Sunday, 30 January 2011

Hans Urs von Balthasar: The Meaning of Celibacy

The last section of a 1972 essay by Hans Urs von Balthasar, on priestly celibacy and posted at Communio -International Catholic Review, has a very contemporary resonance in 2011!

... the celibate priest today has to be stronger than his predecessor. He is placed in a sexualised environment and, generally, is deprived of the external guards of the post-tridentine seminary and protected rectory. He is exposed, while the witness of his life is rejected or is met with indifference by non-Christians. He does not get anywhere with it, it does not communicate anything to the people around him. The mighty effort of his witness seems to vanish into emptiness. Hence, he feels frustrated.

But the history of Christian virginity does not begin with Trent. It begins in Corinth, Ephesus, and Rome, to mention only three of the most licentious cities of antiquity. Exactly there, where sin flowered most lushly - and the letters of the Apocalypse show us other telling examples - has Christian virginity its beginning. Not in cloisters, not in closed Christian communities, but in a diaspora where Christians lived scattered, often in pagan households. It had to be and it came to be.

Christian virgins did not live in closed communities, but like members of secular institutes today, they lived dispersed in households and families. It is there that they gave witness, and were perhaps a more fruitful leaven than the later, structured cenobitic communities of Pachomius and Benedict. They understood that their witness has a purpose in itself: it radiates love. It is not something useful, a means, even though it frees the unmarried for the Lord, to be "concerned about the things of the Lord" (1 Cor. 7:34), and thus also frees him for diaconal and presbyteral tasks of the Church.

And if the virgins of earlier periods were respected while the celibates of today are ignored or scorned, let us once more point out that virginity and the cross, and hence disgrace, are closely related. In the Old Testament barrenness was a humiliating disgrace, and rightly so both from a natural and supernatural, theological viewpoint. The barren woman did not contribute to the messianic future. Under the sign of disgrace stood also Mary, pregnant and silent, when Joseph thought of abandoning her.

New Testament virginity should be highly and specially valued by Christians because of this implicit disgrace, and precisely because of disgrace in the eyes of the world. But when Christians themselves do not see this hidden value, because they follow unchristian ideologies, then virginity must again recede into the obscurity of the original disgrace. The darkness of the apparent waste, which is the radical sign of Christ's cross, the dimness of ever-increasing, seemingly meaningless, toil and vexation - be it the plight of keeping house without a competent housekeeper, or living with other priests in a poorly functioning community, or some other burdensome inconvenience - makes us wish to give up this incompetent experiment that seems to be of no benefit to anyone.

Perhaps in a church of the future celibate priests will be in a minority. It could be so. But it also might happen that through the example of the few a new certainty of the rightness and indispensability of this life is kindled in the Church. We might have to go through a period of hunger and thirst, but this very deprivation might call forth new vocations or, rather, might inspire a new generosity, so that the call that is always with us will be answered.

We can trust the instinct of the Christian people. Despite superficial and poor training, the faithful usually manage to distinguish between "progressivist" small talk and truly inspired preaching and catechesis. And even if this instinct would become blinded - and I do not believe it will - the Lord, the true witness of our witnessing, remains with us. Because none of us priests "lives as his own master and none of us dies as his own master ... both in life and in death we are the Lord's" (Rom 14:7ff).

Become One Body, One Spirit in Christ: the role of Extraordinary Ministers

I have just watched two more sections of the DVD Become One Body, One Spirit in Christ (and see my earlier post).

One section that I have just looked at is in the section on "Crafting the Art of the Liturgy", "Roles of the Liturgical Assembly", and then under the heading "Liturgical Ministries". It is the short video clip that talks about the role of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. The use of the term "Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion" is very clear and welcome. The opening words of the priest speaking in this video clip are as follows:
The Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, who of course in the Liturgy itself, can be called upon to assist to administer Holy Communion, have a particular ministry of outreach, you might say, to take Communion to the housebound and that is a very lovely ministry ..
The clip goes on to talk more about the ministry of taking Holy Communion to the housebound. I find this a very interesting account of the ministry of the Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, placing its emphasis as it does on the role of taking Communion to those who are not able to get to Mass. The DVD materials refer to this ministry of taking Holy Communion from the Liturgy to those who are not able to attend, as a very ancient practice in the life of the Church.

The second section I have just viewed is that on the role of the priest, and it can be found in the section "Crafting the Art of the Liturgy", "The Ministry of the Ordained", and then under the heading "The Priest". The video clip in this section opens with a clear presentation of the priest as the person who represents the risen Christ to the Church and to the people of his parish. The part of the video which caught my attention, though, was the later part, where the priest-speaker talks about how the priest in the parish very much attends to the way in which the lay people have come from the Eucharistic celebration to live Eucharistic lives in their day to day existence. There is a quite beautiful account of the priest as pastor of the people of his parish that, though it does not use the comparison, prompts in the mind the image of the Good Shepherd who looks after his sheep:
He very much ministers as the pastor among his people.
At one point, the clip includes the following sentence:
The priest is very much one who helps them [ie the lay faithful] to bind all of this together and to take the mystery of the Eucharist into their lives and to bring all of their lives to the Eucharist.
I think it is useful to put this video clip about the priest's Eucharistic role with respect to his parish alongside the video clip about the role of the Extraordinary Ministers. Together, these two clips have, I would suggest, two significant implications.

The first is about how, and in exactly what way, the Extraordinary Minister is seen as assisting in the Eucharistic ministry that is proper to the ordained minster. It is less the role that such a minister fulfils at the Liturgy when called upon, and more in the outreach to support the Eucharistic lives of the faithful in their homes, at work etc. I find this a rather interesting thought on the role of Extraordinary Ministers, as it places their role nearer to the mediating role between the Church and the world that is the proper charism of the laity.

The second implication is for the practice of parish priests. Their role of "taking the mystery of the Eucharist" into the daily lives of their people through their pastoral activity in the parish is not one to be neglected. This means that, though in many situations they do need the assistance of Extraordinary Ministers in taking Holy Communion to the housebound or to the sick in hospitals and care homes, parish priests should not withdraw from that ministry altogether, leaving it entirely to the lay faithful. A similar observation might apply to the involvement of parish priests with the catechetical activity of their parishes. In both of these contexts, the implication is in favour of a collaboration between the priest and lay people, rather than a delegation of role from the priest to the lay people.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

An apology (of sorts) from the BBC

A BBC Radio 4 programme called "Quote ... Unquote" used to be a favourite of mine. It was (past tense) a quiz about different quotations and who said them. A feature of the programme was the anecdotes that the participants contributed, anecdotes that were not infrequently humorous but were (past tense) not offensive in any way. Both the questions asked in the quiz, and the participants anecdotes, were (past tense) very informative. The series that was running last July represented a significant change in the style of the programme, both with regard to the style of the questions and the style of the anecdotes.

I last listened to an episode - well, actually, I switched to another radio station after only a few minutes - on 12th July last. I made an initial mistake in submitting my complaint via the BBC website. With hindsight, I should have written and therefore had access to a copy of exactly what I had said in my complaint and a certificate of posting to verify exactly when I posted my letter. The reply came back by e-mail, on 27th August 2010, and I wasn't happy with its contents. I got round to writing back again on 28th September. The BBC's reply to me was then dated 6th December 2010.

My complaint was about a rather crude joke contained in an anecdote told by one the contributors, Toby Young, a contributor who was not familiar to me from previous series of "Quote ... Unquote". The essential part of the initial reply was that the BBC had to provide a range of programmes to cater for different tastes in humour, and that there is "no single set of standards in this area on which the whole of society can agree".

Along with some other points, my letter of 28th September contained the following:

.... you state that “there is no single set of standards in this area on which the whole of society can agree”. Should the joke about which I complained have been transmitted via the e-mail system at my place of work it would have been clearly and unambiguously a breach of my employers IT systems acceptable use policy. A colleague forwarding that joke would have been open to disciplinary processes by the employer. Since the policy which my employer uses is quite typical in its expectations of colleagues, I believe that it indicates a standard for behaviour that is widely accepted.
I think there are three significant points in the following paragraph of the reply that I received to that letter:
I've now liaised with the comedy department at BBC Radio 4 who are sorry you were offended by the "Sloane Ranger's" joke. They've asked me to explain that "Quote ... Unquote" is a long-running celebrity panel game with a tradition of including amusing quotations and quips from the panellists. While Toby Young's joke was certainly crude, we don't believe it went beyond the expectations of the audience for a grown-up BBC Radio 4 panel show. We stand by the point Philip made in the initial response that humour is a subjective area and we are guided by the BBC's Editorial Guidelines in deciding what is appropriate for inclusion in the programme. We received no significant reaction to suggest that listeners found the joke particularly objectionable, but again, we're sorry you were personally offended.
The first significant point is the recognition of the crude nature of the joke about which I had complained. The second significant point is that an apology is offered to me. This apology joins the one that I received some years ago from Television Licensing (after they had sent me some very threatening letters about buying a TV license when I do not own or use a TV) in the archive of MY BEST ACHIEVEMENTS. I do think there is some credit to be given to an organisation like the BBC when it recognises a need for apology at an individual level, even though it defends its action as being quite acceptable.

The third significant point in the paragraph is the continued denial that an objective standard exists in terms of the judgement of what is and what is not acceptable in the field of humour. This qualifies the apology to some extent. I would like to put this in the context of something that Pope Benedict XVI said when he spoke in Westminster Hall last September. This was a meeting between the Holy Father and representatives of public life in Britain. I am sure someone was there from the BBC! The Holy Father's words were spoken in the specific context of political discourse, but have a wider application to culture in general, since culture forms a part of the fabric of a democratic society:
By appeal to what authority can moral dilemmas be resolved? These questions take us directly to the ethical foundations of civil discourse. If the moral principles underpinning the democratic process are themselves determined by nothing more solid than social consensus, then the fragility of the process becomes all too evident - herein lies the real challenge for democracy.
In Westminster Hall, Pope Benedict called for those in public office to look for something ethically objective to form the basis of their decision making. That an organisation like the BBC is not responding to this call in any way is an indication that the dialogue proposed by Pope Benedict's Westminster Hall address is not being taken up. Whilst we might not expect the BBC to follow Catholic teaching in all things, I do think we could expect them to take seriously a call such as that proposed in Pope Benedict's address, to engage in a search for an objective ethical basis to their programming.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Holding hands, clapping, etc

Ask Sister Mary Martha has a post summarising a dialogue that has been taking place in response to an earlier post about holding hands for the Our Father at Mass. The post title - ON and on - indicates the number of comments received on the original post! Sister summarises the dialogue from the comments box in this post.

I think Sister makes a good point in suggesting that, in considering the question raised, we should focus on the question of unity in the celebrating community. An evaluation in terms of unity in the celebration of the Liturgy is more important than one in terms of different likes and dislikes. I think she also makes a good point in response to those who say that they have stopped going to Mass in a particular parish because they can't stand X or Y practice that goes on there. In principle, getting annoyed by what happens isn't a good reason for leaving and going (or perhaps not going) elsewhere.

But I would like to offer some thoughts on the question of unity in the celebration of the Liturgy.

Thought One

There are some aspects of our bodily posture during the Liturgy that are defined for us in the rubrics. So, for example, there are times when the people are directed by the rubrics to stand, sit or kneel. In these cases, where the rubrics define a bodily posture for the people, then pastors/parish priests serve the unity of their congregations through celebrating in accordance with the rubrics. They can expect their people to follow them, also at the service of the unity of the community. Sitting vs. kneeling for the offertory might be an example of this.

Thought Two

Those postures or bodily actions, such as holding hands for the Our Father, which are the subject of the discussion at Sisters blog, fall into a slightly different category though. I think we can say that they are not expected by the rubrics in any way but they are not forbidden by the rubrics either. So how we act at the service of unity over these postures and actions is a not so easy to discern. I would suggest that we can perhaps adopt two criteria of discernment. The first is a discernment of sacrality or signification about the posture or action being undertaken. Does the posture or action being proposed really express, act as a sign of, an intended spiritual/Liturgical reality? Holding hands for the Our Father, for example, can I think be seen as really expressing unity in the praying of that prayer. Applauding after the young children have sung a song at the offertory probably does not express anything sacred. The second discernment is one of allowing a difference of practice in the same congregation. A congregation cannot be directed to hold hands for the Our Father since it is not expected in the rubrics. But it is possible for those who wish to do so to do so and those who prefer not to do so not to do so, and a context of mutual respect between those who wish to do so and those who prefer not to to mean that this does not constitute a disunity in the congregation.

An example that I am seeing in parishes near me which, in my view, meets both criteria is that a goodly number of people now extend their hands during the praying of the Our Father and others don't. Nobody worries about it, so it is not becoming a cause of disunity.

Thought Three

Since the Liturgy - and particularly Sunday Mass - is something that belongs to the whole of the parish community, one can suggest that it should not express any one style or expression of the life of prayer. It should remain "neutral" before different styles, a neutrality expressed in a celebration that adheres to the rubrics, not in a slavish and neurotic way, but in a natural and open way. The scope for particular styles or expressions in the life of prayer - what one might call people's likes and dislikes in the best and most positive sense of those terms - lies in the devotional life of a parish. Rosary and Benediction might reflect one style, and contemporary worship music another. If a parish has a lively and varied spiritual life in addition to the Liturgy strictly so called, is there not less need to introduce peoples' likes and dislikes into the Liturgy itself?

Thought Four

This thought brings the discussion at the level of principles contained in Thought One and Thought Two do the level of the individual "I". What should I actually do in my parish when something like this comes up.  How can we act at the service of unity rather than against unity? We will - inevitably - notice who does and does not hold hands for the Our Father. But our contribution to unity is not to ever comment on what we notice, to do our bit to respect other people's freedom in this regard. I think we should also try not to leave one parish and switch to another simply because of likes and dislikes. This is not the same as saying that we should never switch parishes. I think circumstances can mean that we find we just "cannot cope" and, in the interests of our own peace of mind, need to switch parish. If we do switch, our service towards unity is to switch with the utmost discretion so that we are not seen by others to be "making a point".

Now, about the sign of peace .....

Monday, 24 January 2011

Homosexuality: is it natural?

By definition, homosexuality is natural, especially if you're homosexual.
Let's replace the word "homosexuality" with the word "racism" and the word "homosexual" with the word "racist", and read the sentence again. In terms of logic, the sentence has exactly the same structure. But it isn't as plausible is it? The logic (or lack of logic) of the sentence structure is the same, but the conclusion does not meet with contemporary approbation. Whatever one's views about homosexuality, this sentence cannot be used to justify anything.
So, the first point to make when this question rears its head is that for gay men and lesbians, being attracted to the same sex is just the way they are. It feels as natural to them as being attracted to the opposite sex does for heterosexuals... It's just a fact of life ...

An extension of the fact that homosexuality is a natural phenomenon (what else could it possible be?) is the evidence of 'gay behaviour' in animals.... Same-sex activity has been reported in countless animal species, and is well documented in many of them, although the real extent is still to be properly researched. So, the short answer to the question 'is being gay natural?' is obviously, yes.
Well, fair enough. Sexual attraction to others does feel quite natural. It is a "natural phenomenon" in the sense that it is something that can be observed in the world around us, though the extent of same sex activity among animal species seems to me much exaggerated. But that is not the real question. The real question is whether or not the human person, gifted with intellect and free will, should follow their feeling, be that homosexual in nature or heterosexual in nature, without a further step of ethical judgement. What we might feel does not justify what we might do. There are lots of things that are "just a fact of life", that could meet the same description of being a "natural phenomenon", but whose behaviours we do not actively promote and, indeed, might seek to prevent.

...you might want to try a discussion of how science sometimes clashes with social mores - Galileo was criticised for saying that the earth went round the sun, and Darwin's theory of evolution caused heated debate.
Odd comparisons. I hadn't noticed that the debate between geocentrism and heliocentrism was one about human behaviour; and, as a theory of science, neither is the debate about Darwinism.

Even if we grant the "natural phenomenon" argument in the sense that Stonewall's propaganda (quotes above are from a leaflet they have produced for science teachers in secondary schools) suggests, we still need to challenge their assumption that "natural" in terms of feeling or attraction is the same as "morally just" in terms of action. This is how Pope Benedict XVI expresses it in his book Light of the World pp.151-152:
Respect for man is absolutely fundamental and decisive.

At the same time though, sexuality has an intrinsic meaning and direction, which is not homosexual. We could say, if we wanted to put it like this, that evolution has brought forth sexuality for the purpose of reproducing the species... The meaning and direction of sexuality is to bring about the union of man and woman and, in this way, to give humanity posterity, children, a future. This is the determination internal to the essence of sexuality. Everything else is against sexuality's intrinsic meaning and direction. This is a point we need to hold firm, even if it is not pleasing to our age.
H/T to Laurence England

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Are we about to see the end of "Good morning, everyone" - "Good morning, Father" liturgy?

I ordered a copy of the DVD Become One Body, One Spirit in Christ from the Bishops Conference last week. Online ordering went smoothly, and delivery was prompt - quite comfortably meeting the sort of standard to which the Amazon.com generation has become accustomed. The DVD is the major catechetical resource prepared by ICEL to support the introduction of the new English translation of the Roman Missal.

I have just explored the catechesis contained on the section of the DVD that examines the changes to the texts of the Greeting at the beginning of Mass (and, incidentally, the greeting at the beginning of the Preface). I was very impressed. No, I was extremely impressed! The detail and quality of the explanations of the different formulae taught me a lot.

If you want to look at the catecheses that I have just viewed, follow the following path through the links: Receiving this English Translation (overview video that runs automatically is worth a watch) - Changes to the Text - Review Changes to the Missal Text - Greeting. And then explore each formula.

It is quite beyond my comprehension how a priest can view these catecheses and still think that it is the right thing to interject "Good morning, everyone" and expect the people to dutifully answer "Good morning, Father". Particularly if the people have themselves viewed the same catecheses. Are we about to see the demise of this most appalling of banalities? Oh, well, one can always be optimistic!

"We do this to show that it comes from the heart"

The December 2010/January 2011 issue of Lourdes Magazine has as its main feature a retrospective look back at the pilgrimages that visited Lourdes during a year whose theme was "Making the sign of the Cross with Bernadette".

A short piece about the pilgrimage of travelling people to Lourdes includes the following dialogue:
"The sign of the cross is part of our life and our traditions", says Teejy. "It's like a prayer. It is not a question of signing like Zorro but taking the time to really ask the Father, Son and Holy Spirit to come and enlighten us". Moses, shirtless, eyes clear, added: "We do it, then kiss our hand and place it on our heart". He adds: "by your mouth you bless the Lord, but you can also curse him, so we do this to show that it comes from the heart".

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Reflections on Unity

Pope Benedict XVI offered a reflection on the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity at his General Audience on 19th January. A full English text can be found at ZENIT's website; the Holy See's website carries the full text in Italian, and only gives in English the English summary given at the end of the Audience.

Rather than quote extracts from the Holy Father's reflection, I suggest that you read it in its entirety.

I recall that, during Pope Benedict's meeting with Christians of other confessions during his visit to Cologne in 2005, the Holy Father drew attention to the unity that already exists among Christians by virtue of their common baptism. If I recall correctly, he asked his listeners not to underestimate the significance of this alreay existing unity. Pope Benedict seems to refer to this at the beginning of his Audience address:
We are celebrating the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, in which all believers in Christ are invited to join in prayer to witness the profound bond that exists among them and to invoke the gift of full communion....Vatican Council II states "[t]hese prayers in communion are, without a doubt, a very effective means to implore the grace of unity and constitute a genuine manifestation of the bonds with which Catholics remain united with the separated brethren: 'For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them' (Matthew18:20)"  ("Decree Unitatis Redintegratio," No. 8).
[Later in his address, when discussing the question of inter-communion, the Holy Father points out that Christians are still "very far" from the fullness of unity willed by Christ for his disciples.]

The Holy Father then unfolds the theme of this years Week of Prayer -  "And they devoted themselves to the Apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers" (Acts 2:42) - in a representation of four characteristics of the unity of the Church. It is interesting to summarise his development of the theme by comparing it to the last sentence of the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church n.161:
The Church has but one faith, one sacramental life, one apostolic succession, one common hope and one and the same charity.
The care with which Pope Benedict expresses himself is worthy of note. Prayer for unity among Christians is not prayer for the re-unification of the Church - objectively, the Catholic Church considers her unity to have not been lost. Instead, the prayer is one for the achievement of full communion among those who are Christians. The Pope's affirmation that:
...every effort made for the building of unity between Christians passes through the deepening of fidelity to the depositum fidei which the Apostles transmit to us. Firmness in the faith is the basis of our communion, it is the basis of Christian unity.
is diplomatic, but interesting, in this context.

Another aspect of Pope Benedict's words that I would like to draw attention to is the discussion of fraternal communion. Within my own experience, there are two areas of pastoral action in which joint action with Christians of other denominations is very much taken for granted. One is hospital visiting, where certainly some NHS hospital trusts have "generic visiting" arrangments (these arrangments are supported by denomination and faith specific referral and chaplaincy arrangements). In my experience, most of the visitors who undertake the regular ward visiting are Christians, though in principle other faiths also participate. The second is ship visiting in ports, where the Apostleship of the Sea works closely with other Christian organisations. In both contexts, the way in which Christians of different denominations work alongside each other means that "more patients are visited" and "more ships are visited" as a result.
Communion with God, made flesh in fraternal communion, is translated, concretely, in social effort, in Christian charity, in justice.
This ordinary level of common action between Christians is, in my view, a more genuine expression of ecumenical activity than special services or preaching exchanges.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Zero's 50th birthday

Some people celebrate a 50th birthday by doing adventurous things like a weekend in Paris.

Zero went to Ingatestone, for a muddy walk.

This was NOT the muddiest section of the walk - too busy negotiating the pigs and the whole of the boots immersed in mud to take photos at the muddiest part!


Boots after emerging from the farm yard, pigs etc.


Early in our walk we visited St Mary's Church, Buttsbury, a short distance from our starting point of Ingatestone Hall.

The Church in today's lovely sunshine.


View from the Church looking back towards Ingatestone.


A view inside the Church.



After the meander through muddy fields, farm yards etc, we arrived at another Church, St Giles, Mountnessing. With the sun going behind some cloud, the temperature had dropped somewhat by now so it was too cold for us to sit long over "lunch" (3 pm, by this time - the unscheduled sausage roll and tea break BEFORE we started walking - at about 12 noon - original estimated time of start was 10.30 am! - also helped cause this). We have visited St Giles on previous walks from Ingatestone, so no new photographs.

It was then to dinner at Margaretting.



And from there to home, for the ceremony of the cutting of The Cake.

First, Zero dressed to match the colour scheme of The Cake. (The £20 note also happened to match the colour scheme, and so was enlisted into the photograph.)


Then, the lighting and blowing out of candles.




The Cake was splendid to taste!

Welcome, Zero, to the "second half century" club!

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Christians, law and public opinion

The case of the Christian hotel owners found by a court to have acted unlawfully when they refused a double room to two homosexual men raises two interesting points.

According to the report on the BBC news website:
In his ruling, Judge Rutherford said that, in the past 50 years, social attitudes in Britain had changed and it was inevitable that laws would "cut across" some people's beliefs.

"I am quite satisfied as to the genuineness of the defendants' beliefs and it is, I have no doubt, one which others also hold," he added.

"It is a very clear example of how social attitudes have changed over the years for it is not so very long ago that these beliefs of the defendants would have been those accepted as normal by society at large.

"Now it is the other way around."
There is implicit in Judge Rutherford's remarks the understanding that the law should be determined by changes in social attitudes. This stands in a very sharp contrast to the words of Pope Benedict XVI when he spoke in Westminster Hall:
If the moral principles underpinning the democratic process are themselves determined by nothing more solid than social consensus, then the fragility of the process becomes all too evident - herein lies the real challenge for democracy.
It can be legitimate that the law should change as social attitudes change - but not simply on the basis of the change in attitudes themselves. If the change in social attitude is not founded in deeper ethical principles, and those ethical principles therefore found the change in law that follows, then Pope Benedict's critique applies with full force. For Judge Rutherford to make reference to changing social attitudes in his judgement, which is a judgement about what is or is not permissible under the law, is therefore quite inappropriate.

The comment on the judgement from the Equality and Human Rights Commission also highlights another  point:
John Wadham, Group Director, Legal, at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said:

“The right of an individual to practice their religion and live out their beliefs is one of the most fundamental rights a person can have, but so is the right not to be turned away by a hotel just because you are gay.

“The law works both ways. Hotel owners would similarly not be able to turn away people whose religious beliefs they disagreed with.

“When Mr and Mrs Bull chose to open their home as a hotel their private home became a commercial enterprise. This decision means that community standards, not private ones, must be upheld.”
It is difficult to make any sense of the first paragraph of John Wadham's comment, which suggests that the right of an individual to practice a religion and to live out their beliefs can be considered as a kind of equivalent level of right as that now existing under UK law with regard to the provision of services for gay people. The right to practice a religion and live out beliefs is recognised as a universal right by the UN declaration of human rights; the rights considered to belong to gay people, as gay people, are going to be in some way derivative from such universal rights and not equivalent.

The statement from the Equality and Human Rights Commission does report Judge Rutherford's implicit reference to a provision of the UN Declaration which allows for limitation of the rights contained in the Declaration:
In the ruling the judge said the right of the defendants to manifest their religion is not absolute and 'can be limited to protect the rights and freedoms of the claimants'. He described the Sexual Orientation Regulations as a 'necessary and proportionate intervention by the state to protect the rights of others'.
The reference is to article 29(2) of the UN Declaration (my italics added):
In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.
If Judge Rutherford is to give consideration to one aspect of this provision - recognition and security of the rights of another - surely he should also have given consideration to the other aspects too, notably that with regard to the "general welfare in a democratic society". Can we really say that the existence of a plurality of hotel accomodation providers, some living by their Christian principles and operating their enterprises accordingly, is contrary to "the general welfare in a democratic society"? And does such a plurality really infringe the rights and freedoms of others?

Another point that is interesting is John Wadham's statement that "community standards, not private ones, must be upheld". One can perhaps think that the term "community standards" is being used straightforwardly as a synonym for "the law"; or one might see this choice of term as reflecting again the responsiveness of the law to public opinion. But more fundamental, in the context of the practice of religious beliefs in the public sphere (which is what is at stake here), is the opposition set up between "community standards" and "private standards", and the idea that it is the "community standards" which trump the "private standards". John Wadham should not be setting the debate up as being a question of "whose standards" apply; he should be talking simply about whether or not the law is upheld. Once again the words of Pope Benedict XVI in Westminster Hall are relevant:
There are those who would advocate that the voice of religion be silenced, or at least relegated to the purely private sphere.... And there are those who argue – paradoxically with the intention of eliminating discrimination – that Christians in public roles should be required at times to act against their conscience. These are worrying signs of a failure to appreciate not only the rights of believers to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, but also the legitimate role of religion in the public square.
So, whilst one might accept that Judge Rutherford handed down a judgement that is correct in terms of the law as it is framed in this country, there remains much in the judgement, and in the comment made upon it by the principle sponsors of the legal case, that is cause for concern.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Some more Ordinariate

I have been exploring in my mind what it is that constitutes the "Anglican patrimony" that can be part of the life of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. In my earlier thoughts on this matter I indicated, based on a personal experience, that I did not feel that a liturgical regeneration was a likely implication of the Ordinariate:
The music was not, on the whole, that which would gain the approval of the Catholic tradosphere. All of which is to suggest that, on the whole, the Ordinariate will not bring to the Catholic Church a great liturgical regeneration. There may be exceptions, but I guess that the great choirs and music often associated with the Anglican tradition will not be part of the Anglican patrimony the will come across to the Ordinariate, at least not in its beginnings.
In this context, it is interesting to read the account of Fr Andrew Burnham's first Mass at the Oxford Oratory and this little section of Fr Aidan Nichols OP's sermon at that Mass:
We rejoice today for Andrew personally as a long odyssey is completed, but since no share in priesthood is ever conferred for the individual’s satisfaction but only for some wider good, we also have to draw attention to the task that awaits him. Newman spoke of the ‘concentration and adjustment of great Anglican authorities’. Andrew has already begun working on the liturgical dimension of this, entrusted by the Holy See with co-ordinating efforts on that front, in recognition of his outstanding competence in that area.
The account of the Mass suggests what I might call "flexibilities" (rubrical breaches) with regard to one or two aspects of the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite, though they are "flexibilities" that are not beyond my own direct experience elsewhere than the Oxford Oratory. I refer to the Eucharistic Prayer being said while the singing of the Sanctus and Benedictus continues and the use of the new translation of the Ecce Agnus Dei.

In terms of the liturgical development within the Ordinariate, one can read this as EITHER a sign of continuing to choose or adapt liturgical forms to suit that goes with Anglo-Catholic life OR a sign that the Liturgy of the Ordinariate will become a place to put into practice the mutual enrichment of the Ordinary and Extraordinary forms of the Roman Rite that belong to Summorum Pontificum and Pope Benedict's accompanying letter.

Jan Palach and Mohamed Bouazizi

The recent events in Tunisia were triggered by the death of Mohamed Bouazizi. Mohamed Bouazizi set fire to himself after being refused permission to sell vegetables from a street stall.

However, as the BBC report suggests, this was more than just a question about permission to buy and sell in a provincial town in Tunisia.
...the unrest appears to have taken almost everyone by surprise, including the government.

... it seems as though we have witnessed the breakdown of the tacit compact that has existed since President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali took power in 1987. In return for slow but steady economic growth, the majority of Tunisians have accepted restricted political rights, a police state and an elite accused of corruption. ...

Large numbers of unemployed graduates, frustration with lack of freedoms, the excesses of the ruling class and anger at police brutality seem to have come together to spark an unstoppable wave of public anger.
That there might be a parallel between the death of a Tunisian street trader and a Czech student is not something that is obvious.

Yet the circumstances of the death of Jan Palach, who set fire to himself in Wenceslaus Square, do not appear that different to those of the death of Mohamed Bouazizi. Lack of freedom, political repression and the government by an elite, are perhaps the underlying features of both deaths.

The very different culturual and historical contexts of these two deaths should not hide the profound similarities between them. At heart, both deaths prompt us to think about the freedom and the natural justice that are proper to the well being of human persons wherever they live, and the absence of which engenders despair.

Similarities and differences

Over the weekend, in a completely unrelated context, I had a conversation about "similarities" and "differences".

The placing of the Personal Ordinariate in England and Wales under the patronage of John Henry Newman (though the title of Our Lady of Walsingham given to the Ordinariate seems to mean that there is de facto a double patronage) then prompted the following thought.

What are the similarities  - and the differences - between John Henry Newman's founding of the Congregation of the Oratory in England and the establishing of the Ordinariate?

Friday, 14 January 2011

Clarification ...

.... of the point behind Cafeteria Traditionalism?

1. Catholics are not obliged to agree with every activity of a Pope or Bishop - they have a freedom to believe that this or that particular action on the part of the Holy Father or of their Diocesan Bishop is unwise or wrong.

2. Catholics are obliged to maintain a unity, or communion, with their local Bishop and the Holy See. One can view this maintenance of communion as being a juridical matter (it is); but one should also see it as something to be lived in spirit as well as just in the letter. This is a constant call to conversion, to the living of communion more and more fully.

3. One way of synthesising points 1 and 2 might be to say that a Catholic might articulate their concern about a particular action or initiative - about the issue concerned - but they should try to take care that they do not attack the person of their Bishop or the Holy Father.

4. Another issue arising from points 1 and 2 is that those who regularly offer criticism of their Bishop and/or the Holy See can easily take on the mantle of being a kind of alternative magisterium. This particularly happens when the criticism is offered, repeatedly, in the media, both new and old; it can be just as true of those of a traditionalist mind set as it can be of those of a liberal mind set. Once this happens, the question of keeping communion in spirit as well as in letter is very much in play.

5. My experience of Catholic life is almost completely an experience of the pontificates of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. Just at the human level, to have two Successors of Peter, one after the other, with the intellectual calibre of these two is quite remarkable. I have some sense of Pope Paul VI, and the more I "discover" him the more I think he can be underestimated in the light of his successors in the See of Rome. The point to this is that, point 1 above notwithstanding, I think we can have a solid underlying trust in the way in which they have done and do carry out their mission. There is no justifiable reason for a Catholic to have an underlying suspicion of either of these two Popes.

6. It is point 4, with a glance to points 3 and 5, that William Oddie is getting at when he writes, with tongue to certain extent in cheek, that
... once you start thinking you are a better and more faithful Catholic than he [ie the Holy Father] is, you are well on your way to the funny farm.
6. What I feel that I am seeing from those who blog from the perspective of a traditionalist mind set is the appearance in the media of this kind of alternative magisterium, and of a criticism of Pope John Paul II that moves from specific issues to being ad hominem. And, just as a Catholic is not obliged to feel that everything a Pope does is wise, neither is a Catholic obliged to think that everything that appears on Catholic blogs is right.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

More Ordinariate

There is an interesting post here about the three (formerly) Anglican bishops who will on Saturday be ordained as Catholic priests.

I am particularly interested in the suggestion that part of the Anglican patrimony that they will bring to the Catholic Church is a particular pastoral approach:
They bring with them a particularly Anglo-Catholic approach to pastoral care that can only enrich the wider Church. That approach combines a very gentle touch with a full consideration of the Church’s teaching on relevant issues. While always striving never to crush the bruised reed  their pastoral approach neither ignores, downplays or over-emphasizes orthodox teaching but at the same time accepts that some people will take more time and accompaniment to integrate it into their lives fully and honestly. It seems eminently sensible.
This makes an interesting addition to my previous observations, with regard to what constitutes the patrimony that the Ordinariate will bring to the Catholic Church, about married priesthood and a more synodical style of governance. Fr Hugh's description of the pastoral sensitivity of Keith Newton, John Broadhurst and Andrew Burnham entirely accords with the impression that I gained of Keith Newton when I had a brief opportunity to meet him "two stones throw" from where I type.

UPDATE: An account of the diaconate ordinations of Keith Newton, John Broadhurst and Andrew Burnham can be found here. It is interesting to see an emerging number of Anglican parishes where a programme of preparation for joining the Ordinariate - the Evangelium programme - is being followed, and the details of the sessions for this programme are readily accessible on the internet.

Cafeteria Traditionalism?

I do have a lot of sympathy with this post by William Oddie. A Catholic is not obliged to think that every initiative undertaken by a Pope is wise - Papal infallibility is limited to formal teaching intended to be held by the universal Church - but I think William Oddie expresses something that is a danger for someone who criticises the Holy Father (my italics added):
Being a Catholic means believing many things, some of them more important than others. But one core principle is surely indispensable. Quite simply, you trust the pope. For, once you start thinking you are a better and more faithful Catholic than he is, you are well on your way to the funny farm.
We need to take care that we do not argue that we, in fact, are better at living the Catholic faith than Pope Benedict XVI or Pope John Paul II.

I also find it interesting that the traditional tendency in the Church can be very vociferous in criticising ecclesiastical authorities who, in their view, defy Pope Benedict XVI by not implementing (their view, not mine) the provisions of Summorum Pontificum. The traditional tendency can then criticise the same Pope Benedict XVI over his invitation to religious leaders to join him in Assisi in October. So, from expectations of an obedience that has a distinct sense of the ultramontane about it to a freedom with regard to the wishes of the Holy See that reflects a rather less strict idea of obedience. Cafeteria Traditionalism?

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Pope John Paul II to Muslim youth: Casablanca 1985

Another of the "milestones" in the development of the Catholic Church's dialogue with Moslems cited in Christian Salenson's book Christian de Cherge: une theologie de l'esperance is the meeting between Pope John Paul II and 80 000 young Moslems in Casablanca. This encounter took place on 19th August 1985, as John Paul II returned to Rome from his third visit to Africa. The page at the Vatican website with links to the addresses of the Holy Father during this visit can be found here. The address in Casablanca was given in French; the English translation is a little shaky in places, so I suggest reading it alongside the original French.

Pope John Paul II visited Morocco in response to an invitation extended by the King of Morocco, King Hassan II. King Hassan invited him, in the year dedicated by the UN to young people, to address the young people of Morocco:
"Your Holiness, yours is not only a religious responsibility but an educational and moral one as well. I am certain that tens of thousands of Moroccans, especially the youth, would be most happy if you spoke to them about moral standards and relationships affecting individuals, communities, nations, and religions".
These words of King Hassan are taken from George Weigel's Witness to Hope, citing the weekly English edition of the Osservatore Romano of 9th September 1985.

What makes this meeting between the Pope and Moslem youth such a milestone?
I often meet young people, usually Catholics. It is the first time that I find myself with young Muslims.
That this first encounter with Moslem youth took place at the invitation of the ruler of an Islamic country is, particularly in the light of events that have taken place since 1985, prophetic. This is a first way in which the encounter in Casablanca is a milestone.

A second way is the manner in which Pope John Paul II approached his address. The fifth and sixth paragraphs express his purpose in what he said (English translation slightly adapted to bring it closer to the French original):
For my part, in the Catholic Church, I bear the responsibility of the successor of Peter, the Apostle chosen by Jesus to strengthen his brothers in the faith. Following the Popes who succeeded one another uninterruptedly in the passage of history, I am today the Bishop of Rome, called to be, among his brethren in the world, the witness of the faith and the guarantee of the unity of all the members of the Church.

Also, it is as a believer that I come to you today. It is quite simply that I would like to give here today the witness of that which I believe, of that which I wish for the well-being of the people, my brothers  in mankind, and of that which, from experience, I consider to be useful for all.
There is herein a useful defining and practice of inter-religious dialogue. Pope John Paul II starts from his own position within the Catholic Church, and indicates that he is going to offer a witness to his own belief on the grounds that that reflects what he wishes for others and what is useful for all.

And, thirdly, towards the end of his address, Pope John Paul II spoke of what is shared between Moslems and Christians - and of the differences between them. The attitude that the Holy Father suggests to these similarities and differences reflects something that is strongly present in the experience of Christian de Cherge. It is the mystery of how, from a Christian point of view, a religion such as Islam can be understood in relation to the saving design of God as manifested in the work of Jesus Christ and the Church. This is something that the Church has still to fully work out, and Christian de Cherge looked forward to how he might discover this in the future life.
I believe that we, Christians and Muslims, must recognize with joy the religious values that we have in common, and give thanks to God for them. Both of us believe in one God the only God, who is all Justice and all Mercy; we believe in the importance of prayer, of fasting, of almsgiving, of repentance and of pardon; we believe that God will be a merciful judge to us at the end of time, and we hope that after the resurrection he will be satisfied with us and we know that we will be satisfied with him.

Loyalty demands also that we should recognize and respect our differences. Obviously the most fundamental is the view that we hold on the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth. You know that, for the Christians, this Jesus causes them to enter into an intimate knowledge of the mystery of God and into a filial communion by his gifts, so that they recognize him and proclaim him Lord and Saviour.

Those are important differences, which we can accept with humility and respect, in mutual tolerance; there is a mystery there on which, I am certain, God will one day enlighten us.
A last thought. As I read the text of this address for the first time, now during the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI, it felt as if I was reading something that was written by Pope Benedict rather than by John Paul II. This is perhaps an indicator of the continuity between the two Popes.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Assisi Three and the question of multireligious prayer

I have for a few months now been reading a book by Christian Salenson entitled Christian de Cherge: une theologie de l'esperance. Christian de Cherge was the prior of the Cistercian monastery in Tibhirine, the monastery that is the subject of the film Des Hommes et des Dieux (Of Gods and Men, in the English translation of the title). The book is a study of Christian de Cherge's understanding of inter-religious dialogue, and particularly, of his understanding of Christian-Moslem dialogue. The richness of Christian de Cherge's theology of inter-religious dialogue is that it is one rooted in a lived experience of life among the Moslem peoples of Algeria, though it does not lack intellectual insight for all that.

In the early sections of the book reference is made to a number of what one might call "milestones" in the development of the Catholic Church's engagement in inter-religious dialogue. One of these milestones is the day of prayer for peace in Assisi in October 1986, a milestone which has become topical because of the announcement by Pope Benedict XVI of his intention to visit Assisi to mark the 25th anniversary of this milestone. Speaking in St Peter's Square after praying the Angelus on 1st January 2011, Pope Benedict said:
Dear brothers and sisters, in my Message for today’s World Day of Peace I have had the opportunity to emphasize that the great religions can constitute an important factor of unity and peace for the human family. In this regard, moreover, I recalled that this year, 2011, is the 25th anniversary of the World Day of Prayer for Peace which Venerable John Paul II convoked in Assisi in 1986.

Therefore next October I shall go as a pilgrim to the town of St Francis, inviting my Christian brethren of various denominations, the exponents of the world’s religious traditions to join this Pilgrimage and ideally all men and women of good will. It will aim to commemorate the historical action desired by my Predecessor and to solemnly renew the commitment of believers of every religion to live their own religious faith as a service to the cause of peace.
Now, some comment identifies the Assisi day of prayer in 1986 as a "low point" in the pontificate of Pope John Paul II, as being something all but indefensible; in the light of Pope Benedict's forthcoming pilgrimage to mark the 25th anniversary of that event, the same comment tries to distinguish clearly between Pope John Paul II's "Assisi One" and Pope Benedict's "Assisi Three", suggesting that the latter will in no way be a repeat of the former and will act as a corrective to the former. To evaluate this comment, I think it is necessary to understand properly the answer to two questions.

What was "Assisi One"?

The texts of the addresses and homilies of Pope John Paul II during the Day of Prayer for Peace at Assisi can be found from this page at the website of the Holy See. The Holy Father's address of welcome and his address at the conclusion of the day offer insights into the nature of the events of that day.
Prayer entails conversion of heart on our part. It means deepening our sense of the ultimate Reality. This is the very reason for our coming together in this place.

We shall go from here to our separate places of prayer. Each religion will have the time and opportunity to express itself in its own traditional rite. Then from these separate places of prayer, we will walk in silence towards the lower Square of Saint Francis. Once gathered in the Square, again each religion will be able to present its own prayer, one after the other.

Having thus prayed separately, we shall meditate in silence on our own responsibility to work for peace. We shall then declare symbolically our commitment to peace. At the end of the Day, I shall try to express what this unique celebration will have said to my heart, as a believer in Jesus Christ and the first servant of the Catholic Church.
 
Yes, there is the dimension of prayer, which in the very real diversity of religions tries to express communication with a Power above all our human forces.
Peace depends basically on this Power, which we call God, and as Christians believe has revealed himself in Christ.

This is the meaning of this World Day of Prayer.

For the first time in history, we have come together from every where, Christian Churches and Ecclesial Communities, and World Religions, in this sacred place dedicated to Saint Francis, to witness before the world, each according to his own conviction, about the transcendent quality of peace.

The form and content of our prayers are very different, as we have seen, and there can be no question of reducing them to a kind of common denominator.

Yes, in this very difference we have perhaps discovered anew that, regarding the problem of peace and its relation to religious commitment, there is something which binds us together.

The challenge of peace, as it is presently posed to every human conscience, is the problem of a reasonable quality of life for all, the problem of survival for humanity, the problem of life and death.

In the face of such a problem, two things seem to have supreme importance and both of them are common to us all.

The first is the inner imperative of the moral conscience, which enjoins us to respect, protect and promote human life, from the womb to the deathbed, for individuals and peoples, but especially for the weak, the destitute, the derelict: the imperative to overcome selfishness, greed and the spirit of vengeance.

The second common thing is the conviction that peace goes much beyond human efforts, particularly in the present plight of the world, and therefore that its source and realization is to be sought in that Reality beyond all of us.

This is why each of us prays for peace. Even if we think, as we do, that the relation between that Reality and the gift of peace is a different one, according to our respective religious convictions, we all affirm that such a relation exists.

This is what we express by praying for it.

I humbly repeat here my own conviction: peace bears the name of Jesus Christ.
There is an absolute conformity between the understanding that Cardinal Ratzinger subsequently (2003)described as "multireligious" prayer in the section "Multireligious and interreligious prayer" of his book Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions and the prayer described here in the words of Pope John Paul II. Multireligious prayer is a prayer "alongside" those of other religions, and not a prayer "with" them, which would be "interreligious" prayer.  Assisi One was not an event of "interreligious prayer", something about which Cardinal Ratzinger expressed a clear doubt in the same section of his book. Instead, it was an event of "multireligious" prayer.

There remains a question about the use of Catholic Churches in Assisi as places of prayer by those of non-Christian religions and, perhaps, some insensitivity in the way in which those adherents of other religions made use of the space dedicated for Christian prayer. I expect that there is some legitimacy in these concerns, though I have not been able to track down with certainty exactly what happened in this regard. [Two reports I was able to find of what happened in the Church used by Buddhist believers differed in details.] It is interesting to note that the "Order of the Day" for the Day of Prayer for Peace on 24th January 2002 - Assisi Two - suggests that the non-Christian religions did not use Churches as their places for prayer on this second occasion.

What did Cardinal Ratzinger say about Assisi One, and what does Pope Benedict XVI think of Assisi One?

In the section of Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions referred to above, Cardinal Ratzinger highlighted two conditions for an appropriate multireligious prayer that might be seen as an evaluation of Assisi One. He firstly argues that it cannot be the normal form of religious life but must remain "exceptional", and be confined to situations that call for a particular pleading to God before the whole of humanity - such as is the case for a prayer for peace at a time of particular violence. Cardinal Ratzinger's second point is that there is a need for a very careful explanation of exactly what is taking place - and what is not taking place - to answer the false interpretations of events, false interpretations that are inevitable and almost certainly involve an indifference towards what is and is not believed, and the dissolution of real faith. I would expect that these two points will apply just as much to Assisi Three in October 2011 as they do to Assisi One in October 1986.

But, in the same section of Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions, Cardinal Ratzinger cites the World Days of Prayer for Peace in Assisi in 1986 and 2002 as the model for multireligious prayer, and affirms the legitimacy of such a prayer, subject to his two conditions just described:
The model for multireligious prayer is offered by the two World Days of Prayer for Peace in Assisi, in 1986 and 2002.... There are undeniable dangers, and it is indisputable that the Assisi meetings, especially in 1986, were misinterpreted by many people. It would, on the other hand, be wrong to reject, completely and unconditionally, multireligious prayer of the kind I have described. To me, the right thing in this case seems to be, rather, to link it with conditions corresponding to the demands of inner truth and responsibility for such a great undertaking as the public appeal to God before all the world.
[Note: I have not been able to track down and verify reports that Cardinal Ratzinger said that Assisi One should not be seen as a "model for interreligious dialogue", or other criticisms that he is reported to have made of Assisi One. If I can track them down, I will update this post accordingly.]

If we wish to grasp what Pope Benedict XVI now thinks of Assisi One, we have only to read again the words with which he has announced his intention to visit Assisi this coming October, quoted above:
It [ie the visit in October 2011] will aim to commemorate the historical action desired by my Predecessor and to solemnly renew the commitment of believers of every religion to live their own religious faith as a service to the cause of peace.


In other words, Pope Benedict believes that the event of Assisi One is worthy of commemoration and that it was an event he sees as being "historic" in character.

In summary: I think we need to have an accurate understanding of what actually happened during Assisi One, and not rely on misunderstandings reported in the media; we need to be clear that Cardinal Ratzinger's acknowledgement of the dangers surrounding events like Assisi One do not constitute a rejection of their legitimacy; and we need to take on board that, as the successor of Peter, Pope Benedict XVI considers the 25th anniversary of Assisi One to be a date worth marking.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

The Lord's Baptism and Our Own

This is the title given to the meditation in Magnificat for today. It is taken from Madeleine Delbrel's book We, the Ordinary People of the Streets. You can find a short account of Madeleine Delbrel in this earlier post.
Through his baptism, the Christian exchanged his freedom for the freedom of Christ. He is free because Christ is supremely free, but he no longer has the right to choose a state of life other than that of Christ, an action other than that of Christ, or a thinking other that that of Christ. This is the state of living faith. Faith is for him a fact, and all he can do is accept it. This state of life means being a child of God in Christ along with all his brothers and sisters who are with him in Christ. Standing before God and before the world, in God and in the world, it is together with all the others that the Christian is Christ. He is the whole Christ, the Christ-Church. This is a fact over which he has no control.....

The work of the Church is the salvation of the world; the world cannot be saved except by the Church. The Church is not the Church unless she saves. We are not the Christ-Church unless we are bringers of salvation. We are not bringers of salvation unless we are the Church. And we are not the Church unless we are the whole Church: each member belongs to the whole body. And we are not the whole Church unless we are in precisely the place meant for us in the Church, which is the same as saying that we are precisely in our place in the world, where the Church is made present through us.
This meditation prompts a couple of thoughts of my own. If our place in the world is precisely our place in the Church, then the priority of the genuinely lay activity of the lay person is going to be in the world rather than in the physical building or governing structures of the Church. And if, as Christ-Church, we represent the presence of the whole Church in our particular place in the world, then our activity in that place has an "authority" of its own. In being faithful to the teaching of the Church in their place in the world, the lay person has an authority that is a form of magisterium.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Christmas in Egypt

Highlights from the BBC coverage here.
At churches across the country, Muslims heeded calls to join Christian friends and neighbours for Mass - to act as shields against potential attacks by Islamist militants, and to show solidarity.

"I came because I condemn what's happening," said Jailan Batanouni, a Muslim at St Mary's church in the Zamalek district of Cairo.  "I want to share Christmas with my Christian friends to tell them not be afraid. If anything should happen we live together and we die together."....

... the large congregations seen on Thursday suggest that Christians did not stay away from church.

"We won't stop coming because they blew up another church. That's just what they want," stressed Jan Mehany. "I think this has just brought us closer to Jesus. Even people who don't normally come to church came here today."

Sami Abdul Messi, who lives close to St Mark's, said: "Whatever happens I must go to church.

"If they try to shoot me or blow me up I will still go because this is my religion. It is the birthday of our saviour, Jesus Christ."

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Salman Taseer

For background to events affecting Christians in Pakistan, see Aid to the Church in Need's page about Pakistan. You can follow the links at the right hand side of this page to explore ACN's coverage. Of particular significance to this post is the link to Pakistan's Blasphemy Laws.

A couple of year's ago, at an ACN event in London, I recall the Bishop of Faisalabad talking about the response to an attach that had taken place on Christians and on their homes and property. He talked about the solidarity and practical support given to the victims of the attacks by members of the local Muslim population, through organisations like businesses and business federations. It is important to recognise that moderate Muslims do not wish to see the extremist violence, the "mob rule", that all too often turns itself onto Christians in Pakistan, in the name of Islam.

One of the worst incidents of violence against Christians took place in the Punjab in August 2009. A Mass celebrated to mark the first anniversary of that atrocity is reported by ACN here, and Bishop Coutts' remarks give some indication of the background to the anit-Christian violence in Pakistan.

This background illustrates the significance of the assassination of the Governor of Punjab, and of the reaction to his funeral. BBC coverage is here and here. Salman Taseer died because he spoke up for the truth about the dignity of the human person, and especially the right of people to follow a religious faith in accord with their own conscience, even when that places them in a minority in their country.

While we pray particularly for those communities in Pakistan that are the specific target of violence, we should also pray for all the citizens of Pakistan at this time of great uncertainty about the future of their country. Everyone is the victim of violence and fear in their society, even though they might not themselves be the direct targets of violence.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Extra-Ordinariate

I have hesitated to comment on the soon-to-be personal Ordinariate in England and Wales, and this for several reasons.

A pre-Ordinariate story, first of all. It is a number of years ago now that I spent a day in a meeting with three priests. The meeting was a rather practical one, not un-related to education. During the lunch break my priest colleagues shared some parish experiences ..... and it dawned on me that the only single person in the room was also the only lay person present! All my colleagues were former Anglican clergy who had now been ordained as Catholic priests. I tell the story because it suggests one of the aspects of Anglican patrimony that is expressed within the juridical structure of a personal Ordinariate, that is, the possibility of the ordination of married men to the priesthood. This is there as a possibility, albeit with a qualification that the Ordinary will normally observe the wider rule of celibacy in promoting candidates to the priesthood, but it is nevertheless and institutional possibility, and not just for men who were formerly Anglican clergy. See paragraph VI §2 of Anglicanorum Coetibus, and paragraph 6§1 of the Complementary norms. Along a similar line, the functions of the Governing Council, composed of at least six priests, reflects Anglican patrimony. In some respects, its functions model those of the College of Priests and College of Consultors of a diocese; but in those respects covered by Article 12 §4 of the Complementary Norms, which include a deliberative vote on the submission of a terna for the appointment of the Ordinary, its functions reflect a style that is more "synodical". I suspect that it is these aspects of Anglican patrimony that will have more effect in the Ordinariate than Liturgical questions, as my closer-to-the-Ordinariate story illustrates.

A stone's throw (well, perhaps two stones' throws) from where I am sitting typing this post, is an Anglican parish. In the early summer, well before any announcements of "defections" to the Ordinariate were made, the Bishop of Richborough, Keith Newton, visited the parish for a service of baptism and confirmation. I attended since a neighbour of mine was one of those being confirmed. Liturgically speaking, it was a typical parish Novus Ordo, though with communion recieved kneeling and a very vigorous affirmation of the doctrine of the real presence in the homily. The music was not, on the whole, that which would gain the approval of the Catholic tradosphere. All of which is to suggest that, on the whole, the Ordinariate will not bring to the Catholic Church a great liturgical regeneration. There may be exceptions, but I guess that the great choirs and music often associated with the Anglican tradition will not be part of the Anglican patrimony the will come across to the Ordinariate, at least not in its beginnings. I used the word "defections" not to be in any way derogatory, but simply to illustrate how some in the Anglican Church, without any deliberate malice, will feel about the decisions of the Bishops of Richborough, Ebbsfleet and Fulham to become Catholics. If my neighbour were given to theological reflection, she would be noticing the dates of the Catholic ordinations of Keith Newton, the Bishop who confirmed her, and asking in her mind what that makes of the validity of her own confirmation. If the Bishop who confirmed her now thinks he hadn't been even been ordained a priest when he confirmed me, what does that mean about my confirmation? Another part of the Ordinariate story is that of those who are remaining in the Church of England and, so far as I can tell, the three Bishops are being very sensitive to the feelings engendered there. Also within hailing distance of where I type are Anglican parishes served by women priests, a Forward in Faith parish and a very high Church Anglican parish where the Vicar wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury a year or two ago protesting against the latter's efforts to hold back the ordination of an openly gay priest as a bishop. All of these, too, will have their feelings about the beginning of an Ordinariate.

I am interested that three former Anglican religious were among those who were received into full communion on New Year's Day. The provisions of Anglicanorum Coetibus and the Complementary Norms allow for establishing religious orders within an Ordinariate, though it has not been made clear that this is the intended outcome for these three sisters. I was also very interested on meeting the Bishop of Richborough (as he then was) to see what an ordinary, feet-on-the-ground pastoral Bishop he was. I have the impression that his decision to become a Catholic has no grandeur about it but is, instead, the result of a period of discernment reaching back to the publication of Anglicanorum Coetibus and of some careful behind-the-scences discussions. He asked for prayers at the time I met him, a request that others making the same journey of discernment have also made. It would be wrong, I think, to see the events of New Year's Day, and the coming establishing of an Ordinariate, in only political and public terms. For people like Keith Newton, it has been a very personal journey though with its very public moments; and I am reminded of the very intense discretion which Edith Stein maintained with regard to her own conversion - Secretum meum mihi.

And that I think leads me to my own reaction to the forthcoming Ordinariate, and the very rapid developments that we have seen in that respect. I think there is a great need to preserve a discretion in our reaction, since we cannot see exactly where it will lead, how it will develop, what its impact on the Church of England will be, what its impact on the Catholic Church in England and Wales will be. (To recognise what its import is for the Catholic Church, we have only to ask the question: if the ordination of married men as priests and a quasi-synodical choosing of an ordinary are possible in a personal Ordinariate, why can't they be possible in a diocese?) The worst thing I think we could do is to visit on to the Ordinariate our own wishes and  desires for it, and for the Catholic Church. We should leave that to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Longing for the Name of Jesus

This is the title of the "Meditation of the Day" in Magnificat for today, which can be celebrated as an optional memorial of the Holy Name of Jesus. The author is given as Fr Hilton (died 1396), a canon of the Augustinian Priory of Thurgarton, England. In the index at the back, the source is given as "From The Scale of Perfection, Dom Gerard Sitwell OSB Tr. Published by The Newman Press, 1953, Westminster, MD."  In looking up the reference to the Song of Songs 1:2 I found the quoted text given in Sg 1:3 instead.
Do not be surprised that the awareness of grace is sometimes withdrawn from the lover of God, for Holy Scripture says of the spouse: I sought him and did not find him; I called him and he did not answer (Sg 3:1). That is, when I sink back into my natural weakness, grace is withdrawn; and if it is withdrawn, my failure is the cause, and not because he has departed from me.....

But at last, in his own good time, he returns, full of grace and truth, and visits the soul which is languishing with desire and sighing lovingly after his presence. He touches it and anoints it with the oil of gladness and takes away all its suffering. And then the soul cries out joyously wiht the voice of the spirit: Your name, O God, is oil poured out (Sg 1:2). Your name is Jesus, that is Saviour. As long as my soul is sick through sin, oppressed with the heavy burden of the body, anxious and disturbed by the dangers and miseries of this life, so long, O Lord, your name is for me oil, not poured out, but witheld. But when my soul is suddenly illumined with the light of grace, cleansed from all the defilement of sin, and feels itself filled with consolation, with spiritual strength and unspeakable joy, then I can say to you with delighted praise and in joy of spirit, "Your name, O Lord, is for me oil poured out. For the grace of your visitation makes me fully understand the true meaning of your name, which is Jesus, Saviour. For it is your gracious presence that saves me from sorrow and from sin".
There is a resonance between this meditation and the Opening Prayer of the votive Mass of the Holy Name, from which the texts are taken for today's optional memorial ("old" ICEL translation, sorry):
Lord,
may we who honour the holy name of Jesus
enjoy his friendship in this life
and be filled with eternal joy in his kingdom
where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit
one God, for ever and ever.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

2nd January 2011: Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord



A form of Epiphany blessing of the home can be found here, though I prayed a much simpler form yesterday evening.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

The Sign of Peace

... or why I find it so very difficult, and try to keep out of it!

A very good explanation of what the sign of peace at Mass is really about, and the difficulties that its practice presents, can be found here. Please do not get me wrong. I am actually very keen on the sign of peace, and keen on it staying where it is, as part of the Communion rite (there are suggestions of moving it to an earlier point in the liturgy, at the Penitential rite or the Offertory). But I just can't cope with it the way it is usually celebrated at Mass these days.

For just over a year now, after a couple of exceptionally bad experiences, I have tried to keep out of exchanging the sign of peace at Mass (though courtesy doesn't always make it possible). The worst case scenario occurs when those around you demonstrate little sense of proper participation at Mass (yes, I know, judgemental, and I wouldn't express this at an individual level) and then enthusiastically expect you to shake hands with them! Another scenario occurs when those around you do participate with reverence and devotion (just as judgemental as above, I know) and then offer the sign of peace in terms which demonstrate a complete lack of understanding of what it is meant to be. The problem here, at least in part, is that the handshake that is the defined sign to be exchanged in England and Wales is not a sacred sign at all but a rather every day sign. I think there is some mileage in the practice I experienced at one time of omitting the exchange of the sign between the people (note that this does not omit the offering of the peace from the celebrating priest to the people, which represents the essence of the sign of peace in any case) during the week, but including it at Sunday Masses.

The classic occurred this morning when the very devout people around me at Mass (a splendid turn out on a Saturday morning for a New Year's Day Mass, including a good number of families) ..... offered the sign of peace wishing me a happy new year!

The Times 1st January 2011 (3)

This report comes from the World News, on page 35.

Each year, the restaurant tables in the Piazza Navona in Rome have been creeping towards the Bernini fountain in the centre of the square.
Now a member of the Borghese family is leading a campaign to rout the advancing tables. Flaminia Borghese, a descendent of the 17th-century Pope Paul V, dukes and cardinals, is the head of the residents association. She accuses the local authorities of allowing the spread of alfresco dining from the pavements into the middle of the square to besmirch "historic centre".

"We need decorum because this is not decorum", she told The Times ...
The Catholic Encyclopaedia entry on Pope Paul V does not suggest that he was profligate in his lifestyle, and neither does the Wikipedia article about him. He would appear to have been guilty of nepotism in appointing family members to positions of influence.

Is Flaminia really a descendent of Pope Paul V himself? After all, we need decorum don't we?

The Times 1st January 2011 (2)

"Pioneering gay fathers set up advice service on surrogacy" is the headline of a piece on pages 26-27.
The millionaire British fathers whose experiences paved the way for Elton John and David Furnish to become parents are to set up an advice service which will help other homosexual couples...

"It is not for same sex couples only. Tony and I have now helpted 38 couples to become parents over the space of six years using surrogacy and apart from those 38 families who have had children, we've helped even more people by putting them in touch with other agencies. I would say 80 per cent of the people have been heterosexual couples."
[Hyperlink not in the Times original report!]

The article portrays the existence of a surrogacy market place in California, which can be used by couples in the UK to work round the illegality of commercial surrogacy here.
Mr Drewitt-Barlow said that he would expect to pay American egg donors, who are often recruited from the country's top universities, between £10 000 and £25 000 for one round of egg harvesting.

"A first-time surrogate costs £20 000 to £25 000", he said. "And what they call a 'proven surrogate', who has had several successful surrogate pregnancies, might get up to £65 000." Then there is the additional cost of IVF, he added.
The figures being quoted are staggering. The wealth of those seeking to use surrogacy to have children is also a cause to stop and think. And, hidden away in the process, is the eugenic implications of choosing egg donors from among those attending top universities.

It would appear that somewhere in this process there is a lot of money to be made.

UPDATE: Paulinus' post here adds something to this coverage.