Saturday, 18 November 2017

"Love not in word but in deed": World Day of the Poor

 When the Successor of Peter establishes a "World Day" he exercises his office in a very particular way. Whilst there may well be a single event at an international level, the real success of such a day depends on the collaboration of the bishops in their local Churches and of the Catholic faithful in each of their particular places in the Church and in the world. A "World Day" represents a highly collaborative exercise of the Papal office.

This Sunday sees the first celebration of a World Day of the Poor, instituted by Pope Francis. The Holy Father opens his message for the day as follows:
“Little children, let us not love in word or speech, but in deed and in truth” (1 Jn 3:18). These words of the Apostle John voice an imperative that no Christian may disregard. The seriousness with which the “beloved disciple” hands down Jesus’ command to our own day is made even clearer by the contrast between the empty words so frequently on our lips and the concrete deeds against which we are called to measure ourselves. Love has no alibi. Whenever we set out to love as Jesus loved, we have to take the Lord as our example; especially when it comes to loving the poor. The Son of God’s way of loving is well-known, and John spells it out clearly. It stands on two pillars: God loved us first (cf. 1 Jn 4:10.19), and he loved us by giving completely of himself, even to laying down his life (cf. 1 Jn 3:16).  
Such love cannot go unanswered. Even though offered unconditionally, asking nothing in return, it so sets hearts on fire that all who experience it are led to love back, despite their limitations and sins. Yet this can only happen if we welcome God’s grace, his merciful charity, as fully as possible into our hearts, so that our will and even our emotions are drawn to love both God and neighbour. In this way, the mercy that wells up – as it were – from the heart of the Trinity can shape our lives and bring forth compassion and works of mercy for the benefit of our brothers and sisters in need.
Pope Francis' suggestion that we should enter into an encounter with the poor that involves a sharing in their lives brings to mind the Houses of Hospitality of the Catholic Worker Movement or the "teams" of Madeleine Delbrel. Pope Francis also reminds us that, for the Christian, poverty represents a call to follow Christ (I have added the emphasis below). For the religious and lay faithful who live according to the evangelical counsels, this is their orientation towards the poor.
Let us never forget that, for Christ’s disciples, poverty is above all a call to follow Jesus in his own poverty.  It means walking behind him and beside him, a journey that leads to the beatitude of the Kingdom of heaven (cf. Mt 5:3; Lk 6:20).  Poverty means having a humble heart that accepts our creaturely limitations and sinfulness and thus enables us to overcome the temptation to feel omnipotent and immortal.  Poverty is an interior attitude that avoids looking upon money, career and luxury as our goal in life and the condition for our happiness.  Poverty instead creates the conditions for freely shouldering our personal and social responsibilities, despite our limitations, with trust in God’s closeness and the support of his grace.  Poverty, understood in this way, is the yardstick that allows us to judge how best to use material goods and to build relationships that are neither selfish nor possessive (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, Nos. 25-45).
Pope Francis, following the Year of Mercy, wishes that this day will each year prompt the Catholic community in its exercise of the works of mercy.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Respect and appreciation for differences ...

In the light of a current news story in the UK, these two passages from Amoris Laetitia make for interesting (and balanced) reading. The second paragraph rightly distinguishes those things that are  variable (denoted by the terms "masculinity" and "femininity", and carefully exemplified) from that which cannot be varied and which is addressed in the first paragraph - the difference and complementarity of our bodies given to us as two sexes (denoted by the terms "male" and "female"). I have added my own emphases.
285. Sex education should also include respect and appreciation for differences, as a way of helping the young to overcome their self-absorption and to be open and accepting of others. Beyond the understandable difficulties which individuals may experience, the young need to be helped to accept their own body as it was created, for “thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation… An appreciation of our body as male or female is also necessary for our own self-awareness in an encounter with others different from ourselves. In this way we can joyfully accept the specific gifts of another man or woman, the work of God the Creator, and find mutual enrichment”. Only by losing the fear of being different, can we be freed of self-centredness and self-absorption. Sex education should help young people to accept their own bodies and to avoid the pretension “to cancel out sexual difference because one no longer knows how to deal with it”.
286. Nor can we ignore the fact that the configuration of our own mode of being, whether as male or female, is not simply the result of biological or genetic factors, but of multiple elements having to do with temperament, family history, culture, experience, education, the influence of friends, family members and respected persons, as well as other formative situations. It is true that we cannot separate the masculine and the feminine from God’s work of creation, which is prior to all our decisions and experiences, and where biological elements exist which are impossible to ignore. But it is also true that masculinity and femininity are not rigid categories. It is possible, for example, that a husband’s way of being masculine can be flexibly adapted to the wife’s work schedule. Taking on domestic chores or some aspects of raising children does not make him any less masculine or imply failure, irresponsibility or cause for shame. Children have to be helped to accept as normal such healthy “exchanges” which do not diminish the dignity of the father figure. A rigid approach turns into an over accentuation of the masculine or feminine, and does not help children and young people to appreciate the genuine reciprocity incarnate in the real conditions of matrimony. Such rigidity, in turn, can hinder the development of an individual’s abilities, to the point of leading him or her to think, for example, that it is not really masculine to cultivate art or dance, or not very feminine to exercise leadership.
A key point to note: the openness to roles that might at one time have been associated with one sex rather than the other, outlined in n.286, does not contain any suggestion that this openness should be identified with a sense of being a person of the wrong sex. This paragraph does not suggest that flexibility in roles is to be associated with a fluidity of sex/gender.

Saturday, 4 November 2017

.... with Pope Francis and not against

I have already observed on this blog that I believe that much of the responsibility for the alleged confusion following Amoris Laetitia must lie with those who have promoted that confusion by a persistent campaign of criticism of the Apostolic Exhortation articulated in part in terms of, oh irony, condemnation of the confusion caused by it and by Pope Francis.

A strand in the criticism has been a discussion of whether or not Amoris Laetitia, both as a document in itself or seen in terms of its specific content, can be considered a document of the Ordinary Magisterium (capitals intended). The intention of this line of argument has been to suggest that, if it is not part of the Magisterium, it can therefore be considered non-binding. The term "Magisterium" in this context refers narrowly to teaching offered as teaching for the universal Church and which is permanent in its character and therefore applicable over all time - Magisterium with a capital "M".

This has appeared to me to be rather beside what is the real point. Whatever we think of it, Amoris Laetitia is clearly an exercise by Pope Francis of his office as the Successor of Peter. It may contain pastoral indications that apply to particular situations of our own times, and therefore might not apply in the future; and it may contain indications for pastoral action that are for a time rather than being such that a future generation might consider binding. But it might also contain parts that are of more permanent value (for example, Chapter IV on love in marriage). In this, it is no different than many other actions of the ordinary magisterium, that is, of the exercise of their office by the Successors of Peter and the bishops in communion with him. The strict discussion of whether or not it is "Magisterium" appears somewhat sterile in this context; the real question for Catholics today is a  rather different question.

Cardinal Marc Ouellet's address to the Canadian Bishops conference very subtly captured the appropriate response (with my emphasis added):
So we must re-read Amoris Laetitia in a spirit of pastoral conversion that assumes, first of all a genuine and unprejudiced receptivity to the pontifical teaching; secondly, a change of attitude in the face of cultures that are far from the faith; thirdly, a convincing testimony to the joy of the Gospel that emerges from faith in the Person of Jesus and his loving and merciful gaze upon all of human reality.
The reading from St Peter Chrysologus offered as the "Meditation of the Day" in MAGNIFICAT for yesterday struck me as very apposite. St Peter Chrysologus is commenting on the Gospel text for yesterday's Mass, in which Jesus dines at the house of a leading Pharisee (Luke 14:1-6). The title given to the meditation was Jesus Went to Dine:
When he had entered the house, it says. In the house there was a trap, in the greeting a trial, in the seat at table a snare .....There jealousy was burning, envy was inflamed, anger was being cooked up, pretence provided the seasoning, and all the courses of slander were being made ready.
And, nevertheless, there that Lamb of God was eating, and not to be fed, but to be killed, just as if he knew none of this. He certainly was eating, brothers, not as if he were ignorant of this, but so that at least by his companionship, by their very intimacy and the gracious way in which he dined together with them, their ferocity might be tamed, their anger soothed, their envy extinguished. Then by his very humaneness these men might now return to being human again, they might acquire some affection, they might notice his gracious charm, they might welcome their parent, they might recognise his kindness, they might acknowledge his powers, they might love his curative treatments, and they might desire, and not attack, his acts of healing.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Abortion: a tragic anniversary [UPDATED]

On Friday, which marks the 50th anniversary of the Abortion Act in Britain, I will be away from home at an all day meeting and then travelling home. This will prevent me from taking part in the prayer vigil to which we are being called by our bishops on that day (though I expect I may be able to join in spirit during my train journey home).

After fifty years of legalised abortion, few in our countries have not had some experience of abortion. This is something that makes it a difficult topic to discuss in a public arena, particularly for a man, as the articulation of an objective ethical view is all to easily read by members of an audience as an individually directed comment on their personal choices in a situation whose complexity may be unknown to the writer/speaker. It is also the case that legalised abortion has impacted on the lives of Catholics, again, in a variety of ways.

The provision of Canon Law (Canon 1398) for a latae sententiae excommunication of the person who actually procures an abortion is intended to teach how seriously the Catholic Church views the offence of abortion. The joint statement of bishops describes every abortion as a "tragedy"; the Second Vatican Council, taking place at a time before abortion was legally available in many of the western democracies, described abortion as an "unspeakable crime" (Gaudium et Spes n.51). This teaching is balanced by the provisions of charity towards those who have experienced abortion. The absolution from the penalty of excommunication can now be offered by any priest and is no longer reserved to the bishop (earlier special provisions for the Year of Mercy and for participants in World Youth days are now permanent); and the bishops statement indicates a similar approach of mercy:
When abortion is the choice made by a woman, the unfailing mercy of God and the promise of forgiveness through the Sacrament of Reconciliation are always available. There is always a way home to a deeper relationship with God and the Church, as recent Popes have emphasised, which can heal and bring peace.
A particular challenge of conscience that faces a Catholic is that of how, given the prevalence of abortion in the culture and practice of life in our countries, we indicate our own "no" to abortion and thereby avoid feeling that, however distantly, we are complicit in the culture of abortion. One way of doing this is to join with those initiatives that seek to help women facing a choice for abortion. Peaceful prayer vigils at abortion clinics are one way of doing this, and the work of one such vigil in Ealing has been in the news recently. Coverage can be seen here, here, here and here.  Radio 4's World at One has an interesting clip here of an interview with a lady which indicates a value for the practical help offered by these vigils (you might need to register at the site to hear the clip).

From time to time I am stunned by the "economy with the truth" that I encounter on the subject of abortion. British law, for example, does not recognise in any way that access to abortion is a human right. On the contrary, it is framed to establish exemption from prosecution under other legislative provisions if certain conditions are met; and it is difficult to reconcile the availability of abortion in our countries with the right of life of Article 3 of the UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights. And an interview on the World at One with a woman who had travelled from Northern Ireland to Manchester for an abortion describes the woman waiting for her return flight in pain and with bleeding .... and yet she had been discharged from the abortion clinic, something that did not cause comment. (I can't trace the clip, but I am quite confident of my memory). The allegations of "harassment" at abortion clinic vigils, including the one at Ealing, are utterly unfounded as I have good reason to know.

UPDATE: The BBC News website is carrying this report of three women's experience of abortion. The reactions of boyfriends that occur in two of these stories appears to me very striking, with implications not only for the education of men in terms of understanding and taking responsibility for their sexual activity but also for the authenticity/character of their love for the girlfriends involved. Two phrases stand out to me: "I felt pressured into having an abortion" and "I didn't have much choice". So much for "choice" in the real experience of abortion.

Monday, 16 October 2017

The concensus of the Holy Fathers .....

I have for a long time been familiar with St Robert Bellarmine's letter to Paolo Foscarini, which provides the good Cardinal's personal commentary on the situation of Copernicanism at the time (1615). It has always struck me because of its witness to both Catholic faith as a source of knowledge of what is true and reason, in this instance, that of science, as likewise a source of knowledge of what is true.

An English translation of the full text of the letter can be found here. The third paragraph could not be a stronger exposition of the obligation imposed by the Council of Trent that Holy Scripture should be understood and expounded in accordance with the Holy Fathers and doctors of the Church.

But the fourth paragraph qualifies this in a quite remarkable way (the part translated below is taken from James Brodrick's two volume 1928 biography of Bellarmine rather than the website linked above):
If there were a real proof that the sun is in the centre of the universe, that the earth is in the third heaven, and that the sun does not go round the earth but the earth round the sun, then we should have to proceed with great circumspection in explaining passages of Scripture which appear to teach the contrary, and rather admit that we did not understand them than declare an opinion to be false which is proved to be true....
I do not think any one today would insist on interpreting the passages from Genesis, Psalms, Ecclesiastes and Joshua according to the consensus of the Fathers and doctors as it existed in 1615.

Applying this to Catholic teaching on the death penalty:

1. Though there is a consensus in favour of the (conditional) legitimacy of capital punishment, I am finding it difficult to find a point at which one can clearly say it became defined teaching. That being the case, the freedom then still exists, in the sense in which Bellarmine suggests, that the cited passages of Scripture might be understood differently without it becoming a matter of heresy. (Indeed, I suspect that the passages of Scripture where the Church has defined one particular understanding rather than another are relatively few.)

2. In this case, the use of reason being suggested by Pope Francis lies in the field of the humanities, and, in particular, our understanding of the nature of the dignity of the human person. One can look, as does Pope Francis ("... No man, “not even a murderer, loses his personal dignity...”), to the inalienable nature of the rights of the person (cf the preamble to the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights). And one can also look, as does Pope Francis again and as is recognised to an extent in the Catechism of the Catholic Church n.2267, to studying the injury to human dignity represented by the death penalty (the writing of Sr Helen Prejean provides an evidence that can be considered in this regard).

3. That a definition against the death penalty could constitute a genuine development of doctrine appears to me, in the light of the considerations above, quite possible, as Pope Francis himself suggests.

4. But I suspect that a final definition one way or the other may not be forthcoming and, rather like the question of conscientious objection and the legitimacy of military service in the teaching of Vatican II (cf Gaudium et Spes n. 79), the two strands of Catholic life with regard to the question will continue to exist side by side.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Guardini on the Rosary

MAGNIFICAT's "Meditation of the Day" yesterday, for the Feast of the Holy Rosary, has directed me to Romano Guardini's short book The Rosary of Our Lady. It is a book that contains both very practical advice to enrich the way in which we pray the Rosary and theological/catechetical instruction that places the manner of our praying of the Rosary within the context of salvation history and of a genuine human dynamic of prayer.

The chapter entitled "Mary", for example, offers an explanation of how the Christian relates uniquely among the saints to Mary, without compromising the orientation towards Christ:
It is Mary on whom the Rosary is centred in a focus ever new. This prayer means a lingering in the world of Mary, whose essence was Christ.
It is this chapter which precedes the chapter entitled "Christ in us" from which the MAGNIFICAT meditation was taken:
To linger in the domain of Mary is a divinely great thing. One does not ask about the utility of truly noble things, because they have their meaning within themselves. So it is of infinite meaning to draw a deep breath of this purity, to be secure in the peace of the union with God ...
All prayer begins by man becoming silent - recollecting his scattered thoughts, feeling remorse at his trespasses, and directing his thoughts toward God. If man does this, this place is thrown open, not only as a domain of spiritual tranquillity and mental concentration, but as something that comes from God.
We are always in need of this place, especially when the convulsions of the times make clear something that has always existed but which is sometimes hidden by outward well-being and a prevailing peace of mind: namely, the homelessness of our lives. In such times, a great courage is demanded from us; not only to dispense with more and to accomplish more than usual, but to persevere in a vacuum we do not otherwise notice. So we require more than ever this place of which we speak, not to creep into as a hiding place, but as a place to find the core of things, to become calm and confident once more.
For this reason the rosary is so important in times like ours - assuming , of course, that all slackness and exaggeration are done away with, and that it is used in its clear and original forcefulness. This is all the more important because the rosary does not require any special preparation, and the petitioner does not need to generate thoughts of which he is not capable at the moment or at any other time. Rather, he steps into a well-ordered world, meets familiar images, and finds roads that lead him to the essential.
[So far as I can tell, this book was first published in German in 1940 - so Guardini's reference to "times like ours" is a reference to war time conditions in Germany.]

Guardini offers an explanation of the part played by each of the prayers in the structure of the Rosary. This is what he says about the Our Father, prayed at the beginning of each decade:
The start and the goal of all spiritual movement is the Father. So the prayer to Him is placed at the beginning of each decade, to ask Him for the things that are really vital. The meditation that follows is thus made in the sight of the Father; like the seer in the Revelation of St John we look at all the different events that pass before the eyes of Him "who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever".
And on the Glory be:
And finally, with the "Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit" at the end of each decade, he who prays bows before the triune God, from whom everything comes and to whom everything returns.
Guardini has already spoken about the role of the Hail Mary in representing for us the mystery that is the subject of each decade. He assumes a practice that is not well known in the English speaking world, of introducing into the Hail Mary a reference to the mystery being prayed:
...the Rosary is, in its deepest sense, a prayer of Christ. The first part of the Hail Mary ends with His name: "And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus". After this name follow the so-called mysteries (for example, "Whom thou, O Virgin, dids't conceive of the Holy Spirit, "Whom though didst bear with thee to Elizabeth", "Who was born to thee in Bethlehem"). Every decade of the Rosary contains such a mystery.
It is worth noting, too, Guardini's suggestion that the Rosary needs to be both given the time that it needs by the one who prays, and also to be allowed to take the time that of its own nature it will ask:
The Rosary is a prayer of lingering. One must take one's time for it, putting the necessary time at its disposal, not only externally but internally..... It is not necessary to ramble through the whole Rosary; it is better to say only one or two decades, and to say them right.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Further reading ....

.... on Amoris Laetitia and the correction (of that which didn't need correcting).

Rocco Buttiglione suggests that the correction is premised on reading in to the text of Amoris Laetitia things that  Amoris Laetitia does not in reality say (read the article in full, do not rely just on the headline): “The correctio? The method is incorrect: they do not discuss, they condemn”.

Cardinal Marc Ouellet has presented a more overarching analysis of Amoris Laetitia and its call for a "pastoral conversion" in speaking to the Canadian Catholic Bishops Conference. The full text has been published at the National Catholic Reporter (scroll down this report to find the embedded text): Critics of Filial Correction of Pope Francis Weigh In.