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:, CC BY-SA 3.0,]

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.

Monday, 7 August 2017

The Swedish physicist revolutionising fertility awareness

I have slightly altered the headline of the BBC news report. The story first came to my attention through the "Once a physicist" feature in July 2017's Physics World. That story was headed as follows:
Elina Berglund is the chief technology officer and co-founder of Natural Cycles - a fertility app that helps women to prevent, plan and monitor pregnancies. As a physicist, she was part of the team that discovered the Higgs boson at CERN in 2012.
The Physics World feature gives an indication of the particular contribution that Elina Berglund's background in physics has made to the development of her algorithm, and what may constitute a novelty in relation to other natural methods (corrections on this point via the comments box please if necessary). The use of temperature as an indicator of the fertile time in a woman's cycle is itself well known, but it is the improved analysis of the data that may make this app a genuine innovation.
I was in a stable relationship and I did not want to use hormonal contraception anymore. We looked into "natural family planning solutions", but there was nothing out there that was easy and reliable to use. Such a solution is prone to human errors if you analyse the data yourself; while the few devices that were available were outdated, expensive and, most of all, used simplistic algorithms. Using my statistical and programming skills from analysing data in particle physics, I developed an algorithm that analyses a woman's body temperature to detect ovulation and pinpoint fertile and non-fertile days. Although the algorithm was at first only for my own use, I quickly realised that this was something many women wanted and needed. Several of my physics colleagues started measuring their own temperatures as well and sending them to me to run my algorithm and give them a "green" or a "red" day. My husband, also a physicist, suggested we turn the algorithm into an app, so that all women and their partners could benefit from this innovation.
Physics World's feature also suggests that the reason for the temporary revoking of regulatory approval was essentially technical. It had to do with whether their app was classified as a fertility monitor, which required one regulatory classification, or as a contraceptive device, which required a different regulatory classification. It achieved this second regulatory classification in February 2017.

Elina Berglund's own experience of using the app is within her own marriage, something that clearly indicates a particular context in which it is going to be more effective. It is also a context that significantly reduces the criticism that using the app does not protect against sexually transmitted infections, as women with single sexual partners are much less exposed to such a risk.. The app is clearly going to be less helpful for a woman whose lifestyle involves multiple sexual partners, both from the point of view of STI protection and from the point of view of the willingness of partners to respect a "red" day.

An interesting aspect of the app is the way in which it responds to the data of an individual woman as more data is entered. It adapts to the individual's cycle, rather than imposing a single algorithm on to the data. The potential of the app to monitor a pregnancy, not fully described in the media coverage, might also have interesting application to the care of women in remote locations in less developed countries .... can a medical professional access the woman's data via the app from a different location?

Natural Cycles website is worth exploring, particularly the reviews from users which, leaving aside the question of whether the app is used primarily to achieve contraception, show an appreciation of a better understanding by women of their own bodies.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Workers of the world unite! (or revolution at Felbrigg Hall) - UPDATED

I have been brought back to Vaclav Havel's text The Power of the Powerless (full text available by following the link from this page) in reflecting on the position of the National Trust in its "Prejudice and Pride" programme, its participation in gay pride events and in the position in which it put some of its volunteers (the more cautious BBC reporting is here). Though, of course, the BBC's Gay Britannia programming equally prompts it.

What exactly are we doing when we ask people to wear that T-shirt, that badge, that lanyard or to walk in Pride marches? What are we asking of them in seeking their reception of that TV and radio programming?

Are we asking people to adhere to an ideology (of gender, of sex) that is unrelated to an authentic understanding of the dignity of the human person and therefore related only to ethical indifference? Are we asking people to adhere to an ideology that should be subject to the level of critique that Vaclav Havel offered to the communist ideology of his times in Czechoslovakia?

I suspect those National Trust volunteers who have preferred not to wear the requested badges and lanyards have exercised an ethical freedom that is becoming less common.

See Wrong rights? for my fuller account of Vaclav Havel's essay:
Ideology is a specious way of relating to the world. It offers human beings the illusion of an identity, of dignity, and of morality while making it easier for them to part with them. As the repository of something suprapersonal and objective, it enables people to deceive their conscience and conceal their true position and their inglorious modus vivendi, both from the world and from themselves.


The National Trust have now issued a statement reversing their instruction to volunteers:
The National Trust was established “for the benefit of the Nation” and we passionately believe our purpose is to make everyone feel welcome at our places, as our founders would have wanted. 
We are using the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality as an opportunity to tell the stories of the people at some of our places, whose personal lives were outside the social norms of their time. 
We hugely value our volunteers and many across the country have taken the opportunity to get involved in developing our Prejudice and Pride programme, which explores LGBTQ heritage. 
At Felbrigg, many volunteers have enthusiastically supported a new exhibition, which looks at the life of the extraordinarily generous Robert Ketton–Cremer.  His decision to leave the house to the Trust was the result in part of the fact that he had never married and had no heirs. 
We asked all our staff and volunteers at the house to wear rainbow lanyards or badges during the six-week event as welcoming symbol to all our visitors.  We remain absolutely committed to our Pride programme, which will continue as intended, along with the exhibition at Felbrigg. 
However, we are aware that some volunteers had conflicting, personal opinions about wearing the rainbow lanyards and badges. That was never our intention. 
We are therefore making it clear to volunteers that the wearing of the badge is optional and a personal decision.  We will be speaking to all our volunteers at Felbrigg over the coming days about this issue.
The change of policy does not appear to apply to National Trust employees.  The Trust's earlier statement is as follows (I have added emphasis - it would be interesting to know the nature of the "training and support" and the meaning of feeling "confident to take part").
Annabel Smith, Head of Volunteering & Participation Development said:
“All of our staff and volunteers sign up to our founding principles when they join us – we are an organisation that is for ever, for everyone.  We are committed to developing and promoting equality of opportunity and inclusion in all that we do regardless of age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.
“Relating specifically to the Prejudice and Pride programme, we do recognise that some volunteers may have conflicting, personal opinions.
“However whilst volunteering for the National Trust we do request and expect individuals to uphold the values of the organisation. We encourage people with any concerns to chat to our teams. As part of Prejudice and Pride we have worked closely with Stonewall and the University of Leicester who have been providing training and support to help as many volunteers as possible feel confident to take part.”
As part of our ‘Prejudice and Pride’ programme our staff and volunteers are wearing rainbow badges and lanyards, as an international symbol of welcome.
Some volunteers at Felbrigg have said they feel uncomfortable wearing these and we have offered them the opportunity to take a break from front facing duties if that’s what they would prefer.

Monday, 31 July 2017

Reflecting on Gay Britannia

The BBC is currently in the middle of broadcasting a wide range of programmes, on both television and radio, under the branding "Gay Britannia". The programming marks the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act of 1967 "which partially decriminalised gay sex" according to the web page just linked or, as a trailer I heard on Radio 2 yesterday expressed it, "legalised gay sex". The distinction is not trivial, as an observation below will show.

I am struck by the willingness of the BBC's web page to use the terms "gay" and "queer" in their titles/strap lines for programmes. That they have not been more consistent in the use of what, so far as I can tell, is the current more "correct" terminology of LGBT (or LGBTQ+) suggests some recognition of the unusual in the subject matter of their programming.

The strap line for the two Radio 2 programmes Born this Way reads as follows:
Andrew Scott presents the remarkable story of how gay people transformed pop culture.
Which is interesting in its recognition of something implicit in the whole of the Gay Britannia programming: that the movement in favour of LGBTQ+ equality represents a wholesale alteration of our public culture, and not just a movement in favour of equality. This creates a bit of a catch-22 for Catholics who, on the one hand would wish to defend the rights of LGBTQ+ persons precisely as persons (and not because of their LGBTQ+ characteristics) who therefore have the same inalienable human rights as each and every other person, but on the other hand would wish to oppose a transformation of culture that embeds the LGBTQ+ characteristic as normative.

The BBC Gay Britannia programming indicates how much the culture of media and entertainment has been the subject of this cultural transformation. But that transformation now reaches into many other areas of society via an assimilation of a genuine concern for the rights of LGBTQ+ persons to a cultural transformation that, on the part of most people, is quite inadvertent and unrecognised.

It would be naïve to think that this does not have its effect on Catholics, who, in the workplace and elsewhere, will find it difficult to maintain a resistance to a cultural transformation they do not support whilst at the same time acknowledging the rights as persons of those who live according to a lifestyle that is different than their own.

In this context, it is worthwhile for Catholics to recall some considerations of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and to measure our current experience against them. The considerations refer to an earlier letter from the Congregation on the pastoral care of homosexual persons. The considerations are limited to considerations of sexual orientation (they were published as long ago as 1992), though they nevertheless do have some application to the wider LGBTQ+ context.
6. “She (the Church) is also aware that the view that homosexual activity is equivalent to or as acceptable as the sexual expression of conjugal love has a direct impact on society's understanding of the nature and rights of the family and puts them in jeopardy” (no. 9).
7. “It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church's pastors wherever it occurs. It reveals a kind of disregard for others which endangers the most fundamental principles of a healthy society. The intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in word, in action and in law.
13. Including “homosexual orientation” among the considerations on the basis of which it is illegal to discriminate can easily lead to regarding homosexuality as a positive source of human rights, for example, in respect to so-called affirmative action or preferential treatment in hiring practices. This is all the more deleterious since there is no right to homo-sexuality (cf. no. 10) which therefore should not form the basis for judicial claims. The passage from the recognition of homosexuality as a factor on which basis it is illegal to discriminate can easily lead, if not automatically, to the legislative protection and promotion of homosexuality. A person's homosexuality would be invoked in opposition to alleged discrimination, and thus the exercise of rights would be defended precisely via the affirmation of the homosexual condition instead of in terms of a violation of basic human rights.
14. ...Homosexual persons who assert their homosexuality tend to be precisely those who judge homosexual behavior or lifestyle to be “either completely harmless, if not an entirely good thing” (cf. no. 3), and hence worthy of public approval. It is from this quarter that one is more likely to find those who seek to “manipulate the Church by gaining the often well-intentioned support of her pastors with a view to changing civil statutes and laws” (cf. no. 5), those who use the tactic of protesting that “any and all criticism of or reservations about homosexual people... are simply diverse forms of unjust discrimination” (cf. no. 9). 
[The observation at n.13 is pertinent to the distinction between "partially decriminalising" and "legalising" noted at the top of this post.]

To update these considerations, we should make reference to Pope Francis' repeated condemnations of "gender theory", which he has termed an "ideological colonisation of the family". That we are made as persons who are either male or female in their physiology is a matter of the creative wisdom of God, and to promote the notion that it is we who can decide our own gender and change it if we wish - this Pope Francis identifies as being opposed to God's creative act. It is an ideology because it wishes to alter reality, rather than to recognise and explore reality. The abolition of the word "sex" to refer to male or female persons, and its almost universal replacement by the word "gender", is a sign of just how much, under the label of equality, an ideology of gender has already contributed to an alteration of culture.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Mutual Enrichment

I have been away from home recently, and so missed out on this discussion: Cardinal Sarah's challenge to traditionalists (and also here).

I do think Cardinal Sarah's language of "liturgical reconciliation" is a very useful one. After all, in the original context of Summorum Pontificum, the opening created for those with an attachment to the Extraordinary Form to have a more natural place in the life of the Church was a key strand in Pope Benedict XVI's intention, and I recall Pope Benedict at the time being spoken of as a "Pope of Christian unity". Indeed, it is a language used by Pope Benedict himself.

I also feel that, beginning very shortly after Summorum Pontificum, there has been an intransigence on the part of leadership among the organisations manifesting attachment to the Extraordinary Form towards another key strand in Pope Benedict's intention. Cardinal Sarah has addressed this in his recognition of the need for a genuinely mutual "mutual enrichment", rather than a one-sided movement towards a more traditional liturgy. This is something in which traditionalists have shown little or no interest.

And I think Cardinal Sarah has correctly identified the adoption of a common calendar as an essential step. One cannot speak of "two forms of the same rite" without a common calendar - and traditionalist resistance to this seems to me to represent an opposition to the principle of two forms but the same rite. The process can be genuinely mutual - adoption of the newly canonised saints and the simplification of the liturgical seasons might go alongside a restoration of the Octave of Pentecost and a permission for double collects so that the celebration of a Sunday does not abolish entirely the celebration of a coinciding saint for that year.

It says a lot that, even ten years after Summorum Pontificum, a suggestion by the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship that progress should be made on mutual enrichment causes controversy. It shows just how far we still have to go for an authentic implementation of Summorum Pontificum, an implementation that is for the benefit of the many in the Church and not just for the benefit of a traditionalist few.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

The way ahead for gay Catholics

Read here.

This makes interesting reading. The point that I found thought provoking was the observation about the need for a pastoral/theological approach that can be verified in the experience of those who live from an LGBT background. There is something in this thought that reflects the charism of Communion and Liberation which I might try to explore ...

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Wrong rights?

During the last couple of weeks, I have been prompted a number of times to reflect on the image of the slogan among the fruit and vegetables that appears in an early section of Vaclav Havel's (at one time at least, but now perhaps rather forgotten) well known essay "The Power of the Powerless". Follow the link from this page, and go to section III to see the full context.
THE MANAGER of a fruit-and-vegetable shop places in his window, among the onions and carrots, the slogan: "Workers of the world, unite!" Why does he do it? What is he trying to communicate to the world? Is he genuinely enthusiastic about the idea of unity among the workers of the world? Is his enthusiasm so great that he feels an irrepressible impulse to acquaint the public with his ideals? Has he really given more than a moment's thought to how such a unification might occur and what it would mean? 
I think it can safely be assumed that the overwhelming majority of shopkeepers never think about the slogans they put in their windows, nor do they use them to express their real opinions. That poster was delivered to our greengrocer from the enterprise headquarters along with the onions and carrots. He put them all into the window simply because it has been done that way for years, because everyone does it, and because that is the way it has to be. If he were to refuse, there could be trouble. He could be reproached for not having the proper decoration in his window; someone might even accuse him of disloyalty. He does it because these things must be done if one is to get along in life. It is one of the thousands of details that guarantee him a relatively tranquil life "in harmony with society," as they say.

Aunty points out that, at the time that Vaclav Havel wrote this essay, we probably would not have thought it possible that the sentiments such as those contained in it could apply to our Western societies, adding: 
Defending marriage as the union of one man and one woman,  openly opposing the deliberate abortion of an unborn baby, affirming that sexual activity outside the marriage bond is contrary to the moral law...all these things are essential to a wholesome and humane society. We can have a debate about these things, we can recognise the need to be open and tolerant of different opinions - but we cannot survive unless we are allowed to affirm the truth of male/female marriage and the protection of pre-born children.
And the cruel attempts to silence, undermine and destroy groups and individuals who seek to uphold the moral law do point the way to martyrdom...
And, likewise, Peter Saunders offers a commentary about transgender issues. I quote one paragraph, but do read the whole:
We are starting to see real pressure being put on people to adopt a new ideology, use new language, affirm the beliefs of transgender people and participate in surgical and hormonal gender reassignment. Some lobby groups want these things to be legally enforced.
If he were to refuse, there could be trouble .....

He does it because these things must be done if one is to get along in life .....

Postcript: Vaclav Havel's commentary on the role of ideology, from the same section III of his essay, written for his particular situation but with resonances for Western societies today:
Ideology is a specious way of relating to the world. It offers human beings the illusion of an identity, of dignity, and of morality while making it easier for them to part with them. As the repository of something suprapersonal and objective, it enables people to deceive their conscience and conceal their true position and their inglorious modus vivendi, both from the world and from themselves. It is a very pragmatic but, at the same time, an apparently dignified way of legitimizing what is above, below, and on either side. It is directed toward people and toward God. It is a veil behind which human beings can hide their own fallen existence, their trivialization, and their adaptation to the status quo. It is an excuse that everyone can use, from the greengrocer, who conceals his fear of losing his job behind an alleged interest in the unification of the workers of the world, to the highest functionary, whose interest in staying in power can be cloaked in phrases about service to the working class. The primary excusatory function of ideology, therefore, is to provide people, both as victims and pillars of the post-totalitarian system, with the illusion that the system is in harmony with the human order and the order of the universe

Saturday, 10 June 2017

One tires of the language of .....

...."abortion rights". Neither UK law nor any international human rights instrument in any way recognise access to abortion as being a "right". UK law protects from prosecution when an abortion is carried out meeting certain conditions .... it does not recognise a "right" to an abortion. And it is, of course, arguable as to whether or not an abortion genuinely constitutes health care.

So those who are mis-representing the DUP as holding an "extremist stance" on abortion are utterly wrong on two counts - their mis-representation of the DUP and their attempt to speak of "abortion rights".

It is perfectly reasonable to hold a view that abortion - in the meaning of a directly intended choice to bring to an end the life of a child in the womb - should not be lawful. And it is perfectly reasonable to make use of the political process to support that end. As a candidate for the ProLife Alliance in the 1997 General Election I did precisely that.

Indeed, I would argue that the vilification of those who oppose legalised abortion is a significant breach of their right to their good name - a right promoted by the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 12:
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Politics, morality and civility

The "Meditation of the Day" in last Friday's MAGNIFICAT was an extract from the book Generating Traces in the History of the World: New Traces of the Christian Experience by  Liugi Giussani (page 94 in my English translation). The quotation from Alasdair MacIntyre is from the end of the penultimate chapter of After Virtue. In the context of the current General Election campaigns, it struck me as having a striking relevance, and I have added the emphases in bold, not present in the original text or in MAGNIFICAT, to draw this out.
The Christian's responsibility is that of being what have known, what has become art of their mind and heart. So we are responsible for being what we are, what we have been called to by Jesus in baptism and in the encounter that made it blossom. Our responsibility is that of being friends according to the encounter we have had. And this friendship cannot fail to have its effect on the relationships that are formed in the family, at work, and in social and political life. So we see the present-day relevance of what Alasdair MacIntyre said of the situation in Europe in the late Roman Empire:
"A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium. What they set themselves to achieve instead - often not recognising fully what they were doing - was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness"
The friendship of those called by Jesus in baptism is the beginning of the community Macintyre speaks of, the beginning of a new culture, a new understanding of society and state, and of the world. In this way new human communities were born, which, to sue the words of John Paul II, are the only possible means for overcoming the desolation of much of modern society.
The MANIFICAT meditation stopped there, but the original text continued to include the words of Pope John Paul II being referred to:
"The re-awakening of the Christian people to a greater awareness of the Church, building living communities in which the following of Christ becomes concrete, affects the relationships of which the day is made and embraces the dimensions of life: this is the only adequate answer to the secularising culture that threatens Christian principles and the moral values of society".
There is a resonance to Pope Benedict XVI's remarks on the relationship between religion and politics when he spoke in Westminster Hall:
The central question at issue, then, is this: where is the ethical foundation for political choices to be found? The Catholic tradition maintains that the objective norms governing right action are accessible to reason, prescinding from the content of revelation. According to this understanding, the role of religion in political debate is not so much to supply these norms, as if they could not be known by non-believers – still less to propose concrete political solutions, which would lie altogether outside the competence of religion – but rather to help purify and shed light upon the application of reason to the discovery of objective moral principles.
 As I have read through, albeit rather quickly, the manifestos of major political parties as they were launched earlier this week, I have wondered about this task of purifying and shedding light upon the application of reason to the discovery of objective moral principles. What might such a purification make of:
The Liberal Democrats proposal to legalise prostitution, which seems to assume that sex is an industry just like any other, and doesn't even seem to work at a pragmatic level : "(we will) Decriminalise the sale and purchase of sex, and the management of sex work – reducing harm, defending sex workers’ human rights, and focusing police time and resources on those groomed, forced, or trafficked into the sex industry. We would provide additional support for those wishing to leave sex work."
The Liberal Democrats proposal to allow cohabiting couples the same rights as married couples and couples in a civil partnership: "(we will) Strengthen legal rights and obligations for couples by introducing mixed sex civil partnerships and extending rights to cohabiting couples".
The Labour Party's proposals for significant nationalisation of industries  such as water supply, electricity supply and the railways (and a comparable proposal for the railways in the Green Party Guarantee). From an ethical perspective, the principle of subsidiarity would indicate that provision should be made at the lowest level in society at which it can be successfully made to achieve the good of persons in society. Only where collaboration between partners, or a degree of regulation is required, to achieve the common good of persons is there a role for organisations in society and of government, and, ultimately, for the state ownership  of enterprises. The manifesto reflects a degree of subsidiarity in proposing regional publically owned companies, and it states: "Public ownership will benefit consumers, ensuring that their interests are put first and that there is democratic accountability for the service." But if what we are being told is in reality left wing ideology and not considered subsidiarity .... the story is rather different, and the warnings of the command economies of the past have relevance.
The Labour Party's proposals on equality:  "... we will ensure that the new guidance for relationships and sex education is LGBT inclusive." Or: " Labour will continue to ensure a woman’s right to choose a safe, legal abortion – and we will work with the Assembly to extend that right to women in Northern Ireland." [Fact check: UK law does not recognise that a woman has a right to choose an abortion - it allows abortion on the mainland under certain circumstances and if two doctors in good faith indicate that those circumstances apply. A right to choose it is not!]
I do find interesting, though, that aspect of the proposals with regard to a National Education Service that would make education, at all levels, free at the point of delivery. This has some basis in, for example, the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights article 26. My hesitation, though, is with regard to its possible implication of single state control of the content of the educational enterprise.

If we return to the meditation that has prompted this post. Where does the lack of ethical reference in the electoral proposals before us leave a Catholic in exercising their vote? How can we set about creating places of community in the larger political society that allow the living of a life that still has even the idea of an objective morality at its heart?

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Hail Holy Queen, Blessed Virgin of Fatima - UPDATED

Hail Holy Queen, Blessed Virgin of Fatima, Lady of Immaculate Heart, our refuge and our way to God!  
As a pilgrim of the Light that comes to us from your hands, I give thanks to God the Father, who in every time and place is at work in human history; As a pilgrim of the Peace that, in this place, you proclaim, I give praise to Christ, our peace, and I implore for the world concord among all peoples; As a pilgrim of the Hope that the Spirit awakens, I come as a prophet and messenger to wash the feet of all, at the same table that unites us.....
In union with my brothers and sisters, in faith, in hope and in love, I entrust myself to you. In union with my brothers and sisters, through you, I consecrate myself to God, O Virgin of the Rosary of Fatima.  
And at last, enveloped in the Light that comes from your hands, I will give glory to the Lord for ever and ever. Amen.
Pope Francis' prayer to the Virgin of Fatima: Prayer of His Holiness Pope Francis, Chapel of the Apparitions, Fatima, Friday 12 May 2017.

h/t Abbey Roads, here.

UPDATE: The following exchange reported from the in-flight press conference during the return flight from Fatima to Rome explains the origin of the reference to the "bishop dressed in white" in Pope Francis' prayer, and rather puts paid to those commentators who are criticising Pope Francis for it. First the journalist's question, and then Pope Francis' answer:
Allora, Santità, a Fatima Lei si è presentato come “il Vescovo vestito di bianco”. Fino ad adesso, questa espressione si applicava piuttosto alla visione della terza parte del segreto, a san Giovanni Paolo II e ai martiri del XX secolo. Cosa significa adesso la sua identificazione con questa espressione? [Well, Your Holiness, at Fatima you were presented as "the Bishop dressed in white". Up to now, this expression has been applied rather to the vision of the third part of the secret, to St John Paul II and the martyrs of the 20th Century.  What is the meaning now of your identification with this expression?]
Papa Francesco:
Sì, nella preghiera. Quella non l’ho fatta io, l’ha fatta il Santuario. Ma anch’io mi sono chiesto, perché hanno detto questo? E c’è un collegamento, sul bianco: il Vescovo vestito di bianco, la Madonna vestita di bianco, l’albore bianco dell’innocenza dei bambini dopo il battesimo… C’è un collegamento, in quella preghiera, sul colore bianco. Credo – perché non l’ho fatta io – credo che letterariamente hanno cercato di esprimere con il bianco quel desiderio di innocenza, di pace: innocenza, non fare male all’altro, non fare Guerra… [Yes, in the prayer. That was not prepared by me, it was prepared by the Sanctuary. But I also asked myself why they had said this? And it is a link, (on the theme of) white: the Bishop dressed in white, the Madonna dressed in white, the white clothing of innocence of children after baptism ... it is a linking in this prayer, on the colour white. I believe - because I did not prepare it - I believe that, in a literary way, they tried to express with white the desire for innocence, for peace: innocence, not doing evil to the other, not making war ...]

Friday, 12 May 2017

The Catholic Education Service: an essay in error

As usual, Caroline has offered a reasoned and extensive commentary: The Catholic Education Service: an essay in error. I have added italics to her concluding paragraph, as I do think the CES/St Mary's document has completely misunderstood the need that Catholic school leaders have, and may have expressed. The guidance they needed was not with respect to managing homophobic bullying - one might hope that school leaders are already up to speed as far as responding to bullying of all types in their schools is concerned. What was needed was guidance as to how they can present and live Catholic teaching on the disordered nature of LGBT sexual activity without falling foul of equalities legislation, and this both in terms of curriculum and pastoral systems, and in terms of how they might manage situations should LGBT activism have a presence in their school. I feel sure that this is entirely possible, and reflects that second aspect of Catholic teaching on this question, namely that people who identify as LGBT should not be subject in any way to unjust discrimination. But it does require an acute intelligence and considerable care.

This need does not seem to me merely incidental to the mission of a Catholic school, particularly at secondary level. That mission is characterised by the Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education as promoting two connected syntheses, those between "faith and culture" and between "faith and life" on the part of the members of the school community.
Homophobic bullying in our schools should be identified a source of shame, but so too are all other forms of bullying which undermine the dignity of the person. What Catholic schools really need is guidance and support in terms of how to remain faithful to Church teaching at a time when it is in opposition to the current zeitgeist. Sadly, this document is not that and has proved to be a wasted opportunity as well as a potential source of scandal and confusion. Very serious questions remain about the content, authorship and funding for distribution of this document and whether or not the CES may actually have overstepped it’s remit, which is after all, to serve the cause of Catholic education and educators rather than override and undermine the basic truths of Christ.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Pope Francis Apostolic Journey to Egypt

I was not able to follow Pope Francis' visit to Egypt as it happened, but have this morning read through the texts of some of his addresses. They can be linked from the website of the Holy See: Apostolic Journey of His Holiness Pope Francis to Egypt.

There are some quite robust passages in Pope Francis' addresses. This is from his meeting with government authorities and the diplomatic corps:
In the fragile and complex situation of today’s world, which I have described as “a world war being fought piecemeal”, it needs to be clearly stated that no civilized society can be built without repudiating every ideology of evil, violence and extremism that presumes to suppress others and to annihilate diversity by manipulating and profaning the Sacred Name of God. Mr President, you have spoken of this often and on various occasions, with a clarity that merits attention and appreciation.
All of us have the duty to teach coming generations that God, the Creator of heaven and earth, does not need to be protected by men; indeed, it is he who protects them. He never desires the death of his children, but rather their life and happiness. He can neither demand nor justify violence; indeed, he detests and rejects violence (“God… hates the lover of violence”: Ps 11:5). The true God calls to unconditional love, gratuitous pardon, mercy, absolute respect for every life, and fraternity among his children, believers and nonbelievers alike.
It is our duty to proclaim together that history does not forgive those who preach justice, but then practice injustice. History does not forgive those who talk about equality, but then discard those who are different. It is our duty to unmask the peddlers of illusions about the afterlife, those who preach hatred in order to rob the simple of their present life and their right to live with dignity, and who exploit others by taking away their ability to choose freely and to believe responsibly. Mr President, you said to me a few minutes ago that God is the God of freedom, and this is true. It is our duty to dismantle deadly ideas and extremist ideologies, while upholding the incompatibility of true faith and violence, of God and acts of murder.
And I was particularly struck by Pope Francis' account of education and dialogue in his address to an international peace conference ( the suggestion that wisdom places the past in dialogue with the present has an echo of the address that Pope Benedict XVI was unable to deliver at La Sapienza; and the use of the terms "civility" and "uncivility" has a certain elegance):
Education indeed becomes wisdom for life if it is capable of “drawing out” of men and women the very best of themselves, in contact with the One who transcends them and with the world around them, fostering a sense of identity that is open and not self-enclosed. Wisdom seeks the other, overcoming temptations to rigidity and closed-mindedness; it is open and in motion, at once humble and inquisitive; it is able to value the past and set it in dialogue with the present, while employing a suitable hermeneutics. Wisdom prepares a future in which people do not attempt to push their own agenda but rather to include others as an integral part of themselves. Wisdom tirelessly seeks, even now, to identify opportunities for encounter and sharing; from the past, it learns that evil only gives rise to more evil, and violence to more violence, in a spiral that ends by imprisoning everyone. Wisdom, in rejecting the dishonesty and the abuse of power, is centred on human dignity, a dignity which is precious in God’s eyes, and on an ethics worthy of man, one that is unafraid of others and fearlessly employs those means of knowledge bestowed on us by the Creator.
Precisely in the field of dialogue, particularly interreligious dialogue, we are constantly called to walk together, in the conviction that the future also depends on the encounter of religions and cultures. In this regard, the work of the Mixed Committee for Dialogue between the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the Committee of Al-Azhar for Dialogue offers us a concrete and encouraging example. Three basic areas, if properly linked to one another, can assist in this dialogue: the duty to respect one’s own identity and that of others, the courage to accept differences, and sincerity of intentions.
The duty to respect one’s own identity and that of others, because true dialogue cannot be built on ambiguity or a willingness to sacrifice some good for the sake of pleasing others. The courage to accept differences, because those who are different, either culturally or religiously, should not be seen or treated as enemies, but rather welcomed as fellow-travellers, in the genuine conviction that the good of each resides in the good of all. Sincerity of intentions, because dialogue, as an authentic expression of our humanity, is not a strategy for achieving specific goals, but rather a path to truth, one that deserves to be undertaken patiently, in order to transform competition into cooperation.
An education in respectful openness and sincere dialogue with others, recognizing their rights and basic freedoms, particularly religious freedom, represents the best way to build the future together, to be builders of civility. For the only alternative to the civility of encounter is the incivility of conflict; there is no other way. To counter effectively the barbarity of those who foment hatred and violence, we need to accompany young people, helping them on the path to maturity and teaching them to respond to the incendiary logic of evil by patiently working for the growth of goodness. In this way, young people, like well-planted trees, can be firmly rooted in the soil of history, and, growing heavenward in one another’s company, can daily turn the polluted air of hatred into the oxygen of fraternity.  
There is also a passage in this address on the relationship between religion and public life that has a recognisable reference to the speech of Benedict XVI in Westminster Hall:
This is a timely reminder in the face of a dangerous paradox of the present moment. On the one hand, religion tends to be relegated to the private sphere, as if it were not an essential dimension of the human person and society. At the same time, the religious and political spheres are confused and not properly distinguished. Religion risks being absorbed into the administration of temporal affairs and tempted by the allure of worldly powers that in fact exploit it. Our world has seen the globalization of many useful technical instruments, but also a globalization of indifference and negligence, and it moves at a frenetic pace that is difficult to sustain. As a result, there is renewed interest in the great questions about the meaning of life. These are the questions that the religions bring to the fore, reminding us of our origins and ultimate calling. We are not meant to spend all our energies on the uncertain and shifting affairs of this world, but to journey towards the Absolute that is our goal. For all these reasons, especially today, religion is not a problem but a part of the solution: against the temptation to settle into a banal and uninspired life, where everything begins and ends here below, religion reminds us of the need to lift our hearts to the Most High in order to learn how to build the city of man.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Tim Farron: well done for standing up to continued attack!

According to the report on the ITV news website, Tim Farron has again this morning resisted the pressure to express a view in favour of gay sex.

According to that report and its headline, two other well known MPs labelled him as "pretty offensive" for this, and expected that it will anger a lot of people.

Two thoughts:

Firstly, whilst I am not a defender of the giving of gratuitous offence, a reasoned expression of a diverse point of view that offends others who disagree with it is something quite different. That some might be offended by Tim Farron's way of responding to the challenges that he has faced on this issue seems to me to be a case where one can rightly say that there is no human right not to be offended - it is simply that they do not agree with what they think that Mr Farron might believe on the matter (and Tim Farron has been, so far as I can tell, and like Rocco Buttiglione before him, quite careful in not saying in the political forum what he might or might not believe on the matter). As Mr Farron is reported to have said, perhaps we should be talking about what genuinely might affect the election.

Secondly, Mr Gove's reported remarks display a quite considerable indifference to the notion that there might be an ethical question to be discussed with regard to the nature of the sexual expression of the love between persons (and his views of whether or not gay sex is a sin really do not have any relevance to political discussion - he has shown himself to be somewhat superficial in his political acumen compared to Mr Farron). I compare Mr Gove's words to those of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, adding italics to highlight their contrast:
Mr Gove added: "I agree with Liz. It'd have been perfectly possible for him to say 'Of course it's not a sin, it's how people love each other'.
"I'm a churchgoer too. I don't have any problem in saying that I think gay sex is absolutely not a sin."
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered." They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.
It is not simply a question of "how people love each other". It is a question of what are ethically correct ways in which persons express their love for each other. Whilst the religious beliefs of a particular protagonist are not of relevance to the political arena - it is the question of non-discrimination that is of priority there - neither is indifference to the ethical question an appropriate stance.