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

Sadness

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).

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Reflecting on Trump and the Womens March ...

There is an aspect of the election and inauguration of Donald Trump to be President of the United States that I am not sure I have understood. Increasingly, that election (and the Brexit vote in the UK and No vote in Italy) are being characterised by the term "rising populism". However, what interests me more than this characterisation is the message that Donald Trump's election might have for the notion of "progressive politics". Does that phenomenon being characterised as "populism" represent a coherent and viable alternative to "progressive politics" or is it in reality a passing fad that will exhaust its appeal when it fails to deliver to the extent that it promises?

Rita, at tigerish waters, comments on the Womens March under the title What is it all about?, and I suggest that you read her observations. It raises the question as to whether or not the "progressive politics" to which many subscribe is really understood and shared by them.

The "Day by Day" feature in Magnificat for today has pointed me towards a homily preached by Pope John Paul II in New York in 1995. The full text at the Vatican website is here. The homily, in the context of the United States of America, addresses the question of what genuinely constitutes the "progress of the peoples", and, in doing, so offers a correcting insight to the themes of Donald Trump's inauguration speech. At the same time, it also offers a challenge to the advocates of "women's rights" who marched on Saturday.
The theme of this morning’s Holy Mass is the "Progress of Peoples". This is an appropriate issue in the context of my visit to the United States for the Fiftieth Anniversary of the United Nations Organization. The Pope’s presence at that international forum is in fact an act of evangelization, aimed at serving the progress of humanity in the great family of nations which that World Organization represents.
The "progress of peoples" is closely connected with the proclamation of Christ’s message of salvation and hope. Of this salvation Isaiah speaks in the first reading: "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone" (Is. 9: 1). This darkness stands for the spiritual darkness which sometimes envelops people, nations and history itself, in its desolate mantle. Certainly the twentieth century has witnessed such periods of gloom. The two World Wars were times of great darkness which plunged peoples and nations into immense suffering. For many people, the twentieth century continues to be a time of terrible anguish and torture. From the depths of such sad experiences the human family searches for a path of justice and peace. ...
It is precisely through the Gospel of the Cross and through his Resurrection that Christ lays the foundations for the advancement of God’s Kingdom in the world. The presence of this Kingdom opens to us the dimension of eternity in God, and discloses the deepest meaning of our efforts to improve life here on earth.  People everywhere thirst for a full and free life worthy of the human person. There is a great desire for political, social and economic institutions which will help individuals and nations to affirm and develop their dignity (Cf. Gaudium et Spes, 9).
What kind of society is worthy of the human person? The Church responds with the unique perspective of salvation history. She proclaims the truth that the Word of God, through whom all things were made, was himself made flesh and dwelt among us. He entered the world’s history – our history – as a man, a human being, a divine person; he took on our history and made it complete. By his Resurrection he became Lord and was given full power in heaven and on earth. Thus through the power of his Spirit, Christ is now at work in our hearts and in our world. The Spirit instills in us a desire for the world to come, but he also inspires, purifies and strengthens those noble longings by which we strive to make earthly life more human (Cf. ibid. 38).
Dear Friends, we are gathered together in this enormous metropolis of New York, considered by many to be the zenith of modern civilization and progress , a symbol of America and American life. For more than two hundred years people of different nations, languages and cultures have come here, bringing memories and traditions of the "old country", while at the same time becoming part of a new nation. America has a reputation the world over, a reputation of power, prestige and wealth. But not everyone here is powerful; not everyone here is rich. In fact, America’s sometimes extravagant affluence often conceals much hardship and poverty.
From the viewpoint of the Kingdom of God we must therefore ask a very basic question: have the people living in this huge metropolis lost sight of the blessings which belong to the poor in spirit? In the midst of the magnificent scientific and technological civilization of which America is proud, and especially here in Queens, in Brooklyn, in New York, is there room for the mystery of God? That mystery which is "revealed to the merest children" (Mt. 11: 25); the mystery of the Father and the Son in the unity of the Holy Spirit; the mystery of divine love which is the source of everything? Is there room for the mystery of love? Is there room for the revelation of life – that transcendent life which Christ brings us at the price of his Cross and through the victory of his Resurrection? ...
In practical terms, this truth tells us that there can be no life worthy of the human person without a culture – and a legal system – that honors and defends marriage and the family. The well-being of individuals and communities depends on the healthy state of the family. A few years ago, your National Commission on America’s Urban Families concluded, and I quote: "The family trend of our time is the deinstitutionalization of marriage and the steady disintegration of the mother – father child – raising unit... No domestic trend is more threatening to the well-being of our children and to our long-term national security" (Report, January 1993). I quote these words to show that it is not just the Pope and the Church who speak with concern about these important issues.
Society must strongly re-affirm the right of the child to grow up in a family in which, as far as possible, both parents are present. Fathers of families must accept their full share of responsibility for the lives and upbringing of their children. Both parents must spend time with their children, and be personally interested in their moral and religious education. Children need not only material support from their parents, but more importantly a secure, affectionate and morally correct family environment.... 
The truth which Christ reveals tells us that we must support one another and work together with others, despite cultural, social or religious differences. It challenges us to be involved. It gives us the courage to see Christ in our neighbor and to serve him there. And, in imitation of our Divine Master who said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and find life burdensome" (Mt. 11: 28), we ought to invite others to come to us by stretching out a helping hand to those in need, by welcoming the newcomer, by speaking words of comfort to the afflicted. This is the goodness in which the Holy Spirit confirms us! This is how you – women and men; young people and old; married couples and singles; parents, children and families; students and teachers; professional people, those who work and those who are suffering the terrible burden of unemployment – this is how everyone can make a positive contribution to America and help to transform your culture into a vibrant culture of life.  

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Quick thoughts on the Maltese Bishops' Guidelines on Amoris Laeitita-UPDATED

1. The original text is published in English and in Maltese. The English text can be downloaded from the website of the Catholic Church in Malta. The paragraphing and numbering make it much easier to read than the text as published in Italian in Osservatore Romano. It should be noted that the Italian represents a translation from an original released initially in two other languages. I am not able to comment on the Maltese text.

2. Note the observation in the preamble to the Guidelines themselves that:
It is important that the following guidelines be read in the light of the indicated references.
The references which occur in the Guidelines are to the text/footnotes of Amoris Laetitia itself.

3. Much of the Guidelines document does follow closely Amoris Laetitia itself. The Guidelines nn. 5-8 provide a good example of this, particularly the suggested examination of conscience, which is not going to be a soft touch in any circumstances.

4. The Guidelines at n.3 clearly indicate that those who are cohabiting should be encouraged towards living the full reality of marriage. Those at n.4 are clear in suggesting that, for those who are now living in a new union and where a reasonable doubt is seen as to the validity or consummation of their original marriage, should be directed to seek a declaration of nullity or dissolution.

5. Paragraph 9:
Throughout the discernment process, we should also examine the possibility of conjugal continence. Despite the fact that this ideal is not at all easy, there may be couples who, with the help of grace, practice this virtue without putting at risk other aspects of their life together. On the other hand, there are complex situations where the choice of living “as brothers and sisters” becomes humanly impossible and gives rise to greater harm (see AL, note 329).
...needs to be read in the light of a footnote - number 329 - to Amoris Laetitia that does not characterise living as brother and sister as "humanly impossible" nor make any comparative judgement as to greater or lesser harm:
John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio (22 November 1981), 84: AAS 74 (1982), 186. In such situations, many people, knowing and accepting the possibility of living "as brothers and sisters" which the Church offers them, point out that if certain expressions of intimacy are lacking, "it often happens that faithfulness is endangered and the good of the children suffers" (Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes n.51).
[It is incidentally useful to also follow through and read the texts of Familiaris Consortio n.84 and Gaudium et Spes n.51, to gain the full context of the references being made to them in the footnote. The context of the phenomenological observation about the endangering of faithfulness and the good of the children suffering is very different in Gaudium et Spes than in Amoris Laetitia, though that does not invalidate the referencing.]

6. And the problematical n.10. The English makes use of the term "cannot be precluded" where the Italian of Osservatore Romano uses a term which, in my translation is, "cannot be prevented from". There is a very subtle difference here. The English text suggests "cannot be ruled out from" rather than "must be allowed to" - which is, in essence, what the controversial Amoris Laetitia footnote indicates. (I am not able to comment on the Maltese text.)
If, as a result of the process of discernment, undertaken with “humility, discretion and love for the Church and her teaching, in a sincere search for God’s will and a desire to make a more perfect response to it” (AL 300), a separated or divorced person who is living in a new relationship manages, with an informed and enlightened conscience, to acknowledge and believe that he or she are at peace with God, he or she cannot be precluded from participating in the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist (see AL, notes 336 and 351).
The Italian text from Osservatore Romano:
....non le potra essere impedito di accostarsi ai sacramenti della riconciliazione e dell’eucaristia....[...they cannot be prevented from approaching the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist...]
And, of course, read the paragraph in the light of the three indicated references to Amoris Laetitia, particularly the text of n.300. Reading it out of that context gives a completely different impression of the intent of the bishops of Malta with their guidelines.

I would observe that:
 - the Maltese bishops are giving an instruction here to their pastors with regard to the admission or otherwise of the faithful to the sacraments; they are not saying that it is for the faithful in these situations to come to their own decision
- the situation of not being precluded from the sacraments only arises when objective conditions are met, and not just from the subjective sense of peace with God of the faithful (and perhaps the reference to peace with God should be read, too, in the sense of the situation for making a good choice of state of life of the Spiritual Exercises, rather than in a purely subjective sense); the conditions include love for the teaching of the Church; and the conditions arise within a process of discernment, whose terms are indicated in previous sections of the Guidance
- it is quite misleading, and, it appears to me, deliberately mischievous, to simply headline coverage of the Maltese Bishops' Guidelines as unconditionally admitting those in second unions to the sacraments.

[ This characterisation at EWTN , for example, seems to me quite false, however learned its author or acclaimed the site publishing it:
The bishops of Malta, in a document that can only be called disastrous, repeatedly invoking Pope Francis’ Amoris laetitia, have directly approved divorced and remarried Catholics taking holy Communion provided they feel “at peace with God”. Unlike, say, the Argentine document on Amoris which, one could argue, left just enough room for an orthodox reading, however widely it also left the doors open for abuse by others, the Maltese bishops in their document come straight out and say it: holy Communion is for any Catholic who feels “at peace with God” and the Church’s ministers may not say No to such requests.]

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Aunty on Amoris Laetitia. Cardinal Mueller on Francis and Benedict XVI

I do think Aunty has expressed an approach to Amoris Laetitia that I share - and has probably expressed it more clearly than I could, and with the benefit of a lived experience that I do not have.

See The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith...

The view that I have already expressed on this blog is that, if Amoris Laetitia is read for what it actually says, rather than for what commentators think others might think it says, it is fine both from the doctrinal point of view and from the point of view of pastoral practice. See the first paragraphs here and here.

The original source, in Italian, of Cardinal Muller's remarks is here. Cardinal Muller's remarks about Amoris Laetitia occur at the end of a wider conversation, starting at about 06:00 in the video clip, considering Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis in relation to each other. Cardinal Muller argues that, though they have their own individual personalities and life experiences, it is wrong to put them in contrast with each other. We should accept the missions of both the Pope Emeritus and Pope Francis to the Church, "both are a gift to the Church". Cardinal Muller highlights one example where Pope Francis takes up a theme from Pope Benedict - the idea that evangelisation does not involve an imposition of the Gospel but an effort to draw or attract people to the Christian faith.

I like the idea of a "hermeneutic of continuity" between Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis!