27 January 2014

Narcissistic butterflies Episode the First

I don't willingly or often disagree with the erudite and witty Rector of Blackfen, but after mature consideration, an insatiable passion for philological accuracy and sensitive analysis of literary nuance compels me to break the habit of a lifetime, and to do just that. Do you remember Fr Tim's blogpost about smarmy narcissistic butterflies among the clergy? The major scholarly talking-point of the moment is: which aspect of, or episode within, the Life of the Common Butterfly is our beloved Pontiff Pope Francis encouraging us clergy to avoid? Fr Tim's theory tended to see significance in the habit of butterflies to flit capriciously from plant to plant (readers, I think, of PG Wodehouse will recall this topos, together with that about the Discarding of Soiled Gloves, as being frequently in the mind of that acute narrator, Bertie Wooster). Despite Father's deft deployment of his arguments in favour of this theory, my own inclination is to see the significant factor as being the dramatic and colourful display which the butterfly so willingly, so wantonly, puts on. I would adduce, in my support, the condemnation of Narcissism, nearby in the text, which, as readers of Ovid (come to think of it, readers of Wodehouse are almost certain to be readers also of Publius Ovidius Naso) will remind us, involves a lengthy and passionate contemplation of ones own excellences as reflected by a reflecting medium.

So, I suggest, the picture in the mind of the Sovereign Pontiff is of clergy preoccupied with how their appearance will dazzle and impress their viewers; clergy busily gazing at themselves in the Sacristy mirror ("Will this chasuble send them into ecstasies ... no; let's go for the cloth of gold ... no, it will clash with the gray hairs in my beard ... or the Art Deco one by Clive Bell ... no no no go away I know we're going to be late starting Mass but this is important ... perhaps the Comper one with the naked putti clutching at scroll-work ... "); clergy parading forth to swivel and swirl and flaunt and flutter their vestments to best advantage in the multi-coloured light streaming through the jewel-like Harry Clarke glass.

It is an exquisite and a compelling picture. Even I, despite the Puritan austerity of my Staggers training, can sense its power. And the respect due even to the lightest utterances of a Roman Pontiff convinces me that he can't just be talking hogwash. So where has he discovered this heady phenomenon? I will advance two alternative theories: firstly, that he is talking about a neurosis which he found among a smarmy clique of Argentinian Jesuits; secondly, that he has been spending time on his computer looking at Youtube videos of bimboesque and often quite capillary females in diaphanous dresses doing 'liturgical dances'. And he has a deep pastoral concern to dissuade the clergy of the Universal Church from emulating either of those groups. And so he should.

So I will now go down to the Ashmolean to share my speculations with one of my most helpful academic mentors, and to seek His judgement.
To be continued.

9 comments:

Patricius said...

He isn't a Rector, dear father. He is a parish priest.

Joannes said...

My Latin American brethren tell me that in Spanish "mariposa" refers to men of a particular sexual disorientation...

profcarlos said...

I don't know about our next-door neighbours in Argentina, but here in Brazil *everybody* understood it to refer to priests who never celebrate Mass, but "work" as pop singers and plain "celebrities", have plastic surgery, botox faces, pretty (layman) clothes, etc. Absolutely nothing to do with the liturgy, even because those guys don't do liturgy.
Google "Padre Fábio De Mello" and you'll have a pretty good example.

Flambeaux said...

Interesting, @profcarlos.
I don't know anyone in the Anglosphere who took it that way. At best, we're scratching our heads trying to figure out what he means. At worst, we assume he means "us", whomever "us" may be.

Liam Ronan said...

Marvellous piece of writing, Father! You keep me in stitches.
When I was rather young, perhaps 12 years old or so, the nun who had the dubious honour of teaching us mathematics had a habit of giving us a rather choleric ticking off on occasion by concluding with "And those who are guilty known who they are!"
We knew immediately she hadn't the foggiest idea of the identity who her barbs were aimed at. It was a barrage of pure scatter-shot.

wintersturme62 said...

Thank you ProfCarlos for this insight.

For pity sake, let's not get caught up in this Pope's 1970's hang-ups about beautiful vestments.

GOR said...

Unfortunately Father, I think you may have a point as recent instances demonstrate. Perhaps the Italian concept of the bella figura has been taken to extremes by certain clergy. I blame versus populum for much of this.

Back in the day I don’t recall clergy having much concern about the ‘cut’ of the Chasuble or the square inches of lace on the Alb. Care was taken that the Stole was crossed appropriately, the Amice all-covering and the Cincture secure so as not to fall off during the ceremonies (which could be embarrassing - like one’s trousers falling down in public…).

But, outside of the Liturgy, certain ones did show some farfalla-istic tendencies. As in: the cut of the suit, the Homburg, the ‘designer’ cassock and the recent provenance of their mode of transportation. Though I must say this was more evident in Ireland than England, given the hand-to-mouth existence of most English priests back then.

However, the PP of my youth would never have fallen into that category. A DD Emeritus from Maynooth, he was more likely to be seen in Wellies driving his battered Morris Minor…

profcarlos said...

Much of what the Holy Father says is about things that are characteristic of Third-World Catholic countries, which are the world he experienced (even Italy, nowadays, is much of a Third-World country, compared to Germany or Austria, for instance). I really don't think he ever has the Anglosphere in mind. He is not Eurocentric, and much less Anglocentric; quite the opposite, in fact: what he says is usually truer about the Phillipines, Brazil, etc. After all, *we* down here are the majority of the Church, the main part of his flock.
Most of the comments he makes that leave Anglos and Europeans flabbergasted are immediately understood by everybody down here.

J said...

Well, profcarlos, i live down here, in Argentina, and I never understood a single word he said. (except, maybe, when he said nay to the Summorum Pontificum, cause that was pretty clear)

Maybe in Philippines...