Anglican Convert and Defender of the Catholic Faith

Today, we acknowledge G. K. Chesterton as one of the greatest Catholic minds of the twentieth century, and perhaps its greatest writer. More than 75 years after his death, Chesterton Societies abound in the English-speaking world, and many of his 90 books are in multiple printings.

But who was this man, really – this English convert, formidable intellect, prolific writer and staunch defender of the Catholic Faith?

Gilbert Keith Chesterton was born in London, England on May 29, 1874. Though he thought of himself as a journalist, GKC was actually many things including a playwright, novelist, literary and social critic, poet, illustrator, essayist, apologist, hagiographer and broadcaster.

Chesterton wrote voluminously and brilliantly in most literary genres of the day. His prodigious output includes about ninety books and thousands of essays for London newspapers such as the Daily News, Illustrated London News, and G.K.’s Weekly.

Chesterton’s Early Years
Chesterton was born into a middle-class, liberal Unitarian family and retained fond memories of childhood. “What was wonderful about childhood is that anything in it was a wonder. It was not merely a world full of miracles; it was a miraculous world” (Autobiography, 1936).

GKC attended St. Paul’s School, where he was an academic under-achiever and forgetful student. He enrolled next in the London’s Slade School of Art, making no significant accomplishments. Somewhat later, he attended lectures in English literature at London’s University College. He did not earn a college degree.

Chesterton was a large figure of a man, at 6’ 4”, 300 lbs., cigar-smoking – and sporting a swordstick, cape and sombrero.

GKC’s Career and Marriage
During 1900, Chesterton began publishing essays for periodicals, collections of verse, and fantasies. His writing transformed him from an obscure scribbler into a Fleet Street legend and household name.

GKC was to become a familiar sight on Fleet Street. He was a large figure of a man, 6’ 4”, 300 lbs., cigar smoking, sporting a swordstick, cape and sombrero.

In 1901, Chesterton married Frances Blogg, a devoted Anglo-Catholic. The marriage was a happy one. Unhappily, though, the Chesterton’s could not have children of their own so they frequently entertained other people’s children in their home.

GKC publicly debated the leading figures of his day, including H.G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw, and Clarence Darrow. Despite differences in views, Chesterton’s opponents admired him. He made no enemies. His life exemplified the Christian virtues of charity and humility.

Chesterton’s books, Orthodoxy (his 1908 companion volume to Heretics, 1905) and The Everlasting Man (1925), were destined to become classics of Christian apologetics. The latter book contributed to C.S. Lewis’ conversion to Christianity.

‘Because my name is Lazarus and I live.’

Immediately after his reception into the Church, G.K. Chesterton composed this sonnet:


After one moment when I bowed my head
And the whole world turned over and came upright,
And I came out where the old road shone white.
I walked the ways and heard what all men said,
Forests of tongues, like autumn leaves unshed,
Being not unlovable but strange and light;
Old riddles and new creeds, not in despite
But softly, as men smile about the dead.

The sages have a hundred maps to give
That trace their crawling cosmos like a tree,
They rattle reason out through many a sieve
That stores the sand and lets the gold go free:
And all these things are less than dust to me
Because my name is Lazarus and I live.


GKC publicly debated the leading figures of his day — H.G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw, and Clarence Darrow. Despite differences in views, Chesterton’s opponents admired him. He made no enemies.


Chesterton Converts to Catholicism. In 1922, GKC converted to the Roman Catholic Church. Frances converted four years later through her own convictions. Hilaire Belloc, the famous Catholic historian, essayist and poet, and Chesterton’s close friend, said, “He advanced towards the Faith over many years and was ultimately in full communion with it…. He approached the Catholic Church gradually but by a direct road. He first saw the city from afar off, then approached it with interest and at last entered. Few of the great conversions in our history have been so deliberate or so mature. It will be for posterity to judge the magnitude of the event.”

Chesterton was motivated to conversion by his concern for legitimate authority. The teaching authority of the Church exemplified a firm point of reference in a changing world. “The Catholic Church is the only thing that saves a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age.”

Even more significant to GKC was the Sacramental authority of the Church to forgive sins. To those critics who believe it is morbid to confess one’s sins, Chesterton replied, “The morbid thing is not to confess them. The morbid thing is to conceal your sins and let them eat away at your soul, which is exactly the state of most people in today’s highly civilized communities.”

“The difficulty of explaining why I am a Catholic is that there are ten thousand reasons all amounting to one reason: that Catholicism is true.”

Furthermore, in The Well and the Shallows (1935), Chesterton explains the role of the Virgin Mary in his conversion:

“I never doubted that the figure (of Mary) was the figure of the faith; that she embodied, as a complete human being still only human, all that this Thing had to say to humanity. The instant I remembered the Catholic Church, I remembered her; when I tried to forget the Catholic Church, I tried to forget her; when I finally saw what was nobler than my fate, the freest and the hardest of all my acts of freedom, it was in front of a gilded and very gaudy little image of her in the port of Brindisi, that I promised the thing that I would do, if I returned to my own land.”

Chesterton said, “The difficulty of explaining why I am a Catholic is that there are ten thousand reasons all amounting to one reason: that Catholicism is true.” He often challenged critics of the Church by turning their arguments around to expose their hollowness. For example, he says, “The most absurd thing that could be said of the Church is the thing we have all heard of it …. that the Church wishes to bring us back into the Dark Ages…. The Church was the only thing that ever brought us out of them”.

“The morbid thing is not to confess your sins. The morbid thing is to conceal your sins and let them eat away at your soul, which is exactly the state of most people in today’s highly civilised communities.”

Few people have applied thought to defending Christianity and Catholicism as successfully as Chesterton. Hilaire Belloc said, “His mind was oceanic, subject indeed to a certain restriction of repeated phrase and manner, but in no way restricted to the action of the mind. He swooped upon an idea like an eagle, tore it with active beak into its constituent parts and brought out the heart of it. If ever a man analyzed finally and conclusively Chesterton did so.”

Chesterton’s Death
GKC died on June 14, 1936 in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire. Étienne Gilson, the pre-eminent 20th century Thomist philosopher and historian of medieval philosophy, called Chesterton “one of the deepest thinkers who ever existed.”


Shortly after his death, Pope Pius XI declared Chesterton defensor Fidei, Defender of the Faith.

 “The most absurd thing that could be said of the Church is the thing we have all heard of it …. that the Church wishes to bring us back into the Dark Ages…. The Church was the only thing that ever brought us out of them.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Thomas Yonan currently resides in California (USA). He’s an avid Chesterton aficionado who enjoys Thomistic philosophy, backpacking, nature studies and hosting a Facebook page about G.K. Chesterton

New Novices Enter Traditional English Benedictine Order

The Sisters of Saint Cecilia’s Abbey

Cecilia“Today, young people are drawn to a rich liturgical life which includes the singing of Mass and the Divine Office in Latin, the Church’s traditional language, and Gregorian Chant, its traditional song,” says Sister Mary David. “In the last year and a half, we have been blessed with a Solemn Profession, two First Professions, and two new entrants. Except for the most recent entrant, who is now a novice, all were in their twenties when they entered. One was only nineteen.”

Founded in 1882 in Ryde on the Isle of Wight, St Cecilia’s Abbey belongs to the Benedictine Order, part of the family of houses connected to the famous Abbey of Solesmes, France. The nuns live a traditional monastic life of prayer, work and study in accordance with the ancient Rule of St Benedict. At the heart of their life is the praise of God, expressed through the solemn celebration of the sacred liturgy.

The Sisters maintain ‘the truth of the hours,” singing the Church’s Liturgy of the Hours at the same times which have been kept by the monastic orders since ancient times. For example, the “little hours” (Terce, Sect and None), ‘sanctify the day and are a powerful help in “the return to God” that we make throughout the day,’ according to Sister Mary David.

Ceremony, a strong family spirit and pure contemplation are characteristic of the Solesmes Congregation, founded in 1832 by Dom Prosper Guéranger.  For almost two hundred years, Solesmes and its daughter houses have worked to preserve what is called ‘plainchant’ in England and ‘Gregorian chant’ elsewhere.  


For almost two hundred years, Solesmes and its daughter Benedictine houses have worked to preserve the haunting, ineffable strains of ‘plain’ or ‘Gregorian’ chant, the ancient music of the Church.


Why do you still have your liturgy in Latin?

“We always have the Mass readings in English. In the Divine Office we have the Patristic readings in English. But we made a deliberate choice to keep the rest in Latin for several reasons. First, the Gregorian Chant which we use for all of our liturgy was composed for Latin texts. The melodies weren’t written first and then the words fitted to them; the melodies were made for the existing texts (almost all quotations from Scripture). We couldn’t use the same melodies for English words, and they’re so subtle and beautiful that to adapt them would be to spoil them.

These chants evolved from the music of the synagogues which the first Christians adopted, and developed over more than a thousand years. There’s often a theology in the melody itself – for example, as it becomes more elaborate at the important words or phrases. Then, all the great monastic figures in the western Church wrote in Latin and it’s good to keep in touch with them. Often we’re singing chants which they would have known and prayed with just as we do. While Vatican II allowed the use of modern languages and modern music in the liturgy, it also insisted on the value of the Latin language and Gregorian Chant, and subsequent Popes have stressed that Benedictine monasteries have a particular duty and privilege to cherish and draw life from this wonderful spiritual heritage.

If girls don’t know Latin when they enter – and they usually don’t know any – they learn it in the novitiate. It is astonishing how quickly you pick it up with one-to-one teaching and singing it in the liturgy several times a day. The same is true of Gregorian Chant. Most of us are not “musical”, but our choir mistress says she has found that anyone can learn to sing the Chant. People nowadays often use discipline in posture and breathing as aids to prayer, or learn to discern the promptings of the Spirit through their memory or imagination or emotions. Learning Latin and music for the sake of praying through the Chant is just another discipline which centuries of experience have shown to be a way to deeper union with God.

For Dom Guéranger, the Benedictine is someone who ‘tends towards God’ and who invites others by his example to also tend towards God. The monk is a contemplative, and his contemplation, like that of the angels, expresses itself in a life of praise. In praising God, the monk is a sign to all in the Church of their primary duty to pray.

In a letter to the Abbot of Solesmes signed in a shaky hand just ten days before he died, Blessed Pope John Paul said “be strengthened in their commitment and in the service that they give to the world in an invisible way, keeping vigil before God in liturgical prayer. Thanks to them, the world is lifted up towards God . . . Reviving the figure of Dom Guéranger is an invitation for all the faithful to rediscover the roots of the liturgy and to give a new breath to their journey of prayer.”

cecilia4“Learning Latin and music  for the sake of praying through the Chant is just another discipline which
centuries of experience have shown to be a way to deeper union with God.”


Is your life very austere?

Monastic poverty does not mean living in destitution but it does mean cutting out, as far as possible, all that is superfluous. So we eat sensibly and have sufficient clothing and heating but we try to avoid luxuries. Benedictine poverty includes taking care of material things, even if they’re old and worn, and avoiding waste. We do not each plan our own finances but we can exercise responsibility about not wasting water or electricity. We do a certain amount of fasting in Lent and Advent and at certain other times, and newcomers accustom themselves to this gradually. The Abbess has to take into account St. Benedict’s principle that the regime should be such that “the strong may still have something to long after and the weak may not draw back in alarm” (Rule of St. Benedict, chapter 64).



‘Happy is he who prays with the Church. Prayer said in union with the Church is the light of the understanding, the fire of divine love in the heart. Let not the soul that is possessed with a love of prayer be afraid that her thirst cannot be quenched by these rich streams of the liturgy, which now flow calmly as a streamlet, now roll with the loud impetuosity of a torrent, and now swell with the mighty heavings of the sea. The liturgy is suitable for all souls, being milk for children and solid food for the strong, thus resembling the miraculous bread of the desert.

Anyone can try to fast from chatter or from trivia or from shutting doors noisily. Some find it an austerity to respond promptly when the bell goes for prayer or if they are asked to lend a hand unexpectedly: it’s good to remember that these are opportunities for showing love, just as a mother responds promptly to her crying baby, even if she’s not filled with a warm maternal glow at that particular moment.

letter: St Cecilia’s Abbey, Appley Rise, Ryde, Isle of Wight, England PO33 ILH


A Story of Catholic Valour

When Jesuits Were Hunted in England

3. The rack T of L
The infamous ‘rack’ upon which Catholic prisoners were tortured in the Tower of London.

 by Suzanne Duque-Salvo

From the point of view of England’s Crown (Queen Elizabeth I), the Jesuits were a thorn in England’s side; they created obstacles to Protestant uniformity by ministering to the spiritual needs of English Catholics and fueled zeal to defy acquiescence to the Church of England.

To the Protestant, “‘Jesuit’…meant conspiracy…Their founder was Spanish and they were sworn to another allegiance than the Queen’s…The Jesuits were the vanguard of Spanish invasion; their business was to murder the Queen and Council…The news that disguised Jesuits were now at large in the English countryside caused indignation and alarm.”  This took place against a background where  humanism sanctioned a shift in focus from a theocentric to an anthropocentric view of the world, and intellectual skepticism normalized a historical-critical reading of the Bible.

At the same time, the Society of Jesuits was establishing its ministry as educators and soldiers for Catholic orthodoxy. This Jesuit engagement with the world marked the period when the myth of the ‘evil Jesuit’ began. This article looks at the effects of Jesuit involvement in the preservation of Catholicism in England during the first century of the Anglican Church.

It is important to note that the English Catholics from Oxford who went to Douai and Rheims were the same men who returned as Jesuit missionaries in the English Mission. With the exodus to the continent of Catholic Oxford Chairs and Fellows who refused to take the Oath of Submission, Douai in the Spanish Netherlands and Rheims in France caught England’s most valuable cultural resource: the erudite Catholic.

The ‘Oxfordizing’ of the universities in Douai and Rheims

One could certainly say that without the ‘Oxfordizing’ of the universities in Douai and Rheims, there might not have been higher education for England’s Catholic youth and the Jesuits might not have stepped in to administer seminaries to accommodate the rise in priestly vocations among English Catholic men — not to mention a spike in English scholarly priests choosing to be Jesuits.  Without Douay and Rheims, there might not have been a regrouping of English Catholics. These English exiles prayed together and worked to implement various daring strategies to abort the total protestantizing of England’s religious heritage and to counter the zealous and violent erasure of everything Catholic from England.

A.O. Meyer described these priests as “worthy representatives of the spunk of the English national character.”  They had to adapt to a strange way of life; in public, the priest wore a disguise; in hiding spaces he was priest. His life was spent “laid low in the attic room which contained a bed, a table and an altar, and was told to walk along the beams so that the floor would not creak and to be careful about opening windows and showing lights; he was not allowed to go about the house, might only slip out after dark, and must not come back until the servants were at supper or in bed. In an otherwise bustling household he might spend weeks or months alone, seeing only those who came to mass, the maid who brought his dinner, and with luck after meals one of the children, or their mother looking in to apologise for not having been able to pay him a visit sooner.”

Life in a Priest’s Hole: “he lay low in the attic room which contained a bed, a table and an altar, and was told to walk along the beams so that the floor would not creak and to be careful about opening windows and showing lights.”

Jesuits: ‘Men of New Light’

Naturally, men who worked under such conditions were perceived as major threats. An elite corps formed under military standards who vowed obedience to the Pope, these former Oxford Catholics had a vested interest in preventing the total eclipsing of England’s Catholic heritage. Jesuits were an entirely different breed of priests from the type English Catholics were used to: “men of new light equipped in every continental art, armed against every frailty, bringing a new kind of intellect, new knowledge, new holiness.”

Even before the first Jesuit missionaries were sent to England, secular priests from Douai were already being deployed. They were ordered not to engage in disputation but to simply focus on the pastoral care of English Catholics. Their movements were limited to covert activity, under the radar to avoid apprehension and execution.  Regulations for Jesuits were different in that they were expected to be “responsible for adjustments”  and to adapt to time, persons and places. This suggests that the Jesuits were expected to execute pastoral agility. As first hand witnesses to the plight of English Catholics, it would have been so against the grain to expect a Jesuit disciplined by Ignatian spirituality and experienced in Oxfordian confrontational discourse to remain passive and quiet.

Not Just ‘A March to the Gallows’

One Oxford refugee with influential friends in the Continent, Fr. Robert Parsons SJ, felt that the English mission need not just be a march to the gallows by a ‘growing martyr cult.’  Parsons believed it was his sacred duty to be a missionary in a situation that had “taken on the importance and urgency of a holy war.”   According to his memoirs and letters, Parsons planned to accomplish several missions akin to a spy thriller. Besides establishing connections with the Recusants, they solidified and systematized the underground network by securing a network of gentry-owned country houses — including rented ones in London — to serve as safe houses for priests.

In these houses, Jesuit Brother Nicholas Owen built priest holes in case these houses were searched.  And for a sense of community among the missionaries, the Jesuits established semi-annual meetings for all mission operatives, secular priests included, to pray and hold “discussions to prevent concessions to secular life from eroding religious fervor and identity.”  To disseminate rebuttals to Protestant propaganda, a clandestine printing press was set up. Moreover, the Jesuits laid down an ecclesiastical structure to enable fielding priests, including secular ones, to specific locations. There was a network of communications to enable contact with church authorities in Rome. And of course, they instituted a way of transferring funds out of the country.

Queen Elizabeth made Catholicism illegal in England, punishable as ‘high treason’ by torture and death.

The Witness of Edmund Campion

But then there was Edmund Campion. He was serving as a missionary in Poland when he was recalled to be part of the English Mission.  For one thing, it meant certain execution, for simply being priests. The anticipation of martyrdom transformed men so that “they came with gaiety among a people where hope was dead. The past only held regret and the future, apprehension; they brought with them, besides their priestly dignity and the ancient and indestructible creed, an entirely new spirit of which Campion is the type; the chivalry of Lepanto and the poetry of La Mancha, light, tender, generous and ardent.”

Sensing it was only a matter of time that he would be apprehended and executed, Campion decided to take advantage of the print media to say what should not be left unsaid. Campion wrote two final documents; the first was his letter to the Privy Council informing them who he was and that his mission in England was strictly for religious rather than political reasons.  His final piece, Decem Rationes or Ten Reasons why the Roman Catholic Church is the True Church, was written in the recognizably Campion rhetorical style that would have been familiar to upper reaches of English society. Campion had once been referred to by the Queen’s top adviser as the ‘diamond of England.’ What could have been more irksome than the diamond of England defecting to the Catholic side, and becoming a Jesuit priest?

Henry Walpole watched the execution of Edmund Campion and was inadvertently sprinkled with his blood, prompting him to abandon his law practice, leave England and convert at Rheims. He, too, became a Jesuit priest and martyr.

Edmund Campion was hung, drawn and quartered, but the truth of the English Mission did not die with him. Several other English Jesuit martyrs who became saints, including  Alexander Briant, a pupil of Campion’s in Oxford; Henry Walpole, who while watching the execution of Campion was sprinkled with his blood, prompting him to abandon his law practice, leave England and convert at Rheims; and Henry Morse, another convert at Douai, to name only a few.

The Valour That Does Not Die, Nor Tarnish, With the Ages

Such valour does not die, or tarnish with the ages. I shouldn’t have been surprised but I was when a Google research on the keywords ‘English Mission’ retrieved an entry from the America’s Central Intelligence Agency. “Clandestine methods of the Jesuits in Elizabethan England as illustrated in an operative’s own classic account” is based on the Latin text of Fr. Gerard SJ where he described “the 18 years’ undercover duty in England.” The CIA entry opined that while “Gerard’s book is not in any modern sense a tradecraft manual, it is possible to derive from it a confident sense of how he and his Superior made expert use of the standard paraphernalia of covert action– cover, aliases, safe houses, secret printing presses, invisible ink.”

America’s Central Intelligence Agency is interested in “Clandestine methods of the Jesuits in Elizabethan England as illustrated in an operative’s own classic account.”

The community of Catholics in Douay and Rheims were hopeful that the protestantizing of England was only temporary. All England needed was a Catholic monarch and Catholicism would be restored.  But what they hoped never came to be.

The Anglican Church stabilized, a female monarch showed the world what she could do with power, and the will of the secular aristocracy held strong.  By the time of Elizabeth’s death, successor James I was no longer Catholic enough to effect any major changes. But the small group of faithful English Catholics was able to preserve traditional Catholic rituals and a mode of spirituality to enable English Catholics to thrive at the margin of English culture, even down to today.

The Anglican Church stabilized, a female monarch showed the world what she could do with power, and the will of the secular aristocracy held strong.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Suzanne Duque-Salvo is a Filipina-American Roman Catholic with a MA (Harvard Divinity School), a BA in Religion and a BA in Psychology (Wellesley College).  She is Director/Founder of a non-profit organization now establishing a homestead for recovery and healing. In 2012, her book (and eBook) A Battered Woman Went to Harvard was published.  Duque-Salvo has five adult children and four grandchildren. She is a member of the American Academy of Religion.

1  Waugh, Evelyn. Edmund Campion. (San Francisco: Oxford Press, 2005), 128-129.
2  Carrafiello, Michael L. “English Catholicism and the Jesuit Mission of 1580-81.” The Historical Journal, 37:4 (1994), 762.
3  Bossy, John. The English Catholic Community 1570-1850, (New York: Oxford Press, 1976), 255.
4  Waugh, p.130.
5  Coupeau SJ, J. Carlos. “Five Personae of Ignatius of Loyola.”  Worcester, Thomas, Ed. The Cambridge Companion to the Jesuits,   (New York: Cambridge Press, 2008), 45.
6  Carrafiello, p. 762.
7  Ibid, p. 768.
8  McCoog, SJ, Thomas. “The Society of Jesus in Three Kingdoms.” Worcester, Thomas Ed. The Cambridge Companion to the Jesuits, (New York: Cambridge, 2008), 90.
9  Ibid, p.91-92.
10  Waugh, 114.

When God Hated Susan

A Short Story, by Beverly Desoto Stevens

They are that rare bird, English Catholics. Susan’s mother had insisted on the church wedding to her first husband. Her mum wanted to ‘make things respectable.’  As far as Susan was concerned no amount of respectability could make her stay  with her partying, abusive ex-husband. He was in the Queen’s Arms in Coles End, utterly stoned, while she was in court for the divorce.

Jim was nothing like her ex, though. He was a tall, dark and handsome civil engineer, well-paid by the local council.  And at 29, Susan was still a charmer — small, lithe and filled with fun. Her eyes danced with mischief, and the rollicking good humor of her Irish ancestors. After a quick wedding with a hired preacher in a hotel (“We don’t need to be paying the Church any money for one of their divorces,” Jim had said) they settled in an ‘upper middle-class’ suburb of Birmingham.

She couldn’t get pregnant right away after all those years on the Pill, so she’d endured a year of intensive hormone ‘therapy.’ Two births quickly followed, a boy and a girl. She promptly commenced to take the Pill again afterwards, reasoning that there was no sense in endangering their financial well-being. Plus, Jim showed signs of impatience with the strain of caring for two little babies.

She spent the next few years blissfully caring for their family. But by the time the children were in their early teens, Susan knew there was trouble. First there was the porn she found on his computer, then the pay-for-sex telephone numbers on the bill. Confronted, Jim broke down and sobbed. He was a ‘sex addict,’ he said.

Susan knew there was trouble. First there was the porn she found on his computer, then the pay-for-sex telephone numbers on the bill.

Things didn’t get any better when she was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 40. Shortly after her course of radiation was complete, Jim was arrested for the first time. A ‘sting’ operation had swept him up, along with dozens of other hapless men, in a porn-and-prostitution ring. As it was Jim’s first offense, he was let go with a stern warning. But the illness and the arrest had taken its toll on Susan; she slept in a separate room, and prayed that the nightmare would go away.

It was not to be. Over the next ten years, the internet sex business exploded. The third time Jim was arrested, the police came to the house. He was led away before the incredulous eyes of his 19 year old son and 17 year old daughter. This time, the judge was not so lenient. Jim had progressed further in the sex business, going from consumer to procurer, hustling girls younger than his own daughter for paying clients.  He was convicted on seven felony counts of human trafficking, and sentenced to a minimum of twenty years in prison.

The judge gave Susan control over their finances, which helped them survive. Without marketable skills, she was reduced to stocking shelves in the local Boots pharmacy, at L4.92 (US$7.48) an hour. Their house was put up for sale.

Her son’s fury and shame erupted on the football field one day, and he was beaten quite badly in a melee sparked by his attack on an opposition team player. As he lay unconscious, Susan found herself sobbing uncontrollably in the ladies’ room at the local hospital, when the nun walked in.

Her son’s fury and shame erupted on the football field one day, and he was beaten quite badly in a melee sparked by his attack on an opposition team player.

There’s something about a sister in a habit, as any nun will tell you. People tell you their troubles – especially fallen-away Catholics in deep trouble.

Her excruciating story came out all in a rush. Through her tears, Susan wanted to know what she had done to deserve all this pain, she told the nun. Why did God hate her? She had wanted a family. Was that so bad? She had taken some shortcuts, okay. A marriage outside the Church. All that contraception. But what did the Church expect? That she be a baby-making machine? Jim would have never agreed to any of it, starting with the pre-Cana classes.

“That’s probably true,” Sister Mary Clare nodded, looking into Susan’s swollen red eyes. She handed her a Kleenex. “And then what would have happened?”

“If I-I followed what the Church said, I would have n-never married him.” Susan heard herself say it, as if in a dream. For a moment, she contemplated the truth of this. Her life would have been completely different, had she followed the rules.

Susan was an honest woman. This simple fact was crystal clear: she had married a man who scorned the Church, and everything the Faith stood for. And he had then proceeded to build their lives on his lies, and his addiction.

“Addictions are ways in which we sin, and sin repeatedly,” the nun said sympathetically. “They always involve the people we love, dragging them down with us.”

Susan nodded, looking down at the balled-up tissue she was clutching. After the agony of this sex business, she herself felt besmirched. She knew her children felt it too – smeared filthy with Jim’s sins, and deeply angry. 

After the agony of this sex business, she herself felt besmirched. She knew her children felt it too – smeared filthy with Jim’s sins, and deeply angry. 

It was from that day forward that Susan dated their recovery. Small steps back to sanity, beginning with her own trip to the confessional after more than 20 years away from the Sacrament. The priest was compassionate, listening carefully to her halting attempts to explain her life, between floods of tears that often left her unable to speak between wracking sobs. He taught her The Prayer. I renounce my will. I turn it all over to you, Mary my true mother, to lay at the feet of Your Son. Not my will, but His be done.

“For your penance, I want you to say this prayer at least three times a day, and I want you to visualize taking these great burdens off your shoulders, and laying them at the feet of Our Lord,” he told her. In the darkness of the confessional, tears streamed down Susan’s face as she watched his hand raise in the words of absolution. Afterwards, she knelt in the pew for a very long time, repeating the Prayer over and over again.

She felt cleansed, and at peace for the first time in years, strong enough to persevere through the annulment process from her first husband. She then obtained a simple ‘disparity of cult’ document for her marriage to Jim. A year later, Susan had a heart-to-heart talk with her children.

“The Church took very seriously what I – in my ignorant youth – refused to,” she told them. “This is because the Church understands marriage as a sacrament – not simply as an agreement between a man and a woman that can be dissolved at will. If I had understood that, I would have gotten my first marriage annulled after it was over – which would have helped me understand that both of us had gone into that marriage completely incapable of sustaining it. It would have also prevented me from marrying your father.”

The girl hung her head. “That means that I would have never been born,” she whispered sadly. Her brother looked away stonily.

“Yes,” Susan said quietly. Then she smiled and took both young people in her arms. “But God is always generous, and He gave me you – the lights of my life. You both were the greatest gift I have ever received.”

But Susan wasn’t finished. “That a marriage should be open to life turns sex into a completely different thing,” she went on doggedly, despite her children’s evident discomfort.  “The Church understands the body with great reverence, as the ‘temple’ of your soul. Your body is not a ‘thing’ to be used – manipulated in any way for pleasure, or to produce babies. Your body is to be cherished, and nurtured, and rightly understood by your spouse, and you – because we are made in the image of God.”

‘The Church understands the body with great reverence, as the ‘temple’ of your soul. Your body is not a ‘thing’ to be used –manipulated in any way for pleasure, or to produce babies.’

In that year, Susan discovered Natural Family Planning. NFP required both understanding how her body functioned, and a little bit of restraint, and she wondered why she had never heard of it before. Though she had to admit, Jim would have never accepted such restrictions on his sexual ‘rights’ – just as he had accepted no restrictions on the sexual slavery that led to his prison cell.

Susan’s house was sold, and their belongings moved to a small apartment with cheap rent. Susan has found a job as a receptionist, and she and her children are slowly rebuilding their lives. Both children are attending Mass along with their mother.

As for Sister Mary Clare, she is glad that her habit gave her the opportunity to step into Susan’s life that day in the hospital ladies’ room. “We religious are a sign of God’s love in this world,” she says simply. “Our religious habits make that very clear.”

 As for Sister Mary Clare, she is glad that her habit gave her the opportunity to step into Susan’s life that day in the hospital ladies’ room.


Famous Converts

Beyond the Oxford Movement ‘If they (Roman Catholics) want to convert England, let them go barefoot through our industrial cities, let them preach to the people like Francis Xavier, let them allow themselves to be beaten and spat upon, and I will recognise that they can do what we cannot…Let them use the true weapons … Read more

Shades of Evelyn Waugh: An Update on the Latin Mass in England & Wales

‘SINCE the Second Vatican Council in 1962, the Roman Catholic church has striven to adapt to the modern world. But in the West—where many hoped a contemporary message would go down best—believers have left in droves. Sunday mass attendance in England & Wales has fallen by half from the 1.8m recorded in 1960; the average age of parishioners has risen from 37 in 1980 to 52 now. In America attendance has declined by over a third since 1960. Less than 5% of French Catholics attend regularly, and only 15% in Italy. Yet as the mainstream wanes, traditionalists wax.’ –  The Economist, December 14, 2012

Joseph Shaw is the 42 year old Chairman of the Latin Mass Society of England and Wales. An Oxford don, he teaches Philosophy at St Benet’s Hall, the Benedictine house of studies in Oxford University. In this exclusive Regina Magazine interview, Dr. Shaw discusses the Society, its history and the amazing success the Extraordinary Form has met with in recent years.

Q. Tell us about the Latin Mass Society of England and Wales. When was it founded, and by whom?

Three people are principally responsible for the founding of the Society, in 1965: Evelyn Waugh, the foremost Catholic writer of his day (“Brideshead Revisited”), Sir Arnold Lunn, controversialist and skiing pioneer, and Hugh Ross Williamson, media personality and historian.

Evelyn Waugh’s concerns about Vatican II and the liturgical reform are recorded in his diaries and letters, and in a famous Spectator article at the onset of the Council. Much of this material, and responses to his letters from Cardinal Heenan, has been turned into a book, ‘A Most Bitter Trial’ (ed Scott Reid). Waugh didn’t live to see the 1970 Missal, but he was deeply concerned about the 1955 Holy Week Reform, the Dialogue Mass, and Mass in English. He wrote in the Spectator article:

‘Participation’ in the Mass does not mean hearing our own voices. It means God hearing our voices. Only He knows who is ‘participating’ at Mass. I believe, to compare small things with great, that I ‘participate’ in a work of art when I study it and love it silently. No need to shout. …If the Germans want to be noisy, let them. But why should they disturb our devotions?’

That is a key idea: the responses, the English, the jumping up and down, shaking hands and so on ‘disturbs our devotions’: the serious business of engaging prayerfully in the Mass.

Hugh Ross-Williamson was an Anglican clergyman who converted. He had been brought up in a non-conformist (Presbyterian) family, had become a High Anglican, and was finally received inti the Catholic Church when the Anglicans recognised the orders of group of Methodist clergy in India in 1955. He wrote a book about the Roman Canon, ‘The Great Prayer’, as well as plays, history, and journalism; he was on the ‘Brains Trust’ TV programme until his conversion. (His complaint ‘This is 1955, not 1555!’ fell on deaf ears: a Catholic was not acceptable on the programme.)

Williamson was very disturbed by the theology of the New Mass and later wrote a pamphlet arguing that it was invalid. He saw a strong parallel with the liturgical changes made by Cranmer in the course of the English Reformation.

Arnold Lunn was a great apologist, as well the inventor of slalom ski racing; as an agnostic he had a debate with Monsignor Ronald Knox which was turned into a book, ‘Difficulties’, and although many thought he’d done rather well in the debate, two years later he became a Catholic. Even as an agnostic he had been a fierce opponent of scientific materialism, and was very interested in the roots of the decline in religious belief. He researched the way religion was being taught in the great Anglican public schools and published a book, ‘Public School Religion’, about it.

Basically it wasn’t being taught at all because the chaplains in those places no longer had any confidence in their religion – this was in the 1930s. The great contrast, he discovered, was with the Catholic schools, where it was still being taken very seriously. He could see where things were going; like many in the early 20th Century the Catholic Church looked like the last bastion of reason and civilisation, let alone religion. And then the Catholic Church started to incorporate many of the same ideas and reforms which had hollowed out the Anglicans.

The attitude of these three was not unusual: one of the great early successes of the LMS was organising a petition to ask Pope Paul V that the Traditional Mass be preserved. This led to the ‘English Indult’ of 1971. The petitioners were all intellectual and cultural figures, mostly non-Catholic; the included Yehudi Menuhin, Agatha Christi, Grwham Greene and Sir Colin Davis. You can see more about that here and here.

Q. Given that England was the first nation to obtain an indult for the Latin Mass, what progress do you see being made, say, since the Motu Proprio of 2007?

We have records for the number of publicly advertised Masses taking place, as we publish lists every quarter, and have done so for decades. A few months ago we put these figures together for The Economist:

• In 2007, there were regular Masses in the Extraordinary Form being celebrated in 26 locations.
• In 2012, the figure is 157

A typical Holyday of Obligation:

• In 2007 there were 10 Masses in the Extraordinary Form celebrated on All Saints Day.

• In 2012, the figure is 60 and counting.

Q. Extraordinary! Are there many more priests learning the Mass?

Since 2007, we have run eight residential training conferences for priests and 200 places have been taken up at these. Many have attended more than one conference, so that represents around 120 individual priests. Of these, we understand that about 100 have gone on to celebrate the old rite at least occasionally, but usually at least monthly, in public.

In addition, the LMS is aware of some 50 or so priests who celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass in public at least occasionally. These are priests who taught themselves privately, or who are older priests who were taught at seminary when they were younger. There is an unknown number of priests (mainly retired now) who celebrate the Extraordinary Form privately. Recently, we did an exercise identifying priests who say the TLM and I think the total is certainly in the region of 200. Before the Motu Proprio we reckon there were about 50 priests.

Q. This is great news. Does this mean that the Mass is now available regularly on Sundays all over England and Wales?

The availability of EF Sunday Masses in stable venues (ie a Mass every week) is still limited, at 33 in England and Wales, plus a handful of ‘rotating venue’ situations (one in Kent, one in Arundel and Brighton diocese, for example.)

Even this represents a big increase on the number before the Motu Proprio.

Q. So, in your experience, how does the Mass gain a foothold? What typically happens?

First, you have groups of the Faithful asking for the Extraordinary Form. This was the usual case until the Motu Proprio, but it was very hard work. A group like this kept the TLM going at the Brompton Oratory, for example, where it was said in the Little Oratory for years – not the main church – and wasn’t advertised.  A group of laity in the Reading area managed in the end to get the FSSP to come to serve them. A group in Oxford had a succession of priests who were retired to say Mass for them in private houses; eventually this was taken over by the Oratory here. The community in Chesham persuaded a local priest to say the EF and, following his recent death, has been proactive in getting priests in week by week to keep it going.

Second, you get individual priests who fall in love with the Mass in the Extraordinary Form. This has now become quite common. There are quite a few priests who do a weekday or Saturday Mass and the occasional ‘big’ thing they manage to arrange; others have taken it a step further and introduced it into their parishes on a Sunday.

For example Fr Bede Rowe, assigned to a remote parish in Clifton Diocese, started a Sunday evening EF Mass and a congregation for this gradually established itself. Fr John Saward in Oxford (the translator, in fact, of Pope Benedict’s ‘Spirit of the Liturgy’) says the EF in his parish of SS Gregory and Augustine twice a week on weekdays and once a month has a sung TLM on a Sunday: it is really entirely his own initiative, though of course he is also mindful of pastoral needs. Another local example is Fr John Osman, in St Birinus, Dorchester on Thames. Fr Osman waxes quite lyrical about how he fell in love with it, and how important it has been for his spiritual life.

A good example of how this happens is Fr Timothy Finigan of Blackfen in London, who was asked some years ago to say a TLM for a funeral. He said: ‘yes why not?’ and had to learn it from scratch. It made such an impression on him that he gradually learned more and introduced it to his parish on a Sunday.

Another important factor is priests influencing each other. We find little ‘hot spots’ of priests learning the Mass because they all know a particular priest who loves it, and spreads the word.

Q. You have publicly discussed the inclusivity of the TLM; what did you mean?

I’ve certainly noticed that in a big parish with different Masses the congregations tend to separate into different groups according to liturgical preference; this also happens between parishes. This separation can very easily gain a class character – in England, where class is never very far away!

The universal appeal of the TLM is very evident from talking to members of the congregation. You really do have all sorts of people. Some engage with the liturgy primarily in an intellectual way. Others engage primarily in an aesthetic or emotional way. The intellectual and the other aspects of the TLM are not in competition with each other — you can take out of it whatever you need.

There is an excellent book about this by a Dominican (now ex-Dominican) sociologist Anthony Archer, ‘The Two Catholic Churches’, I have discussed it and quoted it here.

Archer says the working classes engaged with the liturgy in a particular way, in relation to what they saw as ‘ritual efficacy’: what was going on at the Altar was real, objective, it made a difference, it made something happen. They focused on that and were absorbed by it.

The things which are supposed to help participation in the New Mass are more appealing to the middle class: they require social confidence, being articulate. There is a class distinction also about what sort of community people are comfortable with — little cliquey groups (middle class) and larger numbers (working class). All the stuff about sharing your experiences at a charismatic prayer meeting or cosy little house Masses is middle class and off-putting to everyone else.

That is Archer’s thesis, and it fits with my own observations.

Q. In many countries, there seems to be no crisis of priestly vocations in circles where the Extraordinary Form of the Mass is supported. Have you noticed this to be the case in England and Wales?

This is certainly true. We have now 10 young men from England and Wales in traditional seminaries, mostly the FSSP; two more are joining them in September. That is totally disproportionate to the size of the EF-going community in England and Wales, compared to vocations coming out of the Novus Ordo congregations.

What is more, a great many seminarians in ordinary seminaries have had contact with the EF and like it, and it has played a part in their spiritual development and vocation. They will be wanting to learn it as soon as they can.

In fact, the only new priest for East Anglia this year said a TLM a day or two after his ordination; he was at the Priest Training Conference the LMS had this year in Leicester. This is increasingly common.

Q.  Many Catholics today no longer see the need for Confession, or Reconciliation, though this does not seem to be the case for those who attend the TLM. Why do you think this is?

Yes certainly EF-goers seem to go to confession more than the average Catholic (who, I suppose, goes pretty infrequently). This is an indication of a wider truth, that the TLM brings with it traditional spirituality, theology, preaching, and so on. The priests encourage it and make it available, the people read the good old books which encourage it, and the Mass itself fosters a sense of sin and a sense of the reality of grace and of sacramental efficacy.

The communities which grow up around the TLM quickly become characterised by traditional attitudes and devotions, a strong pro-life stance, large families, modest clothing, mantillas, all that stuff. This alarms some people, but these are counter-cultural communities giving each other mutual support.

Q. Anecdotally, I have heard many people say that they were converted to Catholicism through the beauty of their experience of the Extraordinary Form. Do you find this to be true?

I can’t say I know many atheists, but a good non-Catholic friend of mine certainly finds the EF more attractive than the OF (he also for a time went to the Orthodox). I know a number of young men who lapsed and came back for the TLM, or could have lapsed were it not for the TLM. A good female friend converted from Judaism in the context of the EF.

The aesthetics and emotionality of many Novus Ordo celebrations can be exquisitely painful, particularly to young men. When they find the TLM, they can fall in love with it instantly – that happened to me, in a Low Mass. That’s not aestheticism, even if we agree we are using the term in a non-pejorative sense: it is glimpsing Christ made present in the liturgy.

‘Beauty’ is perhaps a misleading term here. No doubt some people will go to a Mozart Mass because of the Mozart, but such Masses are actually quite rare. The music and the vestments vary from the ‘decent’ to the ‘not very good’ in a lot of places, and there are a lot of Low Masses going on.

They can be very attractive, nevertheless, because of the contemplative quality, the peace, the reverence, the invitation to pray and be quiet with God. A better term than ‘beauty’ here would be ‘spirituality’: they are attracted by the spirituality of the TLM.

Celebrating the Spirit of the Liturgy

The Spirit of the Liturgy We are pleased to present to you an absolutely brilliant lecture by Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland, Oregon, delivered at the CMAA colloquium, Salt Lake City, Utah, June 19, 2013 You can download it by clicking here Or you can view it below.

The Papacy at a Crossroads

In this candid interview, veteran Vatican observer Tracey Rowland shares her rare insights with Regina Magazine. An eminent theologian in her own right, Dr Rowland is Dean of the John Paul II Institute in Melbourne, Australia and author of Ratzinger’s Faith: The Theology of Pope Benedict XVI (Oxford University Press).

The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI brings to an end an era. What was your reaction to the secular media coverage? In Australia we were hearing reports that some 5,000 journalists were in Rome waiting for the news.  My impression was generally one of amusement – for an organisation that is supposed to be irrelevant, the Church gets an enormous amount of front page publicity.  The papal conclave dominated the news for two weeks.

Can you comment on the presumption that the secular media shows regarding the ‘necessity’ of modernizing the Church? I did four radio interviews in Montreal a few days after the resignation of Pope Benedict.  People were very excited that Cardinal Marc Ouellet from Quebec was being discussed as a front runner.  The Mayor of Montreal  joked on TV that if Cardinal Ouellet was elected, the Vatican would be moved to Montreal. In every one of my interviews I was asked whether a new pope might change the Church’s teaching on contraception, the ordination of women and abortion.  I had to calmly explain that the pope is not an absolute monarch, he is a constitutional monarch.  Constitutional monarchs can’t do whatever they like, they can exercise power only within certain limits.  In the constitutional monarchies of the world these limits are set out in a constitution, or in the case of the United Kingdom, in constitutional conventions.  In the case of the papacy these limits are prescribed by revelation or what we call the ‘deposit of the faith’.  I referred to Pope Benedict’s final homily in which he said that the Church belonged not to him or to the 1.2 billion Catholics around the world, but to Christ.  If Christ didn’t ordain women then the Pope can’t either.  The secular media find this very hard to understand but I think the constitutional monarchy idea helps.  Of course, when 1960s generation nuns get interviewed on television and say that they are in favour of the ordination of women, it causes an enormous amount of confusion.

Pope Francis receives Madagascar's transitional leader Andry Rajoelina at the end of a private audience in his private library at the Vatican on April 26, 2103.       Do you think that Pope Francis has a bigger challenge inside the Church than outside? Every Pope faces challenges from outside the Church.  The devil will cause trouble until the end of time.  But some Popes enjoy more internal unity. Pope Francis has inherited a situation where there is very little unity, so much so that Pope Benedict believed that only a younger, stronger man, could handle the problem.  While both John Paul II and Benedict XVI produced wonderful documents and homilies, their teaching was often blocked at various ‘middle management’ levels and never made it to grass roots or parish level.  There is still an enormous amount of confusion about Vatican II.  In some countries like Australia Catholic children spent 12 years at schools administered by the Church but unless they happen to be fortunate to be taught by someone who actually practices his or her faith and understands it, they are unlikely to be catechised.  They leave 12 years of “Catholic education” quite ignorant of what the faith is about.  This is often explained by the word ‘secularisation’.  Some people think that secularism is some kind of nasty force external to the Church which attacks it from without.  However secularism is a kind of heresy which arose within Christian countries when people within the Church thought that they could sever the ‘fruits of Christianity’ from actual belief in the Trinity and participation in the sacramental life of the Church.  As Cardinal Angelo Scola has written, only Christians can make the anti-Christ possible.  The anti-Christ is always parasitic about Christianity.  When Christianity becomes decadent, then all kinds of diabolical actions and people can flourish.  Pope Francis has inherited a Church weakened by decadence and disunity within and by several centuries of oppression from without.

Some note Francis’ simplicity and dedication to prayer with approval. Others fear that he will not support the Extraordinary Rite. What is your take on this? I don’t know what to predict because, unlike our previous two popes who were world class scholars with mountains of publications people could read their way through, this Pope rarely ever gives interviews and he has not published very much at all.  So one can’t trawl through public statements and scholarly articles to get an insight into the way he approaches theological issues.  There is also an old saying “as lost as a Jesuit in Holy Week”, meaning that Jesuits are not renowned for their deep liturgical sensibilities.  They are not Benedictines. My intuition is that he is not  someone who shares Pope Benedict’s liturgical sensibilities, but he might nonetheless take the view that so long as people attending the Extraordinary Rite are otherwise faithful Catholics, that he doesn’t really care about their ritual preferences.  Quite a few members of the hierarchy adopt Mao Tse-Tung’s maxim of “Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom”.  In other words, while they may have no personal preference for the Extraordinary Rite, they acknowledge the sociological fact that significant numbers of people do prefer this Rite, and their attitude is that so long as people are actually going to Mass, their ritual preferences are a matter of legitimate choice.  The more bureaucratic types however don’t like pluralism, don’t like choice, because choice increases the demands of education and administration.  For example, when there are two Rites, seminarians need to be trained to say both.  I think that people who prefer the Extraordinary Rite need to make it very obvious to their local Ordinaries that they are on board with the Church’s official teachings, that they are otherwise involved in the life of the Church and that they are not insisting on attending the Extraordinary Rite in order to make a political statement about their opposition to the Second Vatican Council.  In short, they need to send a message that it is all about beauty and transcendence, not political resistance.

trowland3OUT-POSITIONED AND OUT-CLASSED:  Secular media coverage of the 2013 conclave was outshone by upstart US network EWTN – founded by Mother Angelica, a ‘nun with nerve’– and anchored by Raymond Arroyo and Colleen Carroll Campbell.

I recently saw a meme on Facebook that said, “Why is it that the Catholic Church doesn’t go crazy when they change heads of the International Society of Atheists?” Why IS it, do you think, that the Church seems a source of endless fascination for the secular media? I think that pop culture is extremely banal and as such it lacks pathos.  Drama doesn’t work well as drama unless the events which take place are of eternal significance.  Catholics believe that the Pope is Christ’s vicar on earth.  They believe that he holds the keys of St. Peter – to forgive sin in Christ’s name, no less.  The secular journalists find it fascinating because whatever it is, it is not boring.  It also satisfies the human need for tradition.  Modernity has been described as a culture of forced forgetting.  The memory of the Church however stretches back not only to the Incarnation, but to Creation, and her imagination reaches forward to the consummation of the world.  The Christian approach to time is liturgical.  As Cardinal Scola says, Christianity is the moment when the now meets the forever. 

We are living through a period in time when our general culture is really awful, really low, and we have to use our imaginations to think of a different way of being, to make friends with people who are not trapped in the culture of death, and to look after one another.  As the world becomes more and more ugly, Christians will start to stand out precisely because of their personal dignity and the beauty of their family life and then the task of re-evangelisation will become much easier. 

I think that initiatives like Regina Magazine are precisely what are needed.

The first time I attended an Extraordinary Rite Mass, I was struck by the drama of the moment of consecration.  I was at the Church of St. Eugene in Paris in the late 1990s.  It was before Summorum Pontificum but the priests were in Communion with the Pope and their local bishop.  It was not a Lefebrvist service.  The choir chanted the Sanctus which went on for some minutes over the voice of the priest who continued silently saying the Eucharistic Prayer.  Towards the end of the Sanctus the music became more and more dramatic, more like a fugue and then the priest held up the host, every single altar server fell completely prostrate on the floor of the sanctuary and the bells of the Church were peeled.  The figure of the priest was in part blurred by a curtain of incense and one could simply see a blotch of colour created by his vestments.  The only way this moment of consecration could have been any more dramatic would have been if an honour guard of officers had presented arms – something which was a tradition at Corpus Christi Masses.  No journalist watching this could have found it boring. In Sacramentum Caritatis Pope Benedict wrote that at the moment of consecration there occurs a kind of nuclear fission when the bread and wine is changed into the body and blood of Christ.  Sometimes there are moments when the Church makes this nuclear fission palpable, and grace triumphs over despair.

In short, my answer is, the world craves an encounter with eternity, the world craves transcendence and this is what the Church has to offer when her officer class has not been overrun by philistines or people with psychological disorders in league with the devil.  Secular journalists are often people who yearn for transcendence and an experience of the infinite as much as anyone and they can see glimpses of it in the Church, notwithstanding all the blemishes.

“Pop culture is extremely banal and as such it lacks pathos.  Drama doesn’t work well unless the events which take place are of eternal significance.  Catholics believe that the Pope is Christ’s vicar on earth.  They believe that he holds the keys of St. Peter – to forgive sin in Christ’s name, no less.  Secular journalists find it fascinating because whatever it is, it is not boring.”

What do you see as the greatest source of hope? The many sources of hope include the numbers of younger women entering religious life, often in new religious Orders that are seeking to re-evangelise the countries of the Christian West.  If one thinks, for example, of the Sisters of Life in New York or the Dominican Sisters of St Cecilia in Nashville or the Sisters of the Immaculata in Sydney, in every case the order is teeming with vocations and the young women are all highly educated, gracious in manner and otherwise highly marriageable.  They are not entering religious life to escape poverty and acquire an education.  They are not people with limited social options.  They are entering religious life because they really do want to be in a spousal relationship with Christ and spend their lives leading others to Christ.  Then there are the young Catholic families where both parents are fully across the teachings of Blessed John Paul II on marriage and family life and are doing their best to turn their families into domestic churches, notwithstanding the fact that most government economic and educational policies are stacked against them.  When I go to Mass and see a young family with several children, and see that the little girls look pretty with ribbons in their hair, and the little boys are made to stand back and allow their sisters into the pew ahead of them, then I think that the culture of death will not be victorious.  We are just living through a period in time when our general culture is really awful, really low, and we have to use our imaginations to think of a different way of being, to make friends with people who are not trapped in the culture of death, and to look after one another.  As the world becomes more and more ugly, Christians will start to stand out precisely because of their personal dignity and the beauty of their family life and then the task of re-evangelisation will become much easier.  I think that initiatives like Regina are precisely what is needed.

trowland4A GREAT SOURCE OF HOPE ARE THE NEW TRADITIONAL RELIGIOUS ORDERS, teeming with vocations — and the young women are all highly educated, gracious in manner and otherwise marriageable.  They are not entering religious life to escape poverty and acquire an education.  They are not people with limited social options. They have a spousal love for Jesus.


Australian Catholic children spend 12 years at schools administered by the Church, but unless they happen to be fortunate to be taught by someone who actually practices his or her faith and understands it, they are unlikely to be catechized.  They leave 12 years of “Catholic education” quite ignorant of what the Faith is about…”  Dr. Tracey Rowland


Featured Pope Benedict picture Osservatore Romano with permission

Photo of Pope Francis by Stefano Spaziani with permission



antifragile1If you have time to read just one book over the next decade, read this one.  Assuming, that is, that you are an artist, artisan, entrepreneur, home-schooling mom – anyone who lives by their wits and has “skin in the game,” as author Nassim Nicholas Taleb is fond of saying. 

On the other hand, if you are a banker, broker, captain of a Fortune 500 company, or a media pundit of the sort who predicted a Romney landslide in the last election – practically anyone who wears a necktie or its current feminine equivalent — stay away.  This book is likely to make you so depressed that you’ll feel your only recourse is to beat a hasty exit from the gene pool (another favorite Taleb expression).

Antifragile represents the next stage in the evolving thought of Nassim Nicholas Taleb, an academic/practitioner in the black art of financial risk management.  Taleb’s previous book,  The Black Swan, written in 2007 just as the financial crisis was beginning to rear its ugly head, focused on the fact that low-probability, high-impact (usually negative) events are frequently underestimated by classic statistical and risk management techniques. This leads to catastrophes much larger than they would have been had these Black Swan events been given more respect (and a wider berth).  Part of what makes Black Swan events so deceptively deadly is that it is nearly impossible to predict their occurrence, or even estimate their likelihood.  While Taleb was not the first to discover these concepts, he certainly played a role in raising general awareness, making the phrase “Black Swan” an idiom in the financial world.

Now, Taleb blazes a completely new trail, saying that if we cannot predict the likelihood of Black Swan events, we can however distinguish entities (whether organizations, financial instruments, or health regimes) that are more or less vulnerable to Black Swan events.  The former are called “fragile”, the later “antifragile”. 

The difference is in how an entity responds to the volatility in its environment – fragile entities are damaged by volatility, ultimately breaking down under its onslaught, while antifragile entities are designed (or have figured out how) to profit from volatility – improving themselves in the process.  “Volatility” here means any factor that leads to changing circumstances – environmental changes, laws and regulations, weather, or even just the ravages of time.

Let’s take a simple example from the book.  John and George are two identical twins living in London.  John is a clerk in the HR department of a large bank with 25 years of seniority.  George makes his living by driving a taxi.  On the surface, John has the better situation – a regular check, health care benefits, a reputable position in his community.  But on closer examination, by insulating himself from small doses of volatility, he has set himself up to be vulnerable to much larger doses (aka Black Swans) such as a corporate layoff he could not predict, and would have no control over.  John’s post-layoff predicament, as we have learned over the past few decades, is precarious indeed.

Now let’s turn to George.  Like any self-owned business, he is subject to small daily doses of volatility.  Some days business is booming, others it just dries up.  The cash flow is irregular, the prospects uncertain from day to day.  Yet by accepting this daily uncertainty, George protects himself from the type of catastrophic Black Swan even that could ruin John.  It is impossible for his income simply to go to zero, unless he just stops driving.  His small doses of volatility provide him with daily information, which causes him to constantly re-assess his environment, his “business model”, and the correspondence between the two – he must constantly ask himself questions like “Am I driving at the right times?  In the right neighborhoods?  Am I doing enough to cultivate a regular clientele?  Do I need to upgrade my skills?”  The small course corrections are adaptations that keep the gap between business model and reality small, effectively forestalling the catastrophic events that result from a gap that has gotten too wide because it has been ignored.

The Black Swan focused on the fact that low-probability, high-impact (usually negative) events are frequently underestimated by classic statistical and risk management techniques.

George has the “optionality”, or freedom to choose his response to changing circumstances.  He can keep working as long as he desires.  He can respond to unusual opportunities that lie well outside the bounds of salaried employment – as when a rich client asked him to drive her 2,000 miles to a wedding in the south of France when air traffic was shut down a few years ago due to volcanic activity in Iceland. By embracing volatility, George makes volatility his friend, and avoids (at least some) catastrophic outcomes.  By insulating himself from small doses of volatility, John practically insures that it will come in big doses.  In short, George is antifragile, while John is fragile.

This is not to say that George occupies the optimal position in terms of winning his daily bread.  When it comes to personal economics, or investing, or just about any human endeavor, Taleb is an ardent advocate of what he calls the “barbell” approach – the bulk of your resources are allocated to a stable, risk-free (or as risk-free as you can manage) alternative, while the rest are allocated to risky alternatives with “asymmetric payoffs”, i.e. potential benefits that far outstrip their riskiness.  Therefore, , George might seek a day job as a bell hop or security guard, and limit his taxi driving to night life areas, where the clients are more lubricated and the tips (hopefully) larger.

Taleb’s book is the work of the kind of big picture thinker who is compelled to push his paradigm to the ends of the earth.  Here’s a synopsis of some of his points:

  • Through evolution, nature has become one of the most antifragile entities around.
  • We need to respect this – the burden of proof for any intervention against nature must fall on the intervention, not on nature.  Where this burden is not borne, we should emulate nature, not the artificial intervention.
  • The omnivorous character of the human diet is a perfect example.   It is antifragile – we can survive on either plant or animal material, though preferably both.  We are built to survive, and even benefit from, volatility in our food sources.
  • What benefits from volatility benefits most when there is variation, or even randomness.  Looking at nature, we should not expect to eat meat at every meal.  In fact, we should not even expect to eat a meal at every meal.  Periodic abstinence from meat and fasting from all food are likely to be beneficial, regardless of the currently reigning theory, because this is how animals live in nature.
  • Therefore, Taleb, who is a practicing member of the Greek Orthodox Church, adheres to their rigorous schedule of fasting, which can go as high as 200 days out of the year. 

The preceding line of reasoning is typical of Taleb in another respect.  Without identifying himself as a believer or a traditionalist, many of his arguments wind up in support of the “heuristics” (rules of thumb) advocated by tradition and religion, from periodic fasting to debt avoidance.  Like nature itself, religion and tradition have had centuries and even millennia to hone in on the human practices that combat fragility.

Read Antifragile, all the way to the end, where you will find Taleb’s test to see if you are still alive – do you have a sense of adventure?  Does the optionality of the unknown still thrill you? If so, you are well on your way to becoming antifragile.  If not, you now know what you need to do to get there.

antifragile2Like nature itself, religion and tradition have had centuries and even millennia to hone in on the human practices that combat fragility. 

 by Albert Regensberger

(Photo Credit: Stuart Chessman, St. Gregory’s Society)

What Our Readers Say About REGINA


Rev. Anthony Patalano, Rector, Holy Family Cathedral, Anchorage, Alaska

What you are doing is WONDERFUL! I will offer several Masses for you and the success of REGINA.


Dr. Tracey Rowland, John Paul II Institute, Melbourne, Australia

This is fantastic!  I have been raving on about truth, beauty and goodness for a decade, and now finally someone has done what I have been arguing for in theory.  This is exactly what is needed.


Molly O’Donnell in Portland, Oregon

You are to be commended.  It is truly a work of art – interesting, informative, funny, human, thought provoking, real and the list goes on….  Congratulations!  I love the dedication to our beloved pontiff and agree wholeheartedly with your sentiments.  I also like that you addressed the issue of pornography which is so huge but generally swept under the table.

Grace Sakelson in Hawaii, USA

I LOVE IT!! It is a wonderful magazine, so insightful and inspirational! Very beautifully done!

Dr. Stefan Schilling in Trier, Germany

You have done a beautiful job. Much success for REGINA in the future!

Rachel Cellaigh in Cheltenham, England

I loved my first issue. I am so impressed with the magazine and as a fellow Catholic in this culture we need to inform and keep our faith strong. I truly want the magazine to be a success.

Suzanne Salvo, USA

My jaw-dropped!! REGINA is my Vogue or Cosmo or even Oprah’s mag!

**standing ovation here**

W. Shawn Conway in Indiana, USA

I love it. Short, easy to read, yet substantive stories. And beauty attracts. I have forwarded REGINAMarvelous – His blessings on your endeavor.

Christoph Pitsch in Tokyo, Japan

I will introduce some of my friends to REGINA. Also my mother. I hope your plans can be realized and the readership of REGINA will grow.

Lisa Edson in Portland, Oregon

Thank you! I wanted to share with you how much I have enjoyed your publication. I look forward to finishing this wonderful edition and look forward to the one coming.

Ron Juwonoputro in Norwalk, Connecticut

Awesome first edition congratulations!!

David Reid in Vancouver, Canada

Thank you for sending me this magazine. Can I reprint some of the articles for the Vancouver Traditional Mass Society Newsletter?

Stephen Little in Indiana, USA

Thank you so much for …the magazineit’s so cool! I have shared this with my Little Women. And the emphasis on princesses and beauty – my girls are TOTALLY enamored of becoming true princesses right now!

Karl Keating in California, USA

REGINA is a fine-looking publication. Congratulations! Your inaugural issue has quite an array of women on the cover. I am especially pleased to see Empress Zita and Madame Curie. (I visited the latter’s tomb in Paris a year or so ago and noted that it was the only tomb in the whole of the Pantheon that was strewn with flowers and notes from admirers.)

Michele Inman, USA

I’m so excited for you – I just KNOW it will be a HUGE success! This is perfect timing, and needed very badly.