Tuesday, August 21, 2007

No apology necessary

In my never-ending quest to avoid becoming a human bonsai - the fate of so many, let's face it - I'm pondering today the notion of apology.

I'm all for 'apologia'. It's a fine literary form. It's the sort of thing that early autobiography slides into, but we can forgive it for all that. When I say early autobiography, I'm thinking of things like CS Lewis's 'Surprised by Joy' or Robert Graves's 'Goodbye to All That' rather than 'Wayne Rooney: My Story' (soon to be retitled: 'Rooney: Fragile Feet'). Newman's 'Apologia pro Vita Sua' must fall in this category, though when I attempted to read it some fifteen years ago that venerable gentleman's dense prose left me feeling stranded. It remains unread even today, although I'm not saying it's unreadable.

Contrition is also good. I'm all for that too. It means taking responsibility. It's also a proof of affection. We're never sorry for breaking the law, as Fulton Sheen observed, but we are sorry - or we should be - when we hurt those we love - or should love: God, family, friends.

But, frankly, I've had it with apologies. We English probably began the rot with our passion for apologizing when somebody - some Noddy! - does something to us. A stranger stands on one's foot, and the English soul to whom the foot belongs squeaks, 'Sorry', as if it's responsible for getting stood on in the first place.

There was all that ecclesial apologizing a few years back - some of it necessary and some of it not! But what about when it referred to things that happened centuries ago? Well, I'm sorry my forefathers in the faith didn't live up to the required standard, i.e. I'm sorry for it, but how can I apologize for it? It's not MY fault! Regret, yes; apology, no! On the same tack I was amazed to learn last week that Denmark has recently apologized for the tenth-century invasion of the British Isles .. Yes, the bastards, that still hurts and it's about time too ... What about them Romans as well? 50BC. We will not forget!

Which brings me nicely to the current kerfuffle - if kerfuffle is the word I want - in the Premier League over referees mistakes. The scene: Sunday, Liverpool v Chelsea at Anfield. Liverpool are one goal to the good. Suddenly, and for no apparent reason, referee Rob Styles awards a penalty to Chelsea and they equalize. Result: 1-1 draw, which translates as 1 point for Chelsea, and 2 lost for Liverpool.

Sad. My heart bleeds. But mistakes happen. Referees aren't robots, any more than players are. Players miss passes. Some miss open goals. It's the game. We, and they, live with it. So, why then is Monday's news saturated with reports of profuse apologies from Styles and the head of the Referees' Association (most of whose mild-mannered English members had nothing to do with it)? Ask Styles to hold his hands up by all means, but make him apologize? Oh go on then. And send the little sod to the headmaster's office for a caning at breaktime. That will learn 'im!

I'm ranting, I know. But it all looks like a taste for seeing a humbled man eat yet more humble pie. He knows he made a blooper; why the public sackcloth and ashes? Stevie Gerard, who called for a Styles' apology on Monday, last week threw himself to the ground when an Aston Villa player smiled at him, thus winning a free-kick that gave Liverpool an equalizer. 1 point for Liverpool; 2 points lost for Aston Villa. Are we to expect Gerard to make a profuse apology now? Should the referee whom he fooled make a tearful expression of sorrow for having had the wool pulled over his eyes? Or must we leave it to a couple of modest Aston Villa supporters to bemoan their invidious cries of 'cheat' when Gerard plunged to the ground in an Oscar-worthy dive?

Or is this apology crusade a sign that we want officials to be above the common human lot? And that when they aren't, they must be made to pay a dearer price than the ordinary Joe Blogger? If so, does it go to show that egalitarianism prises honour away from responsibility without surpressing the hierarchy of responsibilities? Or does it mean we now expect the fallible human being to perform as reliably as a precision tool for the precious purposes of our entertainment?

Maybe in the end it's just a sign of what happens to passions when they are sublimated into the bread and circuses of stadia the world over. Who knows, somewhere hidden under the rubble of Rome there could be a bit of wax tablet - Stella Ferialis - relating the fury of the Populus Romanus at the failure of Robertus Stylus, arbiter maximus, to let the lions off their chain at the appropriate moment, thus giving an aging gladiator a ten-yard start.

I suppose if the lions are no longer with us, then we should be grateful. Or maybe, just maybe - given the mauling of Styles in the last few days - the lions are still with us in spirit.

We don't like the blood any more, but we haven't lost the taste for seeing a weaker man get done in.

We're a sorry lot then. Misere nobis, Domine!

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

The new season

Where did July go to? I only blogged once, though I can assure you I thought about blogging on more than one occasion, rather like one those tired old dogs that begin to rise from their snooze in front of a warm fire only to collapse again in a heap of legs and tail before returning to unconsciousness.

Yes, August is upon us and not a child in the house dressed. But on it roles, as do I, this time into my appointed office in the deathly unhallowed grounds of Reading University. The month ahead is looking promising, with prospect of fair weather - need I say more? - after 15 August (i.e. after the Assumption of Our Lady naturally) and much beavering away in the books, with my eye on the new term's teaching load, thesis corrections, optimistic publication proposals and much, much more, as the glossy magazines say.

The old brain has not been entirely dormant this last month however. I'm now within spitting distance of the end of George Weigel's monumental 1000 page biography of John Paul II. Perhaps like Sir Edmund Hilary or Sherpa Tensing upon the ceiling of the Himalayas, few people have trodden in this place before me. The early chapters are model portraits of the historical, cultural and political scene in Poland pre-1979. The account of Karol Wotyla's life, as a young lad, seminarian and then priest, is also remarkably instructive: intense piety, phenomenal industry, both combined with intellectual equipment of the highest order, and all refined through an adolescence and early adulthood under the jackboot of one vile dictatorship to the west and then another to the east. I found myself warming to the man, having spent many years grumbling about his apparent obsessions with ecumenism.

The later chapters fade a little in their critical depth, veering at times towards the apologetic rather than reflexive. This is not the case every time. Concerning women's ordination, Weigel suggests that JPII's failure to deepen his reasons for rejecting the feminazis' favourite theological chestnut left the field open for further confusion and accusations of chauvinism. Certainly, a rejection of sacramental functionalism and a better clarification of the nature of liturgical semiotics would have been timely and might have helped cut the ground from under the Richard McBrien's of this world. But when he comes to Assisi, Weigel barely begins to get to grips with Joseph Ratzinger's strong objections. We await further development since the latter gentleman is now occupying John Paul II's position.

And so on we go. August is the quiet time in Rome, and I haven't yet breathed a word on this forum about Summorum Pontificum and the Tridentine Mass. But we'll leave that for another time. Corrections beckon, as does lunch and the gentle blue sky which sits rather sheepishly over an otherwise sodden Britannia.