Thursday, 30 April 2009

Is there such a thing as a vocation to "single life"?

My views on this question have always been strongly coloured by a book, originally published in German in 1955 and then in English translation in 1979, by Adrienne von Speyr. The book is called They followed His Call: Vocation and Asceticism. This was followed by a kind of intuitive antipathy to the suggestion that single life was a vocation equivalent in type to those of marriage, religious life or priesthood - the fashion for this in some contemporary pastoral activity in favour of a "culture of vocation" has always seemed to me to be a bit of a "let's not have anyone feel left out" syndrome without a substantial theological support. The accounts here and here, for example, appear rather unconvincing, and I am not sure I could find anything specifically single about the account here.

One aspect to this question is that of the age at which one responds to a call to a particular vocation. Perhaps for good reason, there has been a trend to accepting people into religious formation at an older age than in the past. Entering formation at an early age does clearly have the risk that such entry is seen as definitive, and those who find that they should leave and test a different vocation find it difficult to do so. But, on the other hand, if entry is left until later an opposite risk occurs. An older person can be more set in their ways, and therefore less docile and less adaptable to the formative demands of a particular form of life. I found this post at Southwark Vocations interesting, and would be supportive of its implication that we should perhaps be open to encouraging a response to vocation at an earlier age.

This question of the age at which one responds to a vocation is linked to that of how we understand the single state in the life of the Church. I happen to think that the single state, precisely as a single state (but see comments below about lay movements and ecclesial communities), is not a vocational choice in itself, and should not be presented as such in pastoral activity. It represents an openess towards a choice of vocation in the Church. So the situation of someone who remains single until late in life has something unfinished about it, something anomalous. This what Adrienne von Speyr writes about this:

The call reaches persons in their youth, and also older persons. But the "late called" are mostly those with whom the Lord's patience has persevered for so long that they have at last heard. If he closely examines his life, such a person will see that he owes his vocation to God's long suffering.

There is the possibility that the one who has remained single has done so because they have pushed the voice of the Lord calling them into the background, and hidden it away. They have, in effect, declined to answer their calling to a particular vocation. Adrienne von Speyr again:

The muting of the voice is such a frightening event and it so unsettles the person that whoever has said No or tried to put God off, postponing a decision, is a permanently marked man. He is and remains recognisable. He has pushed aside the experience of his life. In the future he remains embittered, dissatisfied, sarcastic and fault finding, and he never grows tired of ... trying to prove the impossibility of discipleship.... The No impresses itself and remains, and it is at times more capable of transforming a person's spiritual physiognomy more deeply that the Yes would have done.

Three of the chapters in Adrienne von Speyr's book are devoted in turn to the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience. Writing in 1948 (so far as I can tell), Hans Urs von Balthasar began to present the life of the counsels as appropriate to the lay state of life in the Church. A work that he then originally entitled The Laity and the Religious State was later re-edited and published with the title The Laity and the Life of the Counsels. For both Adrienne von Speyr and Hans Urs von Balthasar, the form of the evangelical counsels, whether expressed in promises or in vows (private or public), is available to the lay person and represents the form of the Yes to the vocation from the Lord. An Apostolic Constitution of 1947, Provida Mater, gave lay associations in the Church the chance to achieve a canonical status as secular institutes. Hans Urs von Balthasar saw this as a great opportunity for the lay person - the secular institutes were a possibility open to the single lay person whose status in the Church otherwise remained anomalous. Writing of the potential of the lay person living the life of the counsels, Hans Urs von Balthasar says:

... the layman would never need to fear being unfaithful to his spiritual mission even in the most worldly turmoil of his professional work. For he would not have chosen this mission for himself; it would have been entrusted to him in the obedience of the counsels, and he would carry out under obedience all that it entails, even what appeared its most worldly dimension ....

It is scarcely possible to gauge a priori the springs of supernatural power that would be unleashed in such a life. Working in the same practice, office, or factory, but freed from the absorbing and often depressing concerns about family and earnings, the layman in the state of the counsels would have an incomparable advantage in terms of time, freedom, and productivity, not to mention the possibilities of taking up deeper questions that may not be immediately lucrative but are much more necessary, when seen with Christian eyes: public questions for which those with such busy private lives have no time, questions affecting the Church in the civil sphere, in which married people, who are dependent in so many ways, perhaps do ot want to take the risk of getting their fingers burned, questions of the apostolate in the lay milieu, which the priest finds impossible or at least difficult to approach ...

It is the spiritual value and significance for lay people of a life of the counsels that Hans Urs von Balthasar goes on to draw out, not just the practical possibilities of the single state. The future tense implicit in Hans Urs von Balthasar's words seems strange to us now, who so much take for granted the existence of lay movements and ecclesial communities in the Church. I have found it quite fascinating to see a kind of prophetic wisdom in the position of Adrienne von Speyr and Hans Urs von Balthasar, and it lies in this. Many of the new movements and ecclesial communities have, gradually, evolved a core group at the centre of their life who choose to live the life of the counsels. This is true of Communion and Liberation and of the Focolare, to name but two.

I would want to argue that the single state in the Church is not a vocational state in itself. It is full of opportunities to respond with a Yes to a vocation in the Church, the movements, ecclesial communities and secular institutes providing forms for that Yes in the single, lay state. Or, of course, it provides an openess to a vocation to the priesthood, religious life or marriage.

So, what of the person who reaches their later, or slightly later, years (or, to use a phrase now not often heard - the person who reaches their "middle youth") and is still single? Personally, I find the suggestion that being single in some way constitutes a vocation in itself patronising; it assumes a Yes that is not there in lived experience, and to try and pretend that it is there is unreal and, in the end, unhelpful. I suspect that it is possible that one is called to live, for a long period of time, in an openess towards a call that will only be revealed later in life; but that involves the radicalness of a living obedience, from one moment to the next moment, day in and day out, without the external scaffolding of formal commitment, that is a rare and quite exceptional, spiritual gift. One can also find a call to engagement in one or more particular activities on behalf of the Church or of the Christian mission in the world; but these engagements, providentially good and genuinely charismatic as they may be, remain a "secondary mission" that the Lord "tolerates". They cannot replace the "first" call that is pushed into the background in a refusal, a No.

UPDATE: This is a post that makes a couple of relevant points .... in its references to a person's "inability to commit to anything" at a certain age (!) and in its suggestion of inviting the girl out anyway instead of making an excuse ....

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Bloggers on television

Those who were particularly sharp eyed will have seen this post - briefly - when I posted it a day or two ago before I pulled it for further editing. I have not really had the time to give it the further editing, but have received a comment from one of the sharp eyed about some of the advice it gave being helpful. So, in the spirit of offering something of help to others, I am putting it back up again now with one or two subsequent additions.

It has been interesting to notice that two Catholics appearing on television programmes have recently appeared with the straplines "Catholic bloggers". Being a blogger has become part of an identity group. I am thinking of James Preece and Joanna Bogle. And this post prompts thoughts on whether blogworthiness has now become newsworthiness.

One must give all due credit to those who agree to appear on television (or radio) to defend Pope Benedict XVI, and the teaching of the Church. It takes very considerable courage and nerve, so congratulations to them.

There is something in the view that those employed as media professionals by the Church - or, indeed, bishops themselves - should be willing to do this. In some situations this is probably true; but the hostility of the environment of a particular programme or interview can also lead to a legitimate judgement that that is not an environment in which the Church's view can be fairly or effectively communicated and so a declining of the invitation. There can be quite careful judgements to be made.

Looking at the number of comments attracted by James Preece's post linked above, I am reminded of the sheer power of television as a medium for getting a message into peoples lives. I am also reminded that a television appearance demands very different skills than posting to a blog. Only in the rarest situations is a television appearance an opportunity to present a reasoned, argued case. It is much more about "coming over well" and creating an "impression". Integrity demands that this is not done in a dishonest way; but, nevertheless, the exercise is not one of presenting a complete intellectual argument. In the jargon, it is about getting the sound bites correct.

In the past, partly through my trade union background but also from other sources, I have had the benefit of some training for news media. Herewith some thoughts:

1. It is always much more effective to present a positive case of your own rather than to be responding to an attack from the "other side". So you do not have to answer a point that is put to you in an interview - it can be much better to instead make a positive point of your own instead.

2. Decide what you want to say before you appear, and, write yourself a little script beforehand. A series of short, coherent points is what is needed - sound bites. I am inclined to use cards, one card for each point. And, see point 1, make them positive points. There might be some predictable points you can prepare because you know they are likely to come up, too; it is perhaps more important than ever to have a pre-prepared script for these. But try to make it positive, not a "reaction" answer.

3. And perhaps think of your appearance as an opportunity for evangelisation. Not to be forced unrealistically onto the interview/programme - that would be utterly counter-productive, but there might be a cue to allow a little sound bite of "primary proclamation".

4. Do not let yourself be forced to say something that you do not want to say. If in doubt, keep silent - silence is the interviewers problem, not yours, particularly in a one-to-one situation. Or, just pick one of your positive points and respond with that instead.

5. Remember, your reason for being there, as is true of everyone else who is appearing alongside you, even if they do not admit it, is NOT to answer questions that you might be asked. It is to communicate the message that you want to get over ...

So, Pope Benedict XVI is not a liability because:


how many people, predominantly young people, attended the closing Mass of the World Youth Day in Cologne in 2005? 1.2 million

what was the title of Pope Benedict's first encyclical letter? "God is Love". And let me read you a sentence or two of it (as I post this, I had reason to re-read a couple of paragraphs last night, and it really is quite something!)

As far as homosexuality is concerned? What do we mean by love? It's wanting the best thing for the other person, and what Pope Benedict is saying is that this is more than just what we might want to do, or are attracted towards (applies just as much to those who identify themselves as straight as to those who identify themselves as gay).

As far as others being "hurt" by Pope Benedict's teaching? The Church calls everyone to conversion, to change of life so as to be more like Christ. Everyone, not just those who identify themselves as gay - and it is uncomfortable and challenging, and affects different people in different areas of their lives. But we would expect Pope Benedict to offer that challenge to conversion.

Grass roots Catholics do not agree with the Pope? Well, many ordinary Catholics do agree with him - cf the numbers at World Youth Day, etc.

Which country is the first carbon neutral country in the world? Vatican City State (according to BBC radio news coverage this morning of Prince Charles visit to Pope Benedict)

Monday, 27 April 2009

Christian teacher suspended by school

The Christian Legal Centre are reporting the case of a Christian teacher who has been suspended after raising objections to an equal opportunities training session that turned into a deliberate promotion of homosexual and lesbian life styles. The report can be found here, and there are links at the bottom of the report to other electronic media coverage.

My trade union experience teaches me to be careful - very careful - of the "... and ..." when reading a report like this. The grounds for the allegations against Kwabena Peat lie in the letter that he wrote to his colleagues, and the contents of that letter remain essentially undisclosed. One can perhaps see - in the suggestions that Mr Peat referred to Biblical teaching in his letter - some seeds of justification for an allegation, seeds that might have been avoided with care. The idea of "writing privately" to his colleagues, rather than pursuing a complaint in a more formal (though "informal" in the procedural) sense also seems a little unwise. But the media reporting does not really make completely clear what has happened.

However, two things spring to mind.

1. The evidence itself seems quite clear cut - it is the text of a letter, and there seems to be little dispute about the contents or authorship of the letter. It strikes me that investigatory meetings and a hearing should not have necessarily taken as long as they appear to have done. Unless, of course, we are now nearing the end of a process of hearings and appeals. But one is left wondering whether a different undercurrent exists along with substance of the allegations themselves and the investigation of them.

2. Whatever the rights and wrongs of Mr Peat's conduct, the conduct of the trainer from Schools Out appears to have been utterly outrageous. As it has been reported, she showed a quite complete lack of respect for others who held a different view than her own, and appears to have done this on a very public platform. The word "equality" in the strapline of Schools Out, and other similar organisations, does need to be treated with a pinch of salt ....

Saturday, 25 April 2009

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The Times has today carried a feature entitled "The Pope's first four years have brought a fine crop of surprises and controversies". It allowed "five Roman Catholic observers [to] give their verdicts on the papacy of Pope Bendict XVI, so far". The electronic version misses out the contribution from John Allen, which appeared in the print edition, and which was the longest of the contributions.

More than one contributor suggested a need for a rather better PR machine at the Vatican so that some of the media controversies - not justified by the substance of Pope Benedict's remarks or actions - could be avoided.

The Good: John Allen, jr.
The spirit of Benedict's papacy can best be expressed by the phrase "affirmative orthodoxy"...

While Benedict XVI obviously sees secularism and relativism as enemies of the faith, for the most part he has chosen to do battle not with the weapons of anathema and excoriation, but by attempting to reintroduce Christianity as a positive cultural alternative.

In that spirit, devotees of papal pronouncements - not just the high profile examples, but the Pope's routine teaching during his Wednesday general audiences, his Sunday addresses, and so on - say that if you close your eyes when Benedict is on stage, and forget who is speaking, you could easily believe you are listening to one fo the great Fathers of the Church ... Benedict's material is almost always inspiring, spiritually rich, and rhetorically well crafted, leading some analysts to declare him one of the greatest "teaching popes" in Church history.

The Bad: Luke Coppen
It's tempting to judge the first four years of Benedict XVI's papacy entirely in terms of his tortured relationship with the Western media. But I suspect that in 100 years that will only be a historical footnote.

O, alright, I'll let Luke get away with that as a good point. But not this:
His key decisions - the liberation of the traditional Mass, the lifting of the SSPX excommunications - are fiercely misunderstood today, but look ahead ...

Summorum Pontificum and the accompanying letter to bishops made it juridically easier to celebrate Mass in the extraordinary form than before, but "liberation" is not really an accurate word to describe that. And, post Summorum Pontificum, it is not legitimate, from a juridical point of view, to talk about one form of the Roman Rite as being any more or any less traditional than the other. And, indeed, according the the accompanying letter, it is the Missal of Pope Paul VI that is envisaged as uniting parish communities. The misunderstanding occurs from both directions ...

The Ugly: Sir Stephen Wall
His theological pronouncements have been inaccessible, his comments on other faiths provocative, and his views on sexual morality a mixture of the extreme and bizarre.

One of the things about Pope Benedict's theological pronouncements is precisely that they are so accessible! And, in the wake of the Regensburg address, for example, the level and extent of Catholic-Islamic dialogue has been quite unprecedented.

Don't let Cormac accept a peerage

Memo to Rome - Don't let Cormac Accept a Peerage.

And this in the Guardian.

And there must be more around the interweb ...

Friday, 24 April 2009

St Edward's Catholic Church: Forty Hours 2009

This has been creeping up on me in the last week or so. The poster has been ready for a week or so, and I think I now have the programme finalised. If you are within reach, please drop in! Looking back through my files (electronic, of course), I see that this is now the sixth consecutive year that I have organised this event in my parish. The themes for each of the three days are based on the writings of St Paul on the Eucharist.



Thursday 7th May 2009
“We, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf” [1 Corinthians 10:17]

8.00 pm Solemn Votive Mass of the Holy Eucharist, followed by Adoration
10.00 pm Mothers Prayers, followed at 10.30 pm by Night Prayer
Adoration continues through the night.


Friday 8th May 2009
“This is my body that is for you .. This cup is the new covenant in my blood” [1 Cor.:11:24, 25]

Adoration all day

8.30 am Morning Prayer

6.30 pm - 7.00 pm Adoration for Children and Families (led by the Community of St John)

7.30 pm Mass: Votive Mass of the Precious Blood, followed by Holy Hour (ending at 9 pm)

Adoration continues until 10 pm

Saturday 9th May 2009
“As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes” [1 Cor.:11:26]

Adoration from 6 am

9 am Votive Mass of Our Lady of the Cenacle (followed by Morning Prayer)

11-12 noon Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession)

12.00 noon Regina Caeli and Rosary Hour

3 - 4 pm Prayer for the intentions of donors and those who have helped in any way with the days of adoration

4.30 - 5 pm Closing Adoration - Evening Prayer I of Sunday

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Henry VIII: 500 years on

Some 500 years ago Henry VIII ascended to the throne of England. The Daily Telegraph observed this quincentenary with a column article by Simon Heffer, entitled: "Thank Henry VIII for laying the foundations of freedom". Now, if one recalls the way in which the oath of allegiance to Henry VIII as head of the Church in England was enforced, the reference to freedom in the title of this article is intriguing to say the least. My understanding of the history - not by any means that of an expert - was that Henry VIII was a dictatorial tyrant to parallel the likes of Adolph Hitler and Benito Mussolini.
... when a combination of his desire for a male heir to secure his dynasty and his carnal appetite for Anne Boleyn made it imperative that he end his marriage to Queen Catherine, the Reformation began almost by accident.

There is a kind of English arrogance here which assumes that what happened in England and issued in the Church of England was the Reformation, and nothing significant happened anywhere else in Europe.
Without the Reformation there would have been no civil war and no establishment of the constitutional monarchy. Who is to say that that what happened in France in 1789, or across Europe in 1848, or in Russia in 1917 would not eventually have happened here?

Can one suggest a parallel between the oath of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy of the French Revolution and that of Act of Supremacy - in that both required a consent to the clergy being subject to the state?

What I would find interesting to see is an evaluation of, for example, the extent to which the life and culture of France is irreligious compared to the extent to which the life and culture of England is irreligious. Another interesting comparator would be to Protestant regions in, say Germany or northern Holland. I have a completely unproven thesis that the Reformation that issued in the Protestant churches of the European mainland was still an essentially religious phenomenon and has led to a culture that even today is strongly religious. The Reformation as it happened in England, however, being prompted and guided more by matters of state, has a decidedly secularising shape to it, and it has issued in a culture that is much more secular (the established nature of the Church of England notwithstanding).

Sunday, 19 April 2009

... and ....

.. is a word that can be applied just as much to electronic journalism (blogging) as it can to print journalism. It boils down to looking at a news report and asking yourself "and what else " apart from that which is there in front of you to read. Sometimes a journalist will get a fact plain and straightforwardly wrong, but I suspect that that is relatively rare. Sometimes an editor (or a sub-editor) will shorten a story to fit the page and, if they do not understand the story fully themselves, edit out something that significantly changes the story - this is something that can give rise to the "and what else" situation. Or perhaps the journalist will themselves edit, or perhaps deliberately write, the "and what else" into their report. What actually appears is completely accurate - but the "... and ..." bit changes its meaning.

Electronic journalism can be more prone to "and what else" because of the ease with which a paragraph or quotation can be lifted out of its original context and spread from blog to blog, gradually losing its connection to its original context. So, if I see something on a blog, I always try to track it back to its original source before I comment or propagate it further - to try and make sure that I have not missed the ".... and ...".

The first paragraph of this post, for example, shows a distinct possibility of an "... and ...", and, if you look in the print edition of the Tablet you will be able to see the distinct possibility of editing to fit the space.

Another example is this paragraph, from the Hermeneutic of Continuity:
Last year, as is fairly well-known, the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, at their Low Week meeting, discussed the phenomenon of Catholic blogging. Since then, the Tablet newspaper launched an attack on my parish because one of our four weekend precept Masses and one of our six weekday Masses is said in the extraordinary form.

What is the " ... and ..."? The weekend precept Mass celebrated in the extraordinary form is the principle Mass on the Sunday. It does change the story a bit ...

I recall, too, but have not been able to find the post involved, that Fr Mildew has at one point recently observed that he was less critical of a piece of Tablet reporting than some other bloggers. I saw the Tablet that particular week, and recall reading the article concerned and thinking rather the same. And wondered whether the blogosphere had reacted to an extract, and missed the "... and ...".

Which is by way of my contribution to discussion about Catholic blogging prompted by the Tablet editorial this week: here (a touch of the "polemical and vituperative"?), and here (more useful in distinguishing among Catholic blogs). I do think that editorial raises a good question when it says
Generally, blogs are far from an idealised forum for an exchange of intelligent ideas that would be constructive.

The word "generally", of course, covers over the fact that blogs are quite varied, and some are more thoughtful and others more controversial, and some are more careful and others less careful. But, in the media world, it is those who major on the controversial who gain the hits and the reputation rather than those who major on the thoughtful.

Mind the "... and ..."!

Walking the Regents Canal - again

Zero and I enjoyed a very good day yesterday, completing a few more miles along the towpath of the Regents Canal, in London. The weather was sunny and, later on, quite warm. We started at St James' Spanish Place for Mass again and then adjourning round the corner for a second breakfast.


Don't worry, I was going to be walking off the cholestorel later in the day. Perhaps a venial sin rather than a mortal one? Zero was so virtuous - no marmalade on her toast ....


We started at Camden and walked east towards King's Cross, where we diverted slightly to the London Canal Museum. I had managed to leave the instructions for our walk at home, but, you might think, it isn't possible to get lost walking along a towpath beside a canal. This is true - except when the canal disappears into the Islington tunnel, which has no towpath and along which narrow boats were navigated by two men pushing with their feet against the wall of the tunnel and "walking" their boat through. We then had to cross Islington (very hip) asking for directions along the way (Zero does this so well!).

We called in at St John the Evangelist Church just before returning to the towpath as the canal emerged from the Islington tunnel. A set of paintings inspired by the last seven words of Christ from the cross is to be found on the left hand side of the Church. They would make a lovely focus for a time of prayer during Lent or on Good Friday, though they are not displayed in a helpful way for this. The sanctuary of the Church is quite beautiful, though some of the side chapels need attention.

As we left St John's, I felt that a set of booklets displayed at the back of the Church - "NHS Islington: Your essential guide to health services in Islington" - with its sections on (1) sexual and reproductive health including promotion of contraception and abortion referral services and the telephone number of Marie Stopes (2) safer sex, promoting access to free condoms - deserved a more appropriate home than the porch of a Catholic Church! One wonders about this - I suspect sheer naivety on the part of those responsible for agreeing to its being on the table along with Catholic literature and I suppose it only fair to point out that there was a poster displayed above the table advertising LIFE. But one of the priests in the parish is a Catholic NHS chaplain .... go here and scroll down.

Some sections of our walk were beautiful, others less so. There are quite a few new residential developments along the banks of the canal. One development of low rise flats backed on to some gas holders - the nearest holder being literally some 20 m away from the back of one of the blocks!



Some of the local inhabitants were more friendly than others:






A guide to the remaining part of the walk that we did can be found here. We did not go quite down to Limehouse, coming off the canal at Mile End to get the Central Line back home. Engineering works on public transport links (no Jubilee line between Stratford and Green Park and, so far as I could tell, very little Docklands Light Railway) meant Limehouse was a bit cut off yesterday.

Trainspotting ....




Women and shoes ....





Diagonal parking ...

Frank Duff and an apostolate to homosexuals

There is a news item in this week's Tablet which reports the Archbishop of Dublin as saying that "for many youn gpeople the Church remains an alien place". He is reported as identifying the Church's uncompromising attitude towards homosexuality as of most concern to young people (wording taken from the Tablet report). I have not been able to track down the original message of Archbishop Martin to which the report refers, but it occurs to me that it might well mention a range of other factors "of concern to young people" in terms of their relationship with the Church.
"There is a dramatic and growing rift between the Church and our younger generations and the blame does not lie principally with young people", Dr Martin said. "Our young people are generous and idealistic but such generosity and idealism does not seem to find a home in the Church".

We also have the account of the Soho Masses group for LGBT Catholics, which can be read here. Just to respond, in passing, to their claim that the Catholic Church only began to "detail" its teaching in 1976, their subtle use of the language of "acceptance" (applied to the person) conflated with meaning "acceptance" (applied to their view that homosexual practice is morally permissible), and their portrayal of a division between the official, Vatican teaching and what ordinary Catholics are allowed to believe (justified on a "hierarchy of truths" position, which effectively makes questions of sexual ethics a matter for individual judgement). Whenever the Church has taught about marriage, about the complementarity of the sexes, indeed, even about the Church as the "bride of Christ", she has been implicitly making statements about same sex relations. The question is one of sexual and marital ethics - but it is also one that has a reference to ecclesiology and Christology. I think it is clear from their account that the Soho Masses group seek a change in the teaching of the Catholic Church on homosexuality, and one can ask whether their work does really meet an ecclesial norm properly so understood. This is not to say that there isn't a need for the Church to have an apostolate towards people of differing sexual attractions - it is just to say that this is perhaps not the right one.

Interestingly, I came across an account recently of Frank Duff's engagement with an apostolate towards homosexuals. The source is an article in a journal Studies, an quarterly review of Irish life and culture published by the Jesuits. The article was written by Finola Kennedy, and is entitled "Frank Duff's Search for the Neglected and Rejected". The text of the full article can be read by following the link. This is the paragraph from the article that refers to an apostolate towards homosexuals. In the notes at the end of the article, Finola Kennedy includes Joe Quinsey among the people thanked for help in preparing the article. The sources for the paragraph appear to be Finola Kennedy's own experience of the Legion, and a conversation with Joe Quinsey, one of the Legionaries involved in this early work of the Legion. The date of this work is unclear from the article, though the placing of this paragraph in the article as a whole suggests some time during the 1940s.
At a time when the expression of homosexual relations was a crime and homosexuals were open to arrest, a praesidium to befriend homosexuals was started. Legion member, Joe Quinsey, recalls that, at one of their discussions about the work, Mr. Duff stressed that genuine friendship should be sought and contacts should be invited to a restaurant for a cup of tea or coffee as a part of general sociability. A discussion group for homosexuals as well as a number of talks were organised. Not all the ideas came from Frank Duff, but if someone saw a problem he was always keen to pursue a solution. He encouraged others to take initiatives and was extremely supportive.

There is clearly a story to be told here, and I suspect that the approach adopted by Frank Duff and the early Legionaries might well provide a very useful model for present day ministry in this field.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Frank Duff and ecumenism

I have had reason over the last few days to be reading about the life of Frank Duff, founder of the Legion of Mary (though one of his biographers, Leon O Broin, observes that he saw disagreement written all over Frank Duff's face whenever this was said in his hearing - the most Frank Duff would himself admit to was being a co-founder, along with the others who attended the "first meeting").

In passing, I have come across two accounts of Frank Duff's approach to ecumenism. Frank started a movement of prayer for Christian unity, composing a prayer that could be used by Christians of different denominations. Another of Frank's endeavours was the Mercier Society, founded in 1942, and aimed at bringing together Christians of different denominations in the interest of promoting mutual understanding. This ceased to operate as it was considered to be a breach of the provisions of then Canon Law - and this was, of course, decades before Vatican II.
But Frank Duff apparently often managed to find a way of asking non-Catholic friends if they would want to become Catholics - he was passionately concerned that they did not have the fullness of Catholic faith.

A good account of Frank Duff's approach to ecumenism can be found in an Allocutio (a kind of pep talk) given at Concilium (the highest governing committee of the Legion) in January 2008: go here.

According to Leon O Broin, Frank Duff was not an ecumenist in the sense that would have been held by many after Vatican II:
He was essentially a believer in the direct method approach to conversions, and would have read the accounts of the Malines Conversations as holding out a hope that the Anglicans would come over en bloc. If he personally ever got half a chance he would ask the non-Catholic party - with, of course, a courtesy that eliminated any danger of giving offence - whether he had considered the Catholic claims or would like to do so, and he would stress how important it was that he should.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

The Tony Blair Faith Foundation - treating religions as secular?

BBC Radio 4 broadcast a programme last night about Tony Blair and the work of setting up his Faith Foundation. The programme can be heard online, and is due for a repeat broadcast on Sunday at 17.00 (UK time).

One impression I took away from the programme was that there is a real sense in which religious belief comes "second" in the project of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation. I do not intend by this any suggestion of hypocrisy in the project; the programme did communicate the sense that Tony Blair has a strong and personally genuine commitment to the project. However, key to the whole idea of the project is an idea of "people of faith coming together in the service of progress" [I cite from memory, but Tony Blair uses a phrase like this early in the programme]; that if people of "faith" come together on practical projects such as fighting malaria and working for the Millennium Development Goals, then progress and harmony will be encouraged. In the principle underlying the Foundation, there is a complete abstraction from the specificness of the different religious beliefs held by the participants in favour of common action, and common action on goals that themselves lack a specifically religious content.

There was an interesting observation in the programme from a student at Yale University, who is following the course on faith and globalisation on which Tony Blair teaches. What he found interesting and challenging in following the course was the question of working out how he, with his Muslim faith, could live in the modern world. This, of course, inserts into the discussion a reference to a specific religious belief, which is precisely what the principle underlying the Foundation tries to leave aside.

I think Tony Blair, throughout the programme, refers only to "faith" and not to "religion" or to "religions". We are talking about the question of "inter-faith". And this is expressed, too, in the title of the Foundation: the Tony Blair Faith Foundation. I recall, soon after Tony Blair was first elected as Prime Minister in 1997, reading about the "new left" project, of which "new Labour" was the manifestation in the United Kingdom. Roughly speaking, this project is one of economic conservatism combined with social liberalism - and, seen in the context of Leninist pragmatism, it is more left-wing than may be commonly appreciated. One of the books I read at that time was Anthony Giddens The Third Way: The Renewal of Social Democracy. Anthony Giddens was at the time, I think, one of Tony Blair's gurus (for want of a more suitable term). And he is a sociologist - this not meant as an insult. I do not think his book makes any reference to the part that religious communities can play in society. However, during the Radio 4 programme, Tony Blair comments that he had felt that the question of "inter-faith" was an important part of the situation from early in his political career, and I found this particularly interesting.

It is interesting to place this observation alongside the project of the "new left" of which Tony Blair is an archetypal figure, and to then re-read the project of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation in that light. Can we see religious belief being "co-opted" in the service of an essentially sociological/secular agenda? In which case the adoption of the language of "faith" and "inter-faith" rather than that of "religions" and "inter-religious" does communicate something of significance. Is it the "new left" agenda that is coming first and the question of religious belief that is coming second in the principle underlying the Foundation? Is there a spectacular failure to recognise religion as religious, and instead a reduction of religion to the sociological and political alone?

I think Pope Bendict XVI's encyclical Deus Caritas Est provides us with a message of caution for any engagement that Catholics might have with the Tony Blair Faith Foundation. As Cardinal Cordes pointed out during his visit to Britain, Pope Benedict deliberately placed the consideration of God as love before his consideration of the pastoral and charitable activity of the Christian in the Church. And he pointed out that it is not possible to separate the pastoral and charitable activity of the Church, and of Christians in the Church, from its alignment to the manifestation of the love of God. The abstraction from the specificness of religious belief, precisely as religious, that is in its relation to God and how we come to know God, that underlies the Tony Blair Faith Foundation is not permissible for the Catholic. For other religions, I would suspect that the same applies.

The problem does come very much to the fore if the work of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation is looked at from the point of view of specific elements of Catholic teaching. John Smeaton has posted on this: here and here.

Distancing themselves...

The schools Secretary, Ed Balls, was reported on Radio 4's news bulletins this morning (I heard the 9 am bulletin - ah, the delights of school holidays!) as urging Members of Parliament to distance themselves from some websites that publish personalised and sexualised comments about politicians. Observing that this has been going on for some years now, he referred to comments being "homophobic", "highly sexualised" and "such that I would not want any of my family to read them".

Mr Balls' comments are made in the wake of the McBride affair.

Now, I wonder whether Mr Balls would include within the range of websites that he is suggesting MP's distance themselves from one for an organisation that runs a "bigot of the year" award each year? The nominations for that award certainly represent personalised attacks on the people who are nominated, and are published on the website; and the voting for the award among members of the organisation must encourage an attitude among those taking part of personal hostility rather than argument based on the substance of the issues involved.

Archbishop Vincent Nichols was a nominee for this award in a previous year, because of his opposition to the legislation with regard to adoption by same sex couples.

Monday, 13 April 2009

This is heaven ....


6 oz plain flour, 6 oz medium oatmeal, 2 teaspoons ground ginger, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg:

4 oz butter, 3 oz soft brown sugar, 4 oz treacle, 6 oz golden syrup - warmed and stirred:


1 egg, 1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda and 1/4 pint of milk:
Contents of pan and jug added to the contents of the bowl, and mixed thoroughly:

And after 45 minutes (recipe says 1 hour, but this will depend on your oven - my oven is electric, fan assisted and I have the cooking time down to just over 40 minutes) at 150 degrees Centigrade:


Behold ... Parkin.


Now, there are some delicate steps in this process - like how to get golden syrup and treacle from their tins to the weighing scales, and from the scales into the pan, without "trails" across the work surface; and how to watch the clock carefully for that 40 minutes mark. And I leave you to imagine just how sticky the washing up is while the cake itself is cooking!

Sunday, 12 April 2009

"Christ, our Light"


There was rather a nice moment at the start of the Easter Vigil in which I took part last night. If you start at the bottom right hand corner of the photograph above, and count along three buildings you will alight on the Catholic Church of St Margaret of Cortona and All Saints, Canning Town.

The Vigil began with the Blessing of the New Fire and the lighting of the Easter Candle in the yard behind the Church. Rather than then taking the "short way" down the side of the Church and in to the Church by way of the door (the door is off the street, hidden from view at the left hand end of the Church as in the photograph), we processed the "long way". This involved leaving the yard by the vehicle entrance on to the road at the back of the Church. The procession then went along the block - with several relights of the candles of the faithful along the way - and emerged on to the main road at a point that can be determined by counting two buildings further along to the left from the Church in the photograph above. I can't answer as to whether or not the Easter Candle had to be re-lit - I was to busy being incompetent at keeping my own candle alight to notice.

The procession then gathered on the pavement in front of the Church for the second "Christ our Light" and "Thanks be to God", with the deacon holding the Easter Candle high for all to see.

A few people stopped by, to see what was happening.

A fascinating moment of "new evangelisation" that one would not normally associate with the Easter Vigil!

Saturday, 11 April 2009

A specifically lay character to participation in the Eucharistic celebration

This is intended to contribute to this discussion, mostly in the comments, at Fr Peter's blog, but would be too long to post as a comment there. It is a write up of a catechesis I used in 2006, as part of a series on participation in the Eucharistic Liturgy, during monthly Eucharistic Adoration in the parish.

The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord on the 2nd February prompts a reflection on the Presentation of the Gifts.

The offertory prayers of the Mass, which follow the procession to the altar with the bread and wine, are as follows:

Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation. Through your goodness we have this bread to offer, which earth has given and human hands have made. It will become for us the bread of life.
[Benedictus es, Domine, Deus universi, quia de tua largitate accepimus panem, quem tibi offerimus, fructum terrae it operas manuum hominum: ex quo nobis fiet panis vitae.]

Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation. Through your goodness we have this wine to offer, fruit of the vine and work of human hands. It will become our spiritual drink.
[Benedictus es, Domine, Deus universi,quia de tua largitate accepimus vinum, quod tibi offerimus, fructum vitis it operis manuum hominum:ex quo nobis fiet potus spiritalis.]
A Jewish prayer of blessing used at the synagogue:

“Blessed be thou, Jahweh, our God, King of the universe, who formest light and createst darkness, who makes peace and createst all things: Who in mercy givest light to the earth and to them that dwell thereon and in his goodness renewest creation every day continually. How manifold are thy works, Jahweh. In wisdom hast thou made them all, the earth is full of thy possessions….

“With abounding love hast thou loved us, Jahweh our God … for the sake of our fathers who trusted in thee, and whom thou didst teach the statutes of life, be gracious also unto us… put it into our hearts to understand, and to discern, and to hear, and to learn, and to do all the words of instruction in thy Torah in love. And enlighten our eyes in thy commandments …”[1]
We can reflect more closely on the words of these prayers: “Which earth has given and human hands have made” …"fruit of the vine and work of human hands”.

The bread and wine that are carried in procession to the altar represent the whole of creation. The bread and wine are to become the Body and Blood of Christ, and already in the presentation of the gifts they are already treated as a sign of Christ’s presence[2]. Christ is the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end of all creation. He is the origin of all that we receive in creation and the destiny to which it is all intended. If we offer Jesus Christ to the Father - as we will in the Liturgy of the Eucharist - then we are offering all of creation to the Father.

The Latin text of these prayers expresses the sense that what we are offering as we bring the bread and wine to the altar is something that we have received: “from your abundance we receive this bread/wine”.

We now turn to the second part of each phrase: “which earth has given and human hands have made” … “fruit of the vine and work of human hands.” As well as offering something that we have in the first place “received”, we also offer something that we have “made”.

The presentation of the gifts is a point in the Liturgy where the character of the lay vocation is particularly present. It is the special vocation of lay people to make the world a better place by their engagement in secular affairs. This comes about through our every day activity, in our families, in our schools, at work, in all the ways in which we take part in social action. At the presentation of the gifts, when we offer the whole of creation represented in the bread and wine, we are offering a creation that we have in some way “made”. We are offering our attempts to make the world a better place.[3]

There is a strong sense in the offertory prayers of our “offering back” to the Father what we have “received”. In Christ, we offer back to the Father a creation that has been made new in the coming of Christ, and that we try to make new in our living of the Christian life. The offertory procession expresses a dynamic of first receiving from, and then offering back to the Father, the whole of creation in Christ.[4]

The presentation of the gifts is a richly Marian moment in the Liturgy. This is seen when we compare the feast of The Presentation of the Lord in the Temple to what is happening at the presentation of the gifts during Mass. Mary offers her first-born to the Lord, fulfilling Jewish custom; she offers Jesus to the Father. Jesus, the alpha and omega, the beginning and end of creation, is offered to the Father. Mary, who is “full of grace”, represents the highest achievement of creation and she stands at that point where creation is ready to receive its saviour and redeemer. She is the one who “receives” the saviour and redeemer on behalf of the whole of creation (annunciation/nativity) and who “offers” him back to the Father (the Presentation). This is exactly the dynamic of the offertory procession, and more so when we see Mary as the figure of the Church, “receiving” the saviour and redeemer and “offering” him back to the Father in the Eucharistic Liturgy.

The presentation of the gifts is a feminine moment because of the element of “receiving”. This “receptivity” is a profoundly feminine feature of the Church. In the offertory procession, the “feminine” Church (Bride) brings to the “masculine” priest (Christ the bridegroom) the gifts to be offered to the Father.

If we are trying to “live the word of scripture” each week, our experiences during the week in trying to live that word are offered in the gifts of bread and wine. We can hold them in prayer, along with any other things we have done during the week to live out our Christian faith.

We can always arrange for girls to bring up the bread and wine at the offertory procession to reflect the feminine and Marian character of this part of the Mass.

We can think carefully about our choice of offertory hymns, to either reflect the Marian character of this moment in the Mass or to reflect the dynamic of “receiving” and “offering back”:
“All I have I give you, ev’ry dream and wish are yours. Mother of Christ, Mother of mine, present them to my Lord.”

“Holy Virgin by God’s decree’ you were called eternally; that he could give his Son to our race. Mary, we praise you hail full of grace.”

[1] Extracts from a berakoth preceding the recitation of the schema in the synagogue. Louis Bouyer Eucharist pp.62-63.
[2] cf the prayer “Pray brethren that my sacrifice and yours …”
[3] If, in the Eucharist, we see the key element as being that of Jesus “handing himself over”, of giving himself “for us”, then the aspect of the handing of the gifts by the lay people to the priest also takes on a sense of representing our “handing over of ourselves” in love for others. It represents our “handing over of ourselves” in living out Eucharistic charity towards our neighbours in the world.
[4] This dynamic also reflects the two meanings of communion that we examined in the first catechesis - sharing in the life of God (receiving) and sharing in the gifts that we have all received from God (offering back). The Jewish berakoth quoted above also has this double dimension.

Friday, 10 April 2009

The Easter Triduum: the washing of the feet

The washing of the feet at the Mass of the Lord's Supper has become a bit of minefield. There seem to me to be two areas of discussion which have the effect of taking away from this rite its authentic meaning.

The first area of discussion is rubrical, and has to do with the fact that the rubric expects that it will be men - male gender - who will be chosen to have their feet washed. As soon as the question is asked about the possibility of women being among those having their feet washed, a new agenda of male/female equality is imposed onto the rite, when the rite itself can make no sense of such an agenda. This is so even if the parish priest declines the request, and takes the subsequent flak. One priest's response to this is to choose this year to omit the rite of the washing of the feet .

The second area of discussion (which, in the realities of parish life, often occurs along with the first) is to see in the Mass of the Lord's Supper an indiscriminate celebration of ministries of all kinds in the Church. The Mass of the Lord's Supper then becomes the occasion for the renewal of commitment or calling of lay ministers of Holy Communion, readers, and so on. This question is raised in this discussion, particularly in my own comment, though the discussion focusses mainly on the role of extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion. This is all based on seeing the rite of the washing of the feet as a symbol of "service" in the Church, "service" being understood in a wide and all-embracing way. There are certainly times when it is appropriate to place the celebration of a blessing or induction for a particular ministry into a liturgical celebration such as Mass. But usually this will be a celebration of Mass on an occasion when the Mass does not have an exceptional character of its own. The Mass of the Lord's Supper does have a quite exceptional character of its own, which I think militates against such an addition of para-liturgical celebrations - such additions or insertions just "don't belong".

The key to getting this right seems to me to be the rubric in the Missal that refers to the homily during the Mass of the Lord's Supper:
The homily should explain the principal mysteries which are commemorated in this Mass; the institution of the Eucharist, the institution of the priesthood, and Christ's commandment to brotherly love.

1. As a celebration of the institution of the ordained priesthood, it is not appropriate to see in the Mass of the Lord's Supper a celebration of other (lay) ministries. It is an utter derogation from the meaning of this liturgical celebration properly understood. This removes the second area of discussion mentioned above.

2. The commandment to brotherly love needs to be seen as a celebration of Jesus's love shown towards the Twelve; the love of Jesus (its Head) towards the Church (his Body, represented in the Apostles); and the love of Jesus towards the Church that is continued today and expressed in the service of the priest towards his people. The integrity of this representation needs men to be chosen to have their feet washed, so that the service of Jesus to the figures of the Church is correctly represented. This removes the first area of discussion mentioned above.

To summarise, from memory, the homily that I heard yesterday evening.

Jesus loves those who were his own "to the end". He wants to give himself to them, definitively and for ever. So he hands himself over to them in his Body and Blood that are the Eucharist; and he hands himself over to them in the Church, represented by the Apostles. Jesus still loves us "to the end" in the Church. He needs priests, the Church needs priests, for this to occur in the Sacraments, and most especially in the Eucharist. This is the service of the priest to his parish - in celebrating the Sacraments and most especially the Eucharist. The washing of feet by the priest represents this service of the priest to the parish.

The sense of "Christ's commandment of brotherly love" referred to in the rubric on the homily is therefore profoundly related to the priesthood as the visible sign and existential realisation of that love. And this is the correct sense of the rite of the washing of feet.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

An end to collective worship in schools?

One of the resolutions debated at the annual conference of my trade union (the Association of Teachers and Lecturers), taking place in Liverpool this week, reads as follows:
THAT Conference believes that a daily act of worship should not be a statutory requirement in a secular school.

This resolution was defeated. The context of this resolution is a review that is currently being undertaken, by the DCSF, I think, of the law in this regard. Many large secondary schools simply disregard the law anyway; their assemblies often take place on a "year group" basis, and the last word you would use to describe them is "worship". Compliance with the law in primary schools is, I think, higher, with a greater openness to genuinely religious content.

My own thinking on this is that I am not attached to the idea of a compulsory act of worship. In so many situations, what happens in schools does not really match the intended act of worship of the legislation. However, I would also be equally opposed to the absence of religion, and religious practice, from the life of schools. I think Pope Benedict XVI talks about an "appropriate secularity" in the public sphere - by which he means that the public square should have a permissive and facilitating function with regard to the practice of religion, rather than defining and directive function. Whether members of ATL Conference understood the word "secular" in this sense, or in a sense of wanting to banish a religious presence entirely from schools, I do not know.

What I think I would like to see in non-religious schools are the same sort of chaplaincy arrangements that exist in hospitals and ports. These are multi-faith chaplaincies, that include within their briefs the idea of providing care for those of no religious belief as well as those of different religious beliefs. For some people the care is "pastoral" or "spiritual" rather than "religious"; for those of religious belief, that care is "religious". Often lead chaplains who are ministers of one or another denomination work with a team of volunteers of different denominations from the local community. I do know that, in my own local NHS Hospitals Trust, the presence and activity of the chaplaincy team is valued by many, both patients and staff.

Why shouldn't schools employ chaplains to lead generic multi-faith teams in the same way? The every day presence of people with religious faith in the schools could be far more effective pastorally than "assemblies", and, from OFSTED's point of view, it could contribute significantly to the "spiritual development" of pupils.

Tony Blair does not teach the Catholic faith

The BBC News website reports Tony Blair's interview with Attitude under the title "Blair questions Papal gay policy"; and The Times reports it under the title "Tony Blair tells the Pope: you're wrong on homosexuality".

The two headlines, of course, each disguise a hidden assumption. The first disguises an assumption that the Catholic Church's teaching on homosexuality has the nature of a "policy", in a political sense, a "policy" that can be changed. It isn't a "policy"; it is Catholic teaching; doctrinal teaching on faith and morals, to use a quite unambiguous turn of phrase. It is expressed as follows in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the most comprehensive presentation of Catholic faith:
Tradition has always declared that 'homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered'. They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual compementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.... Homosexual persons are called to chastity.

And, one might add, equally called to chastity (in the sense of abstention from sexual activity) by Catholic teaching are those of any sexual orientation who are not married. I am sure that, somewhere on this blog, I have posted along the lines that the question of a correct understanding of male/female sexual complementarity is not just a matter of morals, but also a matter of theology. It is present in how the nature of the Church (female, bride of Christ) is understood in relation to her spouse (Christ, the bridegroom, male). But I can't find that post at the moment!

And the second headline, though it seems to admit that we are dealing with a teaching rather than a policy, assumes that Tony Blair is allowed to define what is and what is not Catholic teaching. Which he isn't. It should be quite clear now, and the evidence is there in Tony Blair's own words: his views on homosexuality are not compatible with Catholic teaching.

Two clear consequences follow:

1. Tony Blair should not be allowed to be seen as in any way a spokeseman for the Catholic point of view on matters related to homosexuality. The teaching office of the Bishop seems to be a most appropriate vehicle for achieving this.

2. Tony Blair's Faith Foundation should not be seen as representing in any way a collaboration with the Catholic Church. Since its founder is not being true to Catholic teaching - and, one assumes, fidelity to other religious traditions is not going to be a feature of the work of the Foundation - then it should not be seen as a genuine dialogue between the different religions. It will be a forum for liberal religion. As a real exercise in inter-religious dialogue it is a dead duck, and needs to be seen as such. This could be seen by prominent Catholics simply steering clear of the Foundation and not allowing it to be given any credibility.

UPDATE: A more detailed comment on the interview itself, and links to other media coverage, can be found at The Hermeneutic of Continuity under the title "Blair openly attacks the Pope".

Monday, 6 April 2009

The Marian character of the Lenten Season (7)

The Commending of the Blessed Virgin Mary

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold your son”. Then he said to the disciple, “Behold your mother”. And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.[1]
This exchange, recorded only in St John’s Gospel, is honoured and celebrated by a particular Mass in the Collection of Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The exchange represents a movement from the ministry of Jesus in his physical body on earth towards the ministry of Jesus in his mystical body that is the Church. It reflects the ending of the Lenten season, where we move into the celebration of the Paschal mystery in the Triduum - Christ’s suffering, his death and then his Resurrection. The Opening Prayer of this Mass demonstrates this, and, in its reference to us being “adopted children” indicates the baptismal character of Lent and of the Easter Vigil:

All-holy Father, you chose the Easter mystery as the way of our salvation; grant that we, whom Jesus entrusted from the cross to his Virgin Mother, may be numbered among your adopted children.[2]
The introduction to this Mass in the Collection of Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary identifies a two-fold commending. Firstly, all the disciples of Jesus, represented by the person of St John, are commended to the care of the Blessed Virgin.

Lord, receive the gifts we joyfully present that they may become the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, who on the cross entrusted all his followers in the person of John to the Virgin Mother as her children …[3]
The texts of the Mass make the connection between this commending and the way in which the Virgin Mary accompanies Jesus in his suffering on the Cross, knowing that it would redeem the world:

The mother of Jesus stood by the cross and tenderly looked on the wounds of her Son whose death she knew would redeem the world.[4]
The first reading for this Mass is from the Second Book of Maccabees, telling how the mother of seven sons watched each of them die rather than break God’s law:

Most admirable and worthy of everlasting remembrance was the mother, who saw her seven sons perish in a single day, yet bore it courageously because of her hope in the Lord.[5]
The mother’s care for her sons is here presented as a type of the Virgin Mary’s care for the sons and daughters of the Church. In our lives we can turn to the Virgin Mary to find that same care, particularly in times of suffering.

Secondly, the Virgin Mary is entrusted to the love and care of the followers of Christ. The Prayer over the Gifts for this Mass, quoted above, continues:

… and entrusted her to them as living signs of his own love for her.[6]

This second aspect of the commending of the Virgin Mary asks of us two things. It asks us to love the Virgin Mary with the same love that St John had in “taking her into his home”. And, if we see the Virgin Mary as a representative figure of the Church, it calls us to a love for the Church. Our relationship to the Virgin Mary/ Church should be modelled on that of Christ, who gave himself up for the Church. It will therefore be a penitential love, appropriate to the season of Lent.
At the foot of the cross of Jesus, by his solemn and dying wish, a deep bond of love is fashioned between the Blessed Virgin Mary and his faithful disciples: the Mother of God is entrusted to the disciples as their own mother, and they receive her as a precious inheritance from their Master.

She is to for ever the mother of those who believe, and they will look to her with great confidence in her unfailing protection. She loves her Son in loving her children, and in heeding what she says they keep the words of their Master.[7]

[1] John 19:26-27
[2] Mass of the Commending of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Opening Prayer.
[3] Mass of the Commending of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Prayer over the Gifts
[4] Mass of the Commending of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Verse before the Gospel
[5] Mass of the Commending of the Blessed Virgin Mary, First Reading, 2 Maccabees 7:20.
[6] Mass of the Commending of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Prayer over the Gifts
[7] Mass of the Commending of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Preface

Palm Sunday liturgies

Amy Welborn has posted an account of her experience of Palm Sunday this year. This, and the comments in which others describe their experience, make an interesting read. Look out particularly for the comment that describes attendance at a celebration in a Ukrainian parish.

"I am a Christian"

I take this from Independent Catholic News.

The National Secular Society has encouraged 100,000 people to sign a certificate to "debaptise" themselves as part of a campaign to allow people to revoke their baptisms.

Premier Radio (London's Christian Radio station) are asking Christians to publicly affirm their faith by signing a declaration for Christianity. The plan is to find 100,000 people who are prepared to publicly stand up and declare that they are Christians to show the British public that Christianity is still relevant and alive.

Please sign the declaration at: www.IamaChristian.co.uk and pass this on to friends and family.

The sign up format includes a drop-down menu that allows you to declare your Christian denomination. It would be very good to see Roman Catholics well represented in signing up to this declaration. The option to declare your Roman Catholic denomination is helpful, as I would otherwise have been hesitant to sign an essentially evangelical statement of faith that lacks the ecclesial dimension essential to Catholicism.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Little Venice to Camden - but not quite back again

Zero and I went out for the day yesterday, starting with Mass at St James Spanish Place, adjourning round the corner (with a few others who had been to Mass!) for tea and toast, and then heading for Warwick Avenue to start this walk. [The http://www.waterscape.com/things-to-do/walking/london-walks site has some other walks that can be downloaded].

The walk from Spanish Place to Warwick Avenue took in:


And Marylebone Station (to get on the Bakerloo line to Warwick Avenue). Not somewhere I had ever been before, and rather more pleasant an enviroment than some of the much larger London stations. Raided Marks and Spencers for sandwiches for lunch.



The walk along the Regent canal has some very pleasant spots, though one or two bits were a bit "untidy concrete". You do get a real sense of entering a "different world", seeing the narrow boats moored along the sides of the canal. It was a bit difficult to tell how many, but some of them are people's homes.

Arriving at Camden Lock saw an increase in the number of people ... and a decrease in the average age. As you get older, it does get more and more difficult trying to be trendy. The M&S sandwiches sitting beside the locks probably marked us out from those partaking of (less healthy?) fast food from the nearby market stalls.

I could not live in Primrose Hill, as there were no Italian restaurants and life without Spaghetti Carbonara is not life at all. The view from the top of the hill, though, is very worthwhile, and I kicked myself for not having a pair of binoculars with me. Recession or not, one of the features of the skyline looking south across the centre of London was the number of construction cranes.


As we headed back towards St John's Wood, someone had had enough (I still have to really understand females and shoes ... ).
Some more training is needed, I think, before we take on Santiago de Compostella .....

Friday, 3 April 2009

1st April

I received this as a "comment" on Wednesday. Unfortunately, I had to actually go to school on Wednesday morning and teach some lessons, so by the time I saw the comment it was too late for me to do anything about it.
Zero says
As this is April 1st will you be up to some mischief on your blog? Perhaps you could treat us to several paragraphs of the "latest" book by Pope Benedict-so new that no-one even knew he was writing it!

I suppose I could have leaked the name of the next Archbishop of Westminster ....

Eucharistic Adoration April 2009

This afternoon and evening has seen our regular "first Friday" Eucharistic Adoration in the parish. It really is quite a privilege to get the glimpses into other people's spiritual lives that organising these events gives.


St Edward's Church is a town centre Church, literally a stone's throw from a bus stand. This stand acts as a terminus for some routes, and so the buses park up there while their drivers have breaks between runs. Today I met a driver who had dropped into the Church and spent some ten minutes of one of his meal breaks in Eucharistic Adoration. He has just started driving from the nearby bus garage, having previously lived and worked in south London ... where he used to regularly pop in to the Catholic Church in Lewisham. He spoke of such visits being very much part of his life.

And a young lady who I had not met before read one of the readings for our Stations of the Cross. Talking to her afterwards, she is a music student. One day she had gone along to hear a performance of a Hadyn Mass - not realising until she got there that she was not going to a concert performance, but to an actual celebration of Mass with the Haydn music. And that is what has led her to be receiving instruction ready for becoming a Catholic. It was, literally, the first time she had ever been to Stations of the Cross.

Faith Matters Lecture 4: Catholicism and Public Life

The last lecture in the Faith Matters series was given by John Battle MP, who represents Leeds West in the House of Commons. Mr Battle's constituency website can be found here, a more personal website is here, and the text of his lecture is on the Westminster Diocese website. In the event, the lecture gave an account of how Mr Battle has worked as an MP, particularly in relation to his constituency, and offered an understanding of this in terms of a "social spirituality"; the lecture title might have perhaps led attendees to expect a lecture addressing issues such as gay rights, adoption agencies etc where a Catholic point of view faces challenges in public life today.

One aspect of attending a lecture such as this is that, in addition to hearing what one might term the "content" one also gains something of a "feel" for the person who is giving the lecture. Mr Battle communicated a real passion for the people of his constituency, and demonstrated a knowledge of their lives gained over many years representing the constituency. As he pointed out in answering a question at the end of the lecture, constituency surgeries and casework is an aspect of the work of MP's that is not often recognised in the media but nevertheless takes up a lot of their time when they are not at Westminster. The second thing that interested me was to see this being the subject of a reflection that related this aspect of Mr Battle's life as an MP to the content of faith. Whilst one might want to ask some questions about the theological perspective underlying this reflection, and therefore about the effectiveness of the resulting synthesis, it would be wrong to see Mr Battle as doing anything other than trying to genuinely integrate his politcal life with his religious faith.

Mr Battle made a kind of introductory observation about the nature of community. In the age of globalisation, we increasingly talk about the "tennis community" or "the hedge fund" community, to give Mr Battle's examples, and we also talk about "virtual communities" that exist exclusively by means of electronic communication. Mr Battle argues instead for a recovery of the original sense of the word community, as people who live and work in the same, shared physical environment. This might be termed a "neighbourhood community". An interesting thought for bloggers!

In answering a question at the end of the lecture, Mr Battle made explicit something that was implicit in the way he went about addressing the title of his lecture (publicised as "Catholicism and Public Life", but in Mr Battle's transcript given as "Building caring communities. Whose task?"). There are some controversial issues where the Catholic politician will find he or she cannot follow or go along with the direction of public policy. One approach is to enter into combat over these issues. Another approach is to, instead, look for those areas of activity in which the Catholic can still engage and work on behalf of others, and to get stuck into those. This latter is the approach that Mr Battle has, if I understood his lecture and response to questions correctly, adopted in his political career and which he was presenting during his lecture.

From a theological and philosophical point of view, the most interesting part of Mr Battle's lecture is the second half, from about page 6 of the transcript onwards. This presents an account of a "social spirituality" which would underpin a political and communitarian practice.

1. Reading Mr Battle's text, one is presented with a synthetic and cohering vision of a "social spirituality", supported by citation of a range of authorities. However, if you look at the cited authors, I am not sure that they are in fact all arguing for the same thing. Karl Rahner's reference to basic communities, for example, on pp.7-8, refers to a particular socio-political context internal to the life of the Church and, with the benefit of hindsight, would now reflect the situation of the new movements in the life of the Church. Similarly, Cardinal Murphy O-Connor's anxiety about renewing the community life of parishes (p.8) refers to the internal life of the Church. There is a blurring in the use of these citations of the idea of building ecclesial community and the idea building (secular) community.

2. A thread running through this section of Mr Battle's text is that of the social nature of the human person, his or her being made for life and activity along with other persons rather than in isolation. This is a very useful theme, that could be developed within the two spheres of (secular) community and ecclesial or religious community. The life of the Christian in the world is a life in a (secular) community; and the life of the Christian precisely as Christian is also a life in a community, but now a community that is directly ordered towards the Divine. Distinguishing the two spheres of community allows one to understand properly their relation to each other, and avoids the danger of an all too ready assumption that the one community is co-terminous with the other. One can see this danger, for example, in the picture of Jesus that is expressed in the quotation from Fr Albert Nolan on pp. 12-13 of the text, and in the way in which Karl Rahner is cited.

3. I would contend that, while not a canonical area, a parish community needs to move out from the Sunday Eucharist into the neighbourhood as the community builders.. It is difficult to disagree with this statement. It does, for example, echo one of the themes of the International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec last year, the theme of the relationship between the Eucharist and the mission of the Church in and to the world at large. However, it leaves unasked another question, that is of at least equal importance to a parish community. How can the parish community draw more of its neighbours to itself, and so itself increase (this not just intended in a simply numerical sense)? The two directions of movement are complementary, but if the distinction between neighbourhood community and ecclesial community is blurred, the two-fold nature of this movement is lost in an excessively optimistic turning of the Church towards the world. To mention a topic raised during the questions at the end of the lecture, one can work to support and grow relationships between, for example, unmarried couples - the parish moving out to the neighbourhood - but there is also a point at which you cannot leave marriage out of it - an invitation to the neighbourhood to move towards the parish.

And this last observation really brings us back to the underlying thesis of Mr Battle's lecture, and a key question. If one is to keep an integrity of Catholic faith, how viable is the approach of just concentrating on the areas where positive engagement is possible and leaving to one side the points of potential conflict with public policy? Recognising that any political involvement is "messy" and will demand co-operation with others of differing points of view, nevertheless, does Mr Battle's approach really work in the end?

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Asking questions and writing letters

Asking questions and writing letters - these are two accepted tools of the apostolate. But there is an interesting art to them both.

One can ask a question for three reasons: to elicit information (in which case you will often ask a question that does not reveal to your interlocutor the information you are really seeking, but the answer to which will reveal it); to make a point to your interlocutor and to others in the audience (in which case the question will clearly indicate where you stand on the issue at stake, and invite agreement or disagreement in response); or to attempt to influence the actions of your interlocutor and audience, especially if he or she happens to be a politician (in which case the question will probably probe the reasons or evidence supporting a point of view).

It all depends what you are trying to achieve. The second type of question almost certainly will not influence the actions or views of the person of whom it is asked; but, in a political environment, it can make the person who asks it look good, strong and effective. Though, in practice, the questioner has in all probability achieved very little. The third type of question is much more likely to influence someone, particularly if it is well argued. The effectiveness of questioning does depend on something unstated, though, and that is whether or not any degree of trust is built between the questioner and the questioned. Trust is not the same as agreement. But if you do not have a basic level of trust in the person asking you the question, you are not going to give a proper answer - you do not know what the questioner will do with your answer so you will make sure that you do not give them anything that they can do anything with. The third type of question, I would suggest is the one that implies most trust and will therefore bring out the most useful answer.

Letter writing is the same. You can write to score a point (and so, in political terms, gain status yourself, perhaps an "open letter") or you can write with the purpose of influencing. But the successful influencing - which does not always mean agreement - depends on a basic level of trust from the person you are writing to. If your correspondent does not trust what you will do with their reply, and thinks that you might release it to the press or publish it on your blog, you should not expect to receive anything more than "thank you for your letter, which is receiving attention" in response. And that is down to you as the writer of the letter, and not to any disregard on the part of the person to whom you have written. On the other hand, if your correspondent trusts you to treat their reply with discretion and fairness (in any public use of it), then you are much more likely to be able to engage in a proper dialogue and so influence. But you should not write the one type of letter and expect to achieve the outcome appropriate to the other type of letter.

I do have experience of both questions and letters! Something like two years ago now, I was a resident member of the Board of an Arms Length Management Organisation in my local authority. This is a company, wholly owned by the local authority, with responsibility for managing the local authority's housing stock. If I say that, as I left the Board, the officer responsible for developing the Organisation's work on equalities and diversity commented favourably on the way I asked questions at meetings ("not putting people down" was part of the way she expressed it) you can perhaps work out what was happening there.

I have had exchanges of letters with the General Secretary of my trade union on two matters over the years. The General Secretary's responses have been honest - we do not agree over the issues concerned - but they would not have been so without the element of trust that existed between us in the correspondence. When we see each other at meetings, I think we both know where each of us stands on the issues concerned but there is no personal antagonism. The potential for influence is there, whereas it would not be if I had just written to score a point.

Now, where is my pen ...