Saturday, 13 May 2017

Hail Holy Queen, Blessed Virgin of Fatima - UPDATED

Hail Holy Queen, Blessed Virgin of Fatima, Lady of Immaculate Heart, our refuge and our way to God!  
As a pilgrim of the Light that comes to us from your hands, I give thanks to God the Father, who in every time and place is at work in human history; As a pilgrim of the Peace that, in this place, you proclaim, I give praise to Christ, our peace, and I implore for the world concord among all peoples; As a pilgrim of the Hope that the Spirit awakens, I come as a prophet and messenger to wash the feet of all, at the same table that unites us.....
In union with my brothers and sisters, in faith, in hope and in love, I entrust myself to you. In union with my brothers and sisters, through you, I consecrate myself to God, O Virgin of the Rosary of Fatima.  
And at last, enveloped in the Light that comes from your hands, I will give glory to the Lord for ever and ever. Amen.
Pope Francis' prayer to the Virgin of Fatima: Prayer of His Holiness Pope Francis, Chapel of the Apparitions, Fatima, Friday 12 May 2017.

h/t Abbey Roads, here.

UPDATE: The following exchange reported from the in-flight press conference during the return flight from Fatima to Rome explains the origin of the reference to the "bishop dressed in white" in Pope Francis' prayer, and rather puts paid to those commentators who are criticising Pope Francis for it. First the journalist's question, and then Pope Francis' answer:
Allora, Santità, a Fatima Lei si è presentato come “il Vescovo vestito di bianco”. Fino ad adesso, questa espressione si applicava piuttosto alla visione della terza parte del segreto, a san Giovanni Paolo II e ai martiri del XX secolo. Cosa significa adesso la sua identificazione con questa espressione? [Well, Your Holiness, at Fatima you were presented as "the Bishop dressed in white". Up to now, this expression has been applied rather to the vision of the third part of the secret, to St John Paul II and the martyrs of the 20th Century.  What is the meaning now of your identification with this expression?]
Papa Francesco:
Sì, nella preghiera. Quella non l’ho fatta io, l’ha fatta il Santuario. Ma anch’io mi sono chiesto, perché hanno detto questo? E c’è un collegamento, sul bianco: il Vescovo vestito di bianco, la Madonna vestita di bianco, l’albore bianco dell’innocenza dei bambini dopo il battesimo… C’è un collegamento, in quella preghiera, sul colore bianco. Credo – perché non l’ho fatta io – credo che letterariamente hanno cercato di esprimere con il bianco quel desiderio di innocenza, di pace: innocenza, non fare male all’altro, non fare Guerra… [Yes, in the prayer. That was not prepared by me, it was prepared by the Sanctuary. But I also asked myself why they had said this? And it is a link, (on the theme of) white: the Bishop dressed in white, the Madonna dressed in white, the white clothing of innocence of children after baptism ... it is a linking in this prayer, on the colour white. I believe - because I did not prepare it - I believe that, in a literary way, they tried to express with white the desire for innocence, for peace: innocence, not doing evil to the other, not making war ...]

Friday, 12 May 2017

The Catholic Education Service: an essay in error

As usual, Caroline has offered a reasoned and extensive commentary: The Catholic Education Service: an essay in error. I have added italics to her concluding paragraph, as I do think the CES/St Mary's document has completely misunderstood the need that Catholic school leaders have, and may have expressed. The guidance they needed was not with respect to managing homophobic bullying - one might hope that school leaders are already up to speed as far as responding to bullying of all types in their schools is concerned. What was needed was guidance as to how they can present and live Catholic teaching on the disordered nature of LGBT sexual activity without falling foul of equalities legislation, and this both in terms of curriculum and pastoral systems, and in terms of how they might manage situations should LGBT activism have a presence in their school. I feel sure that this is entirely possible, and reflects that second aspect of Catholic teaching on this question, namely that people who identify as LGBT should not be subject in any way to unjust discrimination. But it does require an acute intelligence and considerable care.

This need does not seem to me merely incidental to the mission of a Catholic school, particularly at secondary level. That mission is characterised by the Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education as promoting two connected syntheses, those between "faith and culture" and between "faith and life" on the part of the members of the school community.
Homophobic bullying in our schools should be identified a source of shame, but so too are all other forms of bullying which undermine the dignity of the person. What Catholic schools really need is guidance and support in terms of how to remain faithful to Church teaching at a time when it is in opposition to the current zeitgeist. Sadly, this document is not that and has proved to be a wasted opportunity as well as a potential source of scandal and confusion. Very serious questions remain about the content, authorship and funding for distribution of this document and whether or not the CES may actually have overstepped it’s remit, which is after all, to serve the cause of Catholic education and educators rather than override and undermine the basic truths of Christ.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Pope Francis Apostolic Journey to Egypt

I was not able to follow Pope Francis' visit to Egypt as it happened, but have this morning read through the texts of some of his addresses. They can be linked from the website of the Holy See: Apostolic Journey of His Holiness Pope Francis to Egypt.

There are some quite robust passages in Pope Francis' addresses. This is from his meeting with government authorities and the diplomatic corps:
In the fragile and complex situation of today’s world, which I have described as “a world war being fought piecemeal”, it needs to be clearly stated that no civilized society can be built without repudiating every ideology of evil, violence and extremism that presumes to suppress others and to annihilate diversity by manipulating and profaning the Sacred Name of God. Mr President, you have spoken of this often and on various occasions, with a clarity that merits attention and appreciation.
All of us have the duty to teach coming generations that God, the Creator of heaven and earth, does not need to be protected by men; indeed, it is he who protects them. He never desires the death of his children, but rather their life and happiness. He can neither demand nor justify violence; indeed, he detests and rejects violence (“God… hates the lover of violence”: Ps 11:5). The true God calls to unconditional love, gratuitous pardon, mercy, absolute respect for every life, and fraternity among his children, believers and nonbelievers alike.
It is our duty to proclaim together that history does not forgive those who preach justice, but then practice injustice. History does not forgive those who talk about equality, but then discard those who are different. It is our duty to unmask the peddlers of illusions about the afterlife, those who preach hatred in order to rob the simple of their present life and their right to live with dignity, and who exploit others by taking away their ability to choose freely and to believe responsibly. Mr President, you said to me a few minutes ago that God is the God of freedom, and this is true. It is our duty to dismantle deadly ideas and extremist ideologies, while upholding the incompatibility of true faith and violence, of God and acts of murder.
And I was particularly struck by Pope Francis' account of education and dialogue in his address to an international peace conference ( the suggestion that wisdom places the past in dialogue with the present has an echo of the address that Pope Benedict XVI was unable to deliver at La Sapienza; and the use of the terms "civility" and "uncivility" has a certain elegance):
Education indeed becomes wisdom for life if it is capable of “drawing out” of men and women the very best of themselves, in contact with the One who transcends them and with the world around them, fostering a sense of identity that is open and not self-enclosed. Wisdom seeks the other, overcoming temptations to rigidity and closed-mindedness; it is open and in motion, at once humble and inquisitive; it is able to value the past and set it in dialogue with the present, while employing a suitable hermeneutics. Wisdom prepares a future in which people do not attempt to push their own agenda but rather to include others as an integral part of themselves. Wisdom tirelessly seeks, even now, to identify opportunities for encounter and sharing; from the past, it learns that evil only gives rise to more evil, and violence to more violence, in a spiral that ends by imprisoning everyone. Wisdom, in rejecting the dishonesty and the abuse of power, is centred on human dignity, a dignity which is precious in God’s eyes, and on an ethics worthy of man, one that is unafraid of others and fearlessly employs those means of knowledge bestowed on us by the Creator.
Precisely in the field of dialogue, particularly interreligious dialogue, we are constantly called to walk together, in the conviction that the future also depends on the encounter of religions and cultures. In this regard, the work of the Mixed Committee for Dialogue between the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the Committee of Al-Azhar for Dialogue offers us a concrete and encouraging example. Three basic areas, if properly linked to one another, can assist in this dialogue: the duty to respect one’s own identity and that of others, the courage to accept differences, and sincerity of intentions.
The duty to respect one’s own identity and that of others, because true dialogue cannot be built on ambiguity or a willingness to sacrifice some good for the sake of pleasing others. The courage to accept differences, because those who are different, either culturally or religiously, should not be seen or treated as enemies, but rather welcomed as fellow-travellers, in the genuine conviction that the good of each resides in the good of all. Sincerity of intentions, because dialogue, as an authentic expression of our humanity, is not a strategy for achieving specific goals, but rather a path to truth, one that deserves to be undertaken patiently, in order to transform competition into cooperation.
An education in respectful openness and sincere dialogue with others, recognizing their rights and basic freedoms, particularly religious freedom, represents the best way to build the future together, to be builders of civility. For the only alternative to the civility of encounter is the incivility of conflict; there is no other way. To counter effectively the barbarity of those who foment hatred and violence, we need to accompany young people, helping them on the path to maturity and teaching them to respond to the incendiary logic of evil by patiently working for the growth of goodness. In this way, young people, like well-planted trees, can be firmly rooted in the soil of history, and, growing heavenward in one another’s company, can daily turn the polluted air of hatred into the oxygen of fraternity.  
There is also a passage in this address on the relationship between religion and public life that has a recognisable reference to the speech of Benedict XVI in Westminster Hall:
This is a timely reminder in the face of a dangerous paradox of the present moment. On the one hand, religion tends to be relegated to the private sphere, as if it were not an essential dimension of the human person and society. At the same time, the religious and political spheres are confused and not properly distinguished. Religion risks being absorbed into the administration of temporal affairs and tempted by the allure of worldly powers that in fact exploit it. Our world has seen the globalization of many useful technical instruments, but also a globalization of indifference and negligence, and it moves at a frenetic pace that is difficult to sustain. As a result, there is renewed interest in the great questions about the meaning of life. These are the questions that the religions bring to the fore, reminding us of our origins and ultimate calling. We are not meant to spend all our energies on the uncertain and shifting affairs of this world, but to journey towards the Absolute that is our goal. For all these reasons, especially today, religion is not a problem but a part of the solution: against the temptation to settle into a banal and uninspired life, where everything begins and ends here below, religion reminds us of the need to lift our hearts to the Most High in order to learn how to build the city of man.

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.