Sunday, 10 October 2021

The Synodal Journey

The BBC are reporting the opening by Pope Francis of the journey towards the Synod of Bishops meeting on synodality under the headline: Pope Franics launches mass consultation on Church reform. That is of course, a gross mis-representation of the intention of the Synodal journey. The BBC reports' citation of a "progessive" and a "conservative" voices demonstrates this mis-understanding:

Some Catholics hope it will lead to change on issues such as women's ordination, married priests and same-sex relationships.

Others fear it will undermine the principles of the Church.

I do recommend reading, instead of the BBC report, the two addresses by Pope Francis in relation to the Synodal journey.

The first is a "moment of reflection" for the opening of the Synodal journey, held in the New Synod Hall on Saturday 9th October. Here Pope Francis speaks about each of the three key words that express more concretely the notion of synodality: communion, participation and mission.

The second is Pope Francis' homily at Mass celebrating the opening of the Synodal journey.

You need to read these in their entirety, if you are to gain a true sense of Pope Francis' intentions with regard to the Synodal process. The BBC report could be covering an event on a different planet! 

The following quotations are only part of the story, though they are the parts that have caught my attention on a quick reading.

How Pope Francis understands the idea of a "listening Church" - prayer and adoration:

The Synod then offers us the opportunity to become a listening Church, to break out of our routine and pause from our pastoral concerns in order to stop and listen.  To listen to the Spirit in adoration and prayer.  Today how much we miss the prayer of adoration; so many people have lost not only the habit but also the very notion of what it means to worship God!  To listen to our brothers and sisters speak of their hopes and of the crises of faith present in different parts of the world, of the need for a renewed pastoral life and of the signals we are receiving from those on the ground.....

As we initiate this process, we too are called to become experts in the art of encounter.  Not so much by organizing events or theorizing about problems, as in taking time to encounter the Lord and one another.  Time to devote to prayer and to adoration – that form of prayer that we so often neglect – devoting time to adoration, and to hearing what the Spirit wants to say to the Church.  Time to look others in the eye and listen to what they have to say, to build rapport, to be sensitive to the questions of our sisters and brothers, to let ourselves be enriched by the variety of charisms, vocations and ministries.  Every encounter – as we know – calls for openness, courage and a willingness to let ourselves be challenged by the presence and the stories of others. 

How Pope Francis understands the idea of "discernment" - adoration, prayer and the word of God:

The Synod is a process of spiritual discernment, of ecclesial discernment, that unfolds in adoration, in prayer and in dialogue with the word of God.  Today’s second reading tells us that God’s word is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb 4:12).  That word summons us to discernment and it brings light to that process.  It guides the Synod, preventing it from becoming a Church convention, a study group or a political gathering, a parliament, but rather a grace-filled event, a process of healing guided by the Spirit.  In these days, Jesus calls us, as he did the rich man in the Gospel, to empty ourselves, to free ourselves from all that is worldly, including our inward-looking and outworn pastoral models; and to ask ourselves what it is that God wants to say to us in this time.  And the direction in which he wants to lead us.

Sunday, 3 October 2021

All the Cathedrals (11): Truro

Zero and I have just returned from a visit to Cornwall, where we stayed in what is very much Daphne du Maurier country. We stayed in the village of Tywardreath, which featured in the du Maurier novel that Zero was reading (The King's General), just a 5 minute drive from Menabilly, where Daphne du Maurier lived for many years, and which recognisably features in both The King's General and in My Cousin Rachel, which I started reading during our time away.

On one of our days, we visited Truro Cathedral, which is sharply distinguished from our earlier Cathedral visits by the fact that it was built relatively recently - that is, in Victorian times. The typical story of a (Norman) monastic house dissolved by Henry VIII's commisioners to become a diocesan cathedral with chapter, subsequent despoliation by Parliamentary forces during the Civil War, and then restoration and (Victorian) repairs, is therefore absent. That having been said, the Gothic style and layout does echo the style and layout of those much older Cathedrals, as does its city centre location, something that our guide suggested was the result of a deliberate attempt to imitate that tradition of cathedral building. The history of the building of the Cathedral can be accessed from this page on the Cathedral website: History

One of the best features of the Cathedral is the reredos behind the high altar. The best online pictures of this I can find are at this blog post - you can enlarge the photographs there by clicking on them. The reredos is very striking, and you can see in it an idea of portraying key moments in salvation history, with Old Testament types of Christ's sacrifice in Calvary, and Eucharistic representations such as the gathering of the manna in the desert.

Another feature of note is the very extensive stained glass. An outline of the themes of the stained glass can be found on the Cathedral website: Stained Glass Windows. A much more detailed account of the planning of the windows, and pictures and exploration of each window can be found in the links from this page (though you might like to jump straight to this page to find links to accounts of the windows themselves).  In some ways, it is the last windows in the order, on the left as you face the high altar from the end of the nave, that allow the visitor to appreciate the one of the intentions of the whole. They show such figures as Queen Victoria, John Keble, Bishop Butler, Richard Hooker, and Lancelot Andrewes - that is, figures that represent the history of the Anglican Church with a specific reference to the High Church tradition in that Church. A Catholic is struck by a certain incongruity in seeing representations of the medieval saints such as Bernard and Francis, the Tudor humanists Thomas More, Dean Colet and Erasmus and key figures of the Reformation such as Wycliffe, Cranmer and Coverdale. Along with the intention to show the history of the Church in England, there is an implied assertion that the Anglican Church of today lies in a continuity with the Church of the medieval times and the times of the Fathers.

So Truro Cathedral is a very different visit than our previous visits to Cathedrals.


Tuesday, 14 September 2021

International Eucharistic Congress: President Janos and Patriarch Bartholomew I

 The website of the Budapest International Eucharistic Congress now carries reports of some of the events during the Congress. Two of these events have caught my eye.

The first is the testimony of the President of the Hungarian Republic, given on Friday 10th September, which is reported under the title: A coincidence or the will of the Lord? It is significant that a person who is the representative figure of the Hungarian state should be willing to offer a testimony at a Eucharistic Congress. President Janos testimony referred to three different situations where he believes he has experienced a "coincidence" that was rather a sign of God's presence. Do read the whole of the report to gain a full flavour of President Janos testimony.

The testimony of the President of the Republic of Hungary was closed with the conclusion that searching for and accepting God needs real activity, it cannot be a passive action. “We all receive our signs, and it is up to us whether we take them as a simple story or a parable. It is up to us to see it as a ‘coincidence’ or God’s action.” Áder János is of the belief that “if we well apply the talents we have been entrusted with, if we are looking for God in our hearts, souls, and actions, then we will surely find Him.”

It is also interesting to place this testimony alongside President Janos speech before the Hungarian National Assembly after his election as President in May 2012. A written text of that speech can be found here; a video recording with English subtitles is here. It is worth persevering through to the end, again to gain a sense of the full context. I have not yet had time to read President Janos' other speeches which are linked from those pages.

The second event is the speech of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. This was given before the celebration of Mass on the Saturday of the Congress, and the Eucharistic procession which followed the Mass. It is interesting that Patriarch Bartholomew I's speech was so closely linked to the Eucharistic celebration and procession, and there is a clear ecumenical significance in his being present.

Patriarch Bartholomew also spoke at length about the need of the reconciliation the Eastern and Western Churches. He declared: The eucharistic realization of the Church in the common chalice and in the shared Christian witness in the world is the vision and the dream of all of us”. Regarding the schism he cited Father Georges Florovsky who said that according to the plan of God should not have taken place”, since Christians belong to the very same spiritual space, East and West organically belong together in the unity of Christendom” – quoted again Father Florovsky according to whom we can call the two denominations cultural sisters” or even Siamese twins”. The Patriarch of Constantinople invited the pilgrims to pray to the merciful God to strengthen and bless our endeavors to advance on the path to unity”.

Patriarch Bartholomew also used a neat phrase to describe how the presence and actions of those who have celebrated the Eucharist should be lived as a kind of "liturgy after the Liturgy". The report of Patriarch Bartholomew's speech ends by referring to the recognition in the year 2000 of St Stephen of Hungary as a saint to be honoured by the Orthodox churches:

In 2000 in front of the Basilic of Saint Stephen’s Basilica His Holiness Bartholomew I Patriarch in a Holy Mass issued the bull about the honoring as saint of our first king Saint Stephen also in the orthodox church. The orthodox church leader’s gesture was extraordinary because since the schism on behalf of the the orthodox church there has been no example of recognition as own one of the Roman Catholic Church’s saint. The person of Saint Stephen, Hungarian king is a bridge between Eastern and Western Churches. 

Monday, 13 September 2021

March for Life: London 2021

I was not able to take part in this year's March for Life in London on 4th September because of a family commitment - but a report of the march can be found here: March for Life UK - A Resurgence of Life. Videos of the day can be found here: The Talks and Highlights. The videos include testimonies during the rally in Parliament Square, and the talk from Bishop Paul Swarbrick, of Lancaster Diocese.

‘All lives matter! It’s not that some matter more than others but some do need that bit more love, they are so easily overlooked.’


Thursday, 9 September 2021

Assisted dying/euthanasia: three thoughts

Earlier this afternoon, I listened to an item on BBC Radio 4's PM programme. Featuring Baroness Meacher and Robert Winston, it discussed reasons for and against proposed legislation to allow assisted dying/euthanasia. If you are reading this within 29 days of my posting, you will be able to listen to the item on BBC Sounds, here. The item occurs immediately after the news summary at the beginning of the programme.

In two distinct ways, it was the references to suffering and burdensomeness in the discussion that have prompted the following thoughts.

What does it mean if I suggest that "I do not want to be a burden on others"?

For a person who experiences an illness that is, to a small or to a greater extent, life limiting, there is merit in keeping as much independence and self-sufficiency in daily living as long as that is possible. But, as with those who have good health, that independence and self-sufficiency is nevertheless lived in a relation to others and not in an individualised bubble - it encounters bus drivers, shop staff, etc, the people of daily living. Our lives are shared with other, even when we are in good health.

There is nevertheless a graciousness in accepting assistance when that becomes necessary, be that social care or medical care. This graciousness has a reciprocal dimension - it does not just exist from the point of view of the person experiencing illness but also finds a reflecting mirror in the people who provide care. And it does not extend just to those who might provide care to a particular patient but extends to wider society too. 

The recognition of this reciprocal graciousness is sadly absent from our society's conversation about end of life care and so, for some, the conversation is framed in terms of being a burden to others. That framing is often exclusively voiced from the point of view of the patient who is ill, which is to neglect the place of those who are potential carers. Surely our society needs to be much better in encouraging this reciprocal graciousness in our care for those experiencing serious illness.

Experiencing illness as you approach the end of life.

Perhaps we could all do well to think to some extent about what it means to experience serious illness and come to the end of our lives. What it does do is create a very special - and that does not mean that it is easy - time for a patient and their relatives/friends to have together. Clearly, different people will experience this differently, depending upon their individual situations; some will find it more difficult than others. But, at least for many, there is an opportunity for a specially shared time together with the patient who is coming to the end of their life. [This isn't theory on my part, but something I have been privileged to see a number of times.] 

What would happen to this time if, because assisted dying/euthanasia were legally permitted, that possibility were admitted to the conversation? Or if, as has happened with legalized abortion, the offering of the opportunity for assisted dying/euthanasia comes to be seen as a normal practice of health care on the part of medical professionals?

It really is not good enough to say that people would have a freedom to choose assisted dying/euthanasia or to not choose it; so why not permit it for those who would choose it. With legalised assisted dying/euthanasia, everyone is put in a position where they have to make a choice, even if that choice is implicit. Everyone's experience of the end of life is affected, and that special time is irretrievably altered for everyone.

Unnecessary suffering.

I believe that it is entirely possible with proper end of life care for a patient not to have to endure unmanageable pain. And, with sufficient commitment to pastoral care, both the patient and relatives/friends can be supported through what might be termed the anguish that accompanies the end of life. If relatives/friends are worried about unnecessary suffering by  the patient, that is a result of poor care both for the patient and for the relatives/friends. And it is not unusual for an end of life patient to "let go" when they are ready, and a key element of their care is recognising when that can come about. In the mean time, that privileged time that is the end of someone's life deserves to be respected rather than curtailed. 

My two thoughts above, of course, do also feed in to this third thought.

Tuesday, 7 September 2021

"... All my springs are in you" :International Eucharistic Congress 2021

Like the Olympic Games, the Budapest International Eucharistic Congress was originally due to take place in 2020 but was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is taking place this week, with the closing Statio Orbis Mass to be celebrated by Pope Francis on Sunday 12th September.

The home page for the Congress is here: 52nd International Eucharistic Congress.

The theme of the Congress is taken from Psalm 87, which reads in the RSV translation that is closest to the expression of the adopted theme: 

On the holy mount stands the city he founded;
the Lord loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwelling places of Jacob.... 
Singers and dancers alike say
"All my springs are in you".

This video clip rather nicely explains the theme and logo of the Congress: Logo of the 52nd International Eucharistic Congress.

A video of the opening Mass of the Congress, celebrated on Sunday last, can be found on Youtube: IEC 2020: Opening Ceremony and Holy Mass. The celebration of Mass itself begins at 2:35:00.

I have yet to find online English texts or videos of the various catecheses and testimonies that are taking place, though a full programme for the Congress can be found here.

A couple of things have caught my eye so far. The first is a report of the theological symposium of the Congress that took place on 6th September. The programme for the symposium is here; the English report is here, with the Italian version of the report here. The English report seems to have suffered a little in the translation, so I offer instead my own translation from the Italian of the part that caught my eye:

[Participants] indicated, among other things, that if we wish to preserve the Liturgy of the Church into the future, instead of a desacralisation and of a deformation, we must continue to consider it as a sacred event, in a strictly formal context. They also said that the Gospel, fertilizing and renewing the history of humanity, must shine its own light and force in the same way in our secularised world.

Hanno indicato tra l’altro, se vorremmo conservare la liturgia della Chiesa anche nel futuro, al posto della desacralizzazione e della deformazione dobbiamo continuare a considerarla come un evento sacro, in un rigido contesto formale. Hanno anche enunciato che il Vangelo, fecondante e rinnovante la storia dell’umanità, deve splendere la sua luce e la sua forza proprio allo stesso modo nel nostro mondo secolarizzato.

The second is the subject of one of the workshops, which will be given by Bishop Massimo Camisasca, ordinary of the diocese of Reggio Emilia-Guastalla. He is a native of Milan, where one of his school teachers was Luigi Giussani. He has a long standing and leading position with respect to Don Giussani's movement Communion and Liberation. His subject is one of immediate relevance to the area of his present pastoral responsibility in the northern part of Italy: the martyrdom of Italian priests after World War II.

Thursday, 26 August 2021

OnlyFans - a frustrated exercise in ethical commerce and a dishonest use of language

 On the 20th August 2021, the subscription only website OnlyFans accounced that it would ban users from posting sexually explicit photographs and videos on its site from October. The BBC report is here: OnlyFans to ban sexually explicit content. On the same day, the BBC news website was reporting an investigation that criticised OnlyFans for its approach to moderating and closing accounts that show illegal content, and which also expressed some concerns about content being posted on the site. That report is here: OnlyFans - how it handles illegal sex videos - BBC investigation.

According to the BBC investigation:

On Thursday evening, Only Fans said it would ban sexually explicit content on the site from October. The announcement comes after BBC News approached the company for its response to the leaked documents, and concerns about its handling of accounts posting illegal content.

OnlyFans said it would still allow creators to post nude photos and videos if they were in line with its terms of service, which are to be updated.

The site has more than 120 million subscribers, who pay a monthly fee and tips to "creators" for videos, photos and the ability to send personal messages to them. OnlyFans takes 20% of all payments.

OnlyFans said that the change was being made after pressure from banking partners, again according to the BBC reporting. This in itself represents an interesting development - commercial partners being sufficiently interested to not allow their payment services to be used in the production and communication of sexually explicit material, for which OnlyFans provides a well known platform. In recent times, such threats of commercial pressure have been used by lobbyists wishing to discourage the provision of services to those who support causes that would generally be identified as "conservative" or at least less than "progressive". Its application to the field of sexually explicit content represents a new development.

However, yesterday (25th August) the BBC reported that OnlyFans has announced a supension of its change, in effect allowing the publication of sexually explicit content to continue after 1st October: OnlyFans suspends policy change after backlash.

OnlyFans wrote on twitter that it would "continue to provide a home for all creators".

"Thank you to everyone for making your voices heard," said the company.

"We have secured assurances necessary to support our diverse creator community and have suspended the planned 1 October policy change.

"OnlyFans stands for inclusion and we will continue to provide a home for all creators."

And in an email to its content creators, it said: "The proposed 1 October 2021 changes are no longer required, due to banking partners' assurances that OnlyFans can support all genres of creators. "OnlyFans is committed to providing a sage [sic - presumably intended to be "safe"] and dependable platform for all creators and their fans."

One OnlyFans creator, from London, welcomed the announcement but said those who had already found new homes for their content may still not return.

"So it is short-term good news for sex workers reliant on the platform - and I would like to see this as the start of increased support, celebration and championing of sex-worker rights by OnlyFans," he told BBC News. 

 At least in part, the "backlash" appears to have come from OnlyFans "creators" (essentially those who produce and post sexually explicit content on the site), one of whom I recall hearing interviewed on the BBC's Today programme a few days ago. If I recall correctly, this lady identified as a "sex worker" who had been using OnlyFans to publish subscription based content during the COVID-19 pandemic, and argued that, if she had to return to live working rather than being able to continue online working, she would feel significantly at risk because of the uncertainty inherent in meeting live clients.

OnlyFans capitulation in the face of publicity and what appears to be potential economic losses if makers of sexually explicit content move to other platforms is disappointing. It would also be interesting to know the extent to which OnlyFans "banking partners" also succumbed to pressure.

But the most stunning aspect of the debacle, for me, is the adoption towards makers of sexually explicit material of the language of "diversity" and "inclusion". 

In the first instance: should we be more honest in our use of language, and recognise that what is  now referred to in morally neutral language as "sexually explicit content" is in fact what would previously have been termed rather more honestly as "pornography"?

Should we not also be more hesitant in accepting the use of the term "sex worker", and recognise that the larger part of the work covered by that term could be more honestly termed "prostitution"? This is particularly the case as the aura of legitimacy implied in the term "sex worker" does not capture the significant risk of exploitation and harm that exists in such work.

But the most worrying misuse of language is the development according to which the categories of "diversity" and "inclusion" are applied by OnlyFans to their "creators", that is, to the makers of "sexually explicit" / "pornographic" content which is posted on their site. The implications if such  a use of these categories became widespread in society are mind boggling - think about work place, or even school and college, equalities policies which might be forced to include the accessing of such content as an equalities strand to be supported and promoted.

It is interesting to put the argument for "increased support, celebration and championing of sex-worker rights" alongside the text of Article 29 (2) of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and ask whether we really do want our society to abandon the idea that the law should be able to act in favour of "morality ... and the general welfare in a democratic society":

In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.

UPDATE: CARE have reacted to OnlyFans U-turn: 'Shameful OnlyFans u-turn is corporate greed trumping corporate responsibility'. CARE's comment focusses on the risk that "creators" may be being coerced into making content, and is very usefully read alongside my observations above.

“It’s clear what happened here. OnlyFans realised curbing sexually explicit content would affect its profits. Financial backers who initially raised concerns about content on the site and pressured the company towards a ban have either changed their minds or been replaced by others willing to turn a blind eye to concerns. This is a classic case of corporate greed trumping corporate responsibility. It is a shameful.”