Saturday, 18 November 2017

"Love not in word but in deed": World Day of the Poor


 When the Successor of Peter establishes a "World Day" he exercises his office in a very particular way. Whilst there may well be a single event at an international level, the real success of such a day depends on the collaboration of the bishops in their local Churches and of the Catholic faithful in each of their particular places in the Church and in the world. A "World Day" represents a highly collaborative exercise of the Papal office.

This Sunday sees the first celebration of a World Day of the Poor, instituted by Pope Francis. The Holy Father opens his message for the day as follows:
“Little children, let us not love in word or speech, but in deed and in truth” (1 Jn 3:18). These words of the Apostle John voice an imperative that no Christian may disregard. The seriousness with which the “beloved disciple” hands down Jesus’ command to our own day is made even clearer by the contrast between the empty words so frequently on our lips and the concrete deeds against which we are called to measure ourselves. Love has no alibi. Whenever we set out to love as Jesus loved, we have to take the Lord as our example; especially when it comes to loving the poor. The Son of God’s way of loving is well-known, and John spells it out clearly. It stands on two pillars: God loved us first (cf. 1 Jn 4:10.19), and he loved us by giving completely of himself, even to laying down his life (cf. 1 Jn 3:16).  
Such love cannot go unanswered. Even though offered unconditionally, asking nothing in return, it so sets hearts on fire that all who experience it are led to love back, despite their limitations and sins. Yet this can only happen if we welcome God’s grace, his merciful charity, as fully as possible into our hearts, so that our will and even our emotions are drawn to love both God and neighbour. In this way, the mercy that wells up – as it were – from the heart of the Trinity can shape our lives and bring forth compassion and works of mercy for the benefit of our brothers and sisters in need.
Pope Francis' suggestion that we should enter into an encounter with the poor that involves a sharing in their lives brings to mind the Houses of Hospitality of the Catholic Worker Movement or the "teams" of Madeleine Delbrel. Pope Francis also reminds us that, for the Christian, poverty represents a call to follow Christ (I have added the emphasis below). For the religious and lay faithful who live according to the evangelical counsels, this is their orientation towards the poor.
Let us never forget that, for Christ’s disciples, poverty is above all a call to follow Jesus in his own poverty.  It means walking behind him and beside him, a journey that leads to the beatitude of the Kingdom of heaven (cf. Mt 5:3; Lk 6:20).  Poverty means having a humble heart that accepts our creaturely limitations and sinfulness and thus enables us to overcome the temptation to feel omnipotent and immortal.  Poverty is an interior attitude that avoids looking upon money, career and luxury as our goal in life and the condition for our happiness.  Poverty instead creates the conditions for freely shouldering our personal and social responsibilities, despite our limitations, with trust in God’s closeness and the support of his grace.  Poverty, understood in this way, is the yardstick that allows us to judge how best to use material goods and to build relationships that are neither selfish nor possessive (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, Nos. 25-45).
Pope Francis, following the Year of Mercy, wishes that this day will each year prompt the Catholic community in its exercise of the works of mercy.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Respect and appreciation for differences ...

In the light of a current news story in the UK, these two passages from Amoris Laetitia make for interesting (and balanced) reading. The second paragraph rightly distinguishes those things that are  variable (denoted by the terms "masculinity" and "femininity", and carefully exemplified) from that which cannot be varied and which is addressed in the first paragraph - the difference and complementarity of our bodies given to us as two sexes (denoted by the terms "male" and "female"). I have added my own emphases.
285. Sex education should also include respect and appreciation for differences, as a way of helping the young to overcome their self-absorption and to be open and accepting of others. Beyond the understandable difficulties which individuals may experience, the young need to be helped to accept their own body as it was created, for “thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation… An appreciation of our body as male or female is also necessary for our own self-awareness in an encounter with others different from ourselves. In this way we can joyfully accept the specific gifts of another man or woman, the work of God the Creator, and find mutual enrichment”. Only by losing the fear of being different, can we be freed of self-centredness and self-absorption. Sex education should help young people to accept their own bodies and to avoid the pretension “to cancel out sexual difference because one no longer knows how to deal with it”.
286. Nor can we ignore the fact that the configuration of our own mode of being, whether as male or female, is not simply the result of biological or genetic factors, but of multiple elements having to do with temperament, family history, culture, experience, education, the influence of friends, family members and respected persons, as well as other formative situations. It is true that we cannot separate the masculine and the feminine from God’s work of creation, which is prior to all our decisions and experiences, and where biological elements exist which are impossible to ignore. But it is also true that masculinity and femininity are not rigid categories. It is possible, for example, that a husband’s way of being masculine can be flexibly adapted to the wife’s work schedule. Taking on domestic chores or some aspects of raising children does not make him any less masculine or imply failure, irresponsibility or cause for shame. Children have to be helped to accept as normal such healthy “exchanges” which do not diminish the dignity of the father figure. A rigid approach turns into an over accentuation of the masculine or feminine, and does not help children and young people to appreciate the genuine reciprocity incarnate in the real conditions of matrimony. Such rigidity, in turn, can hinder the development of an individual’s abilities, to the point of leading him or her to think, for example, that it is not really masculine to cultivate art or dance, or not very feminine to exercise leadership.
A key point to note: the openness to roles that might at one time have been associated with one sex rather than the other, outlined in n.286, does not contain any suggestion that this openness should be identified with a sense of being a person of the wrong sex. This paragraph does not suggest that flexibility in roles is to be associated with a fluidity of sex/gender.

Saturday, 4 November 2017

.... with Pope Francis and not against

I have already observed on this blog that I believe that much of the responsibility for the alleged confusion following Amoris Laetitia must lie with those who have promoted that confusion by a persistent campaign of criticism of the Apostolic Exhortation articulated in part in terms of, oh irony, condemnation of the confusion caused by it and by Pope Francis.

A strand in the criticism has been a discussion of whether or not Amoris Laetitia, both as a document in itself or seen in terms of its specific content, can be considered a document of the Ordinary Magisterium (capitals intended). The intention of this line of argument has been to suggest that, if it is not part of the Magisterium, it can therefore be considered non-binding. The term "Magisterium" in this context refers narrowly to teaching offered as teaching for the universal Church and which is permanent in its character and therefore applicable over all time - Magisterium with a capital "M".

This has appeared to me to be rather beside what is the real point. Whatever we think of it, Amoris Laetitia is clearly an exercise by Pope Francis of his office as the Successor of Peter. It may contain pastoral indications that apply to particular situations of our own times, and therefore might not apply in the future; and it may contain indications for pastoral action that are for a time rather than being such that a future generation might consider binding. But it might also contain parts that are of more permanent value (for example, Chapter IV on love in marriage). In this, it is no different than many other actions of the ordinary magisterium, that is, of the exercise of their office by the Successors of Peter and the bishops in communion with him. The strict discussion of whether or not it is "Magisterium" appears somewhat sterile in this context; the real question for Catholics today is a  rather different question.

Cardinal Marc Ouellet's address to the Canadian Bishops conference very subtly captured the appropriate response (with my emphasis added):
So we must re-read Amoris Laetitia in a spirit of pastoral conversion that assumes, first of all a genuine and unprejudiced receptivity to the pontifical teaching; secondly, a change of attitude in the face of cultures that are far from the faith; thirdly, a convincing testimony to the joy of the Gospel that emerges from faith in the Person of Jesus and his loving and merciful gaze upon all of human reality.
The reading from St Peter Chrysologus offered as the "Meditation of the Day" in MAGNIFICAT for yesterday struck me as very apposite. St Peter Chrysologus is commenting on the Gospel text for yesterday's Mass, in which Jesus dines at the house of a leading Pharisee (Luke 14:1-6). The title given to the meditation was Jesus Went to Dine:
When he had entered the house, it says. In the house there was a trap, in the greeting a trial, in the seat at table a snare .....There jealousy was burning, envy was inflamed, anger was being cooked up, pretence provided the seasoning, and all the courses of slander were being made ready.
And, nevertheless, there that Lamb of God was eating, and not to be fed, but to be killed, just as if he knew none of this. He certainly was eating, brothers, not as if he were ignorant of this, but so that at least by his companionship, by their very intimacy and the gracious way in which he dined together with them, their ferocity might be tamed, their anger soothed, their envy extinguished. Then by his very humaneness these men might now return to being human again, they might acquire some affection, they might notice his gracious charm, they might welcome their parent, they might recognise his kindness, they might acknowledge his powers, they might love his curative treatments, and they might desire, and not attack, his acts of healing.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Abortion: a tragic anniversary [UPDATED]

On Friday, which marks the 50th anniversary of the Abortion Act in Britain, I will be away from home at an all day meeting and then travelling home. This will prevent me from taking part in the prayer vigil to which we are being called by our bishops on that day (though I expect I may be able to join in spirit during my train journey home).

After fifty years of legalised abortion, few in our countries have not had some experience of abortion. This is something that makes it a difficult topic to discuss in a public arena, particularly for a man, as the articulation of an objective ethical view is all to easily read by members of an audience as an individually directed comment on their personal choices in a situation whose complexity may be unknown to the writer/speaker. It is also the case that legalised abortion has impacted on the lives of Catholics, again, in a variety of ways.

The provision of Canon Law (Canon 1398) for a latae sententiae excommunication of the person who actually procures an abortion is intended to teach how seriously the Catholic Church views the offence of abortion. The joint statement of bishops describes every abortion as a "tragedy"; the Second Vatican Council, taking place at a time before abortion was legally available in many of the western democracies, described abortion as an "unspeakable crime" (Gaudium et Spes n.51). This teaching is balanced by the provisions of charity towards those who have experienced abortion. The absolution from the penalty of excommunication can now be offered by any priest and is no longer reserved to the bishop (earlier special provisions for the Year of Mercy and for participants in World Youth days are now permanent); and the bishops statement indicates a similar approach of mercy:
When abortion is the choice made by a woman, the unfailing mercy of God and the promise of forgiveness through the Sacrament of Reconciliation are always available. There is always a way home to a deeper relationship with God and the Church, as recent Popes have emphasised, which can heal and bring peace.
A particular challenge of conscience that faces a Catholic is that of how, given the prevalence of abortion in the culture and practice of life in our countries, we indicate our own "no" to abortion and thereby avoid feeling that, however distantly, we are complicit in the culture of abortion. One way of doing this is to join with those initiatives that seek to help women facing a choice for abortion. Peaceful prayer vigils at abortion clinics are one way of doing this, and the work of one such vigil in Ealing has been in the news recently. Coverage can be seen here, here, here and here.  Radio 4's World at One has an interesting clip here of an interview with a lady which indicates a value for the practical help offered by these vigils (you might need to register at the site to hear the clip).

From time to time I am stunned by the "economy with the truth" that I encounter on the subject of abortion. British law, for example, does not recognise in any way that access to abortion is a human right. On the contrary, it is framed to establish exemption from prosecution under other legislative provisions if certain conditions are met; and it is difficult to reconcile the availability of abortion in our countries with the right of life of Article 3 of the UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights. And an interview on the World at One with a woman who had travelled from Northern Ireland to Manchester for an abortion describes the woman waiting for her return flight in pain and with bleeding .... and yet she had been discharged from the abortion clinic, something that did not cause comment. (I can't trace the clip, but I am quite confident of my memory). The allegations of "harassment" at abortion clinic vigils, including the one at Ealing, are utterly unfounded as I have good reason to know.

UPDATE: The BBC News website is carrying this report of three women's experience of abortion. The reactions of boyfriends that occur in two of these stories appears to me very striking, with implications not only for the education of men in terms of understanding and taking responsibility for their sexual activity but also for the authenticity/character of their love for the girlfriends involved. Two phrases stand out to me: "I felt pressured into having an abortion" and "I didn't have much choice". So much for "choice" in the real experience of abortion.

Monday, 16 October 2017

The concensus of the Holy Fathers .....

I have for a long time been familiar with St Robert Bellarmine's letter to Paolo Foscarini, which provides the good Cardinal's personal commentary on the situation of Copernicanism at the time (1615). It has always struck me because of its witness to both Catholic faith as a source of knowledge of what is true and reason, in this instance, that of science, as likewise a source of knowledge of what is true.

An English translation of the full text of the letter can be found here. The third paragraph could not be a stronger exposition of the obligation imposed by the Council of Trent that Holy Scripture should be understood and expounded in accordance with the Holy Fathers and doctors of the Church.

But the fourth paragraph qualifies this in a quite remarkable way (the part translated below is taken from James Brodrick's two volume 1928 biography of Bellarmine rather than the website linked above):
If there were a real proof that the sun is in the centre of the universe, that the earth is in the third heaven, and that the sun does not go round the earth but the earth round the sun, then we should have to proceed with great circumspection in explaining passages of Scripture which appear to teach the contrary, and rather admit that we did not understand them than declare an opinion to be false which is proved to be true....
I do not think any one today would insist on interpreting the passages from Genesis, Psalms, Ecclesiastes and Joshua according to the consensus of the Fathers and doctors as it existed in 1615.

Applying this to Catholic teaching on the death penalty:

1. Though there is a consensus in favour of the (conditional) legitimacy of capital punishment, I am finding it difficult to find a point at which one can clearly say it became defined teaching. That being the case, the freedom then still exists, in the sense in which Bellarmine suggests, that the cited passages of Scripture might be understood differently without it becoming a matter of heresy. (Indeed, I suspect that the passages of Scripture where the Church has defined one particular understanding rather than another are relatively few.)

2. In this case, the use of reason being suggested by Pope Francis lies in the field of the humanities, and, in particular, our understanding of the nature of the dignity of the human person. One can look, as does Pope Francis ("... No man, “not even a murderer, loses his personal dignity...”), to the inalienable nature of the rights of the person (cf the preamble to the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights). And one can also look, as does Pope Francis again and as is recognised to an extent in the Catechism of the Catholic Church n.2267, to studying the injury to human dignity represented by the death penalty (the writing of Sr Helen Prejean provides an evidence that can be considered in this regard).

3. That a definition against the death penalty could constitute a genuine development of doctrine appears to me, in the light of the considerations above, quite possible, as Pope Francis himself suggests.

4. But I suspect that a final definition one way or the other may not be forthcoming and, rather like the question of conscientious objection and the legitimacy of military service in the teaching of Vatican II (cf Gaudium et Spes n. 79), the two strands of Catholic life with regard to the question will continue to exist side by side.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Guardini on the Rosary

MAGNIFICAT's "Meditation of the Day" yesterday, for the Feast of the Holy Rosary, has directed me to Romano Guardini's short book The Rosary of Our Lady. It is a book that contains both very practical advice to enrich the way in which we pray the Rosary and theological/catechetical instruction that places the manner of our praying of the Rosary within the context of salvation history and of a genuine human dynamic of prayer.

The chapter entitled "Mary", for example, offers an explanation of how the Christian relates uniquely among the saints to Mary, without compromising the orientation towards Christ:
It is Mary on whom the Rosary is centred in a focus ever new. This prayer means a lingering in the world of Mary, whose essence was Christ.
It is this chapter which precedes the chapter entitled "Christ in us" from which the MAGNIFICAT meditation was taken:
To linger in the domain of Mary is a divinely great thing. One does not ask about the utility of truly noble things, because they have their meaning within themselves. So it is of infinite meaning to draw a deep breath of this purity, to be secure in the peace of the union with God ...
All prayer begins by man becoming silent - recollecting his scattered thoughts, feeling remorse at his trespasses, and directing his thoughts toward God. If man does this, this place is thrown open, not only as a domain of spiritual tranquillity and mental concentration, but as something that comes from God.
We are always in need of this place, especially when the convulsions of the times make clear something that has always existed but which is sometimes hidden by outward well-being and a prevailing peace of mind: namely, the homelessness of our lives. In such times, a great courage is demanded from us; not only to dispense with more and to accomplish more than usual, but to persevere in a vacuum we do not otherwise notice. So we require more than ever this place of which we speak, not to creep into as a hiding place, but as a place to find the core of things, to become calm and confident once more.
For this reason the rosary is so important in times like ours - assuming , of course, that all slackness and exaggeration are done away with, and that it is used in its clear and original forcefulness. This is all the more important because the rosary does not require any special preparation, and the petitioner does not need to generate thoughts of which he is not capable at the moment or at any other time. Rather, he steps into a well-ordered world, meets familiar images, and finds roads that lead him to the essential.
[So far as I can tell, this book was first published in German in 1940 - so Guardini's reference to "times like ours" is a reference to war time conditions in Germany.]

Guardini offers an explanation of the part played by each of the prayers in the structure of the Rosary. This is what he says about the Our Father, prayed at the beginning of each decade:
The start and the goal of all spiritual movement is the Father. So the prayer to Him is placed at the beginning of each decade, to ask Him for the things that are really vital. The meditation that follows is thus made in the sight of the Father; like the seer in the Revelation of St John we look at all the different events that pass before the eyes of Him "who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever".
And on the Glory be:
And finally, with the "Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit" at the end of each decade, he who prays bows before the triune God, from whom everything comes and to whom everything returns.
Guardini has already spoken about the role of the Hail Mary in representing for us the mystery that is the subject of each decade. He assumes a practice that is not well known in the English speaking world, of introducing into the Hail Mary a reference to the mystery being prayed:
...the Rosary is, in its deepest sense, a prayer of Christ. The first part of the Hail Mary ends with His name: "And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus". After this name follow the so-called mysteries (for example, "Whom thou, O Virgin, dids't conceive of the Holy Spirit, "Whom though didst bear with thee to Elizabeth", "Who was born to thee in Bethlehem"). Every decade of the Rosary contains such a mystery.
It is worth noting, too, Guardini's suggestion that the Rosary needs to be both given the time that it needs by the one who prays, and also to be allowed to take the time that of its own nature it will ask:
The Rosary is a prayer of lingering. One must take one's time for it, putting the necessary time at its disposal, not only externally but internally..... It is not necessary to ramble through the whole Rosary; it is better to say only one or two decades, and to say them right.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Further reading ....

.... on Amoris Laetitia and the correction (of that which didn't need correcting).

Rocco Buttiglione suggests that the correction is premised on reading in to the text of Amoris Laetitia things that  Amoris Laetitia does not in reality say (read the article in full, do not rely just on the headline): “The correctio? The method is incorrect: they do not discuss, they condemn”.

Cardinal Marc Ouellet has presented a more overarching analysis of Amoris Laetitia and its call for a "pastoral conversion" in speaking to the Canadian Catholic Bishops Conference. The full text has been published at the National Catholic Reporter (scroll down this report to find the embedded text): Critics of Filial Correction of Pope Francis Weigh In.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Correcting the correction .....

There is a thought that I came to adopt quite some time ago now, prompted I think by an observation of Hans Urs von Balthasar in his study Therese of Lisieux: The Story of a Mission. Von Balthasar suggested that Therese was reduced in her experience of Christian life, in particular the mystery of confession, by an early confessor who said to her that she had never committed a mortal sin. The thought prompted by this is that the person who has experienced sin has a deeper experience of the Christian mystery, because that mystery is one of redemption from sin rather than being one of perfection originally achieved. Perhaps those who try to live in the Church with the greatest experience of sin are also those with the greatest experience of the Christian life. In any case, we can say that, both at the level of the individual Christian life and at the level of the community of the Church as a whole, there co-exists that which is sin and that which is grace, this co-existence characterised by the wish that it is the latter that will be in the ascendant over the former.

By analogy, watching the lives of marriages that I have encountered, I wonder if those marriages that experience the most difficulty (and difficulty arising from a whole range of different causes), and the lack of both financial and emotional security that result from difficulty, might have a deeper experience of the Christian life than other, more stable marriages. There can be among those difficulties a very radical experience of poverty - of not knowing what the next day, or week, or month will bring. The Christian in these kinds of circumstances has an experience of poverty that may not be readily experienced by others; they may not advert to it consciously as a Christian vocation, but they might nevertheless live it in a profoundly existential way.

There can, of course, be causes for a marriage break up that are a result of choices that go against the teaching of the Catholic Church with regard to marriage. This might be an extra-marital affair, where one spouse betrays the other. But then, later, both of the spouses involved might enter into a second marriage through a close friendship that comes about through the every day circumstances of life. Both of those second marriages are choices that are not morally just according to Catholic teaching. In both cases, the "objective state of sin", to use the term of Amoris Laetitia, means that they cannot receive Holy Communion should they still wish to practice their Catholic faith. The second is, however, perhaps more understandable in human terms than the first.

The situation that Chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia tries to address does not primarily appear to me to be the situation at the time of the entering in to the second marriages, or of first embarking on a cohabitation. Instead, it appears to me to address a situation much later in time, when the immediacy of the decisions that created the "objective state of sin" has been moderated with the passage of time (cf n.298).

At this point, I am prompted to reflect on the  requirements set for the admission of a person to the monastery set out in chapter 58 of the Rule of St Benedict. It is not a requirement of any particular perfection but instead a requirement that the aspirant should "truly seek God", with provision for the testing of the integrity of that seeking of God:
A senior, skilled in conversion, should supervise him to see if he truly seeks God and eagerly hopes for the Divine Office, obedience and humiliations. He must be told of the difficulties and austerities ahead of him on the pathway to God.
At this later point in time, there might well emerge for the re-married person through a conversion, experienced in all probability in some limited way, a wish to "truly seek God". Equally, for some, no such wish may exist and the people involved will move away from the practice of the faith altogether; these would take the view that there is nothing wrong with being in a second marriage or with cohabiting. Chapter 8, however, faces up to the question of how, in practical terms, the Church approaches the situation of those who do have an at least latent wish to "seek God" (ie fidelity to Catholic teaching and life with regard to marriage) in their irregular situation.

[Whilst it is less easy to see how it might occur, it is also possible that those who are living together without marrying, or who contract a civil marriage only, might also reach this point of conversion that represents a wish to "seek God" through fidelity to Catholic teaching. Though some of these situations might be readily resolved through a marriage, one might think, for example, of a couple co-habiting when one of the couple is prevented from marriage by a previous marriage, or where one might wish to move to marriage and the other not.]

In this light, I propose the following theses.

1. The person who, even in a limited way, wishes to "seek God" in the sense suggested above, already knows that there is something (morally) wrong with their situation. They do not need to be told it. "Doctrinal clarity" is neither here nor there for them. I recall the parable of the ship's captain and the lighthouse that Mgr Paul Watson was wont to tell when he was at Maryvale Institute - once the captain of the large ship realises that he is heading towards a lighthouse on land instead of a smaller ship that can move out of his way, he does not need to be told that he needs to change direction. And this is where the logic of the dubia and the clamour for clarification runs up against the pastoral approach proposed in Chapter 8. None of the doctrine being "defended" by the dubia and the calls for clarification have ever been put into question by Chapter 8 or by any other passage in Amoris Laetitia. There is no objective need for Pope Francis to clarify that teaching. There is every need, in the pastoral intention of Amoris Laetitia, to maintain the sense of welcome to those whose conversion leads them to "seek God" in their marital situation. The need for clarification has arisen because of the activity of those who call for it, and not because of the manner of Pope Francis' exercise of the office of the Successor of Peter.

2. If the pastoral programme of Chapter 8 is followed, there is a certain testing of the desire to "seek God" and of the conversion giving rise to it. An examination of conscience and moments of reflection and repentance are proposed by Amoris Laetitia n.300; and the discernment is against the bench mark of "truth and charity as proposed by the Church", humility and discretion, and love for the Church and her teaching. If priests and bishops fulfil their responsibility in respect of this part of the pastoral programme of Chapter 8, it is difficult to see how a person in a second marriage could embark on the process of discernment and integration without a genuine wish to "seek God". Indeed, the one who "flaunts an objective sin as if it were part of the Christian ideal ... needs to listen once more to the Gospel message and its call to conversion" in the words of Amoris Laetitia n.297. There is no question here of accepting as morally just the "objective state of sin" with regard to a second marriage or cohabitation.

3. A key point of both pastoral and theological importance in Chapter 8 is the suggestion that, though a couple might be in an objective state of manifest sin (ie a state of sin that is openly visible), there are circumstances where the element of consent in particular, but also of knowledge, that are necessary for that sin to be mortal may be lacking or compromised. In other words, it is possible for someone living in an irregular marital situation, with that desire to "seek God", to still share in the life of grace that is the common spiritual life of the Church. This is the discussion that extends across nn.301 - 305 of Amoris Laetitia, with reference to both St Thomas and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It seems to me that this discussion reflects what one might call traditional teaching with regard to the requirements of mortal sin - full knowledge, full consent and grave matter. It does not question that the irregular marriage situations represent grave matter, and leaves intact the provision of Canon 915 that persistence in manifest sin in grave matter means that a person should not be admitted to Holy Communion. It also reflects what is said above about the Christian life being one that shares in sin and grace, with the effort always that grace should become the ascendant. If one can summarise the discussion, it is in this sentence from n.305:
Because of forms of conditioning and mitigating factors, it is possible that in an objective situation of sin - which may not be subjectively culpable, or fully such - a person can be living in God's grace, and can also grow in the life of grace and charity, while receiving the Church's help to this end.
4. The discernment expected by the pastoral programme of Chapter 8 is not a discernment with regard to admission to the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist. That aspect is relegated to a footnote to n.305 just quoted (or it was until the critics raised it to a kind of canonical status that is entirely sui generis), the essence of which is to say that the process of discernment does not rule out an eventual access to the sacraments and neither does it rule it in. The admission to these sacraments is not itself the subject of the discernment. It should also be absolutely clear that recognising that an objective state of sin can exist alongside grace does not represent a kind of acceptance as a status quo of the objective state of sin, and to suggest so is a very serious misrepresentation of the teaching of Chapter 8. Amoris Laetitia is not suggesting a standing still in that objective state of sin. Instead, it is presenting a discernment of a way forward enabling a growth in the life of grace and charity, "so they can reach the fullness of God's plan for them, something which is always possible by the power of the Holy Spirit" (Amoris Laetitia n.297).

5. When I look at the manner of Pope Francis' exercise of the ministry of the Successor Peter, its most striking feature appears to be the raising of the status of the act of charity in terms of the living of the Christian life. For Pope Francis, it is a central focus of the bringing of grace into ascendancy over sin in the life of the individual Christian and in the life of the Church as a whole. The promotion of the corporal works of mercy - exemplified by Pope Francis himself in his Friday "visits of mercy" - was perhaps an underestimated intention of the recent Year of Mercy. It is n.306 of Amoris Laetitia which is crucial to recognising the part to be played by engagement with the Church's mission of charity in the process of discernment intended by Chapter 8:
In every situation, when dealing with those who have difficulties in living God's law to the full, the invitation to pursue the via caritatis must be clearly heard. Fraternal charity is the first law of Christians (cf Jn 15:12; Gal 5:14). Let us not forget the reassuring words of Scripture: "Maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins" (1 Pet 4:8); "Atone for your sins with righteousness, and your iniquities with mercy to the oppressed, so that your prosperity may be prolonged" (Dan 4:24[27]); "As water extinguishes a blazing fire, so almsgiving atones for sins" (Sir 3:30). This is also what Saint Augustine teaches: "Just as, at the threat of a fire, we would run for water to extinguish it… so too, if the flame of sin rises from our chaff and we are troubled, if the chance to perform a work of mercy is offered us, let us rejoice in it, as if it were a fountain offered us to extinguish the blaze".
It is the discernment, and accompaniment, of how a person might engage in this activity of charity that is seen by Pope Francis as the manner of an approach that integrates them in the life of the Church rather than rejecting them from it. Its spiritual, and therefore redemptive, value derives from the possibility that the person has participation in the life of grace of the Church. For the one who "seeks God" whilst in an objectively sinful marital situation, it offers a way of moving forward, of growing towards perfection. There is no reason why such a person should not be active in an SVP conference, engaged in hospital visiting or engaged in ship visiting (to give examples with relevance to my own locality), though they are not able to receive Holy Communion.

6. Pope Francis' answer to the dubia and to the correction is already there in Amoris Laetitia n.308:
I understand those who prefer a more rigorous pastoral care which leaves no room for confusion. But I sincerely believe that Jesus wants a Church attentive to the goodness which the Holy Spirit sows in the midst of human weakness, a Mother who, while clearly expressing her objective teaching, 'always does what good she can, even if in the process, her shoes get soiled by the mud of the street'".

According to one of its signatories, the real claim of the correction is that Pope Francis has left  little doubt about how he wants Amoris Laetitia to be understood and applied, and this understanding is in the last analysis incompatible with the Catholic Faith. I think this claim is in the realm of speculation. Several of the cited instances of actions by Pope Francis that are claimed to indicate how he wishes us to understand and apply Amoris Laetitia do not in reality do any such thing unless a speculative interpretation is placed on them; and in so far as there is any indication of how Amoris Laetitia might be understood and applied, it is as  I indicate above. The Argentine bishops guidelines referred to, for example, do not say anything other than what is already in Amoris Laetitia itself, so Pope Francis' endorsement of them has no content in addition to Amoris Laetitia in any case.

Perhaps the authors of the correction would have better spent their time in promoting an understanding and application of Amoris Laetitia that is faithful to its text.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

The "correction" of that which is in no need of correction ....

I have already posted on why I have no problem with Amoris Laetitia:  see here and, for a "compendium" of my posts on the subject, here.

I also wonder how much an "anti-Francis" attitude, rather than just the question of Amoris Laetitia, sits behind those passages in the so-called "correction" that address other aspects of Pope Francis' exercise of the Office of St Peter. I quote, for example, the full section of Pope Francis' address to members of Communion and Liberation in March 2015, an excerpt of which in the so-called "correction" seems to suggest that we are forgiven without conversion and which demonstrates very little appreciation of the charism of Communion and Liberation:
One cannot understand this dynamic of the encounter if astonishment and adherence are inspired without mercy. Only one who has been caressed by the tenderness of mercy truly knows the Lord. The privileged place of encounter is the caress of Jesus’ mercy regarding my sin. This is why you may have heard me say, several times, that the place for this, the privileged place of the encounter with Jesus Christ is my sin. The will to respond and to change, which can give rise to a different life, comes thanks to this merciful embrace. Christian morality is not a titanic, voluntary effort, of one who decides to be coherent and who manages to do so, a sort of isolated challenge before the world. No. This is not Christian morality, it is something else. Christian morality is a response, it is the heartfelt response before the surprising, unforeseeable — even “unfair” according to human criteria — mercy of One who knows me, knows my betrayals and loves me just the same, appreciates me, embraces me, calls me anew, hopes in me, has expectations of me. Christian morality is not a never falling down, but an always getting up, thanks to his hand which catches us. This too is the way of the Church: to let the great mercy of God become manifest. I said in recent days to the new Cardinals: “The way of the Church is not to condemn anyone for eternity; [but] to pour out the balm of God’s mercy on all those who ask for it with a sincere heart. The way of the Church is precisely to leave her four walls behind and to go out in search of those who are distant, those essentially on the ‘outskirts’ of life. It is to adopt fully God’s own approach”, which is that of mercy (Homily, 15 February 2015). The Church, too, must feel the joyous impetus to become an almond blossom, i.e. spring, like Jesus, for all of humanity.
And this passage from the so-called "correction" is to me a gross misrepresentation of the integration of persons into the life of the Church by way of the "via caritatis" that is proposed in Amoris Laetitia nn.305-306, the fuller context for n.299:
How can we not see here a close similarity with what has been suggested by Your Holiness in Amoris laetitia? On the one hand marriage is supposedly safeguarded as a sacrament, while on the other hand divorce and remarriage are regarded ‘mercifully’ as a status quo to be – although only ‘pastorally’ – integrated into the life of the Church, thus openly contradicting the word of our Lord.

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Padre Pio and the stigmata

Today's memorial of St Pio of Pietrelcina has reminded me of writing an article about him for a parish magazine at the time of his canonisation. At the time, St Pio was not someone about whom I knew much, and he was not someone to whom I had any special devotion.

One of the things I found unusual about him was that, as a man, he experienced the stigmata, the marking of his body with the wounds of the passion of Christ. Most of the other stigmatists I knew of at the time were women, so I had a sense of the stigmata as part of a feminine charism in the Church, certainly as far as the contemporary life of the Church is concerned. This is what I wrote about it at the time:
The core of Padre Pio’s active apostolate and his spiritual mission in the Church, however, is his being marked with the wounds of Christ, the stigmata.  The visible marks are an outward sign of a lived experience of the crucifixion, both as a willing self-offering on the part of the person involved and as a gift from God of being able to take part in the suffering of Jesus himself.  Padre Pio is distinguished from his contemporary stigmatists (Marthe Robin, Adrienne von Speyr, Therese Neumann) as a man and as a priest.  Where their experience of the Passion is associated with time - from Thursday evening to Sunday morning or the period of the Easter Triduum - Padre Pio’s experience is associated with his celebration of the Eucharist.  Eyewitness accounts describe the intense pain that he experienced in his hands, feet and whole body as he celebrated Mass.  At the words of Consecration, said hesitantly and with frequent repeating of words, “he is literally on the cross with Christ”.  Blood flowed from the wounds in Padre Pio’s hands, feet and side.  After his Mass, Padre Pio would spend many hours celebrating the Sacrament of Penance.  This aspect of his mission in the Church can also be seen in the light of the stigmata.  In this sacrament, the Church bears the burden of sin “for others” and for Padre Pio this was explicit in the way in which he offered himself as a victim for others.  Whilst there are many stories of Padre Pio’s supernatural insight into the lives of those who came to him for confession, he was for the majority of people simply a very good confessor and counsellor.
The Collect for his feast captures something of the essence of St Pio's mission in the Church:
Almighty ever-living God, who, by a singular grace, gave the Priest Saint Pius a share in the Cross of your Son and, by means of his ministry, renewed the wonders of your mercy, grant that through his intercession we may united constantly to the sufferings of Christ, and so brought happily to the glory of the resurrection.
[For those not familiar with the phenomenon of the stigmata, it is a rare occurrence in the life of the Church, but well attested in the lives of those who experience it. As I indicate above, it should not be seen as just a "wonder" but as an expression of a particular gift and mission given to an individual in the Church.]

Thursday, 21 September 2017

A patients best interest? Really?

In a report headlined "Court ruling not needed to withdraw care, judge says", the BBC reports in its analysis of a court ruling with regard to patients in a permanent vegetative state that:
Today's ruling makes clear that as things stand, courts need not be involved in these sorts of cases, so long as doctors and families are in agreement, and the removal of food and water are in the best interests of the patient.
They quote a spokesperson of Compassion in Dying (a pro-euthanasia campaign group) as saying:
"When all parties - family, the hospital and treating doctors - are agreed on what someone would have wanted for their care, it seems absurd to require a costly court process to confirm this." 
The good of human life, in its ethical sense, means that it can never be supportive of that ethical good to remove nutrition and hydration from a human person. They are so fundamental to the good of life that their removal on the grounds of "best interest" in reality constitutes a denial of that good.

[From an ethical point of view, the removal of nutrition and hydration if provided by a clinical means such as a nasogastric tube may only be justifiable when a patients condition reaches the point where their organs are no longer able to metabolise that food and water. Its provision is then futile in the strict sense, and there is no ethical judgement in terms of "best interest", there instead being a quite different recognition of futility. I suspect that such a situation might only be reached in the last minutes or hour of life; and the situations being envisaged by this court judgement are not of this type at all.]

How family, hospital and treating doctors are entitled, or even able, to agree on what a non-communicative patient would have wanted for their care at the particular moment is also a mystery. That a spokesperson for a euthanasia campaign group should be quoted in this way is worrying for its indication of the potential pressure (from decision making by others) on patients to agree to steps taken to end their lives should euthanasia be legalised at some point in the future.

This ruling is likely to be appealed - with the potential that, if it is upheld at appeal, there will be no further redress.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

All the Cathedrals (6): Leicester

I think we visited Leicester before any idea of visiting Cathedral towns had occurred to us. At the time of our visit Leicester City Football Club were atop the Premier League, and Richard III had not been that longed interred at the Cathedral. Indeed, it was the opening of the visitor centre on the site of the discovery of Richard III's remains that provided the reason for our visit.

Walking from the railway station to the Richard III visitor centre took us first of all into a shopping area that might have been in any town. However, the Lanes represents a quite different experience, with small shops and narrow streets. We wandered the market at one point in the day, too.

The Richard III visitor centre is well worth a visit. The presentation of the story of the discovery of Richard III's remains beneath a council car park, and the subsequent investigations that confirmed that these remains were indeed him, is excellent (though the detail might put some off from following the whole story). The last room in the visit contains a glass panel in the floor which allows you to look down at the very place where the remains were found. Since nothing else is displayed in this room, it provides a very reflective end to a visit. The more you know about the Wars of the Roses the more you will appreciate the significance of Richard III and his connection to Leicester. [If you can make anything of the Wikipedia page you have a better brain than mine. Desmond Seward's A Brief History of The Wars of the Roses is my own reading on the subject.]



We then crossed the nearby square to visit Richard III's tomb in Leicester Cathedral. We had to queue for a few minutes before accessing the tomb. The presentation is, like the last room of the visitor centre, very reflective.


The cathedral building itself was only relatively recently designated as a Cathedral, which means that it has something more of the character of a parish church. It shares, in a slightly different way than other cathedrals we have visited, the narrative of Saxon foundation, followed by a Norman construction, a stripping of statues and decoration at the time of the reformation (the Greyfriars monastery where Richard III's remains had been interred was closed at this point) and Victorian restoration. The history of the cathedral building is outlined here. This page allows you to take a virtual walk round the cathedral; the links from the side bar at the top of the page allow you to read more about the main features of the building.

A Lancastrian, of course, will not patronise the White Rose café as a matter of conscience!

Saturday, 9 September 2017

"Mary is the first light who announces night’s end...."

I have not followed Pope Francis' visit to Colombia closely, but was particularly struck by the text of his homily at Villavicencio. This report at the Vatican Radio website includes a lovely image, as well as the full text of the homily. Once again, reading Pope Francis, I am put in mind of the beauty of language that is also typical of Pope Benedict XVI.

The writings of Ingrid Betancourt have given me some idea of the history of the conflict in Colombia that now promises to have come to an end. The force of Pope Francis' words in favour of reconciliation are, in that context, immense. Force is added to them by the city in which they were spoken, a city which saw one of the most tragic events of the Colombian conflict.
Mary is the first light who announces night’s end, and above all, the impending day.  Her birth helps us to understand the loving, tender, compassionate plan of love in which God reaches down and calls us to a wonderful covenant with him, that nothing and no one will be able to break...
Reconciliation is not an abstract word; if it were, then it would only bring sterility and greater distance.  Reconciliation means opening a door to every person who has experienced the tragic reality of conflict.  When victims overcome the understandable temptation to vengeance, they become the most credible protagonists for the process of building peace.  What is needed is for some to courageously take the first step in that direction, without waiting for others to do so.  We need only one good person to have hope!  And each of us can be that person!  This does not mean ignoring or hiding differences and conflicts.  This is not to legitimize personal and structural injustices.  Recourse to reconciliation cannot merely serve to accommodate unjust situations.  Instead, as Saint John Paul II taught: “[Reconciliation] is rather a meeting between brothers who are disposed to overcome the temptation to egoism and to renounce the attempts of pseudo-justice.  It is the fruit of sentiments that are strong, noble and generous that lead to establishing a coexistence based on respect for each individual and on the values that are proper to each civil society” (Letter to the Bishops of El Salvador, 6 August 1982).  Reconciliation, therefore, becomes substantive and is consolidated by the contribution of all; it enables us to build the future, and makes hope grow.  Every effort at peace without a sincere commitment to reconciliation is destined to fail. 

Sunday, 3 September 2017

All the Cathedrals (5): Durham

Our visit to Durham Cathedral was part of a long weekend visit that Zero and I took to Durham, courtesy of a recently purchased Two Together railcard and Advance tickets (ie as economic an arrangement of train travel as possible). Ed Balls, then an active politician rather than a star of Strictly Come Dancing, was on the train that was in front of us on the East Coast mainline, and which broke down just north of Peterborough delaying us for over an hour .... which meant we could reclaim the cost of that part of our journey. Our weekend took us to the Beamish Museum (follow the "Explore and Discover" links in the menu at the top left), with a ride on a "heritage" Blackpool tram .... but not that "heritage", as it was exactly like the trams I can remember travelling on when I was being raised in the Blackpool area. We also visited Crookhall Gardens, which can be found readily just off the centre of Durham city itself.

It is worth arriving in Durham by train, as, particularly arriving from the south, there is a splendid view of the Cathedral from the viaduct carrying the railway.



Durham Cathedral takes part in the not uncommon narrative of Benedictine community, Romanesque building at the time of the Norman conquest, dissolution of the monastic community and establishing of a Cathedral see with a chapter of canons at the time of Henry VIII and a further intrusion at the time of the Civil War. This page at the Cathedral website gives an outline of its history. These video clips give an idea of the setting and the architecture of the Cathedral: Durham Cathedral: Builders & Buildings and Durham, England: Magnificent Norman Cathedral. Zero and I enjoyed a stroll along the river bank that encircles the Cathedral on three sides.

Links from this page will tell you something of the different areas of interest in the Cathedral building. Do explore these links, as doing so will provide something of the experience of visiting the Cathedral. A visit to the Cathedral's tower provides superb views of the surrounding countryside.



An additional dimension of the history of Durham Cathedral is its role as the shrine of St Cuthbert. The shrine was destroyed at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries, and the tomb damaged. An account of the shrine can be found here, and the remains of the tomb itself have been preserved. It is interesting that the Church of England appears willing now to restore a shrine such as this, perhaps from a mixture of historical and religious motivation. The Galilee Chapel of the Cathedral also houses a shrine enclosing the bones of St Bede.

Durham itself has a very young feel to it, especially if you visit during term time. The collegiate nature of the university is reflected as you walk up the hill to visit the Cathedral, as you pass entrances to a number of university buildings. Durham is built on a hill, so visitors should expect to walk up and down rather than along the flat.

Thursday, 31 August 2017

The permanance of the Liturgical reform: Francis compared to Benedict

In his recent address to participants in Italy's National Liturgy Week, Pope Francis said:
La direzione tracciata dal Concilio trovò forma, secondo il principio del rispetto della sana tradizione e del legittimo progresso (cfr SC, 23), nei libri liturgici promulgati dal Beato Paolo VI, ben accolti dagli stessi Vescovi che furono presenti al Concilio, e ormai da quasi 50 anni universalmente in uso nel Rito Romano. L’applicazione pratica, guidata dalle Conferenze Episcopali per i rispettivi Paesi, è ancora in atto, poiché non basta riformare i libri liturgici per rinnovare la mentalità. I libri riformati a norma dei decreti del Vaticano II hanno innestato un processo che richiede tempo, ricezione fedele, obbedienza pratica, sapiente attuazione celebrativa da parte, prima, dei ministri ordinati, ma anche degli altri ministri, dei cantori e di tutti coloro che partecipano alla liturgia. In verità, lo sappiamo, l’educazione liturgica di Pastori e fedeli è una sfida da affrontare sempre di nuovo. Lo stesso Paolo VI, un anno prima della morte, diceva ai Cardinali riuniti in Concistoro: «E’ venuto il momento, ora, di lasciar cadere definitivamente i fermenti disgregatori, ugualmente perniciosi nell’un senso e nell’altro, e di applicare integralmente nei suoi giusti criteri ispiratori, la riforma da Noi approvata in applicazione ai voti del Concilio».
E oggi c’è ancora da lavorare in questa direzione, in particolare riscoprendo i motivi delle decisioni compiute con la riforma liturgica, superando letture infondate e superficiali, ricezioni parziali e prassi che la sfigurano. Non si tratta di ripensare la riforma rivedendone le scelte, quanto di conoscerne meglio le ragioni sottese, anche tramite la documentazione storica, come di interiorizzarne i principi ispiratori e di osservare la disciplina che la regola. Dopo questo magistero, dopo questo lungo cammino possiamo affermare con sicurezza e con autorità magisteriale che la riforma liturgica è irreversibile.
English translation of this section taken from ZENIT, with slight adaptations indicated by my italics:
The direction traced by the Council found form, according to the principle of respect of the healthy tradition and of legitimate progress (Cf. SC, 23), in the liturgical books promulgated by Blessed Paul VI, well received by the Bishops themselves who were present at the Council, and by now for almost 50 years universally in use in the Roman Rite. The practical application, guided by the Episcopal Conferences, for the respective countries, is still in action, because it’s not enough to reform the liturgical books to renew the mentality. The reformed books, following the norm of the decrees of Vatican II, have embedded a process that requires time, faithful reception, practical obedience, wise celebratory implementation on the part, first of all, of ordained ministers, but also of the other ministers, the cantors, and all those that take part in the liturgy. In truth, we know it, the liturgical education of Pastors and faithful is a challenge to address always again. Paul VI himself, a year before his death, said to the Cardinals gathered in Consistory: “The moment has now come, to definitively abandon the divisive ferment, equally pernicious in one way and the other, and to implement integrally in their just inspiring criteria, the reform approved by Us, in the implementation of the Council’s votes.” [Do read the full reference to Paul VI quoted as footnote 10 in the Italian original.]
And there is still work to do today in this direction, in particular, rediscovering the reasons for the decisions taken with the liturgical reform, surmounting unfounded and superficial readings, partial reception and practices that disfigure it. It’s not about rethinking the reform by looking again at the choices, but of knowing better the underlying reasons, both through historical documentation, and by internalizing the inspirational principles and observing the discipline that regulate it. After this magisterium, after this long journey we can affirm with certainty and with magisterial authority that the liturgical reform is irreversible.
In his letter to Bishops that accompanied Summorum Pontificum, Pope Benedict wrote:
This fear is unfounded.  In this regard, it must first be said that the Missal published by Paul VI and then republished in two subsequent editions by John Paul II, obviously is and continues to be the normal Form – the Forma ordinaria – of the Eucharistic Liturgy.  The last version of the Missale Romanum prior to the Council, which was published with the authority of Pope John XXIII in 1962 and used during the Council, will now be able to be used as a Forma extraordinaria of the liturgical celebration.  It is not appropriate to speak of these two versions of the Roman Missal as if they were “two Rites”.  Rather, it is a matter of a twofold use of one and the same rite.....
In the second place, the fear was expressed in discussions about the awaited Motu Proprio, that the possibility of a wider use of the 1962 Missal would lead to disarray or even divisions within parish communities.  This fear also strikes me as quite unfounded. The use of the old Missal presupposes a certain degree of liturgical formation and some knowledge of the Latin language; neither of these is found very often.  Already from these concrete presuppositions, it is clearly seen that the new Missal will certainly remain the ordinary Form of the Roman Rite, not only on account of the juridical norms, but also because of the actual situation of the communities of the faithful. 
Don't Pope Francis and Pope Benedict say the same thing, though in a different vocabulary, with regard to the permanence of the Liturgical reforms promulgated since the Council?

Sunday, 27 August 2017

All the Cathedrals (4): Winchester

Winchester, located close to Southampton, was one of the earlier Cathedral visits that Zero and I undertook. It is accessible by car from the M3 and by train from London Waterloo (if I recall correctly). The location close to the south coast of England is reflected in some of the history of the Cathedral.

 
[Image credit: WyrdLight.com, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23281174]


An impression I remember from our visit is that of gaining a sense of a Cathedral site that integrates into the life of the city itself - a shopping street and market are immediately adjacent to one side of the Cathedral - and the Cathedral greens were occupied by visitors enjoying the sunshine. Visiting on a Saturday probably emphasised this more than would otherwise have been the case. Norwich and Ely cathedrals also have some of this sense, though less so, Norwich because the Cathedral is a bit to one side of the city centre and Ely because it is a small city.

Winchester Cathedral shares several of the typical features already noted of the history of English cathedrals. A Saxon building dated from the 7th century, and by the beginning of the 11th century it was a Cathedral, the home of a monastic community following the rule of St Benedict, and a place of pilgrimage to a shrine housing the remains of St Swithun, a former bishop of Winchester. After the arrival of the Normans, this "Old Minster" was replaced by a new Church built next to it in the Norman/Romanesque style (substantially the present day Cathedral). At the time of the dissolution of the monasteries, the Benedictine community was dispersed, the cloister of the cathedral destroyed and the shrine of St Swithun ransacked (a form of shrine has been reinstated). The statues in the "Great Screen" behind the high altar were also destroyed - the present day statues are replacements dating from the 19th Century.

The Winchester Cathedral website is very informative, and well worth exploring. The Wikipedia page for Winchester Cathedral allows you to enlarge a good range of images of some of the significant features of the Cathedral.

This page at the Winchester Cathedral website gives an idea of the history of the building: Our History. This page traces the architectural history of the Cathedral: Building the Cathedral.

Famous people associated with Winchester Cathedral can be found on this page, Jane Austen being perhaps the most noted, with a discrete grave in the Cathedral. (Follow the links from each entry on this page for informative accounts of each individual.)

This page provides links to images of some of the features of the Cathedral, with the crypt and Antony Gormley's Sound II perhaps most notable. When we visited, the crypt was partly flooded, and the sculpture had a quite eerie look to it.

One comes away from Winchester Cathedral with a sense of having delved deeply into the history of England, but at the same time having visited a building that is still a "living" building that continues to grow and develop. Winchester itself also has several other places of interest to visit or walks that can be undertaken.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

All the Cathedrals (3): Norwich

The Wikipedia entry gives an account of the history of Norwich Cathedral. The video clip linked from the top of Norwich Cathedral's website (direct link to YouTube is here)gives a very good impression of a number of different aspects of the Cathedral. This page at the Cathedral website gives an indication of what there is to see at the Cathedral: Things to See and Do (and follow each of the links on the left hand side of the page). We joined one of the guided tours, and found that a most useful way to learn about the Cathedral. The Cathedral has shared in the familiar narrative with regard to the dissolution of the monasteries and the visitation of the Parliamentary soldiers roughly 100 years later (this latter led to a "gap" during which the Cathedral buildings had no ecclesiastical use at all).

One of the things I remember from our visit is the sense of perspective that could be found looking along the length of the side aisle of the nave (framed by Romanesque/Norman arches) and along the sides of the cloister (framed by Gothic arches). Though the site began as a Benedictine monastery, the cloister that is such a feature of the Cathedral architecture does not date from a monastic usage.


A modern visitor centre and refectory have been built on to two sides of the cloister, so that visitors are welcomed in a way that suggests a Cathedral that still lives and develops rather than one that is just a building from the past.

Edith Cavell's tomb lies within the Cathedral grounds, and there is a memorial to her outside the Cathedral.

The walk from the railway station to the Cathedral suggested that Norwich is a city that combines some more run down areas with more elegant areas. The railway station building itself is somewhat elegant... The area around the Cathedral itself is very pleasant, and, on a summer day, the walk along the river and through the grounds of the Cathedral close is rewarding.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

All the Cathedrals (2): Ely

In our cathedral visits, Zero and I have encountered a recurring narrative. An initial foundation in Saxon times leading to a building that is no longer extant is followed by a re-foundation as a Benedictine monastery in Norman times. This gives rise to an architecture which is Romanesque/Norman in style, with perhaps an introduction of a Gothic style in the later parts of the building. The coming of King Henry VIII and his commissioners in the 16th century then results in the dissolution of the monastic community, with the church building continuing as the seat of the bishop of the diocese. Some degree of destruction of such features as the shrine of a saint, stained glass windows and statues may occur at this time, though the extent of this varies from cathedral to cathedral. One hundred years later, the arrival of Cromwell's soldiers is the occasion of a further destruction of images and stained glass. A stage of restoration in the 18th and/or 19th centuries adds a further layer to the architecture.

Ely Cathedral largely fits this pattern, though not exactly. It would appear that the destruction at Henry VIII's time left little for Cromwell's soldiers to do during their time of occupation of Ely. The empty niches left by removed statues and the - literally - defaced statues of the Lady Chapel are a striking witness to the iconoclasm executed during these years. There is also a predominance of Gothic over Norman in architectural style.

The Octagon, and the lantern above it, are a striking feature of Ely Cathedral. This YouTube video gives an account of the lantern and of the Lady Chapel. The other striking feature is the decoration of the ceiling of the nave (search results of a Google image search). The stained glass that is now in the cathedral largely belongs to the Victorian era.

A descriptive tour of the cathedral from the Ely Cathedral website is here. Wikipedia's account of the history of the Cathedral is here.

Arriving at Ely station, the open fens are on one side and the rise towards the hill (in so far as there is such a thing in the fens) upon which Ely Cathedral sits is on the other. We visited on a damp, overcast day which emphasised this geography. After visiting the Cathedral I was enticed into an extensive bookshop while Zero escaped to the charity shops. We lunched very well at the Lamb Inn.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Pope Francis: A Revolution of Tenderness

In editing the links bar this morning, I came across two things of interest. [Lessons for the future: look at websites as well as blogs - and there is a big wide world out there beyond the traditionalist enclave! To get the full force of this post you will need to follow and read the two links.]

The first is from the link to Catholic Charismatic Renewal: Pope Francis and TED: A Revolution of Tenderness. The embedded video of Pope Francis' talk is well worth watching. One thought I had as I watched it was that it represented a wonderful example of the "new evangelisation" in action - it demonstrated a clear intention to speak to a culture and experience that did not necessarily share a living Christian heritage but which would at the same time still recognise the Christian story. The second thought was that it represented a wonderful encounter between Christian life and contemporary culture. I thought it gave a strong insight into Pope Francis and how he sees his calling to the office of the Successor of Peter. [An aside for those familiar with the thought of Fr Edward Holloway and FAITH Movement - look out for Pope Francis' comparison of the inter-relational nature of physical science and the requirement of inter-relationship between persons, beautifully expressed in a comparison between the discovery of the planets that orbit our world to the people that orbit us in every day life.]

The second is an article on the website of Communion and Liberation: ‘If you don’t think Francis is the cure, you don’t grasp the disease’. Fr Carron expresses something of my own conviction that in Pope St John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and now Pope Francis, the Church has at each time been gifted with precisely the Successor of Peter who meets the need of the time. Like Fr Carron, I have found a number of occasions listening to our reading Pope Francis where I have thought "that could have been Benedict".
Far from seeing a rupture between Francis and his immediate predecessors, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, Carrón insists that Francis is actually the “radicalization” of Benedict.
“He says the same thing, but in a way that it gets across to everyone in a simple way through gestures, without in any sense reducing the density of what Benedict said,” he said.
In essence, Carrón’s book is a synthesis of the vision for Christian life that comes from Giussani, as amplified by each of the last three popes. The key idea is that Christianity is about “disarmed beauty,” meaning a way of life that imposes itself through no power other than its own inherent attractiveness.
“I wanted to get across that the power of the faith is in its beauty, its attractiveness,” Carrón said. “It doesn’t need any other power, any other tools or particular situations, to be resplendent, just like the mountains don’t need anything else to take our breath away.”
And watching Pope Francis' talk on TED offers something of exactly this attractiveness of faith.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Dare we hope that all men be saved?

One might preface any remarks about von Balthasar by indicating that he is a theologian who is Catholic in the deepest and widest sense of the word, so the slighting of his orthodoxy by those of a more traditionalist inclination seems to me to say more about them than it does about von Balthasar.

But having seen once again a "re-tweet" - more or less well informed - of the side swipe at Hans Urs von Balthasar's position on whether or not anyone actually goes to hell, I offer the following.

At the front of Ignatius Press English edition of the relevant work Dare we hope that all men be saved? is the following quotation, from a catechism published by the German Bishops Conference (emphasis in the original):
Neither Holy Scripture nor the Church's Tradition of faith asserts with certainty of any man that he is actually in hell. Hell is always held before our eyes as a real possibility, one connected with the offer of conversion and life.
From the Catechism of the Catholic Church nn.1033 ff, on hell (my italics added):
We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor or against ourselves: "He who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him." Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are his brethren. To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called "hell."
The affirmations of Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church on the subject of hell are a call to the responsibility incumbent upon man to make use of his freedom in view of his eternal destiny. They are at the same time an urgent call to conversion ...
God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end.
 From the Catechism of the Catholic Church nn.2090 - 2092, on Hope
When God reveals Himself and calls him, man cannot fully respond to the divine love by his own powers. He must hope that God will give him the capacity to love Him in return and to act in conformity with the commandments of charity. Hope is the confident expectation of divine blessing and the beatific vision of God; it is also the fear of offending God's love and of incurring punishment.
The first commandment is also concerned with sins against hope, namely, despair and presumption:
By despair, man ceases to hope for his personal salvation from God, for help in attaining it or for the forgiveness of his sins. Despair is contrary to God's goodness, to his justice - for the Lord is faithful to his promises - and to his mercy.
There are two kinds of presumption. Either man presumes upon his own capacities, (hoping to be able to save himself without help from on high), or he presumes upon God's almighty power or his mercy (hoping to obtain his forgiveness without conversion and glory without merit).
Hans Urs von Balthasar's position is less one that suggests that no-one will go to hell than one that, in the first instant recognises the real risk on my own part (the call to responsibility and conversion), but then, in terms of my love towards others, insists that I should continue to hope "to the end" in the possibility of their conversion (and therefore ensure my love for my neighbour).

I do wonder how it can be possible to live a bearable Christian life if hell is seen only as a driver for the avoidance of mortal sin, that is, in its negative import, and not also in its positive import as a hope that one's response to the call to conversion will be sufficient, as will be the response of my neighbour.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

All the Cathedrals (1): Oxford...

( .... with apologies to Geoff and Vicki at All the Stations).

For some time now, Zero and I have been making use of a Two Together railcard to visit towns with cathedrals. Our visit to Oxford ignored Christ Church cathedral and instead took in Keble College, and the chapel there. One realises in later life  just how much one should have appreciated something when living next door to it in one's younger days.

An account of the architecture of the chapel at Keble can be found here; and images of the mosaics that decorate the walls of the chapel can be found by following the links from this page.

Together the windows and mosaics are intended to show God's dealings with his people through history. They therefore include Old Testament figures such as Abraham, Moses and Joseph - seen as prefiguring the person of Christ himself. The saving work of Christ is also represented by its prefiguration in the offering of Melchisedech and Abraham's intercession on behalf of Sodom. Christ's own life and death are also represented in the mosaics. In keeping with the spirit of the Oxford Movement, saints and fathers of the Church are also represented. As you leave the chapel, it is the scene of the last judgement that faces you above the door.

The underlying principles of the decoration are profoundly liturgical, and oriented to the celebration of a worship which renewed in the Church of England its catholic sense. The inspiration for the decoration of the Chapel is John Keble's The Christian Year - those more familiar with John Keble than I am will appreciate this link.

The only other place I have seen anything like this is the Benedictine Abbey of St Hildegard, at Eibingen, across the River Rhine from Bingen. The guided tour of the Abbey Church indicates clearly how the decoration of the Church is designed to celebrate the living presence of God with his people through the course of history.

The experience of sitting in the nave at Eibingen, somewhat gobsmacked by the decoration of the Church came strongly to mind as I sat in Keble College chapel. Both churches are well worth a visit.


Sunday, 13 August 2017

St Maximilian Kolbe: an "offering of life"

Some spirited remarks about St Maximilian Kolbe in this morning's homily have reminded me to place alongside each other the text of Pope St John Paul II's homily at the canonisation Mass for the saint (Italian original here, English translation here) and Pope Francis' recent motu proprio Maiorem Hac Dilectionem establishing the offer of life as a cause for beatification.

Speaking of the event of St Maximilian's death, Pope St John Paul II said:
All this happened in the concentration camp at Auschwitz where during the last war some four million people were put to death, including the Servant of God, Edith Stein (the Carmelite Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross), whose cause for beatification is in progress at the competent Congregation. Disobedience to God-the Creator of life who said, "Thou shalt not kill"-caused in that place the immense holocaust of so many innocent persons. And so at the same time, our age has thus been horribly stigmatized by the slaughter of the innocent.
Father Maximilian Kolbe, himself a prisoner of the concentration camp, defended in that place of death an innocent man's right to life. Father Kolbe defended his right to life, declaring that he was ready to go to death in the man's place, because he was the father of a family and his life was necessary for his dear ones. Father Maximilian Maria Kolbe thus reaffirmed the Creator's exclusive right over innocent human life. He bore witness to Christ and to love. For the Apostle John writes: "By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren" (1 John 3:16).
I have added the italics to try to draw out how John Paul II's words indicate a way of understanding the intention of Pope Francis' idea of an "offer of life". Later in the homily, this becomes clearer still:
Men saw what happened in the camp at Auschwitz. And even if to their eyes it must have seemed that a companion of their torment "dies," even if humanly speaking they could consider "his departure" as "a disaster," nevertheless in their minds this was not simply "death." Maximilian did not die but "gave his life...for his brother." In that death, terrible from the human point of view, there was the whole definitive greatness of the human act and of the human choice. He spontaneously offered himself up to death out of love.
And in this human death of his there was the clear witness borne to Christ: the witness borne in Christ to the dignity of man, to the sanctity of his life, and to the saving power of death in which the power of love is made manifest.  
Pope Francis characterises the offer of life as "a free and voluntary offer of life and heroic acceptance propter caritatem of a certain and untimely death". Pope John Paul II, to an extent foreshadowing Pope Francis' motu proprio, assimilated St Maximilian's offer of his life to martyrdom and proclaimed that St Maximilian was to be recognised, not just as a confessor of the faith, but as a martyr for the faith.

Many years ago now I recall speaking and writing about Archbishop Oscar Romero and Fr Jerzy Popieluszko as "martyrs for the truth about man". I think we can see in both of these great figures examples of the "offering of life" which Pope Francis has now established as a way to beatification.