Sunday, 29 December 2013

Homiletic thoughts for the Feast of the Holy Family

At Mass this morning, the celebrating priest abandoned his prepared homily in favour of sharing with the faithful some of Pope Paul VI's address given at Nazareth on 5th January 1964. An extract from this address forms the second reading of the Office of Readings for the feast day, and can be found at the Universalis website here; father had prayed it shortly before Mass. The full text, in the original French, can be found at the Vatican website here. Father used the Universalis English text which is, I understand, different in some respects from that printed in the books of the Divine Office used in England and Wales (cf Fr Lucie-Smith's comment here). Father shared with the faithful three lessons that Pope Paul VI indicated we could learn from the place of Nazareth:
First, we learn from its silence. If only we could once again appreciate its great value. We need this wonderful state of mind, beset as we are by the cacophony of strident protests and conflicting claims so characteristic of these turbulent times. The silence of Nazareth should teach us how to meditate in peace and quiet, to reflect on the deeply spiritual, and to be open to the voice of God’s inner wisdom and the counsel of his true teachers. Nazareth can teach us the value of study and preparation, of meditation, of a well-ordered personal spiritual life, and of silent prayer that is known only to God.
Second, we learn about family life. May Nazareth serve as a model of what the family should be. May it show us the family’s holy and enduring character and exemplify its basic function in society: a community of love and sharing, beautiful for the problems it poses and the rewards it brings, in sum, the perfect setting for rearing children – and for this there is no substitute.
 Finally, in Nazareth, the home of a craftsman’s son, we learn about work and the discipline it entails. I would especially like to recognise its value – demanding yet redeeming – and to give it proper respect. I would remind everyone that work has its own dignity. On the other hand, it is not an end in itself. Its value and free character, however, derive not only from its place in the economic system, as they say, but rather from the purpose it serves.
The second homiletic thought is from the "Day by Day" reading in Magnificat for today. It is part of an intervention by Liugi Giussani at a meeting on "The Fatherhood of God and Fatherhood in the Family" organised by the Pontifical Council for the Family in 1999. The full text was published in Communion and Liberation's magazine Traces in October 1999.
What can a father and mother wish more than to be able to look at and deal with their children with this gaze on what is human, in the imitation of Christ? Then, what is implied by the fact that a man and a woman want their union to be "blessed" by Christ and thus to become a Sacrament? This implies that the unity of their persons is understood and lived in function of God's Kingdom, and therefore of the human glory of Christ. Life itself is given us for this. The expression "human glory of Christ" means that the Mystery makes itself in some way visible, tangible, perceivable, experienceable because of a new reality that is created in its name.
The family is the locus of education in belonging, of education to the experience of fatherhood and, hence, of motherhood. In the family it is evident that the fundamental element in development of the person lies in the mutual, conjugated belonging of two factors: man and woman.
It is in the family that true belonging reveals itself as freedom, for true belonging is freedom. Freedom is that capacity to adhere-to the point of identification and assimilation-to what makes us be, to our Destiny, and it is made possible by our bond with it.
In ways that might not have been foreseen at the times at which these two speeches were first delivered, they both have a very striking relevance to the situation of the family after the widespread adoption of legislative proposals in favour of same-sex unions. It is probably also true that they reflect to a significantly lesser degree the actual experience of families today than at the times that they were delivered. However, even in those circumstances where family life is lived in a broken or imperfect way, it is nevertheless lived in an orientation towards the objective content and value of married/family life. In exercising the "catechetical moment" the Church can rightly offer the teaching of these two homiletic thoughts; and, in the accompanying "pastoral moment" that responds to the situation of individual families, the Church walks alongside and accompanies in practical and spiritual ways families that experience hardship and challenge.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

The grace which was revealed in our world is Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary, true man and true God.

On this night, like a burst of brilliant light, there rings out the proclamation of the Apostle: “God's grace has been revealed, and it has made salvation possible for the whole human race” (Tit 2:11).

Pope Francis' homily at Midnight Mass.

The text itself is beautiful. But also moving is the image of Pope Francis venerating the statue of the Christ Child.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Professionalism, Service and Holiness of Life

Pope Francis' recent address during the annual exchange of Christmas greetings with the members of the Roman Curia was very different in character to the one delivered at this time last year by Pope Benedict. Where the latter offered a survey, and analysis, of the key themes of the preceding year in the life of the Church, Pope Francis instead recognised and affirmed the nature of the tasks undertaken by those who work in the Curia.

My immediate thought as I read the text of Pope Francis' address was that it could apply just as much to the lay faithful in their working lives as it does to the officials of the Roman Curia. For the lay person, professionalism is about being able to do your job effectively - just as it is for the Curia. Carrying out the tasks of one's employment as a service can be very readily seen in jobs such as teaching or nursing, but perhaps less so in jobs such as engineering or managing a factory. Pope Francis' words encourage those who work for businesses, or run businesses that employ workers, to see that business as in some way a shared enterprise; the contribution of each to the success of the business represents a service to the community of all who have a stake in that business. Pope Francis' advocacy of a "conscientious objection to gossip" has ready application in any work place.

Pope Francis' words prompted two further reflections on my part. In the light of the recent consideration in the Church of the mission of the "new evangelisation", I have been considering for some time now the relationship between the professional competence of the layperson and their effectiveness as an evangeliser. In the workplace, or among peers, it is the effective carrying out of a day-to-day job that gives one a "way in", a credibility with colleagues. It is possible to be assertive in offering a Catholic point of view ... but that is not going to be taken seriously if you are someone who cannot do their job properly. So I think we should not underestimate the significance for evangelical effectiveness of professional training and competence.

The second reflection is related to the thought that many of the tasks undertaken in the Roman Curia do not require the dignity conferred by the Sacrament of Holy Orders. They might require a certain professional expertise that a priest, bishop or religious might gain during their formation; but there is no reason why a lay person with the same training should not be appointed to at least some of those roles. Ordination and religious profession might confer an office on its subject; but that can be distinguished from an exercise of authority or power (ordered towards service) that might go with a job in the Curia. Pope Francis' consideration of holiness of life can certainly apply just as much to the lay faithful in their day-to-day work as it does to those working for the Curia; but it indicates also an ecclesial orientation or sense in the manner of professionalism and service that applies particularly to working in the Curia. It is possible, then, to see in this consideration of holiness of life a kind of preferring of the priest, bishop or religious, though not an exclusion of the lay faithful, to carry out jobs in the Curia. The lay faithful who might share this ecclesial sense in a sufficient way are those who have been formed within one or other of the new ecclesial movements.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Keep Calm and Trust Pope Francis

Keep Calm and Trust Pope Francis. Or can I express it in more traditional terms -  where is Peter there is the Church? Perhaps not perfect, depending on your point of view .... but the Church nevertheless.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Chapter and Verse (or Canon and Excommunication)

"It must be true, I saw it in the paper." Or, in the idiom of the 21st century:  "it must be true, I saw it on a blog". It is sometimes interesting to go back to the original sources to investigate an assertion that appears to have become common place simply for having been oft repeated unchallenged on blogs, even Catholic blogs.

Let's try looking at the assertion that politicians who vote in favour of legislation allowing procured abortion should be excommunicated or barred from receiving Holy Communion, if Canon Law and the teaching of Evangelium Vitae are implemented properly.

The relevant Canons of the 1983 Code of Canon Law are considered below.

Canons 915 and 916  address the question of those who should not be admitted to Holy Communion (those "excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin") and those who, on their own initiative, should not come forward to receive (those who are "conscious of grave sin", and who should seek sacramental absolution before receiving).

Canon 1329 considers the situation of accomplices in an action for which the principle actor has suffered a penalty, and it is n.2 referring to latae sententiae penalties that is most relevant:
Accomplices who are not named in a law or precept incur a latae sententiae penalty attached to a delict if without their assistance the delict would not have been committed, and the penalty is of such a nature that it can affect them; otherwise, they can be punished by ferendae sententiae penalties.
Canon 1398 refers to the procuring of a direct abortion:

A person who procures a completed abortion incurs a latae sententiae excommunication.
Or, as it is translated in my text edition of the Code:
A person who actually procures an abortion incurs a latae sententiae excommunication.
When we turn to Evangelium Vitae, n.62 points out the provisions of both Canon 1329 and 1398, and indicates a reason for the penalty of excommunication:
The excommunication affects all those who commit this crime with knowledge of the penalty attached, and thus includes those accomplices without whose help the crime would not have been committed. By this reiterated sanction, the Church makes clear that abortion is a most serious and dangerous crime, thereby encouraging those who commit it to seek without delay the path of conversion. In the Church the purpose of the penalty of excommunication is to make an individual fully aware of the gravity of a certain sin and then to foster genuine conversion and repentance.
It is n.73 which addresses the situation of politicians who are asked to vote in favour of legislation allowing abortion. The subject is addressed, less in the context of a question of co-operation with any subsequent abortions that might take place, and more in the context of the moral licitness of a law which so fundamentally offends a human right:
Abortion and euthanasia are thus crimes which no human law can claim to legitimize. There is no obligation in conscience to obey such laws; instead there is a grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection....
In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to "take part in a propaganda campaign in favour of such a law, or vote for it".
Evangelium Vitae n.74 discusses the problem of co-operation that occurs as a result of legalised abortion, and I add emphasis to highlight how Evangelium Vitae understands this co-operation:
Christians, like all people of good will, are called upon under grave obligation of conscience not to cooperate formally in practices which, even if permitted by civil legislation, are contrary to God's law. Indeed, from the moral standpoint, it is never licit to cooperate formally in evil. Such cooperation occurs when an action, either by its very nature or by the form it takes in a concrete situation, can be defined as a direct participation in an act against innocent human life or a sharing in the immoral intention of the person committing it. This cooperation can never be justified either by invoking respect for the freedom of others or by appealing to the fact that civil law permits it or requires it. Each individual in fact has moral responsibility for the acts which he personally performs; no one can be exempted from this responsibility, and on the basis of it everyone will be judged by God himself (cf. Rom 2:6; 14:12). 
This seems to me to represent the juridical situation against which we can evaluate the question of whether or not Catholic politicians who have voted in favour of legislation permitting abortion should be excommunicated or barred from receiving Communion. I would conclude that such a politician has:
cf Evangelium Vitae n.73, has committed a morally illicit act, and that that act goes against a "grave and clear obligation" to do otherwise; that is, provided the act has been undertaken with full knowledge of its gravity and appropriate freedom from coercion, it fulfils the conditions for what is traditionally termed a mortal sin;
In the light of this, he or she is obliged by Canon 916 not to receive Holy Communion without first seeking sacramental absolution
not necessarily met the condition of "obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin" which would justify a sacred minister refusing them Holy Communion; the circumstances might mean they have met this or not and would turn on the judgement of a particular case
not acted such that they might be considered an accomplice in, or a co-operator with, any individual act of procured abortion that might follow upon the enactment of the legislation, and which would attract the latae sententiae excommunication attached to such complicity or co-operation in a directly procured abortion by Canon 1398 cf Canon 1329; their participation in the network of structural complicity described in n.59 of Evangelium Vitae does not constitute that closeness of co-operation with an individual act of abortion that qualifies for the latae sententiae excommunication
Since it does not appear to me to automatically be the case that a politician voting in favour of legislation permitting abortion has fulfilled the conditions that would demand barring from Communion under Canon 915 or excommunication under Canons 1329 and 1398 - they may have done so in some situations or they may not have done so in others - I am unable to share in the opprobrium that some are directing towards bishops in this regard. It seems to me that a first responsibility lies with the Catholic politician under Canon 916 not to approach to receive Communion, and that there might be much better traction to be gained by pointing this out than by attacking bishops. I would also reflect on the purpose of excommunication in favour of repentance and conversion - cf Evangelium Vitae n.62. A pastor could certainly attempt to bring about this conversion in a manner other than by excommunication.

I posted in June on how these kinds of considerations might apply to politicians voting in favour of legislation with regard to same-sex unions: Same-sex marriage: ecclesial aftermath. I concluded that post with two points. The first was to suggest that the fundamental question at stake was less one of a need for an act of authority and more one of acting in a manner that most effectively promoted the witness of the Church to her teaching. I also observed that bishops cannot make up the loss to that witness occurring because the lay faithful do not fulfil their office; and, equally, the lay faithful cannot make up the loss to that witness that occurs when bishops do not fulfil their office. In this sense, I judged that an act of ecclesial authority intended only to reverse the poor witness of Catholic politicians simply is not going to deliver that reversal; of its nature it cannot do so. And, as I am doing here, I suggested that the promoting of obligations under Canon 916 might well represent a more effective path of witness to Catholic teaching.

And as a kind of postscript, I make two further points. Was it really the case that the bishops of Ireland failed to speak out against the legislation that has now been passed by the Irish legislature? I link to the homily of Archbishop Michael Neary at Knock on 1st June 2013. It really cannot be clearer about Catholic teaching, and its appeal to politicians is equally clear in its urging them to put in practice in their voting the beliefs that they might have from their religion. And secondly, the positions expressed by Cardinal Burke might represent an interpretation of the juridical position outlined above - but it does not represent the juridical position itself. One cannot justifiably use Cardinal Burke's essentially personally expressed positions to heap opprobrium on bishops who, quite legitimately, adopt a position just as much in accord with the juridical situation of the question.

To come back to the original question. Is it really true?

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Film Review: Fill the Void

Zero and I went to see Fill the Void earlier today, feeling quite "with it" that for the second time in recent weeks we were seeing a film on the first weekend of its release in the UK (we did the same when we saw Philomena). Fill the Void is set in a Hasidic Jewish community in Tel Aviv, and the intention of the film's makers is that it should give to that community a voice in the wider world, which lives alongside them but hardly interacts with them.

The trailer for Fill the Void is here (though Sony, the distributors in the United States, are not the UK distributors). There are interesting interviews with the lead actress, Hadas Yaron, and the director, Rama Burshtein here and here (the FILMCLUB is a programme to promote interest in film in schools, and this latter interview seems particularly informative because the young lady interviewing Hadas Yaron appears close to her in age. The London Film Festival being referred to is that in Autumn 2012).

Fill the Void was entered in the main competition at the Venice Film Festival in 2012, with the lead actress, Hadas Yaron, winning the prize for Best Actress. The SIGNIS jury at the festival also gave the film a Special Commendation:
The Jury also decided to give a Special Commendation to the Israeli film Fill the Void , by Rama Burshtein.
"The youngest daughter of an orthodox Jewish family is asked to change drastically the course of her life in the interest of the unity of her family. The story unfolds in a small community of strict religious observance, the customs and traditions of which are presented with great cinematic beauty and an outstanding sense of pride, acknowledging at the same time the complexity of the challenge of postponing personal aspirations for the good of others."
The film is interesting in that all those who took part in the making of the film - certainly the lead actress, the director and the producer - demonstrate a great willingness to engage with a profoundly religious culture that, apart from the director herself, was largely unknown to them before the making of the film. They also share - and Hadas Yaron articulates this very well in her interviews - a desire to give that culture, largely hidden from view though lived in physical proximity to others, a voice to wider society. Indeed, Hadas Yaron, herself a secular Jew, describes how, through her participation in the making of the film, she came to know these people who live so closely and yet were almost unknown to her. There is a very telling exchange in this video extract of a press conference with Hadas Yaron and the producer at the Venice Film Festival in which they reply to the suggestion that the film portrays in an unwelcome way a religious fanaticism (starting at about 2:10). It is of great interest, I think, that film makers are willing to present a film rooted in such a profoundly religious culture and in their film to offer a very positive insight into that culture.

If you see the film, you will recognise that its title works on a number of different levels. There is the void created by the death of the elder sister, Esther, a void both for Esther's mother and for her "little sister"; the void created by the death of a wife and mother; the void created when Shira's planned marriage does not come to fruition. Providing what I saw as a kind of theological interpretation of all of this, though I may have been reading more into the film than was intended, is the context of the feast of Purim (a feast which celebrates Esther's intervention before the King to save the Jews in exile) and Shira's reading, even on the day of her eventual wedding to her sister's widower, of the psalm: "If I forget you, O Jerusalem ..". A very modern setting of these words provides the theme music for the film, something which gives a real sense of an encounter with a religious heritage that is lived in modern times.

Hadas Yaron says in her interview for FILMCLUB that the film is a love story, and this is true. The actress also speaks of the film showing how her character, Shira, is struggling to understand herself and her feelings. The film also portrays the kind of family relationships that can readily occur in any culture. But it also portrays how these ordinary experiences are lived out by those who share in a religiously rich culture and lived practice. In her response at the press conference, Hadas Yaron indicates that, though the Hasidic culture has its restrictions, nevertheless it is Shira's own choices that are being shown in the film. What struck me, reflecting on it in the different context of the recent debates about same sex marriage, is that Fill the Void shows, in its portrayal of arranged marriages in the Hasidic community, an interplay between the subjective feelings of a couple (the rabbi points out to Shira at one point, in reply to her saying that it is not about feelings at all, that it is indeed all about feelings) and a more objective component to the institution of marriage represented by the inter-family negotiations.

I found particularly moving the three points in the film where Shira is shown playing the accordion. The lighting of the actress in two of these scenes shows one side of her face lit and the other in shadow - and in the third scene at the kindergarten, as the tune changes to a sorrowful tune, a child moves across in front of Shira so that her face comes in and out of view to the film goer. That most of the film's scenes take place indoors is an indicator of the separation that exists between the community being portrayed and the wider society among whom it lives.

It is a very beautifully shot film. Highly recommended.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Catholic response to Tom Daley [UPDATED]

Tom Daley's Youtube video appeared initially in a certain isolation from other media coverage. The day after it was posted, the more popular print newspapers in Britain provided stories that named, or at least suggested the name of, Tom's boyfriend (the Evening Standard seemed to lead the way with this report).Today (6th December) sees advance coverage of Tom's appearance on the Jonathon Ross Show, due for broadcast on Saturday.

One can certainly welcome the extent of support that Tom Daley has received during the last few days. The one thing that cannot be justified in any way at all is a campaign of vilification directed against Tom - though there would appear to have been some of this alongside the massive support for Tom. Part of the narrative of these days is the relative balance between how these different responses have played out, particularly in the electronic media.

However, I do wonder whether the narrative that we can now see is quite the same as it looked when Tom Daley's video message was first posted. In the video, Tom makes a passing reference to "rumours" at the same time as he indicates that he is now ready to talk publicly about his relationships in a way that he was not ready before. [In the reports of the Jonathon Ross Show, Tom refers to feeling trapped and alone before making his news public, something that has since been overcome. This suggests a different type of readiness to talk about his relationships than that suggested in the video post.] There appears to be a hint here that Tom sensed that the story was about to emerge into the public domain at some point. Posting the video has given Tom a much greater control over how the story has emerged - as he said in the video, he wanted to be the person to tell his followers/fans. And the coverage of his appearance on the Jonathon Ross Show also shows a competent handling of the news media.

In the light of the above - which is not intended as a criticism of Tom who, as a person in the public eye, is entitled to manage a news story in the way that is best for him - I do feel that the narrative has changed in some respects from what it was when the video clip was first posted. Tom has continued to talk about his relationship in terms that, as I suggested in my original post, are not an adequate expression of what the word "love" means in its truest and most objective sense. This is not to challenge Tom's integrity, or his courage, in making the statement that he has made. I think he has communicated justly where he is; and many another person would have expressed themselves in a similar way.

But I think we can legitimately see this articulation of his relationship as being part of the narrative, and we are entitled to engage with that part of the narrative (without it being seen as in any way as an attack on Tom or a manifestation of homophobia). As tigerish waters post pointed out, from a Catholic point of view, there is a an understanding of what it means to love another person that is deeper than its aspect of how one feels about the other. And a Catholic contribution to the current discussion will be precisely an articulation of this deeper understanding.

In so far as any response is going to be one to Tom Daley as a person, a Catholic will be happy to support him, as they would support the dignity of any person. At the same time, however, in so far as it is going to be a response that is a response to the narrative in the media, it will want to offer a different content to the meaning of the word "love".

tigerish waters has posted a very considered response to the news that the Olympic swimmer Tom Daley is dating another man.

Catholic response to Tom Daley

It is certainly legitimate to recognise the courage it takes to make an announcement of this sort; and it would be quite wrong to react in a way that makes a personal attack of any sort on Tom. Such a reaction would constitute a failure in charity if nothing else.

And yet, something nags at the back of the mind.

According to the BBC report:
Gay rights campaigners Stonewall tweeted: "Moving and inspiring video from @TomDaley1994. A role model for thousands of other young people." 
At the very least, we can suggest that this tweet of support is not disinterested.

Again, according to the BBC report:
 "In spring this year my life changed massively when I met someone, and they make me feel so happy, so safe and everything just feels great."
What follows is not to comment on the genuineness of the feelings expressed here by Tom Daley. But for others reading these words - those for whom Stonewall are suggesting that Tom might be a role model - is "everything just feels great" really an adequate defining of what is meant by the love of one person for another? Is love really so completely subjective and without permanent objective content as these words suggest?

Do read tigerish waters' Catholic response to Tom Daley.