Sunday, 23 April 2017

Tim Farron: well done for standing up to continued attack!

According to the report on the ITV news website, Tim Farron has again this morning resisted the pressure to express a view in favour of gay sex.

According to that report and its headline, two other well known MPs labelled him as "pretty offensive" for this, and expected that it will anger a lot of people.

Two thoughts:

Firstly, whilst I am not a defender of the giving of gratuitous offence, a reasoned expression of a diverse point of view that offends others who disagree with it is something quite different. That some might be offended by Tim Farron's way of responding to the challenges that he has faced on this issue seems to me to be a case where one can rightly say that there is no human right not to be offended - it is simply that they do not agree with what they think that Mr Farron might believe on the matter (and Tim Farron has been, so far as I can tell, and like Rocco Buttiglione before him, quite careful in not saying in the political forum what he might or might not believe on the matter). As Mr Farron is reported to have said, perhaps we should be talking about what genuinely might affect the election.

Secondly, Mr Gove's reported remarks display a quite considerable indifference to the notion that there might be an ethical question to be discussed with regard to the nature of the sexual expression of the love between persons (and his views of whether or not gay sex is a sin really do not have any relevance to political discussion - he has shown himself to be somewhat superficial in his political acumen compared to Mr Farron). I compare Mr Gove's words to those of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, adding italics to highlight their contrast:
Mr Gove added: "I agree with Liz. It'd have been perfectly possible for him to say 'Of course it's not a sin, it's how people love each other'.
"I'm a churchgoer too. I don't have any problem in saying that I think gay sex is absolutely not a sin."
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered." They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.
It is not simply a question of "how people love each other". It is a question of what are ethically correct ways in which persons express their love for each other. Whilst the religious beliefs of a particular protagonist are not of relevance to the political arena - it is the question of non-discrimination that is of priority there - neither is indifference to the ethical question an appropriate stance.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Christians, politics and the LGBT agenda - UPDATED

Peter Williams, at the Catholic Herald, has a very able commentary on the recent experience of Tim Farron with regard to his perceived views about homosexuality: The outrage at Tim Farron could have serious consequences for Christians in politics.

A number of years ago, Rocco Buttiglione found himself in a not dissimilar situation when he was proposed as an EU commissioner by his own country, Italy. I cited his subsequent account of that episode in a post in 2015:
As you know, I was recently a candidate to be a European Commissioner. And as you also know, I was rejected for the position for expressing my Catholic beliefs on sexuality and marriage at the hearing (before the appointment). One may think: If we cannot express our principles in public we will seem to be ashamed of them. ….
I was not ashamed; but I was not provocative. I was prudent. I don't know if God would give me the courage to offer my head for my faith, like St. Thomas More... But a seat on the EU commission – yes, that I can offer. …  
They introduced the category of sin into the political discourse, and I said "No, in politics we may not speak of sin. We should speak of non-discrimination, and I am solidly opposed to discrimination against homosexuals, or any type of discrimination." I did not say that homosexuality is a sin, as many newspapers reported. I said, "I may think." It is possible that I think this, but I did not tell them whether I think it or not. What I think about this has no impact whatsoever on politics, because in politics the problem is the principle concerning discrimination and I accept that principle.  
That was not enough. They wanted me to say that I see nothing objectionable about homosexuality. This I cannot do because it is not what I think. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church it is written that, from a moral point of view, homosexuality is not a sin but rather an objectively disordered condition. Homosexuality can become a sin if one adds the subjective element, which is to say, full knowledge that this is wrong and also freedom of the will which accepts this wrong position. I was not allowed to say that and for this reason I was deemed not worthy to be a European commissioner.  
Catholics have the right to hold positions in the European Union. Is it conceivable that Catholics can be prohibited from exercising public office because of their Catholicism? Because they take the Church's position? Some say that the Catholic position on sexuality is aberrant, and this view should be grounds for discrimination at the EU, or in regard to holding public office. I do not want this to become accepted practice. They have established that a Catholic who says that perhaps it is possible that homosexuality would be a sin can be discriminated against. I found myself in a position in which I clearly had to decide with respect to whether I would keep my position, between my faith (or if not my faith at least the doctrine of my faith) or to accept being discriminated against. For my faith I was able to sacrifice a seat in the EU, which is not such an important thing. Ultimately, this is what happened.
I think Rocco Buttiglione's idea that the category of sin is not the correct category for political discourse makes a useful addition to Peter Williams' article.  It finds an echo, too, in Pope Benedict XVI's account of the right relationship between politics and religion, as expressed in his address in Westminster Hall in September 2010 (my italics added):
The central question at issue, then, is this: where is the ethical foundation for political choices to be found? The Catholic tradition maintains that the objective norms governing right action are accessible to reason, prescinding from the content of revelation. According to this understanding, the role of religion in political debate is not so much to supply these norms, as if they could not be known by non-believers – still less to propose concrete political solutions, which would lie altogether outside the competence of religion – but rather to help purify and shed light upon the application of reason to the discovery of objective moral principles. This “corrective” role of religion vis-à-vis reason is not always welcomed, though, partly because distorted forms of religion, such as sectarianism and fundamentalism, can be seen to create serious social problems themselves. And in their turn, these distortions of religion arise when insufficient attention is given to the purifying and structuring role of reason within religion. It is a two-way process. Without the corrective supplied by religion, though, reason too can fall prey to distortions, as when it is manipulated by ideology, or applied in a partial way that fails to take full account of the dignity of the human person. Such misuse of reason, after all, was what gave rise to the slave trade in the first place and to many other social evils, not least the totalitarian ideologies of the twentieth century. This is why I would suggest that the world of reason and the world of faith – the world of secular rationality and the world of religious belief – need one another and should not be afraid to enter into a profound and ongoing dialogue, for the good of our civilization
What strikes me about the pressure exerted on both Tim Farron and Rocco Buttiglione is the way in which it demonstrates a deep seated unwillingness to engage in a political discussion at anything other than an ideological level. Any sense of objective moral principles in the field of sexual conduct is drowned out by the intimidating shouts of those promoting a complete societal normalisation of LGBT lifestyles; reasoning as to whether or not this is a morally right approach appears to be absent.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

A Quiet Passion: film reveiw

Zero and I went to see the film A Quiet Passion yesterday. It is well worth seeing, though it seems to be only reaching the more art house cinema venues. Cynthia Nixon and Jennifer Ehle are outstanding in their roles. Trailers here, here; and go here for Cynthia Nixon talking about Emily Dickinson and what it was like to play her in the film.

I found the camera work stunning, with a very real sense of composition in just about every single shot. Much of the film was shot in a studio replica of Emily Dickinson's home, which allowed striking use of windows and doors in scenes that indicated Emily's withdrawal into a highly individual seclusion. In particular, there are two striking scenes where the camera, placed in the centre of the room, pans round through a full 360 degrees to illustrate the life of the Dickinson home. The lighting of indoor scenes also fascinates.

I was also struck by the use of Emily's poetry in the film, this being done in an exceptionally effective way. For poetry that is very mysterious, it brought the texts to life. Emily, for example, is shown cradling her infant niece and reciting the poem "I'm nobody. Who are you?". Those who know Emily Dickinson's poetry better than I do (not difficult) will find this aspect of the film of interest, in part at least because of what it shows of the director's interpretation of the poems.

The nature of a film like this is that it will, in places, represent the character of its subject rather than being completely true to her life. Since I know little of the life of Emily Dickinson, I am not able to comment on how far this occurs in the film. A browse of he Emily Dickinson Museum website before or after seeing the film can shed some light on this - Emily, for example, did not allow the doctor into her room to examine her, so the diagnosis of Bright's Disease that appears on her death certificate and is portrayed in the film may not be considered accurate by everyone. And she apparently never met in person  the lady with whom her married brother was having an affair (and who, after Emily's death, co-edited the first published edition of her poetry).

Though Emily Dickinson does not appear to have held a conventional religious belief (she is shown exercising a certain rebellion against a style of Calvinist predestination in the opening scene of the film and later declines to go to Church on Sunday to the disappointment of her father), she is nevertheless fascinated by the relationship between this present life and eternity. The film also shows Emily and her sister Lavinia referring to the state of their souls. The question of the religious destiny of the person is therefore a theme that threads through the film though, reflecting Emily Dickinson herself, it does not receive an affirmative answer. Again, those who know Emily Dickinson better than I do are likely to find this aspect of the film of great interest.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Pope Francis' Easter addresses

During the celebration of Holy Week, the news has been full of tragic events, of unjust violence and of acts of war: the attacks on Coptic Christians in Egypt, attacks in Syria directed against military targets but too often against civilians, tensions in the Korean peninsula, a huge bombing in Afghanistan.

Against this background, Pope Francis' litany prayed at the end of the Stations of the Cross at the Colosseum on Good Friday, with an echo of the Reproaches of the Liturgy, struck me as being very appropriate:
O Christ! Our only Saviour, we return to you this year with eyes lowered in shame and hearts filled with hope:
Shame for all the images of devastation, destruction and wreckage that have become a normal part of our lives;
Shame for the innocent blood shed daily by women, children, migrants and people persecuted because of the colour of their skin or their ethnic and social diversity or because of their faith in You;
Shame for the too many times that, like Judas and Peter, we have sold you and betrayed you and left you alone to die for our sins, fleeing like cowards from our responsibilities;
Shame for our silence before injustices; for our hands that have been lazy in giving and greedy in grabbing and conquering; for the shrill voices we use to defend our own interests and the timid ones we use to speak out for other's; for our feet that are quick to follow the path of evil and paralyzed when it comes to following the path of good;
Shame for all the times that we Bishops, priests, consecrated men and women have caused scandal and pain to your body, the Church; for having forgotten our first love, our initial enthusiasm and total availability, leaving our hearts and our consecration to rust.
So much shame Lord, but our hearts also feel nostalgia for the confident hope that you will not treat us according to our merits but solely according to the abundance of Your mercy; that our betrayals do not diminish the immensity of your love; your maternal and paternal heart does not forget us because of the hardness of our own;
The certain hope that our names are etched in your heart and that we are reflected in the pupils of your eyes; the hope that your Cross may transform our hardened hearts into hearts of flesh that are able to dream, to forgive and to love; that it may transform this dark night of your cross into the brilliant dawn of your Resurrection;
The hope that your faithfulness is not based on our own;
The hope that the many men and women who are faithful to your Cross may continue to live in fidelity like yeast that gives flavour and like light that reveals new horizons in the body of our wounded humanity;
The hope that your Church will try to be the voice that cries in the wilderness for humanity, preparing the way for your triumphant return, when you will come to judge the living and the dead;
The hope that good will be victorious despite its apparent defeat!
O Lord Jesus! Son of God, innocent victim of our ransom, before your royal banner, before the mystery of your death and glory, before your scaffold, we kneel in shame and with hope and we ask that you bathe us in the blood and water that flowed from your lacerated heart; to forgive our sins and our guilt;
We ask you to remember our brethren destroyed by violence, indifference and war;
We ask you to break the chains that keep us imprisoned in our selfishness, our wilful blindness and in the vanity of our worldly calculations.
O Christ! We ask you to teach us never to be ashamed of your Cross, not to exploit it but to honour and worship it, because with it You have shown us the horror of our sins, the greatness of your love, the injustice of our decisions and the power of your mercy. Amen.
The same sadness - and yet hope - ran through Pope Francis' Urbi et Orbi address, with its reference to situations of suffering throughout the world:
Dear brothers and sisters, this year Christians of every confession celebrate Easter together. With one voice, in every part of the world, we proclaim the great message: “The Lord is truly risen, as he said!” May Jesus, who vanquished the darkness of sin and death, grant peace to our days.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

On the need for shame

I suspect that, when seen as a written word, Pope Francis' recent remarks about the need for a certain shame in the person who approaches the Sacrament of Confession come across differently than if they had been heard in their originality as a spoken word.

The Holy Father does, as is his wont, use a very vivid turn of phrase; and he also expresses himself in the negative rather than the positive.

But his essential message for those who frequent the Sacrament is: approach the Sacrament with a genuine shame, a genuine sense that you have done something wrong. The first prompt of conscience that draws you to the Sacrament is a good - but try to go further, deeper in responding to that first prompt.
... You have only gone to confession to carry out a banking transaction or an office task. You have not gone to confession ashamed of what you have done. You have seen stains on your conscience and have mistakenly believed that the confessional box is like the dry cleaners that removes those sins. You’re unable to feel shame for your sins.”
The shame being referred to here is of a very particular character. It is a response, by the person themselves, to a recognised wrong that they have done. It is not what might be expressed by the word "stigma" - that is, a shame imposed from outside by others or by society, a shame that has the effect of limiting the freedom of the individual rather than expressing it.

A reflection on what constitutes a healthy sense of shame is important in times when much of our society, lacking an objective sense of right and wrong, would do away with the notion of shame altogether.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Fatima: the apparition of St Joseph

After Our Lady had disappeared into the immense distance of the firmament, we beheld St Joseph with the Child Jesus and Our Lady robed in white with a blue mantle, beside the sun. St Joseph and the Child Jesus appeared to bless the world, for they traced the Sign of the Cross with their hands. When, a little later, this apparition disappeared, I saw Our Lord and Our Lady; it seemed to me that it was Our Lady of Dolours. Our Lord appeared to bless the world in the same manner as St Joseph had done. This apparition also vanished, and I saw Our Lady once more, this time resembling Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
This is the last paragraph of Sr Lucia's account of the final apparition at Fatima on 13th October 1917. The apparition of St Joseph with the Child Jesus in some way appears incidental to the main run of the apparitions. Yet, I cannot help but feel that the presence and action of St Joseph in the apparition has something to tell us that is of permanent value.

Despite having Joseph as my given name, I still find it difficult to place my namesake's mission, at a level more than the simply devotional, in the mystery of salvation and the Church. The Preface for the Mass of the feast day gives some indications (my italics added), but I am not sure that I sense those indications as being complete:
For this just man was given by you as spouse to the Virgin Mother of God and set as wise and faithful servant in charge of your household to watch like a father over your Only Begotten Son, who was conceived by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, our Lord Jesus Christ.
There is a clear reference to an earlier Joseph, who in Egypt had oversight of the economy of that country and who shared its wealth with his brothers when they fled famine in their own country. It is from this that St Joseph is recognised as patron of the Universal Church.

Adrienne von Speyr's partial account of Joseph's mission in her Book of All Saints (a record of her charismatic insights into the prayer of large number of saints) is interesting in this regard:
[Joseph] is of simple heart and perseveres in the openness of a surrender that he will never fully grasp. But he does not need to grasp it, because God did not fashion his mission as one part of a dual mission. His relationship to the Mother of Jesus cannot be compared, for example, to that between Benedict and Scholastica or between Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal; here, by contrast, one mission stands adjacent to the other, and it is Joseph's task to give support to Mary's mission in a very modest way. Just as you could not call them a couple, a married couple, so too you could not call theirs a dual mission. Joseph, the righteous man, is involved in something that at first frightens him; he does not understand it. But then grace brings him a certain understanding, even if it remains incomplete....
... Whenever some aspect of the Son, some aspect of his growing up and his mission, opens up to Joseph, he takes it immediately into prayer, because it belongs together so intimately with his own path that he must keep watch over it, too, in prayer .... He knows none of the disquiet that comes with reckoning. He knows that he has a share in many mysteries, even if it is not his responsibility to explore them. He is without curiosity, a simple and pious man.
Pope Francis devotion to St Joseph is well known. He has introduced St Joseph name into all the Eucharistic Prayers used at Mass and, more recently, has described how he entrusts his troubles in prayer to St Joseph.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Love the Church, love the Pope

I have previously written on this blog of my conviction that the Church has been gifted in recent times, not only with holders of the Papal Office of high ability, but also with precisely those holders of that office that corresponded to the needs of the Church at their time. I refer particularly to Popes Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI (and, in passing, to John Paul I, whose homilies/addresses during his short pontificate are a very striking foretaste of those of the Pope Emeritus during the early months of his pontificate); and, yes, to Pope Francis. John XXIII I know less well, but I have no doubt that my conviction would extend to include him.

Each brought to the Office of the Successor Peter their own particular "style" or gift: Paul VI's docility to the prompting of the Spirit, manifested in the declaration of Mary as Mother of the Church and in Humanae Vitae, both offered when many in the Church would not have wished for them; that of the philosopher in John Paul II, with his particular contribution in terms of the dignity of the person at Vatican II and in his subsequent apostolate; that of the theologian with Benedict XVI; and, finally, that of the pastor with Pope Francis.

In this context, I do find two things increasingly distasteful - and certainly, despite the claims of their authors to be "Catholic", profoundly un-Catholic. The first is a persistent denigration of Pope Francis words and actions by way of misrepresentation. To exemplify this, we can look at LifesiteNews report on the new statutes of the Pontifical Academy for Life:
Another drastic change for the PAV is the removal of the requirement for members to sign a “Declaration of the Servants of Life,” an avowal geared to members who are physicians and medical researchers, which makes explicit the members’ willingness to follow Church teaching on the sacredness of human life and an obligation to not perform “destructive research on the embryo or fetus, elective abortion, or euthanasia.”
The removal of such a statement can hardly be seen as removing something superfluous. The very founding of the PAV aimed to counteract cultural trends of the “culture of death,” as St. Pope John Paul II has called secularized modern culture.
What their report fails to say is that there are provisions in the new statutes that give effect to what would previously have been intended by the signing of the Declaration:
Article 5 n.5 (b) New Academicians commit themselves to promoting and defending the principles regarding the value of life and the dignity of the human person, interpreted in a way consonant with the Church’s Magisterium. ..... 
n.5 (e) Status as an Academician can be revoked pursuant to the Academy’s own Regulations in the event of a public and deliberate action or statement by a Member clearly contrary to the principles stated in paragraph (b) above, or seriously offensive to the dignity and prestige of the Catholic Church or of the Academy itself. ......
The second thing I find distasteful are some of the evaluations of Pope Francis being offered to mark the fourth anniversary of his election to the See of St Peter. Two examples, rather different in style, are here and here (with their publicity offered to a particular coterie of commenters). Both are, frankly, nothing more than gossip, more or less recycled, with an effect that is certainly malicious. I do think a serious examination of conscience on the part of these authors is called for.

As suggested at the start of this post, I stand with Pope Francis, and want to learn from him how I can be a better Christian. This is what appears to me an authentic Catholic attitude.