El Parral: la nueva normalidad

Since mid-Lent I have been writing for the US-based Catholic website wherepeteris.com – including the weekly series Postcards from the Camino which I finished recently, to coincide with the Feast of Saint James on 25th July.

Compostela: the restored polychrome Portál de la Gloria

The experience of writing regular articles for a Catholic blog supporting the mission of Pope Francis has been largely positive, but there are occasional mad moments when even the slightest nuance can launch an irrational battle in the culture wars. To be honest, I am torn between continuing to play a part in trying to contribute sensible writing, or ceasing writing activity altogether, since one gets drawn into the madness of the internet warriors’ games, like it or not!

I’m taking a complete summer break from any regular writing now, and will occasionally keep this blog up to date. Rubí donkey might even have a chance to write her ‘Tuesday Blogue’… (Poor donkeys didn’t get their morning carrots today because I ran out, so I have been shopping, just for carrots! Taking the opportunity to use wi-fi in a bar on the way home, as the Internet has been unavailable now for nearly a week in El Parral. Is God telling me something?)

El Parral as hermitage is a lovely place, but El Parral as a place for Internet activity is a complete disaster: there is no reliable signal in any direction for at least five kilometres. Whenever I need to submit material for the wherepeteris.com website, I need to get in the car and take my computer to a bar with wi-fi in the villages – all of them having different closing days, so I need to consult a timetable on the kitchen noticeboard. (Yes, ‘kitchen noticeboard’: very monastic!)

Saint Francis statue in front of the Lateran in Rome (my copyright 2009)

I am finding it quite hard to steer a path between a Franciscan hermitage rule of life and engagement with a (limited) apostolate of writing, even if it is a contribution to an authentic Catholic website like wherepeteris.com in support of the mission of Pope Francis. The Catholic Church in the anglosphere is so polarised and fragile – largely due to the divisions centred on political debate which have spilled over into Catholicism in the USA and spread to the UK (and to some extent the Church in Italy) – that it is sometimes hard to express any point of view without becoming drawn into sectarian argument. It is so far removed from the problems of the sclerotic Catholic Church in Spain, where the main issue is an ageing Catholic population and diminishing attendance in churches that are largely cultural or social centres for a weekly Mass, without any other commitment by the faithful.

In El Parral, the new normal, la nueva normalidad, is simply an increased isolation: not a bad thing for a hermitage! Covid-19 has been an extra help in closing down outside activities and helping the discipline of remaining behind a closed gate. The Internet writing work has been a good outlet for evangelism beyond the gate, but I have sometimes been very disappointed by the way I have been drawn into culture wars as a result. It is a reminder of the reasons why I sought out a more contemplative life, but I always remember the touchstone of my early spiritual reading, Thomas Merton’s Contemplation in a World of Action. You cannot hide away as a solitary hermit. Your witness, if it means anything, must engage in some way with the world around you. Under proper direction, of course!

Thomas Merton, Trappist monk, (1915-1968)

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