that Fimister and Crean do support the hiring of servants to work the land "paying them in exchange for their labour a proportion of the fruits of that labour." There is, however, no suggestion that the servants can be forced to continue working for that employer.

And now I must call my Italian tutor.

Update: I had a most amusing conversation with my Italian tutor, to whom I tell everything. Some people tell their priest everything. Some tell their hairdresser everything. But I tell my Italian tutor everything--albeit with seriously messed up grammar and most definitely the worst accent to emerge from Signora Angelini's Italian Ontario Academic Credit (OAC) class trenti anni fa.

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