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.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Christians, politics and the LGBT agenda - UPDATED

Peter Williams, at the Catholic Herald, has a very able commentary on the recent experience of Tim Farron with regard to his perceived views about homosexuality: The outrage at Tim Farron could have serious consequences for Christians in politics.

A number of years ago, Rocco Buttiglione found himself in a not dissimilar situation when he was proposed as an EU commissioner by his own country, Italy. I cited his subsequent account of that episode in a post in 2015:
As you know, I was recently a candidate to be a European Commissioner. And as you also know, I was rejected for the position for expressing my Catholic beliefs on sexuality and marriage at the hearing (before the appointment). One may think: If we cannot express our principles in public we will seem to be ashamed of them. ….
I was not ashamed; but I was not provocative. I was prudent. I don't know if God would give me the courage to offer my head for my faith, like St. Thomas More... But a seat on the EU commission – yes, that I can offer. …  
They introduced the category of sin into the political discourse, and I said "No, in politics we may not speak of sin. We should speak of non-discrimination, and I am solidly opposed to discrimination against homosexuals, or any type of discrimination." I did not say that homosexuality is a sin, as many newspapers reported. I said, "I may think." It is possible that I think this, but I did not tell them whether I think it or not. What I think about this has no impact whatsoever on politics, because in politics the problem is the principle concerning discrimination and I accept that principle.  
That was not enough. They wanted me to say that I see nothing objectionable about homosexuality. This I cannot do because it is not what I think. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church it is written that, from a moral point of view, homosexuality is not a sin but rather an objectively disordered condition. Homosexuality can become a sin if one adds the subjective element, which is to say, full knowledge that this is wrong and also freedom of the will which accepts this wrong position. I was not allowed to say that and for this reason I was deemed not worthy to be a European commissioner.  
Catholics have the right to hold positions in the European Union. Is it conceivable that Catholics can be prohibited from exercising public office because of their Catholicism? Because they take the Church's position? Some say that the Catholic position on sexuality is aberrant, and this view should be grounds for discrimination at the EU, or in regard to holding public office. I do not want this to become accepted practice. They have established that a Catholic who says that perhaps it is possible that homosexuality would be a sin can be discriminated against. I found myself in a position in which I clearly had to decide with respect to whether I would keep my position, between my faith (or if not my faith at least the doctrine of my faith) or to accept being discriminated against. For my faith I was able to sacrifice a seat in the EU, which is not such an important thing. Ultimately, this is what happened.
I think Rocco Buttiglione's idea that the category of sin is not the correct category for political discourse makes a useful addition to Peter Williams' article.  It finds an echo, too, in Pope Benedict XVI's account of the right relationship between politics and religion, as expressed in his address in Westminster Hall in September 2010 (my italics added):
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. This “corrective” role of religion vis-à-vis reason is not always welcomed, though, partly because distorted forms of religion, such as sectarianism and fundamentalism, can be seen to create serious social problems themselves. And in their turn, these distortions of religion arise when insufficient attention is given to the purifying and structuring role of reason within religion. It is a two-way process. Without the corrective supplied by religion, though, reason too can fall prey to distortions, as when it is manipulated by ideology, or applied in a partial way that fails to take full account of the dignity of the human person. Such misuse of reason, after all, was what gave rise to the slave trade in the first place and to many other social evils, not least the totalitarian ideologies of the twentieth century. This is why I would suggest that the world of reason and the world of faith – the world of secular rationality and the world of religious belief – need one another and should not be afraid to enter into a profound and ongoing dialogue, for the good of our civilization
What strikes me about the pressure exerted on both Tim Farron and Rocco Buttiglione is the way in which it demonstrates a deep seated unwillingness to engage in a political discussion at anything other than an ideological level. Any sense of objective moral principles in the field of sexual conduct is drowned out by the intimidating shouts of those promoting a complete societal normalisation of LGBT lifestyles; reasoning as to whether or not this is a morally right approach appears to be absent.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

A Quiet Passion: film reveiw

Zero and I went to see the film A Quiet Passion yesterday. It is well worth seeing, though it seems to be only reaching the more art house cinema venues. Cynthia Nixon and Jennifer Ehle are outstanding in their roles. Trailers here, here; and go here for Cynthia Nixon talking about Emily Dickinson and what it was like to play her in the film.

I found the camera work stunning, with a very real sense of composition in just about every single shot. Much of the film was shot in a studio replica of Emily Dickinson's home, which allowed striking use of windows and doors in scenes that indicated Emily's withdrawal into a highly individual seclusion. In particular, there are two striking scenes where the camera, placed in the centre of the room, pans round through a full 360 degrees to illustrate the life of the Dickinson home. The lighting of indoor scenes also fascinates.

I was also struck by the use of Emily's poetry in the film, this being done in an exceptionally effective way. For poetry that is very mysterious, it brought the texts to life. Emily, for example, is shown cradling her infant niece and reciting the poem "I'm nobody. Who are you?". Those who know Emily Dickinson's poetry better than I do (not difficult) will find this aspect of the film of interest, in part at least because of what it shows of the director's interpretation of the poems.

The nature of a film like this is that it will, in places, represent the character of its subject rather than being completely true to her life. Since I know little of the life of Emily Dickinson, I am not able to comment on how far this occurs in the film. A browse of he Emily Dickinson Museum website before or after seeing the film can shed some light on this - Emily, for example, did not allow the doctor into her room to examine her, so the diagnosis of Bright's Disease that appears on her death certificate and is portrayed in the film may not be considered accurate by everyone. And she apparently never met in person  the lady with whom her married brother was having an affair (and who, after Emily's death, co-edited the first published edition of her poetry).

Though Emily Dickinson does not appear to have held a conventional religious belief (she is shown exercising a certain rebellion against a style of Calvinist predestination in the opening scene of the film and later declines to go to Church on Sunday to the disappointment of her father), she is nevertheless fascinated by the relationship between this present life and eternity. The film also shows Emily and her sister Lavinia referring to the state of their souls. The question of the religious destiny of the person is therefore a theme that threads through the film though, reflecting Emily Dickinson herself, it does not receive an affirmative answer. Again, those who know Emily Dickinson better than I do are likely to find this aspect of the film of great interest.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Pope Francis' Easter addresses

During the celebration of Holy Week, the news has been full of tragic events, of unjust violence and of acts of war: the attacks on Coptic Christians in Egypt, attacks in Syria directed against military targets but too often against civilians, tensions in the Korean peninsula, a huge bombing in Afghanistan.

Against this background, Pope Francis' litany prayed at the end of the Stations of the Cross at the Colosseum on Good Friday, with an echo of the Reproaches of the Liturgy, struck me as being very appropriate:
O Christ! Our only Saviour, we return to you this year with eyes lowered in shame and hearts filled with hope:
Shame for all the images of devastation, destruction and wreckage that have become a normal part of our lives;
Shame for the innocent blood shed daily by women, children, migrants and people persecuted because of the colour of their skin or their ethnic and social diversity or because of their faith in You;
Shame for the too many times that, like Judas and Peter, we have sold you and betrayed you and left you alone to die for our sins, fleeing like cowards from our responsibilities;
Shame for our silence before injustices; for our hands that have been lazy in giving and greedy in grabbing and conquering; for the shrill voices we use to defend our own interests and the timid ones we use to speak out for other's; for our feet that are quick to follow the path of evil and paralyzed when it comes to following the path of good;
Shame for all the times that we Bishops, priests, consecrated men and women have caused scandal and pain to your body, the Church; for having forgotten our first love, our initial enthusiasm and total availability, leaving our hearts and our consecration to rust.
So much shame Lord, but our hearts also feel nostalgia for the confident hope that you will not treat us according to our merits but solely according to the abundance of Your mercy; that our betrayals do not diminish the immensity of your love; your maternal and paternal heart does not forget us because of the hardness of our own;
The certain hope that our names are etched in your heart and that we are reflected in the pupils of your eyes; the hope that your Cross may transform our hardened hearts into hearts of flesh that are able to dream, to forgive and to love; that it may transform this dark night of your cross into the brilliant dawn of your Resurrection;
The hope that your faithfulness is not based on our own;
The hope that the many men and women who are faithful to your Cross may continue to live in fidelity like yeast that gives flavour and like light that reveals new horizons in the body of our wounded humanity;
The hope that your Church will try to be the voice that cries in the wilderness for humanity, preparing the way for your triumphant return, when you will come to judge the living and the dead;
The hope that good will be victorious despite its apparent defeat!
O Lord Jesus! Son of God, innocent victim of our ransom, before your royal banner, before the mystery of your death and glory, before your scaffold, we kneel in shame and with hope and we ask that you bathe us in the blood and water that flowed from your lacerated heart; to forgive our sins and our guilt;
We ask you to remember our brethren destroyed by violence, indifference and war;
We ask you to break the chains that keep us imprisoned in our selfishness, our wilful blindness and in the vanity of our worldly calculations.
O Christ! We ask you to teach us never to be ashamed of your Cross, not to exploit it but to honour and worship it, because with it You have shown us the horror of our sins, the greatness of your love, the injustice of our decisions and the power of your mercy. Amen.
The same sadness - and yet hope - ran through Pope Francis' Urbi et Orbi address, with its reference to situations of suffering throughout the world:
Dear brothers and sisters, this year Christians of every confession celebrate Easter together. With one voice, in every part of the world, we proclaim the great message: “The Lord is truly risen, as he said!” May Jesus, who vanquished the darkness of sin and death, grant peace to our days.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

On the need for shame

I suspect that, when seen as a written word, Pope Francis' recent remarks about the need for a certain shame in the person who approaches the Sacrament of Confession come across differently than if they had been heard in their originality as a spoken word.

The Holy Father does, as is his wont, use a very vivid turn of phrase; and he also expresses himself in the negative rather than the positive.

But his essential message for those who frequent the Sacrament is: approach the Sacrament with a genuine shame, a genuine sense that you have done something wrong. The first prompt of conscience that draws you to the Sacrament is a good - but try to go further, deeper in responding to that first prompt.
... You have only gone to confession to carry out a banking transaction or an office task. You have not gone to confession ashamed of what you have done. You have seen stains on your conscience and have mistakenly believed that the confessional box is like the dry cleaners that removes those sins. You’re unable to feel shame for your sins.”
The shame being referred to here is of a very particular character. It is a response, by the person themselves, to a recognised wrong that they have done. It is not what might be expressed by the word "stigma" - that is, a shame imposed from outside by others or by society, a shame that has the effect of limiting the freedom of the individual rather than expressing it.

A reflection on what constitutes a healthy sense of shame is important in times when much of our society, lacking an objective sense of right and wrong, would do away with the notion of shame altogether.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Fatima: the apparition of St Joseph

After Our Lady had disappeared into the immense distance of the firmament, we beheld St Joseph with the Child Jesus and Our Lady robed in white with a blue mantle, beside the sun. St Joseph and the Child Jesus appeared to bless the world, for they traced the Sign of the Cross with their hands. When, a little later, this apparition disappeared, I saw Our Lord and Our Lady; it seemed to me that it was Our Lady of Dolours. Our Lord appeared to bless the world in the same manner as St Joseph had done. This apparition also vanished, and I saw Our Lady once more, this time resembling Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
This is the last paragraph of Sr Lucia's account of the final apparition at Fatima on 13th October 1917. The apparition of St Joseph with the Child Jesus in some way appears incidental to the main run of the apparitions. Yet, I cannot help but feel that the presence and action of St Joseph in the apparition has something to tell us that is of permanent value.

Despite having Joseph as my given name, I still find it difficult to place my namesake's mission, at a level more than the simply devotional, in the mystery of salvation and the Church. The Preface for the Mass of the feast day gives some indications (my italics added), but I am not sure that I sense those indications as being complete:
For this just man was given by you as spouse to the Virgin Mother of God and set as wise and faithful servant in charge of your household to watch like a father over your Only Begotten Son, who was conceived by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, our Lord Jesus Christ.
There is a clear reference to an earlier Joseph, who in Egypt had oversight of the economy of that country and who shared its wealth with his brothers when they fled famine in their own country. It is from this that St Joseph is recognised as patron of the Universal Church.

Adrienne von Speyr's partial account of Joseph's mission in her Book of All Saints (a record of her charismatic insights into the prayer of large number of saints) is interesting in this regard:
[Joseph] is of simple heart and perseveres in the openness of a surrender that he will never fully grasp. But he does not need to grasp it, because God did not fashion his mission as one part of a dual mission. His relationship to the Mother of Jesus cannot be compared, for example, to that between Benedict and Scholastica or between Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal; here, by contrast, one mission stands adjacent to the other, and it is Joseph's task to give support to Mary's mission in a very modest way. Just as you could not call them a couple, a married couple, so too you could not call theirs a dual mission. Joseph, the righteous man, is involved in something that at first frightens him; he does not understand it. But then grace brings him a certain understanding, even if it remains incomplete....
... Whenever some aspect of the Son, some aspect of his growing up and his mission, opens up to Joseph, he takes it immediately into prayer, because it belongs together so intimately with his own path that he must keep watch over it, too, in prayer .... He knows none of the disquiet that comes with reckoning. He knows that he has a share in many mysteries, even if it is not his responsibility to explore them. He is without curiosity, a simple and pious man.
Pope Francis devotion to St Joseph is well known. He has introduced St Joseph name into all the Eucharistic Prayers used at Mass and, more recently, has described how he entrusts his troubles in prayer to St Joseph.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Love the Church, love the Pope

I have previously written on this blog of my conviction that the Church has been gifted in recent times, not only with holders of the Papal Office of high ability, but also with precisely those holders of that office that corresponded to the needs of the Church at their time. I refer particularly to Popes Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI (and, in passing, to John Paul I, whose homilies/addresses during his short pontificate are a very striking foretaste of those of the Pope Emeritus during the early months of his pontificate); and, yes, to Pope Francis. John XXIII I know less well, but I have no doubt that my conviction would extend to include him.

Each brought to the Office of the Successor Peter their own particular "style" or gift: Paul VI's docility to the prompting of the Spirit, manifested in the declaration of Mary as Mother of the Church and in Humanae Vitae, both offered when many in the Church would not have wished for them; that of the philosopher in John Paul II, with his particular contribution in terms of the dignity of the person at Vatican II and in his subsequent apostolate; that of the theologian with Benedict XVI; and, finally, that of the pastor with Pope Francis.

In this context, I do find two things increasingly distasteful - and certainly, despite the claims of their authors to be "Catholic", profoundly un-Catholic. The first is a persistent denigration of Pope Francis words and actions by way of misrepresentation. To exemplify this, we can look at LifesiteNews report on the new statutes of the Pontifical Academy for Life:
Another drastic change for the PAV is the removal of the requirement for members to sign a “Declaration of the Servants of Life,” an avowal geared to members who are physicians and medical researchers, which makes explicit the members’ willingness to follow Church teaching on the sacredness of human life and an obligation to not perform “destructive research on the embryo or fetus, elective abortion, or euthanasia.”
The removal of such a statement can hardly be seen as removing something superfluous. The very founding of the PAV aimed to counteract cultural trends of the “culture of death,” as St. Pope John Paul II has called secularized modern culture.
What their report fails to say is that there are provisions in the new statutes that give effect to what would previously have been intended by the signing of the Declaration:
Article 5 n.5 (b) New Academicians commit themselves to promoting and defending the principles regarding the value of life and the dignity of the human person, interpreted in a way consonant with the Church’s Magisterium. ..... 
n.5 (e) Status as an Academician can be revoked pursuant to the Academy’s own Regulations in the event of a public and deliberate action or statement by a Member clearly contrary to the principles stated in paragraph (b) above, or seriously offensive to the dignity and prestige of the Catholic Church or of the Academy itself. ......
The second thing I find distasteful are some of the evaluations of Pope Francis being offered to mark the fourth anniversary of his election to the See of St Peter. Two examples, rather different in style, are here and here (with their publicity offered to a particular coterie of commenters). Both are, frankly, nothing more than gossip, more or less recycled, with an effect that is certainly malicious. I do think a serious examination of conscience on the part of these authors is called for.

As suggested at the start of this post, I stand with Pope Francis, and want to learn from him how I can be a better Christian. This is what appears to me an authentic Catholic attitude.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Melanie peut le faire

Occasionally one comes across an absolutely lovely story: Melanie peut le faire. I think it's a story Jerome Lejeune will have enjoyed from his place in heaven.

And here, even on "take two", the children still managed to steal the show!

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Fatima: sacrifices for souls

The Collects at Mass during these early days of Lent remind us very much of the character of self-denial that is a feature of this season. The recently adopted English translations appear to me to bring this out with a clarity that represents a strength of those translations.

The Collect for the Friday of the first week of Lent reads:
Grant that your faithful, O Lord, we pray, may be so conformed to the paschal observances, that the bodily discipline now solemnly begun may bear fruit in the souls of all.
In the course of the events at Fatima, a key message of the Angel whose apparitions presaged those of the Virgin Mary herself was that of offering sacrifices. At the first apparition, in Sr Lucia's account, the Angel invited the children to pray:
My God, I believe, I adore, I hope and I love You! I ask pardon of You for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope and do not love You!".
At the second apparition, the Angel urged the children to offer prayers and sacrifices to the Most High:
"Make of everything you can a sacrifice, and offer it to God as an act of reparation for the sins by which he is offended, and in supplication for the conversion of sinners."
In her memories of Jacinta, Sr Lucia repeatedly tells stories of how Jacinta made little sacrifices within her daily life, and encouraged the other children in doing likewise, in the spirit of the Angel's request. So, for example, during a day in the fields with the sheep, they might have given their lunch to those they met who were poorer than themselves.

In the spirit of my earlier post marking the Fatima anniversary, my literary investigation of this theme took me next to the life of St Edith Stein. Identifying with Queen Esther, Edith made a particular offering of her life for the Jewish people, as witnessed in a letter of 31st October 1938 ....
And [I also trust] in the Lord's having accepted my life for all of them [ie here own family]. I keep having to think of Queen Esther who was taken from among her own people precisely that she might represent them before the king. I am a very poor and powerless little Esther, but the King who chose me is infinitely great and merciful. That is such a great comfort.
... and by the words that she was heard to say to her sister Rosa as they were both arrested by the Germans at the convent in Echt:
Come, Rosa, we are going for our people. 
My third step was to the story of Cassie Bernall, who died during the Columbine School shootings of 20th April 1999. Though some news reports suggest that Cassie's reported exchange with the student who shot her has in fact been mistaken for the dialogue with another student (who survived), nevertheless a key witness has remained certain of his attribution of the exchange to Cassie. Asked if she believed in God, Cassie is reported to have replied "Yes" before being shot. Cassie's mother has written the story of her daughter - a fraught and challenging teenager, who experienced a conversion to Christ - in a book She said Yes: the unlikely martyrdom of Cassie Bernall. In the book, Misty Bernall reports the words of a pastor who knew Cassie during the two years immediately before her death:
Cassie struggled like everyone struggles, but she knew what she had to do to let Christ live in her. It's called dying to yourself, and it has to be done daily. It means learning to break out of the selfish life ....It's not a negative thing, but a way of freeing yourself to live life more fully.
The world looks to Cassie's "yes" of April 20, but we need to look at the daily "yes" she said day after day, month after month, before giving that final answer....
It's not a question of doing great deeds, but of being selfless in small things. Cassie used to come with us to a ministry for crack addicts downtown. We'd eat with the guys, and play basketball, or just hang out with them. That's what it's all about..... Reaching out, being willing to make sacrifices for something bigger than your own happiness and comfort.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017


I can't help but feel sad that, to mark International Womens Day, the women of Ireland were asked to dress in black and protest in favour of making abortion freely available in their country.

Surely the freedom of women to participate in the life of their nations and communities is not dependent on their being able to abort their unborn children ....

.... and the celebration of International Womens Day could have reflected that wider participation.

However, I did rather like the idea that Easyjet and Lufthansa adopted - flying all women crews on some of their flights today.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

The Devil ...

..... wears Prada is real. The "Day by Day" meditation in MAGNIFICAT for today reminded me of something I recall striking me strongly during the early days of Pope Francis' pontificate. That was Pope Francis' readiness to talk about the reality of the existence of the devil, as an ordinary part of  Christian experience.

MAGNIFICAT reproduced a large part of this report of a homily by Pope Francis in April 2014. It is worth reading the report in full to capture Pope Francis sense of conviction about the reality of the devil, and of the three characteristics of his temptations: growth, spread and then self justification.
“Of course one of you will say: but Father, you are so old fashioned, speaking about the devil in the 21st century!”. To this Pope Francis replied: “watch out, the devil exists! The devil exists even in the 21st century. And we must not be naive. We must learn from the Gospel how to battle against him”.
The same contrast that we see between Christ and Satan in the Gospel of the first Sunday of Lent, and in Pope Francis' homily, is portrayed vividly in the "Meditation on Two Standards" of the fourth day of the second week of St Ignatius' Spiritual Exercises. Firstly the Standard of Satan:
Consider the address he makes to them, how he goads them on to lay snares for men and bind them with chains. First they are to tempt them to covet riches (as Satan himself is accustomed to do in most cases) that they may the more easily attain the empty honors of this world, and then come to overweening pride.
The first step, then, will be riches, the second honor, the third pride. From these three steps the evil one leads to all other vices.
And secondly, the Standard of Christ:
Consider the address which Christ our Lord makes to all His servants and friends whom He sends on this enterprise, recommending to them to seek to help all, first by attracting them to the highest spiritual poverty, and should it please the Divine Majesty, and should He deign to choose them for it, even to actual poverty. Secondly, they should lead them to a desire for insults and contempt, for from these springs humility.
Hence, there will be three steps: the first, poverty as opposed to riches; the second, insults or contempt as opposed to the honor of this world; the third, humility as opposed to pride. From these three steps, let them lead men to all other virtues.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Hell: a literary investigation

In the light of the centenary of the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Fatima, I have recently been reading Sr Lucia's accounts, published in English under the title Fatima in Lucia's own words. In her account of the apparition on 13th July 1917 (see page 178 of the English text), Sr Lucia describes the vision of Hell shown to them by Our Lady:
As Our Lady spoke these last words, she opened her hands once more, as she had done during the two previous months. The rays of light seemed to penetrate the earth, and we saw as it were a sea of fire. Plunged in this fire were demons and souls in human form, like transparent burning embers, all blackened or burnished bronze, floating about in the conflagration, now raised into the air by the flames that issued from within themselves together with great clouds of smoke now falling back on every side like sparks in huge fires, without weight or equilibrium, amid shrieks and groans of pain and despair, which horrified us and made us tremble with fear (It must have been this sight which caused me to cry out, as people say they heard me). The demons could be distinguished by their terrifying and repellent likeness to frightful and unknown animals, black and transparent like burning coals. Terrified and as if to plead for succour, we looked up at Our Lady, who said to us, so kindly and so sadly: 
“You have seen hell where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart....
I then went on to re-read the description of Hell given by Georges Bernanos in The Diary of a Country Priest. It is uttered by the parish priest in a vehement response to Madame la Comtesse:
'You won't hate, you'll cease to know one another.'....
'...what have you laymen made of hell? A kind of penal servitude for eternity, on the lines of your convict prisons on earth, to which you condemn in advance all the wretched felons your police have hunted from the beginning - "enemies of society" as you call them. You're kind enough to include blasphemers and the profane. What proud or reasonable man could stomach such a notion of God's justice?.... Hell is judged by the standards of the world, and hell is not of this world, it is of the other world, and still less of this Christian society. An eternal expiation - ! The miracle is that we on earth were ever able to think of such a thing, when scarcely has our sin gone out of us, and one look, a sign, a dumb appeal suffices for grace and pardon to swoop down, as an eagle from topmost skies. It's because the lowest of human beings, even though he no longer thinks he can love, still has in him the power of loving. Our very hate is resplendent, and the least tormented of the fiends would warm himself in what we call our despair, as in a morning of glittering sunshine. Hell is not to love any more! That sounds quite ordinary to you. To a human being still alive, it means to love less or to love elsewhere. To understand is still a way of loving. But suppose this faculty which seem so inseparably ours, of our very essence, should disappear! Oh, prodigy. To stop loving, to stop understanding - and yet to live..... if a living man, the vilest, most compatible of the living, were cast into these burning depths, I should still be ready to share his suffering, I would claim him from his executioner .... To share his suffering! The sorrow, the unutterable loss of those charred stones which once were men, is that they have nothing more to be shared."
My next stop on the road to hell was the account of Adrienne von Speyr's charismatic insight into Jesus' descent into Hell on Holy Saturday given by Hans Urs von Balthasar in his First Glance at Adrienne von Speyr:
It is Christ's final act of obedience towards his Father that he descends "into hell" (or "underworld", Hades, Sheol). Because hell is (already in the Old Covenant) the place where God is absent, wher there is no longer the light of faith, hope, love, of participation in God's life; hell is what the judging God condemned and cast out of his creation; it is filled with all that is irreconcilable with God, from which he turns away for all eternity. It is filled with the reality of all the world's godlessness, with the sum of the world's sin; therefore, with precisely all of that from which the Crucified has freed the world. In hell he encounters his own work of salvation, not in Easter triumph, but in the uttermost night of obedience truly the "obedience of a corpse". He encounters the horror of sin separated from men. He "walks" through sin (without leaving a trace, since, in hell and in death, there is neither time nor direction); and, traversing its formlessness, he experiences a second chaos. While bereft of any spiritual light emanating from the Father, in sheer obedience, he must seek the Father where hi cannot find him under any circumstances. And yet, this hell is a final mystery of the Father as creator (who made allowances for the freedom of man). And so, in this darkness, the Incarnate Son learns "experientially" what until then was "reserved" for the Father. Hell, seen in this way, is, in its final possibility, a Trinitarian event. On Good Friday the Father hands the "key" to it over to the Son....
What Adrienne experienced is actually more horrible than the hell depicted for us by medieval imagination; it is the knowledge of having lost God forever; it is being engulfed in the chaotic mire of the anti-divine; the absence of faith, hope and love the loss, as well, therefore, of any human communication... Her experience of it was so real that, in view of it, it would be ridiculous and blasphemous to speak of the nonexistence of hell or even just of apokatastsis [a universal salvation] in the "systematic" sense....[Adrienne's experience] justifies the exaltation of Christian hope over fear, and yet, through its Trinitarian interpretation, gives the whole problem an altogether Christian seriousness, perhaps never before known.
My final destination was the title of a novel by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The First Circle. It portrays life in a Soviet research institution, where the researchers are not free academics but an imprisoned intelligentsia. The full import to that title, with its reference to Dante,  can only be grasped in relation to Solzhenitsyn's account of hell on earth that is The Gulag Archipelago - a wide ranging and at times abrasively cutting account of the prison camp system under Soviet Russia. Which of course brings us back to the context of the Marian apparitions at Fatima.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

SSPX: a flawed proposal?

When he issued the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, Pope Benedict XVI also wrote an accompanying letter to the bishops of the world. That letter explained the intentions behind the juridical provisions of the motu proprio itself. It is worth noting two points from the letter:

In the first place, there is the fear that the document detracts from the authority of the Second Vatican Council, one of whose essential decisions – the liturgical reform – is being called into question. Firstly, in responding to the concern that the greater provision for celebration of the Extraordinary Form would call in to question the Liturgical reforms since Vatican II:
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.
And secondly, Pope Benedict clearly demonstrated an expectation that it is the Missal of Paul VI, and not that of John XXIII, that should unite parish communities:
...the two Forms of the usage of the Roman Rite can be mutually enriching: new Saints and some of the new Prefaces can and should be inserted in the old Missal.  The “Ecclesia Dei” Commission, in contact with various bodies devoted to the usus antiquior, will study the practical possibilities in this regard. The celebration of the Mass according to the Missal of Paul VI will be able to demonstrate, more powerfully than has been the case hitherto, the sacrality which attracts many people to the former usage.  The most sure guarantee that the Missal of Paul VI can unite parish communities and be loved by them consists in its being celebrated with great reverence in harmony with the liturgical directives. This will bring out the spiritual richness and the theological depth of this Missal. 
Summorum Pontificum appears to me to have had two unfortunate consequences, neither of which were intended when it was promulgated. The first, which was largely transitory, was that Catholics with no attachment to the Extraordinary Form felt that they had to "take a stance", one way or another, with regard to the Extraordinary Form, when the living of a Catholic life demanded no such thing. This has largely dissipated with the passage of time (though a train of thought among Traditionalists is perhaps bringing it to the fore again). The second has been the legitimacy given to a subsequent promotion of the Extraordinary Form, more or less over and against the Ordinary Form, within the Traditionalist movement, and from within the Traditionalist movement to the wider community of the Church. The initial "headline" back in 2007-8, and maintained today, was the continued use of the term "Traditional Latin Mass", with its inherent suggestion that, juridically speaking, the Extraordinary Form was more "traditional" than the Ordinary Form, when the letter to bishops accompanying Summorum Pontificum , in speaking of two forms of the same rite, indicates that the one form is as "traditional" as the other. This has reached its ultimate destination in the recent efforts of Dr Shaw to claim the Extraordinary Form as the (only) place to find authentic Catholicism (here), something that I do not think was at all envisaged by Benedict XVI.

In summary, the Traditionalist movement has taken Summorum Pontificum as legitimising a promotion of the Extraordinary Form in  a manner and a context that has no justification whatsoever in Summorum Pontificum and the accompanying letter to bishops themselves.

So what will happen if the Society of St Pius X is allowed to become a Personal Prelature and its situation with respect to the universal Church is "regularised"? Bishop Fellay's recent television interview, which gave rise to speculation about this possibility, is now online with English subtitles (my sample viewing suggests that the subtitles are very accurate to the original French); and this post, though it draws largely on a different interview, appears to me to correctly present the position of Bishop Fellay articulated in the television interview.

Bishop Fellay suggests that a number of things are already in place as far as the every day life of the Society of St Pius X is concerned that represent a degree of "regularisation" of their situation: the permission of Pope Francis that allows their priests to validly / licitly confer absolution in the Sacrament of Penance, and a certain recognition of the (strictly speaking illicit) ordination of priests by local dioceses in the place of ordination are examples. The new situation of the Extraordinary Form created by Summorum Pontificum is also relevant here, in a way that is entirely consonant with the intentions expressed by Pope Benedict in his letter to bishops. But Bishop Fellay is equally clear with regard to the Society's non-negotiables - see from about 07:20 onwards in the television interview and the paragraph "A Battle of Ideas" in this post. In summary, with regard to the teachings of the Second Vatican Council that have been controverted by the Society over the years, there is no movement on the part of the Society whatsoever. The question for Bishop Fellay and the Society is whether a suggestion that these controverted points can in some way not be considered essential as part of what is termed "Catholic" would allow them, from a "regularised" position within the Church, to continue to fight their position over and against that generally accepted in the wider Church and upheld by the conciliar and post-conciliar teaching office of the Church. Though Bishop Fellay sees some signs of this possibility being offered, he appears far from certain as to whether or not it will materialise in a full reality. Given how clear Bishop Fellay is in the interview, it is surprising to me that the speculation about a possible "regularisation" has gained as much traction in the media as it has.

Why do I find the prospect of a "regularisation" of the situation of the Society of St Pius X concerning?

Given the lack of movement of the Society over controverted issues, any "regularisation" is going to legitimise to the wider Traditionalist movement the notion that certain key teachings of the Second Vatican Council are in some way "optional" as far as being Catholic is concerned. (We are not talking here of developments after the Council that are contrary to the substance of its teaching, but of the teaching itself.) Should the Holy See be explicit in ruling this out, it appears to me unlikely that the Society will accept regularisation. Should, in the interests of charity and the promotion of communion and to avoid a rejection of the proposal by the Society, some form of "future discussion" be allowed within the process of regularisation, the precedent of the response to Summorum Pontificum and the more recent advocacy of the Extraordinary Form as the locus of authentic Catholicism, is that the Traditionalist movement will in any case conclude that the controverted issues are "optional" and seek to drive a coach and horses through the attaching conditions, to the confusion both of their own adherents and others (though I suspect that Bishop Fellay himself, on the basis of what I have seen in his television interview, has an intelligence and integrity that would not lead him to encourage such a misapprehension).

Whilst - irony of ironies - one might wish to position the controverted issues at a lower or higher place within a "hierarchy of truths" as the basis for possible future discussions between the Society and the Holy See after "regularisation", and therefore arrive at an evaluation of how central they are to being "Catholic" as a step to "regularisation", that does not make the teaching of the Council optional. But there is a nicety in this that the Traditionalist movement is unlikely to respect.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

The Word is a gift. Other persons are a gift.

Pope Francis opens his message for Lent 2017 with a call to conversion:
Lent is a new beginning, a path leading to the certain goal of Easter, Christ’s victory over death. This season urgently calls us to conversion. Christians are asked to return to God “with all their hearts” (Joel 2:12), to refuse to settle for mediocrity and to grow in friendship with the Lord. Jesus is the faithful friend who never abandons us. Even when we sin, he patiently awaits our return; by that patient expectation, he shows us his readiness to forgive...
He ends it, encouraging us to renew our encounter with Christ:
Dear friends, Lent is the favourable season for renewing our encounter with Christ, living in his word, in the sacraments and in our neighbour. The Lord, who overcame the deceptions of the Tempter during the forty days in the desert, shows us the path we must take. May the Holy Spirit lead us on a true journey of conversion, so that we can rediscover the gift of God’s word, be purified of the sin that blinds us, and serve Christ present in our brothers and sisters in need. 
The heart of Pope Francis' message is an exegesis of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, an exegesis which put me in mind of the kind of exegesis that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI might have offered.

The encouragement to "serve Christ present in our brothers and sisters in need" prompted another thought on my part. In this message it is reflected in the needs of the person of Lazarus, and in this short exhortation at the end. But, during the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis' particularly modelled the practice of the corporal works of mercy by his Friday visits. I felt that he was trying to teach us that what, in Amoris Laetitia n.306, is referred to as the via caritatis, is at the very heart of the living of the Christian life and the journey into the life of grace. Pope Francis was trying to enhance the value given by the Church to living this way of charity.

My reading of Chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia is that the discernment and pastoral accompaniment of those whose marriage situations are "irregular" or reflect human weakness is primarily focussed on recognising which of the dimensions of the way of charity can be undertaken within the limits of the particular situation. If we share with Pope Francis a high valuing of this life of charity then, for those in difficult marriage situations, we can also value the accompaniment offered by Amoris Laetitia to take part in this life as allowing them to make substantial progress in the life of grace. The question of access to the Sacraments of Penance and Holy Communion becomes an incidental question to the core question of living the via caritatis (though one can see how progress in the via caritatis can bring one closer to experience of these sacraments).

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Trumpled underfoot ....

Whilst Catholics might have welcomed the presence of the new Vice President of the United States at the annual March for Life, and the commitment to appoint judges to the Supreme Court who oppose the practice of abortion (Aside: remember that Presidents who have been supportive of legalised abortion have done an analogous thing in appointing justices who would support their own stance on abortion, so there isn't anything unprecedented in President Trump's actions in this regard or with regard to abortion funding), Catholics should find it much harder to support his provisions with regard to refugees in the latest executive orders.

Those provisions put the United States in direct and immediate breach of its obligations under the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
Article 14.(1) Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution. (2) This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.
The United States is also a party to the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, by way of being a party to its 1967 Protocol, which indicates practical steps in the implementation of Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The obligations under this Convention are summarised at the Wikipedia page . It is quite clear under the Convention that any decision not to accept the refugee status of an asylum seeker should be an individual decision and not a generalised one applied to whole groups or categories. It is also clear that particular measures should not be based on the nationality or country of origin of a refugee. The executive orders, which deny entry to the United States for refugees from particular countries, clearly prevent those refugees from exercising a right that is theirs under international legal provision.

The ethical principle underpinning both the Universal Declaration and the Convention is that of respect for the dignity, and therefore the rights, of persons precisely as persons and without regard to any other circumstance that may accrue to persons in particular situations. Poor Donald seems to be somewhat inconsistent here - defending the dignity of the unborn (cf Article 3 of the Universal Declaration) but treating with disdain the dignity of the refugee.

The justification on the grounds of national security is as blatantly false as is poor Donald's claim of electoral fraud. We shouldn't buy it. That the United Kingdom will soon welcome poor Donald on a state visit is embarrassing to say the least. But Catholics will be caught in a dilemma - we might want to protest his steps with regard to refugees, but will find ourselves alongside those who also want to protest his steps with regard to abortion.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Prayer for Christian Unity

The Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity has passed in my usual parish with little more than an honorary "nod" in the Prayer of the Faithful on Sunday. Locally, inter-denominational services to mark the week have been generally discontinued, as a result of low attendances.

One of the Collects in the Missal that can be used for a Mass "for the unity of Christians" reads as follows:
Almighty ever-living God, who gather what is scattered and keep together what you have gathered, look kindly on the flock of your Son, that those whom one Baptism has consecrated may be joined together by integrity of faith and united in the bond of charity.
In the first instant, the Octave prompts us to reflect on the nature of the unity of the Church, perhaps as expressed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church n.813:

The Church is one because of her source: "the highest exemplar and source of this mystery is the unity, in the Trinity of Persons, of one God, the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit." The Church is one because of her founder: for "the Word made flesh, the prince of peace, reconciled all men to God by the cross, . . . restoring the unity of all in one people and one body." The Church is one because of her "soul": "It is the Holy Spirit, dwelling in those who believe and pervading and ruling over the entire Church, who brings about that wonderful communion of the faithful and joins them together so intimately in Christ that he is the principle of the Church's unity." Unity is of the essence of the Church:
What an astonishing mystery! There is one Father of the universe, one Logos of the universe, and also one Holy Spirit, everywhere one and the same; there is also one virgin become mother, and I should like to call her "Church."

The Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity also brings to my mind the address of Pope Benedict XVI in Cologne, during his meeting with representatives of other Christian denominations. In that address, Pope Benedict drew attention to the significance of Baptism as the source of a shared sense of fraternity arising from dialogue between Christians of different denominations, suggesting that we should not underestimate this significance:
I feel the fact that we consider one another brothers and sisters, that we love one another, that together we are witnesses of Jesus Christ, should not be taken so much for granted. I believe that this brotherhood is in itself a very important fruit of dialogue that we must rejoice in, continue to foster and to practice.
Among Christians, fraternity is not just a vague sentiment, nor is it a sign of indifference to truth. As you just said, Bishop, it is grounded in the supernatural reality of the one Baptism which makes us all members of the one Body of Christ (cf. I Cor 12: 13; Gal 3: 28; Col 2: 12).
Together we confess that Jesus Christ is God and Lord; together we acknowledge him as the one mediator between God and man (cf. I Tm 2: 5), and we emphasize that together we are members of his Body (cf. Unitatis Redintegratio, n. 22; Ut Unum Sint, n. 42).
Based on this essential foundation of Baptism, a reality comes from him which is a way of being, then of professing, believing and acting. Based on this crucial foundation, dialogue has borne its fruits and will continue to do so.
Pope Benedict went on to suggest a way towards that "integrity of faith" and "unity in the bond of charity" to which our Collect refers. There is a particular reference to the situation of ecumenical dialogue in Germany in 2005, but the thoughts expressed are just as relevant today:
May I make a small comment:  now, it is said that following the clarification regarding the Doctrine of Justification, the elaboration of ecclesiological issues and the questions concerning ministry are the main obstacles still to be overcome. In short, this is true, but I must also say that I dislike this terminology, which from a certain point of view delimits the problem since it seems that we must now debate about institutions instead of the Word of God, as though we had to place our institutions in the centre and fight for them. I think that in this way the ecclesiological issue as well as that of the "Ministerium" are not dealt with correctly.
The real question is the presence of the Word in the world. In the second century the early Church primarily took a threefold decision: first, to establish the canon, thereby stressing the sovereignty of the Word and explaining that not only is the Old Testament "hai graphai", but together with the New Testament constitutes a single Scripture which is thus for us the master text.
However, at the same time the Church has formulated an Apostolic Succession, the episcopal ministry, in the awareness that the Word and the witness go together; that is, the Word is alive and present only thanks to the witness, so to speak, and receives from the witness its interpretation. But the witness is only such if he or she witnesses to the Word.
Third and last, the Church has added the "regula fidei" as a key for interpretation. I believe that this reciprocal compenetration constitutes an object of dissent between us, even though we are certainly united on fundamental things.
Therefore, when we speak of ecclesiology and of ministry we must preferably speak in this combination of Word, witness and rule of faith, and consider it as an ecclesiological matter, and therefore together as a question of the Word of God, of his sovereignty and humility inasmuch as the Lord entrusts his Word, and concedes its interpretation, to witnesses which, however, must always be compared to the "regula fidei" and the integrity of the Word. Excuse me if I have expressed a personal opinion; it seemed right to do so.
At this time , with the martyrdom of Christians never far from the headlines, the observation of n.84 of Pope John Paul II's Encyclical Ut Unum Sint, that a witness to death represents a perfection of communion between Christians, gains added relevance:
In a theocentric vision, we Christians already have a common Martyrology. This also includes the martyrs of our own century, more numerous than one might think, and it shows how, at a profound level, God preserves communion among the baptized in the supreme demand of faith, manifested in the sacrifice of life itself. The fact that one can die for the faith shows that other demands of the faith can also be met. I have already remarked, and with deep joy, how an imperfect but real communion is preserved and is growing at many levels of ecclesial life. I now add that this communion is already perfect in what we all consider the highest point of the life of grace, martyria unto death, the truest communion possible with Christ who shed his Blood, and by that sacrifice brings near those who once were far off (cf. Eph 2:13).