Thursday, 31 July 2008

Thinking Faith: St Paul and St Ignatius

I have not been keeping up with recent articles appearing on the Jesuit on-line journal Thinking Faith. I had a quick look at a couple of articles this morning, though.

The first is entitled "Who was St Paul?",and was published to mark the start of the Year of St Paul. It is an essentially academic article, giving a very useful introduction to the writings of St Paul in the light of scholarship about their origin and authorship. I found it very useful for "locating" the different letters of St Paul, in their relation to the account of St Paul contained in the Acts of the Apostles. A useful read, though perhaps to be used for preparation rather than directly in parish catechesis. The paragraph that caught my eye, and which I think conveys a fair impression of the whole, was the following:

We begin with Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, commonly dated around the year 50 A.D., which gives it the distinction of being the first New Testament book to be written. And this makes ‘Paul’ the first word of the New Testament! As we read through the four pages of this letter, we realise that Paul’s first priority in his apostolate was the personal visit. If this was impossible, then he would send his delegate, in this case Timothy. Only as a third possibility would he write a letter. This was something new for him and a risk. To minimise the risk, he gave an order, the only one in this letter, that the letter be read out to the whole community (1 Thessalonians 5:27). The experiment must have been successful, because this became the first of a series of letters which were written over the next ten years.

In the age of electronic communication, the suggestion of a priority for personal visiting in the apostolate is interesting. Or perhaps we might think that St Paul, in writing letters, was the first century equivalent of today's Catholic blogger and that, if the New Testament was being written today, it would appear first in the blogosphere ...

There is also an article on St Ignatius Loyola, "Will the real Ignatius please stand up?". I did not find this as useful as I found the article about St Paul. It does prompt me in two directions. It will be interesting to study the decrees of the recent General Congregation of the Society of Jesus, which are, I believe, an attempt to define the direction of the Society for the future. It will also be interesting to look at the Magis08 project undertaken by the Society in preparation for and as part of their contribution to the recent World Youth Day. What little I have been able to see of this wide ranging and international project suggests that it rooted itself in the Spiritual Exercises.

The Thinking Faith website carries a three part interview with the newly elected Jesuit General, undertaken after the General Congregation.

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Humanae Vitae - after forty years

I have hesitated to post about Humanae Vitae - age wise, I belong to the generation whose active life in the Church came "after HV" and so do not have any direct memories of 1968, and, in terms of marital status, I am single, so cannot speak from experience of trying to live according to this particular teaching of the Church.

My memories of the publication of Humanae Vitae are mediated. We were at primary school at the time, attending the English section of an international school attached to a military headquarters in Holland. Much later in life, mother told us that we came home from school at that time asking "What is this pill that everyone is on about?"

From my early life as an active Catholic, I cannot recall any instance of a clear, firm, well argued presentation of the teaching of Humanae Vitae - not at school, not in the parishes I then attended, not in an episcopal pastoral letter. I sometimes wonder how I would have fared in this regard had I been looking to marry in my mid-20's.

I do recall from around university days that the attitude you adopted to Humanae Vitae was a kind of "test question" that indicated the orthodox Catholic from the liberal. And the first place I encountered a clear, firm, well argued presentation of the teaching of Humanae Vitae was through FAITH Movement, which I encountered at this time. At this time, if I recall correctly, Fr Edward Holloway always seemed to be talking about sex and chastity at their events .... but, with hindsight, I think a lot of pastoral insight and experience lay behind this.

But one of the most interesting experiences I had in this regard was World Youth Day 2005 in Cologne. I only read about some of the activities of dissenting organisations there when I got back home afterwards - they made virtually no impact on the young people taking part, something that I suspect will have been true of the recent events in Sydney. At the catecheses I attended in Cologne, the young people demonstrated a total faithfulness to the Church. At one point, a bishop described television coverage he had watched of Pope Benedict XVI's arrival in Cologne the day before. After an interview with a dissenting theologian from America, the report had returned to an Italian young person in Cologne. Her answer? No, we don't think the Church should change its teaching. We think we should change, so that we become more like Christ. And the young people attending this catechesis applauded the bishop's account of this to the echo.

But returning to Fr Holloway. The teaching of Humanae Vitae in the Church, like any teaching of the Church, has a catechetical dimension and a pastoral dimension. When a couple come to marriage preparation, they should not be hearing the teaching of Humanae Vitae for the first time. Their vocational choice for marriage needs to already include the attempt to live according to the teaching of Humanae Vitae - and it is only going to do that if the couple have received it in earlier catechesis. It needs to be something that the couple themselves bring to the marriage, not something that they experience as being imposed on them by the programme of preparation, as a kind of condition attached to the marriage ceremony. So an effective catechesis in the general life of the Church - parish and school - allows for a proper pastoral presentation at the level of the individual case, a pastoral presentation that is experienced as positive and yet remains faithful to the Church's teaching.

But it is a topic that people do not want to talk about - so the catechesis is omitted. Which is why I think Fr Holloway showed a fundamentally correct insight, both in catechetical and pastoral terms.

A couple of thoughts to finish. A particular pastoral situation - and a very difficult one - arises where one of the partners to a marriage is not a Catholic. If marriage is seen as a vocational choice, should a Catholic partner see a fiance(e)'s unwillingness to live by the Church's teaching on contraception as an indicator that this is not the person they are called to marry? And, whilst priests and bishops clearly have a teaching office in the Church, what of catechists? Should lay people, catechists and others, be more willing to teach Humanae Vitae in their work in parishes and schools?

Monday, 28 July 2008

New City Magazine: August-September 2008

I have had the current issue of New City for about a week now, but the great "tidy up" of the office has hindered my commenting on it until now.

The first article to catch my attention is entitled "Many Voices, One Idea", and reports on a congress held in Liverpool in June.

The Big Hope was a unique congress for young peole from all over the world, held at Liverpool Hope University from 4-11 June. The objective was to bring together leaders of the future to consider the much needed inter-connection between personal integrity and public life and to consider how to develop a humane global society.

The Big Hope Declaration which was signed by the delegates at the end of the Congress recognised that "individual personal responsibility is a vital element of developing a more humane and sustainable global society". It also contained a commitment to both "personal and public integrity and accountability, honesty and transparency of motive, and ... to uphold the highest standards of probity and respect for others". In a week that has seen a certain Mr Mosley win a court case in which behaviour of a sexually licentious manner was considered his own private matter and of no import for his public life, this assertion of the need for a consonance of personal integrity with public integrity is not trivial.

An interesting quote from one of the participants in the Congress was the following: "Also I realise it is not enough to only accept another religion, or culture, we have to embrace it as our own". At first sight, this appears to be religious indifferentism or syncretism writ large. However, I know that indifferentism does not sit well with the authentic living of Focolare's charism of unity. If we assume that this remark is not made with a religiously indifferent intent, then it does express the kind of empathy (in a technical, philosophical sense) with other religious beliefs that we would seek to achieve through inter-religious dialogue. Understood in this way, the phrase "embrace it as our own" does not mean that we accept the religion of the other as true in some way alongside our own; but it does mean that we try to "enter in to it" as we come to know it, rather than just knowing about it "from the outside", in a cold, unengaged sort of way.

Lourdes Magazine: July-August 2008

The current issue of Lourdes Magazine arrived today. The main theme of the issue is that of the Eucharistic presence of Jesus: "Jesus: Eucharist at the centre of our lives" proclaims the front cover. The two prompts for this choice of theme are the International Eucharistic Congress held in Quebec in June and the French National Pilgrimage to Lourdes taking place in August (this pilgrimage is entrusted in Lourdes' jubilee year with the Jubliee mission concerning the Eucharist).

One article is entitled "Bernadette's longing for the Eucharist" and explains how her return from Bartres to Lourdes just before the apparitions began was motivated by Bernadette's wish to complete the catechism lessons so that she could receive Holy Communion for the first time, something that was going to be barred to her if she stayed in Bartres.

Another article looks briefly at the three Eucharistic Congress held in Lourdes itself - those of 1899, 1914 (just before the outbreak of World War I, and just one week before France mobilised its troops for war) and 1981 (when Pope John Paul II was prevented from attending the Congress by the assassination attempt of 13th May that year).

A third article describes the Eucharistic procession as it now takes place each afternoon of the pilgrimage season. A fourth article celebrates the 50th anniversary this year of the starting of Eucharistic Adoration in the shrine, Adoration which now takes place in the Tent of Adoration through the pilgrimage season.

Amongst the news items is a report on the inauguration of a house to welcome pilgrims coming to Lourdes from the Arab world. The House "Beth Maryam - Star of the East" is the inspiration of a Lebanese Maronite priest. Mgr Labaky has given his life to working with orphans in the Lebanon, a country seriously affected by both internal and external conflict over the years; he is the founder of a spiritual movement in his country - "Lo Tedhal - Do not fear". The article describes his commitment to the children of the Lebanon as follows:

Life had to go on. The islands of peace which the hearts of the children, their homes and schools represented had to be preserved.

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Mixed messages ....

I looked this morning at the texts of Cardinal Dias and Cardinal Murphy O'Connor's addresses to the Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops. My quotations from the texts of the two addresses are taken from Zenit.

Cardinal Dias subject was "Mission, social justice and evangelisation". The full text is wide ranging, spreading from the missionary mandate, via spiritual warfare to inculturation and inter-religious dialogue as aspects of the Church's evangelising work. It is hard hitting, and the language is not always comfortable to an English sensitivity. However, when it is read as a whole, and the hard hitting paragraphs are seen in the context of the whole rather than in the isolation that is typical of media coverage, it is a very thoughtful presentation.

Cardinal Dias' references to Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases caught some adverse coverage in the British media. I offer the full paragraph here, to demonstrate that the analogy was presented more gently than the media coverage suggested, and also because of the contrast that it presents to some of what Cardinal Murphy O'Connor said at the Lambeth Conference later:

Much is spoken today of diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. By analogy, their symptoms can, at times, be found even in our own Christian communities. For example, when we live myopically in the fleeting present, oblivious of our past heritage and apostolic traditions, we could well be suffering from spiritual Alzheimer's. And when we behave in a disorderly manner, going whimsically our own way without any co-ordination with the head or the other members of our community, it could be ecclesial Parkinson's.
Cardinal Dias ended his address by a very generous invocation of God's blessing on the Lambeth conference, quoting Cardinal Newman:

In communion with the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the Angels and Saints, I commend this Lambeth Conference to God Almighty, and I pray that, through it, He may shower countless blessings on the Anglican Communion all over the world. With Cardinal John Henry Newman, an important figure for Anglicans and Catholics alike, I join you in praying the Holy Spirit:

Lead, kindly Light, amid th'encircling gloom,Lead Thou me on!The night is dark, and I am far from home:Lead Thou me on!Keep Thou my feet: I do not ask to see the distant scene:One step enough for me.

Cardinal Murphy O'Connor was reflecting on the progress of Anglican-Catholic doctrinal/theological dialogue, in which he has been very much involved during his priestly life. He does note the "major stumbling blocks" to unity represented by the ordination of women as priests and bishops in the Anglican communion, and the difficulties represented by moral issues, noting that no-one can now be under any illusion that these issues have ecclesiological significance. In being fair to him we should recognise this. However, some other observations seem to contradict these parts of his address.

One thing we have gradually come to realise is that the reception of any dialogue document involves far more than just its publication or even an official response. It takes time and discussion at every level of the life of the Church, as the path taken by your own 1997 Virginia Report and its proposals shows. And some or all of the contents can prove not to be accepted or received. I know some of our Christian partner communions have had anxieties when the Catholic Church has closely analysed or even questioned some of what has been proposed in dialogue statements. But that has to be an integral part of the process of receiving what a dialogue commission may propose.
The difficulty with this paragraph is its apparent acceptance of a theology that teaching gains authoritative status when it is "received" by the people. This does not sit readily with Catholic teaching on the Magisterium, though I am sure some in the Catholic Church would like to apply it to Humanae Vitae. Perhaps the underlying issue is one of how dialogue statements relate to the authoritative teaching of the different Christian denominations - and a theory of "reception" may be comfortable for Anglicans in their system of things, but for the Catholic Church it will become a question of acceptance or rejection by the Magisterium.

Cardinal Murphy O'Connor devotes part of his address to discussing the idea of the Church as communion, showing how this theme is represented across a range of recent documents of dialogue. I found this useful - because the idea of what "communion" is underlies a whole range of issues in Anglican-Catholic dialogue, including the very practical one of inter-communion. However, whether a real common understanding of the term exists is something that I doubt, and the definition cited by Cardinal Murphy O'Connor from the documents appears incomplete from a Catholic point of view.

Moreover, I am sure that the dialogue Statements of ARCIC, whether or not they are accepted in their entirety, do signal real convergence. We now have the substantial consensus between us on Eucharist and about Ministry, indicated by ARCIC’s work.

I find it difficult to agree with this statement, given some of the observations made by Cardinal Murphy O'Connor earlier in his address about the obstacle to unity represented by the ordination of women in the Anglican communion.

Friday, 25 July 2008

What the tidy office looks like ....

That funny grey area between the desk and the book shelves, now seeing the light of day, is the floor....

You will notice on this second photgraph that there are some empty shelves .... though I do hope to fit a two drawer filing cabinet under the shelves in the right hand corner.

And here you will notice that there is some work on the desk .... This is to prove that teachers might not be at school during the summer holidays, but they are working hard to prepare for the coming year ... Notice, too, more of that strange phenomenon, the floor, now visible to the naked eye ... A great achievement, which is possible in the context of the tidy office but was next to impossible before then, is to have just one job at at time on the desk.

So now you have seen where it all happens ....

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Testimony of Hope

Whilst in London yesterday, I bought a copy of Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan's book Testimony of Hope. These are the texts of his meditations preached to Pope John Paul II and the Curia for their Lenten retreat in the Jubilee Year 2000.

I have just dipped into it as I was having a cup of tea, and noticed one or two interesting bits. Cardinal Van Thuan shows a very good familiarity with the new movements in the Church - he refers to them explicitly in a meditation on the Holy Spirit, at one point he quotes the founder of the Schoenstatt movement, and several points reflect closely the spirituality of unity of the Focolare movement.

Cardinal Van Thuan's celebration of Mass - with a small piece of bread and drops of wine, held in his hand - during his imprisonment are I expect very well known. When he was accomodated in a re-education camp with other prisoners, Cardinal Van Thuan describes how he would say Mass after "lights out" for a group of Catholic prisoners, five each night, who would deliberately locate themselves next to him to share in his celebration. He describes, too, the smuggling of the Sacred Host to other prisoners at the weekly re-education meeting, the Host being smuggled in small sachets made from the silver paper of cigarette packets. Two particular sentences from this account jumped out at me:

Everyone knew that Jesus was in their midst. At night the prisoners would take turns for adoration.

The first sentence is straight from the spirituality of the Focolare. These sentences speak to me particularly because, more by a kind of accident than any really deliberate intention on my part, two people who first introduced me to praying the Focolare's Word of Life together each month have also become very enthusiastic participants in the "first Friday" Eucharistic Adoration in our parish.

The chapter of this book dedicated most directly to the Eucharist is entitled "My flesh for the life of the world". I wonder whether it was the inspiration for the theme of the recent International Eucharistic Congress - The Eucharist: Gift of God for the Life of the World?

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Gap in posting because ...

The last few days, I haven't really been able to think of anything sensible to post on! Instead my mind has been full of:

1. Emptying the office/library into the living room ...

... while I cleaned the shelves etc and decided that I did not need to keep past issues of magazines, cuttings and papers from as long ago as 1978 .... However, a pile of "things to scan before I throw them away" has developed.

2. A couple of pieces of complicated trade union case work.

3. A consultation by my local authority about what in practice is a proposed removal of car allowances for most staff who use their cars in connection with their work. To give you some idea of the level at which these things work - the lead officer on the council side hadn't realised that this would affect some of the teachers who work in the authority, so had forgotten to include teacher unions in the consultation process. In any case, the project timeline seems to have been presented without any union input, or we would have pointed out that it might take more than a month for us to consult our members, come back with suggestions, have them incorporated into any proposals, and then go back to members ... And, to cap it all, the lead officer for the council really could not get it into his head that teachers are not actually at work between the end of July and the first week of September, so we can't consult them now until September (no, I am not making this up).

4. Booking the next holiday - Prague for the October half term. Zero is looking forward to me not being able to understand the local language either (our recent trips have been to French or Italian speaking regions, which I can make some pretence at understanding).

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Nostalgia ...

... or, remembering the days when I was young enough to qualify for World Youth Day. Except that they hadn't been invented then.

I am undertaking a big clean/cull of the bookshelves and office at the moment. A lot is being thrown out, though I must admit to having a little pile of "things to scan before throwing away". This afternoon I came across a type script - yes, from a typewriter, not from a printer - of a homily preached at the chaplaincy of Oxford University on 27th May 1979.

The Church and the World.
Official Sermon of Fr George Pell at the Catholic Chaplaincy, Oxford, 27th May 1979.
In choosing a single sentence to summarise the homily, I am not doing justice to the balance of the whole and to the underlying analysis of the situation of the Church and of the world, but here goes:

What I am saying is that we are in a battle situation, and that the wholesale dismantling of the Catholic tradition is pastorally disastrous.

Fr George Pell was an Australian priest, staying at Campion Hall in Oxford for a year of studies. A number of us running the Oxford University Newman Society at the time got to know him - I think he gave a talk to the society at one point. We were what one might describe as "being on the same wavelength".

Now, I wonder what happened to Fr Pell after his return to Australia?

Benedict XVI: God's proposal brought Mary's Yes

Looking through ZENIT's reporting of the closing Mass of World Youth Day, my particular attention was caught by Pope Benedict's Angelus address at the end of Mass. Full text here.

"The covenant with Israel was like a period of courtship, a long engagement," he said. "Then came the definitive moment, the moment of marriage, the establishment of a new and everlasting covenant. As Mary stood before the Lord, she represented the whole of humanity. In the angel's message, it was as if God made a marriage proposal to the human race. And in our name, Mary said yes....

"Dear young people, we too must remain faithful to the "yes" that we have given to the Lord's offer of friendship. We know that he will never abandon us. We know that he will always sustain us through the gifts of the Spirit. Mary accepted the Lord's "proposal" in our name. So let us turn to her and ask her to guide us as we struggle to remain faithful to the life-giving relationship that God has established with each one of us. She is our example and our inspiration, she intercedes for us with her Son, and with a mother's love she shields us from harm."

Saturday, 19 July 2008

How far should Catholics celebrate a "secular" saint?

Nelson Mandela has reached his 90th birthday, an event that has been celebrated internationally. The Jesuit online journal Thinking Faith carried an article praising Mandela as an "apostle of justice". The article seemed to have adopted this title for him un-critically, though it may well prove to be generally justified.

As a general principle, praise of "secular saints" like Nelson Mandela needs to be undertaken as an act of dialogue. This involves recognising those points in their lives which are true and good, and giving due praise for them, whilst at the same time not endorsing aspects of their lives that may be in conflict with Catholic teaching.

Nelson Mandela was a key figure in founding a "military wing" of the African National Congress (ANC) in 1960-62. Previously, the ANC had always advocated peaceful means (forms of civil disobedience) of campaigning against apartheid. What is interesting here is that Nelson Mandela had been a member of the ANC for many years before this, with experience of the peaceful forms of protest. What he saw, however, was that this was not achieving the needed outcome, and that the repression from the government and security forces in South Africa was becoming increasingly violent. Did Nelson Mandela find himself at this time in a similar position to that of Archbishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador, who referred to Pope Paul VI's encyclical Populorum Progressio to recognise that, in a situation of sustained injustice seriously injurious to human rights and the common good, insurrectional violence might be justified?

Since his retirement from the political life of South Africa, Nelson Mandela has campaigned on the issue of HIV/AIDS. His "46664" campaign and the work of the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund are manifestations of this. I have not been able to find out all the work that is supported by these campaigns, but the 46664 website indicates a range of activities with which the Church would have no problem. He has certainly referred on more than one occasion, including when his son died of HIV/AIDS, to the need to overcome the stigma often associated with the disease in African and which hinders treatment and support for those who are infected. It needs to be treated as a "normal disease".

As an aside, I think the language of the "fight against AIDS" inadvertently contributes to this stigma. Medical care, for example, is not about fighting against a "disease" hidden in the patient; it is about caring for and treating the patient who has the disease. The language of "fighting AIDS" too easily slips, albeit accidentally, into a sense of the person who is suffering from it as being some kind of "enemy"; it is much better to have a language of being "for" the person who suffers. This is something that Nelson Mandela seems to appreciate.

Nelson Mandela has married three times, divorcing his first two wives. Clearly, the circumstances of his political life and imprisonment contributed to this, and it is necessary to read more closely into the precise circumstances to have a proper understanding of this aspect of Nelson Mandela's life. Nevertheless, it is perhaps a point that suggests Catholic praise of Nelson Mandela may need to be qualified.

Friday, 18 July 2008

World Youth Day: Stations of the Cross

As I write this post, I am watching video coverage of the Stations of the Cross accessible from the Media Player page of the World Youth Day website. [I do love the strap line of the video clip that comes up as you first arrive at the page - "Word Youth Day - the time of your eternal life".] Video clips showing the complete celebration, and a highlights clip, have been posted there. I do recommend that you watch them!

The way the Stations were devised combines some very traditional elements (eg the versicle "We adore you O Christ and we bless you .." at the start of each station) with some very modern elements (the scourging is presented in a way reflective of some contemporary forms of torture, with Jesus hanging from his arms and then upside down). The music is also a mixture of traditional and modern - the Ave Verum at the representation of the Last Supper, a choral piece which includes a refrain "What have we done to you" echoing the Reproaches at the scene depicting Jesus meeting with the women of Jerusalem, and with his Mother. The setting against the backdrop of the Sydney Opera House and docks is very striking. I have not watched it all, but it does look to have been quite something.

I get the impression of a very prayerful event. It really does make you reflect on the nature of a work of art as a reflection and manifestation of what is most deeply of the human spirit.

World Youth Day: "Sent out into the world: the Holy Spirit, the principle agent of mission"

This is the third of my catecheses on the themes of the World Youth Day catecheses. It was used at our "first Friday" Eucharistic Adoration at the beginning of July. I rather simplified the Reading/teaching for the Children's adoration!


Three “articles” of Missionary activity according to the decree Ad Gentes of the Second Vatican Council:

Article 1: Christian witness

The Church must be present in these groups through her children, who dwell among them or who are sent to them. For all Christians, wherever they live, are bound to show forth, by the example of their lives and by the witness of the word, that new man put on at baptism and that power of the Holy Spirit by which they have been strengthened at Confirmation. Thus other men, observing their good works, can glorify the Father (cf. Matt. ES:16) and can perceive more fully the real meaning of human life and the universal bond of the community of mankind.

Article 2: Preaching the Gospel and assembling the People of God

Wherever God opens a door of speech for proclaiming the mystery of Christ, there is announced to all men with confidence and constancy the living God, and He Whom He has sent for the salvation of all, Jesus Christ. This is in order that non - Christians, when the Holy Spirit opens their heart, may believe and be freely converted to the Lord, that they may come sincerely to Him Who, being the "way, the truth, and the life" fulfils all their spiritual expectations, and even infinitely exceeds them.

This conversion must be taken as an initial one, yet sufficient to make a man realize that he has been snatched away from sin and led into the mystery of God's love, who called him to enter into a personal relationship with Him in Christ. For, by the workings of divine grace, the new convert sets out on a spiritual journey, by means of which, already sharing through faith in the mystery of Christ's Death and Resurrection, he passes from the old man to the new one, perfected in Christ

Article 3: Forming the Christian community

The Holy Spirit, who calls all men to Christ by the seeds of the word and by the preaching of the Gospel, stirs up in their hearts a submission of faith. In the womb of the baptismal font, He brings to a new life those who believe in Christ, He gathers them into the one People of God which is "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a purchased people”.

Therefore, let the missionaries, God's co-workers, raise up congregations of the faithful such that, walking worthily of the vocation to which they have been called, they may exercise the priestly, prophetic, and royal office which God has entrusted to them. In this way, the Christian community will be a sign of God's presence in the world. Through the Eucharistic sacrifice, this community goes continually with Christ to the Father; carefully nourished on the word of God it bears witness to Christ; and finally, it walks in charity and is fervent with the apostolic spirit.

Testimony(1): the Ark of the New Covenant of the 49th International Eucharistic Congress

I had prepared the account of the life of Madeleine Delbrel, below, as my testimony for this catechesis. However, what I actually did on the day, for both the Children's Adoration (with the children gathered round me so they could see better my "little Ark" that I had brought back from Quebec) and for the Holy Hour with the grown ups, was to talk about the pilgrimage of the Ark of the New Covenant of the recent International Eucharistic Congress. It reflected all three of the articles of missionary activity as it visited parishes and communities in Canada, most especially during its 9 week journey from Midland, Ontario to Quebec between Easter Sunday and the Feast of Corpus Christi. [To watch nine TV programmes produced by Salt and Light TV covering this pilgrimage go here.]

Testimony (2)

Madeleine Delbrêl was born in 1904 in Mussidan, in the Dordogne region of France. Her father worked on the railways and was frequently moved from place to place. In 1916, the family finally settled in Paris.

Madeleine was deeply committed to learning, and to enjoying everything that Paris had to offer. Her learning was manifested in her success when she enrolled as a student at the Sorbonne, where she won awards in philosophy, literature, modern art and history. Madeleine’s enjoyment of Paris was shown in her love of dancing - she spent many late nights with her friends in the cabarets of Paris - and her extra-short Charleston dresses. She was by now a thorough going atheist, a rebel who took joy in any unconventional thought.

Madeleine’s outlook on life is summarised by the title of an essay she wrote at this time: “God is Dead - Long Live Death”. This absurdity of life once God was absent, combined with her meeting several friends at the Sorbonne who were believers and for whom “God appeared to be as necessary as the air”, forced Madeleine to consider the question of faith. At 20, she underwent a conversion which she herself described as “violent”, and which was then followed by an intellectual search for religious faith. Madeleine continually maintained that it was God who found her rather than she who found God.

In 1933, after ten years as a Catholic, Madeleine and two friends moved to Ivry-sur-Seine to found a centre for social action. Ivry was a communist stronghold to the south of Paris, and, in the early 1930’s, a place of considerable poverty.

Ivry was a workers district, with many people moving into the area from other parts of France. The open hostility between the communist majority in Ivry and the Catholic minority was a great shock to Madeleine, who had seen nothing like it before. The communists of Ivry, however, were her neighbours, and so she committed herself to work amongst the poor of the area. In Madeleine’s own phrase, a gulf existed between her and communism but not between her and her communist neighbours.

How does Madeleine Delbrêl provide us with a model for today? Like Madeleine, we are called to live a religious culture, which is ours through our Christian faith, in the face of the secular culture of the places where we work. She approached her collaboration as a Christian believer, refusing all actions that were directly or indirectly opposed to God. The Gospels were her constant source of judgement in all her decision making; her love for the Catholic Church was profound. Those with whom she worked were in no doubt about the Christian inspiration of her work.

Secondly, Madeleine’s work of charity was directed to those who were poor regardless of their political or social background. She saw this as her response to the call in the Gospels to love her neighbour. Madeleine challenges us with the same question that she faced in Ivry: “Who is my neighbour?”. For Madeleine, the startling answer was “the communists”. For us, in our own life situations, we should expect the answer to be equally startling.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

World Youth Day: "The Holy Spirit, soul of the Church"

As promised, here is the second of the catecheses that I prepared for our July "first Friday" Holy Hour, on the themes of the World Youth Day catecheses.


From the Catechism of the Catholic Church nn.797-798

"What the soul is to the human body, the Holy Spirit is to the Body of Christ, which is the Church."[St Augustine]

"To this Spirit of Christ, as an invisible principle, is to be ascribed the fact that all the parts of the body [ie the Church] are joined one with the other and with their exalted head [ie with Jesus Christ]; for the whole Spirit of Christ is in the head, the whole Spirit is in the body, and the whole Spirit is in each of the members." [Pope Pius XII Mystici Corporis]. The Holy Spirit makes the Church "the temple of the living God" [St Paul].

“Indeed, it is to the Church herself that the ‘Gift of God’ [ie the Holy Spirit] has been entrusted.... It is in her that communion with Christ has been deposited, that is to say: the Holy Spirit, the pledge of incorruptibility, the strengthening of our faith and the ladder of our ascent to God....

For where the Church is, there also is God's Spirit; where God's Spirit is, there is the Church and every grace.” [St Irenaeus].


1. The Church is a visible society: the Pope, Bishops, priests and communities of the faithful can be seen in the world

2. The Church is an invisible society, in which all the members are intimately joined: living a communion of life because we believe the same things, celebrate the same sacraments, act in communion with the same Bishops

3. The Holy Spirit as soul of the Church - the Holy Spirit is present as holding together these two aspects of the Church as a society: it is through the gift of the Holy Spirit that Christ’s abiding presence in the visible/invisible Church is guaranteed

3.1 The Holy Spirit guided the authors of the Sacred Scriptures, who wrote under his inspiration; and the Holy Spirit allows the texts of Scripture to speak to us today

3.2. The Holy Spirit guides the infallible teaching office of the Pope, and the bishops in communion with him, so that we can know with certainty the faith that we believe

3.3. The Holy Spirit makes effective the sacraments that we celebrate, bringing about the action of Christ in the Church - every Sacrament is celebrated in the power of the Spirit

3.4. The Holy Spirit acts to give specific gifts to the faithful - “charisms”, vocations to a specific state of life in the Church, vocations to a particular mission in the Church, the founding of particular orders or organisations in the Church


from Pope John Paul II Gift and Mystery, reflecting on the day of his priestly ordination.

Veni Creator Spiritus!

I can still remember myself in that chapel during the singing of the Veni, Creator Spiritus and the Litany of the Saints, lying prostrate on the floor with arms outstretched in the form of a cross, awaiting the moment of the imposition of hands. It was a very moving experience! Subsequently I have presided many times over this same rite as a Bishop and as Pope. There is something very impressive about the prostration of the ordinands, symbolizing as it does their total submission before the majesty of God and their complete openness to the action of the Holy Spirit who will descend upon them and consecrate them. Veni, Creator Spiritus, mentes Tuorum visita, imple superna gratia quae Tu creasti pectora. Just as in the Mass the Holy Spirit brings about the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, so also in the Sacrament of Holy Orders he effects the priestly or episcopal consecration. The Bishop who confers the Sacrament of Holy Orders is the human dispenser of this divine mystery. The imposition of hands is the continuation of the gesture used by the early Church to signify that the Holy Spirit is being given for a specific mission. Paul imposed hands on the disciple Timothy, and the gesture has remained in the Church as the efficacious sign of the Holy Spirit's active presence in the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

"Christianity an overwhelming force for good in the world": Prime Minister of Australia

I found it interesting to look at the World Youth Day's website, and their official media player , yesterday evening. Videos of the opening Mass (the whole thing ...) have already been posted. You might find it best to look at the highlights video, in which you can find the welcome speech by Mr Rudd, the Australian Prime Minister. The speech is reported at Zenit, under the title Prime Minister notes Faith-Reason Partnership. I think it is worth watching it on video, rather than just reading the news report or a text. I think it is very interesting as a genuine exercise of dialogue with the Catholic Church by a political leader.

I think there are three noteworthy aspects of Prime Minister Rudd's speech. The first is his emphasis, and I felt there was an emphasis on this in his speech, that the World Youth Day pilgrims are welcome in Australia. This is a valuable counter to those who may undertake anti-Catholic protests during the coming days.

The second is his observation about the partnership of faith and reason:

"Some say there is no place for faith in the 21st century. I say they are wrong. Some say that faith is the enemy of reason, I say, also they are wrong. Because faith and reason are great partners in our human history and in our human future. Rich in humanity, rich in scientific progress."

This observation can clearly be seen in the context of Pope Benedict XVI's own interest in the relationship between faith and reason, an interest which is a prominent feature of his pontificate. It is a welcome participation in dialogue to see the theme being picked up by the leader of a nation such as Australia. I think, too, that a greater exploration of Prime Minister Rudd's last sentence would be useful. He seems to suggest that it is faith that contributes the humanity to our history and future, faith that makes science (cold, hard) human (warm, good). Pope Benedict would have something to say about this.

The third noteworthy aspect is what Prime Minister Rudd said about the contribution of Christianity in the world.

"Some say only that which they see wrong in Christianity and in the Church, I say let us speak also about what is right in Christianity and the Church."

He then highlighted that it was the Church that first opened schools, hospitals and social action for the poor.

"And I say this, that Christianity has been an overwhelming force for good in the world."

One slight note of caution, perhaps, about exactly what Prime Minister Rudd understands by the word "faith". It is not completely clear that he understands the word in a truly religious sense; and his references to "Christianity" and to the "Church" are sufficiently open to refer to Christian denominations other than Catholicism as well as to Catholicism. He does not necessarily see them as "religious" rather than "social" - but nevertheless, I think he has engaged in a dialogue in a proper and encouraging way. What he says about Christianity can be fairly said of all Christian denominations, including Catholicism. His final affirmation is particularly welcome and courageous given the focus of media attention on things that are, or have been, wrong in the Church.

World Youth Day: "Called to live in the Spirit"

The young people gathered in Sydney for World Youth Day meet on Wednesday morning for the first of three sessions of catechesis. These sessions consist of a time of worship, a catechesis with questions/answers given by a bishop and finish with the celebration of Mass. The theme for the Tuesday catechesis is "Called to live in the Spirit".

For our "first Friday" Adoration at the beginning of this month, I used the three themes of the WYD catecheses. I will publish the notes of these catecheses each day to accompany the catecheses in Sydney.

Scripture Readings
Luke 1:26-35

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!" But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end." And Mary said to the angel, "How shall this be, since I have no husband?" And the angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.

Acts 2: 1-4
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

At the beginning of the Gospel (ie the book that tells the story of Jesus life on earth): the Holy Spirit comes upon the Virgin Mary and empowers her to conceive the Son.

At the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles (ie the book that tells the story of the beginning of the Church on earth): the Holy Spirit empowers the Apostles to preach the Christian message, and make the Church/Body of Christ present on earth

The Holy Spirit is present at the beginning of the two key phases in the presence of Christ on earth, his Incarnation and his presence in the mystical body of the Church

As Christians, we are called to live in the Holy Spirit. How do we experience this call in our lives?

The Sacraments of initiation:

Baptism: calls us to live the life of grace, of the Spirit
Confirmation: when we receive particularly the gift of the Holy Spirit
The Eucharist: when the Spirit brings us into communion with the Son in Holy Communion

During our time of silent prayer, we ask that we might answer the call of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We pray that we will be faithful to his gifts received in Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist.

[Two Accounts of the baptism of St Edith Stein]

Edith Stein spent New Year’s Eve (1921-1922) in prayer. On New Year’s Day 1922, at age 30, she received holy baptism in the parish church of Bergzabern and her first holy communion. She wore her Protestant friend Hedwig Conrad-Martius’s wedding cloak, and Hedwig also acted as her God mother. Father Breitling invited everyone to a celebration afterwards. For all participants the day remained unforgettable. Only the day of Edith’s clothing ceremony in the Cologne Carmel equalled the day of her baptism in splendour and happiness. Hedwig Conrad-Martius, who on that day stood by Edith too, writes: “Edith had always had something childlike in her nature, but the childlike joy, and sense of security she had now achieved, were, if I may say so, enchanting”.

[Nikolas Lauer “Edith Stein: remembering a colleague” in Never Forget pp.95-97]

Hedwig Conrad-Martius describes a certain privacy that was a feature of her very close friendship with Edith Stein, such that Edith was to say to Hedwig about her conversion to the Catholic faith “That is my secret”.

“This tension did not trouble the profound sense of community that united us: the test of this was when, at the request of Edith and with the permission of the bishop, I was chosen as god mother for her baptism, something I agreed to do with joy. The day of her baptism she wore my wedding cloak - there was inflation and you could not buy anything. I followed here closely towards the altar. Years later I was present at her clothing in the Carmel of Cologne and after the ceremony I was able to talk with her at length through the grill ….

“Edith always had, by her nature, a childlike soul and a friendly attitude. But the spirit of childhood, the spontaneous joy and the feeling of being certain that she had now gained, was, if I can speak of it like this, an enchantment. The double meaning of the wonderful word grace - freely given gift and charm or delight in a human sense- were here joined together.”
[Hedwig Conrad-Martius “Edith Stein” in Archives de Philosphie (1959) XXII No.2 pp.163-174. My own translation from French]

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Ingrid Betancourt: a witness to faith and to love of the Virgin

The website of the shrine at Lourdes has just alerted me to an aspect of Ingrid Betancourt's liberation from captivity in the Colombian jungle that appears to have escaped the media attention.
During [Ingrid Betancourt's] captivity, her mother, Madame Yolanda Pulecio Velez, expressed the wish to go with her daughter to the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes: "When Ingrid is freed, our first journey will be to Lourdes, together. I have promised it to the Virgin".
Ingrid Betancourt visited Lourdes on 12th July, with her mother, her children, her sister and her nephews/nieces. Two reports of her visit can be found here and here, on the Lourdes blog. There are also two video clips on the "multimedia" area of the Lourdes main website. Sorry, all in French. Herewith my translation of part of the coverage from the website:

Since her arrival in the Marian city yesterday evening, very contradictory information has circulated. Would she come to the torchlight procession for the feast of St Benedict, patron of Europe? Would she go to the town hall to receive the medal of the town? It was finally at the grotto, and only there, that she wished to show herself, symbolically, after having prayed for more than an hour before the Blessed Sacrament, in the Adoration Chapel of the shrine .... "What has touched me about this woman is the peaceful coherence between her strong faith, the love of her family, and her commitment to the service of others", observed the bishop "guardian of the grotto" (Bishop Jacques Perrier of Lourdes and Tarbes). He insisted on the secret of Ingrid Betancourt "To live for ... ". She left Lourdes this afternoon, after a pilgrimage of 24 hours which will go down in history.
At the end of her visit to the Grotto, during which she led the praying of two decades of the Rosary, Ingrid Betancourt thanked the Virgin for her freedom and asked her to help the hostages who remain behind. There is a lovely moment in the video on the Lourdes website where Ingrid exchanges a look with her mother.

What I had not noticed (perhaps not having a television contributed to this, perhaps not) was that when Ingrid Betancourt was reunited with her mother on the tarmac of the airfield in Bogota she knelt down in prayer with her mother and some of the other released hostages, praying particularly for the hostages who remain in Colombia. I have just looked at a photograph of this on the BBC news website - and the whole thing looks perfectly natural and unpretentious. [Amusingly, the "label" that shows when your mouse hovers over the picture reads "Ingrid Betancourt ... prays next to her mother Yolando Pelucia and 11 other hostages during a press conference after their arrival at the Catam airbase in Bogota" whereas the rather banal visible caption reads "There was a huge sigh of relief as the hostages arrived in the capital, Bogota, on Wednesday."]

Monday, 14 July 2008

The Church of England ....

I have been thinking to post on recent events in the Church of England - namely the vote of the Synod to allow women to become bishops, and the reaction of the Anglo-Catholic movement within the Church of England to that vote - but have been finding it very difficult to find the appropriate way of doing so.

Blog by the Sea has a comprehensive post on the different responses from within the Anglo-Catholic movement in the Anglican Church. Drawing on her own experience, Blog by the Sea reflects an aspect of my own thoughts on the situation that now exists with regard to the Church of England and possible moves to join the Roman Catholic Church:

In the U.S., the hope for Anglo-Catholics to move in unity after the Gene Robinson vote was not a realistic hope in the end. Different people had a different way forward in mind. Over time, some became Catholic, some became Greek Orthodox, some became Protestant, and some moved toward a more Protestant/Evangelical form of conservative Anglicanism.

In the end, I was left to sort things through on my own, eventually entering the Catholic Church with a group of people I had met for the first time at my new parish. Among them were 2 or 3 other former Episcopalians, none of them from my former Episcopal Church parish. Around the same time, I heard from a few others I had known as an Episcopalian that they had become Eastern Orthodox. I knew when I left that some were leaning more toward Protestant churches or toward a more Evangelical form of Anglicanism.

In the process, I realized that the need to sort things through for myself, in itself, differed from the pattern of the Early Church described in Acts 15. The process itself entailed "a matter of one's own interpretation" of Scripture (II Peter 1:20) that an individual, in the Early Church, was not supposed to have to do. The process itself made clearer the value of the Church's magisterium and the papacy, and the [Roman Catholic] Church's greater similarity in that respect to the way the Early Church resolved conflict. Once that became apparent, the other issues faded in importance.

Anglo-Catholic parishes who have been living under the supervision of "flying bishops" face this same question of magisterium; it is a question that they have been, at least implicitly and perhaps explicitly, avoiding during their time under the guidance of "flying bishops". Implicitly, they have been living an Anglican style of magisterium - or rather, lack of it - in the sense that there is nothing in their scheme of things that allows a decision binding on all members of the Anglican Church to be made. As Blog by the Sea's post suggests, Roman Catholicism is not the only answer to this question of magisterium that an Anglo-Catholic might arrive at, and in some ways it is the answer that is most difficult for them. A recent post at Standing on my Head seems to verify this.

Suggestions that Anglican bishops might come into the Roman Catholic Church and "bring their folk with them", or that Forward in Faith parishes might come into the Roman Catholic Church as corporate identities, seem to me to risk continuing to beg this question of magisterium. The request for "magnanimous gestures" from the Vatican and from the Roman Catholic hierarchy of England and Wales seems to me to be a request to agree to some sort of arrangement such as these. And, whilst it is certainly correct that Roman Catholics and their clergy in particular should respond in a charitable and understanding way to the dilemma facing Anglo-Catholics, to give an appearance of welcome to solutions that involve these styles of corporate receptions into the Church appears to me incredibly naive.

A "conversion" is necessary. And I do not mean by that a rejection of the Anglo-Catholic heritage that many in the Church of England, and particularly Anglo-Catholic clergy, have held in good conscience (cf the post at Standing on my Head). What I do mean is a "turning towards" the fulness and completion of that heritage. I find it difficult to see how that "conversion", with its genuine recognition of a binding and universal magisterium, will come about with the models of corporate reception that seem to be being suggested.

What might provide more viable models for a style of corporate reception into the Catholic Church might be the moves into the Roman Catholic Church of the Society of the Atonement and some of the monks of Caldey to found Prinknash Abbey. I am suggesting that a large scale style of corporate receptions, even at whole parish level, is unrealistic; perhaps a series of smaller scale arrangements might be possible. Canonically, these would be a group of individual receptions; but they could be accompanied by a smaller, corporate association along the lines of one of the "new movements" (though not a "formerly Anglican parish"), to which Roman Catholics could be very welcoming.

And the other question is that of ordination of former Anglican clergy in the Roman Catholic Church. Whilst the decision to seek to join the Roman Catholic Church is one for Anglicans to make themselves, in response to the grace of God and in discerning his will for their lives, the subsequent decision about ordination is one that rests with the Roman Catholic bishop. The request for "magnanimous gestures" and some sort of corporate reception seems to have an implicit assumption that Anglican clergy will become Roman Catholic clergy to serve the new corporate body - blurring the different loci of the two discernments present in this situation. Which, of course, does involve an experience of magisterium, perhaps more in its juridical aspect....

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Guide to some main events of World Youth Day

Blog by the Sea has a post which gives a useful guide to following the World Youth Day "from afar". It includes timings of broadcasts of events from a number of satellite/internet providers, and links to the World Youth Day website that will allow you to download the texts for the three main liturgical celebrations: the Opening Mass on Tuesday, the Stations of the Cross on Friday and the closing Mass celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday.

I think it is a nice touch - and a recognition that the internet now makes events such as World Youth Day more "global" than ever - that the texts for these celebrations have been posted on the World Youth Day website. It allows people following the events from home to achieve a better participation than would otherwise be possible.

An experience of Eucharistic Adoration with children

I have spent this weekend at Maryvale Institute, being busy at a residential weekend for the current cohort of trainee RE teachers. During the weekend, I had a conversation with a priest who described his experience of including a time of Eucharistic Adoration in the programme of preparation as children received Holy Communion for the first time. The first reactions of other adults involved with the programme was a bit skeptical, with an expectation that the children would just fidget etc.

Father worked with the children in the school (I assume this refers to the parish primary school) before the service, deciding what they would sing and preparing prayers that they could bring up and lay on the altar. On the day, lots of candles were set out, so there must have been quite a visual impact. (Making an effort with candles and flowers communicates a message - this is something we think is important - and it points us towards the focus, Jesus present as the Eucharist.) All the parents were invited as were the catechists. For Benediction, Father invited the children to the front to kneel along the altar rails, to join their hands and bow their heads. I think the service lasted about 30 minutes.

From Father's account, I think all the children involved and all the parents came, with just one exception.

The children appear to have taken to it completely. Their stillness, silence and reverence were quite the opposite of what had been people's initial expectations. This was probably in no part due to the careful preparation by Father. The reaction of the catechists and parents was enthusiastic - that they must do more of this in next year's programme. When Father gave the children the opportunity for the Sacrament of Penance at the end of the time of Adoration, almost all the children stayed to receive the Sacrament. And Father was able to notice the greater reverence of the children when they next came to Mass.

Now, come on, you know it makes sense. Try it in your parish ...

Friday, 11 July 2008

Tribunal success for registrar who will not do civil partnerships

The BBC news website reported the success of a Christian registrar in the London Borough of Islington. Their report can be found here: Less than 24 hours after this report first appearing, it can only be found by doing a Google search - it is not available by a link from any of the pages of the site that you might expect.
Lillian Ladele, who said the civil partnership ceremonies went against her Christian faith, hailed the decision as a "victory for religious liberty".

The tribunal ruled that Miss Ladele was discriminated against on grounds of religious beliefs and was harassed. ...

She said she was picked on, shunned and accused of being homophobic for refusing to carry out civil partnerships.

Previous working arrangments for the Registrars in the borough had allowed them to "swap" among themselves so that those with conscientious objection to civil partnerships did not have to officiate at such ceremonies. A change, in which the registrars became directly employed by the local authority, led to the present case.

The BBC report contrasted Miss Ladele's observation that

"Gay rights should not be used as an excuse to bully and harass people over their religious beliefs"
with Peter Tatchell's observation that

"Public servants like registrars have a duty to serve all members of the public without fear or favour. Once society lets some people opt out of upholding the law, where will it end?"

This latter observation set me off on two trains of thought. If the first sentence is taken at absolutely face value, then a whole range of professional roles are going to be closed down to those who have faith convictions that oppose the morals currently being expressed de facto in legislation in the UK. This is surely profoundly discriminatory - and it is an intense irony that it is happening in the name of "diversity". A much more genuine pluralism in provision seems to me to respect the genuine demands of human freedom.

The second sentence set me thinking about situations where ordinary people might have justified their behaviour as "upholding the law" or "obeying orders" - in other words, following an ethic defined by features of state legislation or policy. South Africa during apartheid? Civil rights at the time of racial segregation in America? I can't help but feel that there are situations where Peter Tatchell would be an advocate of "civil disobedience". This sentence might be a nice media sound bite, but it cannot provide an adequate principle for moral action.

A much fuller discussion of the relationship between the state and civil society, between the individual and state and between the individual and civil society is called for. The media bytes of the pro-Gay lobby suppress this discussion.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

International Eucharistic Congress: Catechesis by Cardinal Phillippe Barbarin

Cardinal Barbarin is the Archbishop of Lyons. During the Congress he gave a catechesis entitled "Memory and Sacrifice". He described our celebration of the Eucharist as bringing us to Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter morning. Translation from the original French transcript of the catechesis is my own and the photo credits go to

In talking first about Holy Thursday, Cardinal Barbarin refers to the episode of the washing of the feet recorded in St John's Gospel:

We are truly at the side of Jesus, like those who accompanied him, on the evening of Holy Thursday. It is a wonderful moment of friendship and gentleness ... Yes, humility is the queen of all the virtues, and those who participate at Mass understand, in looking at the example given by the Servant, that their vocation is to serve, whatever their state of life. They also feel that the atmosphere of the Church is that of a family....

But the Eucharist also makes us contemporaries of Good Friday. It is the hour of supreme sacrifice, when the Lord poured out his blood on the cross, for the forgiveness of our sins ....

Finally, the celebration of the Eucharist is above all the mystery of Easter morning. The love of God triumphs over so much hate and injustice, and the body of Jesus, living and risen again, is held before us.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

International Eucharistic Congress: testimony of Jean Vanier

I have been putting together a powerpoint presentation of my trip to Quebec, which readily gives me material for some more posts! In choosing one of the testimonies to feature, I went for that of Jean Vanier. His testimony was given on the theme "The Eucharist: the gift of God par excellence", in French. The English translation is my own, and is taken from the written text of the testimony. Photo credit to

Jesus came to bring down these walls in our hearts and to make us, his disciples, workers for peace. The great thirst of Jesus is unity: "That they may be one as the Father and I are one" ....

After a conference about people with a handicap that I gave in Syria, the grand mufti of Alep arose to thank me. He said: "If I have understood properly, people with a handicap lead us towards God" ....

Jean Vanier developed a theme of how we, who draw close to Jesus in the Eucharist, should also draw close to him in the handicapped person, and become for them a Eucharistic presence of Jesus.

In L'Arche and Foi et Lumiere, we have the experience that when we are attentive to the deepest needs of people with a handicap, we can recognise their wish for communion at the moment of the Eucharist. Is there not hidden in their cry for a communion of hearts a cry for communion with Jesus in the Eucharist?... Can we not dare to hope that one of the fruits of this Eucharistic congress will be that we all might discover the deep meaning of this gift of the friendship of Jesus in his real presence in the Eucharist - and that we will all look to live a real presence alongside people who are weak and rejected?...

And the final words of his testimony were:

And I dare to evoke another hope: that the body and blood of Jesus really present in the Eucharist can be the source, no longer of division between all the baptised, but of unity among them, so that the world might believe in the liberating love of Jesus.

Two things particularly struck me about Jean Vanier's testimony. The first was that, though the experience of many L'Arche and Foi et Lumiere communities is now one of a multi-denominational, multi-faith or even non-believing background, nevertheless the testimony was profoundly Christocentric and Eucharistic. The second was the closeness of the testimony to the spirituality of unity of the Focolare movement. When I shared this testimony with our Word of Life group earlier this evening, they recognised this affinity immediately.

Monday, 7 July 2008

International Eucharistic Congress: confession, confession, confession ...

An aspect of the Eucharistic Congress that I have been meaning to comment on for a few days now is the availability of the Sacrament of Penance. For each of the main days of the Congress, priests were available at a number of locations around the stadium being used for the catecheses and celebration of Mass to hear confessions. This meant, roughly speaking, access to the Sacrament from 9 am to 11 am, every morning. It was quite encouraging at times to see short queues waiting to receive the Sacrament. Each morning, a reminder announcement of the availablity of these priests was made.

On Thursday morning, there was a penitential celebration/para-liturgy. This was followed by the Congress site becoming a "city of reconciliation", with priests in three or four different areas available for confessions.

More than once during the week, and not least in the homily of Pope Benedict XVI at the closing Mass, mention was made of the need for more care in preparing to receive Jesus in Holy Communion. The availability of the Sacrament of Penance during the week of the Congress provided a good witness as to how we can respond to this need.

The political position of Catholic schools in the UK

Since posting about Ed Balls support for faith schools on the letters page of the Times a couple of days ago, I have come across a couple of bits of background.

The first is the existence of a group called ACCORD. This group aims to influence government and others to help ensure that places of state funded education are provided for everyone irrespective of race or religion or belief. Its principles include the following:
All state funded schools should:-

Operate admissions policies to take no account of pupils' - or their parents' - religion or belief.
Operate recruitment and employment policies that do not discriminate on grounds of religion or belief.
Follow an objective, fair and balanced syllabus for religious and non-religious beliefs - whether determined by their local authority or by any future national syllabus for curriculum for religious education.
Be made accountable under a single inspection regime for religious education, personal, social, health education and citizenship.
Provide their pupils with inclusive, inspiring and stimulating assemblies in place of compulsory acts of worship.

Whilst my source is "impeccable", and the group is in its early days of existence, I have not yet been able to find an internet presence for this group. The group's principles clearly oppose the historic "dual system" by which Catholic schools in this country operate within the state funded system yet retain control over the delivery and inspection of those aspects of their life that most closely affect their Catholic character. No school could genuinely remain Catholic were it to operate under the regime proposed by ACCORD.

Referring to their last point, I must say that I am not a supporter of the continued requirement for a daily act of public worship in maintained schools (ie schools without a religious designation). So far as I can see, many schools ignore this requirement and, if inspectors comment on their failure to observe it, they happily continue to ignore it. I would much prefer to see it replaced by chaplaincy provision to schools, much along the lines of hospital and port chaplaincy. Another story ...

My second interesting bit of background was to spot the Catholic Education Service's report of their annual Parliamentary reception to celebrate the work of Catholic schools. The full ministerial team turned out from the DCSF, including of course Ed Balls himself. With hindsight, I realise that his letter to the Times was probably only saying what he had said at this reception.

Mr Balls, who was joined later by Schools Minister Jim Knight, told of his respect for the efforts of the Churches, noting that historically, they were the first providers of free public education and emphasised that Catholic schools and colleges are “leading the way” on many key issues, including the promotion of community cohesion. He thanked providers of Catholic education and the CES for all the work we do with the Government to raise standards and create opportunities for all.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Trying to get started for the Year of St Paul

I am beginning to think about getting my head round the Year of St Paul. When I start the "new season" of first Friday Eucharistic Adoration's in September, the intention is that the themes each month will draw on St Paul.

So, in a spare moment today, I looked at the leaflet that had been inserted in our parish newsletter to mark the beginning of the Year of St Paul. It has been produced by the Liturgy Office of the Bishop's Conference of England and Wales, and is made up of extracts from the document The Gift of Scripture. I did not find it much help, experiencing again the two difficulties that I found I had when The Gift of Scripture was first published.

Let's take a sentence like this one:

The genuine letters of St Paul were written long before the first written Gospel and are consequently the earliest writings of the New Testament.

It sounds as if it is academically rigorous - the reference to "genuine letters" and "written long before". But it is actually rather vague - you do really need to add a bit of explanation about letters that are attributed to St Paul but which are not thought by scholars to be written by him, instead of just leaving it hanging, and the phrase "long before" really needs to have a figure put to it because "long" and "long" in this context could imply something quite different to a reader who has not the academic background to recognise what it is referring to.

And it could be rather more helpful pastorally, too. How can I use, in a pastoral context, this observation about the letters of St Paul being the earliest New Testament writings? Does it provide me with a theme for a first Friday Adoration?

[And that is before I comment on the 4.5 column inches commenting on St Paul's teaching on women - and the suggestion that Pauline texts referring to women need to be understood as arising from particular social and religious settings and need to be read in the wider context of the whole of Scripture etc ... why devote so much to this in the first place? And if you are going to, please give me enough information to actually be able to do what you suggest!]

It's not that I want to criticise The Gift of Scripture in the sense of attacking it - it's just that I find I can't actually make use of it, either academically or pastorally.

Rather more useful turn out to be two articles in recent issues of The Sower. These are by Sr M Johanna Paruch, and treat of St Paul as a "catechetical saint". The first article appeared in the April-June 2008 issue - and I can see in it the references to Acts 9 and Acts 22, and to Galatians, that will allow me to put together a kind of biography of St Paul. And in the second article, published in the July-September 2008 issue, I can spot the theme of the absolute cohesion of Christ and the Church - again, I can actually use this. Another article in this July-September issue also identifies themes under the headings "The Person of Paul" and "Paul's methods in establishing others in the Faith" that will also be useful.

For more information about The Sower visit

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Ed Balls is "100% committed" to the continuing of faith schools in Britain

Those readers of this blog who have good memories will recall that I posted in March on the action of the Secretary of State at the Department for Children, Schools and Families with regard to releasing data about schools not complying with the new Admissions Code. If you look at this post, I clearly speculated that Ed Balls had released unverified data about breaches of the Admissions Code the day before representatives of Catholic education were to appear before the Commons Select Committee for the DCSF to be quizzed about the role of Church schools in the state education system. I was certainly correct in saying that the release of that data completely set the agenda for the questioning of Bishop O'Donoghue - this will be very clear to anyone who consults the Parliamentary record.

On Monday of this week (30th June), Cristina Odone wrote an opinion piece in the Times in which she accused Ed Balls of launching a "witch-hunt against faith schools". This refers to the action of the Secretary of State about which I posted. I have to say that, whilst I do not know enough about the detailed activity of the DCSF since Ed Balls took over as Secretary of State to make a definitive judgement, Cristina Odone's attack did appear to come from a well founded evidence base. I certainly have had the feeling that the position of Church schools in the state education system was less secure under the Gordon Brown/Ed Balls regime than it had been previously.

But an interesting letter from Ed Balls appeared in the Times on Friday 4th July. He defended himself against Cristina Odone's accusation of a "witch-hunt", saying that this is "absolute nonsense". After discussing exactly what action he has taken on the Admissions Code, Ed Balls writes:

Secondly, faith schools are popular, successful, thriving and the oldest established part of the schools system - I am 100 per cent committed to that continuing.
So far as I am aware, this is Ed Balls first clearly expressed support for Church schools. And he cannot go more publicly "on the record" than in the letters page of the Times. (Well, I suppose a Commons statement could be argued as being more strongly "on the record" ...)

There is no doubt that faith schools play a leading role in fostering understanding and integration in their communities.

Again, the political import of this is huge. Church schools are most often attacked by their opponents as undermining social integration. Such a view was expressed in the letter from the Director of the National Secular Society, published alongside Ed Ball's letter. Ed Balls has clearly put himself on the record as gain-saying that point of view.

One of the first actions I took in this job was to sign the Faith in the System statement, alongside all the large faith groups. It is the first time any government and all the leading religions in England had ever set out a long-term joint statement about faith schools' wider role in society and the importance of nurturing young people in their own faiths.

It is a little disingenuous for Ed Balls to claim credit for this statement. It was there, ready to go, as a result of the work of his predecessor. He did not really have any choice about signing it, and it has certainly been seen by me as reflective of the position of the pre-Gordon Brown/Ed Balls regime rather than of the present regime. But Ed Balls has now come out and clearly indicated that it is a kind of manifesto for faith schooling that is supported by the more recent regime.

So, if one takes a positive view of this: congratulations to Cristina Odone for "smoking out" such a public commitment from the Secretary of State!

Or, if one takes a less positive view: is this really as good as it looks, or is there some hidden disingenuity that will emerge at a later date?

Friday, 4 July 2008

Eucharistic Adoration in the parish

I took my "little Ark" along to Eucharistic Adoration this evening, so that I could show it to the children and explain what it was as part of one of the meditations. A couple of the photographs have come out quite well, so here they are.

International Eucharistic Congress: snippets

My notebook from the Eucharistic Congress contains some snippets from the catecheses. These snippets do not necessarily give a good overall impression of the catechesis from which they are taken. They are things, though, that caught my attention at the time of first hearing. Some of these snippets contrast with each other, and reflect a different emphasis on the part of one speaker when compared to another. Looking from the outside, it is possible to see this and read it as "conflict" within the teaching of the Congress. The experience of actually being there, though, was more one of recognising in the discussions of the Congress discussions that are taking place in the Church as a whole. In some ways, the differences in emphases (and, more importantly, how we should try to understand them in the unity and charity of Catholic life) represent part of the Church's Eucharistic experience at this time. We should not be surprised that this is also reflected in the experience of a Eucharistic Congress.

"The true celebrant [of the Eucharist] is Jesus himself" (Cardinal Barbarin, Archbishop of Lyons).

Referring to Vatican II's constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, the "changes in the Liturgy" that came from it were recognising the Eucharist as an act of the community, the call for active participation and the idea that the Eucharist leads to building a community of love and sharing. (Cardinal Toppo, Archbishop of Ranchi, India)

"The Eucharist is not a meal between friends" (Pope Benedict XVI, homily at closing Mass).

Reflecting on the Eucharist as a memorial in the sense of the Jewish liturgy, we could encourage boys to use the words of St Thomas when he recognised Jesus after his Resurrection,"My Lord and my God", as their prayer of adoration just after the consecration at Mass. Girls could be encouraged to use the greeting of Mary Magdalen when she recognised Jesus in the garden on the morning of the Resurrection: "Rabboni". (Cardinal Barbarin)

Some consequences for seeing in Mary, "the Eucharistic woman", a model for how we should approach the Eucharist. This was referred to as an "analogy of Mary" - Mary as a model of the Covenant, what is said of Mary can also be said in general of the Church of which she is the figure, what is said of Mary can also be said of the individual Christian:

for personal prayer: we might say Mary's Magnificat as a thanksgiving
prayer after receiving Jesus in Communion

for the Church: cultivate in the Church a sensitivity to Mary, reforms in
the Church should be based on love for the Church

(Cardinal Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires)

"The Eucharist is of the faithful, for the world".(Cardinal Ze-Kuin, Archbishop of Hong Kong)

When there is a time of national or international need, such as a natural disaster, do we, as a matter of course, turn to the Eucharist in Adoration or the celebration of Mass? Do we do this as a form of intercession? (A question asked in my discussion group)

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Priest Academy

I am not sure how it came to her attention, but zero sent the following:

You and your fellow bloggers may be interested in, a French internet reality show launched by the diocese of Besancon in eastern France. It marks the first ordination of a local priest in three years. The first two episodes having go 150 000 hits apparently.
I have just watched Episode 1, and thought it raised some interesting questions about the mission of the priest. I suspect that viewers will have different opinions on the fact, for example, that two out of the three featured clerics are shown dressed in "civvies". Another question is whether or not the programme offers a vision of priesthood that will inspire vocations.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

International Eucharistic Congress: Pope Benedict XVI

Fr Julian Green has two posts that present the homilies of Pope Benedict XVI to the participants in the Eucharistic Congress. The first is the message of the Holy Father to the vigil of prayer and Eucharistic Adoration with young people. The second post presents the highlights of Pope Benedict's homily at the closing Mass. I am rather pleased that Fr Julian has picked out some of the same key points that I have chosen from this latter homily to structure a series of allocutios for the Legion of Mary praesidium in the parish.

[I am outside the age range for the youth vigil ....]

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

International Eucharistic Congress: you can meet some interesting people on a pilgrimage

There were times during the Congress - usually as the weather decided that it was going to pour down on us yet again, as it did with regularity and severity throughout the week - when the phrase "well, it is a pilgrimage" came resignedly to the lips. And part of being on a pilgrimage is that you can have some interesting encounters during the journey - regular visitors to Lourdes will probably be familiar with this experience.

I briefly met Fr Jean Picher, the priest who was the Secretary General for the Congress, as we registered at the beginning of the Congress. I realised I had missed a trick and decided that, if I saw him later in the week, I would give him a copy of the programme for our parish's Forty Hours Adoration (the theme was that of the Congress itself, and the sub-themes for each day were taken from the icons of the Ark of the New Covenant). I did get the chance to do this, and Father's response, slow and deliberate was: "I am glad to see that the English pray". It took me a few moments to think up a reply to this, and translate it into French: "We need to pray!".

On some days of the Congress I took part in the "ateliers d'approfondissement". These, in plain English, were the discussion groups on the themes of the catecheses - the French does sound more elegant, though. One lady in the group I was in is active in a parish in central Canada. During the discussions she started talking about work she does with children who have made their First Communion, trying to get them to come to Eucharistic Adoration. In other words, out of some 10 000+ Congress participants, I had ended up sat next to a lady who does exactly the same sort of thing with Adoration for children and families in her parish that I do in my own parish! A couple of others in the group had travelled from Vancouver to Quebec for the Congress - which is pretty much the same distance as from London to Quebec. What impressed me, though, was that they had taken that much trouble to travel to the Congress even when they were not able to stay for the whole week, needing to return home on the Thursday to be back at work on the Friday.

Our lunches were packed lunches that we collected from tents as we left the Congress Mass each day. Congress participants were then encouraged to scatter across the site of the conference venue to a number of different tents where there were tables and chairs to eat your lunch. [We did adopt the strategy of having emergency rations with us, as on one or two days the contents of the packed lunch were a little "unusual".] Each tent was named after an apostle - to help with setting up meeting points. On the Tuesday I ended up spending the second part of my lunch talking with a lady and a priest from a Ukranian Byzantine Rite diocese in Canada. There are five Ukrainian dioceses (in communion with the Pope, and celebrating the Liturgy according to the Byzantine Rite) in Canada. It was interesting to learn about how these communities first came to Canada around the turn of the 20th century, at a time when there was a great move to develop the agricultural potential of central and western Canada, a development made possible by the growth of railways. So central/Western Canada is where they settled, as farmers. The lady I was speaking to has kept the farm her parents owned as a kind of memorial/tribute to them, though she does not farm the land. By the time we got to the end of the conversation, I had worked out that the priest was in fact the Bishop of the diocese ... The following day, the Congress Mass was celebrated in the Byzantine Rite, apparently the first time the Byzantine Rite dioceses had celebrated in this way for a major Catholic event, and they were very enthusiastic about having the opportunity to do so.

I had a couple of conversations with people about Tony Blair, who seemed to be viewed quite favourably by Canadians, partly as a result, I think, of a rosy view of his reception into the Catholic church. I tried my best to disperse the aura of sanctity which seemed to surround him - it got a bit tricky trying to explain, in French, that fund raising for Stonewall wasn't a very Catholic thing to be doing.

At the beginning of the closing Mass, because I was near the front to do a reading, I was within 10 m or so of the dignitaries. The chief among these was the Governor General of Canada - "the representative of our Queen - and your Queen - in Canada" as one of the team looking after the readers put it to me. I am afraid I rather suffer from severe indifference towards the monarchy as an influence for good in our society, so I was quite surprised by this strong sense of the position of the Queen in relation to Canada and to me. Sadly, my relative indifference probably communicated itself to the priest who said this to me.