Sunday, 21 September 2014

Shock and Awe

I suspect that Blackfen is not the only parish in the country to have recently, or to be about to, experience a change in parish clergy. Such changes can lead to a certain shock among parishioners as new clergy with inclinations and pastoral orientations different than those of their predecessors establish their wishes in a parish. I suspect that it has ever been thus, and this is not a phenomenon that is particularly new to the Church of our own times. I recall my mother, for example, speaking of a Fr McCormack, who served in their Lancashire mill town parish in the early 1940's, as being a priest who inspired people and got things going (perhaps most remarkably two YCW sections, in which my mother and at least one of her sisters played a significant role). When he moved to other pastoral duties, I think I can reasonably surmise that a certain amount of disappointment was felt by some at least in the parish.

Part of the cause of such shock may be failings in charity on the part of arriving clergy - but remember, the clergy are as human as the rest of us, and we might well find similar failings among ourselves. But in our own times, I think there may be a more structural aspect, too. At the time that my own diocese was learnt of the appointment of a new bishop, I commented on what I might hope for in the new appointment in a post entitled Hopes for a new bishop:
The experience of living in the diocese is that there are some parishes where I am happy to attend Mass and some parishes where I am not happy to attend Mass ... and most parishes that sit somewhere in between, not scaring me away but not exerting a positive attraction either. This is usually down to the parish priest because, for all the talk about lay ministry, it is still the parish priest who drives what happens in a parish. I am atypical in that, not having lived in the diocese when I was young, I do not enjoy a strong affiliation to one parish rather than another. So I look to the new bishop to achieve a greater unity among the priests of the diocese, so that lay folk like myself can live a greater unity of ecclesial experience from one parish to another. A unity in the celebration of the Liturgy and catechetical life seem essential to me in this regard.
A diversity in charisms and gifts among clergy is to be expected; but that does not militate against an underlying unity in the celebration of the Liturgy and in the catechetical life of a diocese. Indeed, the articulation of that diversity might well be linked to the charisms of religious serving in a parish or to the charisms of ecclesial movements with a presence in a parish, all of which can be lived within an underlying unity of diocesan life.
It does also have to be recognised that, at a human level, a new parish priest who wishes to make changes will be able to establish those changes more easily if he moves to implement them as soon as possible after his arrival.
All of which is leading me to suggest that the shock being experienced by some in Blackfen has arisen most fundamentally from a situation of a lack of unity in the Liturgical and catechetical life of dioceses in general, and rather less from questions relating directly to the celebration of the Extraordinary Form. [The celebration of the principle Mass on Sundays and Days of Obligation in the Extraordinary Form could arguably itself have been out of sympathy with Pope Benedict's observation in his letter accompanying Summorum Pontificum that it would remain the Missal of Pope Paul VI, celebrated with a reverence and obedience to rubrics, that would unite parish communities.] As such, it is a shock alike to that which can be experienced in other parishes. It's only unusual dimension is that it has attracted national and international attention.
And now for the awe. Mgr Marcus Stock has been appointed as the new bishop of Leeds. A blog post at the Tablet describes him as being "among the most able clergy of his generation" and "quietly orthodox". I think he is unlikely to do something one of his predecessors, the then Bishop Heenan did. After an early round of clergy moves, the clergy of Leeds in Bishop Heenan's time reportedly greeted each other with the words "where are you?" rather than "how are you?" The attention that Mgr Stock is indicating towards the priests of the diocese matches both Pope Francis' thoughts and, indirectly, my wishes for my own new bishop referred to above. I have wondered what I would feel is an appropriate state of mind of a newly appointed bishop. I would suggest "awe", not just at the human level in reacting to the scale of the task to be undertaken, but at the nature of the office (in the Balthasarian sense) that is about to be assumed. There is a rightful awe in the power of the priest to celebrate Mass and to forgive sins in the person of Christ. But the bishop is a successor of the Apostles, the person whose presence in the particular geographical location represents the corner stone on which all other stones in that geographical location are aligned in order to have "communion" with the universal Church and the Successor of Peter (and, indeed, since the announcement of his appointment, Mgr Stock has expressed his fidelity to the Successor of Peter).
Many years ago now, Mgr Mario Oliveri expressed this in a talk that I heard in Oxford, giving an account of the teaching of Vatican II's decree on the Pastoral office of Bishops in this regard:
The essential characteristics of a Diocese or of a particular Church are ...:
(a) a community of the faithful;
(b) The presence in them of a Bishop as Shepherd to whom the pastoral care is entrusted and who is assisted by a Presbyterate (Sacred Ministries);
(c) the adherence of the faithful to the Bishop;
(d) the unity of the faithful in the Holy Spirit realised by the Bishop through the Gospel and the Eucharist (faith and sacraments).
Mgr Oliveri identified a further characteristic as being essential so that in the local Church the universal Church of Christ might be present and active, a characteristic which impinges particularly on the office of the Bishop:
It is necessary that the individual Church should be in communion with all the other (local) Churches and their respective Pastors and particularly with that Church which has the Successor of Peter as its Pastor and which alone can definitively guarantee the authenticity of Faith and fidelity to Christ.
This office of the Bishop is something that rightly fills with awe.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

In Exaltatione Sanctae Crucis- UPDATED

As the Nazis imposed their terror across Europe, particularly directing it against the Jewish people, Edith Stein wrote of a cross being laid upon the Jewish people. Her request to her superiors to be allowed to offer her life in Carmel as a particular offering on the behalf of a people who she still considered as her own arose as she sensed that it was those who knew of the mystery of the cross who had a responsibility to bear it on the behalf of others.

In our own times, events in Iraq and Syria (and other parts of the world, too, Nigeria and Ukraine coming most readily to mind) demonstrate the existence of an evil that it is difficult to comprehend in the comfort of homes in the developed nations of Europe and the Americas. Indeed, a cross is placed upon many peoples, Christians and non-Christians, in our own times. In a very different way, the outbreak of the Ebola virus in West Africa also represents a cross laid particularly upon the poorer peoples of the region.

That cross is first of all a sign of witness - and the stories of those who, threatened with death if they did not abandon their Christian faith in favour of Islam, inspire in a way that is a very particular grace for  those of us who are able to live our Christian lives in relative comfort. It was striking last Sunday to join a demonstration on Whitehall calling for a UN protected safe haven for the peoples of the Nineveh plains and to see, among the placards of a more political nature, a number of demonstrators holding up crosses. I think there is an interesting reflection to be made upon the meaning of the cross held up on such an occasion. I am also reminded of a passage from Pope John Paul II's encyclical Ut Unum Sint, where he suggests that the fullness of Christian unity is already achieved at that moment when witness to the point of death, martyrdom, is exacted of the Christian believer. There is a profound unity lived out among the different Christian denominations who share a common experience of terror in Syria and Iraq.

The cross is also a sign in favour of the dignity of the human person. It is a sign that says that suffering is not without meaning and that, whilst suffering remains in a true sense an evil that is to be overcome, it can be turned to good. It is also a sign that says that God made man in Jesus Christ, and the Church that is his mystical body on earth, stand with those who are the subjects of the mystery of evil, the mysterium iniquitatis to which I think both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI referred. In this sense, it is a sign that is offered to all peoples, whether or not they are Christians.

In his homily at Mass this morning, Father spoke of the cross as a key that opens three doors, the doors of love, of faith and of hope. In a way that was rich in a spirit of the new movements, Father suggested that the cross is the key that opens to us a door through which we can perceive God's love for us, and come to recognise just how much we are loved by Him. He then suggested that the cross is a door through which we can see what the future promises us in eternity; as we encounter the cross we are brought into touch with eternity. And finally, Father suggested that the cross enables us to see that the difficulties and pain that we meet in life have a reason and a meaning. The cross offers us love, faith and hope.

The celebration of the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross on a Sunday is perhaps particularly fortuitous in 2014, offering an opportunity for all of us to recognise our call to take up the cross and to carry it on the behalf of, and in solidarity with, those upon whom, through the workings of the mysterium iniquitatis, it is laid involuntarily in our own time.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

The Extraordinary Synod on the Family: some thoughts

I recall an observation to the effect that there were two Vatican II's, one being the Council as it took place within the Vatican Basilica and the various meetings associated with the Council itself, and the second being that which took place in the news media. One might perhaps add a third: the one which, again making use of the news media, looks back to the Council through its own slanted perspective. I have found it quite an eye-opener, for example, to read the text of some of the addresses given by Cardinal Augustin Bea, Pope John XXIII's right hand man in developing the Catholic Church's ecumenical engagement at the time of the Council. What they portray as the principles of ecumenical activity on the part of the Catholic Church would now be seen as decidedly "conservative", though ecumenical endeavour was one of the "liberal" motivations to emerge from the Council. The point, though, is that they probably represent rather better than much else a genuine understanding of where the Catholic Church stands on ecumenism.

Likewise the Synod on the Family. There is the "real" Synod and the "media" Synod, the Synod that recognises that, in the world wide preparatory questionnaire there was not one single question asking for views about the truth or otherwise of Catholic teaching, and the Synod that calls for change or "dialogue" about the Church's teaching on the grounds of responses to the questionnaire that show that many Catholics do not follow the teaching. And there is also the focus of media discussion on the question of the admission of divorced and remarried Catholics to Holy Communion.

My first thought is that the question of marriage and family life is indeed a major pastoral priority/concern for the Catholic Church. Many years ago now, I was part of a conversation reflecting on what it was that enabled some families to successfully hand on the practice of the Catholic faith to their children as those children moved into adult life and what it was that meant that other families did not succeed in that. Irregularity in marriage situations was a clear part of the latter experience of some taking part in that conversation, with the marriage situation leading to loss of practice of the faith.

My second thought is that the concerns that will be brought to the Synod in October will differ according to the part of the world that the Bishops come from. The concerns of the developed nations are not going to be the same as the concerns of the African nations, for example. Isabelle de Gaulmyn reflected on this on the site of La Croix, commenting on a visit to Benin in West Africa:
D’une certaine manière, les sujets abordés en Afrique sont plus graves, plus urgents, touchent les problématiques économiques et culturelles de la société. On ne se polarise pas sur les divorcés remariés.
Mais il est question des femmes, de leur dignité, du mariage forcé, des enfants esclaves, de la polygamie, largement admise : que doit dire le pasteur, sur le terrain ? Quelle attitude ? Jusqu’où condamner ? Comment accompagner ? Plus généralement, l’Église est partagée entre une vision plus « moderne » et individualiste du couple et de la famille, revendiquée d’ailleurs par les jeunes générations, et des traditions de solidarité familiale qui peuvent parfois involontairement étouffer les personnes.
[In a certain way, the subjects arising in Africa are more serious, more urgent, touching on the economic and cultural problems of society. People do not divide over the divorced and remarried.
But it is a question of women, of their dignity, of forced marriage, of child slavery, of polygamy, largely accepted. What must the pastor say, on the ground? What attitude should be taken? Only as far as condemning? How should they accompany? More generally, the Church is caught between a more "modern"  and individualistic vision of the couple and of the family, shared moreover by the young generations, and traditions of family solidarity which can sometimes by accident repress persons.]
Certainly, it will not be the case that the only voice to be heard at the Synod is that of the news media calling for change in the Church's teaching.

I suspect that the address that Bishop Egan gave to SPUC's annual conference recently will not have been everything that those of a traditionalist frame of mind would have wished to hear, with its suggestion that outcomes from the Synod might and should represent development in doctrine in Newman's sense. Bishop Egan's address gives a useful account of what Pope Francis has said about the origins of the themes for the extraordinary synod due this October and the ordinary synod that will follow next year, in particular pointing out that there is a much wider context to the synods than just the question of admitting divorced and remarried Catholics to Communion. At the end of his address, Bishop Egan indicates the situation of the person who wishes to be received into the Catholic Church but who, at that point, encounters something irregular in their marital situation that becomes a barrier to their entry into the Church. It seems to me that the question of admitting remarried persons to Communion is not a question that refers to one single narrative; there are a whole range of different situations that might admit of different pastoral resolutions with due reference to the truth of Catholic teaching and the demand of mercy.

My fourth thought arises from the legislation in a number of countries in favour of marriage for same-sex persons. In the UK, the campaign against this development used the idea of "redefining marriage" as its strapline; in France, it was instead the right of the child to a mother and father and resistance to gender ideology. But what I think emerges from the discussions about Holy Communion for the remarried prompted by the theme of the Synod is that for many people in wider society, and therefore for many Catholics who are not immune to the influences of wider society, marriage had already been re-defined almost out of existence. Do we, for example, recognise that the understanding of marriage represented by celebrities who divorce and remarry, with their second and third marriages gaining high profile media coverage, is far distant from what Catholic teaching understands by marriage? And if we do recognise that, what do we really believe we are doing when we ourselves get married, with all the implications of the answer to that question for the nature of the consent that is given and is necessary for he validity of the marriage? There is certainly a pastoral challenge to be faced here, both in terms of the quality if marriage preparation and in terms of the care towards those who are remarried. The terms in which Gaudium et Spes analyses the situation of marriage in its introduction to its treatment of marriage are strikingly prescient (cf n.47):
Yet the excellence of [marriage] is not everywhere reflected with equal brilliance, since polygamy, the plague of divorce, so-called free love and other disfigurements have an obscuring effect. In addition, married love is too often profaned by excessive self-love, the worship of pleasure and illicit practices against human generation. Moreover, serious disturbances are caused in families by modern economic conditions, by influences at once social and psychological, and by the demands of civil society. Finally, in certain parts of the world problems resulting from population growth are generating concern.
One can almost suggest that the situation faced by the Synods in 2014 and 2015 was foreseen by the Council in 1965. We can share Bishop Egan's hope that the Synods will enable the brilliance of marriage to shine forth more beautifully in the world.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Those Photographs

The news media are reporting the leaking on line of "intimate photographs" of a number of celebrities: BBC news report here, and I assume a range of reporting elsewhere in today's electronic and print media.

The Concise Oxford English Dictionary offers for this context the following definition of the word "modest":
(esp of woman) decorous in manner and conduct, scrupulously chaste 
My edition dates back to 1982, so the qualification "esp of woman" might have been removed from more recent editions. Modesty clearly applies just as  much to men as it does to women.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church discusses modesty in the context of the Ninth Commandment and in reference to purity and chastity.
2521 ....Modesty protects the intimate center of the person. It means refusing to unveil what should remain hidden. It is ordered to chastity to whose sensitivity it bears witness. It guides how one looks at others and behaves toward them in conformity with the dignity of persons and their solidarity.
2522 Modesty protects the mystery of persons and their love. It encourages patience and moderation in loving relationships; it requires that the conditions for the definitive giving and commitment of man and woman to one another be fulfilled. Modesty is decency. It inspires one's choice of clothing. It keeps silence or reserve where there is evident risk of unhealthy curiosity. It is discreet.
2523 There is a modesty of the feelings as well as of the body. It protests, for example, against the voyeuristic explorations of the human body in certain advertisements, or against the solicitations of certain media that go too far in the exhibition of intimate things. Modesty inspires a way of life which makes it possible to resist the allurements of fashion and the pressures of prevailing ideologies.
2524 The forms taken by modesty vary from one culture to another. Everywhere, however, modesty exists as an intuition of the spiritual dignity proper to man. It is born with the awakening consciousness of being a subject. Teaching modesty to children and adolescents means awakening in them respect for the human person.
2525 Christian purity requires a purification of the social climate. It requires of the communications media that their presentations show concern for respect and restraint. Purity of heart brings freedom from widespread eroticism and avoids entertainment inclined to voyeurism and illusion. 
The BBC report linked above suggests that in at least one case the leaked photographs are not recent, and suggests that the celebrity involved may recognise in some way a certain regret about them, reportedly having deleted them herself a long time ago.

The media reporting, however, seems to focus exclusively on the "scandal" caused by a security breach that has revealed photographs from private electronic accounts. A privacy lawyer is quoted in The Times' coverage, for example, as saying:
... the leak was a "shocking" violation of privacy given its scale and content.
The security breach and the violation of privacy seem to be more the cause of scandal than the content of the photographs themselves (but see Fr Alex' comment here).

Should not the question of modesty - in reference to both the taking of the original photographs and in reference to their publication - not also be part of the media conversation? Clearly the different photographs will have been taken in a range of different circumstances, and it would therefore be quite wrong to adopt an attitude of condemnation towards those the details of whose actions are not known to us. But at a time when the use of smart phones by young people to share "intimate photographs" of each other ("sexting") is a serious concern, does not this occurrence provide a salutary warning in favour of modesty? The question of what photographs it is - or is not - appropriate to take seems to me an important part of the public debate, and we might begin to expect celebrities to set a good example in this regard.

[Modesty is not just a question for those who hold religious beliefs. Its relation to the dignity of the person means that it is a notion accessible also to those who hold no religious belief.]

Friday, 29 August 2014

Confessors for the Faith

Fr Tim drew attention to this article by Simon Caldwell a day or so ago.

Two weeks ago , Zero and I visited Vienna. On the Sunday morning, we joined the Vienna English Speaking Catholic Community - a kind of "personal parish" meeting the needs of English speaking Catholics in the city - for Mass. As it happened, St Francis of Assisi Church was just 5 minutes walk from the hotel we were staying in. It was quite an impressive Church building, though Mexikoplatz in which it was located was a bit untidy in appearance. The apse end of the Church overlooks the Danube river in quite an imposing kind of view. The square is named as it is because Mexico was, according to a stone in the square, the only country to speak out against Adolf Hitler's annexation of Austria. Five minutes in the other direction from our hotel was the Prater - but that was for later in the day, with the Reisenrad and Praeterturm as highlights.

After Mass we were asked to greet a Syrian family who had recently begun to attend Mass with the community. It is one thing to have followed the stories of the persecution of Christians in Syria and Iraq, but it is quite another to meet a family that have themselves experienced that persecution. Fortunately, Zero kept herself rather more together than I did .... Though this experience was totally unexpected, it was certainly an irreplaceable part of our visit to Vienna.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Signs of a broken politics?

I did not watch the recent televised debate between Mr Salmond and Mr Darling, in respect of the forthcoming referendum on independence for Scotland. "I'm weary listening to two grown men fighting" was a text comment I received part way through - but it was on Sky News as well, so there was apparently no escape! Listening to radio coverage during the following day, I gained the impression that commenters felt obliged to take it all seriously when, deep down, they knew it was such a ridiculous exhibition that it was embarrassing. Two Scots people interviewed on The World at One first used the word "performance" and, subsequently, "pantomime" to describe the debate; evaluation of the debate itself was almost exclusively in terms of who had "performed" best.

The behaviour of Mr Salmond and Mr Darling appears to me to have been appalling - and that is the comment that no-one seems to have wanted to make during yesterday's coverage. That it came from two politicians of national standing, without censure from fellow politicians, is surely a sign of a broken politics.

In the international sphere, we have also recently seen signs of a broken politics on the part of the United Kingdom. Navi Pillay, as she leaves her role as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, criticised the UN Security Council (my italics added):
"Greater responsiveness by this council would have saved hundreds of thousands of lives," she told a meeting of the 15-member body.
She said that national interest had repeatedly taken precedence over human suffering and breaches of world peace.
And yet, in a situation where the Holy See's representative at the United Nations communicates the appeals of local Catholic bishops for international action to stop Islamic State violence against minorities and for an international presence to guarantee the right of Christians to return to their homes in Iraq rather than accepting that they will remain in exile, David Cameron's justification of the very limited British engagement on their behalf is articulated in terms of UK "national interest" accompanied by an insistence that there will be no "boots on the ground".

Current debates with regard to British membership of the European Union and with regard to immigration are couched in similar terms of "national interest".

And yet there is a different possibility in the political sphere, and it is a possibility that has been articulated to Parliamentarians in the United Kingdom. On 22nd June 2004, Chiara Lubich spoke to the title "Liberty, equality ... whatever happened to fraternity?" , describing the work of the Movement for Unity in Politics, a work of the Focolare movement.

But as we know well, if emphasis falls solely on liberty, it can easily become the privilege of the strongest. And as history confirms, emphasis solely on equality can result in mass collectivism. In reality, many peoples still do not benefit from the true meaning of liberty and equality….
How can these be acquired and brought to fruition? How can the history of our countries and of all humankind resume the journey toward its true destiny? We believe that the key lies in universal fraternity, in giving this its proper place among fundamental political categories.
Only if taken together can these three principles give rise to a political model capable of meeting the challenges of today’s world.

It is worth reading the whole, but towards the end of her talk, Chiara described the type of politics the movement attempts to achieve (my italics added):

The politicians I am speaking of choose to seek office as an act of love. It is a response to a genuine vocation, to a personal calling. Those who are believers discern the voice of God calling them through circumstances, while those with no religious affiliation respond to a human call, to a social need, to a city’s problems, to the sufferings of their people which speak to their conscience. In both cases, it is love that motivates them to act. And both find their home in the Movement for Unity in Politics.
The politicians for unity, having come to understand that politics at its root is love, realize that others too—even those who at times can be called their political opponents —may have also chosen politics as a vocation to love. They realize that every political group, every political choice can be a response to a social need and therefore is necessary in building up the common good. They are as interested in the others’ goals, including their political causes, as they are in their own, and thus criticism becomes constructive. They seek to live out the apparent contradiction of loving the other’s party as their own because they realize that the nation’s well-being requires everyone’s cooperation.
This, in outline, is the ideal of the Movement for Unity in Politics. And in my opinion it is a kind of politics worth living. It forms politicians capable of recognizing and serving the vision for their community, their town and nation, indeed for all humanity, because fraternity is God’s vision for the whole human family. This is the kind of genuine, authoritative politics that every country needs. In fact, with power comes strength but only love gives authority.

 We need a language in politics that looks out for the interest of the other, and not just our own interest. Such a language would completely re-cast a number of our contemporary political debates.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Abortion in Ireland; Ouch on the BBC; Richard Dawkin's "apology"

I have not followed closely the reporting of  the recent case in Ireland where a woman requesting an abortion under the newly passed legislation gave birth by a Caesarean Section. Even had I done so, I would not be in a position to fully understand the circumstances involved - media reporting rarely enables that, particularly when the political/ideological stances of the reporting organisations and individuals are also in play.

However, if the reporting indicated below is correct, it would appear that the panel which reviewed the woman's case have taken their responsibilities under the legislation seriously. Again, if reporting is correct, the fact that this has occurred in one of the earliest instances of the application of the new legislation perhaps lays down a marker for how panels will act in future cases. This does represent a contrast to the implementation of abortion legislation in the UK, where, de facto, abortion on request exists despite the legal requirement that two doctors make an essentially clinical judgement of grounds for an abortion before signing the appropriate forms.

Reports from the BBC here and here (though notice the way in which the case appears to be being used in the media in this last report).

Post from efpastoremeritus Woman lawfully was refused an abortion under Ireland’s new laws (though contrast it with the reporting by the Guardian, which assumes a right to abortion on request, something not allowed under UK law let alone the newly passed law in Ireland, and which contains some contradiction in terms of the reasons for the woman involved seeking an abortion: here and here).

Richard Dawkins seems to have overstepped the mark, with his tweet to the effect that it would be immoral not to abort a baby known to have Down's Syndrome. Again, I haven't followed this very closely.

But, by accident, I was led to the a blog on the BBC News website called Ouch.
Ouch explores the disability world in blog posts and a monthly internet radio talk show (earlier shows can be found here). 
It is brought to you by an award-winning team of disabled journalists – Emma Tracey and Damon Rose – with help from guest contributors who all have personal connections to disability.
Ouch goes behind the headlines of disability news, and also lifts the lid on the little details about being disabled that are not widely talked about. You can add your comments on each story - click here for the house rules on taking part.
 A post on the blog which includes a response to Richard Dawkin's remarks is here : Richard Dawkins: 'Immoral' not to abort Down's foetuses. There is an earlier post by the mother of a Down's Syndrome child, which now has an added relevance: 'My son has Down's syndrome and I wouldn't swap a thing about him'.

Richard Dawkin's also seems to have exemplified how not to apologise. According to a short snippet in today's Times:
On his website, [Richard Dawkins] clarified his stance under the headline "Abortion & Down' Syndrome: Apology for Letting Slip the Dogs of Twitterwar", in which the scientist said his "phraseology may have been tactlessly vulnerable to misunderstanding" and that his comments were intended only for a specific audience [ie a sub-set of his twitter followers - see Dawkins website itself].
But in the extended presentation of his original Twitter comment offered in the website post, Dawkins appears to me to simply repeat the position that originally gave offense - the suggestion that it would be immoral to give birth to a child known during pregnancy to have Down's Syndrome.