Sunday, 17 June 2018

Pope Francis speaking to the Italian Forum of Families

Pope Francis' prepared speech is being circulated - but on the occasion itself, he set it aside to respond "off the cuff" or rather, "from the heart", to the introductory words that had been addressed to him by a representative of the participants in the meeting. An English text of the Pope's remarks as actually delivered is not yet available, but the Italian is here.

The London Evening Standard website is citing what will no doubt be seen as the most controversial section of this address:

Quando ero ragazzo, la maestra ci insegnava storia e ci diceva cosa facevano gli spartani quando nasceva un bambino con malformazioni: lo portavano sulla montagna e lo buttavano giù, per curare “la purezza della razza”. E noi rimanevamo sbalorditi: “Ma come, come si può fare questo, poveri bambini!”. Era un’atrocità. Oggi facciamo lo stesso. Voi vi siete domandati perché non si vedono tanti nani per la strada? Perché il protocollo di tanti medici – tanti, non tutti – è fare la domanda: “Viene male?”. Lo dico con dolore. Nel secolo scorso tutto il mondo era scandalizzato per quello che facevano i nazisti per curare la purezza della razza. Oggi facciamo lo stesso, ma con guanti bianchi.

[When I was a boy, the teacher who taught us history spoke of what the Spartan's di when a disabled child was born: they carried them up the mountain and threw them down from there, to look after "the purity of the race". And we were amazed: "But how, how could they do this, poor children!" It was an atrocity. Today we do the same. You can ask yourself why we do not see as many disabled people* on the street? Because the protocol of many doctors - many, not all - is to ask the question "Will it go badly?" I say it with sorrow. In the last century the whole world was scandalised by what the Nazis did to keep the purity of the race. Today we do the same, but with white gloves**".]

That last sentence is hard hitting, to say the least.

But this is one paragraph of a much wider, from the heart, reflection by Pope Francis on the life of families in our own times. The whole is worth a read.

Pope Francis shares the questions he asks when he meets married couples at audiences; he very clearly speaks of marriage between a man and a woman (throughout!) and indicates how it is an image of God to the world; he comments on the analogical use of the term "family" and distinguishes that usage from the specific use of the term in relation to human families, made up of a man and woman with children; he suggests that we need a catechumenate for marriage like that we have for baptism; in an anniversary year of Humanae Vitae, he clearly calls on families to welcome the children that are the gift of God; and, as you would expect, he explains his three key words for married life - please, sorry and thank you - with the need for ensuring reconciliation at the end of the day.

It is probably better to view this address as being "from the heart" rather than "off the cuff". The content clearly arises from a long standing pastoral experience, and reflection on that experience, by Pope Francis.

And do read the whole.

*This is not a literal translation of the word "nani", but I think it will better capture the sense of Pope Francis' use of the word in this context.
**A reference to the surgical gloves of the medical profession.

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Corpus Christi by Lake Como

I recall that, early in his pontificate, Pope Francis observed that it is popular devotions that represent the inculturation of the Gospel in a particular place. I was reminded of this last week when Zero and I were able to take part in the celebration of the Solemnity of Corpus Christi in the town of Bellano on Lake Como. We had noticed earlier in the week a notice of the celebration of the feast to take place on the Thursday at the Church of Saints Nazaro and Celso in the town square.

A solemn Mass, at a level that might have been typical of a reasonably capable parish, was celebrated at 8 pm. Ambrosian Rite (scroll down the page to find an account of the differences of the Ambrosian Rite from the Roman Rite), including with the particular Eucharistic Prayer that that rite has for the celebration of Maundy Thursday and other Eucharistic feasts. I particularly noticed the manner of the incensations (you can't really miss it!) and the blessing of the readers.

As Zero expressed it, the parish priest was someone who visibly communicated the joy of Christ (I'm not sure how well I translated that into Italian for him at the end of the procession!). The first communion children and their families were out in force, and there was a comfortably full Church. There was a choir, and three concelebrating priests. Parishioners seemed to be very familiar with the hymns being sung.

At the end of Mass we all moved out of the Church to form up outside for the Eucharistic procession. This was well organised - we were organised to walk in two lines at either side of the road, led by a cross and candles, with the town band about half way down the procession and the Blessed Sacrament carried under its canopy towards the rear. Loudspeakers carried on poles ensured that all could hear the meditations (on Gospel accounts of the meetings of Jesus with people on the roads), and the band played gentle music during times of our own meditations. The procession followed a loop around the town, including along the main lake side provincial road which was closed for half an hour or so. At the lake, there was a pause while the lake was blessed with the Blessed Sacrament, and a prayer offered of both thanksgiving for the lake and sorrow for those who have died in accidents on the lake.

And then back to the Church, through the narrow lanes of the town, for concluding prayers and Benediction. As we all left the Church, the town band played a short concert in the square outside.

Over the years, Zero and I have taken part in several Eucharistic processions during our holidays - one year at Rivotorto parish during a visit to Assisi and on another occasion at the International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec in 2008. Bellano provided an experience as moving as any of them.

Saturday, 19 May 2018

Bishop Michael Curry: Nul points!

It is a powerful homily on what can be achieved by love when it is exercised in the world.

Delivered with an evangelical fervour.

And it does acknowledge at one point our origins in the creative love of God.

But it wasn't a homily about marriage.

Let alone a homily about Christian marriage.

Which is unfortunate.

Especially when you are preaching at a wedding.

Between a baptised man and a baptised woman.

In a Christian chapel.

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Pope Francis said ....

h/t to Abbey Roads for the link: Pope Francis on ...

In the year during which Pope Paul VI is expected to be canonised, I was particularly pleased to see reference here to Pope Francis' clear affirmation of the magisterium of Paul VI.

The principle underlying Pope Francis' response presented in the section on persons struggling with their sexual identity has since been developed more fully by the Holy Father. As I post I can't find the relevant passage (I will update when I have found it), but Pope Francis' well argued suggestion was that truth in it's more objective sense is also to be spoken about and lived with a respect for the truth of the person to whom we speak or with whom we live, and that there is no contradiction in doing this.

UPDATE: I have found the passage referred to above. It comes from Pope Francis homily at the Chrism Mass on 29th March 2018:
Closeness, dear brothers, is crucial for an evangelizer because it is a key attitude in the Gospel (the Lord uses it to describe his Kingdom). We can be certain that closeness is the key to mercy, for mercy would not be mercy unless, like a Good Samaritan, it finds ways to shorten distances. But I also think we need to realize even more that closeness is also the key to truth; not just the key to mercy, but the key to truth. Can distances really be shortened where truth is concerned? Yes, they can. Because truth is not only the definition of situations and things from a certain distance, by abstract and logical reasoning. It is more than that. Truth is also fidelity (émeth). It makes you name people with their real name, as the Lord names them, before categorizing them or defining “their situation”. There is a distasteful habit, is there not, of following a “culture of the adjective”: this is so, this is such and such, this is like… No! This is a child of God. Then come the virtues or defects, but [first] the faithful truth of the person and not the adjective regarded as the substance.
Note carefully: the "not only ... more than" and the "... then come the virtues or defects...". Pope Francis is affirming, not denying, the objective truth or definition of a situation. He is affirming that there is something additional to this, that is, the fidelity to the truth of the person, and is suggesting that in the pastoral action of the priest this has, in a very specified meaning, a certain priority.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

National Education Union and abortion rights: not in my name

During the Easter holidays, the ATL Section of the National Education Union meeting in their annual conference carried the motion that I reproduce below:
THAT Conference believes that access to safe, free, legal abortion is crucial to women’s and girls’ educational, economic, and social equality. Barriers to abortion services are barriers to women’s and girls’ rights. Fifty years on from the 1967 Abortion Act, women and girls still face unacceptable delays, threats of violence and intimidation, inaccurate and misleading information and unequal access to abortion services.
Conference therefore instructs the Executive Committee to put forward to the Joint Executive Council that the Joint Executive Council:
(i) adopt a pro-choice position on abortion rights that is inclusive of all people who need to access abortion services (trans men; non-binary and gender non-conforming people) in all regions of the UK
(ii) lobby Government to ensure that reproductive rights and women’s health are taught as an essential element of the RSE and PSHE curriculum to ALL secondary and post-16 students regardless of their gender, delivered by trained teachers and supported by local sexual health services
(iii) signpost age-appropriate and good-quality teaching resources and training opportunities to members
(iv) oppose attempts by anti-choice groups to present inaccurate and misleading information in schools and colleges
(v) support the work of the campaigning group Abortion Rights.

I will  be enquiring of the leadership of the trade union how this motion came to be considered suitable business. I suspect that in the past it would have been ruled as unsuitable business for conference on two grounds: (1) adopting a position for or against legalised abortion lies outside the objects of the union; and (2) the allegations of threats of violence and intimidation, and of the presentation of inaccurate and misleading information by pro-life groups are in every likelihood factually incorrect, and can be seen as such without the need to probe at all deeply. In the present day climate, though, I wonder whether the relevant rules/procedures committee even gave it a second thought (happy to be corrected on that...). Oddly enough, a motion of like intent put to the NUT Section conference does not appear to have made it to their final conference agenda (compare the final agenda to the conference motions on this page).

I haven't attended annual conference for a number of years now, so was not present to see how much debate this motion generated.

Somewhat mischievously, I am as I write pondering the possible outcome if Marie Stopes and BPAS had to provide their abortion services without receiving funding to do so ... ie make provision for genuinely free abortions, as advocated by the first line of the above motion.

It is sub-sections (ii) and (iv) that are particularly sinister, and, as worded, somewhat dishonest. In effect, they argue that only supporters of legalised abortion (decode "trained teachers and local sexual health services") should be allowed to teach on the subject of abortion in schools, and that those who are pro-life (decode "anti-choice") should be barred from speaking to pupils in schools. This is a somewhat totalitarian position for a supposed member led, democratic trade union to have adopted.

I wonder, too, at the possible implications of identifying barriers to abortion as barriers specifically to girls rights ... A February 2018 Joint Serious Case Review (read around page 90 ff, and note reference to earlier serious case reviews that raise the same question) with regard to child sexual exploitation clearly raises issues around the climate of confidentiality when young girls seek sexual health services, including the morning after pill and abortion, and are not recognised as possibly being subject to sexual exploitation. The readiness of access to such services appears, albeit inadvertently, to mask possible exploitation.

If you are also a member of the National Education Union, particularly the ATL Section, you might like to join me in letting our union leadership know that they do not adopt this policy in our name.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Gaudete et Exsultate: Spiritual combat, Vigilance and Discernment

I have just read Chapter Five of Pope Francis' Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate which begins with these words.
The Christian life is a constant battle. We need strength and courage to withstand the temptations of the devil and to proclaim the Gospel. This battle is sweet, for it allows us to rejoice each time the Lord triumphs in our lives.
 The chapter ends as follows:
Discernment, then, is not a solipsistic self-analysis or a form of egotistical introspection, but an authentic process of leaving ourselves behind in order to approach the mystery of God, who helps us to carry out the mission to which he has called us, for the good of our brothers and sisters.
The whole chapter is worth reading - and not only because of its realist teaching on the existence and activity of the Devil.
 I would like these reflections to be crowned by Mary, because she lived the Beatitudes of Jesus as none other. She is that woman who rejoiced in the presence of God, who treasured everything in her heart, and who let herself be pierced by the sword. Mary is the saint among the saints, blessed above all others. She teaches us the way of holiness and she walks ever at our side. She does not let us remain fallen and at times she takes us into her arms without judging us. Our converse with her consoles, frees and sanctifies us. Mary our Mother does not need a flood of words. She does not need us to tell her what is happening in our lives. All we need do is whisper, time and time again: “Hail Mary…”

Sunday, 8 April 2018

All the Cathedrals (8): Worcester Cathedral

Zero and I visited Worcester at the February half term, so we were there for Ash Wednesday. We weren't able to make Mass on the day, and so frequented the Cathedral for their evening service, with imposition of ashes. The crosses on our foreheads were sufficiently dramatic to be noticed as we walked out for our supper afterwards!

Worcester Cathedral shares a narrative common to a number of English cathedrals: first foundation in Anglo-Saxon times; a Benedictine monastic phase brought to an end by the Henry VIII's dissolution of the monastery and establishing of a Cathedral and chapter; significant damage as a result of the attention of the Parliamentary side during the Civil War (though the extent of this is hardly apparent today, with the only visible defacing in the Hall); and subsequent measures of restoration. The names of St Oswald and St Wulfstan are associated with the building of the Cathedral, the latter continuing to hold the see after the Norman conquest. A summary history of the building can be found here.

The restored Norman crypt is very striking, in part because of its contrast to the construction of the later Cathedral above it.

King John, of Magna Carta fame, had extensive connections with Worcester and his tomb lies in the choir of the Cathedral, before the high altar. (The tomb would appear to have escaped the attention of the Parliamentarians at the time of the Civil War.)

There is also a chantry chapel to Prince Arthur, oldest brother of the future Henry VIII and first wife of Catherine of Aragon, who died before he could succeed to the throne.

A striking feature for an Anglican Cathedral is the window dedicated to Sir Edward Elgar. Though Elgar was a Catholic, he had a strong musical link to Worcester Cathedral and to the Three Choirs Festival. The window represents Elgar's Dream of Gerontius, a strikingly Catholic theme. The Cathedral is just a stone's throw from the modern shop that now occupies the site of the Elgar's family music shop.

Much of the stained glass in the Cathedral dates from the Victorian restoration, with the West window depicting the story of the creation while the East window tells the story of Jesus life, death and resurrection. A repair of the West window was still underway at the time of our visit, with scaffolding in place on the exterior hiding the otherwise distinctive view from the river. Many of the fittings that we see today date from this Victorian restoration. The reredos of the high altar by Sir George Gilbert Scott, for example, represents Christ enthroned with the four Evangelists. The effect is to render almost imperceptible to the contemporary visitor the damage done during the Civil War - it is only in the School Hall that a defaced image remains visible. The Victorian restoration also replaced the majority of the external stone work, which disguises the earlier history of the Church as the visitor approaches from the outside.

A much more recent restoration programme has taken action to preserve both the appearance and structure of the Cathedral.
There is a cloister with memorials in the glass windows. Access to the river can be gained by passing through the grounds and down a walk way. Set in the wall are stones that mark the water levels reached by floods of the Severn.
As a city, Worcester suffers from a bit of a split personality. The High Street is occupied with many modern buildings that have replaced some of the older buildings, such as the music shop owned by Edward Elgar's parents. Friar Street and New Street, however, have preserved a number of their older buildings, including the public house from which Charles I is said to have made his escape after the second Battle of Worcester. A number of the businesses in these streets occupy premises that retain features of historic interest.