Recalling with great fondness my four-day visit to the United Kingdom last September, I am glad to have the opportunity to greet you once again, and indeed to greet listeners everywhere as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ. Our thoughts turn back to a moment in history when God's chosen people, the children of Israel, were living in intense expectation. They were waiting for the Messiah that God had promised to send, and they pictured him as a great leader who would rescue them from foreign domination and restore their freedom.
God is always faithful to his promises, but he often surprises us in the way he fulfils them. The child that was born in Bethlehem did indeed bring liberation, but not only for the people of that time and place - he was to be the Saviour of all people throughout the world and throughout history. And it was not a political liberation that he brought, achieved through military means: rather, Christ destroyed death for ever and restored life by means of his shameful death on the Cross. And while he was born in poverty and obscurity, far from the centres of earthly power, he was none other than the Son of God. Out of love for us he took upon himself our human condition, our fragility, our vulnerability, and he opened up for us the path that leads to the fullness of life, to a share in the life of God himself. As we ponder this great mystery in our hearts this Christmas, let us give thanks to God for his goodness to us, and let us joyfully proclaim to those around us the good news that God offers us freedom from whatever weighs us down: he gives us hope, he brings us life.
Dear Friends from Scotland, England, Wales and indeed every part of the English-speaking world, I want you to know that I keep all of you very much in my prayers during this Holy Season. I pray for your families, for your children, for those who are sick, and for those who are going through any form of hardship at this time. I pray especially for the elderly and for those who are approaching the end of their days. I ask Christ, the light of the nations, to dispel whatever darkness there may be in your lives and to grant to every one of you the grace of a peaceful joyful Christmas. May God bless all of you!
The child abuse crisis is, of course, the worst of them. Tens of thousands of children have been casually used and abused by Catholic priests around the world. The scale of this horrific sexual exploitation is only now becoming apparent. There are few checks and balances in the developing world, so there is little knowledge yet of the scale of abuse there.
Last week, the chapter of the Ryan Report that had been suppressed pending a court case was published. It revealed yet again a catalogue of deliberate and carefully orchestrated cover ups by the Church, both locally and in the Vatican. Children who might have been spared the trauma of sexual abuse were sacrificed in order that the Church could spare itself further criticism.
Yet another report about abuse in the diocese of Cloyne has been presented to the Irish Government, and soon there will be another extensive list of victims and another account of the Vatican’s contempt for them.
But it is not only child abuse that the Pope should be made to answer for. The Vatican bank is under investigation (again) for money laundering. It is a bank that is excused the regulation that any other bank is bound to observe. But there are strong suspicions that it is hand in glove with the mafia. [Hmm, I wonder where this bit of hearsay has come from? Has someone been reading too many Dan Brown books? *tut tut tut*]
Last week we revealed that the Vatican is in negotiation with Belarus over the signing of a pact that will give the Catholic Church numerous privileges in that country. A country that is, at present, ruled with an iron fist by “Europe’s last dictator”, the despotic Alexander Lukashenka who has now gained the nickname “Europe’s Mugabe”.
He fixes elections, jails opponents and suppresses dissent with ruthless violence. Just the sort of man the Vatican likes to do business with. Just as it did with Hitler. [This is just uncalled for. There's arguing your point, there's poking fun, and then there's making sweeping generalisations and going too far.] And it is still enjoying the fruits of that concordat, with millions of euros flowing into the Vatican’s coffers from the German taxpayer. Similarly with the concordats it signed with Mussolini in Italy, with the tyrannical Franco in Spain and his counterpart Salazar in Portugal. And with just about every foul dictator that has infested South America.
In September the BBC committed huge resources and much air time to covering the Pope’s visit to Britain. Opinion polls showed the British public to be massively indifferent [So?] to the visit and yet a huge, fawning, over-the-top propaganda exercise was mounted by the Corporation to ensure that the Pope had a clear run. No difficult questions were asked, no awkward commentators were allowed to appear and a completely skewed and, when looked at objectively, ridiculous, exercise in whitewashing was achieved. [I don't think so. Did they read the papers? Did they not hear that the Pope visited abuse victims? Said he was saddened by the child abuse cases? I'm not the BBC's protector, but why point the finger at them?]
Now the Pope follows up this little coup with another as he gains access [Yes, it's not like Radio 4 wanted him on the show....] to the unquestioned, unchallengeable Thought for the Day slot. Who knows what he will say – whether he will renew his attack on secularism (with no opportunity for secularists to answer back) [If the Pope was to 'attack' secularism I'm sure you'll find a way ... oh wait, you have!] or whether his target will be gay people or the equality laws or the rights of women to control their own fertility. [Oh behave yourselves.]
Why is the BBC doing this? [Because they want to?] Could it possibly be the work of the Director General Mark Thompson who personally negotiated the coverage of the Pope’s visit while at the Vatican? [And if so, why does it matter?] Mr Thompson is a high-ranking Catholic. [Again, so?] He would be a very useful feather in the Pope’s hat. [Ah, you don't miss a thing do you NSS?] Let us hope that is not what Mr Thompson is.
[Also they think the BBC has become 'the official propaganda arm of the Vatican?' Did they see Sky News' coverage of the papal visit to the UK? It was better than the BBC's (no offence, I watched both you see)].
- 'I wish I had enough faith to believe you.' I think everyone wishes they had enough faith.
- 'I was scared of something I didn't understand.' Typical: fear of the unknown. And yet, God can be known. It is our lack of understanding that is to be feared, not God.
- 'It's all that lying down in the sand last night. It's inside my clothes.' I'm still laughing.
- Gosh word spreads fast doesn't it?
- 'Do you hate them more than you love me?' What a way of putting things into perspective.
- Wow Gabriel. Just wow. Powerful stuff.
- I admit it, I nearly shed a tear. Nearly.
Lying in bed would be an altogether perfect and supreme experience
if only one had a coloured pencil long enough to draw on the ceiling.This, however, is not generally a part of the domestic
apparatus on the premises. I think myself that the thing
might be managed with several pails of Aspinall and a broom.
Only if one worked in a really sweeping and masterly way,
and laid on the colour in great washes, it might drip down again
on one's face in floods of rich and mingled colour like some
strange fairy rain; and that would have its disadvantages.
I am afraid it would be necessary to stick to black and white
in this form of artistic composition. To that purpose, indeed,
the white ceiling would be of the greatest possible use; in fact,
it is the only use I think of a white ceiling being put to.
But for the beautiful experiment of lying in bed I might never havediscovered it. For years I have been looking for some blank spaces
in a modern house to draw on. Paper is much too small for any really
allegorical design; as Cyrano de Bergerac says, "Il me faut des géants."
But when I tried to find these fine clear spaces in the modern
rooms such as we all live in I was continually disappointed.
I found an endless pattern and complication of small objects
hung like a curtain of fine links between me and my desire.
I examined the walls; I found them to my surprise to be
already covered with wallpaper, and I found the wallpaper
to be already covered with uninteresting images, all bearing
a ridiculous resemblance to each other. I could not understand
why one arbitrary symbol (a symbol apparently entirelydevoid of any religious or philosophical significance)
should thus be sprinkled all over my nice walls like a sort
of small-pox. The Bible must be referring to wallpapers, I think,
when it says, "Use not vain repetitions, as the Gentiles do."
I found the Turkey carpet a mass of unmeaning colours,
rather like the Turkish Empire, or like the sweetmeat called
Turkish Delight. I do not exactly know what Turkish Delightreally is; but I suppose it is Macedonian Massacres.
Everywhere that I went forlornly, with my pencil or my paint brush,
I found that others had unaccountably been before me,
spoiling the walls, the curtains, and the furniture with their
childish and barbaric designs.
. . . . .
Nowhere did I find a really clear space for sketching until this occasion
when I prolonged beyond the proper limit the process of lying on my backin bed. Then the light of that white heaven broke upon my vision,
that breadth of mere white which is indeed almost the definition
of Paradise, since it means purity and also means freedom.
But alas! like all heavens, now that it is seen it is found
to be unattainable; it looks more austere and more distant
than the blue sky outside the window. For my proposal to paint
on it with the bristly end of a broom has been discouraged--
never mind by whom; by a person debarred from all political rights--
and even my minor proposal to put the other end of the broom into
the kitchen fire and turn it to charcoal has not been conceded.
Yet I am certain that it was from persons in my position that all
the original inspiration came for covering the ceilings of palaces
and cathedrals with a riot of fallen angels or victorious gods.I am sure that it was only because Michael Angelo was engaged
in the ancient and honourable occupation of lying in bed that
he ever realized how the roof of the Sistine Chapel might be made
into an awful imitation of a divine drama that could only be acted
in the heavens.
The tone now commonly taken toward the practice of lying in bed
is hypocritical and unhealthy. Of all the marks of modernity
that seem to mean a kind of decadence, there is none more menacing
and dangerous than the exultation of very small and secondarymatters of conduct at the expense of very great and primary ones,
at the expense of eternal ties and tragic human morality.
If there is one thing worse than the modern weakening of major morals,
it is the modern strengthening of minor morals. Thus it is considered
more withering to accuse a man of bad taste than of bad ethics.
Cleanliness is not next to godliness nowadays, for cleanliness
is made essential and godliness is regarded as an offence.
A playwright can attack the institution of marriage so long
as he does not misrepresent the manners of society, and I have met
Ibsenite pessimists who thought it wrong to take beer but right
to take prussic acid. Especially this is so in matters of hygiene;notably such matters as lying in bed. Instead of being regarded,
as it ought to be, as a matter of personal convenience
and adjustment, it has come to be regarded by many as if it
were a part of essential morals to get up early in the morning.
It is upon the whole part of practical wisdom; but there is nothing
good about it or bad about its opposite.
. . . . .
Misers get up early in the morning; and burglars, I am informed,
get up the night before. It is the great peril of our societythat all its mechanisms may grow more fixed while its spirit grows
more fickle. A man's minor actions and arrangements ought to
be free, flexible, creative; the things that should be unchangeable
are his principles, his ideals. But with us the reverse is true;
our views change constantly; but our lunch does not change.
Now, I should like men to have strong and rooted conceptions,
but as for their lunch, let them have it sometimes in the garden,
sometimes in bed, sometimes on the roof, sometimes in the top
of a tree. Let them argue from the same first principles,
but let them do it in a bed, or a boat, or a balloon.This alarming growth of good habits really means a too great emphasis
on those virtues which mere custom can ensure, it means too little
emphasis on those virtues which custom can never quite ensure,
sudden and splendid virtues of inspired pity or of inspired candour.
If ever that abrupt appeal is made to us we may fail.
A man can get use to getting up at five o'clock in the morning.
A man cannot very well get used to being burnt for his opinions;
the first experiment is commonly fatal. Let us pay a little more
attention to these possibilities of the heroic and unexpected.
I dare say that when I get out of this bed I shall do some deed
of an almost terrible virtue.
For those who study the great art of lying in bed there is one emphatic
caution to be added. Even for those who can do their work in bed
(like journalists), still more for those whose work cannot be done
in bed (as, for example, the professional harpooners of whales),
it is obvious that the indulgence must be very occasional.
But that is not the caution I mean. The caution is this:if you do lie in bed, be sure you do it without any reason or
justification at all. I do not speak, of course, of the seriously sick.
But if a healthy man lies in bed, let him do it without a rag of excuse;
then he will get up a healthy man. If he does it for some secondary
hygienic reason, if he has some scientific explanation, he may getup a hypochondriac.
"You will only have to wear a gown at graduation. The hat may look cool but, I promise you, this is a good thing." - Due to my job I wear my gown nearly every week. If you happen to own the red gown you're probably wearing it every day to keep you warm from the Scottish weather. If you're not wearing it every day you're at least wearing it to the pier walk, to church services, to exams ... The list is endless. If you want to wear a gown, you can at Hogwarts.
"Your accommodation will probably have been built some time after the 17th century, vastly reducing the likelihood of university-inflicted hypothermia." - We have halls of residence that were built before the 17th century. They're beautifully old with grand pianos, high ceilings and bay windows. Hypothermia is unlikely though and is more probable in privately-owned accommodation. That said, we have modern halls too: en-suite rooms with double beds and underfloor heating. Ah, the life of a student.
"Tourists will not point at you in the streets, take photos outside your window or shriek excitedly when you pass them by on your bicycle." - Tourists point at us on the street, take our photos and shriek excitedly - not because we ride bicycles though, but because we go to Hogwarts; wear gowns; run into the North Sea at dawn on the first of May; and have a wonderful tradition called Raisin.
"You'll save a fortune on books. Nobody outside of Oxbridge needs them." - False. As a humanities student books are my life. Then again, even if I was not buying and reading books for academic purposes I would be spending all my student loan on them anyway. But perhaps that's just me.
- Great characterisation. You really feel like you can empathise with them,regardless of whether you believe in the story of the Nativity or not.
- A frustrated Joseph; a sceptical one; an angry one; a betrayed one. Completely understandable and well-portrayed.
- No one believes Mary and it's tough. Being blessed by God is not an easy task. How do you maintain your faith in a God who has turned all your loved ones against you?
- It's all about testing one's faith. Joseph's faith in Mary. Mary's faith in God. The Magi's faith in the stars. It's about asking those hard questions people of faith ask every time they are faced with a challenge: If God really loved me, why would He do this to me?
- 'The pursuit of wisdom cannot be measured in miles.'
- I loved the shot where Melchior strokes his beard in a very Magi way.
- The moment Mary is told to close her eyes by Gabriel. Wow. What an emotional moment. If metanoia (Greek for 'transformation of the mind') ever had a television debut, that was it. The Annunciation. I felt the Holy Spirit come to her watching that scene. All those emotions, all those thoughts. One can only imagine what it is like to have God reveal Himself to you in a moment.
- The Magi: typically wise and humourous.
- Herod: 'What kind of a king does that make me?' A puppet one my friend.
- I love the inclusion of Isaiah. Mary: a biblical prophecy come true.
- Great theological questions being asked: How does God interact with the world? Does he just leave His Creation to continue on its own? Or does he stand by as a parent does, only intervening if need be? Such wise words from Melchior.
If only updating this thing was as easy as twitter. By the way, follow me if you feel like hearing some banter about the papal visit. I'll promise to be serious in parts.
'A priest's Sunday service turned into a [M]ass brawl when he attacked one of his congregation. fr Victor Jimeno, of Valencia, slapped a man who spat out a communion wafer [*cough* the Body of Christ], sparking a fight. 'I know we are supposed to turn the other cheek but Fr Victor felt what this man needed most was vengeance, not forgiveness,' said one witness.'
And a Bible passage to suit:
Arise, O Lord! Deliver me, O my God! Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked ~ Psalms 3:7
With only two weeks left in London it's going to be a busy time with all these upcoming events. Seeing Stephen Fry on Monday, Celibacy Debate on Tuesday and then hyperactivity all up till Saturday when I make my debut (wait that's a lie ... although The Big Questions on BBC doesn't count) on the big screen ... in your living room.
And with the tube strike in London, I find this song highly appropriate. Any excuse to listen to the Amateur Transplants
Alternatively, you can wait to see if I come back....