Saturday, 31 July 2010

Acts of Mercy


The National Gallery are currently displaying four paintings by Cayley Robinson, with this overall title. The pictures will be on display there until 17th October 2010, after which I assume they will return to their usual home at the Wellcome Foundation. The paintings used to be displayed in the entrance to the Middlesex Hospital, though they are now owned by the Wellcome Foundation. This press release from 2009 includes some information about the purchase of the paintings by the Wellcome Foundation, and, at the bottom, allows you to view each of the four paintings.

The National Gallery's page for the exhibition is here. The BBC link from that page takes you to an informative slideshow about the paintings, giving some idea of the place of the paintings in their original context at the Middlesex Hospital, and an idea of their usual home at the Wellcome Foundation.

St Ignatius Loyola: Theology as a way of living

Fr James Hanvey SJ has written on St Ignatius Loyola for Thinking Faith, to mark St Ignatius' feast which falls today. The article's title is St Ignatius Loyola: Theology as a way of living.
"What Ignatius gives us is not a scholastic or academic theology; it is not a theory, but a theology that is lived and experienced.... What Ignatius opens up for us is the unity between the act of creation and redemption and the gift or grace of participation."
This is the theological vision that Fr Hanvey finds in the Spiritual Exercises and in St Ignatius' life.

The article is in my view a worthwhile read, though I do think you need to have to hand the text of the Spiritual Exercises and Sacred Scripture in order to look up the references in Fr Hanvey's footnotes. Rather than reading the article on-line, I found it easier to download the .pdf version and read it in print. In particular, I think that the second paragraph of the article contains a well articulated warning against using the Spiritual Exercises as a basis for a psychoanalytical and person-centred practice in spirituality. According to Fr Hanvey,
Ignatius "always offers an uncompromising 'theology'.
Two brief, linked comments.

I think the Spiritual Exercises are clearly about a theology that is lived and experienced, something embedded in their nature as being a structure for a retreat rather than for a course in academic study, and intrinsic to the very structure of their meditations which consistently seeks to engage the individual in the encounter with the mystery of Christ. But that does not mean that the theology expressed in the Exercises lacks what one might term doctrinal content. Such content is assumed.  In the section of his article headed "Some key themes", Fr Hanvey chooses to consider

... the extraordinary relational way of thinking and seeing that marks the Ignatian vision; the refusal to distort these into some logical form or process ..
Clearly, the meditations of the Spiritual Exercises are profoundly relational in that they do not try to "teach doctrine" to the person following the Exercises but instead seek to engage the person into a growing relationship with God. There is is a deeply relational intent in the Exercises in this sense. But the assumption of doctrinal content means that one should not take the presentation of the relational intent as in some way representing an overcoming of an idea of doctrinal content, as a suggesting that we can live our faith relationally instead of doctrinally.

Both of these points can be exemplified by reading the Contemplation to attain the love of God (Spiritual Exercises nn.230-237), to which Fr Hanvey refers in his penultimate paragraph. I quote below just one paragraph of this contemplation, with added italics to highlight the doctrinal (and scholastic?) element and added bold to identify the move to the relational aspect:
235. SECOND POINT: This is to reflect how God dwells in creatures: in the elements giving them existence, in the plants giving them life, in the animals conferring upon them sensation, in man bestowing understanding. So He dwells in me and gives me being, life, sensation, intelligence; and makes a temple of me, since I am created in the likeness and image of the Divine Majesty.

Then I will reflect upon myself again in the manner stated in the first point, or in some other way that may seem better.
[The first point, being referred back to here, asks the retreatant to "ponder with great affection how much God our Lord has done for me ...Then I will reflect upon myself, and consider, ...what I ought to offer the Divine Majesty, that is, all I possess and myself with it". Clearly relational.]

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Why humanists shouldn't join in this Catholic bashing

Auntie Joanna has pointed the way to an interesting article about attacks on the Catholic Church arising from the scandal of child abuse: Why humanists shouldn't join in this Catholic bashing.

Written by someone who is not themselves sympathetic to the Catholic Church or its teaching on human sexuality, the article points out ....

.... the relative rarity of incidents of abuse in the Church, though of course any such incident is a scandal

.... the prejudice of the "new atheism" against any institution with strong beliefs, and the part that this is playing in attacks on the Catholic Church.

The article is thought provoking, and provides some ammunition that is likely to be useful in the coming month or two. Whatever one's view of its provenance - the author appears to be rather in the thick of things as far as political and journalistic controversy goes - I think its content is worthy of consideration. There are also other articles linked at the bottom of this one, though I haven't read them yet.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

General Marcel Valentin: my struggles for peace

The Second Vatican Council has this to say about conscientious objection and military service, in its constitution Gaudium et Spes. The translation is that from the Vatican website:
..it seems right that laws make humane provisions for the case of those who for reasons of conscience refuse to bear arms, provided however, that they agree to serve the human community in some other way.

Certainly, war has not been rooted out of human affairs. As long as the danger of war remains and there is no competent and sufficiently powerful authority at the international level, governments cannot be denied the right to legitimate defense once every means of peaceful settlement has been exhausted...

Those too who devote themselves to the military service of their country should regard themselves as the agents of security and freedom of peoples. As long as they fulfill this role properly, they are making a genuine contribution to the establishment of peace.

I am just finishing reading a book about French general Marcel Valentin;the English translation of its title is: Marcel Valentin: from Sarajevo to to the suburbs, my struggles for peace. In 1993, as a colonel, Marcel Valentin commanded the UN forces in Sarajevo. He also commanded the Force of Extraction in Macedonia in 1999 - thereby becoming the first French officer to hold a comand in a NATO operation since General De Gaulle had withdrawn France from NATO's military command structure in the 1960's. This force was tasked to step in and rescue UN observers in Kosovo should the need have arisen (a lesson had been learnt after the taking hostage of UN observers in Bosnia). As it happened, the UN observers withdrew ahead of the NATO aerial campaign against Serbia. The extraction force then became the forerunner of KFOR, the NATO force that acted on the ground to restore normality in Kosovo after the Serbian withdrawal. In 2001, General Valentin returned to the region as head of KFOR, a position that he held for a year. Before retiring from the army in 2005, General Valentin initiated programmes to build positive relations between the military and the civilian population of France. In retirement, he has worked in promoting the good of young people at the margins of society.

One of the most interesting aspects of this book is its account of how the nature of the military calling has changed over time. Now, the soldier needs to be much more aware of the social and political aspects of their engagement. This article, written soon after General Valentin's retirement from the army reflects some of the themes in the book. The other aspect is that, in General Valentin, one can see someone who has lived out what Vatican II's constitution says about the soldier as being an agent of peace.

The book takes the form of a book length interview between a journalist of the French Catholic TV station KTO and Marcel Valentin. Emanuelle Dancourt first interviewed General Valentin for her series « V.I.P. » Visages Inattendus de Personnalités, and it was this encounter that prompted her to find out more about him. Unfortunately, her interview with General Valentin is not on-line.

More recently, for the 150th anniversary of the apparitions in Lourdes, one of the 12 missions identified for particular celebration during the year was that of the Church in favour of peace. This was particularly marked by the International Military Pilgrimage (personal note: from family 35 mm films that I remember from my childhood, I think my father took part in this pilgrimage, possibly in its first year in 1958). In the book Lourdes for Today and Tomorrow, it was General Valentin who wrote the "personal experience" that accompanied the presentation of this mission.
Allowing a fomer solider to speak about peace to mark the Jubilee anniversary of Lourdes, is evidence to me of how much more today soldiers are associated with peace keeping.

Monday, 26 July 2010

If you knew SUSY

Now, I don't really know SUSY (supersymmetry) very well at all. Actually, I don't know SUSY at all. But I have just come across a new word in the realm of particle physics: adinkra. Now if you think that word is strange, remember that quark was once just as strange, though it has had a charmed existence since. And the choice of the word adrinka is just as arbitrary (from the physics point of view) as was the choice of the word quark.

My source for this new addition to my vocabulary is an article in the June 2010 issue of Physics World by James Gates entitled "Symbols of Power" and featured under the generic heading of "Physics and geometry". James Gates is a theoretical physicist (ie his physics is theoretical, not James himself) at the University of Maryland in the United States.

This is the rough idea.

Physicists like equations - indeed, the article suggests that physicist belong to a company called "Equations-R-Us". Key points in the progress of physics are marked by the adoption or discovery of key equations that describe a phenomenon of physics - Maxwell's equations for electromagnetism, Einstein's equations for General Relativity, Schrodinger's equations for quantum mechanics, etc - and then it becomes a question of solving the equations for every imaginable situation.

Then it so happens that the equations can sometimes be represented geometrically. This helps make sense of the equations, but calculations using the geometry can also suggest new predictions from or solutions to the equations. The best known example of this sort of thing is probably the use of Feynman diagrams to solve problems in quantum electrodynamics. In the Standard Model, the different symmetries of particles such as photons, protons and neutrons can be represented geometrically. It was the observation of patterns in these geometric representations that led to the suggestion that the particles concerned must be made up of smaller, more fundamental particles, what we now happily call quarks.

What SUSY does is suggest that each particle in the Standard Model, which already has its own symmetry properties, also has a "super partner" particle that obeys the equations of supersymmetry. This has the effect of achieving a unification among different types of particles. These super partner particles have yet to be observed (looking out for experimental evidence of their existence is reported by the article as one of the main tasks of the Large Hadron Collider). But meanwhile, how about trying to develop a geometric representation of these super partner particles and their physics equations, in the hope that the geometry will reveal more about the equations and about SUSY? After all, this is a strategy that has been very successful before. These geometrical shapes are what the researchers have called adinkras. Of course, it turns out that three dimensions won't do if you want to represent equations that have any physical meaning; four dimensions is the least number.

All of this is just the preamble for the really interesting bit - so stay with me.

Adinkras made up of four or more dimensions can be separated to give two adinkras representing fewer particles, these two adinkras also obeying the relevant equations. It's a bit like splitting a set into two sub-sets that can be added together again to give the original set. The technical term for it is "folding", the merging together of different points on the geometric shape following careful rules for doing so. Understanding why some "foldings" work and others don't ... well, this has been achieved by representing each point on the geometric shape by a binary number ... and realising that foldings that preserve the properties of SUSY all obey one of the simplest error correction codes familiar to the digital transmission of data. The required sum of the binary numbers of folded points is 1111..

The punchline: the mathematical relations between these super partner particles seems to be intimately bound up with information theory.
For the most part [information theory] is a science that has largely developed in ways that are unrelated to the fields used in theoretical physics. However, with the observation that structures from information theory - codes - control the structure of equations with the SUSY property, we may be crossing a barrier. I know of no other example of this particular intermingling occurring at such a deep level. Could it be that codes, in some deep and fundamental way, control the structure of our reality?... As for my own collaboration on adrinkas, the path my colleagues and I have trod since the early 2000s has led me to conclude that codes play a previously unsuspected role in equations that possess the property of supersymmetry. This unsuspected connection suggests that these codes may be ubiquitous in nature, and could even be embedded in the essence of reality.
I am not a proponent of immediately drawing theological conclusions from the physical sciences - there is a mediating role for metaphysics, in particular, the idea of analogy of being, between the raw physics and theological understanding. But the suggestion that information is in some way embedded in the heart of reality is thought provoking  to say the least, and seems amenable to an analogical theological expression. However, some care needs to be taken to make sure that that analogical expression does not say something that isn't what the physics itself says - the pioneer to whom James Gates makes reference towards the end of his article , John Archibald Wheeler, for example, links the information-theoretic aspect to the problem of measurement, the measurement (subjectively) determining the reality that has been measured. James Gates own work, being theoretical, seems to me to present an information-theoretic basis that is independent of this question of measurement.

PS. The Large Hadron Collider might, of course, show that SUSY's super partner particles don't exist any way ....

A modern Catholic dilemma?

This is the title of a thoughtful post at Stella Maris, written in response to A modern Anglican dilemma.

I have always felt uncomfortable with the idea that there are different "models of the Church", always preferring the thought that there are a number of different ways in which we talk about the Church (People of God being one among them), each of which can draw our attention to a different aspect of the one reality that is the Church. The full picture is achieved by holding in balance all these different ways of talking - or, in the context of Stella Maris' post, by including the chapter from Vatican II's Lumen Gentium on the hierarchical nature of the Church as well as that on the people of God in our living of the Catholic faith.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Just a thought ...

Given that today's Gospel reading at Mass included the Our Father, I wonder how many priests took the opportunity to preach about the Fatherhood of God?

Magnificat to the rescue, offering an extract from Cardinal Jean Danielou as the "Day by Day":
But beyond them [ie the Son and the Spirit] is the mystery of divine fatherhood, the absolute first source of all things, the first source of all Creation, the first source of all grace. This fatherhood is expressed through its manifestation in the world, in creation, where God is the Father who makes his sun shine on the just and the unjust ... It is expressed through Christ's humanity, the humanity of the only Son, through which we may all become sons in the only Son, since we are caught up in the eternal mystery of divine descent, engendered with the only Son to the life of the only Son by the Father, recreated - as he is begotten - eternally, perpetually recreated in this mysterious process of generation, recreated to this life of grace which leads us into participation in the mystery of eternal regeneration.

News that matters

The headline item on much of the BBC news coverage today has been the impending parting of ways between British Petroleum and its (as I write still) present chief executive.

But might there be a couple of news items that are more important?

The situation of Christians in Pakistan - Aid to the Church in Need's most recent news report is here - is something of worldwide significance. Pakistan offers a measure of what might happen elsewhere in terms of the relationship between Christian and Muslim communities.

And, if this situation goes wrong, the outcomes could be nuclear. Whilst these events are taking place at the other side of the world to us in Europe, what is at stake should not be underestimated.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

New City: Drying the cutlery

Over several years of trade union work I have met a number of situations where I think to myself afterwards: "If these people had been able to talk to each other properly about this ages ago, there wouldn't be a problem". Sometimes in relationships at work the sort of ordinary conversations that encourage positive working together, and avoid problems, just don't happen. Sometimes these good working relations do exist. What makes the difference?

In the spirituality of the Focolare, this sort of situation is addressed by the idea of trying to love other people in the ordinary circumstances of life: "be the first to love". Among themselves, and in their publications, those associated with the Focolare share stories of how they have tried to do this. The "Word in Action" feature of the August/September issue of their magazine New City contains this:
I'm studying in Budapest at the moment and live in a small flat let to me by a family. A friend of mine came to visit me recently and after lunch he did the washing up, leaving the knives and forks to dry with their handles facing upwards, different to how I would normally do it putting them with their handles down. I told him this, giving my reasons, and he explained why he did it his way.

As a result of this very simple experience it struck me that if I don't learn to be a little more flexible in my habits, I'll end up growing old with my head full of very good reasons for always doing things my way! From then on I started drying the cutlery with the handles facing upwards.

I came across something St Therese of  Lisieux said to her sister Celine: "Before dying by the sword, let us die by pinpricks". And a pinprick can be a point of view which differs from my own, an insult, a disappointment, an official who behaves more like a robot than a person, a colleague who makes life difficult for me ...

A short time later I went to dinner with my friend's family. They didn't allow me to wash the dishes, but I was very surprised to see that they put the cutlery to dry with the handles facing downwards. We had a real laugh when I told them that I had changed how I dry the cutlery ... they had done exactly the same for me! Every time I manage to "lose my life", I experience such joy, such a freedom that makes it much easier for me to love the others.

My first thought, accompanied by considerable laughter (LOL, is I think the modern term): how someone dries their cutlery really isn't that important!

Second thought, also accompanied by laughter: what can someone who gets a towel and dries their cutlery straight away, without leaving it to drain at all, learn from this story?

Third thought, more serious this time: a privilege of living on my own is that I can stick to my habits, or at least to some of them.

Fourth thought: reflecting on my trade union experience, that a practice of these small and, in themselves insiginificant, acts helps to create a situation in the workplace where potentially problematic situations are addressed in the ordinary intercourse of daily life, and so don't become problems at all.

The million dollar question: the next time I have visitor to my home, will I leave the washing up to drain or not?

The love of St Mary Magdalene

This is the title of Mother Maria-Michael's latest reflection at the Abbey of Saint Walburga.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Humanists opt to call it a day

... is the headline (on page 21) in one of our local newspapers this weekend. It refers to the forthcoming demise of Humanists in Havering, the local branch of the British Humanist Association.
Locally, numbers have dwindled from more than 50 during the group's hedyday in the middle of the last century to around 15 current regular members, outgoing chairman Dr Katie Frith, 86, revealed.... "We have monthly meetings, which are very well attended by our faithful few, but visitors must look around at us and they just don't come back". "We won't fade away completely, but can't go on as we are", add Dr Frith, who has been a member since 1966....Members, on average, are in their mid-70's and the group has lost a number of leading lights in recent years...The Humanists in Havering will hold an extraordinary general meeting in September, at which it is expected members will vote to amalgamate with the Chelmsford based Humanists in Essex. ... Publicity manager, Christine Seymour, 67, said: "...There are plenty of young humanists out there, but I think most of us feel the battle is won."
It looks as if, in Havering at least, atheism is dying out. But, before we rejoice, it might be worth reflecting on what is replacing it. The "faithful few" are of a generation which thought about issues of religious faith or atheism. People today are probably more typically indifferent to such questions, and are secularist in outlook rather than humanist. I do not go along with the suggestion that there are "plenty of young humanists out there". If anything, young people are today growing up in an environment where religious belief enjoys a bigger impact in the public sphere - for good and for evil - than in the recent past. So "most of us feel the battle is won" is, to say the least, somewhat over-optimistic an observation.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

St Mary Magdalen: a woman in the Church

The Gospel at Mass for the feast of St Mary Magdalen (John 20:1-2, 11-18) reminds us that she was the first to discover the Resurrection of the Lord, though the Gospel text suggests that it took some time for her to recognise the significance of her discovery.

She then ran to tell Simon Peter and the beloved disciple.


So, in that mysterious moment at the beginning of the Church's life, Mary Magdalen is right up there with the key figures of Simon Peter and John. That moment has its feminine dimension, as well as the Petrine and Johannine dimension (the deference of John/charism to Peter/office as they enter the tomb).

Mary Magdalen is then sent by the Lord to announce the resurrection, and says to the disciples: "I have seen the Lord".


Within the dynamic of the Church's evangelising mission, this is the first example of "primary proclamation", and so Mary Magdalen could perhaps be taken as a patron saint of those who engage in this aspect of the Church's mission.

The Meditation of the Day in Magnificat is an extract from a homily by St Gregory the Great. It suggests another dimension to the charism of Mary Magdalen. St Gregory's account of the soul of Mary Magdalen reminds one of the gifts that would be associated with the great mystics Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross, a love that makes a soul burn for the Lord.
Scorching fire burns away the rust of sin in the heart. The soul is inflamed as if it were gold, because gold loses its beauty through use but fire restores it to brightness. So Mary loved, who turned a second time to the supulchre she had already looked into ... Her search had been redoubled by the power of love.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Pastoral hearts and engaged brains

"Once more I was reminded that priests need pastoral hearts and engaged brains."

I missed this post at the time The Human Body: Fr Paul is encouraged and excited by Church teaching but loved the above quotation, which would have made a brilliant strapline.

I am sure that a disengaged brain is not part of the character imparted by the Sacrament of Holy Orders, but one wonders at times ....

Monday, 19 July 2010

Two letters

On 17th July, the Times published a letter from Fr Timothy Radcliffe OP. One should perhaps recognise that Fr Radcliffe may not have chosen the heading under which it was published.

Clarifying Vatican line on priestesses

Sir, The Vatican did not declare that "female priests are as sinful as child abuse" (report, July 16). That would be absurd. The papal press office direction, Father Lombardi, SJ, explained that they are completely different. The attempted ordination of a Roman Catholic woman raises different issues.

The priest presides at Holy Communion, the sacrament of our unity in the Church, and so an ordination that is productive of division would be a contradiction in terms. Many Catholics believe that women should not be excluded from ordination, but this will only be possible with the concensus of the communion of the Church. Excommunication is not a punishment, nor exclusion from the Church, but recognition that communion is seriously damaged and needs to be repaired. One might not think that this is the best way to do so, but it is a position that is perfectly comprehensible.

FATHER TIMOTHY RADCLIFFE OP
Blackfriars, Oxford

And today, the following letter appeared:

Female priests

Sir, Father Timothy Radcliffe ("Clarifying Vatican line on priestesses", letter, July 17) rightly points out that the illicit ordination of a woman, being productive of division, would be a contradiction in terms. He then interestingly suggests that the ordination of women might be possible "with the concensus of the communion of the Church". Is he suggesting, perhaps, that women's ordination could be considered in those countries, possibly including England and Wales, where such a move would be largely accepted by Catholics? It would certainly be a means of easing relations with the Anglican Church.

It is certainly and unfortunately the case, however, that the Vatican's description of the ordination of a woman as "a grave delict" inevitably reduces its credibility when pronouncing on other matters.

ALAN PAVELIN
Chislehurst, Kent
Fr Radcliffe does clarify that the Holy See did not equate the attempted ordination of women with the sexual abuse of minors. From then on, though, he does anything but clarify the position of the Holy See with regard to the ordination of women. The ecclesiology underlying Fr Radcliffe's second paragraph looks, not just decidedly Anglican, but decidedly that of a particular school of Anglicanism, a school that has been pretty much put to death by the recent decisions of the General Synod. Communion as social consensus seems to be Fr Radcliffe's notion of the theology of "Church as communion". There is a fudge of the Roman Catholic position, fudge in large quantity, too. What do "should not be excluded from ordination" and "consensus of the communion of the Church" mean? Let alone the infallible magisterium expressed by the "Many Catholics believe ..".

Alan Pavelin takes up the implication that the position of the Holy See is that an ordination of a woman is limited to being illicit - it isn't so limited, being that such an attempted ordination would be invalid, it just wouldn't "happen" despite the words being said and the actions undertaken. He also reads the consensus ecclesiology in a localised context - which Fr Timothy Radcliffe and the Anglican school he reflects would certainly not do - though I am not at all convinced that the ordination of women would be "largely accepted by Catholics" in England and Wales.

Ah, bless.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Prominent Catholics: WWND?

"Prominent Catholics" appear regularly in the media.

On BBC Radio 2 a little while ago, as part of a series of interviews with the candidates for the leadership of the Labour Party,  Jeremy Vine described Andy Burnham, Labour MP for Leigh, as "one of the most prominent Catholics in the country". In an interview in the Tablet recently, Andy Burnham indicated that his Catholic faith "made me who I am"; but the interview also pointed out that he was at odds with the Catholic Church over equalities legislation and that he would like to see gay marriage in the UK.

Lord Patten, another prominent Catholic, is leading for Her Majesty's Government in the planning of Pope Benedict's forthcoming visit to the UK. He is quoted describing himself as a "tortured liberal Catholic" in a recent Tablet interview.

More recently, Tina Beattie, another prominent Catholic has made an appeal to Pope Benedict. This appeal has attracted some strong comment from the Catholic blogosphere; but I think the most interesting thing is the range of the comments that have been made at Tina's own blog post of her appeal. I think the points made in those posts represent a dialogue that is much needed, and is reflected in Tina's willingness to post all comments received (bar one) - see her concluding comment of 18th July.  I posted on the theme of unity in the Church here - I think Tina's post and its comments represent an intersection of "tradosphere" and "trendosphere" as I suggest in this earlier post. But, this having been said, Tina Beattie does propose ideas that are not in accord with Catholic teaching.

So what are we to make of prominent Catholics who are well known for holding and arguing for positions that are at odds with Catholic teaching? [and, in asking the question in this way, I am putting in Husserlian brackets the different question of being a well known Catholic and living a life at odds with Catholic teaching -that is a different question which needs a different answer, one that recognises we all go there whenever we commit sin, though for most of us our sinfulness does not emerge into the public sphere].

1. Should we say to these prominent Catholics that, if they are not comfortable with Catholic teaching, they should simply leave the Catholic Church? I think not, since to make that call is not at the service of the unity of the Church.

2. Should we view the positions being advocated by these prominent Catholics as being acceptable in the Catholic Church? Well, no. In some respects these positions are directly at odds with what the Church teaches, and we should recognise that that is the case.

Or, to put these two together, we might say that, though they are prominent Catholics, they are not good advocates of the Catholic position to their fellow Catholics or to the wider world, and should not therefore be seen as Catholic spokesmen and spokeswomen. This isn't the same as saying they should be "silenced", but does suggest that their prominence and their Catholicity need to be clearly distinguished.

3. Who then is a good advocate of the Catholic position? Those who would criticise these prominent Catholics do not usually themselves have an explicit mandate to speak for the Church. The practical touchstone against which all their contributions can be measured, I would suggest, is the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The person with a mandate to represent the Church in a particular locality is the Bishop, and that mandate should be experienced as a serious responsibility.

4. I think there is useful reflection to be had about the office of the Bishop in regard to prominent Catholics who are not good advocates of the Catholic position. The priority of the Bishop should be to act in the interests of the unity of the Church, which needs clarity and firmness of teaching but not necessarily condemnation of the individual.

WWND?

From the chapter on "Christianity and Scientific Investigation" in Idea of a University:
This is how I should account for a circumstance, which has sometimes caused surprise, that so many great Catholic thinkers have in some points or other incurred the criticism or animadversion of theologians or of ecclesiastical authority. It must be so in the nature of things; there is indeed an animadversion which implies a condemnation of the author; but there is another which means not much more than the "piè legendum" written against passages in the Fathers. The author may not be to blame; yet the ecclesiastical authority would be to blame, if it did not give notice of his imperfections....

I am supposing all along good faith, honest intentions, a loyal Catholic spirit, and a deep sense of responsibility. I am supposing, in the scientific inquirer, a due fear of giving scandal, of seeming to countenance views which he does not really countenance, and of siding with parties from whom he heartily differs. I am supposing that he is fully alive to the existence and the power of the infidelity of the age; that he keeps in mind the moral weakness and the intellectual confusion of the majority of men; and that he has no wish at all that any one soul should get harm from certain speculations today, though he may have the satisfaction of being sure that those speculations will, as far as they are erroneous or misunderstood, be corrected in the course of the next half-century.

Friday, 16 July 2010

"Cor ad cor loquitur": reflecting on Newman's choice of motto

The site of the International Centre of Newman Friends has a page devoted to the coat of arms and motto chosen by Newman when he became a Cardinal. As this page points out, Cardinal Newman does not appear to have ever explained his choice of arms or of motto. The extensive explanation offered by the Centre of Newman Friends page is legitimate, but I wonder how much it relates to Newman's own sense of the arms and motto.

Ian Ker, in his biography, describes how Newman wrote to Birmingham after arriving in Rome, on his visit to receive the red hat:
On arriving in Rome a week or so later he wrote to Birmingham to ask one of the community to check if the words 'cor ad cor loquitur' ('heart speaks to heart') were to be found in the Vulgate version of the Bible or in Thomas a Kempis. He had forgotten that he had already quoted the saying from St Francis de Sales in the Idea of a University. It was, of course, to be the motto on his cardinal's coat of arms.
This suggests that Newman's choice of motto was, if not completely "last minute", in all likelihood more intuitive than thought out.

In the years leading up to his being made a Cardinal by Pope Leo XIII, Newman had what might be described as a lively time. He was drawn into a number of controversies and projects, in which he engaged with all due vigour. His relations to ecclesiastical authority - Wiseman and Manning - weren't smooth, either on a personal level or a theological level, and generally caused him more anxiety than peace. The choice of motto seems rather unrelated to this rough and tumble experience of ecclesial life.

So, where was Newman coming from as he chose his motto, "heart speaks to heart"? If we assume that Newman was in some intuitive way reaching back to his previous encounter with this phrase, the context of his first citation of it in the Idea of a University might offer some insight into his choice.

Newman's citation of St Francis de Sales comes in a chapter of the Idea entitled "University Preaching", in which Newman considers what would make a good sermon preached in a university. Now, at the beginning of the second paragraph of this chapter, Newman writes:
So far is clear at once, that the preacher's object is the spiritual good of his hearers. "Finis praedicanti sit", says St Francis de Sales; "ut vitam (justitiae) habeant homines, et abundantius habeant".
The purpose of preaching is, says St Francis de Sales, that men might have life, and have it in abundance. Newman goes on to insist that, more important than any of the natural skills that help to make a good preacher, is an intense awareness of this purpose:
Talent, logic, learning, words, manner, voice, action, all are required for the perfection of a preacher; but "one thing is necessary,"—an intense perception and appreciation of the end for which he preaches, and that is, to be the minister of some definite spiritual good to those who hear him.
It is in the context of this earnestness for the spiritual good of his hearers that Newman places the longer quotation from St Francis de Sales that includes the phrase that, altered, will become the motto "heart speaks to heart" (my emphasis added):
It is this earnestness, in the supernatural order, which is the eloquence of saints ...St. Francis de Sales is full and clear upon this point. It is necessary, he says, "ut ipsemet penitus hauseris, ut persuasissimam tibi habeas, doctrinam quam aliis persuasam cupis. Artificium summum erit, nullum habere artificium. Inflammata sint verba, non clamoribus gesticulationibusve immodicis, sed interiore affectione. De corde plus quàm de ore proficiscantur. Quantumvis ore dixerimus, sanè cor cordi loquitur, lingua non nisi aures pulsat."
Having pointed out that the spiritual good of the hearers is the purpose of preaching, Newman goes on to argue that a definite spiritual good is that purpose. In other words, the preacher should speak about something specific and well defined and not just address insubstantial piety to his hearers (my emphasis added):
As a distinct image before the mind makes the preacher earnest, so it will give him something which it is worth while to communicate to others. Mere sympathy, it is true, is able, as I have said, to transfer an emotion or sentiment from mind to mind, but it is not able to fix it there. He must aim at imprinting on the heart what will never leave it, and this he cannot do unless he employ himself on some definite subject, which he has to handle and weigh, and then, as it were, to hand over from himself to others.
What is implicit in all of this is an anxiety to communicate the Catholic faith to others. Newman is expressing, in the context here of a discussion of the purpose of preaching, something that is perhaps implicit in his whole Catholic life, namely a sense of mission. Today, we might term this an evangelistic sense. Newman clearly recognises the part played by the intellect, by ideas in this - and so his more academic studies, and his engagement in the controversies and projects of his time, fit in with his overall sense of mission. 


Perhaps in choosing his motto Newman was trying to make some sense of the diversity of projects and controversies in which he had engaged, bringing them back intuitively to what he understood to be the nature of preaching as an activity of the priest in the pulpit which is also the nature of communicating faith in Christ and his Church in all the circumstances of life.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Rauol Moat: a need for a careful distinction

This BBC news report gives some idea of the present coverage of Raoul Moat in the media. There are also media reports of Rauol Moat's last words, which suggest that he experienced a real sense of having nowhere "to belong" in the world. Care needs to be taken in basing comments on media coverage alone, and only those involved in the events themselves will really understand fully Rauol Moat's situation.

One has to recognise that Rauol Moat's reported actions - his shooting of three people and his threats against others - were evil. In so far as a person is formed by the way in which they act, this can also suggest that we should recognise that Rauol Moat was in some degree an "evil man". The glorification of his actions is therefore to be deprecated, to be opposed and to be condemned. His actions deserve no sympathy, and should be fully recognised as the evil that they were.

At the same time, the media reports of Rauol Moat's last words and other aspects of the coverage suggest that Rauol Moat was a very troubled person. Fr Ray suggested, and I agree with his suggestion, that perhaps in some way Rauol Moat's situation reflects that in which many in our society might find themselves, though in his case it was lived out to an extreme that is fortunately very rare. It appears that, if we were to identify anyone as being marginalised from our society, that person would be Rauol Moat. That is not to suggest that he is any sense a "good man"; recognising his mariginalisation does not involve that suggestion at all.

Once again, reflecting on events of this nature, I come back to the notion of a mysterium iniquitatis, a mystery of evil. There is something about this evil that we cannot fathom, but can only hope that it is open to redemption.

So, in expressing sympathy for Rauol Moat and leaving flowers in his memory, we might be responding in a quite legitimate way to our sense of this man's marginalisation and anguish, something that might be very encouraging for his family. But we cannot, and should not, thereby be seen as saying that his actions are anything else but profoundly evil.

And if we want to say that Rauol Moat deserves no sympathy, we might be quite legitimately condemning the evil of his actions. But in saying this, we should not say, of any member of our society, that they are marginalised, outside the pale and should remain so.

Both the contributors to Facebook and the Prime Minister might do well to make a very careful distinction.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Miscellany - or WWND?

Recent events at the General Synod of the Church of England have provoked a range of responses, directly or indirectly, and this miscellany is made up from them.

From Stella Maris post The Church of England. How long will it last?
As long as the Anglican Church insists on women bishops there is no chance of unity with the Roman Catholic Church or with the Orthodox. The inevitable responses to this from pro-women priest Catholics is just fantasy-speak....This is compromise, pure and simple, but the cosy "Christianity-lite" of liberal Anglicanism will not survive either. What a waste of blood, sweat and tears, bricks and mortar.
The reference to pro-women priest Catholics leads me to Tigerish Waters post Ooh you've got an 'ology:
We sometimes forget that we are already one (a very broken one) through our baptism with our separated brethren. A crisis in an ecclesial community knocks at the heart of our faith and will cause ripples throughout the Christian world. There are just too many Catholics who are itching to see women in the priesthood and anyone who contradicts this hasn't been near most provincial Catholic churches with congregations with an average age over 50.
It is all reflected in the comment at Stella Maris post - ordaining women as priests and bishops is the answer to the wrong question. It answers a question about women's rights and equality. But the question for the Christian, be they Catholic or otherwise is a different question. It is what does Christ want for his Church? 


Now the rumour is that the Holy See will issue during the coming months a document which explicitly identifies the attempted ordination of women as one of the most grave offences. The spin is that doing this will liken such attempted ordinations of women to child abuse by priests and religious - which is not the case, since in the two cases the gravity of the offence arises from quite different considerations. But it will make clear just how serious an offence against the unity of the Church - and this is why it is considered such a grave offence - attempts to ordain women are. Incidentally, the illicit ordinations in the Society of St Pius X attracted the penalty of excommunication, again expressing just how seriously an offence against the unity of the Church is to be understood.


Those Catholics who, in Tigerish Waters phrase, are "itching to see women in the priesthood" are living in a world of "fantasy-speak", but they live in such a world and are considered credible as proponents of a Catholic position.  A good few Catholics could do with a much greater understanding of the implications of questions 11-17 of the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church , which would give them the clarity of mind to resist the temptation of the feminist projection of the wrong question onto the core of Catholic belief. The fact that, as Tigerish Waters says, there are so many Catholics who appear to lack any real sense of ecclesial judgement about questions like this is worrying.


Now, William Oddie's comment on the Catholic Herald website, which seems to see in the General Synod vote a kind of starting gun for the establishing of an Anglican Ordinariate, is a bit off the real pace on this question. That the Church of England does not appear to want its traditional/Anglo-Catholic members, and so those members might move to an Ordinariate in the Roman Catholic Church ... such a sociological (so very Anglican) notion of an Ordinariate is indeed to completely misunderstand what an Ordinariate might be. Indeed, I think the Bishop of Richborough recognised quite early on that an Ordinariate could not simply be a destination for those unhappy with the ordination of women bishops in the Church of England; it has to represent something much more than this. The Bishop of Ebbsfleet offers a better, and more cautious, analysis in his August pastoral letter, and one can usefully re-read his February pastoral letter.


But, in the year of his beatification, I end by asking: WWND? What would Newman do? I expect he would still take the road of individual conversion. Would the establishment of a new religious order, made up of former members of the Anglican Societas Sanctae Crucis, be a contemporary equivalent to Newman's founding of the Oratory in England?


And WWND about all those Catholics who think women priests and bishops are a good idea? If his chapter on "Christianity and Scientific Investigation" in The Idea of a University is anything to go by, he might well just let error have enough rope to hang itself. But the same chapter also expresses a great anxiety that the weak in faith should not be scandalised. So whilst he might, in the realm of ideas, leave the notion of women priests and bishops to fall by the wayside of ecclesial life of its own accord, I think he would speak out against those campaigning in the media and in parishes in favour of such "innovation".

Monday, 12 July 2010

A blonde joke

I haven't done one of these before, but am following the example of an expert. I am having a go now, in the interests of gender equality...

Q. How do I know that my car has been built for a single male driver?


A.When my front seat passenger (that's where the blonde comes in) has to wait until we reach our destination before winding down the window and using the rear view mirror to complete the application of lipstick, since there is no mirror mounted on the back of the sun shield.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Living together

... is a phrase that can have a perfectly innocuous meaning. I live together with my neighbours, with my work colleagues, with my friends.

It can also mean moving in with an opposite sex partner without getting married. For different couples the circumstances may vary, but I have a sense that it will in most situations be the girl who makes herself most vulnerable in these arrangements. That vulnerability is both material and emotional. [One can perhaps extend the idea of "living together" to same sex partners moving in together, when I sense that the range and dynamics of vulnerability might be much deeper.]

The readiness with which young people do this makes Catholic Analysis' post on the subject of relevance. I think the suggestion in this post that there is something lost that cannot be regained is worthy of particular reflection.

Anglican contrasts

This weekend has seen the vote in the Church of England Synod that may prove decisive for many in that church's Catholic wing. Narrowly, a compromise provision that would have allowed some sort of place for those opposed to the ordination of women as bishops was defeated.

Within the last ten days I have, by accident of circumstances and not by any deliberate intention, encountered directly the contrast between the liberal and the Catholic aspects of the Church of England. That both encounters took place at locations within a mile of each other just makes the contrast more poignant.

The first encounter was at an Anglican celebration of baptism, confirmation and holy communion. I had been invited by a neighbour who was being confirmed. In his homily, the celebrant (Rt Rev Keith Newton, Bishop of Richborough) spoke strongly, and with a conviction that would have done a Roman Catholic priest proud, about the real presence of Jesus in the eucharistic species. His prompt was the occasions when he saw notices in Church of England parishes during the swine flu scare that "the wine would not be given". After the words of consecration, it is no longer bread and wine, but the body and blood of Jesus Christ! My exclamation marks here are an attempt to reflect the emphasis communicated by the celebrant's body language as he emphasized this point. And then emphasized it again.

The second encounter was part of a session on care for patients of different faiths in a hospital context. At one point an Anglican priest was talking about the distinction between Sunni and Shia traditions in Islam, and the hostility that exists between them. This he could not understand; but he drew a comparison to the persecutions that existed between different Christian denominations at the time of the Reformation. For him it was a nonsense that Christians should have killed each other over the question of whether or not it was the body and blood of Christ or just bread and wine. One might want to agree that killing each other over questions of doctrine is now, with the benefit of hindsight, a matter of some regret. But the suggestion implied here that the question of belief or not in the real presence of Jesus Christ as the Eucharist doesn't matter ... that is doctrinal indifferentism of the highest order. For those on the Roman Catholic side who died rather than renounce their faith in the doctrine of the Eucharist and in the unity of the Church, the difference really did matter.

The challenge being posed by the ordination of women as bishops in the Church of England is not unrelated to this question about the real presence; the same challenge was posed by the ordination of women as priests, though that challenge could be averted for traditionalists in some degree by the provision of alternative episcopal oversight for those Anglican parishes that did not accept the ministry of women priests. Both questions have their roots in how priesthood, and therefore the Church, is understood.

Whether the events at the General Synod bring nearer the creation of an Ordinariate under the provisions of Anglicanorum Coetibus has yet to be seen. They do perhaps call on us to renew the commitment of prayer on behalf of those who now have to discern their way forward in this situation.

PS. A wake up call can be found here.

Once you have wept with the Church ...

Friday's "Meditation of the Day" in Magnificat was an extract from Fr Raniero Cantalamessa's book Loving the Church: Scriptural Meditations for the Papal Household. I would expect that this book is the published text of meditations preached to the Papal Household. Though published in 2005, Fr Cantalamessa's words have a resonance in 2010 that could perhaps not have been foreseen.
Christ loved the Church and gave himself for her so that she would be "without stain". And the Church would be without stain if we were not a part of it! The Church would have one less wrinkle if I committed one less sin...

We should ask Christ to forgive all of our inconsiderate judgments and the many offenses we heap upon his Bride, and as a result on him as well. Try to tell a man who is truly in love that his bride is ugly or a "good-for-nothing", and see if you can take his ire ...

Once you have ... wept with the Church, once you have humbled yourself at its feet, God can command you as he has done in the past to raise your voice against "the wounds of the Church". But not before. The saints have applied to the Church that which Job said about God, according to the Vulgate version of the Bible then in use: "Even if God were to kill me, I would still have recourse to him" (see Jb 13:15).

St Benedict: patron of Europe

But for the fact that today is a Sunday which, in the Ordinary Form takes precedence over a Feast of  saint, today would see the celebration of St Benedict. In the dioceses of Europe, this celebration has the rank of a Feast, since St Benedict is one of six patrons of Europe.

Do say a prayer for Europe today ....

Friday, 9 July 2010

Catholic Travellers Renewal

... is the title of an article in Good News, the magazine of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal in the UK.

Two particular paragraphs caught my attention. The first was because of its reference to the Appleby Horse Fair, about which I have posted in the past. The woman referred to is Margaret, about whom the article in Good News largely centres:
A woman of deep prayer and mystical experiences, several years ago she had a vivid dream that the Lord was calling her to set up a tent with Eucharistic adoration at the Appleby Horse Fair in Cumbria, to which 30,000 Gypsies, Romanies and Travellers come every year, as a witness to his presence among his people. The first couple of years it was just herself and a friend leading the outreach, backed by Charlie Connor from Youth2000 and the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, but this last year, a much bigger team of Travellers gave their services, due to the growth of the Charismatic Renewal among them over the last nine months or so, as well as support from the local parish priest of Appleby Fr Aleks.
And it was the rather no-nonsense approach to the clergy that caught my attention in this paragraph:
The meeting had been called because the Travellers wanted to share with their chaplain, Fr Joe Brown, a laid back bespectacled Irish priest, their dream to build a church for the Traveling People in the UK. Fr Joe had just suggested that, rather than the big £3 million white twin towered church they had in mind, it would be more sensible to settle for a small prayer centre or a disused parish somewhere instead. But they were having none of it. They wanted to build something big and beautiful for the glory of God.
If you read the article in full you will see that the lay faithful are probably going to get what they want ...

Thursday, 8 July 2010

SP+3

Others have been observing the third anniversary of the publication of the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, which allowed a more free celebration of  the "Tridentine Mass" or "Traditional Latin Mass". As well as allowing that freer celebration, it also introduced a juridical status of "Extraordinary Form" and "Ordinary Form" in what it firmly described as one Roman Rite. I do love Pope Benedict's ability with words, and have sometimes reflected on the particularly Benedictine genius in the choice of the words "extraordinary" and "ordinary" to express the juridical status of the two forms.

Since I do not have an attachment to the Extraordinary Form, the provisions of Summorum Pontificum which made it easier to celebrate and attend the Extraordinary Form have not directly affected my life as a Catholic. In his letter to his brother bishops that accompanied Summorum Pontificum, Pope Benedict wrote: “For that matter, the two Forms of the usage of the Roman Rite can be mutually enriching: new Saints and some of the new Prefaces can and should be inserted in the old Missal. …. The celebration of the Mass according to the Missal of Paul VI will be able to demonstrate, more powerfully than has been the case hitherto, the sacrality which attracts many people to the former usage. The most sure guarantee that the Missal of Paul VI can unite parish communities and be loved by them consists in its being celebrated with great reverence in harmony with the liturgical directives.”


What I find most disappointing about the three years since the publication of Summorum Pontificum is an almost total lack of attention to the idea of mutual enrichment. My experience of the electronic and print Catholic media suggests that those with an attachment to the Extraordinary Form have a presence in the media that is out of proportion to their numbers among the body of the faithful as a whole. The media presence of those attached to the Extraordinary Form communicates to me the two following points. Firstly, there is still a sense of the Extraordinary Form being promoted over and above the Ordinary Form, with the Extraordinary Form being presented as more “traditional” or of greater spiritual value than the Ordinary Form. Associated with this is a sense of the “restoration of the Traditional Mass” associated with Summorum Pontificum. Secondly, I am also detecting a pre-emptive resistance to changes to the texts of the Missal of 1962, so that, for example, the introduction of new Prefaces would not be welcomed. Together these points indicate a resistance to the idea of mutual enrichment of the two forms that I find unfortunate.

The celebration of the Ordinary Form “with great reverence and in harmony with the liturgical directives” remains a serious problem in my experience of attending Mass across a number of nearby parishes. Recognising that the rubrics allow some freedom to priests at certain points in the celebration of Mass, there remains a significant practice of unwarranted ad-lib changes to words and casualness in the celebration. The interjection of “Good morning everyone, Good morning Father” is a typical - and for me, most frustrating - example of such practice, and is usually associated with a manner of celebration that focuses on the human and every day rather than the divine. Often, particularly before and after the celebration of Mass on a Sunday, the Church becomes a place of casual everyday conversation rather than the place of the living presence of God. I cannot help but feel that this is linked to the example of priests in the way in which they celebrate the Liturgy itself. If they celebrate in a way that lacks a sense of the sacred, then the people will conduct themselves in Church in a similar way.

I find it very disappointing that typical priests in parishes do not seem to realise that the idea of mutual enrichment associated by Pope Benedict with Summorum Pontificum asks of them an increased attention to the sacred in the way in which they celebrate Mass in the Ordinary Form. They continue to celebrate as if Summorum Pontificum has not happened. In fact, I doubt that they are, generally speaking, aware of any expectations arising from Summorum Pontificum and Pope Benedict’s accompanying letter. 

There is an interesting counter example to the general experience that I have described above, and this occurs in parishes entrusted to the care of religious. It is not that these parishes have celebrations in the Extraordinary Form, because they do not.. My own sense is that the religious formation of the priests involved contributes to a greater sense of recollection in the way in which they celebrate Mass.

I had the opportunity to hear Martin Foster (from the Bishops Conference Liturgy Commission) speak on 15th June 2010 at the Brentwood Cathedral Conference Centre. His title was “Looking forward to the new translation of the Roman Missal”. Something that came up in the discussions that Mr Foster led was the question of how a style of language in the translation of the set texts of the Liturgy has had a clear influence on the style of the language of celebrants when making use of freedoms allowed by the rubrics of the Ordinary Form to use their own words. That the rather everyday language of the present ICEL translations has encouraged an everyday and less sacred style of celebration was a clear implication to be drawn from these discussions.

The question raised is whether, with the new translations which promise a more explicitly sacred language and style, priests will be willing to take up a more sacred style of celebration. The new translation does appear to offer an opportunity for priests to respond to the more sacred and faithful style of celebration of the Ordinary Form that is expected by the idea of mutual enrichment associated with Summorum Pontificum

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Jessica Hausner's Lourdes

Whilst in Liverpool recently, I spoke about this film to a regular Lourdes pilgrim one mealtime.

Today, I received the comment that I reproduce below:
Frank Knight said...


I read your original review (of last October) this week, and was stimulated by it to go and see the film.

I found it deeply moving, tender, beautifully acted, extremely well scripted and superbly edited and dubbed. The scenes with the disabled were particularly subtle: without the exaggeration or tendentiousness they'd normally get in a US or GB film. The 'coolness' of the surface did not disturb me at all; on the contrary, it seemed to make the drama and its tensions more powerful. (And in any case, such rhythmic stylization is a normal spatial device in Franco-German theatre and cinema.)

The audience in the small cinema was audibly caught up, particularly at the key moments of surprise. No one wanted to leave before the very final credit.

I found it a riveting study of the ambiguity of belief-scepticism, very much in the classic 20th century tradition of Mauriac, Bernanos, Claudel and (in England) Graham Greene.

I can't see that a 'Catholic' film about such a subject could more effectively illuminate what - from human sight - seems to be a wilfully random divine intervention. Or that it could more lovingly portray hope, envy, despair, and simple compassion.

My conclusion was that Jessica Hausner has - consciously or unconsciously - retained far more of her faith than she perhaps realizes or wants to publicly accept. Having been through a similar trajectory in the past, I feel great sympathy.

Rita's rebrand

... is suggested here.

In today's Times, Ruth Gledhill seems to undergo hyperinflation with regard to the costs of the Papal visit "with critics claiming the final price could reach £100 million" in the third paragraph .... Despite the final sentence of her report being: "The estimated cost was now approaching £20 million", this appearing from the context in the report to be an estimate from Lord Patten but not actually being accredited to him.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

At the seaside ...

A day out yesterday to Frinton, to paddle in the sea. Lots of families out on the beach and in the sea.




Home via Holy Mass at Ingatestone; and ending here for dinner ...


Saturday, 3 July 2010

New City Magazine: July 2010

It is a little while since I posted on the contents of one of the various publications that come through my letter box, but a couple of articles in the July issue of New City, the monthly magazine of the Focolare, caught my eye.

The first was a review of the book "A Whispered Name", by William Brodrick. I read this about a year ago, and found it most interesting. It is interesting from the point of view of the history of the execution of deserters during the First World War, from the point of view of Irish soldiers serving with the British Army during that War, and from the point of view of its Catholic background. I did find it a gripping story, which unfolds its mystery as you go along.

Another article caught my eye, written by an Anglican priest about industrial chaplaincy on Tyneside. The idea of such chaplaincy is one that I find interesting. Parallels exist in some large shopping centres, such as Lakeside near me in Thurrock, where there are chaplaincy arrangements. The idea of industrial chaplaincy responds to some of the needs identified in the "Mission to France" worker-priests movement of the inter-war years. It also strikes me as being a profoundly diaconal ministry, so one that would be very appropriate as pastoral activity to be undertaken by permanent deacons, deacons who could easily have paid employment in industry. There are some specific professional areas where such chaplaincy is well established - hospital chaplaincy (though for institutional purposes this might be branded as a "pastoral and spiritual" care), port chaplaincy and university chaplaincy. In the former two of these, ecumenical chaplaincy arrangements are common.

In these types of chaplaincy arrangements, a lot of the time is spent simply being alongside people in their particular places in life. There are times when conversation might be explicitly religious - but many other times when it isn't and conversation is made up of the common place of every day life. In terms of evangelisation, activity is at the level of "presence in charity". In one sense the example that John Clasper gave in his article is untypical in this context; but I suspect that it is a question that comes up more often in Catholic life than one might realise.
Over lunch he told me that, as a practising Catholic, he had a problem he could not see a way around. His wife had died some years ago, and in recent years he had met a woman he was beginning to love and wanted to marry. The difficulty was that she was divorced, her first husband was still alive and he had been told that he would not be allowed to receive Communion when he attended Mass, if he went ahead with his proposal. What could he do? It seemed that God had brought the two of them together and the Church seemed to be standing in the way of a future happy relationship. His only option was to give up being a Roman Catholic and transfer to a church where his problem would be more sympathetically dealt with. Could he become an Anglican?
To his credit, and thanks to his experience of the spirituality of the Focolare movement, this Anglican priest recognised the significance of obedience to Church leaders, in this case the Pope, as guardians of God's love and grace, and this guided his support of this individual. But what theological/pastoral grounds can we use to indicate how someone in this situation should choose their course of action?

I would suggest two ideas here. One is to look at the sections of the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius Loyola dedicated to choosing a way of life. As well as offering clear teaching, this also offers practical guidance about the process of making a choice. It's introduction suggests that in many cases people make choices that put the means first - marriage, priesthood, etc - and the end - the service of God - second, whereas these considerations should be reversed in the process of making the choice. An assumption underlying its pastoral approach is that the object about which a choice is being made should be in accord with the teaching of the Church. I think that the Spiritual Exercises provide a very useful way of approaching this situation where it is so easy to see "the Church" as standing in the way of a happy outcome, a way that combines pastoral care with faithfulness to the Church.

In the particular situation encountered by our Anglican chaplain, I think there is a second important consideration. It is the possibility of a good, Christian friendship that does not involve marriage. This is in itself a way of life in the Church, and can be the same kind of witness in a parish community as that of married people. An aspect of similar situations that might arise, though perhaps not directly in the case described in the New City article, is that of recognising when someone is "not available" because of permanent life choices that have already been made, and respecting that. This too can issue in friendships, appropriate to the particular circumstances.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Bishop Mixa's audience with Pope Benedict

One can only imagine what it must have been like for Bishop Mixa as he went to meet Pope Benedict today. His offer of resignation from his position of Bishop of Augsburg was reported here, on the BBC news website.

Pope Benedict's acceptance of that resignation was confirmed definitively at today's audience. What could also be seen as a canonical penalty - a time of silence, prayer and reconciliation - was also announced. One should not take away from the communique about Bishop Mixa's meeting with Pope Benedict any idea that no action is being taken against him.

The full text of the communique can be found here, at the Vatican news service blog. I found the following part of it particularly moving:
[Bishop Mixa] once again requested forgiveness for all his mistakes but also, and rightly, asks that despite those mistakes, all the good he has done not be forgotten.


The Holy Father expressed the hope that this request for forgiveness will find open ears and open hearts.Following a period of often excessive polemics, the Pope hopes for reconciliation, for a new and reciprocal acceptance in the spirit of mercy of the Lord and in faithful abandonment to His guidance. Above all, the Supreme Pontiff asks his confreres in the episcopal ministry to offer Bishop Mixa, more than in the past, their friendship and closeness, their understanding, and their help to find the right path.