Sunday, 27 January 2013

Aux barricades, citoyens

Catholic Voices noted on 9th January that the engagement of the Catholic Church in France in the political debate on same sex marriage has taken a different pattern than has the corresponding debate here in the United Kingdom: On gay marriage, we have much to learn from France.

Whilst the opposition of the Catholic Bishops of France to Francois Hollande's proposed legislation cannot be in doubt, the leadership of the huge "manif pour tous" demonstrations on 17th November of last year and, more recently, on 13th January this year has not been explicitly Catholic in nature. When Cardinal Barbarin (Lyons) supported a march against same sex marriage in his own city, he was reported as saying that he was present, not as a bishop, but as a citizen. Cardinal Vingt-Trois attended the start of one of the three marches in Paris on 13th January to indicate his support, but did not join the march itself saying that, as a Bishop, he had other ways of making his views known to the government. Indeed, the "manif pour tous" movement has succeeded in maintaining a type of neutrality with regard to specificity of religious, social or political affiliation. There is a counterpart in the United Kingdom to the "manif pour tous" of France, and that is the Coalition for Marriage, an organisation which in a similar way brings together different supporters of marriage properly understood. And what corresponds to the street demonstrations in France is the petition opposing David Cameron's proposed legislation, with over 600 000 signatures.

The approach taken by the French bishops reflects a sensitivity towards the laicite (separation) characteristic of the relationship between Church and state in France. However, I think it also reflects the difference in office (in the theological sense) between those Catholics who form part of the ordained hierarchy and those Catholics who are the lay faithful. It is the lay faithful who have the first responsibility for activity that takes Catholic teaching into the social and political fields; it is an "office" that belongs properly, though not exclusively, to them and in which they have a certain priority over the clergy (that is, if they do not fulfil it, the clergy of the nature of things are not going to be able to make up the lack).

It is interesting in this context to read the Decree on the Lay Apostolate of the Second Vatican Council, n.7 (my italics added):
The laity must take up the renewal of the temporal order as their own special obligation. Led by the light of the Gospel and the mind of the Church and motivated by Christian charity, they must act directly and in a definite way in the temporal sphere. As citizens they must cooperate with other citizens with their own particular skill and on their own responsibility. Everywhere and in all things they must seek the justice of God's kingdom. The temporal order must be renewed in such a way that, without detriment to its own proper laws, it may be brought into conformity with the higher principles of the Christian life ...
There is a similar passage to be found in the Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, n.43:
Secular duties and activities belong properly although not exclusively to laymen. Therefore acting as citizens in the world, whether individually or socially, they will keep the laws proper to each discipline, and labor to equip themselves with a genuine expertise in their various fields. They will gladly work with men seeking the same goals. Acknowledging the demands of faith and endowed with its force, they will unhesitatingly devise new enterprises, where they are appropriate, and put them into action. Laymen should also know that it is generally the function of their well-formed Christian conscience to see that the divine law is inscribed in the life of the earthly city; from priests they may look for spiritual light and nourishment. Let the layman not imagine that his pastors are always such experts, that to every problem which arises, however complicated, they can readily give him a concrete solution, or even that such is their mission. Rather, enlightened by Christian wisdom and giving close attention to the teaching authority of the Church, let the layman take on his own distinctive role.
What is very apparent on the French scene, partly because of historical circumstances both political and ecclesial, and perhaps only implicit amongst traditionalist Catholics from time to time in the UK, is a tendency that might be covered by the term integrism. This is a tendency which seeks an absolute identity between the Catholic Church and one particular line of political action. I, for example, have a certain wariness about those who might lobby members of the Bishops Conference to a greater mobilisation of Catholics towards a particular political action; and a similar wariness about those who suggest that Catholics should write to Catholic MPs who are seen as intending to support legislation on same sex marriage reminding them of Catholic teaching on the matter.

This is not to say that Bishops do not have a role as far as legislation on same sex marriage is concerned. That role is to present clearly (and in this day and age that does include the use of the media of social communications in addition to the more immediate pastoral tools of preaching and pastoral letters) Catholic teaching on marriage according to natural law and to divine revelation. It also extends to identifying a particular legislative proposal as being incompatible with Catholic teaching and therefore such that it should not be supported by Catholics. In the United Kingdom, some of our Bishops have fulfilled this role well in recent months.

But the first responsibility for a political mobilisation rests with the lay faithful, and the lay faithful, not under the category of Catholic as such, but as (Catholics who are also) citizens. The activity of Frigide Barjot in France and of Rocco Buttiglione in Italy are good examples of exactly this. Reminding Catholic MPs about Catholic teaching is not really to the point; in their political office, it is the activity of citizens to which they will rightly respond and not a "Catholic lobby". And the more this weekend's exercise in sending postcards to local MPs can be seen as a mobilisation of citizens/electors and the less that it is seen as "signing a card at the back of Church because Father said to do so" the more effective it will be.

To the barricades, O citizens!

Friday, 25 January 2013

Ethics, Barclays and totalitarianism

About a week ago, I heard a piece on BBC Radio 4 (I cannot remember whether it was Today in the morning or PM in the early evening) in which a speaker challenged the new statement of "purpose and value" that had been announced by Barclays chief executive. A full account of the statement can be found at this page on Barclays website, a page aimed at those who might be seeking employment with the bank. The chief executive's announcement caught the headlines because of his insistence that current employees who were not happy to sign up to the new statement of purpose and values should leave the organisation (report at the Guardian here):
Antony Jenkins, who took over as chief executive at the end of August after the bank was rocked by an interest rate rigging scandal, said bonuses and performance would be assessed against a new "purpose and values" blueprint.

"I have no doubt that the overwhelming majority of you … will enthusiastically support this move. But there might be some who don't feel they can fully buy into an approach which so squarely links performance to the upholding of our values," Jenkins said in a memo to his 140,000 staff ...
If you look at the statement on the Barclays website, it is structured as a statement of purpose - "Helping people achieve their ambitions - in the right way" - that is then developed as five values - Respect, Integrity, Service, Excellence and Stewardship. Each value is then presented as four Behaviours. [Aside: any number of organisations other than a bank could adopt this statement of purpose, so one wonders how it actually defines the specific purpose of any organisation, let alone Barclays.]

The challenge to this statement in the Radio 4 piece was, roughly speaking, that the statement actually contained nothing that suggested that Barclays was expecting its employees to conduct the business in a way that complied with moral principles. The values and behaviours might well reflect the (financial and brand) interests of Barclays; but they do not represent a basis for morally just conduct on the part of employees. The word "honesty" does not appear anywhere - neither under the value of Integrity nor under the value of Stewardship. This is a striking failure when it is dishonest conduct for which Barclays has suffered finanical and reputational damage of late - scroll down this BBC report to see a list. The speaker in the Radio 4 piece referred to the values of the Quakers that lay behind the founding of Barclays, and decried their absence from the statement of purpose and values.

I believe there is a more subtle issue at stake here, that has a significance well beyond the boundaries of one particular financial institution. Barclays statement of Purpose, Values and Behaviours appears designed to ensure regulatory compliance before anything else, and only approaches a suggestion that colleagues should behave morally when it indicates they should challenge behaviours that might put this at risk. Regulatory compliance at an operational level appears to have replaced the expectation of honest behaviour at the level of the individual employee. This is perhaps an inevitable consequence of moral relativism, which cannot define any behaviour in terms of moral right and wrong; but its unfortunate consequence is that morality in its turn comes to be defined and imposed by law.

And the word for that is totalitarianism.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Some texts for Unity

The Bishop-elect of Limerick diocese, Fr Brendan Leahy, includes a short reflection on the notion of the "reception of Vatican II" in his book Ecclesial Movements and Communities: Origins, Significance and Issues. It can be found at the beginning of Chapter 8. Roughly summarised, this reflection suggests that the new movements and communities in the Church represent a reception of the Council in so far as they are a living out of the ecclesiology and understanding of the charisms of the Council. [As an aside, Fr Leahy's understanding of the idea of reception of the Council has nothing to do with opinion polls and I would speculate that if his idea of reception was applied to the teaching of Humanae Vitae, often challenged on the basis of opinion poll/public opinion evidence by those who oppose its teaching, we would in fact find that it has been promoted and lived out in the life of the Church to an extent that is rarely recognised.]

If we are to look at the teaching of Vatican II on Christian Unity, I think we can also see how it is lived out in the ordinary life of the Catholic Church - and this is its most profound implementation - and not just in explicit acts of ecumenical dialogue or shared prayer and activity. The Focolare Movement, with its specific charism of unity and in which Fr Leahy has a strong engagement, and the charism of prayer for Christian Unity of the Bridgettine Sisters are two examples. The prayers of the Church's liturgy are another example.

Among the Collection of Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a Mass of "Mary, Mother of Unity". The Collect of that Mass indicates a foundation for the unity of the Christian Church in the unity that exists between all of the human race:
All-holy Father,
fountain of unity and wellspring of harmony,
grant that all the families of nations,
through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary,
mother of the human race,
may be gathered together
to form the one people of the New Covenant.
In the third edition of the Roman Missal, there are three Masses included under the title "For the Unity of Christians", with a total of six Collects. This title is of itself interesting, suggesting as it does that the primary unity to be sought is that between Christian people, and that the structural unity of different Christian Churches and communities is sought as a means to that first end.  It is interesting to read all six Collects, and recognise in them different aspects of the Catholic Church's understanding of the idea of the unity of Christians.

The first draws attention to the significance of Baptism as a first, and in the view of Pope Benedict when he addressed leaders of other Christian denominations in Cologne in 2005 underestimated, foundation for unity among Christians:
Almighty ever-living God,
who gather what is scattered
and keep together what you have gathered,
look kindly on the flock of your Son,
that those whom one Baptism has consecrated
may be joined together by integrity of faith
and united in the bond of charity.
Another echoes the theme of the Collect of the Mass of "Mary, Mother of Unity":
O God, who have united many nations in confessing your name,
grant us, we pray,
the grace to will and to do what you command,
that the people called to your kingdom
may be one in the faith of their hearts
and the homage of their deeds.
These two prayers clearly refer to a unity in faith, that is, a unity in the content of what is believed. This is of the essence of how the Catholic Church understands unity among Christians, so those communities that are based on a kind of federation of Christians who believe different things and believe that it is the successful maintenance of this kind of balance of differing views that constitutes unity, have a very different understanding than does the Catholic Church.

Several of the six Collects are explicit in reference to prayer for overcoming divisions between Christians, some with an emphasis on striving for unity and others with a more explicit emphasis on overcoming division. The one cited below also draws attention to the adverse effect of division among Christians on the Church's evanglising mission.
Look with favour on your people, Lord, we pray,
and pour out upon them the gifts of your Spirit,
that they may grow constantly in love of the truth
and devote themselves with zeal
to perfect unity among Christians.

Make known in us, O Lord
the abundance of your mercy
and, in the power of your Spirit,
remove the divisions between Christians,
that your Church may appear more clearly
as a sign raised high among the nations
and that the world, enlightened by your Spirit,
may believe in the Christ whom you have sent.
A final thought. Just as Baptism is seen as a foundation for unity among Christians belonging to different Churches and communities, so can martyrdom - that is, witness to the point of the offering of one's life - be seen as an expression of unity among those separated Christians. Pope John Paul II expressed it like this in his encyclical Ut Unum Sint n.84:
I have already remarked, and with deep joy, how an imperfect but real communion is preserved and is growing at many levels of ecclesial life. I now add that this communion is already perfect in what we all consider the highest point of the life of grace, martyria unto death, the truest communion possible with Christ who shed his Blood, and by that sacrifice brings near those who once were far off (cf. Eph 2:13).
[UPDATE/ASIDE: The homily that I heard at Mass this Sunday reminded me of the Catholic Church's teaching that the unity of Christ's Church has not been lost - there is still one Church and it is to be found visibly in the Roman Catholic Church - but that Christians have become divided from it in different ways and to different extents. Whilst other Churches and communities might not consider the Roman Catholic Church to be the unique place of the unity of the Church, they can nevertheless share the principle that the unity of the Church itself has not been lost and that it is the unity of Christian people we seek in the commitment to ecumenism. This is respected by the terminology of prayer "For the Unity of Christians". It also provides a basis for each Christian Church or denomination seeking to be ever more faithful to its Christian belief as an aspect of work for the unity of Christians. As Pope Benedict XVI indicated in Cologne - I can't find my original post as I write, but it is reproduced here - there can be a surprising proximity of ideas expressed in different language when different Churches or communities manifest their own belief in an honest way.]

Sunday, 13 January 2013

La Croix and the BBC: coverage of "Manif pour tous" demonstration in Paris

Environ 500000 personnes ont défilé contre le "mariage pour tous" - Around 500 000 people have marched against "marriage for all".

Reports and videos.

The BBC coverage is here, and suggests that as many as 800 000 people may have joined the marches and rally in the centre of Paris. The BBC report gives the impression of a much more explicit support from the Catholic Church and the political right for the "Manif pour tous" movement than is in fact the case. La Croix's coverage, for example, indicates a much more nuanced indication of support for the demonstration from Cardinal Vingt-Trois, President of the French Bishops' Conference. He attended the starting point of one of the three marches, but not to walk in the demonstration:
« Je veux manifester mon soutien et mes encouragements aux organisateurs et que les Français puissent dire ce qu’ils pensent vraiment » du mariage homosexuel, a-t-il affirmé.

« Je ne suis pas venu pour marcher avec eux. En tant que président de la Conférence épiscopale, j’ai d’autres moyens pour exprimer mon point de vue au gouvernement ». « Le gouvernement a ses responsabilités », a ajouté le cardinal, souhaitant qu’il puisse « trouver d’autres formules ».

["I wish to show my support and my encouragement to the organisers and that the French people are able to say what they truly think" about homosexual marriage, he affirmed.

"I have not come to walk with them. As President of the Episcopal Conference, I have other means of expressing my point of view to the government". "The government has its responsibilities" added the Cardinal, hoping that it can "find other methods".]
Further coverage at France24: Huge crowds rally against gay marriage in Paris. The photo gallery at the foot of this page is worth viewing.

A three year wait?

Not long ago, I wondered whether Brentwood was the diocese that Rome had forgotten. So far we have been waiting some 18 months for the appointment of a new bishop to succeed Bishop Thomas McMahon.

If Limerick diocese is anything to go by, we might still have another 18 months to wait. There would appear to have been a rather convivial gathering on the Cathedral steps in Limerick on Thursday to present Fr Brendan Leahy as the Bishop-elect. What does not quite emerge explicitly in the report I have linked to is Fr Leahy's engagement with the Focolare Movement.

Now if waiting another 18 months gives us a Bishop of Fr Leahy's background and calibre ....

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Don Bosco: the tour

On Friday evening, having managed to escape from school reasonably promptly, I travelled to Westminster Cathedral to visit the relics of Don Bosco. I am not someone with any Salesian connections and, though I have a professional interest in Catholic education, I have not really encountered Don Bosco as someone contributing to discussion about the nature of Catholic education. The visit of the relics has therefore prompted me to find out a bit more about his charism and the charism of the Salesians. These kind of events are very useful in that way! (Aside for those who know who my favourite saint is .... It was Edith Stein's beatification that first introduced me to her, too.)

The photo set for the Saturday at Westminster Cathedral gives a good impression of the arrangements for the pilgrimage. I thought the displays were very well  done, and communicated a good sense of Don Bosco's life and charism. They included one giving an account of his "preventative method" for education, though the account linked on the relics tour website seems to downplay the extent to which the "Church" element of this involved encouraging young people to attend Mass and the sacrament of confession. It is also worth looking at the account of the "Dream of Roses", linked at the same webpage under the heading "A Bed of Roses", for what it suggests about Don Bosco's Marian devotion. The hosting was well organised. I visited the displays and prayed at the relic just before the 5.30 pm Mass, at which the celebrating priest (not a Salesian) gave a short but informative account of the relic and of Don Bosco's life and mission. The numbers at Mass were well above the typical. I think this blog post gives a good sense of what it was like to visit on Friday. I was particularly struck by the availability of confession - there were five priests available at the time of my visit, three in an cordoned off area of the main body of the Church and two in the confessionals. As the blog post suggests, this does very much reflect the charism of Don Bosco, who encouraged regular confession and communion for the young people at his "Oratory" in Turin.

From the educational point of view, I have become aware of three aspects of Don Bosco's practice that appear noteworthy. He opposed the use of corporal punishment - in the 19th century, well before such opposition became the norm. He also had a strong sense of accompanying young people at their play, holding the view that, to make young people feel valued, it was important to take an interest in what they themselves valued. And thirdly, though he encouraged regular confession and Mass attendance, he felt that the participation of his young students should be voluntary. These three aspects do offer pointers for an approach to education in a Catholic school today.

The relics tour website now contains a "Liturgical Statement", which I expect is a response to the reports of dance at Mass during the visit of the relics to Liverpool Cathedral (here and elsewhere). The statement is unconvincing in one respect, though it does express in many respects an authentic Salesian charism. The loyalty to the Holy See referred to at the beginning of this statement is enshrined in the Constitutions of the Salesian order, as is the devotion to Our Lady Help of Christians characteristic of Don Bosco. Don Bosco certainly used his imagination in connecting to the young people he encountered (he learnt tricks, for example, to use with them), and I can see that that might well have extended to the way in which he prayed with them, but that does not really offer a justification for inserting into the celebration of Mass a form that does not really belong there. Outside of the celebration of the Liturgy properly so called (and the evening closing liturgy on Friday at Westminster Cathedral would come under this heading) there is a legitimate freedom.

A final thought. The numbers attending the Masses of the pilgrimage of the relics of Don Bosco, and visiting the relics themselves, appear to have been nowhere near those taking part in the visit of the relics of Therese of Lisieux. That being said, I believe the organisers of the pilgrimage will be justified in feeling that the numbers that have visited, and the interest created by the visit, make the whole exercise very worthwhile. I certainly gained a lot from my taking part in the visit.

UPDATE: Another useful reflection on a pilgrimage to visit the relics is here, and sheds some light on my penultimate paragraph: Transfixed by a saint's gaze.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Damian's knickers in a twist

He is, of course, such a trust worthy source of gossip news!

It really does not follow that, just because the faculty at Oscott are not making arrangements for the celebration of the Extraordinary Form in the seminary, they are acting in disobedience to the wishes of Pope Benedict XVI. When un-thinking trads take Damian's word for it and make infallible pronouncements about "Oscott liberals", "nonsense", "disgrace" and "catacombs", one wonders whether Catholic blogging is worth the maniple candle.

If, as Damian reports, the ecclesial authorities responsible for Oscott are keen that their aim
should be to educate and train seminarians in the Ordinary Form so that they can celebrate it well and be able to draw out its full potential, including the use of the riches of our Latin liturgical tradition in music.
they do seem to be echoing Pope Benedict's words in his letter that accompanied Summorum Pontificum:
For that matter, the two Forms of the usage of the Roman Rite can be mutually enriching: ..... The celebration of the Mass according to the Missal of Paul VI will be able to demonstrate, more powerfully than has been the case hitherto, the sacrality which attracts many people to the former usage. The most sure guarantee that the Missal of Paul VI can unite parish communities and be loved by them consists in its being celebrated with great reverence in harmony with the liturgical directives. This will bring out the spiritual richness and the theological depth of this Missal.
My own more careful(ie less sarcastic) analysis of the provisions of Summorum Pontificum can be found here and, if you read it, you will see that Pope Damian's knee jerk conclusions with regard to the policy being adopted at Oscott do not follow by any means.

Friday, 4 January 2013

It's all about love, isn't it

In the context of the new evangelisation, and the wish within that context to express a "primary proclamation" of the Gospel, I have more than once in the last couple of weeks or so heard Christmas described as the celebration of the coming of the love of God for humankind into the world.

At the same time, the debate about the attitude of Christian Churches towards those who experience same-sex attraction can be expressed in much the same terms. It is all about love, isn't it, and why should the love between a same-sex couple be treated any differently than the love between an opposite-sex couple?

The Church of England has got itself into a hopeless muddle on this last, being unable to offer a consistent witness of any kind: Church of England drops gay bishop opposition. It perhaps arises from a willingness to identify a person by a sexual orientation; the Catholic articulation recognises the attraction contained in the orientation but does not allow that it identifies a person. The Catholic Church in the UK seems to be moving to a resolution of its mixed witness, with the changes to the arrangements for Masses organised by the Soho Masses Pastoral Council: statement at the website of Westminster Archiocese. The exact working out of these changes is yet to be seen.

But what about that question of love? Pope Benedict XVI provides us with two key teachings that shed light on the meaning of the term, and enable us to answer the apparent contradiction contained in the first two paragraphs of this post.

In Part I of his Encyclical Deus Caritas Est, he describes the relationship between love-as-eros and love-as-agape. This might be summarised as recognising that love-as-eros (as attraction or as an experience of a type of instinct) requires a process of purification if it is to become love-as-agape (as a chosen care for the other, a self-sacrifice for the other). And in the opening paragraphs of the Encyclical Caritas in Veritate, the Holy Father gives an account of the relation of charity to truth, and its dependence on truth.
Truth needs to be sought, found and expressed within the “economy” of charity, but charity in its turn needs to be understood, confirmed and practised in the light of truth. In this way, not only do we do a service to charity enlightened by truth, but we also help give credibility to truth, demonstrating its persuasive and authenticating power in the practical setting of social living. This is a matter of no small account today, in a social and cultural context which relativizes truth, often paying little heed to it and showing increasing reluctance to acknowledge its existence.
And so there is no contradiction in characterising Christmas as the celebration of God's love for us and at the same time teaching that not every form of sexual attraction is one that can be licitly carried into practice in a morally upright life. It is the need for purification at the level of the individual behaviour and the relation to truth at the level of teaching that abolishes the contradiction.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Film Review: Life of Pi

In UK cinemas at the moment, Life of Pi is being overshadowed by The Hobbit; but it was Life of Pi that Zero and I went to see at the weekend.

It is a wonderfully complex film, something that is not necessarily being appreciated. The review in the MailOnline stays at the level of the utterly superficial:
Life Of Pi must be the most beautiful film of the year, a technical marvel, and magic realism at its most magical.
A more informative review can be found at the TotalFilm site. Bridges and Tangents reviews it here, commenting on the element of syncretism contained in its more thoughtful moments, more of which below.

If the review at TotalFilm is correct, the film is quite faithful to the original book; I have not, however, read the book and so my comments are really just about the Life of Pi as a film phenomenon. Like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Life of Pi is a film that brings a culture of film  rooted in the Indian sub-continent (I do not think it can be identified as "bollywood" as such) into the mainstream of UK cinema. The cast list suggests that it does this in a more thorough way than does Best Exotic, which retained some well known English names for leading roles. This appears to me to be an essential element of understanding the film and, presumably, the book on which it is based. It is very easy to identify an idea of "spirituality" in the film, but a spirituality that is not identifiable with any one religion rather than another; and, indeed, one can also see an attempt to read the idea of "truth" in a very spiritualised way. And finally, it is easy to gain an advance impression because of the role of animals, and in particular a tiger, that this is a film suitable for children (it has a PG rating). It is not suitable for children - some of the scenes at sea are quite frightening and, from a religious point of view, the film is way too sophisticated for children.

If one recognises a profoundly Indian/Asian culture against which the film is set, then a profound religious theme emerges. That culture is essentially Hindu in its religious character though, as the film shows at points, there is within it a presence of Christianity, Islam and European rationalism. Hinduism is, as Pope Benedict points out in his book Truth and Tolerance, less a single religion than a collective name that embraces a wide range of different religious beliefs and practices. This intrinsic pluralism combines with an intense sense of fable - and I mean that in a positive sense - with the stories of the lives of the different gods. Hinduism has a strength in its sense of a duty towards a universal moral law that reaches across its pluralism.

I think this perspective is key to understanding the religious views of Pi as they are portrayed in the early part of the film. A key scene here is the meal time conversation between Pi and his father. Pi is criticised for trying to believe many different things all at the same time, for trying to be a Hindu, a Muslim and a Christian all at the same time. His father's argument is interesting and represents another of the components of the cultural background of the film. It is an appeal to reason, citing the rationale of European medicine as being what cured a relative rather than religion. It is un-reasonable to believe different things all at the same time; science is what matters to us, not religion. To a certain extent, his argument with regard to reason is one that Pope Benedict would also offer. To the Western mind watching this scene, Pi's final comment - "I want to be baptised" - sounds like the punch line to a scene that is constructed as a joke. But in the context of a Hindu religious culture, Pi's response is quite natural, and its significance seen within such a culture is quite different, representing rather less the rejection of reason in favour of religion .

I think the MailOnline does the film a dis-service by referring to it as "magical realism" without recognising that that "magical realism", seen against a background of Hinduism's sense of fable, is quite religious in its content. Pi and the tiger fed by flying fish, a floating island whose plants exude a carnivorous acid at night and a miraculous survival of storms at sea - all of this has a different significance if perceived as a religious fable rather than just a magic story.

From his hospital bed, Pi tells a rather different and less attractive story to investigators of the ship wreck that saw him and the tiger cast on to the sea in a lifeboat. Are the animals of the main story analogues of the personalities of this second story? But the question that Pi asks his interlocutor is not "Which story do you think is true?", the question that would be expected by a Western epistemology. It is instead, "Which story do you prefer?", a question which sits more comfortably with a Hindu/Asian religious culture.

The problem, of course, is that, when the film is shown in a UK cinema, most of a typical audience will have very little religious sense and certainly not the familiarity with a specific type of Asian religious culture that enables the more complex religious theme to be understood. What view of religious belief does the film convey to that type of audience? As Bridges and Tangents observed, it will be a syncretistic view - one can be a Muslim and Christian at the same time, or, at least, it does not matter if you are one rather than the other since they represent ways to the same God. One cannot underestimate the attractiveness to the modern sensibility of such a view of religions and, as Pope Benedict again indicates in Truth and Tolerance (pp.24-25), it is a one-time President of India whose writings present one of the most persuasive arguments for such a "spiritualised" view of religion, a view that is "spiritualised" because it believes but does not concretely adhere to any one among the religions. The challenge to religion offered by reason in the meal time conversation early in the film, and the irrational question about preferring one story rather than another, might also leave the viewer with a sense of opposition between religious belief and reason.

All of this having been said, it is a very beautifully made film. The effects for the scenes in the lifeboat at sea are outstanding - but the storm scenes much to frightening for children. The meerkats on the floating island contribute a moment of humour perhaps not originally intended. The title sequence at the start of the film, showing the various animals in the zoo, is quite stunning. I feel for anyone named in the credits - there is just so much to watch on screen that they are almost over before you realise that there are names on screen as well.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Be bearers of Christian Unity

As Aunty points out, media outlets, both Catholic and secular, might well share in a reluctance to report the meeting of the "pilgrimage of trust on earth" of the Taize community in Rome: 40 000 young people.

Aunty links to the text of the Pope Benedict's address to this pilgrimage on Saturday evening, when he joined them for the prayer of Vespers.

I was in Cologne for the World Youth Day in August 2005, when the death of Br Roger occurred. The impact of that news in Cologne drew my attention to the significance of the Taize community in the work (dare one say the "lived experience"?) of ecumenism over the years. Pope Benedict refers to it in his address as a "spiritually lived ecumenism"; my own reading leads me to see its existence and work as a response to a particularly given charism in the life of the Church. There are, of course, significant nuances to the use of the word "Church" in this context, and I am interested to see that Pope Benedict uses the word at some points in his text without qualifying it.
On your return home, to your various countries, I invite you to discover that God is making you all co-responsible for His Church, in all the variety of vocations. This communion which is the Body of Christ needs you and you all have a place in it. Starting with your gifts, from what is specific to each of you, the Holy Spirit forms and breathes life into this mystery of communion which is the Church, in order to convey the Good News of the Gospel to the world today.

One of the interesting explorations to be undertaken with regard to some of the teachings of the Second Vatican Council that are criticised by those of a traditionalist inclination is not just a doctrinal one about the nature of those teachings themselves. It is an exploration of how those teachings are being lived out in the ordinary life of the Church. Such an exploration of ecumenism will undoubtedly see the Taize community and its work as a living out of the teaching of the Council.