Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Missio Metropolis: New Evangelisation for Liverpool

The Archdiocese of Liverpool has been chosen to take part in programme this Lent that will be evaluated to inform the forthcoming Synod of Bishops dedicated to the theme of the "new evangelisation". Details can be found at the Bishops Conference website, and at Liverpool Archdiocese's own website.

What interests me in reading this report is the extent of the engagement of the diocesan Bishop in celebrating the Liturgy and in preaching/teaching during the Lenten season. The eve of Palm Sunday is also going to see a celebration of the Stations of the Cross in Liverpool Cathedral, and event combining a sense of culture and of meditation.

It will be interesting to see how this exercise by a Bishop of his office of teaching will turn out.

Monday, 30 January 2012

Three takes on authority

And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority...

These words from the Gospel at Mass yesterday (Mark 1:21-28) provide a kind of strap-line that prompts several thoughts on authority.

The homily that I heard at Mass rather mischievously suggested that perhaps Pope Benedict had sent a goodwill message to Rev. Ian Paisley on his retirement from full time preaching. It pointed out that Rev. Paisley had founded his own church, the Free Presbyterian Church, some sixty odd years ago. In the Roman Catholic Church, however, the successors of St Peter have taught Christian truth with authority for over two thousand years.

In his Angelus address, the present successor of St Peter, Pope Benedict XVI contrasted the authority of power with the authority of service:
 "For man", the Holy Father observed, "authority often means possession, power, dominion, success. For God, however, authority means service, humility, love. It means entering into the logic of Jesus Christ Who leans down to wash the feet of His disciples, Who seeks man's authentic good, Who heals wounds, Who is capable of a love so great as to give His life, because He is Love. ...
And the meditation in Magnificat for yesterday was taken from the writings of Mgr Luigi Giussani, founder of the movement Communion and Liberation. The italics are in the original, and reflect an aspect of how Communion and Liberation articulates its charism.
In our particular milieu some individuals have a greater sensitivity to the human experience; in fact they develop a deeper understanding fo any given situation and of others; in fact they are more likely to influence the movement that builds a community. They live our experience more intensely and with a greater commitment. We all feel that they are more representative of us. With them we feel closer to, and stay more willingly in community with, others. To acknowledge this phemenon is to be loyal to our own humanity, a duty spurred by wisdom.

When we discover ourselves helpless and alone, our humanity spurs us to come together. If we meet someone who better feels and understands our experience, suffering, needs, and expectations, we naturally are led to follow that person and become his or her disciple. In that sense, such persons naturally constitute authority.... The Jews said of Christ: "This is one who has authority" and they abandoned the schemes of the Pharisees to follow him.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

A better vocation?

The second reading at Mass today (1 Cor. 7:32-35) seemed very apposite with the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord occurring on Thursday. That feast is kept in the Catholic Church as a day of prayer for consecrated life.
I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; 33 but the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife, 34 and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman or girl is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please her husband. 35 I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.
What this passage describes - and it should pehaps be read in the context of the account of married life that St Paul gives earlier in this same chapter of his letter - is a preferential love for the Lord of the one who is unmarried. I do not believe that this passage refers just to those who are single simply by circumstances of life; rather, in its reference to those who are "anxious about the affairs of the Lord", I think it refers to those who have consecrated themselves specifically to the Lord in the evangelical counsel of chastity/celibacy.

This preferential love for the Lord represents a better vocation: not in the sense that those who live it should, by virtue of their consecrated life alone, be seen as more holy; but in the sense that the vocation itself is a higher vocation that therefore makes a higher demand on the consent and love of those who live it.

I sometimes wonder whether, in times and circumstances now past, a poorly understood sense of the higher nature of the vocation to religious life might not have created a social pressure or status that meant that some entered that state of life when not really called to it. This might well have been rightly balanced in more recent times by an increased awareness of the dignity of the lay state in the life of the Church.

But I do think that it is unfortunate that an anxiety not to undervalue the lay vocation in the Church  can all too readily lead us away from speaking of the vocation to consecrated life, that is, to a life characterised by the vows of the three evangelical counsels, as being a higher vocation in a proper sense.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Faith, heart and reason

Two things about today have prompted me to comment on this piece from a parish newsletter. It was published a week or two ago, and one should recognise that it is intended as a comment on the Gospel of that particular Sunday. I reproduce it in its entirety, but will be discreet about its provenance to spare any blushes!.
Six years I studied in Rome. Magnificent, but demanding. Academics, books, papers, theologies, philosophies, journals, doctrines – it goes on. Heads crammed with knowledge. Being brainy. All good stuff, but isn’t Christianity more?

Maybe years of working with people with disabilities, mental health issues, and in prison allows for a bigger understanding about what genuine Christianity is.

It seems that to be a Christian, you have to have met someone who is already -"Christian". It is based on experience. To experience Christianity for ourselves. Christ is passed on "personally". To become a genuine follower of Christ is to have met someone who shines with a Christ-like freedom, a joy, an inner energy, a vitality – and let them rub off on you. Let it be contagious. You catch on to it, and soon yours will rub off on to someone else.

This stuff cannot be "theologised", intellectualised or made into sermons. It is simply a way of living. Way bigger and beyond Rome’s academics. It’s personal, always "relational", and never something private.

Once we see people like this who "get it", who have "caught on" to this bigger Christianity, once we draw close to them and let their ways rub off on us, why would we settle for anything less? It’s just so good, so right, so true.

Christ challenges his first disciples to come and see - for themselves. Come and experience so that his ways may catch-on in them. And their ways on to others, and on to others – and on to others...right down the centuries, and finally to us.

Do we know anyone with these Christ-like ways? Do we have the humility to let their Christianity catch-on in us? Or does pride get in the way? To let it catch on in humility, truth and integrity could transform ours, and others lives - forever.
This weekend the Venerable English College in Rome is celebrating the 650th anniversary of its first founding as a hospice for English pilgrims visiting Rome. Certainly with hindsight, I value the academic opportunities I had as a student in Rome too many years ago now for me to wish to number them. If anything, I now wish I had recognised better the opportuntities that were there.

Today is also the feast of St Thomas Aquinas, whose life reminds us of the role that study plays in the life of the Church, both past and present. The duty to study the content of the faith, in so far as one's circumstances permit, is a commonplace of what used to be termed the lay apostolate.

Whilst Father is correct in identifying the part played by personal contact in evangelisation, and this is the context of the Gospel of that particular Sunday, he is surely wrong in suggesting that the intellectual life of faith is opposed to this in some way. On the contrary, the intelligent is part of an evangelising personal encounter, and to deny its role in that encounter is to reduce the substance of the encounter. For those familiar with the writings of Luigi Giussani, founder of Communion and Liberation, whose charism is founded on an idea of Christian experience, this appears somewhat ironic. The second chapter of his seminal The Religious Sense addresses the necessity of a premise of "reasonableness" with regard to an examination of Christian experience. And part of the weekly task of a parish priest is precisely to express the vitality of Christian life in a sermon!

The forthcoming Year of Faith is going to ask of us a greater attention to the intellectual content of faith, both as what is believed and as an act of consent to that belief. This greater attention to the content of the faith runs throughout Pope Benedict's Apostolic Letter Porta Fidei.

Stray thoughts on counselling and advising

From time to time I am involved in "casework" type activities: mostly that involves supporting people in circumstances of their professional work. That role often involves using my professional training and experience to advise someone as to a course of action that they should take. There may be some  counselling skills used - sympathetic and accurate listening, for example - but the role is not one of counselling. It involves giving specific advice. There is a second moment in this type of activity, and that is the consent of the person being advised. That person might choose to follow the advice that has been given, but they might also choose not to do so, and there are many things that I can only do with their consent. Expressed at a more philosophical level, there is the necessity of respecting the freedom of action of the other person with respect to the advice that is given.

Another aspect of these situations is the presumptions that are implicit in the relationship that I have to the person I am advising. My working context very often contains an implicit, and sometimes explicit, expectation that I will offer advice, and this expectation underpins the relationship of trust between myself and the other person. This makes it possible for me to offer advice without it going against the freedom of the other person. Often I will have a part in the implementation of the course of action that is followed, and respecting the (implicit) basis of the trust between myself and the other person is critical.

And what happens if the person I am supporting says something to me that I, from an ethical point of view, do not agree with or support?

If I were counselling, at least if I have understood the concept of counselling correctly, the one thing I would not do is advise one course of action rather than any other. Instead, the process is one of supporting the other person to recognise and make their own choice of the course of action.

I do not have first hand experience or knowledge of counselling in the context of crisis pregnancy. What is the intention of such counselling? Is it one of advising, or is it one of counselling in the stricter sense? And does the person approaching a crisis pregnancy counsellor do so with implicit expectations that form the basis of trust underlying the counselling session? Despite the use of the word "counselling", are they expecting to be advised about a course of action? Would client expectations determine their decision to approach one counselling agency rather than another, that expectation then beginning to form a basis for the trust between counsellor and client, and thereby permitting advice in a particular direction rather than another that nevertheless is still respectful of the freedom of the client?  In any situation, how does the dynamic of possibly-advice from the counsellor and consent by the client play out?

I wonder whether the current debate about "post conception advice and counselling" is failing to really reach to the root question of how counselling/advice interacts with the freedom of the person seeking that counselling/advice? And within how we understand that interaction lies the answer as to whether or not an abortion provider or a pro-life agency can offer counselling/advice that is, to use the inaccurate language typical of public debate, impartial. Is not a range of different provisions one of the conditions that would permit this impartiality in its genuine sense?

Tuesday, 24 January 2012


One of the books I received at Christmas was Aung San Suu Kyi's Letters from Burma. I have just "dipped" and read a short chapter entitled "Communication". It offered an interesting reflection when, here in the UK, we are from time to time listening to news reports of evidence to the Leveson inquiry into the culture, practice and ethics of the press. It is the use of the word "commerce" in the following passage that particularly struck me:
Did cave dwellers paint hunting scenes to pass an idle hour or was it fulfilment of an unconscious need to immortalize their deeds for posterity? Or was it an attempt to communicate to others their view of life around them, an embryonic form of media activity? What are newspapers, radio, television and other means of mass communication all about? Some who put more emphasis on the mass than on the communication might say cynically that these are simply about making money by catering to the public taste for sensationalism and scandal. But genuine communication constitutes a lot more than mere commerce in news, views and information.
Commenting on the experience of her own encounters with interviewers, Aung San Suu Kyi writes:
There have been agonising sessions when language difficulties make ti a struggle for the interviewer and myself to communicate with each other. Then there are those sessions when perception, rather than language, is the problem and questions puzzle while answers are misunderstood and are sometimes misrepresented to the extent that there is little in common between what is said and what appears in print. It all shows that communication between human beings is interesting, frustrating, exhilarating, infuriating, intricate, exhausting - and essential.

Experienced professional journalists can make even the last interview of a gruelling day more of a relaxation than an ordeal. They know how to put the questions so that new facets appear to an old situation and talking to them becomes a learning process. They combine thorough, enquiring minds with an integrity and a human warmth that make conversation with them stimulating and enjoyable.  Good photographers and good journalists are masters at communication, with a talent for presenting as accurately as possible what is happening in one part of the world to the rest of the globe. They are a boon to those of us who live in land where there is not freedom of expression.
 In the light of the events that led to the setting up of the Leveson inquiry, I wonder whether those of us who have not been without the freedom to communicate really value that freedom sufficiently not to abuse it.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Four thoughts on Christian Unity

The eight days that lead up to the feast of the Conversion of St Paul on 25th January have been observed for many years as a week of prayer for Christian Unity. This year's week of prayer was the subject on which Pope Benedict spoke at his weekly general audience on 18th January. The first paragraphs of that audience outline the origins of the week in 1908, and its encouragement in the Catholic Church by Popes St Pius X and Benedict XV.
Il compito ecumenico è dunque una responsabilità dell’intera Chiesa e di tutti i battezzati, che devono far crescere la comunione parziale già esistente tra i cristiani fino alla piena comunione nella verità e nella carità. Pertanto, la preghiera per l’unità non è circoscritta a questa Settimana di Preghiera, ma deve diventare parte integrante della nostra orazione, della vita orante di tutti i cristiani, in ogni luogo e in ogni tempo, soprattutto quando persone di tradizioni diverse s’incontrano e lavorano insieme per la vittoria, in Cristo, su tutto ciò che è peccato, male, ingiustizia, violazione della dignità dell’uomo.
[The work of ecumenism is consequently a responsibility of the whole Church and of all the baptised, who must work to increase the partial communion that already exists among Christians towards full communion in truth and in charity. Therefore, prayer for unity is not limited to this Week of Prayer, but must become an integral part of our prayer, of the life of prayer of all Christians, in every place and in every time, above all when people of different traditions meet each other and work togther for victory, in Christ, over all that is sin, evil, injustice, violation of the dignity of man.]
My first two thoughts are prompted by the celebration yesterday of the feast day of a virgin martyr, St Agnes. Both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have commented on recognising the extent of the imperfect communion that already exists among Christians, respectively in the encyclical Ut Unum Sint n.84 and in speaking to leaders of other Christian communities in Cologne (8th and 9th paragraphs). One of the most striking suggestions of the paragraph from Ut Unum Sint is that, in the witness to the point of death of martyrdom, the unity that is imperfect in other areas of Christian life, as the truest outcome of a "dialogue of conversion" is already perfect. That St Agnes was both a martyr and a virgin suggests another aspect similar to this significance of martyrdom in our understanding of ecumenical dialogue. The living of the religious life, of a life marked by the three evangelical counsels, might also represent a particular moment in the "dialogue of conversion" that is part of the ecumenical endeavour. It represents a radical conversion to Christ and so, if we follow the principle that Pope John Paul II applied to our understanding of martyrdom, at the very least it represents an increase in the degree of perfection in the imperfect communion between Christians of different denominations who live this style of life. We do perhaps underestimate the ecumenical significance of the life of religious among Christians of other Churches.

In his address in Cologne, Pope Benedict made particular reference to the fraternity existing between Christians of different denominations, and cited this as a fruit of dialogue that is perhaps not valued as much as it should be. At ordinary parish level, where the lay faithful in particular can have a very superficial understanding of what ecumenism is really about, expressions of this fraternity in local covenants, pulpit exchanges or joint prayer often fail to accurately reflect the imperfect nature of the communion that exists. Such initiatives can be antithetical to genuine ecumenical endeavour. Where such fraternity exists in a manner more reflective of the imperfect existing communion is situations of collaborative action on the part of Christians, in fields such as hospital and port chaplaincy (within my own experience) and, so far as I can gather, in military chaplaincy. This is suggested at the end of the quotation from Pope Benedict above. Perhaps we should recognise more the significance of works such as these as measures of the extent of the fruit of ecumenical dialogue.

My fourth thought is completely different. Non-ecclesial, or independent, Christian churches, have seen significant growth in recent years. They are, in themselves, a counter sign to Christian unity as each such church adds to the visible division that others see among Christians. Indeed, their completely self defining nature leads me to feel that their use of the word "Christian" is only an analagous use, since there is intrinsically no attempt to relate their present day community to the earlier historical Christian communities. I am not aware that these non-ecclesial churches take any interest in ecumenism.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Advocating for marriage

I expect that this event, Talk Marriage, is going to be a very good thing. It takes place in the evening of 7th February 2012, and is free, though you do need to book a place in advance.

The event is ecclesially interesting for two reasons. One of the speakers is a Catholic, a lay Catholic rather than a cleric. The other speakers are leaders in various non-Catholic ministries. For these latter speakers, it is more natural that they should take a lead in a matter such as marriage and not feel dependent on clerical leadership in order to do so. For Catholics, that lay people should be the leaders in the promotion of Catholic ideas in the public sphere, leaders in their own right and not through dependence on the clergy, is a relatively recent insight into what we would call the "lay apostolate".

The second reason comes to mind during the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity. Talk Marriage is indeed an exercise in a particular form of ecumenical activity, namely common activity in the public sphere in favour of a teaching and values held in common. It is an example of a dialogue of life. It is the type of ecumenical activity that can often be lost to sight.

Monday, 16 January 2012


Zero has been complaining that readers may believe that she has ceased to exist, since she has not been referred to for some time.

This photo, and close up, was taken yesterday, in the Church yard of the Church of St Thomas the Apostle in Navestock, Essex, as we started off on a 6 mile walk. In the background, and at the right hand edge of the main photograph, you can see a low fence around a dip in the grave yard. This marks the place where a landmine was dropped during 1940, causing significant damage to the Church.

Our walk took in a visit to the Diocesan House of Prayer at Abbotswick where we sat in the garden to eat our lunch and had a chat with Sr Gabi before leaving to complete the walk.

The day was cold, but with bright sunshine all day. Navestock is perhaps 10 minutes drive from where we live.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

"..an ecumenism worthy of the name .."

Monsignor Keith Newton, Ordinary of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, has written a pastoral letter to mark the first anniversary of the erection of the Ordinariate. The full text has been posted by E F Pastor Emeritus, here, though I expect it will eventually be posted to the Ordinariate's own website.

The following paragraph struck me, because of its resonance with a remark made by Pope Paul VI in connection with the canonisation of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales in 1970. I have added an emphasis to draw out the resonance.
Of course, there have been some misunderstandings; partly because the Ordinariate has begun in a modest way, many Catholics have had no personal contact with Ordinariate groups or individuals.  It is up to all of us to help people understand and to make a reality the vision that Pope Benedict has set before us, that the Ordinariate should be ‘a prophetic gesture’ to contribute to the wider goal of visible unity between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion. It is to help us to experience in practice how we can share the gifts we have received to strengthen each other for our mission to a world that desperately needs to hear the good news of Jesus Christ. As we keep the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity this month we should pray even more urgently for the unity of Christ’s Church which Pope Benedict reminded us, during his visit to the United Kingdom last year, is a particular charge and care for the successor of Saint Peter.
These words of Pope Paul VI are taken from his remarks at the Consistory held on 18th May 1970, in respect of the canonisation of the Forty Martyrs. Again, I have added an emphasis to draw out the resonance between the words of Mgr Newton and Pope Paul VI.
They [the Forty Martyrs] will be of the greatest help in the development of the Christian life. They will assist in advancing an ecumenism worthy of the name. They will be a true safeguard to those real values in which the genuine peace and prosperity of human society are rooted.
Pope Paul VI, at the end of his homily during the Mass of canonisation, expressed more completely the ecumenical implications of the canonisation, in words that now seem quite prophetic of the establishing of the Ordinariate:
May the blood of these Martyrs be able to heal the great wound inflicted upon God’s Church by reason of the separation of the Anglican Church from the Catholic Church. Is it not one-these Martyrs say to us-the Church founded by Christ? Is not this their witness? Their devotion to their nation gives us the assurance that on the day when-God willing-the unity of the faith and of Christian life is restored, no offence will be inflicted on the honour and sovereignty of a great country such as England. There will be no seeking to lessen the legitimate prestige and the worthy patrimony of piety and usage proper to the Anglican Church when the Roman Catholic Church-this humble “Servant of the Servants of God”- is able to embrace her ever beloved Sister in the one authentic communion of the family of Christ: a communion of origin and of faith, a communion of priesthood and of rule, a communion of the Saints in the freedom and love of the Spirit of Jesus.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

"Nowhere in the gospel do we read that the star guided the wise men"

This post reproduces the message from the newsletter of St Patrick's Church, Soho Square, for the feast of the Epiphany, celebrated last Sunday. I saw it when I was checking Mass times for later today. St Patrick's website can be found here.

Today’s feast marks the end of the Christmas Season. Traditionally, the date of the Epiphany was fixed as January 6th  – the twelfth day of the Christmas Season but we celebrate the feast today. Two weeks ago we remembered the birth of Jesus Christ, God made man, born of the Virgin Mary. Today we celebrate the fact that his birth was not a private event to be enjoyed and shared by Mary and her close friends and family – rather his birth was to be shared and revealed to people throughout the world, over and over again.

The wise men travelled first to Jerusalem because they “saw his star as it rose…” They need help and advice. The star has temporarily disappeared and so they consult with King Herod and his advisors. When they leave him and resume their journey, they see the star once again. It’s reassuring presence is there to guide them once more. We don’t know for how long or for how many miles they travelled without the presence of the star, it may have been hidden from view simply because of heavy cloud cover, but they did not give up on their journey. Nowhere in the gospel do we read that the star guided the wise men. We only read that they “saw it as it rose...” and that “there in front of them was the star they had seen rising”.

In between these two occurrences they travelled blind, walking in darkness but never giving up. Like the wise men, we are on a journey. We watch as the priest raises the host at the consecration of the Mass. We are captivated by its simplicity and purity and are drawn forward. Here in our presence is the word made flesh. We partake of that flesh in communion but then the host is gone. We leave the security of the Church and sanctuary with the memory of the Elevation of the Host, just as the wise men drew strength from the sight of the star which they watched as it rose. Like the wise men we can expect to experience moments of darkness and insecurity. We are not sure if we are on the right path.

We seek guidance and help and then there is another fleeting glimpse of the light of God guiding us through life. We are not on a floodlit path but on a journey where momentary glimpses of the power and wonder of God will guide and sustain us.

The birth of Jesus at Christmas was a once and for all event. The feast of The Epiphany reminds us that that birth brought salvation to all people – including you and me, unworthy though we are. The journey we share is fraught with difficulty and sometimes, perhaps, even danger. It’s a journey that many have taken before us, and many more will follow in our footsteps. We pray with them all: “Lord, your light is strong, your love is near; draw us beyond the limits which the world imposes to the life where your Spirit makes all life complete.”

Thursday, 12 January 2012


At the present time, my own Diocese of Brentwood is awaiting the appointment of a new Bishop to succeed Bishop Thomas McMahon. The processes of consultation will have progressed during the last months of 2011.

Which all made it quite poignant to be praying for a new Shepherd at a time when the Liturgy of Christmas season has its own reminders of the shepherds adoring the baby Jesus at Bethlehem.

Archbishop of York repudiates marriage?

I caught part of Archbishop Sentamu's interview on BBC Radio 4's Today programme this morning. As William Oddie points out, it was not so much what Archbishop Sentamu said as what he did not say that is of significance.

I was waiting for the archbishop to go on to say that but, and then explain that though of course, as the Children’s Society says, “the quality of children’s relationships with their families is far more important than the structure of the family that they live in”, that nevertheless a basic determining factor in the quality of relationships within any family is that family’s stability, the sense of security it gives its children, and that all the evidence shows that families based on marriage are very considerably more likely not to break up (that, archbishop is why marriage is the “bedrock of society”, it isn’t just a mantra you are supposed to utter before going on implicitly to deny it). The word but was, however, never uttered by the archbishop, just as in the Children’s Society report he was launching, the word “marriage” doesn’t appear at all, not once.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Pope Benedict XVI's "state of the world" address

Each year, Pope Benedict meets with diplomatic representatives accredited to the Holy See. This meeting takes place early in the new year, and takes the form of an exchange of greetings for the new year. The Holy Father addresses the diplomats in an address that can be described as a "state of the world" address.

The address that Pope Benedict gave on 9th January is impressively wide ranging. It shows an outstanding awareness of world events and of their implications for the human person. It is necessary to read the whole address to gain a real understanding of its breadth and depth. Some reactions to the address can be found here: Dignity of the human being is key (Canadian ambassador to the Holy See),  Looking long term, not short term (UK ambassador to the Holy See, though his observation about being reminded of the global role of the Holy See is of interest), A sober speech for a sobering world (Australian ambassador to the Holy See, who picks up on the theme of education in the Pope's address).

A number of Pope Benedict's remarks touch on matters of education:
In addition to a clear goal, that of leading young people to a full knowledge of reality and thus of truth, education needs settings. Among these, pride of place goes to the family, based on the marriage of a man and a woman. .... The family unit is fundamental for the educational process and for the development both of individuals and States; hence there is a need for policies which promote the family and aid social cohesion and dialogue....

[An] essential role in the development of the person is played by educational institutions: these are the first instances which cooperate with the family and they can hardly function properly unless they share the same goals as the family. There is a need to implement educational policies which ensure that schooling is available to everyone and which, in addition to promoting the cognitive development of the individual, show concern for a balanced personal growth, including openness to the Transcendent....

In this perspective. it is clear that an effective educational programme also calls for respect for religious freedom. This freedom has individual, collective and institutional dimensions.
Others have commented on how the sections of these paragraph that I have omitted relate the question of the family to that of the promotion of a culture of life. But for an education professional, these paragraphs contain another significant implication. The Coalition Government is promoting a diversification in the governance structures of state funded schools, encouraging (and coercing) the conversion of schools to Academy status and encouraging the founding of Free Schools. The opposition to these policies is articulated in terms of the "privatisation of state education", in terms of the removal of local democratic accountability that exists with local authority schools, and in highlighting the dangers of minority groups being able to found schools without any particular educational expertise. So the pointing out of the first place to be given to families, and then that educational institutions are "the first instances which cooperate with the family", provides a completely new context from which to approach these debates about the governance structure of schools. Whatever governance structure accompanies the state funding, the educational enterprise itself first belongs to parents and families and not to either central or local government. The observation that religious freedom has collective and institutional dimensions also has a clear implication for the part that religious faith might play in the founding of Academies and Free Schools.

This paragraph appears towards the end of Pope Benedict's address:
Finally I would stress that education, correctly understood, cannot fail to foster respect for creation. We cannot disregard the grave natural calamities which in 2011 affected various regions of South-East Asia, or ecological disasters like that of the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan. Environmental protection and the connection between fighting poverty and fighting climate change are important areas for the promotion of integral human development.
This is, of course, reminiscent of the stance taken by CAFOD with regard to climate change and development. It is not the first time that Pope Benedict has spoken in terms such as these about questions of ecology.

But do read the whole address in order to appreciate its wide range and the way in which it brings religious principles to bear upon the situation of the community of nations of the world. To end with, a paragraph of the Australian Ambassador's comment on Pope Benedict's speech, referred to above:
“What I picked up most from the Pope’s speech was his return to the theme of education. Education for young people, education as part of religious freedom and cultural progress in the Middle East and around the world. Having just returned from Bethlehem University where 1 thousand Christian, 2 thousand Muslim students all work together on the same campus I thought the theme was very commendable."

Sunday, 8 January 2012

SAGO and Clarification

I was rather struck by this post about SAGO. Hang on a moment - do try and work out what it is before following the link!

By accident I also read Clarification which I posted pretty much a year ago, on 14th January 2011. I think I have written something along similar lines more recently - Different Offices. Having re-read the first of these posts, I realise that I wasn't being as original as I thought when writing the second!

In their own ways, both posts relate to the theme of Ben Trovato's post.

An examination syllabus, a Curriculum Directory and the Catechism

This post considers the Religious Studies GCSE syllabus, offered by Edexcel, in comparison to the Religious Education Curriculum Directory for Catholic Schools, published by the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales in 1996. Two of the units of the former, Units 2 and 3, studied together, are indicated as fulfilling the content requirements at Keystage 4 of the latter, which remains the definitive statement by the Catholic Bishops Conference of what they direct should be the content of religious education in Catholic schools in their territory.

The post is prompted by three events. Firstly, the part played by this syllabus in the controversy surrounding RE at Bonus Pastor School. Secondly, the call by Pope Benedict XVI in the Apostolic Letter  Porta Fidei nn.11-12 for attention to be given to study and promotion of the Catechism of the Catholic Church during the forthcoming Year of Faith, a call taken up by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in pastoral guidelines for the Year that include a several suggestions relating to the Catechism. And thirdly, the question asked about Catholic schools by Bishop Michael Campbell of Lancaster in his recent pastoral letter, about which I have already posted.

The Edexcel specification (ie syllabus) can be downloaded here. It is made up of something like 16 different units of which 2 must be taught to provide a full GCSE qualification in Religious Studies; if only one unit is taught it provides "short course" GCSE qualification. Different combinations of units can be chosen to provide teaching across a range of religions or teaching focussed on one religion only, such as Islam, Judaism etc. It is Units 3 and 10 which, when both are taught, provide coverage of the content of the Religious Education Curriculum Directory. As the Edexcel syllabus says in its introduction to the syllabus document:
The two Roman Catholic Christianity units (Units 3 and 10) fulfil the content requirements of the Curriculum Directory of the Bishops of England and Wales (1996), but students will be expected be aware of the broader Christian tradition
and in the "Content overview" at the beginning of Unit 3 (there is an exactly parallel passage in Unit 10, with an almost identical wording):
The unit is based on a study of Roman Catholic Christianity but students will be expected to be aware of the broader Christian tradition.... In order to meet Assessment Objective 2, students need to be aware of a range of responses addressing religious and/or non-religious beliefs.
A further remark is incuded in the syllabus at the head of each section of subject content:
Students will be required to: demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the specification; express their own responses to the issues and questions raised by the specification using reasons and evidence; evaluate alternative points of view about these issues and questions.
The Religious Education Curriculum Directory can currently be downloaded from here (but the Catholic Education Service are preparing a new website so this link may not last!). The Directory sets out in detail the expected content of religious education in Catholic schools, from nursery to age 16. It's programmes of study are structured and refer to the four principle documents of the Second Vatican Council and to the parts of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (cf p.12). An overarching programme of study in four areas of study is then specified in detail for different age groups. Though this document directs what the Bishops expect to be taught in religious education, and has not been superseded since its publication in 1996, theLevels of Attainment that have since been prepared to guide schools in the assessment of attainment in religious education "do not allude to the content of Catholic religious education as outlined in the Curriculum Directory" (cf the Foreword to the Levels of Attainment document itself).

Now it should be said that religious education in any school, and particularly as pupils move in to the later years of schooling, should expect pupils to be able to give reasons for and to argue in favour of their beliefs. Religious education has an element of learning about religious teachings, or, in a Catholic context, of learning about morals and doctrine. It also has an element of critical study, of being able to give reasons for belief. So there is no "in principle" objection to the idea that Catholic pupils should express their own response to what they are taught, give reasons and evidence for their beliefs, and consider other views in this kind of context. Neither is there an "in principle" objection to their being aware of other points of view, particularly in the later years of schooling. However, there is a "but" that needs to be considered.

I can summarise my view of the use of the Edexcel syllabus in Catholic schools by saying that, yes, it can be used to support the provision in the school of a Keystage 4 curriculum that meets the requirements of the Curriculum Directory, but that the  use of the syllabus by itself does not assure that provision.

1. In order to meet the requirements of the Curriculum Directory, the scheme of work in a Catholic school needs to expect pupils to give reasons and evidence in support of Catholic teaching so that, in the context of the examinations, pupils are encouraged to present Catholic teaching as their response along with reasons and evidence that support it. It would not meet the requirements of the Directory if the pupils were just left entirely to themselves to give reasons and evidence for any point of view. It is, I would suggest, perfectly possible to achieve this within the expectations of the Edexcel syllabus.

2. In some sections of the Edexcel syllabus this is fairly straightforward. The provisions of section 10.1 on the Trinity and the three persons thereof can be readily aligned to the account of the Trinity on page 14 of the Curriculum Directory, and the more specific provisions for each Keystage in pp.15-18. In other sections, though, it has the potential to be problematical. The provisions in section 3.2 of the syllabus with regard to abortion, for example:
The nature of abortion, including current British legislation, and why abortion is a controversial issue
Different Christian attitudes to abortion and the reasons for them
do not automatically lead one to devise a scheme of work that delivers the relevant section of the Curriculum Directory (p.35), which is supported by reference to nn.2258-2300 of the Catechism:
Love of neighbour is expressed in respect for life at all stages, especially the life of those who cannot defend themselves, including the yet unborn.
So the key point in evaluating a Catholic school's use of the Edexcel syllabus does not derive from the fact of using the syllabus itself. It will come from looking at the scheme of work and resources that the school has in place and comparing them directly to the Curriculum Directory, without making the assumption that meeting the needs of the Edexcel syllabus automatically means meeting the requirements of the Curriculum Directory.

3. There is an implication of points 1 and 2 with regard to the way in which the staff of Catholic schools write their schemes of work for Keystage 4 religious education. It is vital that the scheme of work is written by reading the Edexcel syllabus from the perspective of the Curriculum Directory and in adherence to the Curriculum Directory. If the scheme of work is written without this reference to the Curriculum Directory it is unlikely that it will meet the requirements of the Directory. [A similar comment might be made about a scheme of work based on the Levels of Attainment without reference to the Curriculum Directory.]

This last point brings me back to the three events which have prompted this post. I do not have direct knowledge of the situation at Bonus Pastor school, but it appears likely that their use of the Edexcel syllabus has not guaranteed compliance with the Curriculum Directory. The Catholic character of the RE at Keystage 4 in a Catholic school touches on the question being asked by Bishop Michael Campbell about the purpose of continuing to run schools that are not clearly Catholic in character (though you will need to see my earlier post on this to gain a full impression of my views with regard to the Catholic character of a school). A review of the Keystage 4 religious education provision in Catholic schools to assure that the provision complies with the expectations of the Curriculum Directory (and, indeed, the then President of the Bishops Conference in 1996 mandated  compliance in the Preface to the Directory, and I am not aware of that having ever been changed) would contribute to a promotion of the use of the Catechism, to which the Curriculum Directory is referenced, in the light of the Year of Faith.


The Solemnity of the Epiphany always brings to mind for me visits to the shrine of the Magi in Cologne Cathedral, first of all during World Youth Day 2005, and during a later visit.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Ordinary form

For the vast majority of Catholics in England and Wales, despite the impression that might be gained from the aether, today is not celebrated as the Solemnity of the Epiphany. The Solemnity will be celebrated on Sunday.

The Collect for Mass today is:
Cast your kindly light upon your faithful, Lord, we pray,
and with the splendour of your glory
set their hearts ever aflame,
that they may never cease to acknowledge their Saviour
and may truly hold fast to him.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

The language of communion or the language of dissent?: a second essay in style

When we talk about the unity of the Catholic Church we refer to a unity that, in its visible components,  has distinct elements. There is unity in doctrine, that is, unity in what it is that is believed to have been revealed by God. There is unity in the life of grace, and especially in the sacramental life. And there is unity in the visible hierarchical structure of the Church. As the  Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, n.161, teaches:
The Church is one because she has as her source and exemplar the unity of the Trinity of Persons in one God. As her Founder and Head, Jesus Christ re-established the unity of all people in one body. As her soul, the Holy Spirit unites all the faithful in communion with Christ. The Church has but one faith, one sacramental life, one apostolic succession, one common hope, and one and the same charity.
The Compendium continues, n.167:
Every particular Church (that is, a diocese or eparchy) is catholic. It is formed by a community of Christians who are in communion of faith and of the sacraments both with their Bishop, who is ordained in apostolic succession, and with the Church of Rome which “presides in charity” (Saint Ignatius of Antioch).
For the individual Catholic, it is their unity with their Bishop that defines their visible unity with the Church. It is unity with the Bishop that is mediating of unity with the Pope. With a very limited qualification, the claim to be in unity with the See of Rome but not in unity with the local Bishop is, ecclesiologically speaking, a contradiction in terms. Unity with Rome cannot be played off against unity with the Bishop.

It can be readily seen that those Catholics who do not accept the universal teaching of the Church, manifested in particular in the teaching of the Holy See, are in dissent. But it can equally be argued that those who launch sustained and carping attack on their Bishop are also in dissent, though that dissent takes a different form than that often directed at the Holy See.

This is not to suggest a subservient obeisance to the Bishop, or indeed to the Holy See. The lay faithful are going to use their intelligence to form judgements about the strengths and weaknesses of the way both exercise their office in the Church. But the style of the expression of any such judgements in the media, particularly the electronic media where ideas are spread so quickly and easily, needs to respect the demands of communion at the level of the local Church as well as at the level of the universal Church.

In this context, one can ask whether a campaign of "Bishop bashing" represents a language of communion or a language of dissent.

It's OK to need to be cared for

One strand of the coverage of the assisted dying report that I heard on the radio this morning referred to people who felt unable to face a long period of time dependent on the care of others or feeling that they were a burden to others. I think, too, an observation was made that, however good palliative care provision was, it would not overcome this issue.

From time to time I do get to meet people who are getting older, and perhaps are unwell too. For some of them, used to previously having been very independent and self-reliant, coming to terms with the fact that they now need care from others is a challenge. What I sometimes ask them about is times when, earlier in their lives, they were able to help other people - perhaps their children, perhaps other people they have known. I then suggest that it is a kind of natural cycle in human society and human living that there are times when you are able to give care and help to others, and there is a time when you come to need that care from others. It is OK to need to be cared for.

The other side of this question, of course, is how members of society view those of its community who are in need of care. Members of society need to recognise, when they are in a position to be caring, the existence of this natural cycle of caring for and being cared for. Society needs to value carers, and to value them consistently. A proposal for assisted dying/assisted suicide can only undermine this in the culture of society.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

The language of dialogue or the rhetoric of dogmatism? An essay in styles

What is the purpose of writing? And should those who approach their writing as Catholics do it in a different way than others? And are the different avenues of the "modern means of communication" exempt from this question, or, at least, do they face it in a different way?

Certainly, one aspect of the electronic means of communication is the speed with which they can propagate an idea, both in terms of time (a mistaken observation can be widely spread before it is corrected, if it is corrected) and in terms of distance (an observation made in a particular context in one part of the world might be mis-read in a different part of the world, without knowledge of the particular context in which it was first made). This imposes on those who write for electronic media a particularly serious responsibility with regard to the content of what they write, because, when errors are committed of whatever kind, those errors can be spread so rapidly and so widely. As the Decree of the Second Vatican Council Inter Mirifica teaches:
..... in society men have a right to information, in accord with the circumstances in each case, about matters concerning individuals or the community. The proper exercise of this right demands, however, that the news itself that is communicated should always be true and complete, within the bounds of justice and charity. In addition, the manner in which the news is communicated should be proper and decent. This means that in both the search for news and in reporting it, there must be full respect for the laws of morality and for the legitimate rights and dignity of the individual.
And so, in writing for the electronic media, there should first of all be a great anxiety to assure the truth and completeness of what is written. Care should be taken in reproducing material published elsewhere to check its authenticity and its completeness. In this regard, the dialogical possibilities of internet communications (in the case of blogs, the existence of the comments box or the opportunity to post further comment on another blog) becomes part of this anxiety. A dialogue can exist such that, where a matter is controverted, the participants engage in a shared seeking for what is true of it. This dialogue will only exist if all who take part in the dialogue do indeed see it in this way and are willing to respect that others are taking part in it in this way.

This anxiety for the truth of what is written depends upon a willingness to be focussed on the substance of the matter under discussion and an avoidance of the temptation to personalise attacks. This represents the second strand in the short citation above from Inter Mirifica. The "how" of the communication should respect the dignity of those who will receive it, and also the dignity of those who are taking part in the dialogue that makes up that communication. Writers should avoid, for example, attributing to others motivations and opinions that have not been expressed by those other people, with its consequent misleading of the inhabitants of the aether about the motives and opinions of that those other people.

Following these two strands of the teaching of Inter Mirifica will lead, I think, to a certain style in writing for the electronic media. I would like to suggest that Catholics writing for the different forms of the electronic media should be trying to manifest this style as part of their bringing to their public lives the experience of their living of their faith. I do not know that I have always adhered to it, though comments received from time to time referring to thoughtfulness in posts suggests some degree of success on my part. Among the means of electronic communication, it is perhaps blogging that lends itself most to this style, where the character-limited brevity of Twitter provides a significant barrier to it.

I hope that readers do see in what I write a language of dialogue and not a rhetoric of dogmatism.

[As a PS: Is Catholic blogging really about the wielding of power as suggested in one paragraph of this post?]

Monday, 2 January 2012

Catholic Schools: faith, culture and life

Protect the Pope (link to Deacon Nick's post here, and it is worth reading the discussion in the comments before you continue reading this post) has drawn attention to Bishop Michael Campbell's New Year pastoral letter (follow the link at the top of this page to see the full text), and in particular to its paragraph referring to Catholic Schools:
Is it right or sustainable to expect our Mass-going population of 21 000 to support our schools and colleges in which often the majority of pupils, and sometimes of teachers, are not practising Catholics? Is it time for us to admit that we can no longer maintain schools that are Catholic in name only?
There is also comment here. You might like to read this post,too, before continuing

Bishop Campbell places this paragraph in a context of

... a time of great transition for the Church in which Christianity changes from a religion adhered to by the majority out of social convention to once again being a way of discipleship deliberately chosen by some, but not all; chosen by the faithful out of conviction.

I think it is worth reflecting on the purpose of the Catholic School in the light of this pastoral letter.

First of all, I think we should recognise that Catholic schools in England and Wales have a particular historical/political background. One aspect of this is the commitment of the Bishops over many years to provide places in Catholic schools for the children of Catholic families, and the second is the arrangement that might be summarised by the term "dual system" whereby a significant element of the cost of Catholic schools is provided by the state while Diocesan authorities retain some significant controls as far as the governance of the schools is concerned. In this situation, it is very easy to see the Catholic nature of the school as being defined by its pupil intake; and to, at the same time, see a threat to the Catholic nature of the education provided in the school from the collaboration with government. The recent events surrounding the Cardinal Vaughan School had a number of other aspects about which I am not in a position to comment as I have no direct knowledge of the school or the events concerned; but it did appear in some of the public debate that the Catholic nature of the school was seen as depending on its pupil admissions policy. The idea that the Catholic school should succeed in producing pupils who are strongly practicing Catholics might be seen as being compromised by the implementation in the school of state policies consequent on the balance of collaboration between the state and the Church in the running of the school, the introduction of the compulsory teaching of the National Curriculum representing a key moment here.

But this is a very specific historical/political context. If we think about schools opened in mission territories, or, as I have been trying to study in recent months, the schools and universities that are run in the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem (in the Palestinian territories and in the Kingdom of Jordan) we can see a model of Catholic education that intends to serve the educational needs of the local population. I do think that it is worth reflecting on the possibility of a Catholic school that does not have a significant proportion of Catholic pupils. This also raises a question about how the activity of the school with regard to specifically religious formation is going to relate to formation to the Catholic faith only.

Secondly, I think we should reflect more deeply on how the Church has articulated its understanding of the nature of a Catholic school. In    the Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education produced a document on the Catholic School, and this represents the most careful such articulation. It is worth reading the whole of this document in the context of this post. A "strapline" that summarises the view of a Catholic school is that it should promote the integral formation of the person through a synthesis of culture and faith, and a synthesis of faith and life (cf n.37 and n.49):
Its task is fundamentally a synthesis of culture and faith, and a synthesis of faith and life: the first is reached by integrating all the different aspects of human knowledge through the subjects taught, in the light of the Gospel; the second in the growth of the virtues characteristic of the Christian....

The specific mission of the school, then, is a critical, systematic transmission of culture in the light of faith and the bringing forth of the power of Christian virtue by the integration of culture with faith and of faith with living. 
In its consideration of the first of these syntheses, there is a thread in the document that would see in the school a sense of a community in learning, that embraces pupils and faculty. The consideration ends with this paragraph (n.43):
The integration of culture and faith is mediated by the other integration of faith and life in the person of the teacher. The nobility of the task to which teachers are called demands that, in imitation of Christ, the only Teacher, they reveal the Christian message not only by word but also by every gesture of their behaviour. This is what makes the difference between a school whose education is permeated by the Christian spirit and one in which religion is only regarded as an academic subject like any other.
In considering the second of these syntheses, the document says (n.45):
The Catholic school has as its specific duty the complete Christian formation of its pupils, and this task is of special significance today because of the inadequacy of the family and society. It knows that this integration of faith and life is part of a life-long process of conversion until the pupil becomes what God wishes him to be. Young people have to be taught to share their personal lives with God. They are to overcome their individualism and discover, in the light of faith, their specific vocation to live responsibly in a community with others. The very pattern of the Christian life draws them to commit themselves to serve God in their brethren and to make the world a better place for man to live in.

I do think that it is the consideration of the "integration of faith and life in the person of the teacher" that is a far more important question for the Catholic identity of the school than that of how many of its pupil intake are practising Catholics. If the educational enterprise of a Catholic school is seen as one of a conversion that brings young people to a self-sustained Christian life, then one might argue that the less-than-fully practising should be able to access that just as much as the fully practising. Should we not endeavour to see a greater presence in our schools of priests, religious and adherents of the new ecclesial movements in an attempt to address this?

In a situation where the majority of pupils in a Catholic school are either non-Catholic, or are non-practicing if they are Catholic, is the historic commitment of the Bishops to providing places in Catholic schools for children of Catholic families really being served? Would a Catholic school in this sort of situation not be more true to the educational aims of a Catholic school were it to adopt an admissions policy that is not dependent on Catholic affiliation, but work with a faculty that are committed to the promotion of the syntheses of faith and culture, of faith and life? Can this two-fold synthesis be promoted when the pupils are not all Catholics? What are the implications of this for the religious education in the school, which would clearly have to adapt to the circumstances?

Would Academy or Free School status - and therefore the freedom not to teach the National Curriculum - allow Catholic schools to better build a curriculum that synthesises faith and culture and a coherent ethical outlook?

This post does not really answer thoroughly all of the questions being raised by Bishop Campbell's pastoral letter, or even draw together the three conclusions above; and neither does it do full justice to the Sacred Congregation's document. And, of course, different Catholic schools find themselves in very different situations, too. Perhaps more than anything else, I hope that it raises in a realistic way the possibility that the Catholic Church should run schools with a wider outlook than the historic commitment in England and Wales of just providing places in Catholic schools for the children of Catholic families.

Any comments or observations welcome.