Monday, 29 September 2008

Awfully confused messages: the Archbishop of Canterbury in Lourdes

I have a very high regard for the work of the shrine at Lourdes, and the sense of mission associated with it. I have a subscription to Lourdes Magazine, and regularly use it as a source for meditations and testimonies during our monthly Eucharistic Adoration in the parish. The celebration of the 150th anniversary of the apparitions to St Bernadette has been very well put together, with "12 missions" being expressed by different pilgrimages during the year. The pilgrimage to Lourdes of the Church of England's Society of Mary, in collaboration with the Anglican shrine of Walsingham, expresses the ecumenical mission of the Church. This pilgrimage took place from 22nd-26th September. Cardinal Walter Kasper, from the Vatican's Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity was present in Lourdes at the time.

Now, it is great that a Church of England pilgrimage should visit Lourdes; and it is entirely appropriate for the shrine to make them welcome and, indeed, incorporate them into the overall programme for the 150th anniversary celebrations.
But .... a photograph such as this, from the web site of the Society of Mary and appearing also on the site of the Church Times, an Anglican newspaper, is totally confusing in the messages it communicates. Who, looking at this photograph, is not going to think that the Archbishop of Canterbury (whose status as an ordained minister is not recognised as being such by the Roman Catholic Church) and Cardinal Walter Kasper are not equally bishops?

Cardinal Walter Kasper and Archbishop Rowan Williams (Church of England), at the grotto in Lourdes

Some elements of the Church of England might believe that they are equally bishops, but the Roman Catholic Church does not think so. It is totally confusing to Catholics, and, perhaps more seriously, totally misleading to those in the Church of England.

It must also be totally confusing and misleading to those Anglicans, particularly clergy, who have been recieved into the Roman Catholic Church. Little wonder that one occasionally comes across ill informed understandings of what is acceptable ecumenical practice among the latter.

Equally, the posting on the Lourdes website of the programme for the pilgrimage without a clear distinction between "Mass" (ie Church of England, that the Catholic Church would not consider a valid sacramental celebration) and "Mass" (ie a valid, Roman Catholic celebration) is also confusing. I am not sure what the Church's discipline is as far as the use of altars normally used for the celebration of Mass by ministers of other denominations is concerned, but it certainly only adds to the confusion for the Society of Mary pilgrimage to be using the Rosary Basilica for one of their celebrations, and the St Joseph's Chapel for others.

That the Archbishop of Canterbury should preach at the International Mass is, I think, a clear breach of rubrics. One might consider the occasion, however, to be one sufficiently special to forgive the breach ... but one hopes that he could be distinguished from the Catholic bishops celebrating the Mass .... The text of the homily can be found here; rather "C of E", and shows some awareness of the context of Lourdes, but I am not sure I buy into the picture that it portrays of St Bernadette - "Only bit by bit does Bernardette find the words to let the world know; only bit by bit, we might say, does she discover how to listen to the Lady and echo what she has to tell us". The analogy of the apparitions at Lourdes to the visitation of Elizabeth by the Virgin Mary in the Gospel account is attractive, though Archbishop Williams does, I think, slew the picture of St Bernadette as a result.

I can't help thinking that, with a bit of imagination, it would have been possible to facilitate this Anglican pilgrimage without all the problems raised above. I do think we deserve some sort of clarification of exactly what was going on, if only to avoid giving wrong impressions to Anglican and Catholic clergy at a lower level as to what is acceptable ecumencial practice.

Canada: Alberta bishops statement on HPV vaccination in schools

I have found it interesting to read the statement of the Catholic Bishops of Alberta on the question of a HPV vaccination programme that is being offered in the schools of that province. (On a personal note, the list of Bishops includes one who I met, and spoke to over lunch, when in Quebec at the International Eucharistic Congress.) The programme in Alberta schools parallels closely that now being offered in schools in this country.

It clearly makes two points with regard to Catholic teaching: parents have the first responsibility for making decisions with regard to the welfare of their children, a responsibility prior to that of both the Alberta provincial government and of schools; and that Catholic teaching with regard to chastity outside marriage is part of a framework in which schools and government authorities should address wider questions of human relationships and the meaning of sexuality for young people.

The following paragraph interested me. Whilst it draws the attention of parents to their responsibility for the sexual education of their children, the age range indicated was something I found interesting.
Parents need to promote ongoing dialogue with their pre-teen and teenage offspring about relationships and sexuality. Through teaching, active monitoring of social and other activities, and giving overt guidance regarding appropriate and safe dating relationships, they need to protect their children from counterproductive influences and potential abuse.

I do not agree with this next paragraph from the statement as it is literally written. HPV vaccination may send the message that sexual intercourse is alright provided you are "protected". But a school could also provide the vaccinations in a context that overcomes this difficulty - though most secular schools are probably less likely to be successful in such an attempt than religious schools. However, the Bishops do quite rightly highlight a danger arising from the pogramme, and it might well be the case that the circumstances of schools in Alberta mean that this is serious danger.

Secondly, although school-based immunization delivery systems generally result in high numbers of students completing immunization, a school-based approach to vaccination sends a message that early sexual intercourse is allowed, as long as one uses "protection."

But perhaps most important is the Bishops' recognition of the voluntary nature of the Alberta government programme, and the need for parents to be fully informed of what is involved in giving - or withholding - consent for their girls to receive the vaccine. At the end of the day, it has not asked Catholic schools to decline to co-operate with the Alberta government programme - the message contains no directive; but it has clearly set moral and cultural parameters within which any such co-operation should take place.

And, comparing to the response of the hierarchy in England and Wales, the statement has been issued by the Bishops, not by their education service. The implication is not one for the nature of the teaching itself, but for how the Bishops involved see their ministry of teaching for the faithful.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

This and that from the media

The Times newspaper yesterday published two letters highly critical of the decision of governors at St Monica's school in Prestwich, Manchester that their pupils should not receive the HPV vaccinations at the school. The Catholic Church was called upon to condemn this irresponsible action by one of their schools.

As Zero pointed out to me, would there have been half the fuss if the school had not been a Roman Catholic school? I think the media have taken the chance to "have a go". I post a copy of the governors letter to the parents of the school below, and I think you will see that it demonstrates a willingness of the school to fully co-operate with the Primary Care Trust in the Trust making arrangements for girls attending the school to recieve the vaccination in other settings. H/T to Catholic Mom of 10, where I first saw the text. I posted on this matter earlier; Fr Ray also had a post which addressed different aspects of the matter. Mulier Fortis has also posted, with the comments to her post developing other elements of the discussion.

[If you aren't able to open the image in such a way that you can read the text, follow the link to the post at Catholic Mom of 10, and you will be able to see and read the text.]

The Conservative shadow home affairs minister is reported today as criticising the idea of "multiculturalism" in favour of a greater sense of British culture. This seems to have become the accepted wisdom these days. However, he is also reported as advocating recognition of the role of Christianity in British culture. This according to the BBC news website:

Mr Grieve also said the part played by Christianity in Britain should not be ignored.
"The role of Christianity is really rather important. It can't just be magicked out of the script. It colours many of the fundamental viewpoints of British people, including many who've never been in a church."
I do have a caution about this advocacy in favour of Christianity. Yes, I think it is is important to recognise that many of Britain's laws and much of its societal practice can only be fully understood in the light of their Christian origins. But for this to carry any force in policy debate today, we must also recognise that Christianity is a religion that is still lived and practiced by many people in Britain today. The Christianity that is entitled to a stake in the public square is not the Christianity of yesterday, or the day before that, or the year before that ... it is a Christianity that is still a living, practiced religion of today, yes, in continuity with the past, but definitely lived and experienced today. Just arguing the place of Christianity in public life on the grounds of its historical contribution can only be part of the story, and has the danger of Christian practice being isolated to its own "corner" where it is not allowed to take part in the life of wider society as a whole; it must be accepted that Christianity will contribute to contemporary moral and political discourse, something that may challenge the assumptions of many of no religious belief.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Never Forgotten: The Suffering Church

Today we went off to Westminster Cathedral to take part in Aid to the Church in Need's annual day meeting, entitled this year "Never Forgotten: The Suffering Church".

We arrived for Mass in time for the In nomine Patris, having changed onto the wrong train and then having had to negotiate a signal failure at Aldgate to get ourselves back on to the right line! Clouds of incense suitably illuminated by the streaming rays of the Sun shining through the windows behind the sanctuary. Solemn Mass was celebrated by Archbishop Jean Sleiman of Baghdad.

Archbishop Sleiman gave us a very careful and exact analysis of the situation of the people of Iraq, before addressing in more detail the situation of Christians in the country. With the sudden end of the regime of Saddam Hussein, the state, and with it the rule of law, disappeared. Years afterwards, there is still not the confidence in the new Iraqi government for many people to feel that a rule of law has been re-established. Though violence has decreased, it is still there, and the predominant experience of Christians in Iraq is that of fear. Even though the constitution guarantees freedom, democracy and human rights, these cannot be practiced because of the widespread divisions in society caused by religious differences, ethnic differences, tribal differences etc. Where we in the UK often consider questions of the relation of the state to civil society in terms of situations where the state is encroaching on what should really be left to civil society, it was very interesting to hear about a situation where it is the inadequacy of the state that is leading to strife at the level of civil society.

The Archbishop mentioned how, during the short war as the Americans and British invaded Iraq, Christians and Muslims prayed together as they sheltered from the war. This, however, came to an end almost immediately that the major hostilities ended. He also commented on the extent to which Christians have fled the major cities of Iraq, either to neighbouring countries or to the northern region of Iraq itself. Archbishop Sleiman spoke strongly against the idea that Christians should move to the northern region and seek a kind of autonomous government there, saying that Christians needed to be able to play a full part in Iraqi society throughout the country, and not be confined to a "ghetto".

John Pontifex gave an update on the situations in northern Iraq and China; Neville Kyrke-Smith spoke about the situation in the Caucasus - Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Georgia.

From what was said during the day, I am expecting that the full text of Archbishop Sleiman's talk will be placed on the ACN UK website.

Webs on the web

The washing lines at the back of the flats this morning ....

My taking these photos, while Zero drummed her fingers on the steering wheel waiting for me, is what made us late for Mass this morning ....

Thursday, 25 September 2008

School Science Review on creationism, intelligent design and science education

The School Science Review is the journal of the UK Association for Science Education (ASE). The ASE is the professional body representing those involved in science education in schools, colleges and teacher training in the UK. It is, I believe, the largest of the subject organisations in the education field in the UK.

The September 2008 issue of the School Science Review has an article entitled "Creationism, intelligent design and science education". This is a very lucid and useful article, for teachers of religious education as well as for science teachers. If you do not have access to your own copy of the journal, but would like to read the article, ask the head of science in your school if they can let you have a photocopy of the article or, failing that, contact the science advisory teacher (or equivalent) in your local authority. What follows is the abstract of the article.

Science teachers may currently find questions about creationism and intelligent design being raised in science lessons. In 2007 the UK Government's Department for Children, Schools and Families published some guidance on these matters, followed almost immediately by a resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. It therefore seems appropriate, especially in view of the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth, to examine the meanings of these terms and how they differ from traditional beliefs in creation and design.

Apart from a very lucid account of the scientific/philosophical/religious issues themselves, Michael Poole also gives a good account of how these issues have been treated in public policy debate. Or, more accurately, mis-treated in that public debate tends to insufficiently distinguish ideas of creationism and intelligent design from the traditional religious understandings of creation and design. This demonstrates rather well how Christians of what one might call (and I intend this charitably) a fundamentalist evangelical tendency - who in practice do not give sufficient recognition to the part played by human reason in the search for knowledge, particularly knowledge of God - do a great disservice to the standing of religious belief in the public square by creating the opportunity for such mis-treatment.

The same issue of School Science Review also contains the ASE statement on "Science Education, Intelligent Design and Creationism". This is rather less useful than Michael Poole's article. Whilst it can be stated as a truism that creationism and intelligent design are not scientific theories, and therefore should not have a place in the science curriculum of a school, the ASE statement rather begs the question of how these ideas relate to human reason in a wide sense and opts out of the question as to whether or not these ideas should have a place elsewhere in the curriculum. In so far as they are ideas that can be subject to the critique or analysis of human reason, there seems to me no prima facie reason to ban these ideas simply as non-scientific, which seems to be the implication of the ASE statement.

More than ever, Pope Benedict XVI's emphasis on the importance of both faith and reason, and the correct understanding of the relationship between the two, can be seen to be quite prophetic.

St Monica's and HPV vaccinations

"School bans girls from cancer jab" is the headline on the BBC news website report of the decision of the governors of a Catholic school in Manchester not to let their school premises be used a s a location for the vaccination of Year 8 (12-13 year old) girls against the HPV virus. The first line of the report then states that the Roman Catholic School has banned its girls from receiving the vaccination.

The following is from the text of that same BBC news report (my observations in [brackets] and my emphasis in bold):

Advice from the Roman Catholic Church [ie from the Catholic Education Service] says there is nothing wrong with allowing the cervical cancer vaccinations to be given. But governors at St Monica's - which has 1,200 pupils - have sent a letter to parents outlining their concerns about the vaccine. In it, they question the effectiveness of the injections and point out the possible side effects.

The letter says a number of the school's pupils who took part in a pilot study were subsequently off school suffering from nausea, joint pain, headaches and high fevers.

It states: "We do not believe that school is the right place for the three injections to be administered. Therefore, governors have taken the decision not to allow the school premises to be used for this programme."
I understand from yesterday's broadcast media coverage that the governor's letter goes on to say that the appropriate mechanism for the girls to receive the vacccination is through their GP's in the company of parents or guardians - where due care can be taken with regard to the girls previous medical history and side effects which may occur. This hardly constitutes a "ban" on the part of the school.

So far as I can see from the BBC report, the school has had an experience of its pupils suffering significant side effects during a trial of the vaccination, has carried out a risk assessment in response to that, and the position outlined in the governors' letter represents a prudent set of precautions arising from that risk assessment. Any school in the same position as St Monica's would have been wise to take the same course of action, in response to what for that school are forseeable consequences of allowing the vaccinations to take place at school.

Ah, the wonders of spin ....

An interesting sub-text is that of the relationship between schools and national authorities. The local authority for St Monica's school has recognised, according to the BBC report, that the decision to allow or not to allow the vaccinations to be carried out at school is one for the school itself. But how many schools really do exercise their own decision making power, rather than just "nodding" yes to national guidance and programmes? The question here is of how far schools are organisations of civil society rather than just organs of the state, a question with very wide ramifications.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

OFSTED (Office for Standards in Education)

Teachers in the UK have a favourite organisation towards which we all turn with awe and trembling - OFSTED. This is the organisation that inspects schools, child care providers and initial teacher training providers.

The inspection outcomes for schools are now largely determined by examination outcomes data and the self evaluation form ("SEF") completed by the school itself. The notice period for an inspection is two working days, but with only two days of on-site inspection evidence gathering - typically OFSTED will ring on the Friday to let a head teacher know they are coming on the Tuesday or Wednesday of the following week. We were told this would reduce the stress of inspection by removing the weeks of lead in to a known inspection date when everyone panics. Not so. When schools know they are due an inspection because it is three years since their last inspection they go into a permanent state of inspection panic which can, as in the case of my school, last for a whole year ...

My school got the phone call on Friday, and the inspectors are in today and tomorrow. Half the science staff, and some other staff, went in to school on Saturday and Sunday (not me, I hasten to add).... Panic or what! Personally, I have evaded it entirely - lesson 1 this morning all the inspectors were in meetings with the Senior Leadership Team, Lesson 2 they were "evidence gathering" but I was taking part in a meeting elsewhere in my trade union capacity .... and I don't teach again until Thursday afternoon by which time it will all be over. As a colleague said to me this morning when they saw me in school and hadn't expected to see me: "I thought you were avoiding OFSTED ...".

It is my second encounter with OFSTED this year, as they carried out a short inspection of Maryvale Institute's PGCE course in May. This came out with a judgement that "the overall quality of training is at least good". One of the key strengths identified was "the reflection encouraged by intellectually challenging assignments". The text of the report also commented that "Assignments are carefully marked according to clearly defined and regularly reviewed criteria and trainees receive extended feedback". The assignments are not the only area of the course I contribute to, but they are the area to which I have contributed most. So I did enjoy those parts of OFSTED's report.

Only one point for action was identified: "ensuring that the training meets the needs of trainees working in non-Catholic schools and from non-Catholic backgrounds". The PGCE has always had some trainees who are non-Catholics - mostly Christians of other denominations, but also Muslim and Jewish students. Their response to Maryvale as a Catholic institution is very positive. If you look at some of my posts in recent months, you will see a number addressing the issue of dialogue, particularly inter-religious dialogue. This has been in part prompted by the OFSTED reports point for action. Whilst one can perhaps see a secularising agenda on the part of the OFSTED inspectors, from Maryvale's side it can be seen as a fair question about how the organisation enters into dialogue with its students from other religious backgrounds at the same time as retaining its integrity as a Catholic institution.

Monday, 22 September 2008

Events in Vietnam

A visit to Independent Catholic News (ICN) has drawn my attention to recent events in Vietnam. ICN have posted a number of news reports on Vietnam in recent days. Today's report describes the protests that have occurred as the authorities in Hanoi have destroyed the Apostolic Nunciature.

The protests in Vietnam have been prompted by the seizure of Church properties and their demolition or conversion to secular uses. An analytic report from a Redemptorist priest in Vietnam, which makes thought provoking reading, can be found here.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

A little miracle .....

.... is that the office is still tidy three weeks into the school term!

Reaction to bombing in Pakistan

Radio and internet news reports this morning carry reactions from around the world to yesterday's bombing in Islamabad. The most common word I have heard so far to describe these reactions is "outrage". International reaction seems to be rallying in support of the commitment of Pakistan's own political leadership to resist terrorism as it is manifested in events like yesterday's.

What is an appropriate Christian reaction to yesterday's bombing?

My first thought is to step back from the particular political or social context and recognise that we have just seen an act of immense evil: (1) if it was a suicide attack as is being suggested, then it was launched with a total disregard by the perpetrators for their own lives and, possibly, with total disregard by terrorist leaders for the lives of their own; (2) the attack appears to have been launched at a time when the Marriott Hotel would be at its busiest, as local people were breaking their Ramadan fast, thereby trying to cause the largest possible number of casualties; (3) the attack was to a large extent indiscriminate in who it targeted. And so on ...

A Christian response to evil is, in the first instance, to do good. This might take the form of charitable response to those affected by the evil - care for survivors and bereaved relatives, for example. It might also include the supporting of prudent steps to bring about the safety of a country's citizens, a political response. But it should also involve a resistance to evil at a spiritual level - prayer, penance and fasting. And this not just in the country immediately affected by the evil, but everywhere.

In the same way that there is a kind of "communion of evil" there is also a "communion of good" (a communion of spiritual goods among all members of the Church, which can be shared beyond the Church to all) so our conviction is that such prayer, penance and fasting are efficacious.

During the Eucharistic Congress earlier this year, I shared in a discussion about Eucharistic Adoration in the context of tragic events like those in Islamabad yesterday. We asked ourselves: is it our natural reaction in these circumstances to gather in our Churches before the Holy Eucharist to implore the Lord's mercy and forgiveness for what has happened?

Even if your parish has not time of Eucharistic Adoration on a Sunday afternoon, perhaps today would be a good day to make your own visit of reparation for yesterday's evil.

A particular poignancy is added to this by the persecution experienced by Christians in Pakistan, usually at the hands of Islamic extremists and on specious pretexts. Again, there is a manifestation of evil that needs to be resisted in a spiritual way.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

The VIth World Meeting of Families

A ZENIT news item has drawn my attention to the 6th World Meeting of Families, due to take place in Mexico 13th-19th January 2009. The official website of the congress is here, though the site does not yet appear to be complete and seems to be mostly in Spanish. [UPDATE: There is an English Language version of the site, if you follow the link from the home page.]I have found the text of the preparatory catecheses in English, though. The theme of the congress is "The Family as Educator in Human and Christian Values."

The congress icon shows Jesus being carried on the shoulders of St Joseph, with the Virgin Mary alongside. The explanation from the Congress website:

This icon has an important connotation and its presence in the VI International Families’ Congress answers the need for looking at the roots of the whole Christian family: the family of Nazareth.

It represents the journey back from Jerusalem, after Jesus was found in the Temple. Saint Joseph carries Jesus on his shoulders, and Jesus is looking at his mother, Virgin Maria. During the journey, Mary delivers the scroll to him with the words that announce his mission. The text from Isaiah 61:1-2 is written in Greek: “The Lord’s spirit is on me, as he has elected me…”.

Saint Joseph’s face reflects the features of Yaweh’s servant “the face of the Holy Shroud”, as a preparation symbol for the mission of God’s servant who carries the world’s sins.

There is also a logo for the congress. The following explanation is taken from the congress website, where it is provided in English translation

The Logo uses human silhouettes, to represent a family born of love which is symbolized by three hearts and sustained by faith which is represented by a cross on top. The cross also represents the presence of God as the One who holds the family together. Christ gives life, strength and light. The three hearts represent a united family, brought together by love and relationship. The family members´ attitude is joy and trust in the Lord.

These three elements family, hearts and cross stand on an ellipse that represents the world, seen as a global fraternity. It also represents the family joined by faith and love, which are the foundation of an authentic development of all the human and Christian values, that is to say, an integral personal development, which begins with the family. The family is in the world but transcends it because it lives human and Christian values.

The delicately outlined figure of a woman, who is pregnant, points to life, the first fundamental value promoted, defended and cherished by the family.

The green color has two meanings, the cheerful hope in the Family’s future and the color of Mexico, where the VI World Families' Meeting will take place. The black and green combination gives the Meeting seriousness, elegance and solemnity as well as a touch of youthful energy.

Friday, 19 September 2008

Alzheimer's disease and assisted suicide

The leading BBC Radio current affairs programmes - World at One at lunchtime and PM in the early evening - have today been carrying coverage of the suggestion by Baroness Warnock that dementia sufferers should, if that is what they wish, be assisted to commit suicide. Neil Hunt, Chief Executive of the Alzheimer's Society on World at One, and replayed on PM, described Baroness Warnock's position as being "very wide of the mark". He used the word "sub-human" to describe the way in which the language of burden and financial drain treated Alzheimer's sufferers as if they were a group not entitled to the same rights of care, to the "right to be with us", that other people enjoy.

John Smeaton has posted on this topic here.

As reported on the BBC News website:

People with dementia should be able to end their lives if they feel they are a burden to others or to the NHS, according to a respected ethicist. Baroness Mary Warnock, who has made similar calls in recent years, first made her remarks in a Church of Scotland magazine. She told the BBC she believed there were many who "sank into dementia when they would very much prefer to die". But Alzheimer's charities called her remarks "insensitive and ignorant".

Speaking on PM Baroness Warnock was very clear that feeling that they are a burden (or being a burden) to relatives, and being a financial drain on the resources the National Health Service were sufficient reason to justify assisted suicide for an Alzheimer sufferer, if that is what they wish. She held to the legitimacy of the financial reason as justification for assisted suicide when challenged by the interviewer. Baroness Warnock suggested that the patient themselves should be allowed to consider suicide if they became a financial or emotional burden to their relatives, or a drain on the resources of the National Health Service. Neil Hunt argued that she was condemning Alzheimer's sufferers to a kind of "sub-category" and that the Alzheimer's Society did not want to have anything to do with that.

This contrasts sharply with a passage from Pope John Paul II's Salvifici Doloris:

A source of joy is found in the overcoming of the sense of the uselessness of suffering, a feeling that is sometimes very strongly rooted in human suffering. This feeling not only consumes the person interiorly, but seems to make him a burden to others. The person feels condemned to receive help and assistance from others, and at the same time seems useless to himself. The discovery of the salvific meaning of suffering in union with Christ transforms this depressing feeling. Faith in sharing in the suffering of Christ brings with it the interior certainty that the suffering person "completes what is lacking in Christ's afflictions"; the certainty that in the spiritual dimension of the work of Redemption he is serving, like Christ, the salvation of his brothers and sisters. Therefore he is carrying out an irreplaceable service. In the Body of Christ, which is ceaselessly born of the Cross of the Redeemer, it is precisely suffering permeated by the spirit of Christ's sacrifice that is the irreplaceable mediator and author of the good things which are indispensable for the world's salvation. It is suffering, more than anything else, which clears the way for the grace which transforms human souls. Suffering, more than anything else, makes present in the history of humanity the powers of the Redemption.


1. As Baroness Warnock argues, should an Alzheimer sufferer, provided it is determined in some way (difficult!) that they wish to do so, be assisted to commit suicide? Is the patients wish what makes such an act morally acceptable? Answer: No, the principle that "what I want is therefore morally acceptable" is clearly not universally acceptable. So, even if the patient might wish it, that does not thereby make assisted suicide morally right. Other moral criteria need to come in to play.

2. An interesting side issue. In the context of child protection, the "best interests" of the child are meant to be paramount, and one might have assumed a similar principle would apply to care of those suffering from mental illness. True, as put into practice, the idea of what are the "best interests" of the child/patient is itself a concept that has its problems, but Baroness Warnock has undertaken an assimilation of the idea of "best interests" of the patient to that of the "wishes of the patient". Subtle but significant ...

3. The Alzheimer's Society (and at least one other Alzheimer's charity) are to be congratulated on the effectiveness of their media response to Baroness Warnock's suggestion. They have very clearly advocated on behalf of some of the most vulnerable members of our society. They clearly argue for improved care for Alzheimer's sufferers.

4. When the recorded interview with Baroness Warnock was played on PM - technical problems had meant that she was not able to take part in a telephone discussion on World at One - did I detect a pause and "hard swallow" from the presenter as he moved on to the next item? If any one heard the item, or listens to it on the BBC websites "listen again" feature, perhaps you could let me know if you agree. Perhaps look at Mulier Fortis comment, too, after she heard PM's coverage in her car on the way home: "Listening to the Baroness talking was a terrifying experience..". It will give you a feel for the impression created by Baroness Warnock's interview.

Catholics and the new communications media

During recent months, there have been three large international Catholic events. The International Eucharistic Congress took place in Quebec, Canada in June. This was followed by the World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia in August. And, just last weekend, we saw the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Paris and Lourdes, France.

Something that all three of these events have in common is the way in which media coverage, and in particular internet coverage, was provided by Catholic apostolates. Whilst some of the organisations providing coverage are sponsored and/or established by the relevant diocese (I am thinking of, Eglise Catholique de Quebec, who provided coverage of the International Eucharistic Congress), I think they all represent initiatives of lay people in collaboration with the hierarchy of the Church. My view is that they represent the best of lay apostolate, making use of the professional expertise that is appropriate to the lay state and putting it at the service of the Church.

The three relevant organisations are, in Quebec, Canada. Video coverage from the Eucharistic Congress is still available on the site. Salt and Light TV, based in Montreal, are also a similar apostolic organisation which gave coverage to the Eucharistic Congress. The World Youth Day website provided streaming video coverage, which is still available. KTO television catholique provided complete coverage of Pope Benedict XVI's visit to France. I think all of these organisations broadcast on cable and satellite, as well as having well developed internet sites.

As this photograph of the "equipe" at KTO television catholique in 2007 demonstrates, the size of the production teams does not appear to be large. There seems to be a real sense of undertaking this work as an apostolate on behalf of the Church, a sense of a "charism" being lived out, rather than of their being just a bureaucratic "media office".

One should perhaps add, as another example of a new media apostolate, the website of the Marian shrine at Lourdes. Lourdes Magazine, with its own website, is also an excellent media initiative.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Catholic Analysis

Catholic Analysis is the name of blog a visited for the first time today. Attracted, of course, by the similarity of its name to the name of my own blog!

Great minds think alike because I found that Catholic Analysis seems to have a similar ethos and interests to me. He highlighted, for example, the reference to monasticism as the origin of European culture in this re-post of a ZENIT report on Pope Benedict's recent visit to France.

And, linking to a Catholic News Service story, he has also posted on "The Ordinary Form is perfectly fine", taking a line very like to mine on this subject. The comments to this post also contain an interesting discussion.

I expect that I will explore this blog further in the next few days ...

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

St Robert Bellarmine, Benedict XVI, John Paul II and culture

Many years ago now, I had reason to describe St Robert Bellarmine as being "the Cardinal Ratzinger of his day". The context was a discussion of his part in the Galileo affair, and the deep interest that he had in the new scientific discoveries being made in the late 16th-early 17th centuries. Both Robert Bellarmine and Joseph Ratzinger are men with a deep love for the Church, and a thorough engagement of their Catholic faith with the culture of their times. They both express in their lives the idea that we would now call the "evangelisation of the culture".

During his recent visit to Paris, Pope Benedict XVI delivered an address on the roots of European culture. His theme was that monasticism - that is, the search for God - lies at the roots of European culture. The musical component of that culture has its roots in the singing of the praise of God; the literary component has its roots in the study of the Scriptures; and the educational component, which might be termed the cultural component in its most general definition, has its roots in the schools associated with the monasteries.

In 1980 Pope John Paul II addressed the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) at its headquarters near Paris. The English translation of that address that I have is "Man's Entire Humanity is expressed in Culture". Sorry, the link is going to take you to the French version on the Vatican website as I haven't been able to find an online English translation. The following little quote will give you a flavour:

Man, who, in the visible world, is the only ontic subject of culture, is also its only object and its term. Culture is that through which man as man, becomes more man, "is" more, has more access to "being". The fundamental distinction between what man is and what he has, between being and having, has its foundation there too. Culture is always in an essential and necessary relationship to what man is, whereas its relationship to what he has, to his "having", is not only secondary, but entirely

Pope Benedict quoted the following from John Paul II's address when he met with the Bishops of France in Lourdes last weekend:

"The Nation is in fact"-to take up the words of Pope John Paul II-"the great community of men who are united by various ties, but above all, precisely by culture. The Nation exists ‘through' culture and ‘for' culture, and it is therefore the great educator of men in order that they may ‘be more' in the community".

The contrast between the (very, very, very) complex phenomenology of Pope John Paul II and the more straightforward historical presentation of Pope Benedict XVI summarises the difference between their two pontificates. It is not that you can say that one is "better" than the other as much as saying that they are different and complementary. The one is a perfectly worthy successor to the other.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Red telephone boxes, "mail rail" and counting post boxes

I posted on Saturday about red telephone boxes, and observed that I hadn't seen a red telephone box for some time. The British Postal Museum and Archive organise occasional walks. This one, on Sunday afternoon, was entitled "GPO London", and took in about 4 miles around the City of London visiting sites associated with the former General Post Office.

I stood beside this telephone box earlier in the day:

We encountered these near the start of the walk:

In close up:

As well as listing, this next one is listed. This is not a joke - it has a little plate inside indicating its listed status:

An unusual post box:

At this point in the walk, we got a bit left behind. Zero thought this too good a photo opportunity to miss:

Different types of posting box run from Type A to at least Type G (yawn ...). However, attempts to make them of steel rather than cast iron seem to have always been abandoned with a return to cast iron. Cast iron apparently survives the attentions of British weather and the local canine population rather better than steel.

"Mail Rail" also used to exist. This was an underground train system for transporting post items between sorting offices. I can't remember exactly the extent of this now disused system - it certainly stretched from Whitechapel to the Post Office buildings in the area of the City of London just north of St Paul's cathedral, and I think it then ran on to Paddington and Euston stations. The tunnels are apparently still maintained, though post is no longer delivered through them. And St Paul's underground station on the Central Line used to be named "Post Office Station" because it served four blocks of buildings used by the Post Office. The British Telecommunications headquarters opposite St Paul's Station now occupies one of the four or five large sites that used to be occupied by the Post Office in this part of the City.

Before the walk, we went to the principle Mass at St James', Spanish Place. Speaking briefly to the parish priest after Mass (the first time I have met him since seminary days), I mentioned that we were off to "count post boxes" in the afternoon .... So if you encounter any strange observations on the ecclesiastical grapevine about a census of post boxes in London, it's all down to me.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Pope Benedict on Summorum Pontificum

ZENIT are carrying the text of a press conference by Pope Benedict XVI during his journey to France. I was rather interested in Pope Benedict's answer to a question about Summorum Pontificum.

Q: What do you say to those in France who are worried that the motu proprio "Summorum Pontificum" is a step backward with regards to the great institutions
of the Second Vatican Council?

Benedict XVI: It is baseless fear; because this "motu proprio" is simply an act of tolerance, with a pastoral objective, for people who have been formed in this liturgy, who love it, who know it, who want to live with this liturgy. It is a small group, because it supposes an education in Latin, a formation in a certain type of culture. But it seems to me a normal requirement of faith and pastoral practice for a bishop of our Church to have love and forbearance for these people and allow them to live with this liturgy.

There is no opposition between the liturgy renewed by Vatican II and this liturgy. Every day, the council fathers celebrated the Mass following the old rite and at the same time they conceived a natural development for the liturgy throughout this century, since the liturgy is a living reality, which develops and keeps its identity within its development.

So there is certainly a difference of emphasis, but a single fundamental identity that excludes any contradiction or antagonism between a renewed liturgy and the preceding liturgy. I believe there is a possibility for both types to be enriched. On the one hand, the friends of the old liturgy can and should know the new saints, the new prefaces of the liturgy, etc. But on the other hand, the new liturgy emphasizes the common participation, but it is not just the assembly of a particular community, but rather it is always an act of the universal Church, in communion with all the believers of all time, an act of adoration. In this sense, it seems to me that there is a mutual enrichment, and it is clear that the renewed liturgy is the ordinary liturgy of our time.

This answer suggests, I think, that it would be quite incorrect to see Summorum Pontificum as representing in any way a restoration of the pre-Conciliar liturgy by Pope Benedict. I think his response also gives a clear indication of how the Pope views the agenda of "mutual enrichment", particularly as far as the Ordinary Form is concerned. But he is very clear in affirming that the "renewed liturgy is the ordinary liturgy of our time".

I am also intrigued by the implications of Pope Benedict's reference to "formation in a certain type of culture" as one of the characteristics of those who wish to live celebrating the Extraordinary Form of the liturgy. Personally, I see one aspect of this at least as relating to the styles of participation that are reflected in the two forms, most notably the difference between the silent Canon in the Extraordinary Form as currently celebrated and the audible Eucharistic Prayer of the Ordinary Form. I would argue for a spoken Canon in the Extraordinary Form simply as a reflection of the development in people's style of participation.

I also concur with Pope Benedict's judgement that "it is a small group" who wish to celebrate the Extraordinary Form. Within my parish experience, no ordinary parishioners in the pews have it on their agenda. The significant coverage/advocacy of the Extraordinary Form in Catholic blogs, whilst ecclesially legitimate, is in that sense unrepresentative.


I have just seen this at Young Fogeys. It appeals totally to my sense of mischief (so please take it in the way it is intended), as the parish priest in my own parish is organising a meeting for the readers at Mass in the parish in a couple of weeks time. I wonder whether we are going to start getting an "introduction" to the Mass etc?

We've all witnessed the nightmare of "Welcome to Saint Fillintheblank's church. I'm blahblah, and I'll be your cantor today. Our servers are blah and blah. Our Lector is blahblah. Today is the 27th Sunday of Lent, and in our readings today, Jesus tells us to blahblahblahblah (for 2 minutes) blah. Our gathering hymn can be found in our 'Breaking Wind' Music Issue, number 12. Please rise to greet our celebrant."

Creationism in schools

The end of the week saw a discussion in the UK about creationism in schools, prompted by some remarks by the Director of Education at The Royal Society. The Royal Society is (I think) the oldest of the learned societies in the UK. Exactly what Professor Reiss said I have not been able to find, so I do not know whether the discussion was actually prompted by his remarks or by the media response to them.

The gist of the discussion was that creationism should be allowed to be discussed in science lessons in schools, and that science teachers should be able to manage such a discussion in their classroom. Such a discussion in the media nearly always ends up begging key questions, key questions that usually relate to defining exactly what your terms mean.

I take it that creationism is a teaching that the world was - literally - created in six days, in the form described in the first chapter of the Book of Genesis, and at a time determined by the calculations of the passage of time in the Biblical accounts. This teaching is problematical in a number of ways:

(1) in its understanding of the nature of Sacred Scripture, not just as a question of how different types of Scriptural literature are to be understood, but as to how Sacred Scripture needs to be integrated into a living tradition that engages with the surrounding culture;

(2) in its understanding of the nature of human reason and the ability of that reason to come to firm knowledge of the world around it, particularly in the physical sciences but also in other spheres of knowledge;

(3) its lack of precision in understanding creation as an act of "bringing into being" and "sustaining in being", which can be distinguished from physical processes of development in the material that is thereby created (what might be referred to in a kind of shorthand as "evolution"); and

(4) in its inability to be referred to an authoritative teaching authority that can define that this is or is not a correct Christian understanding.

All of these problems arise from the origin of the idea of "creationism" in non-denominationally oriented Pentecostal/Evangelical house or community churches.

Unfortunately, creationism also causes a problem in public debate for mainstream Christian denominations such as Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism. This is because their doctrine of creation - in the sense of (3) above, and which is quite compatible with "evolution" understood as development and progress in the physical world - is confused by secularist thinkers (deliberately?) with "creationism". The presence of any teaching of a doctrine of creation in schools is therefore attacked, particularly if that teaching is suggested as being compatible with the teaching of science. Secularists will apply the word "unscientific" to any teaching of a doctrine of creation - fair enough, if by that they mean that it is not something arrived at by the methods of study appropriate of the physical sciences, but quite wrong if by that they mean that it is contrary to a right use of human reason. Mainstream Christian denominations need to wise up to this problem, perhaps by teaching anew and more vividly their understanding of creation in relation to science.

So, in terms of the media discussion of recent days: Should the discussion of creationism be banned from science lessons in schools? Well, no, in the sense that any direction to "ban a topic" does not relate to the reality of the wide range of things that just come into conversations in the classroom. Should creationism be taught in science lessons in schools? Tricky ... I see no reason why the methods of study of science should not be brought to bear on the idea of creationism. I do not think that creationism can stand up to the evidence of human reason as it has developed its understanding of science ("evolution"), but I think those are the terms in which it should be addressed in the classroom, not in terms of a doctrinaire opposition to it. As in the teaching of any topic in any subject area, this needs to be done in a way that is appropriate to the level and abilities of the pupils in the class, so would need to be handled very differently in Year 7 than in Year 13. Should a more mainstream doctrine of creation be taught in the science lesson? As above, but I think in this case the scientific evidence will need to recognise that the idea of creation needs human reason to engage in a wider way than just that appropriate to the physical sciences, and scientific reasoning will need to recognise its just boundaries.

I heard a most interesting side comment during the discussions which took place on the radio. This was during an interview, I forget now whether it was Today (ie a morning current affairs programme) or PM (the early evening current affairs programme). The speaker was opposing the idea that creationism should be discussed in science lessons, and, in passing, observed that "religion was itself an outcome of evolution". Now, I found this very interesting because, rather than this being something that would belittle the import of religion for the human person which is what I think the speaker intended, it opens up the possibility of man being of his nature religious. We then have to engage in a proper study of this phenomenon that is "religion" to find out exactly what it is, unless of course an anti-religious prejudice limits us to a sociological study that puts it all down to "social construct" or stops us from undertaking any study of the question at all. The realist phenomenology in the early years of the 20th century has a literature on the religious nature of the human being which would need to be included in any honest study of this subject.

Call to adopt a red phone box

This is the headline to a piece in my local paper this week. Herewith the text, with my comments in red:

Hundreds [Since I haven't seen a red telephone box for quite some time now, the idea that there are hundreds of them sitting out there on the streets of the UK in need of preservation seems a bit odd to me - but, I read it in the paper, so it must be true] of traditional [I wonder what makes a telephone box "traditional" - it can't be age, since the telephone is, relatively speaking, a recent invention] red telephone boxes will be saved in a bid to preserve the nation's heritage - and Romford MP Andrew Rosindell is right behind the move.

In April, BT [British Telecommunications] revealed plans to reduce payphones across the UK by 9 000 [but the vast majority of these will be of recent design, and not the "traditional red boxes"]. They have now agreed to allow local authorities to "adopt" red telephone boxes, without the communications equipment, in an attempt to retain a key symbol [It's quaint, but not that much of a symbol to be labelled "key"] of British tradition.

Mr Rosindell said: "Keeping Britain's red 'phone boxes is vital. ["Vital" usually means essential for life - how can a red 'phone box, without a telephone in it, be vital for life?] We do not want to see any more of our great heritage destroyed and this news represents a small, but significant victory in defending our nation's traditions. [Mantra of the political right - it is a bit embarrassing when your own MP comes out with stuff like this ...]

"I now urge local authorities, especially in London, to ensure they take into account the need [Given the controversy raging locally over charges to council tenants and leaseholders for recently introduced CCTV, the idea that residents might have to pay the cost of preserving white elephant - sorry, red elephant - 'phone boxes won't go down well! What need? ] to preserve all [!] red telephone boxes in their areas."

Now, I must ask my MP how much of his time and energy has been directed towards preserving telephone boxes when it might have been spent looking after the needs of constituents .... Especially since I understand he was not present in the House of Commons during its last considerations of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

An early example of secularism in British politics: Pitt the Younger

I have been reading - very slowly - William Hague's biography of William Pitt the Younger. Pitt the Younger was prime minister during the 18th century, and someone who enjoyed an enviable reputation as a Parliamentary debater. Pitt the Younger is an outstanding figure in British political history. [The adventures of a general election in the 18th century as described by William Hague make the more recent allegations with regard to "cash for honours" look quite small fry; the expenditure of money, some of it the Treasury's money, and the distribution of honours were the ordinary campaigning strategy of those who enjoyed the King's support.]

During the earlier years of Pitt the Younger's parliamentary career, one of his political allies was William Wilberforce. It has been interesting to read of Pitt's reaction when Wilberforce became an evangelical Christian. Wilberforce wrote to Pitt explaining this change in his life, and pointing out that it would mean he would in future be less of a "party" man in politics and more someone who referred to his Christian principles. Here is part of Pitt's reply, as recorded by William Hague. Pitt has just affirmed that his friendship for Wilberforce will continue unabated.

You will not suspect me of thinking lightly of any moral or religious motives which guide you. As little will you believe that I think your understanding or judgement easily misled. But forgive me if I cannot help expressing my fear that you are nevertheless deluding yourself into principles which have but too much tendency to counteract your own object, and to render your virtues and your talents useless both to yourself and to mankind.

Pitt goes on to seek a meeting with Wilberforce, urging him to explain fully his new found position and its implications for his future life.

..if you will open to me fairly the whole state of your mind on these subjects, tho' I shall venture to state to you fairly the points where I fear we may differ, and to desire you to re-examine your own ideas where I think you are mistaken.

Pitt and Wilberforce did meet, and William Hague records Wilberforce's account of the meeting:

He tried to reason me out of my convictions, but soon found himself unable to combat their correctness, if Christianity were true. The fact is, he was so absorbed in politics, that he had never given himself time for due reflection on religion.

The interesting points of note are :

1. Pitt the Younger appears to be explicitly secularist in the sense that he appears both to lack any strong religious conviction of his own and to be unable to conceive how religious conviction should be carried into political activity (see his anxieties with regard to Wilberforce's ability being no longer of use to himself or to mankind)

2. the underlying source of Pitt's secularism appears to be indifference rather than explicit anti-religious feeling.

The significance for our own times is that, while there are some campaigners who are secularist by conviction, the majority of politicians and members of the public are probably going along with a practical secularism through indifference, rather like Pitt the Younger. But it is this indifference that lets secularism gain a hold in society ....

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

The first moment of creation (or, it must be true, I heard it on the BBC)

It was quite interesting this morning listening to BBC Radio 4 news reports of the "big experiment" at CERN. Well, actually I think they have switched on the accelerator and started the circulation of their hadrons - the collision of the two beams is coming up later in the week.

(Scientists) will attempt to re-create the situation that existed in the split seconds just after the creation of the universe.

This particular quotation is interesting because it illustrates the willingness to refer to the creation of the universe. The question, though, is: what exactly does this mean? What do the BBC news department mean by it, and what are their listeners understanding by it?

For an orthodox Christian, creation refers to the bringing into existence of the material of the universe; creation, in the sense of the first moment of creation, refers to the bringing into existence of that universe from nothing "in the beginning", at a particular moment in time. It also indicates the sustaining of the universe in its existence so that it does not cease existing at any moment. An orthodox Christian will also recognise that this act of creation requires a being who is himself outside of the universe - noticing that the material of the universe does not have the power of bringing into existence, though it does contain intrinsic laws of development and progression. [Christians would also recognise the creation of spiritual beings (angels), though this is less relevant to a discussion of the visible universe; the creation of man as a composite material/spiritual being would also be included in such an understanding of creation.]

Most people's practical understanding is probably less clear than this, amounting to some sense of the "beginning of the universe", without specifically noticing the question of bringing into existence from nothing and without noticing the aspect of sustaining. It is probably more a sense of a particularly important moment of change or forming, than of bringing into existence.

(Scientists) will try to re-create the conditions just after the big bang that created the universe...

.... the big bang that led to the creation of the universe ....

These quotations - also from Radio 4 news bulletins this morning - demonstrate that the use of the word creation has not had a clear meaning today. At one level, it is possible to comment that this is just a carelessness in the use of language on the part of the script writer of the news bulletins. However, there is a clear trend, certainly within popular science writing and I believe amongst scientists themselves, that considers the universe to be in some way self-explaining. This is I think the intention of those scientists who have written, as scientists, about the anthropic principle; I think some Christians have been a bit incautious in employing the anthropic principle in support of the argument that the material universe was created for the coming of man, given that this is a bit at odds with the intentions of many of the scientists writing about it. An account which views the big bang as creating the universe is completely consistent with this notion of a self-explaining universe, carrying with it a certain carelessness in the real meaning of the word creation.

I recall reading, I think amongst the myriad works of Stanley Jaki (sorry, I haven't been able to find a good link about him - and it is time for my dinner!), a certain caution about identifying the moment of the big bang with the moment of creation. I think his point was that, strictly speaking, what the science could tell us about was the history and principles of the development of the universe over time, extrapolated backwards to a particular moment of "beginning" in the process that we are now able to study that is identified as a big bang. It did not rule out, as science, the possibility that another form of rationality with its own history existed before that which we now are not able to study. It is possible to be too ready to bring together the theological notion of creation and the scientific notion of creation/the big bang.

But it has been rather fun to see that word creation in use, albeit somewhat badly ... It perhaps prompts us to be clear about our own understanding and use of the word.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Big Bang Day

You might have noticed that a big experiment is due to take place on Wednesday this week. This is the switch on of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN.

BBC Radio 4 are providing quite wide ranging coverage. On Monday evening, they broadcast the first of two programmes tracing the history of the accelerator laboratory at CERN. The first programme can be heard again, for a week, using the "listen again" function at After its broadcast tomorrow, Tuesday, the second programme will also be available for a week on the "listen again" function. There is also a Big Bang Day page at the Radio 4 website.

If you are able to be at home on Wednesday, Radio 4 are scheduling a series of programmes through the day to cover the events at CERN.

TUC: bad news, good news

John Smeaton has posted on the TUC motion 19, which was passed by the TUC annual Congress meeting in Brighton today. He suggests that it's call to promote abortion rights in the work place will play in to the hands of employers who do not want to incur the costs of maternity leave for key workers. John Smeaton's post is entitled: TUC abortion policy, agreed today, plays into the hands of unscrupulous employers.

I posted on this motion here and here. As I pointed out, TUC policy is not binding on affiliated unions, so I suspect the extent to which different trade unions follow the indications of motion 19 will be quite variable.

The good news? The delegation from my own trade union decided to abstain on this vote, though, according to the report circulated to branch secretaries from the delegation's "news reporter", there were some suggestions of "personal support" for the motion from some members of the delegation. Traditionally, the union has never taken a position one way or the other on abortion, and this was the grounds on which the delegation abstained (as has happened on previous occasions). The union's representatives at the Women's TUC conference that presented the motion to the main Congress had also abstained.

It does make a change for my union to do something right for once ....

Saturday, 6 September 2008

St Paul's teaching on the Cross

At our holy hour last night, I was struck as I listened to the meditations by how well they communicated a three-fold catechesis of St Paul's teaching on the Cross in Christian life. We looked at St Paul teaching about the saving power of the Cross, about how the mystery of the Cross and Resurrection sheds light on the meaning of human suffering, and on the way in which St Paul teaches the Cross as central to his method of catechesis.

First meditation: the saving power of the cross

Philippians 2:6-11

Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Colossians 1:21-24

And you, who once were estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him, provided that you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which has been preached to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.
We then listened to an anecdote from Testimony of Hope by Francis Xavier Nguyen van Thuan, pp.72-74. Here, Bishop Van Thuan (as he then was) describes how he was able to make a cross and chain during his imprisonment in Vietnam. After his release, he wore that cross and chain as his pectoral cross - not because they reminded him of prison, but because they reminded him that only Christian love could change the world, not weapons, not threats and not the media.

Second meditation: the redemptive mission of the cross in the life of the Christian - the redemptive meaning of suffering

Galatians 2: 19-20

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Colossians 1:24

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.

2 Corinthians 4:8-11

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For while we live we are always being given up to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

We then listened to some extracts from Pope John Paul II's Salvifici Doloris, discussing the redemptive meaning of suffering:

"Saint Paul speaks of such joy in the Letter to the Colossians: "I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake". A source of joy is found in the overcoming of the sense of the uselessness of suffering, a feeling that is sometimes very strongly rooted in human suffering. This feeling not only consumes the person interiorly, but seems to make him a burden to others. The person feels condemned to receive help and assistance from others, and at the same time seems useless to himself. The discovery of the salvific meaning of suffering in union with Christ transforms this depressing feeling. Faith in sharing in the suffering of Christ brings with it the interior certainty that the suffering person "completes what is lacking in Christ's afflictions"; the certainty that in the spiritual dimension of the work of Redemption he is serving, like Christ, the salvation of his brothers and sisters. Therefore he is carrying out an irreplaceable service. In the Body of Christ, which is ceaselessly born of the Cross of the Redeemer, it is precisely suffering permeated by the spirit of Christ's sacrifice that is the irreplaceable mediator and author of the good things which are indispensable for the world's salvation. It is suffering, more than anything else, which clears the way for the grace which transforms human souls. Suffering, more than anything else, makes present in the history of humanity the powers of the Redemption."

Third meditation: the cross in the evangelising mission of the Church

1 Corinthians 2:2-5

I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in much fear and trembling; and my speech and my message were not plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and power, that your faith might not rest on the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

1 Corinthians 1:18, 22-24

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God….. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

We then listened to part of Pope Paul VI's account of the content of the message of evangelisation in Evangelii Nuntiandi:

"Evangelisation will always contain, as the foundation, the centre and the apex of its whole dynamic power, this explicit declaration: in Jesus Christ who became man, died and rose again from the dead salvation is offered to every man as the gift of the grace and mercy of God himself.

And this is not an immediate salvation corresponding to the measure of man’s material or even spiritual needs. It is not a salvation confined within the limits of life on this earth … It is a transcendent, eschatological salvation which has its beginning certainly in this life but which achieves its consummation in eternity."

This meditation concluded with a reflection on the Sign of the Cross as an action in which we both evangelise ourselves by reminding ourselves of core features of authentic catechesis (it should always be Christocentric and Trinitarian) and evangelise others:

The Sign of the Cross
- physical shape that represents the very core of the message of salvation
- directs us towards the saving work of Jesus Christ
- the words we say as we make the sign of the Cross remind us of the doctrine of the Trinity, which should be present in all catechesis

As we pray the sign of the Cross:

- it is a moment of witness to ourselves of our faith in Christ, through whom we come to know the Father and the Spirit
- it is a witness to others of our faith in Christ, revealing to them the Trinity

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Large Hadron Rap

Zero has pointed me in the direction of the Large Hadron Rap. I am sure she joined in as she watched it ....

If you want to find out what it is talking about, here is a vaguely intelligible explanation. The links from this page are reasonably understandable, too.

Reactions to Sarah

Go here for Radical Catholic Mom's account of Reactions to Sarah.

And here is Diakonia's Sarah Palin - the greatest fear of the Democrats ....

Or, if you are looking for the political dirt, you might prefer the "Saradise Lost" posts at Progressive Alaska ....

Update 5th September:
Today's Times captions a photo of Sarah thus: "Sarah the Impaler: she eviscerated Obama without dropping her smile."

An opinion article also includes a riposte to Sarah's: "What is the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull terrier? Lipstick".

It goes thus: "What's the difference between Sarah Palin and Barack Obama? One is a well turned out, good looking, and let's be honest, pretty sexy piece of eye candy. The other kills her own food".

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Teenage pregnancy in the US

The BBC News site is carrying a report on the teenage pregnancy rate in the United States, in the light of Bristol Palin's pregnancy. Extracts from the BBC report, which can be found here:

According to America's leading health agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): "About one-third of girls in the United States get pregnant before age 20."

More than 80% of births in this group "were unintended, meaning they occurred sooner than desired or were not wanted at any time", the CDC said.

Separately, in a report on 2002 data, the CDC said: "Despite the continuous declines, the US teenage pregnancy rate is still among the highest among industrialised nations. The costs of teenage childbearing in the United States are substantial.

"The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy recently estimated that $9.1bn in public funding was expended on teenage childbearing in 2004. These costs include public assistance, healthcare, child welfare and other expenses."

Whether the figures being cited here are statistically robust, I have no idea. I suspect that those with a specialist interest in these figures will first of all want to go an look at the statistics to check them out.

But there are some interesting agendas revealed in the extracts.

1. Why should the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention be taking an interest in pregnancy, which, after all, is not a disease?

2. Why is teenage pregancy seen as a bad thing? Ah, the financial cost ... But do we really want to measure the value of people just financially?

3. There is a number sitting between the "one third of girls who become pregnant before age 20" and the "80% of births in this age group that are unintended" .... and that is the number of abortions experienced by girls in this age group. Whew, that missing number looks to be huge ... (but see my comment above about the statistics).

As an aside, these three points could all be examined from the point of view of the relationship between state and civil society. The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, for example, can be clearly seen as a way in which the state meets its duty to assure the common good of civil society by coordinating activity to control disease. But does it overstep its correct relation to the common good of civil society by undertaking activity that relates to a condition that is not a disease at all?

Here in the UK exactly parallel considerations can be applied to the governments Teenage Pregnancy Strategy.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Piper Palin - a rebel in the making?

Amidst the coverage of the family of Sarah Palin in recent days, the Times have printed a couple of photographs that suggest that the real rebel in the family is not the expecting Miss Bristol Palin, but little sister Piper.

In the family photographs, she always seems to mis-match her demeanour to that of the other family members. This is from p.29 of today's Times:

And this was from Saturday's issue:

It has been interesting to see how the media and the public have reacted to the admission of teen daughter's pregnancy. I have thought for some time that it is not good enough to wait until a pregnancy occurs to an unmarried or school age girl before a family, parish community or (Catholic) school work out how they will respond. At that point it is too late to be able to effectively and compassionately argue the Church's teaching on charity and forgiveness, and on human life. This needs to have been taught and lived already by these communities, so that what happens when the need arises is the living out of what has already been recognised as true. Sign posting of services that provide an alternative to abortion also needs to be readily available ahead of any specific need.

Parents need to work out ahead of time what they will say and do if their children - and I think here of the boys as well as the girls - are involved in a teen or school age pregnancy. And the children need to have confidence of the warmth of charity that they will receive from their parents and the surrounding community if they need it. Parishes and schools also need to work out their responses. What can a parish do, for example, so that a pregnant teen will still feel able to attend Mass on Sunday, rather than dropping out from the practice of their faith?

This is the text of the announcement by Sarah and Todd Palin of their daughter's pregnancy:

"We have been blessed with five wonderful children who we love with all our heart and mean everything to us. Our beautiful daughter Bristol came to us with news that as parents we knew would make her grow up faster than we had ever planned. We're proud of Bristol's decision to have her baby and even prouder to become grandparents. As Bristol faces the responsibilities of adulthood, she knows she has our unconditional love and support.

"Bristol and the young man she will marry are going to realize very quickly the difficulties of raising a child, which is why they will have the love and support of our entire family. We ask the media to respect our daughter and Levi's privacy as has always been the tradition of children of candidates."

John Smeaton has a relevant post headed "Let's rally round Sarah Palin's family".

Monday, 1 September 2008

Yawn .... another attack on religious schools

Over the weekend, an alliance calling itself Accord offered familiar criticisms of state funded religious schools here in the UK.

The coverage of this in the Times described it as a "powerful alliance", opposing the legislative arrangements that allow schools with a religious designation to include faith affiliation in criteria for pupil admission and for some staff appointments. Accord recognise that some elements of this legislation come in to force today, and, at the beginning of a new academic year, more pupils than ever are attending schools with a religious designation. This appears to me more an admission of the powerless nature of the alliance ....

Religious supporters of Accord do not represent the main religious denominations - indeed, a robust response to the launch of Accord has been published by the providers of religious schools. From a look a the list of seven founding organisations of Accord the predominance of secularising organistions is quite apparent, including my own trade union, whose leadership appears to be now thoroughly secularist in its outlook. No agendas there then ...

Press Release issued on behalf of Faith Schools’ Providers Group: ‘Faith Schools in the System’

A coalition of religious figures representing over 6,000 Church of England, Catholic, Methodist, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh and Hindu state-funded schools have today issued the following statement in response to criticism of faith schools from a group called ‘Accord’, as a greater number of families than ever choose to send their children to faith schools in the maintained sector this September.

Faith communities entirely refute the allegation that faith schools are discriminatory, or that they represent a divisive force within British society.

We stand as representatives of schools who work tirelessly to not only provide high quality education in some of the most challenging contexts in the country, but to nurture religious values of respect and care for others in young people. This latest attack, based on unspecified 'research', does a disservice to the huge value that faith schools add to our state education sector and the extent of appreciation that parents and students have for these schools.

European Human Rights legislation guarantees the rights of parents to schooling compatible with their religious and philosophical beliefs. We believe that parents and students should have the right to choose the type of environment in which they will flourish academically, socially and spiritually.

It is interesting to reflect on the relationship between a state funded school and the state. If state funding is seen as being at the service of the common good, a state funded school should not, simply by virtue of its state funding, be seen as an organisation of the state. Instead, it remains an organisation of civil society, and should have an autonomy from the state that is still respected. This allows for a diversity of school types, which meet the needs of different communities in society, with equality of funding for all these different types of school. The state might well set certain expectations of schools in the country - but these expectations should be limited to protecting the common good for all in society.

This is not exactly the situation we have in the UK. The introduction of the National Curriculum was probably a cultural step towards state control of schooling. True, the governing bodies of schools, particularly in Voluntary Aided of Foundation schools, are strictly speaking responsible for the curriculum of their schools. But, in many cases, the ethos is one of obedience to government guidance, a culture of acceptance of a kind of government control. And the secularist attack on schools with a religious designation does have a hidden assumption about how the relationship of schools to the state and to society is understood. Generally, this attack assumes that schools, by virtue of state funding, become organisations of the state. Perhaps a more careful analysis of this relationship is needed as part of the response to secularist attacks.