Readers of a nervous disposition should leave the blog now because I am going to write one of my increasingly rare blog posts about things religious.
As readers will be aware from the blog posts here last year, I increasingly saw my search for a new place to live as a continuation of my interrupted vocation to a contemplative life. The search for a ‘hermitage’ last year – in a more remote mountain area of the Costa Blanca – is all recorded on this blog. Eventually, I found El Parral, and what seems like a complete miracle began last summer, with an ideal place for the donkeys to live, and a lovely house with an extraordinary amount of land, such as I had never dreamed possible.
When I discussed with the priest of Finestrat my hope that I might follow the Catholic canon law option for diocesan hermits, and seek the permission of the local Ordinary, the Bishop of Orihuela, to live a simple hermit rule; he first surprised me by saying he had never heard of such an arrangement (it is in Catholic canon law, and not unusual), and secondly astonished me by saying he didn’t quite understand the point. I told him the point was prayer and contemplation. He looked sceptical about that but said he would ask the bishop. He never spoke to me about it again nor asked me anything more.
The Catholic Church in Spain is a little unusual, admittedly. It has had a horrendous half century of association with an authoritarian regime that used it for its own purposes, and is all but dead on its feet in this country, except as a folk religion that keeps up its fiestas, with a populance that is now virtually unchurched and ignorant of anything to do with the faith. (You will find more Catholics who know their faith in the United Kingdom than you will ever find in Spain these days.)
So, fast forward to Lent: here in El Parral, a hermitage of sorts; certainly a solitary and contemplative setting. I just get on with it unsupervised: I say my Office from the Roman Breviary, and I do my school work and my chores around the fields, looking after the donkeys. I go to Mass, with little enthusiasm but as a duty, and I try to develop as a Catholic in whatever way I can without any proper direction. I have no interest in factions in the Church but I watch with alarm as divisions continue to open up, and I wonder what on earth they are playing at in Rome. (The last time I looked at the news, there was Justin Welby, the head of the Anglican communion, giving a joint blessing in St Peter’s, next to a pope who knows Welby’s priestly orders are still regarded as null and void by the Catholic Church. The philosophical contradictions are immense!)
But there was one place that I thought I might find some spark of spiritual nourishment in this Lent. A so-called ecumenical blog founded by an Anglican lady called Jessica Hof a few years ago, and for which I occasionally once wrote. In fact last year I contributed a four-part Lent series on the Letters of Saint Clare to Saint Agnes of Prague. The blog also uses a banner photograph of Saint Julian’s hermit church in Monteluco that I took while researching Syrian hermits in Italy in 2006.
So I looked at that blog on Friday to see what Lent reading might be offered. There was an article by a west country Anglican vicar called Malcolm praising Teilhard de Chardin, a modernist priest of the mid-20th century whose works were mostly quite outside the Catholic tradition and whose Christology was and still is entirely heretical. Foolishly, I contributed a comment to the discussion of the matter, in support of a Catholic reader who had been given a put-down by this Anglican sage, and told that his opinions were not the view of the Catholic Church. I reminded all concerned that the doctrinal condemnation of Teilhard in 1962 was still in full force.
What did I get in return? An ad hominem from the esteemed Anglican vicar: “As for your friend Gareth Thomas, the less said the better.” Excuse me? But wait: I forgot we are not in the everyday world of reality here: this is the Internet of Fools. The place where any idiot – particularly if the idiot is the President of the United States – can write unchecked rubbish and because it is on the Internet it is automatically fact.
I removed my writings from that blog, signed out of it as a contributor, and shook the dust from my metaphorical sandals. (Sorry, John Charmley: we had a good run for our money but now the heretics are running the show.) The Anglican vicar concerned is a mentally fragile individual who has had a variety of hysterical episodes on the internet over the years, and once told us all that his father was to blame for his messed up life because he had prevented his vocation when he was at university. Well, a sad story, but nevertheless no excuse for a “priest” treating other people with disrespect.
If you want to go with the advice of any old heterodox off-the-wall dodgy priest, Matthew Fox is a good one. He was a Dominican priest – just as popular among new age loonies as Teilhard de Chardin. He made his dog his spiritual director. Fortunately the Catholic Church didn’t see that as helpful and de-frocked him.
I’m still left to my own devices, as I continue through Lent this year. Not discouraged, but increasingly aware that I have to find my own way now. Still, in the absence of any Church guidance, the donks are a wonderful source of contemplative support.
If you want to see just how the Internet of Fools gets even madder than what I have recounted above, take a look at the chaos caused by the “reverend” gentleman (Malcolm Uren of Godrevy Team Ministry in the Anglican Diocese of Truro), as he tries to restore the blogs he has deleted, doctoring them in such a way that he ends up looking like the one who started calling everyone a “tosser”.
I have not laughed so much in years.