Friday, 29 February 2008

Government and Academies

Ed Balls and Andrew Adonis (please don't laugh, those of us involved in education in the UK are now used to this conjunction of names), respectively Secretary of State for the DCSF and the minister responsible for the schools aspect of DCSF, are today promoting the programme to found more Academy schools. For visitors from distant lands ... DCSF is the Department for Children, Schools and Families, and Academy schools are Government funded schools which are independent in their governance. Academy schools have greater freedoms than most other state funded schools, which are run by local authorities. An Academy is set up with a sponsoring body, which enters into a funding agreement with DCSF, and in most cases will have new buildings and a disproportionately high capital set up investment compared to the setting up of other state funded schools. They are criticised for their lack of accountability to local communities and the fact that, despite their disproportionately high investment in plant, there is no universally recognised improvement in student achievement. Herewith an extract from the DCSF press release, with my emphases and comments.

Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families Ed Balls and Schools Minister Andrew Adonis today approved funding agreements for academies in Norwich and Blyth, Northumberland, and gave the go-ahead to look at plans for new academies in Camden, Watford and Enfield. Plans are also underway for three new academies in Oldham and one in Bolton....

New academies

Heartsease High School, Norwich, will become an Academy for 11 to 19 year olds, specialising in environmental science. It will be sponsored by the Bishop of Norwich and a local businessman, Graham Dacre in partnership with the local further education college – City College Norwich. The sponsors have made clear that the new Academy will not be a faith school, and will serve the whole community. Interesting to note that not being a faith school is highlighted here, as if it is a selling point. Government are trying to defend themselves against criticism here, but unfortunately giving credence to a misconception about faith schools. There is a subtle implication that the reason for the Academy serving the whole community is that it is not a faith school. Not so ... surely we are entitled to suggest that faith schools do make a contribution to the whole of society, through their service to a particular community. Any school directly serves only a part of the whole community - ie its own pupils and families - and through them society as a whole. Faith schools are in no different a position than any other school in this regard. Norwich is a Church of England diocese, not a Catholic one. The statement that it will "not be a faith school" means that it will not have a religious designation, though its relationship to the Diocese of Norwich is not clear from the press release. The Academy will offer 750 places for 11 to 16 year olds and a 200 capacity sixth form. Heartsease, whilst improving recently has been of concern for a number of years and has been in and out of special measures.

Plans are also being looked at for two Academies in Camden. Funding has now been released to develop the Borough’s plans for its first Academy, which would specialise in science and mathematics with an additional focus on languages. The Academy would be sponsored by University College London (UCL), it would have a comprehensive intake and a secular ethos. Does this mean a neutral ethos or does it mean an ethos that is deliberately opposed to religion? A comprehensive (ie a non-selective) intake will include pupils from families with religious faith. If the Academy is going to be actively secular, will these pupils and families be discriminated against? Camden has some very deprived areas and a strong need for good new schools. It would provide much needed new places in the North West of the Borough. The Camden Academy would have 900 pupils at 11 to 16 and post-16 provision for 250. The Academy would open in 2011 in new buildings. The department is also working with Camden Council and local parents to explore the possibility of a second site for an Academy, south of the Euston Road.

Bede Academy in Blyth, Northumberland will be a completely new school for 4 to 18 year olds, with places for 1,780 pupils, including a 250 place sixth form. It will specialise in engineering and enterprise. The Academy will open in September 2009 in new buildings on the sites of the former Blyth Ridley High and South Beach First Schools. Bede Academy is sponsored by The Emmanuel Schools Foundation (ESF), an experienced sponsor organisation. and an organisation with an evangelical Christian background, though this is not referred to in the press release. An ESF school has in the past been subject to media attention over the teaching of creation science. They have achieved significant improvements at their existing schools, which have transformed educational attainment in very disadvantaged areas.

Funding has also been released to look at the Francis Combe School and Community College in Garston, Watford becoming an Academy in September 2009. It would be co-sponsored by West Herts College and the University of Hertfordshire, and build on successful partnerships of further and higher education. The Academy would specialise in English, art and media. Drawing on the strengths of the sponsors, it would seek to address performance, raise standards and motivate learners.

In Enfield the Albany School, which has been underperforming for some time, would be replaced by a second Academy in the area sponsored by Oasis Community Learning whose website says "Its roots are strongly based in Oasis UK, a charity founded in 1985 by Steve Chalke, whose Christian faith inspired him to create ways to develop people and build communities". It would specialise in music and mathematics with a strong focus on ICT. It would open in September 2009 and offer over 1,400 places. ...

Though Academies are criticised for their lack of accountability to the local community, an accountability that most other state funded schools achieve through their dependence on their local authority, the sponsoring bodies indicated in the press release do seem to reflect their local communities - through local businesses or local higher and further education institutions.

The silence in the press release about the Christian nature of some of the sponsoring bodies, and the trumpeting of the secular status of others, reveals just how much anti-religious feeling exists in the world of education in the UK today.

PS. Don't tell anyone in my union about this post - ATL policy is opposed to both faith schools and Academies ....

Thursday, 28 February 2008

Meme about saints - continued.

As promised a few days ago, I have added to my answer to the meme about saints. Still more to do.

Photo is from a flower festival held in our parish Church a year or two ago.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Co-Redemptrix or Mother of the Church?

It is interesting to look at the text of the recent letter asking for a solemn definition of a "fifth Marian dogma" in the context of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council on the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is interesting, too, to see the developing of the themes in that teaching. First, some representative texts, and then a some questions. No claim is made for any particular academic rigour or authority ... just a contribution to discussion.

From Cardinal Leo Joseph Suenens Mary the Mother of God, published in 1959, to represent what theologians were saying just before Vatican II:
“ …our age is both ‘an age of the Church’ and an ‘age of Mary’" …

“As Mother of Christ, who unites us all, she is also mother of the entire human race summed up in its Head, and thus Mother of the whole Church."

"On Calvary, our Lady is both passive and active. She endures the most agonizing suffering of her life, but she also offers it to her son and through him to the Father ...

"(Some theologians) prefer to say that she 'co-operates in the redemption' or 'is associated with the Redeemer'. The idea is the same, the actual name [ie Co-redemptrix] is more inclusive and direct."

Two titles given, at different stages, to drafts of the schema on the Blessed Virgin, prepared for consideration by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council:

"On Mary, Mother of Jesus and Mother of the Church"

"On the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Mother of Men"

[My source of these is Alberigo, Komonchak (eds.) History of Vatican II]

The eventual title of the chapter on the Blessed Virgin Mary in the dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium of the Second Vatican Council:

"On the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, in the mystery of Christ and the Church"

[This from my Latin copy of the Council documents; in the English translation that I have, the title is given just as "Our Lady"]

And from the chapter of Lumen Gentium itself:

"(Mary is) the Mother of God, who is mother of Christ and mother of men, and most of all of the faithful ..." [n.54]

"The Fathers see Mary not merely as passively engaged by God, but as freely co-operating in the work of man's salvation...[n.56] (She) faithfully persevered in her union with her Son unto the Cross ... enduring with her only begotten Son the intensity of his suffering, associated herself with his sacrifice in her mother's heart, and lovingly consenting to the immolation of this victim which was born of her [n.58]"

"The Blessed Virgin Mary is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress and Mediatrix" [n.62]

[The titles listed here are carefully footnoted by Lumen Gentium to show precedents for their use by the Magisterium - Co-redemptrix, though used in some homilies/allocutions by recent Popes has not been used in formal Magisterial teaching.]

At the end of the third session of the Council, Pope Paul VI proclaimed Mary under the title Mother of the Church:

"... for the glory of the Virgin Mary and for our own consolation, we proclaim the Most Holy Mary as Mother of the Church, that is to say, of all the people of God, the faithful as well as the pastors ..."

[Pope John Paul II was to say about this declaration in a General Audience address that .."In this way, my venerable Predecessor explicitly enunciated the doctrine contained in chapter eight of Lumen Gentium".]

From the letter of five Cardinals, sponsors of the 2005 symposium on Marian Co-redemption, sent to Cardinals and Bishops of the world on 1st January 2008, and asking for a solemn definition by the Holy Father:

"We thereby submit this votum accompanied by one possible formulation of the Marian doctrine which we, please God, pray may be solemnly defined by your Holiness:

"Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of man, gave to humanity from the Cross his mother Mary to be the spiritual Mother of all peoples, the Co-redemptrix, who under and with her Son cooperated in the Redemption of all people; the Mediatrix of all graces, who as Mother brings us the gifts of eternal life; and the Advocate, who presents our prayers to her Son. "

And now the questions:

1. In terms of doctrinal content, does the Cardinals' petition ask for anything that has not already been taught by the Magisterium, and, in particular by the Second Vatican Council? Is the petition just asking for the addition of the title of Co-redmeptrix? Does the petition really represent a petition for a "fifth Marian dogma"? [The question of "spiritual Mother of all peoples" seems to me to represent a possible development in doctrinal content - see question 4 below - but not other aspects of the petition]

2. In terms of solemnity of definition, what would a "papal definition" add to the solemnity of the teaching of an ecumenical council, namely Vatican II?

3. Does the textual hermeneutics of the title of the chapter of Lumen Gentium and, by implication, of Pope Paul VI's use of the title "Mother of the Church" , allow us to suggest that it is this title that already expresses doctrinal content that might be seen in the Cardinals' petition?

4. In the context of the Cardinals' petition, what is the relationship between the title "Mother of the Church" and the title "Mother of all peoples"? Cardinal Suenens suggests that the latter title is the basis for the former title, whereas Pope Paul VI's declaration makes no reference to the latter title. How far does the title "Mother of the Church" already imply "Mother of all peoples", or does it exclude it? [If the Church is seen as a "representative" people for all the peoples of the earth, the new Israel, then the title "Mother of the Church" already implies "Mother of all peoples".]

I have a lot of sympathy with those who would question the opportuneness of any acquiescence to the Cardinals' petition. The careful intricacies involved in explaining it are likely to be lost on most people, both Catholic and non-Catholic, and, significantly, lost altogether in the realms of the media.

Monday, 25 February 2008

Teacher union conference motion on "social dysfunction"

The following motion appears in the agenda of my trade union's annual conference, due to take place in the week before Easter:

Impact of social dysfunction and family breakdown

17 THAT Conference urges the Executive Committee to press the Government to recognise fully the extent to which social dysfunction and family breakdown are damaging the educational attainment of children and the performance of schools and colleges.

I suspect that the concern lying behind this motion is that schools and teachers are being marked down during inspections/self evaluation processes when the real cause of the underachievement of pupils does not lie with the work of the schools and teachers themselves. But it will be interesting to see what definitions of "social dysfunction" and "family" are used in the debate. What the union will expect Government to do in order to deliver the "recognising" called for in the motion defeats me - particularly since the present Government has done plenty to remove those fixed reference points, both social and ethical in nature, that would support stability in the home lives of children.

The full agenda for the Conference can be downloaded in pdf format from

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Facing West to reject Satan; facing East to welcome the Lord

I was able to take part in the parish retreat at St Benedict's Abbey parish, Ealing yesterday. The day was very well attended, by parishioners and people from other parts of London. The preacher for the day was Fr Paul Watson, Director of Maryvale Institute, Birmingham.

At one point during the day, Fr Paul reflected on Lent as a time of preparation for our renewal of our Baptism at Easter (cf Sacrosanctum Concilium n.109). He related an account that he had read of the celebration of the Easter vigil in the early Church. I have not checked out the source of this, but it is interesting nonetheless.

At the time of renewal of the Baptismal promises, Fr Paul described the people as turning to face towards the West to make their rejection of Satan. Looking towards where the Sun goes down allowing darkness to come, the people make their rejection of Satan:

Do you reject Satan? And all his works? And all his empty promises?

Before continuing, Fr Paul described the people as "blowing" in the direction of the West. This Fr Paul described as being a bit like "blowing a raspberry" at the devil, though its real Liturgical significance is probably deeper.

The people then turned round to face the East, to face towards the Lord. They turned their back on darkness and looked towards the place where the Sun rises, the sign of the Resurrection (and of the second Coming) of the Lord. The second part of the Baptismal profession of faith was then made:

Do you believe in God, the Father almighty ...? Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son ...? Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church ....?

Friday, 22 February 2008

Pope Benedict XVI in Cologne: part 5

5. Dialogue with other Christian denominations

“The real question is the presence of the Word in the world.”[1],

5.1 Three contexts for dialogue

Pope Benedict’s address to representatives of other Christian denominations is arguably the most difficult of his addresses during the visit to Cologne. It is possible to identify in the address three contexts into which the more specific question of dialogue is placed.

The first of these contexts is the special situation of Germany, both as the country where the Reformation began and also as one of the countries where the ecumenical movement of the twentieth century began. Immigration from Eastern countries has introduced dialogue with Orthodox Churches and the ancient Churches of the east to the German ecumenical scene. Germany thus has a privileged position with regard to ecumenical dialogue.[2]

The second of these contexts can be summarised by the word “realism”. This realism wishes first of all to recognise the extent to which unity already exists, both as fraternity between Christians and in the supernatural reality of a common baptism:

“I feel the fact that we consider one another brothers and sisters, that we love one another, that together we are witnesses of Jesus Christ, should not be taken so much for granted. I believe that this brotherhood is in itself a very important fruit of dialogue that we must rejoice in, continue to foster and to practice.

“Among Christians, fraternity is not just a vague sentiment, nor is it a sign of indifference to truth. As you just said, Bishop, it is grounded in the supernatural reality of the one Baptism which makes us all members of the one Body of Christ (cf. I Cor 12: 13; Gal 3: 28; Col 2: 12).

“Together we confess that Jesus Christ is God and Lord; together we acknowledge him as the one mediator between God and man (cf. I Tm 2: 5), and we emphasize that together we are members of his Body (cf. Unitatis Redintegratio, n. 22; Ut Unum Sint, n. 42). “[3]

This realism also wishes to honestly recognise situations where differences have arisen and is clear in its presentation of a Catholic position:

“Another urgent priority in ecumenical dialogue arises from the great ethical questions of our time; in this area, contemporary man, who is searching, rightly expects a common response on the part of Christians, which, thanks be to God, in many cases has been forthcoming.

“There are so many common declarations by the German Bishops' Conference and the Evangelical Churches in Germany that we can be grateful for, but unfortunately, this does not always happen. Because of contradictory positions in this area our witness to the Gospel and the ethical guidance which we owe to the faithful and to society lose their impact and often appear too vague, with the result that we fail in our duty to provide the witness that is needed in our time.”[4]

“We all know there are numerous models of unity and you know that the Catholic Church also has as her goal the full visible unity of the disciples of Christ, as defined by the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council in its various Documents (cf. Lumen Gentium, nn. 8, 13; Unitatis Redintegratio, nn. 2, 4, etc.). This unity, we are convinced, indeed subsists in the Catholic Church, without the possibility of ever being lost (cf. Unitatis Redintegratio, n. 4); the Church in fact has not totally disappeared from the world.

“On the other hand, this unity does not mean what could be called ecumenism of the return: that is, to deny and to reject one's own faith history. Absolutely not!”[5]

The third context for ecumenical dialogue is that of “spiritual ecumenism”. Pope Benedict cited the “father of spiritual ecumenism”, Paul Couturier, in urging that more and more people unite themselves to the prayer of Jesus “that all may be one”, and affirmed his trust in the effectiveness of such prayer[6]. Speaking of Brother Roger Schutz of Taize, who had been tragically killed earlier in the same week, he said:

“I think that we must listen to him, from within we must listen to his spiritually-lived ecumenism and allow ourselves to be led by his witness towards an interiorized and spiritualized ecumenism. “[7]

5.2 An example of dialogue

As far as dialogue itself goes, Pope Benedict offered what he called a “small comment”, seeking to be excused if he had expressed a personal opinion, but that it seemed right for him to do so. He chose to say something about the questions of ecclesiology and ministry, which are suggested as the next topics for dialogue with the Evangelical churches following clarification on the doctrine of justification.

Pope Benedict started with the following sentence, a sentence rich in meaning for both Catholics and Evangelical Christians:

“The real question is the presence of the Word in the world.”[8]

Whatever the specific topic of dialogue, the real question that needs to be kept in sight is the presence of Jesus Christ in the world today. When Pope Benedict continues to develop thoughts on Scripture, Episcopal ministry and teaching authority this is what he focuses back to, recognising that this focus represents common ground:

“In the second century the early Church primarily took a threefold decision: first, to establish the canon, thereby stressing the sovereignty of the Word and explaining that not only is the Old Testament ‘hai graphai’, but together with the New Testament constitutes a single Scripture which is thus for us the master

“However, at the same time the Church has formulated an Apostolic Succession, the episcopal ministry, in the awareness that the Word and the witness[9] go together; that is, the Word is alive and present only thanks to the witness, so to speak, and receives from the witness its interpretation. But the witness is only such if he or she witnesses to the Word.

“Third and last, the Church has added the "regula fidei" as a key for interpretation. I believe that this reciprocal compenetration constitutes an object of dissent between us, even though we are certainly united on fundamental things. “[10]

Thus far Pope Benedict has presented what is clearly recognisable as Catholic teaching on the interrelation between Scripture, tradition and teaching authority[11], and, with the note of realism described above, has recognised that this is not something on which agreement exists. It has been offered, however, in a dialogue with notions of “Word”, “witness” and “rule of faith” that are quite familiar to Evangelical theology, and invites an exploration by his audience of the proximity between these notions and those of Catholic theology.

“… when we speak of ecclesiology and of ministry we must preferably speak in this combination of Word, witness and rule of faith ….”[12]

Pope Benedict’s words can be seen as a practical exercise of dialogue within the three contexts that we have noted. However, because the areas touched on are so fundamental to all theological reflection and ecumenical dialogue, they can also be seen as suggesting a basis for all dialogue between Christian communities.

[1] Pope Benedict XVI Address to representatives of various Christian confessions, Cologne, 19th August 2005.
[2] cf Pope Benedict XVI Address to representatives of various Christian confessions, Cologne, 19th August 2005.
[3] Pope Benedict XVI Address to representatives of various Christian confessions, Cologne, 19th August 2005.
[4] Pope Benedict XVI Address to representatives of various Christian confessions, Cologne, 19th August 2005.
[5] Pope Benedict XVI Address to representatives of various Christian confessions, Cologne, 19th August 2005.
[6] cf Pope Benedict XVI Address to representatives of various Christian confessions, Cologne, 19th August 2005.
[7] Pope Benedict XVI Address to representatives of various Christian confessions, Cologne, 19th August 2005.
[8] Pope Benedict XVI Address to representatives of various Christian confessions, Cologne, 19th August 2005.
[9] ie the witness of those in Episcopal ministry, so that Episcopal ministry is seen as witness
[10] Pope Benedict XVI Address to representatives of various Christian confessions, Cologne, 19th August 2005.
[11] cf Vatican Council II Dei Verbum nn.7-10 and Catechism of the Catholic Church nn.75ff.
[12] Pope Benedict XVI Address to representatives of various Christian confessions, Cologne, 19th August 2005.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

What is the meaning of the priest's chair?

On the 22nd February, we celebrate the feast of the See of St Peter. This is also known as the feast of the Chair of St Peter, which calls to mind the "altar of the Chair" that lies in the apse behind the high altar of the Vatican Basilica. However it is known, the feast celebrates the particular office of the Bishop of Rome with regard to the universal Church - and the "Chair of St Peter" is seen as representing that office. In a diocesan cathedral, the Bishop's throne (or chair) is also seen as representing the Bishop's office with regard to his diocese. The picture alongside shows the cathedra in Nottingham cathedral.

We should particularly pray on this feast day for Pope Benedict, that he may continue to fulfil his office as universal Pastor with vigour and faithfulness.

Be it for the Holy Father or the diocesan Bishop, the Chair represents both governance (in the pastoral sense as much as the juridical sense) and teaching office. Cardinal Ratzinger, writing in "The Spirit of the Liturgy", likens the chair of the Bishop in the Christian cathedral to the chair of Moses in the Jewish Synagogue. This is where the people gather to recieve teaching, not the personal views of the Bishop or Rabbi, but the word of God revealed, respectively, in the Gospels and the Torah.

What can this tell us about the priest's chair in a parish church? By analogy, we would expect it to represent the office of the parish priest in respect of his parishioners. If the parish priest is not the celebrant at a particular function, it could represent at a lower level of analogy the general priestly office of governance and teaching. The meaning of the chair is therefore one of pastoral/juridical governance and teaching.

However, beginning with the instruction Inter Oecumenici on the implementation of the Conciliar Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium on the Sacred Liturgy, and continuing through to the most recent General Instruction on the Roman Missal, the role of the Chair is expressed in terms of "presiding":

"The priest celebrant's chair ought to stand as a symbol of his function of presiding over the assembly and of directing prayer" [GIRM 2000 n.310 -unofficial translation].

This language seems to focus on the activity of the priest celebrant during the Liturgy, and defines the meaning of the chair in terms of that activity. You would almost expect that, when no Liturgical celebration is taking place, and therefore no actual presiding is taking place, the chair should be removed from the Church. The activity of the priest celebrant during the Liturgy derives from an office that is manifested in the Liturgy, but not limited to it. The pastoral/juridical office of the priest finds a particularly vivid manifestation in Liturgical celebrations, particularly during the homily at Mass, and this is where the dignity of the chair gains a relation to the activity of the priest during the Liturgy. But the chair is also a sign of an office that extends beyond the Liturgy.

This all has two practical consequences. The first of these is the question of how priests view their activity during the celebration of the Liturgy. If they are "presiding" they will feel able to ad lib and perform, rather like a chair person of a committee. If they are "exercising their priestly office" they will respect the structure of the Liturgy as expressed in the rubrics and provided texts. The second is a question of the direction in which the chair faces in the design of the Church. Again, if the priest celebrant is "presiding" it becomes a matter of importance that the chair faces towards the people. If the celebrant is "exercising a priestly office" it may well still be desirable that the chair faces towards the people, but it does not become of the essence. A diagonal or sideways orientation of the chair (in which it faces towards, say, the altar) becomes acceptable.

It is true that, read within a hermeneutic of continuity, the language of "presiding" can be readily assimilated to that of an office of pastoral/juridical governance and teaching. However, such a reading of it seems to be rare.

[And, being completely mischievous, how often is it in fact the Master of Ceremonies who "presides" in the sense of "directing" the activity of the celebration? The bishop's visitation can be the one chance the MC has to tell a bishop what to do, and get away with it!]

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Being "uncle" for a day

Yesterday, I visited my sister and her family. All the children are on half term this week, so an extra pair of hands was going to be quite useful.

The photos show five (out of six) on their way to the library, and trying to find a lost cat in a post box. Well, that is what the notice on the post box says ...

Family life is .... when "bring back some milk" means six litres and not one.

Family life is ... not being able to help the oldest with their English project. If anyone knows any plays that are appropriate for a Year 7 (11 years going on 12), do let me know!

Eucharistic Adoration: 7th March

Before one event is finished, the next is on the starting blocks ....

I am not as industrious as I appear! This month I am adapting the meditations and theme from the same time last year (what would I have done in the days before home computing?). We will look at the Eucharist as a re-presentation of the event of Calvary, as we pray the Stations of the Cross. For the children, I have a selection of three or four stations (with pictures) that we will pray during their half hour.

Monday, 18 February 2008

Physics World: February 2008 issue

A trip into London today gave me the chance to read the February issue of "Physics World". This is the monthly magazine of the UK's Institute of Physics, and alone justifies the annual membership fee of that august organisation. As well as carrying news about physics, it usually contains articles that review contemporary developments in physics. Thankfully, a special effort is now made to ensure that those articles are intelligible to those who do not have specialist knowledge of the area of physics concerned (or, like me, whose physics study only reached to undergraduate level and that too many years ago for me to like to admit). Items of interest in this month's issue:

1. "Physicists count the cost of opposition to the Pope"

This is the headline of the coverage of the recent controversy over Pope Benedict's (cancelled) visit to La Sapienza university. To my embarrassment, many of those involved in campaigning against the Pope's visit were staff or students of the physics faculty at La Sapienza. The letter to the communist newspaper Il manifesto, which began the events leading to the controversy in November 2007, was written by an emeritus physics professor of La Sapienza; subsequently, the internal letter to the Rector of La Sapienza protesting against the Pope's visit and endorsing the letter published in the newspaper, was signed mainly by members of the physics department. While Physics World's report makes no reference to the extent of the support shown to Pope Benedict at the Sunday angelus three days after the day of the cancelled visit, it does give a flavour of the nature of the activities taking place at La Sapienza, naming them as "anticlerical activities", and describing the vandalism of a student's meeting room in the physics department at La Sapienza (though the circumstances of this are not clear from the report, the placing of the paragaph hints that it was a reaction against the anti-papal protest, something I find unlikely). One of the letter writers is quoted in the Physics World report as recognising that the often confrontational style of the students was "not so beautiful" and that many of the students did not understand the point of the letter. Physics World's report also describes a uniform negative reaction from the world of politics towards the protests at La Sapienza.

The headline of the report refers to another consequence of the events surrounding the Pope's cancelled visit. Lucianao Maiani, a physics faculty member at La Sapienza and a signatory of the internal letter to the Rector, had been selected by the Italian government to head up Italy's National Research Centre (the largest research organisation in Italy, which supports some 4 000 researchers across a range of subject areas). Members of the Italian parliament had been expected to rubber stamp his appointment, but, when they learnt that he had signed "the" letter, they put their decision on hold. Events since then have seen the resignation of the government and the calling of an election - so Maiani's appointment is still on hold ...

2. Book Review - Joseph Rotblat: Visionary for Peace

Joseph Rotblat was involved in the Manhattan Project (the American project that developed and then manufactured the atomic bomb) during the Second World War. He was the only scientist to resign from his work on the project, and subsequently was a leading figure among the scientists who argued for nuclear disarmament. He initiated the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, Pugwash being the location of the first meeting. This book is a collection of essays about Rotblat and his work, and includes some of Rotblat's own writings.

I attended a talk some years ago organised by the London Branch of the Institute of Physics, at which Joseph Rotblat was the speaker. In his presentation, Joseph Rotblat talked about his resignation from the Manhattan Project, which came about when it became clear to him that the Germans were not going to successfully develop an atomic weapon and that the American project clearly had an intention as much to strengthen the American hand in dealing with the Russians as it did with defeating the Germans and Japanese. Like many of the other scientists who joined the Manhattan Project, Rotblat did so in the context of a possible German nuclear weapon. Wondering to myself whether his resignation was based more on an ethical view that was in practice pragmatic rather than principled (and I don't mean by this to question in any way the sincerity or integrity of Rotblat's decision), I asked him whether his resignation from the Manhattan Project involved some sort of ethical conversion or change. I do not recall the terms of his answer, but do remember feeling that he ducked the question pretty thorougly.

The Physics World book review sheds some light on this. It describes how Rotblat felt able to join the Manhattan Project on the basis of the nuclear weapon being developed for use only as a deterrent, in the context of a possible German project. When it became apparent that there was no prospect of a German weapon being successfully developed, and he learnt of the political intentions of the nuclear weapon vis a vis the Russians, he resigned. The deterrent principle no longer applied. In his subsequent writing, Rotblat was to be very critical of the nuclear deterrence argument that was his justification for joining the Project. My question was probably, without my realising it at the time, a bit naive on my part and perhaps embarrasing to him in a personal way.

Two interesting points arising in the review, though:

Rotblat firmly held that scientists had a social responsibility for their work, that they could not stay in their "ivory towers" and disregard the ethical implications of their work (this was largely what the Pugwash conferences expressed). He was in favour of a kind of "hippocratic oath" for scientists, and for the implementation of a range of safeguards to prevent the misuse of scientific knowledge and developments.

One of the success factors in the Pugwash Conferences is that each individual attends and speaks only in their own capacity and not as a representative of any organisation or government. This means that they speak according to their own conscience - and are not constrained by policy or principles set by an organisation. It is a sad comment on the way contemporary society works that this should appear so unusual, and shows just how much conscience is constrained.

3. Physics Twins

The letters page contains six letters describing instances of identical twin physicists, following up an article in the January issue. One pair of girls attended Imperial College, both as students in material science, both winning scholarships after their first year examinations, joint winners of a prize as they graduated, joint winners of a prize for their PhD research. They then parted company, as one is still a member of the Institute of Physics while the other "defected" to the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining.

Another pair of twins attended the then University College of Swansea for their undergraduate studies and PhDs - R W L Thomas and W R L Thomas. They apparently managed to publish some joint research papers, though they worked on different areas of Physics for their research.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Liturgy and Devotions (or Lent and the Rosary)

A prospect in sight is that of a parish whose prayer/catechetical life is just Mass, two or three session Baptismal preparation programme for parents of infants, children's first Holy Communion programme and teenagers Confirmation programme. That is, a parish without a devotional life (eg Rosary group, Sunday afternoon Eucharistic Adoration, Holy Hours, youth groups etc) to accompany its Liturgical life (Mass and the celebration of the Sacraments). This prospect seems to me to have unhelpful consequences:

1. the effectiveness of sacramental preparation programmes is reduced if young people "dip in" to them and then "dip out" again - a vibrant devotional/catechetical life in a parish can provide a constant background of devotion and catechesis in which the sacramental preparation programmes fit as particular "moments"
2. pastoral needs (eg with regard to styles of prayer or music) that can legitimately be met using the freedom of devotional life are instead met in the only place in parish life that is available, namely, the Liturgy - and we find inserted into the Liturgy practises that have no place there
3. the celebration of the Liturgy itself will be less rich, because the formation towards its celebration that comes from devotional life is lacking.

Devotional/catechetical life needs to begin from the Liturgy and then lead back to its celebration. It might well be the case that the types of devotional/catechetical life needed in parishes today are not the same as those from the past. One of the risks, too, in the prospect of the "devotions-less parish" is that catechesis and devotion are separated in the consciousness of the parishioners - so sacramental preparation programmes suffer an absence of piety, and acts of piety lack a sound catechesis.

A good example of a sound relationship between Liturgy and devotions is the Rosary, and, during the first weeks of Lent, the Mysteries of Light. [The Joyful Mysteries reflect the Liturgical seasons of Advent and Christmas, the Sorrowful Mysteries the season of Holy Week/Passiontide and the Glorious Mysteries the season of Easter.] The Baptism of the Lord is celebrated between Christmas and the start of Lent, and marks the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus. The Wedding Feast at Cana looks forward to the "hour" of Jesus that will come at Calvary, and has a strongly Eucharistic significance. The Preaching of the Gospel and the call to Repentance is thorougly Lenten in its message. The story of the Transfiguration, with its forward glance to the day when the Son of Man has risen from the dead, is always the Gospel at Mass on the second Sunday of Lent. And the Institution of the Eucharist indicates the beginning of the "hour" for which Lent is our preparation, and the movement into the material of the Sorrowful Mysteries.

My favourite mysteries of the Rosary? You guessed it - the Mysteries of Light!

Saturday, 16 February 2008

A Newsletter Notice: continued continued

I have just posted the following comment to a post at hermeneutic of continuity. Fr Tim has posted some background on CAFOD and the Lent Fast Day. I re-post my comment here, and link to Fr Tim's post, because the catechetical implications of Fr Tim's background reflect those in my earlier posts on A Newsletter Notice (here and here).

Thank you for a useful and informative post. I had not recognised the drift away from "Family" via "CAFOD" to a branding that uses "Lent" as a cultural term somewhat detached from its specifically Christian meaning. Your post, and our earlier discussion on the "conversio ad creata", suggest that, even expressed in just human terms, this branding of what should be an exercise in Christian charity [ie where the act of alms giving grows out of an act of faith in Christ - cf Deus Caritas Est] is off beam.

Fr Tim also indicates some other charities to which you might contribute if you share concerns about CAFOD.

Friday, 15 February 2008

Pope Benedict XVI in Cologne: part 4

4. The Christian heritage of Cologne and the example of the saints

“[Cologne] has been deeply marked by the presence of many saints….[who] have helped Europe to grow from Christian roots.”[1]

“[In Germany] we find a rich cultural and spiritual heritage which even today, in the heart of Europe, testifies to the fruitfulness of the Christian faith and tradition.

“The diocese and region of Cologne, in particular, keep the living memory of great witnesses to Christian civilization”[2].

4.1 The Christian heritage of Germany and Cologne

In the context of contemporary European politics[3], it is difficult to underestimate the importance of Pope Benedict XVI’s references to the Christian heritage of Cologne, Germany, and by implication of Europe. The presence of the Pope in Cologne - in a sense at the heart of Europe - celebrating Mass with some one million young people was itself an eloquent statement of the presence of religious values at a time when they are often marginalised in developed societies.

When Pope Benedict arrived at Cologne-Bonn international airport, he was welcomed by political and civil authorities, as well as representatives of the Church. He was greeted by the President of the German Republic, Horst Kohler. This, Pope Benedict’s first encounter during his visit, was an encounter of religious faith with civil and political authorities. After greeting all those involved in the arrangements for the World Youth Day, Pope Benedict referred to the journey of faith that leads to knowledge of Jesus Christ:

“Along this interior journey we can be guided by the many signs with which a long and rich Christian tradition has indelibly marked this land of Germany: from great historical monuments to countless works of art found throughout the country, from documents preserved in libraries to lively popular traditions, from philosophical inquiry to the theological reflection of her many great thinkers, from the spiritual traditions to the mystical experience of a vast array of saints. Here we find a rich cultural and spiritual heritage which even today, in the heart of Europe, testifies to the fruitfulness of the Christian faith and tradition.”[4]
Later on the same day, speaking from the steps of Cologne Cathedral, after referring to the saints of Cologne, Pope Benedict said:

“In these and all the other saints, both known and unknown, we discover the deepest and truest face of this city and we become aware of the legacy of values handed down to us by the generations of Christians who have gone before us. It is a very rich legacy. We need to be worthy of it. It is a responsibility of which the very stones of the city's ancient buildings remind us.”[5]
4.2 The example of the saints

In several of his addresses, Pope Benedict made reference to the saints, especially those who lived in Cologne. As we have already seen, the first way in which he did this was to talk about the saints as being part of the Christian heritage of Cologne and of Germany. He offered them to his listeners as a kind of “memory” of the spiritual heritage of Cologne:

“The city of Cologne would not be what it is without the Magi, who have had so great an impact on its history, its culture and its faith. Here, in some sense, the Church celebrates the feast of the Epiphany every day of the year! And so, before addressing you in the presence of this magnificent cathedral, I paused for a moment of prayer before the reliquary of the three Magi and gave thanks to God for their witness of faith, hope and love. …

“Yet Cologne is not just the city of the Magi. It has been deeply marked by the presence of many saints; these holy men and women, through the witness of their lives and the imprint they left on the history of the German people, have helped Europe to grow from Christian roots. I think above all of the martyrs of the first
centuries, like young Saint Ursula and her companions, who, according to tradition, were martyred under Diocletian. How can one fail to remember Saint Boniface, the apostle of Germany, whose election as bishop of Cologne in 745 was confirmed by Pope Zachary? The name of Saint Albert the Great is also linked to this city; his body rests nearby in the crypt of the Church of Saint Andrew.

“In Cologne Saint Thomas Aquinas was a disciple of Saint Albert and later a professor. Nor can we forget Blessed Adolph Kolping, who died in Cologne in 1865; from a shoemaker he became a priest and founded many social lives, especially in the area of professional training.

“Closer to our own times, our thoughts turn to Edith Stein, the eminent 20th-century Jewish philosopher who entered the Carmelite Convent in Cologne taking the name of Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, and later died in the concentration camp at Auschwitz. Pope John Paul II canonized her and declared her a co-patroness of Europe, together with Saint Bridget of Sweden and Saint Catherine of Siena.”[6]
Pope Benedict also spoke of the saints as examples that show us how to live the Christian life, even today:

“What we have just been saying about the nature of God being different, and about the way our lives must be shaped accordingly, sounds very fine, but remains rather vague and unfocussed. That is why God has given us examples. The Magi from the East are just the first in a long procession of men and women who have constantly tried to gaze upon God's star in their lives, going in search of the God who has drawn close to us and shows us the way….

“My venerable predecessor Pope John Paul II beatified and canonized a great many people from both the distant and the recent past. Through these individuals he wanted to show us how to be Christian; how to live life as it should be lived -- according to God's way….

“One need only think of such figures as Saint Benedict, Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Teresa of Avila, Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Saint Charles Borromeo, the founders of 19th-century religious orders who inspired and guided the social movement, or the saints of our own day -- Maximilian Kolbe, Edith Stein, Mother Teresa, Padre Pio. In contemplating these figures we learn what it means ‘to adore’ and what it means to live according to the measure of the child of Bethlehem, by the measure of Jesus Christ and of God himself.”[7]

[1] Pope Benedict XVI Address after visiting Cologne Cathedral 18th August 2005.
[2] Pope Benedict XVI Address delivered during his arrival ceremony at Cologne-Bonn international airport 18th August 2005.
[3] The recently drafted constitution of the European Union makes no reference, even in its preamble, to the Christian heritage of Europe. This was the subject of considerable diplomatic and political activity by the Holy See during the drafting process. The rejection of Rocco Buttiglione as a European Commissioner following his expression of a Catholic position on homosexuality also brought into relief the question of the exclusion of religious, and specifically Christian, outlook from the political life of Europe.
[4] Pope Benedict XVI Address delivered during his arrival ceremony at Cologne-Bonn international airport 18th August 2005.
[5] Pope Benedict XVI Address after visiting Cologne Cathedral 18th August 2005.
[6] Pope Benedict XVI Address after visiting Cologne Cathedral 18th August 2005.
[7] Pope Benedict XVI Homily during the Vigil for World Youth Day, Marienfeld, Cologne 20th August 2005.

Book meme

Rita has tagged me on the 123 book meme. She wonders whether it will be a physics book or one to do with religious faith. Being indecisive, I am going to do both, both books being pulled off my shelves with moderate randomness.

The meme, by the way, is: (1) find the nearest book, with more than 123 pages. (2) open p 123 (3) find the 5th sentence(4) post the next three.

The Physics book is: Charles Kittel Introduction to Solid State Physics 6th edn. And as you might have predicted p.123 is a page of questions at the end of a chapter on phonons:

2. Rms thermal dilation of a crystal cell.[Does this count as a sentence?] (a) Estimate for 300 K the root mean square thermal dilation delta V/V for a primitive cell of sodium. Take the bulk modulus as 70 000 000 000 erg per centimetre cubed [what an awful unit!]. Note that the Debye temperature 158 K is less than 300 K, so that the thermal energy is of the order kBT.

The theology book is Karl Rahner Foundations of Christian Faith.

Even with respect to the created subject presupposed as already existing, God's self-communication is a further miracle of his free love which is the most self-evident thing of all, and at the same time it cannot be logically deduced from anything else. The doctrine that grace and fulfillment in the immediate vision of God are supernatural does not mean that the supernatural "elevation" of a spiritual creature is added extrinsically and accidentally to the essence and the structure of a spiritual subject of unlimited transcendence. In the concrete order which we encounter in our transcendental experience and as interpreted by Christian revelation, the spiritual creature is constituted to begin with as the possible addressee of such a divine self-communication.

I do not lay any claim to great understanding of either of the above - perhaps commenters could vote as to which of the two they think is most intelligible! My understanding of the physics, in particular, has undergone exponential decay over some length of time ....

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Maryvale Institute: "No Distance" newsletter

The Maryvale Institute keeps in touch with its friends, students and associate staff by way of a newsletter called "No Distance". The January 2008 issue arrived last week. Fr Paul Watson ends his "From the Director" piece on the front page with the sentence:

Fundamentally, for Newman and for us, only education that produces a unity of knowledge and love, both of this world and the next, is, ultimately, authentic education.

I liked this when I read it, particularly because I contribute to the Institute's initial teacher training programme. Later in the newsletter, readers are encouraged to pray in support of Maryvale's striving to be recognised as a Pontifical Institute:

Please pray the Maryvale Prayer as regularly as you can this year to support Maryvale's discussions and negotiations to become a pontifical institute. Some of you may know that in 2003 Maryvale Institute responded to encouragement to follow a path towards this goal, urged to do so by many in the Church. This year the prayer and activity will be intensifying and the Institute is seeking grace, wisdom and strength from the Blessed Trinity for this mission.

Several of the staff from Maryvale, including Fr Paul (below left), are planning a sponsored walk to raise funds for the Institute and its students. In April, they will be walking 100 km of the pilgrim way to Santiago de Compostella. If you feel able to support this fund raising initiative, do contact the Institute.

Stations of the Cross and Eucharistic Adoration: 24th February 2008

A forthcoming event in the parish. I think this will be the third year that we have arranged it. The parish has Rainbow - Brownie - Guide and Beaver - Cub - Scout groups, and we invite them to take part in the Stations and Adoration on a Sunday afternoon early in Lent. The older children read the meditations for each Station, and the younger groups carry the cross, in turn, from Station to Station. The Stations are followed by a short period of Eucharistic Adoration. The meditations we use have been adapted from those written by the then Cardinal Ratzinger for the Coloseum in 2005 - the Stations that Pope John Paul II followed on television from his room shortly before he died. The meditations present the Way of the Cross as being a road towards the Eucharist - the grain of wheat that dies and then grows again. One of the "critical success factors" is the way in which the group leaders encourage their members to take part.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Word of Life: "Whoever practises and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven"

Three of us have just met, as we do each month, to reflect on the "Word of Life" . The "Word of Life" is a Scripture passage chosen each month; a commentary on the passage (usually written by the President of the Focolare, Chiara Lubich) suggests ways of putting this passage into practice in daily life. A "Word of Life" group will meet each month to consider the chosen Scripture passage for that month, and to share how they might live out that passage in the coming month.

Here are our favourite passages from the "Word of Life" for February 2008:

"He will open the way for us"

"Jesus invites us to proclaim his Gospel. But before 'teaching' his words, he asks us to 'practise' them. To be credible, we ought to be 'experts' in the Gospel, a 'living Gospel'. Only then will we be able to witness to it with our lives and teach it with our words."

"We cannot keep the gift we have received to ourselves. We are called to repeat with Paul 'Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel' .... May the Gospel shine out again, through us personally, in our homes, in our cities, in our nations...The risen Lord will blaze forth with greater beauty, and he will consider us 'great in his kingdom'"

Monday, 11 February 2008

Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes

I have just returned from a visit to the parish of Our Lady of Lourdes and St Joseph, in Leigh- on- Sea, Essex. They have this evening celebrated a sung Mass for their patronal feast day, and to mark the 150th anniversary of the apparitions at Lourdes. The picture shows the shrine to Our Lady of Lourdes in the Church. Mass was celebrated with due solemnity. I particularly enjoyed the singing of the Lourdes setting of the Ave Verum at Communion.

The parish priest has arranged a "listen again" function on the parish website. You can download Sunday homilies as podcasts. Follow the links to the "podcasts" from the homepage of the site. What would be interesting is to know how many downloads the homilies get ...

A Newsletter Notice: continued

This is from CAFODs materials for the Lenten Fast Day:

"This Lent, CAFOD asks us to think about our relationship with creation. We’re all hearing a lot about climate change these days, but what’s the special message for us as Christians? If we believe creation is a gift from God to be cherished, then climate change is a dire warning that we should be treading more lightly on God’s earth. There’s no time to lose in changing the way we live and the way we consume. "

I think it does help put the "thinking about our relationship with creation" into a better context. However, it still leaves me asking some questions:

1. If I have understood the Genesis accounts correctly, they indicate that physical creation is at the service of the human race ("let them have dominion" 1:26, 28 "whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name" 2:19), and not the other way round. For CAFOD, which is first, the earth or humanity? As a gift from God, creation is to be cherished as a good at the service of mankind - that is its finality which defines the nature of it as a good, as a gift from God.

2. What is a "relationship with creation"? We relate with other people precisely because they are persons like ourselves - relationship is a feature of a reciprocal communion between those who are persons. So Fr Tim's comment to my previous post - pointing out that the prime focus of our Lenten exercises is about our relationship with God - is strongly pertinent. The second aspect of our Lenten exercises is our relationship with our neighbour, closely related with that of our relationship with God. The call to change the way we live and consume is perfectly sound - but it is not about our relationship with creation, it is about our relationship with God and our neighbour.

3. If the CAFOD approach for this Lenten Fast day is seen as an exercise in catechetics, perhaps we could apply some of the criteria for judgement of authentic catechesis (cf General Directory for Catechesis nn.94ff):
- is the message centred on Christ ("christocentric")?
- does the message lead us from Christ to the Trinity ("trinitarian christocentricity")?
- does the message lead us to profession of the unity of Christian faith ("ecclesial nature")?

Catholic mom of 10 has posted the text of Pope Benedict XVI's Angelus address yesterday. Do have a read - and apply to it the same criteria of judgement as just listed. Ah, isn't this how things should be done!

Sunday, 10 February 2008

A Newsletter Notice

I am having difficulty understanding the following notice which I saw in a parish newsletter this weekend, and was wondering whether anyone could help shed some light on it.
Friday 15th February is Family Fast Day when we are encouraged to FAST [I can understand what this means, though I am not very good at it] and PRAY [I can understand this as well, and might be a bit better at it than I am at fasting, because I try it more often] and think about our relationship with creation. [This is the bit that defeats me.] A retiring collection will be taken up at all Masses next weekend for CAFOD. [I can understand this sentence in isolation, but am struggling to see its connection with thinking about my relationship to creation.]

Ice skating and second adolescence

The local Ice Rink not scoring very well on customer care, we ended up travelling to Canary Wharf in London, where the last of the Christmas/New Year outdoor rinks was still open. At least there we should not have met anyone we knew and could display our lack of expertise without due concern. Except that the girl selling the tickets had been in one of my A-level Physics classes only three years ago .... The (temporary) rink was located between the skyscrapers of Docklands. Video clip to follow when I have worked out the best way of posting videos to a blog!

This photo taken from beside the ice rink...

In the afternoon, we visited Greenwich Park. Pulse rates of 92 and 96 (don't ask) after we had walked up to the Old Observatory at the top of the hill.

To prove we did reach the top...

This was the view on the way back down again....

We finished the day with a real dose of adolescence, at the Greenwich Picture House (see review below). No popcorn, though. We shall have to have another go at this cinema thing ...

Saturday, 9 February 2008

Film Review: Juno

Today I saw a delightful film at Greenwich Picture House. Ellen Page was enchanting as the teenage, Juno (her Dad had named her after a Roman Goddess), who finds herself with an unplanned pregnancy. It has an upbeat, positive attitude to a situation that is often portrayed as a disaster. The music helps to carry the story line along at a jaunty pace. It is poignant, you will laugh at loud and the film appeals across generations.

The reviews of this film concentrate on the humour, giving the impression that it is largely a comedy. Whilst there is a good deal of dry humour, it also deals quite movingly with how all those involved in the situation (Juno's parents, boyfriend, school friends etc) react to it.

This feel-good film will leave a smile on your face and the catchy music firmly in your head as you leave the cinema. Star rating: 5 out of 5, a "must see".

[review written by a guest poster]

Friday, 8 February 2008

World Day for the Sick: Chiara Luce Badano

I am posting the following testimony with an eye to the World Day for the Sick on 11th February. Chiara Badano was a teenager active in the Focolare movement in her home town, near Turin. Some of the dialogue in this testimony reflects the spirituality of the Focolare.

One of the customs in the Focolare is that, when a person makes a commitment in the movement, they receive a new name from the President of the movement (Chiara Lubich), the name being chosen to reflect the particular character or charism of the individual concerned. During her illness, Chiara Badano was given the name "Luce"("light"). This was because of the reputation of her smile, which seemed to be maintained throughout her illness.

Chiara died of a particularly painful form of cancer in 1990, aged just eighteen. Two days before Christmas, Chiara was taken into hospital for an emergency blood transfusion. This is how her mother tells the story of Chiara’s last Christmas.

“She had prepared presents for the family and her friends. But the white blood cell count fell rapidly and her fever returned. On the telephone, her doctor asked questions urgently, and wanted to know how long it would take to reach the hospital in Turin. The ambulance was there, but Chiara did not want to go: ‘I do not want to spend Christmas in hospital,’ she said; ‘If I am going to die, Jesus, I want it to be at home’.

“I whispered in her ear that it was the will of God to go to the hospital. She accepted, but did not say one word during the journey, she suffered terribly. At the door of the hospital the doctors…were already waiting for the blood transfusion.

“The following day, Christmas eve, I said to her when I came in to her room: ‘Here is every one with Christmas presents in their arms, but no-one looks you in the eye, no-one says good morning. Jesus is very near and no-one sees him.’ After she had overcome a moment of difficulty, I continued: ‘Let us light the fire of Jesus among us, which warms the whole world. You must light it because my heart is giving little heat.’ She replied: ‘Let us do it together, mother’.

“That afternoon, the Archbishop of Turin visited the hospital. He noticed the look on Chiara’s face. He came in to her room and asked her: ‘You have a wonderful light in
your eyes. How do you do it?’ After a moment of shyness, she replied: ‘I try to love Jesus’.

“The same day, one of the hospital volunteers was suffering a crisis of faith from seeing so many children in the hospital dying of cancer. While I went down to the bar for a drink, she sat with Chiara. I do not know what they said to each other, but this lady affirmed, having recovered all her courage, that this Christmas was the most
beautiful of her life. For us, too, it was the same thing.”

[my own translation, from Michel Zanzucchi Un sourire de paradis p.56-58.]

Pope Benedict XVI in Cologne: part 3

3. The Eucharist as the place of our meeting with Jesus Christ and source of transformation for the world

“In these days, during this ‘Year of the Eucharist,’ we will turn with the same awe to Christ present in the Tabernacle of mercy, in the Sacrament of the Altar.”[1]

“Let us discover the intimate riches of the Church's liturgy and its true greatness: It is not we who are celebrating for ourselves, but it is the living God himself who is preparing a banquet for us.”

3.1 The Eucharist as the place of our meeting with Jesus Christ

The theme for the World Youth Day, drawn from the story of the Magi worshipping the infant Jesus in Bethlehem, was applied by Pope Benedict to our adoration of Jesus present in the Eucharist.
[3] As he spoke to young people on the banks of the Rhine, he made a connection between a meeting with Christ and a meeting with the Eucharist:

“… in every Mass the liturgy of the Word introduces us to our participation in the mystery of the cross and resurrection of Christ and hence introduces us to the Eucharistic Meal, to union with Christ. Present on the altar is the One whom the Magi saw lying in the manger: Christ, the living Bread who came down from heaven to give life to the world, the true Lamb who gives his own life for the salvation of humanity. Enlightened by the Word, it is in Bethlehem -- the ‘House of Bread’ -- that we can always encounter the inconceivable greatness of a God who humbled himself even to appearing in a manger, to giving himself as food on the altar….

"’The Magi are filled with awe by what they see; heaven on earth and earth in heaven; man in God and God in man; they see enclosed in a tiny body the One whom the entire world cannot contain’ (St. Peter Chrysologus, Serm. 160, No. 2). In these days, during this ‘Year of the Eucharist,’ we will turn with the same awe to Christ present in the Tabernacle of mercy, in the Sacrament of the Altar.”

3.2 The Eucharist as a source of transformation for the world

In the homily during the closing Mass for the World Youth Day, Pope Benedict reflected on the Eucharist as a source of transformation for the lives of the faithful and for the world. Reflecting on Jesus’ words at the Last Supper, Pope Benedict said:

“By making the bread into his Body and the wine into his Blood, [Jesus]anticipates his death, he accepts it in his heart and he transforms it into an action of love. What on the outside is simply brutal violence, from within becomes an act of total self-giving love. This is the substantial transformation which was accomplished at the Last Supper and was destined to set in motion a series of transformations leading ultimately to the transformation of the world when God will be all in all (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:28). In their hearts, people always and everywhere have somehow expected a change, a transformation of the world. Here now is the central act of transformation that alone can truly renew the world: Violence is transformed into love, and death into life.”[5]

The Pope compared the series of transformations that takes place from our participation in the Eucharist to the chain reaction that occurs in nuclear fission. The fission of the nucleus of one atom leads to the fission of other atoms; these in their turn lead to the fission of even more, in an escalating, multiplying expansion.

“…. (T)his is like inducing nuclear fission in the very heart of being -- the victory of love over hatred, the victory of love over death. Only this intimate explosion of good conquering evil can then trigger off the series of transformations that little by little will change the world. All other changes remain superficial and cannot save. For this reason we speak of redemption: What had to happen at the most intimate level has indeed happened, and we can enter into its dynamic. Jesus can distribute his Body, because he truly gives himself.”[6]

Pope Benedict spoke of the transformation that participation in the Eucharist then demands of us, arguing that our adoration becomes union:

“The Body and Blood of Christ are given to us so that we ourselves will be transformed in our turn….

“I like to illustrate this new step urged upon us by the Last Supper by drawing out the different nuances of the word ‘adoration’ in Greek and in Latin. The Greek word is ‘proskynesis.’ It refers to the gesture of submission, the recognition of God as our true measure, supplying the norm that we choose to follow. It means that freedom is not simply about enjoying life in total autonomy, but rather about living by the measure of truth and goodness, so that we ourselves can become true and good. This gesture is necessary even if initially our yearning for freedom makes us inclined to resist it. We can only fully accept it when we take the second step that the Last Supper proposes to us. The Latin word for adoration is ‘ad-oratio’ -- mouth-to-mouth contact, a kiss, an embrace, and hence ultimately love. Submission becomes union, because he to whom we submit is Love. In this way submission acquires a meaning, because it does not impose anything on us from the outside, but liberates us deep within….

“Jesus’ hour seeks to become our own hour and will indeed become so if we allow ourselves, through the celebration of the Eucharist, to be drawn into that process of transformation that the Lord intends to bring about. The Eucharist must be the centre of our lives.”

What is the richest sentence that Pope Benedict used in talking of the Eucharist is hidden away in his exhortation to young people to be faithful to participation at Mass on a Sunday: “It is not we who are celebrating for ourselves, but it is the living God himself who is preparing a banquet for us”.

“Do not be deterred from taking part in Sunday Mass, and help others to discover it too. This is because the Eucharist releases the joy that we need so much, and we must learn to grasp it ever more deeply, we must learn to love it. Let us pledge ourselves to do this -- it is worth the effort! Let us discover the intimate riches of the Church's liturgy and its true greatness: It is not we who are celebrating for ourselves, but it is the living God himself who is preparing a banquet for us.”[8]

[1] Pope Benedict XVI Address to young people on the banks of the River Rhine, 18th August 2005.
[2] Pope Benedict XVI Homily during the closing Mass for World Youth Day, Marienfeld, Cologne 21st August 2005.
[3] During the events of World Youth Day, from 10 am on the 16th to the morning of 20th August, twenty churches in Cologne/Dusseldorf/Bonn were open for perpetual Eucharistic adoration. In many of these churches, the adoration was animated by one of the new movements in the Church.
[4] Pope Benedict XVI Address to young people on the banks of the River Rhine, 18th August 2005.
[5] Pope Benedict XVI Homily during the closing Mass for World Youth Day, Marienfeld, Cologne 21st August 2005.
[6] Pope Benedict XVI Homily during the closing Mass for World Youth Day, Marienfeld, Cologne 21st August 2005.
[7] Pope Benedict XVI Homily during the closing Mass for World Youth Day, Marienfeld, Cologne 21st August 2005.
[8] Pope Benedict XVI Homily during the closing Mass for World Youth Day, Marienfeld, Cologne 21st August 2005.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Parents consultation evening; Ann Widdecombe et al at Methodist Central Hall

I spent three and half hours after school today taking part in a parents consultation meeting for our Year 12. I teach fifteen of them A-level Physics. Out of the fifteen, I met the parents of eleven, which I think was a good attendance. These evenings are enjoyable, but exhausting (even for me on a part-time timetable). Don't you just love the parent who gives you their mobile 'phone number and says, "Any problem, please phone at any time"!

My sister has just sent me the following report of the meeting at Methodist Central Hall last night:

Went to the meeting at Methodist Central Hall in Westminster last night and heard Ann Widdecombe, Lord Alton and others talking about the HFE Bill going through Parliament. We are being urged to write to Gordon Brown to ask him to remove the 3 line whip on MPs to vote for the Bill and allow a free vote. We also have to lobby MPs. It was quite exciting as there were protesters outside the building (not pleasant people at all) and they also tried to disrupt the meeting, heckling and chanting and being generally obnoxious. Eventually they were all removed by the stewards.

Nothing new there then.

Tomorrow sees a day trip to Birmingham for a meeting at Maryvale (a 310 mile round trip for those unfamiliar with UK geography). On Saturday morning, "second adolescence" kicks in with an ice skating trip.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Fanta a risk to Pope Benedict's health?

The following from the BBC news website, posted on 1st February 2008.

"Gout surge blamed on sweet drinks

Sugary drinks have been blamed for a surge in cases of the painful joint disease gout.

Men who consume two or more sugary soft drinks a day have an 85% higher risk of gout compared with those who drink less than one a month, a study suggests."

Fanta, reported by "usually reliable sources" to be the Benedict XVI's favoured tipple, is a very sweet drink indeed. One 500 ml bottle contains 52.6 g of sugar [source: Coca Cola's own website].

Has any one thought to warn the Holy Father of this risk to his health?

Should the faithful start an immediate campaign of prayer for his protection?

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Follow up to John Smeaton's "Do we live in a civilised country? .."

On 29th January, John Smeaton's blog carried an article headed "Do we live in a civilised country?.." He quoted Baroness Meacher speaking in the House of Lords. She argued that it would have been in the “best interests” of two children she knew with cerebral palsy to have been aborted: "My belief is that there are children, born at those very early ages, who are not viable people. It would be in their best interests to have been aborted."

When I first read John Smeaton's post, I watched again a short video "Jenny" that I have had since 2004. It is one of several video clips on a CD-ROM that was circulated to teachers by the British Educational Communications and Technology Association (BECTA). BECTA are a professional body promoting the use of computer and computer associated technology in schools. The CD-ROM was entitled "Creativity in the classroom using Digital Media", and contained the winning entries for the 2004 Digital Media Awards (BECTAs annual awards now exist in a very different format). Schools submitting entries had to produce a 2 minute video demonstrating innovative use of digital media.

The video "Jenny" was produced by pupils at a special school (ie a school dedicated to providing education for children with significant physical and/or learning disabilities). The acting, recording, editing and production of the video were undertaken entirely by the pupils, each of whom had their own responsibility within the production team. The lead role was taken by Jenny, who suffers from cerebral palsy. The video shows Jenny introducing her friends and then acting as a puppet dancing to music. One of the other pupils is shown as the puppet master. As the music comes to an end, she is "lowered" to the floor by the puppet master and the video freezes as she looks up from the floor to camera. It is a very moving video.

In the supporting video that explains how the pupils made their video, the headteacher of the school points out that, watched at normal speed, Jenny's movements appeared random and unco-ordinated (a result of her illness). When watched in slow motion, however, Jenny's attempts to control the movements of her body - ie a genuine attempt to dance - can be seen clearly. So the video made by the pupils shows her dancing in slow motion.

This is an interesting use of technology to allow pupils with disabilities to demonstrate an achievement that would otherwise have been impossible to see. Would that technology was always used in a way that supports the development of the person!

This video came first in an age group category, not in a category for special needs pupils. These pupils competed successfully against entries from able bodied pupils.

I have on occasion shown this video to pupils at school as part of an equalities activity. Not only have Jenny and her friends shown a considerable achievement, but that achievement has been shared with other children.

Would Baroness Meacher have considered Jenny and her friends to be "not viable people"?

[As I post, I have the CD-ROM sitting on my desk in front of me ... I had originally thought to post the video itself, but have decided against doing so. Though the video was circulated on CD-ROM amongst teachers, it does not appear to be in the public domain in the fullest sense. My attempt to track down a web presence of the school at which the video was made has also been unsuccesful; the school appears to have been closed or amalgamated as part of a re-organisation.]