Friday, 31 December 2010

Christmas Day Homily

For the Octave Day of Christmas, I link to the homily that I was able to hear at Christmas Midnight Mass.

Pope Paul VI Memorial Lecture 2010 (2): more analysis

I promised some time ago that I would post a more analytical commment on the 2010 Pope Paul VI Memorial Lecture, when a full text was  available. The text has been published on the Tablet website, and I have been prompted to keep my promise by the reference to Haiti in Pope Benedict XVI's Urbi et Orbi address:
May the comforting message of the coming of Emmanuel ease the pain and bring consolation amid their trials to the beloved Christian communities in Iraq and throughout the Middle East; may it bring them comfort and hope for the future and bring the leaders of nations to show them effective solidarity. May it also be so for those in Haiti who still suffer in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake and the recent cholera epidemic.
The first point that can be made about Claudette Werleigh's lecture is what one might call a methodological point. She presents an account of the situation in Haiti, and then applies to that account by way of comment the thought of the magisterium of the Church through citation, for example, of Paul VI's encyclical Populorum Progressio or Benedict XVI's encyclical Caritas in Veritate.

A second key point in the lecture is the idea of "human flourishing", and the application of this idea in evaluating engagement with the disasters of earthquake and cholera in Haiti. Claudette Werleigh refers in particular to a paper by Celia Deane-Drummond to express this idea, but I have not been able to find the text of this paper. I believe that it was one of a number of background papers written to support the publication of the Theos/CAFOD/Tearfund document Wholly Living: a new perspective on international development. Chapter 3 of this publication develops something of the idea of "human flourishing", recognising its religious roots in an idea of man being made in the "image and likeness of God" but also indicating that it is an idea that is not restricted to Christians. I find the philosophical development of this idea in Wholly Living rather weak, though it can I believe be developed much more strongly within the context of a philosophy of the human person. In the context of Wholly Living and of the Paul VI Lecture, it is the application of this idea in the context of international development that is the primary interest, but I think it is nevertheless useful, even in this context, to develop the concept more fully. The application of the idea to just climate change and economic matters, whilst it might be politically attractive to an agency like CAFOD, is a restricted application. A fuller development of the idea of "human flourishing" would allow its application to a much wider range of questions, less directly relevant politically, but nevertheless relevant to international development in its full sense.

The third point of interest in the lecture lies in what Claudette Werleigh has to say about the part played by Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO's) in the response to events in Haiti. Her remarks about the way in which NGO's have become almost an alternative to national sovereignty in Haiti are of interest. In one sense this represents an argument in favour of the partnership working - ie the idea that international development activity should be undertaken by supporting the work of local people in situ rather than by the bringing in of outside agencies - that has become an accepted practice in the work of aid agencies. In another way, it suggests a way of working for an international ecclesial organisation such as the Catholic Church, which of its nature is already in place in a country like Haiti. It also represents a critique of the way of operating of organisations such as the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund in their relation to NGO activity.

It is interesting to see, if the suggestions of Claudette Werleigh's citations of Paul VI and Benedict XVI are anything to go by, how prophetic Catholic social teaching is in its application to situations such as that in Haiti.

A final thought. At the beginning of her lecture, Claudette Werleigh recalled the founding charisms of both CAFOD and the organisation which she now leads, Pax Christi:
Today’s event is part of the celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of Cafod. I was very pleased to learn that CAFOD holds its roots in Family Fast Day, an event organised by women in support of a mother and child clinic in a far away country in another continent. Coincidentally, it was also a woman, Marthe Dortel-Claudot, who together with Pierre-Marie Théas, Bishop of Montauban, took the initiative to work for reconciliation between France and Germany. This initiative for peace is still being honoured and carried forward by hundreds of thousands of people all over the world as the Pax Christi movement.

Cafod and the organisation that I represent today, Pax Christi International, are determined to keep alive the legacy of Pope Paul VI. There is no doubt that we would be living now in a much better world if the recommendations given in the Encyclical letter, Populorum Progressio, had been put into practice!

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Elton John and David Furnish: what does the word "parent" really mean?

Media reports this morning are headlining the welcome that Elton John and David Furnish are giving to their newborn baby. To be more precise, they report the welcome that is being given to the birth of a baby to a surrogate mother who has carried the baby for them. The BBC News report is here, and the original report on the USmagazine.com website is here. The BBC report includes a brief account of the unsuccesful attempt made by Elton John and David Furnish to adopt a child from the Ukraine.

The couple are quoted as saying that "we are proud and happy parents", and it is going to seem churlish to make critical comment about their "happiness and joy at this very special moment". However, whilst at one level this is a matter of the personal happiness and joy of Elton John and David Furnish, and at that level is in a way a "private" matter on which it would be wrong for anyone else to comment adversely, at another level this is a matter that has implications for society as a whole and therefore affects us all. It seems to me quite appropriate to comment at this second, public level whilst remaining respectful of the choices and decisions that Elton John and David Furnish have made in their own lives.

At this second, public level I would ask the following questions.

1. Should we share the "happiness and joy" of Elton John and David Furnish at this "very special moment", or can we recognise the sadness of the situation that will overshadow the very natural instinct to share their joy? A child has been created outside of the married relationship of a man and a woman, and of the sexual act between a husband and wife. A woman from outside any such relationship has conceived and carried to term a child to meet the wishes of others - in an objective and philosophical sense, the woman has been used as a means to an end rather than being recognised as a person who is an end in herself (though subjectively it is quite possible that her experience does not reflect this and she may feel she has had a positive experience of the events). The media reports indicate that the privacy of the surrogacy arrangements are going to be protected, so we may never know the whole story of this. A child has been created in a way that can be described as "instrumental" and, whilst to speculate about the motivation of Elton John and David Furnish would be to trespass on to the level of this matter that is rightly "private", nevertheless the precedent that it sets in the public consciousness for other same-sex couples raises the question at the public level of the creation of children, not as persons who are philosophically speaking an end in themselves, but are a means to fulfilling the felt needs of the same-sex couple.

2. What does it mean to be a "parent"? Can one separate the idea of being a "parent" from that of being a "father" and a "mother", as is being done very readily in this case? Should we go along with the implicit redefining of the idea of being a "parent" that removes from that idea the sense of male and female complementarity? The question can be examined from the point of view of biology, in which case parenthood might be defined by the male gene set ("fatherhood") and the female gene set ("motherhood") that come together, through the sexual relationship of the "father" and "mother",  to create the embryo and the new baby. Implicit at this biological level is the demand to care for the new baby that is also associated with the terms "father" and "mother". The question can also be examined from the point of view of persons - the "father" is the male figure who cares for the person of the new baby and the "mother" is the female figure who cares for that same person. Across both points of view a male-female complementarity is apparent. However a key insight of the teaching of Humanae Vitaethough apparent there in a different specific context, comes into play at this point. There should not be a chosen and willed separation of the content of the terms "father" and "mother" viewed from the point of view of persons from the content of those same terms viewed from the biological point of view. The two points of view offer an integrated, single concept of being a "parent" and therefore of being a "father" or a "mother". The one can only be truly lived if the other is also truly lived. Now Elton John and David Furnish might well have responsibility for the care of the baby that has been conceived and born for them, but that relationship of care is not one that can be correctly termed as being a "parent" or being "parents". One of the couple might be the "father" in the genetic sense, but not in any other sense. Neither of them is in any sense a "mother". So I think we should offer some critique of the way in which Elton John and David Furnish are describing themselves as "proud parents".

In summary, whilst at one level respecting the choices that Elton John and David Furnish have made in their own lives, at another level I feel able to offer a public critique of what they have done in using a surrogate mother to have a child. I am not able at this second, public level to share their "happiness and joy" or to accept that they are "parents" in a genuine sense.

UPDATE: Paulinus has a useful post on this matter here. The discussion among the comments to his post is also worth reading.

Vatican-Chinese relations

On the feast of Pentecost in 2007, Pope Benedict XVI wrote a letter to the members of the Catholic Church in the Peoples Republic of China. It seemed to me - and I posted on it here  - that a key concern of this letter was to encourage unity between those Catholics who had remained loyal to the Holy See (the "underground Church") and those who had joined the Patriotic Association. After the publication of the letter, there seemed to be a growing rapprochement between the Catholics of the "underground Church" and those of the Patriotic Association, one evidence of this being the funeral of  Bishop James Lin Xili of Wenzhou. Another evidence of this rapprochement was the ordination of some bishops who met with both the approval of the Holy See and of the Chinese state authorities. This report from AsiaNews is indicative of a series of Episcopal ordinations that have taken place during 2010, the new bishops being approved by the Holy See and recognised by the Chinese authorities.

However, this rapprochement, hopeful as it is, does not represent the full picture of events in China. In other respects, the persecution and harrasment of Catholics in China continued. As I cite, in commenting on Tony Blair's speech at Rimini in August 2009, a range of harrassing actions against Christians have and are taking place in China. Catholics in particular were the target of the suppression of the pilgrimage to Sheshan. In the context of the Beijing Olympic Games, there is a real sense that the Chinese authorities were saying one thing in public about religious freedom but, on the ground, doing the opposite.

In November 2010 we saw the visit to China by the British Prime Minister, David Cameron. His visit was dominated by the negotiation of trade agreements. Once again, this gave the impression of a "normality" about life in China, and about the relations that other countries have with China.
However, shortly after this visit, the Chinese authorities, through a coercion of the Patriotic Association, have insisted on the illicit ordination of a bishop. This was reported here at ZENIT. Father Jincai is the vice secretary-general of the Catholic Patriotic Association, and the Holy See repeatedly made clear to the Chinese authorities that his ordination did not have the approval of the Holy See. An assembly of the Chinese Patriotic Association also took place at the beginning of December, after the Holy See had urged Bishops and priests not to take part. Once again, coercion on the part of the Chinese authorities played a part in their participation. The sense that the Chinese authorities are presenting one face in public, and another on the ground can be felt again.

The response of the Vatican to these developments is expressed most formally in a statement in response to the illicit ordination and  a note issued on 17th December, both posted in full by ZENIT. These two statements give an indication of the events leading up to the illicit ordination and the assembly, and states with clarity the position of the Holy See with regard to Church/State relations in China. They represent a robust response to the actions of the Chinese authorities, which have undermined a previously growing understanding between them and the Holy See during a series of Episcopal ordinations.

This is the context of Pope Benedict's mention of the Church in China towards the end of his "Urbi et Orbe" message on Christmas Day. It follows earlier appeals for prayer on behalf of the Church in China.

May the birth of the Saviour strengthen the spirit of faith, patience and courage of the faithful of the Church in mainland China, that they may not lose heart through the limitations imposed on their freedom of religion and conscience but, persevering in fidelity to Christ and his Church, may keep alive the flame of hope. May the love of “God-with-us” grant perseverance to all those Christian communities enduring discrimination and persecution ...

Monday, 27 December 2010

Chiara Lubich: Why Christmas Never Grows Old

This meditation by Chiara Lubich appeared in the December 2010 edition of New City.

I think Christmas never grows old,
because it is a deeply human,
as well as a divine mystery.

God, in becoming a human being, raised humanity
to the dizzy heights of the divine,
but at the same time he made it manifest
disclosing its mystery to people in ecstacy.

Christmas means the warmth of the family,
the amazing phenomenon of motherhood,
the continuity of life through fatherhood.

Christmas means, for the Christian and for humanity -
besides the dawn of Redemption -
the day in which humanity rediscovers itself, its true self,
because it is grafted into God.

Her Majesty's Christmas Broadcast: the King James Bible

"The Queen speaks about building communities through religion and sport during her annual 'Queen's Speech'." This is how the official website of the British Monarchy trailed this year's Christmas Broadcast. Much of the media coverage picked up on the "sport" and didn't give much attention to the "religion", though this might have been the result of the emphasis of the Monarchy's own advance coverage.

For the record, the full text of Her Majesty's Christmas Day Broadcast can be found here, and the video version here (yes, HM is on youtube). The video version includes clips of young people reading extracts from the nativity stories in the King James version of the Bible, that are absent from the written text.

I found the Queen's remarks about the King James version of the Bible interesting. Indeed, the recording of the Broadcast at Hampton Court was precisely because that was the location of the conference in 1604 at which the suggestion of a new English translation of the Bible was made.
Here at Hampton Court in 1604, he [James I of England and VI of Scotlnad] convened a conference of churchmen of all shades of opinion to discuss the future of Christianity in this country. The King agreed to commission a new translation of the Bible that was acceptable to all parties. This was to become the King James or Authorized Bible, which next year will be exactly four centuries old.

Acknowledged as a masterpiece of English prose and the most vivid translation of the scriptures, the glorious language of this Bible has survived the turbulence of history and given many of us the most widely-recognised and beautiful descriptions of the birth of Jesus Christ which we celebrate today.
The account of this same conference in Christopher Lee's book This Sceptred Isle, based on a BBC radio series of some years ago, is as follows. Lee's quotation is from Winston Churchill's history of Great Britain:
The bishops, fearful that the Puritan leaders would have their way with the new King, came up with a plan to load the forthcoming conference with moderate Puritan speakers rather than zealots. The result was a few changes with which the bishops could agree, certain disappointments for the Puritan leaders, but most of all, a declaration that brought non-conformist minsiters into some sort of line. There were few moments of accord in that conference; but the leader of the Puritan delegation, Dr John Reynolds, came up with a suggestion that particularly gained the King's attention, and whose results have had a lasting effect.

"Reynolds, President of the Oxford College of Corpus Christi, had asked, seemingly on the spur of the moment, if a new version of the Bible could be produced. The idea appealed to [King] James. Till now the clergy had relied on a number of different translations ... Each party and sect used the version which best suited its own views and doctrines"
Churchill observes that the resulting King James Bible "won an immediate and lasting triumph ...This may be deemed James's greatest achievement, for the impulse was largely his".

As the Queen observes, the intention of this translation was to produce a version of the Bible that was acceptable for use by Christians of differing shades of opinion in the England and Scotland of the time. In this sense it had a fundamental intention of working towards unity among Christians. In that light, the methodology adopted is interesting. According to Christopher Lee, again quoting Winston Churchill:
Tendentious renderings were forbidden, and marginal notes or glosses were prohibited except for cross references or to explain the meaning of Greek or Hebrew words which were difficult to translate. About three years passed in preliminary research, and the main work did not get under way till 1607.
The work was undertaken by 6 committees or "companies", two in Oxford, two in Cambridge and two in London. Each "company", a total of some 50 scholars and divines, was allocated a different part of the text to translate. The work of each company was scrutinised by the other companies, and then the whole text scrutinised by supervisory committee. At a time when there was no e-mail or internet (or, as Churchill points out, no official postal service or mechanical method of copying and duplicating texts) the companies finished their work between 1607 and 1609. [Aside: perhaps ICEL can learn something ...]

At a time when the place of religion in public life is very much a hot topic, one can see in the text of Her Majesty's broadcast the discretion that is typical of Queen Elizabeth. The section of the Christmas Broadcast referring to the place of sport in building communities was to be read, I think, in the context of the preparations for the 2012 Olympic Games. One can see the resonance between this and a contemporary political agenda, and the particular contribution that the Royal Family makes to this through the Commonwealth, and the Commonwealth Games in particular. A very discrete sentence at the end of the Queen's Broadcast asserts a place for religious belonging in society as whole, and a quotation from the King James version offers a suggestion of the contribution of Christianity to the common good:
People are capable of belonging to many communities, including a religious faith.
‘Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should to do to you, do ye even so to them’.
Roman Catholics were the target of legal penalty and religious persecution at the time that the King James version was produced, and so played no part in its production. With the development of an ecumenical sensitivity, we might now look back and see the unifying intent of the King James version as being flawed because of this exclusion of Catholics from its preparation. So what should our attitude to the 400th anniversary of the King James version be?

Whilst recognising that the anniversary is one that belongs particularly to the Established Church, and to the non-conformist tradition from which the suggestion for the new translation of the Bible came, I do think we should be willing to celebrate the anniversary as representing the presence of the Christian heritage of our lands in the present day. I think we can, too, give recognition to the move towards unity among other Christians that it represented, even though Catholics were not a part of its preparation. We might celebrate the anniversary by familiarising ourselves with the King James Bible's accounts of the key events of the Christian mystery - Christmas, Holy Week and Easter, and Pentecost. I think we can also recognise the beauty and splendour of the language of the translation. I cannot see why a Catholic parish should not, at some time during the anniversary year, use the texts of the King James Bible as a basis for a celebration of those three key events of the Christian mystery.

Catholic Analysis also comments on the King James version.

Friday, 24 December 2010

What did the Archbishop really say?

Following the indications of these two posts - one and two - I listened to some sections of this morning's Today Programme on the i-Player and not just to the "Thought for the Day" by Pope Benedict.

Catherine Pepinster was put up against Keith Porteous Wood, of the National Secular Society, and, from the part that I listened to, seemed to be scoring some good points off him. The Today presenter caught out Mr Porteous Wood's claim of unfair coverage for religion by pointing out that he was on the programme and so allowed to present his point of view.

At 8.10, Archbishop Longley was interviewed by John Humphries, and it is this interview that caused the two bloggers linked to above to be somewhat unhappy. Having listened to this interview in full, I agree with those commenters at Fr Ray's post who feel that Archbishop Longley did a good job in a challenging media slot. There were some clear traps there in John Humphries questioning (though I do not believe John Humphries displayed any malice in his conduct of the interview), and, in avoiding them, Archbishop Longley did well in resisting the direction in which John Humphries was trying to lead him. It would, for example, have been a PR disaster if Archbishop Longley had said that Church was never going to change its teaching (ie is and is going to stay out of touch with society and progress as a whole, in the media translation that would have taken place following the provision of such a sound bite) or that the Church was going to change its teaching (which would have been picked up by the media without need of any translation had that sound bite been provided).

So exactly what did Archbishop Longley say by referring to Cardinal Newman's notion of development of doctrine, and by his references to "adaptation" earlier in the interview?

As far as "adaptation" goes, I think a careful listen to the interview shows that Archbishop Longley was referring to adaptation in the way in which Catholic teaching is presented. This is, understood properly rather than just by taking the word "adaptation" and ignoring the word "presented", quite unproblematical (in my view, anyway). Indeed, in the context of the events of the day, the question of how Catholic teaching is presented to the world of today was quite to the point. It has a certain parallel in Pope Benedict's book Light of the World (pages 146-7), where the Holy Father says after affirming the validity of the teaching of Humanae Vitae:
The basic lines of Humanae Vitae are still correct. Finding ways to enable people to live the teaching, on the other hand, is a further question.
An answer along these lines might have been useful for Archbishop Longley when he was challenged by John Humphries about the numbers of Catholics who do not accept the Church's teaching against contraception, abortion, women priests.

By referring to Cardinal Newman's theory of development in Christian doctrine, Archbishop Longley avoided providing the two alternative and unhelpful sound bites mentioned above. If we recall that three of the marks of true development that Cardinal Newman identifies in his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine are preservation of its type, continuity of its principles and conservative action upon its past, the substance of Archbishop Longley's citing of the theory was that the Church's teaching would not be changing. But he was saying this in a way that recognised that the keeping of that teaching was a question of a living encounter rather than just a traditionalist adherence to the past. The following quotes are from Newman:
An idea then does not always bear about it the same external image; this circumstance, however, has no force to weaken the argument for its substantial identity, as drawn from its external sameness, when such sameness remains....

... the continuity or the alteration of the principles on which an idea has developed is a second mark of discrimination between a true development and a corruption....

As developments which are preceded by definite indications have a fair presumption in their favour, so those which do but contradict and reverse the course of doctrine which has been developed before them, and out of which they spring, are certainly corrupt; for a corruption is a development in that very stage in which it ceases to illustrate, and begins to disturb, the acquisitions gained in its previous history.
Being aware of this implication of Archbishop Longley's reference to Newman is really quite important to understanding his remarks properly.

I did not listen to the "hand bags at dawn"/"catfight" between Polly Toynbee and Christina Odone.

God is always faithful to his promises

God is always faithful to his promises, but he often surprises us in the way he fulfils them.

I missed Pope Benedict's "Thought for the Day"  this morning - I didn't wake up in time. [ZENIT have the text of the transcript here, in case the BBC page is not permanent.]I did catch Archbishop Nichols speaking on Radio 2's "Pause for thought" just after 9 am. As Archbishop Nichols referred to Pope Benedict's earlier address, citing the strap line - "God is always faithful to his promises, but he often surprises us in the way he fulfils them" - I was struck by the number of different situations I have been involved in over the last year or so to which those words could be applied.

Pope Benedict's address is a straightforward and confident teaching of the event of the birth of Jesus Christ and of its significance for the world. Archbishop Nichols' remarks, the influence of Blessed John Henry Newman very apparent in them, asked those who do not share Christian faith to be open to the intuition, to the instinct, that underlies the Christmas story. That trust in our intution is completely in accord with reason, and not contrary to it.

The full text of Archbishop Nichols remarks is below, and available (but not, I suspect, permanently) on the BBC Radio 2 website:
"Last night I kicked off my shoes and watched the last episode of ‘The Nativity’ on BBC One. I hope you did too. It was such a beautiful portrayal of the birth of Jesus.

Then, this morning, I was all ears as broadcasting history was made over on Radio 4: Pope Benedict giving his lovely thought for this day, Christmas Eve. He reminded us of his gracious and encouraging visit to the UK in September and he promised to remember us in his prayers.

He also said this: ‘God is always faithful to his promises, but he often surprises us in the way he fulfils them.’

These words were dramatically illustrated in the TV Nativity.

We followed the story of Thomas, a young hot-headed shepherd, brimming with anger and resentment at the tough circumstances he faced. He found peace beyond his dreams as he kissed the tiny foot of the baby Jesus.

The three wise men came, searching for the ‘Light of the World’, astonished to find him in a stable. They bowed low to honour him, presenting their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, no doubt prepared for a palace!

And Joseph, too, finding love at Mary’s side, precisely where he thought he had been betrayed. God fulfils his promises in surprising ways!

Of course, some want to mock this story, insisting that faith in God is an illusion, offensive to our reasoning minds. But is love an illusion, or beauty, even if we can’t explain them in terms of reason alone? Certainly not! Christmas is a time to learn again to trust these instincts of ours, to recognise in these intuitions a way of knowing which is neither an illusion nor unreasonable. Then we can come to God-made-man, when he comes to us in poverty and vulnerability for our sake. From him, surprisingly, we too can receive peace, light and love.

Happy Christmas everyone!"
This last paragraph goes very well with Pope Benedict's own words.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

The Benedict bounce?

I first heard the news that Pope Benedict XVI will be broadcasting the "Thought for the Day" tomorrow, Christmas Eve, in a Radio 2 top-of-the-hour news bulletin. These are short news bulletins, most often occuring on the hour between (or during) programmes that are not current affairs programmes. I happend to catch this bit of news in the morning during the Chris Evans breakfast show.

I was very taken by Chris Evans reaction, in the comment he made as he resumed his programme after the news bulletin. I cannot remember his exact words, but they were close to "How cool is that! Booking the Pope for a slot in your programme". I was firstly taken by how significant a figure Chris Evans understood the Holy Father to be, in that being able to book him for a piece on a radio programme was considered to be such a coup. The second thing that struck me was that there was also a sense in which he did not consider it an unusual thing for the Pope to be broadcasting on the BBC. And then I wondered how odd or strange it might have all seemed before the Papal visit in September of this year; but that, after that visit, it seems almost what one would expect.  Chris Evans reaction reminded me of that of a presenter on BBC Radio London, who, talking in September about things happening in London that day, referred with a clear sense of pride to "the second day of Pope Benedict's visit to our city".

I caught part of the Chris Evans show this morning, too. The programme was coming live from the residence of the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, with the participation of the Archbishop himself (almost as a co-presenter). Once again, Chris Evans attitude to the whole thing seemed very positive and both he and Archbishop Sentamu (and his collaborators at the arch-episcopal residence) appear to have enjoyed the whole thing immensely. Once again, I wondered whether such a confident and open engagement with Christianity in the context of an ordinary, non-religious radio programme, would have occurred, say, this time last year.

The National Secular Society seem strangely irrelevant, if not somewhat hypocritical in their response. On the one hand they excoriate the invitation extended by the BBC to Pope Benedict and on the other are trying to get their own point of view in to the very same slot.

Long live the Benedict bounce!

23rd December 2010

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Civil partnerships for opposite-sex couples

Today's news has reported the legal case being taken to the European Court of Human Rights, a case that seeks to allow same-sex couples to marry and which seeks to allow opposite-sex couples to enter into a civil partnership. Whilst respect should be given to the genuine intentions of the eight couples involved in this appeal, the circumstances of the appeal indicate clearly that there is here an attempt, not just for legal change, but for cultural change. The circumstances to which I am referring are the support of the appeal by a campaign called Equal Love. [According to this post on the Equal Love website: "The Equal Love campaign is organised by the LGBT rights group OutRage! and coordinated by the human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, with the support of the Peter Tatchell Human Rights Fund."]

It was interesting to catch the interview with one of the opposite-sex couples involved in the case on Radio 4's Today programme this morning. The articulation of why the couple did not wish to marry was informative. The substance of this articulation can also be found in a post on the Equal Love website. The key quotes from this post are respectively from Tim Garret and Lucy Hilken, the couple involved:
“A civil partnership is preferable for me because it is an institution devoid of the patriarchal and religious authoritarianism that goes with marriage.

“We have no desire to enter into a marriage contract. However, we do want legal recognition of our relationship and would prefer a civil partnership because it is free from the negative, orthodox traditions of marriage.

"I also feel strongly that if marriage has evolved in to a modern institution that has moved away from its religious and sexist history, then gay people should have the right to get married if that is what they want."
The ideological antagonism towards the institution of marriage, as that institution is ordinarily understood, which underlies this wish for a civil partnership is very clear. An underlying relativism with regard to the institution of marriage is also apparent. As presented on the Equal Love website, this appears as just a question of equality for same-sex couples who wish to marry and opposite-sex couples who wish to enter in to a civil partnership. The underlying re-defining of what marriage is, however, has a much wider ramification for society as a whole. The organisation of the Equal Love campaign by an LGBT campaigning group suggests that they, too, are aware of the wider implications of this question.

At stake is not just equality for the two categories of people bringing the European Court of Human Rights case but also equality for those who wish to enter in to a marriage that is understood in the sense of a permanent commitment of a man and a woman ordered towards children. Marriage understood in this way has already been undermined by ready access to divorce, and the present campaign only undermines it further.

Pope Benedict XVI's words, at the end of his address to Her Majesty the Queen at Holyrood Palace, indicate a key point (my emphasis added):
Today, the United Kingdom strives to be a modern and multicultural society. In this challenging enterprise, may it always maintain its respect for those traditional values and cultural expressions that more aggressive forms of secularism no longer value or even tolerate. Let it not obscure the Christian foundation that underpins its freedoms; and may that patrimony, which has always served the nation well, constantly inform the example your Government and people set before the two billion members of the Commonwealth and the great family of English-speaking nations throughout the world.
It is a deceptive freedom (equality) that is promised by access to civil partnerships for opposite-sex couples and access to marriage for same-sex couples. As Pope Benedict suggests, our country would do well not to lose sight of the Christian foundation that underpins freedom in this matter as in so many others.

[Fr Tim links to an academic study from the United States that is pertinent to this question.]

Monday, 20 December 2010

Fr Cantalamessa's Third Advent Homily

The theme of Fr Cantalamessa's third homily for the Holy Father and members of the Roman Curia was "The Christian Response to Rationalism". The full text can be found here. I am usually minded to advise "reading the whole", as any comment easily gives only a partial impression, and I would do the same in this case, too.

Once again, Fr Cantalamessa draws significantly on the thought of Blessed John Henry Newman. The first point that Fr Cantalemessa makes is that it is a usurpation of reason (Newman's phrase) when it attempts to reason about religion upon purely secular maxims, maxims that are intrinsically foreign to the nature of religion. This does not mean for Newman that we must reject the style of reason that is of our general use when we come to study matters of religion, and replace it with another and contradictory style of reason. Religion is rightly the subject of such study. But the appopriate application of that rational study reveals that, in the case of religious belief, there are other, wider factors at play too. These wider factors have a rationality of their own style, and it is the offence of rationalism to exclude these wider factors.
"... When the Gospel is said to require a rational faith, this need not mean more than that faith is accordant to right reason in the abstract, not that it results from it in the particular case." [A footnote cites the University Sermons]
Taking up Newman's thought again, Fr Cantalamessa argues that:
Rationalism cannot be combated with another rationalism, although of a contrary sign. Hence, another way must be found that does not pretend to replace the rational defense of the faith, but to accompany it, also because the recipients of the Christian proclamation are not only intellectuals, able to engage in this type of debate, but also ordinary people who are indifferent to it and more sensitive to other arguments.
This leads Fr Cantalamessa to considering how a reflection on rationalism has implications for the evangelising mission of the Church. In speaking of how the divine and the sacred impact upon us uninvited, he suggests that a recovery of the sense of the sacred - be that in the religious experience of the community of those who hold a religious belief, in the religious experience of the individual who is a mystic and receives a particular gift of encounter with God, or be that in the experience of one who recognises the sacred in the observation of the world around us. Fr Cantalamessa draws significantly on Rudolf Otto's phenomenology of the religious experience of man, translated in English with the title "The Idea of the Holy".
If this is so, the re-evangelization of the secularized world must pass also through the recovery of the sense of the sacred. The terrain of culture of rationalism -- its cause and at the same time its effect -- is the loss of the sense of the sacred; it is necessary therefore that the Church help men to re-ascend the slope and rediscover the presence and beauty of the sacred in the world. Charles Peguy said that "the terrible penury of the Sacred is the profound mark of the modern world." One notices it in every aspect of life, but in particular in art, in literature and in everyday language. For many authors, to be described as "desecrating" is no longer an offense, but a compliment.
Fr Cantalamessa argues that, in addition to what I might call the reason of intellect the field of religious belief has also a reason of witness or of testimony, the two reasons being quite open to each other and not at all contradictory. When an individual person comes to religious belief, it is generally the case that factors other than intellectual argument have been at play in their journey, and these other factors are perfectly rational.
Theologian Karl Rahner, taking up, it seems, a phrase of Raymond Pannikar, affirmed: "The Christian of tomorrow, will either be a mystic or he won't be." He intended to say that, in the future, to keep faith alive would be the testimony of persons who have a profound experience of God, more than the demonstration of his rational plausibility. Essentially, Paul VI said the same thing when he affirmed in "Evangelii Nuntiandi" (No. 4): "Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses."
And he finishes by suggesting that Christmas, being more than ever challenged in its authentic meaning by secularising and materialistic influences, provides a privileged opportunity for Christians to recognise and live out a sense of the sacred in the world.
 
Oh, and along the way Fr Cantalamessa cites Edith Stein as an example of one whose mystical experience exemplifies how vivid is their discovery of God. In later conversation with her closest friend, Hedwig Conrad-Martius, the friend at whose house she was staying when the incident referred to below occurred, Edith Stein would refer to her journey to the Catholic faith as "my secret for myself" (Secretum meum mihi) and not disclose anything more about it:
It was precisely from one of these encounters that a disciple of philosopher Husserl, a Jewess and convinced atheist, one night discovered the living God. I am speaking of Edith Stein, now St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. She was a guest of Christian friends and one evening when they had to go out, she stayed alone in the house and not knowing what to do, took a book from their library and began to read it. It was the autobiography of Saint Teresa of Avila. She went on to read it the whole night. Having come to the end, she simply exclaimed: "this is the truth!" Early in the morning she went to the city to buy a Catholic catechism and a Missal and, after having studied them, went to a neighboring church and asked the priest to baptize her.

Poverty, Chastity and Obedience

A lovely post on this theme at Bridges and Tangents. I was particularly struck by the observations about the angel, and the way in which the Virgin Mary does meet the angel again, in the representation by Pier Paolo Pasolini, at the tomb.

A new Syllabus of Errors?

I couldn't help a mischievous thought when I read about the suggestion from what I might call a "traditionalist tendency" (no offence or personal slight intended, but I think the phrase does reflect accurately a certain reality in the Church) that a new Syllabus condemning infallibly the abuses and misinterpretations of the Second Vatican Council should be prepared by the Supreme Magisterium of the Church. The suggestion is reported here and here.

The thought is not sinful - after all, it wasn't initially willed but inadvertent. Neither do I think its further propagation to be sinful - though clearly the thought has now been "entertained" rather than dismissed, or at least attempted to be dismissed, from the mind.

And that thought was to advise that those of a traditionalist frame of mind might exercise some caution with this suggestion. After all, should the Syllabus be produced in the manner suggested, and something appear in the list of condemned propositions that they think should not be there, they might find themselves in a bit of a pickle.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Year of Catholic Education: Nottingham Diocese

Since it is Bishop Malcolm McMahon OP who leads for the Bishops Conference on education, it should perhaps not be a surprise that his diocese has a well prepared initiative to mark the Year of Catholic Education. It is called The Angelus Project.

It is an encouraging project in two respects. It does, in the first place, express something that is specifically religious in Catholic education. In the second place, it reflects the overall theme that has been taken for the Year of Catholic Education: "I have come that they may have life to the full". The five listed themes - Sainthood, Service, Vocation, Communication, and Prayer - seem to embrace the idea of the common good in a way that includes the religious (see my earlier post on the Year of Catholic Education).

The project takes its name from the prayer of the Angelus, which it encourages schools to use with their pupils. Others in the diocese are also being encouraged to pray the Angelus, as close as possible to 12 noon each day. Among the resources on the Angelus Project page, I liked:

- the adapted version of the Angelus prayer for use with very young children, which I thought preserved the integrity of the prayer whilst presenting it in an age suitable way

- the Angelus hymn, which is simple but attractive to sing (listen to the .mp3 here) and the words of which are profoundly evangelising.

This encouragement of the praying of the Angelus can be evaluated within the framework of the Church's understanding of its mission of evangelisation. In that context, it can act as "primary proclamation" of core Christian teaching - the coming of Jesus Christ, God made man, to live among us and to die for us. This is explicit in the words of the Angelus hymn, and attention could usefully be drawn to it from time to time as the hymn is used in schools. If a contemporary arrangement of the Regina Caeli is used during Eastertide, then the proclamation of the Resurrection will be added to this proclamation of the incarnation and death of Christ. The regular use of the prayer will also encourage in pupils the element of response to that primary proclamation - something that is, again, explicit in the words of the Angelus hymn when it speaks of our praising God morning, noon and evening.

My two final thoughts are that the Angelus Project takes a devotion that could be described by the word "traditional" and presents it in a very contemporary manner. And, in undertaking an exercise in "primary proclamation", it does so in the company of the Virgin Mary thereby expressing the Marian-ecclesial character of evangelisation. I like it!

Friday, 17 December 2010

Year of Catholic Education


I have rather missed the "Year of Catholic Education" that was launched from the "Big Assembly" during Pope Benedict's visit to England. The aims of the year were expressed by Bishop Malcolm McMahon OP in announcing the year, and again in the statement of the Bishops Conference on the Papal Visit after the meeting in November 2010:
“I want to announce that following your historic visit in England and Wales, we’ll be celebrating a year of Catholic education, and this will recognise past achievements, but also look forward to a future where we ensure that only the best education is delivered to our young people.”

“We thank also the Holy Father for his emphasis on the immense value of Catholic education. We appreciate the achievements of our schools and colleges and share their commitment to the constant search for excellence. We will celebrate this in the ‘Year of Catholic Education’.
The blog for the Year of Catholic Education states its aims as follows:
During the year we are celebrating the great contribution that Catholic education makes towards the common good. We are encouraging the dioceses and Catholic schools and colleges to be in touch with us and tell us what they are doing to celebrate the Year of Catholic Education and how they can exemplify the theme of the Year of Catholic Education: “I have come so that they may have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10).
At a time when the place of the Catholic Church - indeed, of any religious faith - in the education service in our country is challenged by some, I can certainly see a political value in celebrating the achievements of Catholic schools. What will be interesting to see is how the "contribution towards the common good", the "search for excellence", of Catholic schools will be presented during the year. At one level, this is about success in examination results, and the other achievements that would be typical of any school, and quite rightly so.

But the successful promotion of the religious life of pupils and staff in Catholic schools should also be seen as part of their contribution to the common good. The rightful place of religion in the public life of the country was, after all, one of the themes of Pope Benedict's visit, achieving its clearest articulation when he spoke in Westminster Hall:
Religion, in other words, is not a problem for legislators to solve, but a vital contributor to the national conversation.
At this point, we run head on into a problem. Firstly, will those responsible for leadership in Catholic education have the political courage to speak out during the year for the religious nature of Catholic schools, when it would be easier to skip over that religious nature in favour of promoting achievements that are more acceptable to the secular elements of our society? And secondly, will those responsible for leadership in Catholic education be prepared to realistically evaluate the success or (more realistically) otherwise of Catholic schools in promoting the religious life of their pupils?

An initiative of the Catholic Truth Society, being undertaken in support of the Year of Catholic Education, illustrates this last problem quite acutely. According to the newsletter sent to CTS members, chaplains and RE teachers in Catholic schools have expressed to them a need for Bibles and copies of the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church for use in their schools. The provision of these resources to Catholic schools is the objective of their Christmas appeal 2010. These are really basic resources for the promotion of the Catholic knowledge and life of pupils attending a Catholic school, particularly a secondary school. It is surprising to realise that they are not always available in those schools.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Fr Cantalamessa's Second Advent Homily

The full text of Fr Cantalamessa's second Advent homily is now available at ZENIT. As promised, here is my further post about it.

Firstly, I think that the distinction between "secularization" and "secularism" that Fr Cantalamessa draws at the beginning of the homily is important:
Secularization is a complex and ambivalent phenomenon. It can indicate the autonomy of earthly realities and the separation between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of Cesar and, in this sense, not only is it not against the Gospel but finds in it one of its profound roots; however, it can also indicate a whole ensemble of attitudes contrary to religion and to faith; hence, the use of the term secularism is preferred. Secularism is to secularization what scientism is to scientific nature and rationalism to rationality.

In other words, there is a rightful autonomy of the things of the world in relation to the things of religious faith. This can be particularly recognised in the context of the project of science, where one can say that its methods and subject matter are rightly pursued in their own right and not in a subservience to a particular religion. This does not mean that science and religious belief have no relation to each other, but that there is a rightful autonomy in that relation. One could also argue that there is a similar rightful autonomy of politics from religion, though here it is perhaps more easy to recognise that this rightful autonomy does not mean that there is no relation at all. This rightful autonomy is what Fr Cantalamessa means by the term "secularization", and he distinguishes it from "secularism" which seeks to remove all presence of religious faith from the public realm.

In this sense, secularism is a synonym of temporality, of the reduction of the real only to the earthly dimension.

This then leads Fr Cantalamessa to the most striking aspect of his homily, that is, to the view that a recovery of the sense of eternal life is important for the preaching of the Gospel to others and for the living of the Christian life by those who are already believers.

In Christ, eternity entered into time, it manifested itself in the flesh; before him it is possible to make a decision for eternity. It is thus that the evangelist John speaks of eternal life: "We [...] proclaim to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was made visible to us" (1 John 1:2).

For the believer, eternity is not, as we see, only a hope, it is also a presence. We have this experience every time that we make a real act of faith in Christ, because "you have eternal life, you who believe in the name of the Son of God" (cf. 1 John 5:13); every time we receive Communion, in which "we are given the pledge of future glory" ("futurae gloriae nobis pignus datur"); every time we hear the words of the Gospel which are "words of eternal life" (cf. John 6:68). Also, St. Thomas Aquinas says that "grace is the beginning of glory."[8]
This appears counter-intuitive, as we would be tempted to think that making Christian faith more "relevant to the world" would be the road of the new evangelisation. Fr Cantalamessa's development of this theme demonstrates that it is what is truly relevant to the needs of the world today.

Fr Cantalamessa points out two implications for Christians. The passage from time to eternity involves a judgement between heaven and hell, something that he illustrates by quoting Cardinal Newman's poem "The Dream of Gerontius". And if we, today, are to direct our thoughts towards eternity it will involve us in entering in to the house of the Lord - or taking great joy in our participation in the liturgical life that takes place in our parish churches.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Evangelisation needs belief in eternity: Fr Cantalamessa's second Advent Sermon

ZENIT are carrying a report of Fr Cantalamessa's second Advent homily preached before the Holy Father and members of the Curia. The first sermon addressed the theme of scientism and science. This second addressed the theme of secularism. I will post a fuller comment when I have been able to access the full text of the sermon. Meanwhile, a couple of observations based on ZENIT's report.

Fr Cantalamessa's definition of secularism as "the reduction of the real only to the earthly dimension" gives an interesting foundation to the contemporary experience of secularism as the exclusion of religious expression and practice from public life, both social and political.

Fr Cantalamessa makes the very striking observation that "faith in eternal life is one of the conditions of the possibility of evangelization".

ZENIT's report concludes by quoting the following comment of Fr Cantalamessa on the Psalter:
In the Hebrew Psalter there is a group of Psalms called 'Psalms of the ascension,' or 'canticles of Sion.' They were the Psalms that Jewish pilgrims sang when they went out on pilgrimage toward the holy city, Jerusalem. One of them begins thus: 'I was glad when they said to me, "let us go to the house of the Lord!"' These Psalms of the ascension then became the Psalms of those that, in the Church, are journeying toward the heavenly Jerusalem; they are our Psalms.
The psalm quoted was that used at Mass on the First Sunday of Advent.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

The Times: Caitlin on Ann

Caitlin Moran writes on television in the review section of Saturday's Times. Her banner tells us she is "Columnist of the Year". This is what she has to say about Ann Widdecombe's participation in BBC One's Strictly Come Dancing, on 4th December.
On Strictly, Widdecombe has become the new John Sargeant: voted for, week after week, by the public despite her dancing style sitting somewhere on the spectrum between "Volvo getting a push-start" and "wardrobe being knocked over".
So, far very much in the spirit of Strictly and on a par with the accounts that some of the judges have given of Ann Widdecombe's dancing. But fast forward three paragraphs, and:
Widdecombe's continuing public popularity is bizarre. All current data indicates that her moral system works at the outermost limits of most of modern society's: she opposed the repeal of Clause 28; denies climate change; is anti-abortion; opposed the ordination of female priests: and, when Minister for Prisons, insisted that even pregnant prisoners be shackled.
I'm not sure how much of this is just simply true and how much of it has been "enhanced" or "spun".
One can only presume that the viewing public don't really know anything about her career at all, that they just think she's the cute old granny with the massive knockers who looks a bit like a Flump.
Well, ageism and sexism are both writ large here! This is not in the spirit of even the most robust comment on Strictly.
I really hope that is the case. Because if the public do know what Widdecombe's parliamentary record consisted of - essentially, voting "Yes" on any legislation that wouldn't have looked out of place in the court of Henry V - her popularity establishes a worrying precedent. On the back of her success we might presume that, even as we speak, the agents of Nick Griffin, Abu Hamza al-Masri and that couple who christened their baby "Adolf Hitler" are all being asked how their clients feel about sequins, fake tan and the cha-cha-cha.
If dear Caitlin is comparing the views of Ann Widdecombe to those of Nick Griffin et al - and I can't see that this last paragraph does anything else - then that is quite offensive. And a quite untrue comparison.

From what I have seen on Youtube, Ann Widdecombe has put herself fully into the Strictly experience and, in my view, has been treated very well by the makers and other participants in the programme. Now that she has been voted out she has had the opportunity to say just how much she has enjoyed herself on the programme. Her departure has, of course, made the news headlines on BBC Radio this evening.

No to scientism, yes to science: Fr Cantalamessa's first Advent reflection

ZENIT have posted the full text of Fr Cantalamessa's first Advent reflection, given in the presence of Pope Benedict XVI and members of the Roman Curia. In his three reflections this year Fr Cantalamessa is going to address three challenges that are faced by the project of the "new evangelisation" in the cultures of the developed nations. Scientism is the subject of this first reflection, secularism and rationalism will be the subjects of the following reflections.

It isn't really possible to do justice to Fr Cantalamessa's reflection by citing highlights, so you must read the whole to see where the following sections fit in.

Firstly, Fr Cantalamessa's quotation of Blessed John Henry Newman, in the section of his sermon entitled "No to scientism, yes to science":
The new Blessed John Henry Newman has given us a luminous example of an open and constructive attitude to science. Nine years after the publication of Darwin's work on the evolution of species, when not a few spirits around him were disturbed and perplexed, he reassured them, expressing a judgment that anticipated the Church's present one on the compatibility of such a theory with biblical faith. It is worthwhile to listen again to key passages of his letter to canon J. Walker, which still retain much of their validity: "I do not fear the theory [of Darwin] […] It does not seem to me to follow that creation is denied because the Creator, millions of years ago, gave laws to matter. He first created matter and then he created laws for it –laws which should construct it into its present wonderful beauty, and accurate adjustment and harmony of parts gradually. We do not deny or circumscribe the Creator, because we hold he has created the self acting originating human mind, which has almost a creative gift; much less then do we deny or circumscribe His power, if we hold that He gave matter such laws as by their blind instrumentality moulded and constructed through innumerable ages the world as we see it […]. Mr Darwin’s theory need not then be atheistical, be it true or not; it may simply be suggesting a larger idea of Divine Prescience and Skill […]. At first sight I do not see that ‘the accidental evolution or organic beings’ is inconsistent with divine design –It is accidental to us, not to God.”[5 - reference cites a letter of Newman to a correspondent]

Newman's great faith allowed him to look with great serenity at present and future scientific discoveries. "When a deluge of facts, ascertained or presumed, are showered on us, while an infinite number of others already begin to be delineated, all believers, whether or not Catholics, feel called to examine the meaning that such facts have."[6 - reference cites the Apologia pro vita sua] He saw in such discoveries "an indirect relation with religious opinions." An example of this relation, I think, is precisely the fact that in the same years in which Darwin elaborated the theory of evolution of the species, he enunciated, independently, his doctrine of the "development of Christian doctrine." Referring to the analogy, on this point, between the natural and physical order and the moral order, he wrote: "As the Creator rested on the seventh day after completed his work, and yet he still operates,' so he communicated once and for all the Creed at the origin, yet still favors its development and provides for its development."[7 - reference cites the Essay on Development ..]
The section of the reflection entitled "Man for the cosmos or the cosmos for man?", in which Fr Cantalamessa argues that atheistic scientism gives to man a position of complete insignificance in the universe and contrasts it to the position that man has in Christian thought, is for me the most interesting section.
This vision of man also has practical reflections at the level of culture and mentality. Thus are explained certain excesses of ecologism which tend to equate the rights of animals and even of plants with those of man. It is well-known that there are animals that are looked after and fed much better than millions of children. The influence is perceived also in the religious field. There are widespread forms of religiosity in which contact and syntony with the energies of the cosmos has taken the place of contact with God as way of salvation. What Paul said of God: "In Him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28), is said of the material cosmos....

The creation of man in the image of God has implications on the concept of man that the present debate drives us to bring to light. All is based on the revelation of the Trinity brought by Christ. Man is created in the image of God, which means that he participates in the intimate essence of God which is a relationship of love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is obvious that there is an ontological gap between God and the creature. However, through grace (never forget this specification!) this gap is filled, so much so that it is less profound than the one that exists between man and the rest of creation.

Only man, in fact, in as much as person capable of relations, participates in the personal and relational dimension of God, he is His image. Which means that he, in his essence, even though at a creaturely level, is that which, at the uncreated level, are the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, in their essence. The created person is "person" precisely because of this rational nucleus that renders it capable to receive the relationship that God wishes to establish with it and at the same time becomes generator of relations towards others and towards the world.
Young Fogeys cites a less academic, but perhaps more pastoral section, of the reflection.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Of Gods and Men: on release in UK

This film opened on general release (ie selected cinemas, so don't expect it at your local Vue!) in Britain yesterday. My previous blogging about this film can be found here. Zero and I are planning to see it next weekend.

The coverage in The Times yesterday was interesting. The film review itself (p.13 of Times 2) is quite fair, though the use of the word "drudgery" in the following phrase describing the monks life style, that "their routines of devotion and drudgery are reflected in the rhythms ad repetition within the picture", did not match my impression. The review rightly identifies the key scene of the red wine taken with an evening meal, accompanied by the music to Swan Lake played on a tape. Though I believe this scene is invented, but with some basis in the reality that the monks did listen to classical music during their recreation, its meaning in the context of the film is profound.

The interview with the director and writer on p.15 of Times 2 gives an account of the care taken in the making of the film. It is interesting that the producer says that "I never wanted it to be a Catholic film" and the writer also observes, talking abut the way in which the film came about and grew from his original idea, that "No, no God involved". We have here film professionals without any religious faith of their own almost resisting the profoundly religious implications of the story that inspires their film and the profoundly religious content of their own film. And yet their account of how the story of the monks of Tibhirine fascinates and draws them, and their care in trying to tell the story accurately and fairly, shows a genuine integrity on their part. According to the interview:
What the director wanted to explain was the religious calling, and the film becomes gripping as each monk decides whether to stay and almost inevitably become a martyr, or to go.
And, in a telling comment, the director is quoted as saying:
"You don't often see people on screen being sincere and noble".
The review posted at Independent Catholic News has as its first paragraph:
Xavier Beauvois' Of Gods and Men opens in the UK today. If you only go to one more film this year - see this one. It is Catholic cinema at its best - beautifully filmed, with a haunting soundtrack, sensitive performances and a gripping human story that deals with faith, community, ecumenism, and the meaning of vocation.
I do not actually see a contradiction between Jo Siedlecka's identification of it as "Catholic cinema" and the director's denial that it is such. That the same film can be characterised in both ways is an indication of its nature as an authentic instance of  dialogue between those without religous faith and a religous subject. (It would be more accurate to refer to inter-religious dialogue, though, rather than ecumenism).

Whilst I would praise this film wholeheartedly as an engagement of the professional environment of cinema with the environment of religious faith, and praise the integrity with which the cinema professionals have undertaken that engagement, the Times coverage yesterday left me with a touch of disappointment. I can understand that the writer and director should approach their subject understanding it as a secular subject (in a good sense) rather than a religious one, and that gives the film its appeal to a wider audience; but they seem to be leaving their subject understanding it as a secular subject, and asserting its nature as a secular subject, where one might ask of them, not a religious conversion, but at least to have learnt from their subject its essentially religious nature.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Outside the Magic Circle

How much of this is just gossip?

UPDATE: Another blogger comments:
I do not agree with every statement in the report. It seems to me that it is gilding the lily in parts. A little more evidence or facts would be helpful. I am genuinely concerned when wedges are driven, or attempted to be driven, between the Bishops' Conference and the people.
I have considerable sympathy with the last sentence.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

A thought for World AIDS Day

I wonder whether the language that we use when we talk about HIV/AIDS always helps.

We talk of "the fight against HIV and AIDS", or "the struggle against HIV and AIDS". While at the same time we try to oppose the stigmatisation of and discrimination against those who are living with HIV/AIDS. This language of warfare can be found in two of the contributions of the Catholic media to mark World AIDS Day this year, this report on the website of Vatican Radio and this article at Thinking Faith. I think this latter makes for interesting reading in the context of recent controversy about the Catholic approach to HIV/AIDS.

My first thought is that the use of a language of "fighting" or "struggling against" HIV/AIDS inadvertently supports a kind of stigmatisation. This is the language we might normally use about our opposition to or campaigning against people with whom we disagree or people who represent a threat to us. And, in its most extreme form, it does literally take the form of warfare. The context of our normal use of this language means that the difference between working to eradicate HIV/AIDS and to counter its effects among people affected by it and, in some rather indistinct manner, seeing those who carry the virus as being those against whom we "fight" and "struggle" is lost to conscious reflection.

Much better, I think, would be the language of working on behalf of those suffering from the HIV/AIDS virus and working on behalf of communities that are affected by it. Within this style of language our attention is drawn to the positive steps that can and are taken to support those affected by the pandemic. Our attention is also drawn to people and to communities (who are affected by HIV/AIDS), and sees them as people to whom we offer solidarity, rather than being drawn to HIV/AIDS as some impersonal phenomenon distinct from the people affected, a phenomenon that is to be feared and fought at all costs.

I think the change of language that I am suggesting here is of particular importance with regard to the question of stigmatisation of those infected by HIV/AIDS, and is a vital contribution to overcoming that stigmatisation. But I also think that it influences our response to policy making at the national and international levels. It is much easier to accept the idea of promoting condom distribution within the context of an impersonal language of fight and struggle against HIV/AIDS, the impersonal language of international policy; and it is much easier to rally support to initiatives on the behalf of individuals and communities affected by HIV/AIDS when one has the more positive language suggested above.

As Pope Benedict XVI said in answering "that question" in his now famous interview, words that have not often been quoted:
Someone had asked me why the Catholic Church adopts an unrealistic and ineffective position on Aids. At that point, I really felt that I was being provoked, because the Church does more than anyone else. And I stand by that claim. Because she is the only institution that assists people up close and concretely, with prevention, education, help, counsel, and accompaniment. And because she is second to none in treating so many Aids victims, especially children with Aids.

I had the chance to visit one of these wards and to speak with the patients. That was the real answer: The Church does more than anyone else, because she does not speak from the tribunal of the newspapers, but helps her brothers and sisters where they are actually suffering.

In my remarks I was not making a general statement about the condom issue, but merely said, and this is what caused such great offense, that we cannot solve the problem by distributing condoms. Much more needs to be done. We must stand close to the people, we must guide and help them; and we must do this both before and after they contract the disease.