Monday, 17 May 2021

Novena for Pentecost: Praise and Worship

 Whilst the experience of Baptism in the Spirit can often be seen as having fruits in quite extraordinary gifts, such gifts can at the same time be understood as being ordinary, expected gifts of a vividly lived Christian life. 

One of these gifts is a style of worship characterised by a certain exuberance. Though this prayer is not readily identified as liturgical in its character, it nevertheless has something in common with prayer that is more strictly identified as liturgical. It is prayer that has at its heart the praise and adoration of God - that is, worship - that is a first intention of liturgical prayer.  It is manifested, too, in the Trinitarian form of liturgical prayer - to the Father, through the Son and in the unity of the Holy Spirit. This movement of the Spirit has led to the composition of many new songs and melodies, often based on the psalms or other Scriptural texts, to express the praise of God, a movement which can also be seen at work in places outside the Renewal (CJM's Born for This comes readily to mind as an example). The gift of tongues, primarily as a gift for prayer and praise, is perhaps the most extraordinary aspect of this exuberance in prayer and praise.

Alongside this gift of praise and worship, Baptism in the Spirit has a power to lead those who receive it to a deeper conversion and holiness of life. Growth in holiness leads to an experience that becomes less one of self-striving against sin and more one of yielding to the Holy Spirit. The cross and resurrection of Christ come to be known not only as an event of the past but a present source of grace enabling a death to sin and a living for God. The ability to resist sinful tendencies and deep-rooted patterns of sin, freedom from addictions and the healing of relationships - these are fruits experienced by those who have received Baptism in the Spirit, fruits which can be found wherever there is growth in Christian life.

In observing the Charismatic Renewal from the outside, it is perhaps important to recognise this connection between exuberance in prayer and praise, which may not be for everyone, and the deeper conversion and holiness of life that accompanies it.

Sunday, 16 May 2021

Novena for Pentecost: A new awareness of the Trinity

St John Paul II, along with many others, spoke of the need of the Christian to achieve a living encounter with Jesus Christ, and through that encounter, with the Father. Chapter 1 of the Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in America  for example, is entitled "The Encounter with the Living Jesus Christ".

The Church is the place where men and women, by encountering Jesus, can come to know the love of the Father, for whoever has seen Jesus has seen the Father (cf. Jn 14:9). After his Ascension into heaven, Jesus acts through the powerful agency of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete (cf. Jn 16:17), who transforms believers by giving them new life. Thus they become capable of loving with God's own love, which “has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us” (Rom 5:5).

An experience of this living encounter with Jesus, bringing about a profound awareness of the love of the Father poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, is a most immediate effect of Baptism in the Spirit. There is a new consciousness of the presence and power of the Spirit, that brings about an existential knowledge that "Jesus is Lord": "Jesus is Lord and Saviour" is an experience of the heart before it is an acclamation. 

One who has been baptised in the Spirit lives the words of St John:

What we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, we have looked upon and touched with our hands...

Saturday, 15 May 2021

Novena for Pentecost: Characteristic features of Baptism in the Holy Spirit

 Charismatic Renewal's first experience of Baptism in the Holy Spirit is, both historically and individually  speaking, that of its being a surprise, a sovereign gift of God that is not dependent on any human merit or activity. This can be said both in reference to the historical beginnings of Catholic Charismatic Renewal and to the fact that Catholics involved in the Renewal have come to be baptised in the Spirit in very different ways: through being prayed for by others already baptised in the Spirit, during their own private prayer, through study groups, through praying the Scriptures, through discovering the testimonies of others. 

Baptism in the Spirit is an unexpected grace, and so the Renewal does not have enrolled members. Instead, people are part of the Renewal through having been baptised in the Spirit, and because they subsequently affirm this grace and seek to be faithful to it. Any organisation, in for example a specific community or national structure, comes after this as way to support the fruitful reception of this grace. The gift is charismatic in a strict theological sense and not in a subjective, emotional sense.

Our faith has come alive, our believing has become a kind of knowing. Suddenly, the world of the supernatural has become more real than the natural. In brief, Jesus Christ is a real person to us, a real person who is our Lord and who is active in our lives. We read the New Testament as though it were literally true, now, every word, every line. Prayer and the sacraments have become truly our daily bread instead of practices which we recognise as "good for us". A love of Scripture, a love of the Church I never thought possible, a transformation of our relationships with others, a need and a power of witness beyond all expectation, have all become part of our lives. The initial experience of baptism in the Spirit was not at all emotional, but life has become suffused with calm, confidence, joy and peace.

Friday, 14 May 2021

Novena for Pentecost: the fruits of "Baptism in the Spirit"

 The Catholic Charismatic Renewal is a little unusual among the range of new movements that have taken root in the Church in recent decades. Rather than representing one community or organisation in the Church it embraces a wide range, from communities with specific foundations and houses to diocesan service committees supporting individual prayer groups. Charis, instituted by the Holy See in December 2018, carries out an office of service to the different expressions of the Renewal throughout the world. It has received a three-fold mission from Pope Francis: sharing the experience of "Baptism in the Holy Spirit" with the whole Church, working for Christian unity (though, speaking soon after the institution of Charis, Pope Francis expressed this in terms of serving "the unity of the Body of Christ, the Church", suggesting a promotion of communion in the Church itself) and serving the poor. Received anew as a mission from the Holy Father, these are features already reflected in the life of the Charismatic Renewal.

The characteristic feature of the Charismatic Renewal is what is known as "Baptism in the Spirit", which can be associated in the minds of those unfamiliar with the Renewal with extraordinary phenomena. But many of the chracteristics and fruits of "Baptism in the Spirit", as described by those involved in the Renewal, are ordinary gifts that would be recognised in many of the other ecclesial movements - love of the Church, Marian devotion, strong sense of evangelisation etc. I am going to post on these fruits in the coming days.

In this post I want to start by suggesting that, just as life in a religious order or life lived in accordance with the charism of any ecclesial movement represents for the individuals concerned a specification in their own circumstances of the universal call to holiness received through the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, so "Baptism in the Holy Spirit" represents for those in the Charismatic Renewal the way in which their baptismal and confirmational consecration is made specific to their individual lives. Understood in this way, "Baptism in the Spirit" is at one among a wide range of charisms in the Church that enable the faithful to live, in a specific way, the call to holiness that is addressed to all, though it gains a certain vividness because of a clarity of its connection to Baptism and Confirmation. The recognition of that charism by those in authority in the Church indicates further that it is a charism that, like those of other ecclesial movements and communities, is of value for the life of the Church as a whole. Whilst not everyone will be called to live this charism, it is nevertheless worthy of the attention of all in the Church.

Saturday, 8 May 2021

Amoris Laetitia: love as courtesy

 The two paragraphs nn.99-100 of Amoris Laetitia are a part of Pope Francis' reflection on St Paul's account of love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, under the general heading "Our Daily Love".  In the English translation, these paragraphs have a sub-heading "Love is not rude"; the Italian sub-heading is "Amabilita" (rough translation: "lovable-ness", perhaps with a nuance of "gentleness" implied by the context; Italian has the words "cortesia" and "gentilezza" to express more explicitly the idea of courtesy); and the French: "Amabilite" (which my French dictionary translates as "kindness" or "courtesy"). The Spanish is "Amabilidad" and the Portuguese "Amabilidade", neither of which I am able to translate directly, but which probably represent the source of Pope Francis' choice of terminology. 

The sub-heading is not the only aspect of these two paragraphs where a reading of the Italian and French translations aids understanding. Pope Francis wishes to draw our attention to an idea of love expressed in the courtesy, gentleness of every day living.

Setting on one side Pope Francis' citation of Octavio Paz' The Double Flame (of which more below), part of n.99 in the English translation reads somewhat enigmatically:

[Courtesy] is not something that a Christian may accept or reject. As an essential requirement of love, "every human being is bound to live agreeably with those around him".

The corresponding Italian translation reads:

Essere amabile non è uno stile che un cristiano possa scegliere o rifiutare: è parte delle esigenze irrinunciabili dell’amore, perciò «ogni essere umano è tenuto ad essere affabile con quelli che lo circondano».

Translating directly from the Italian, in the light of the French, gives:

To be courteous is not a style that a Christian can choose or refuse: it is part of the indispensable demands of love, since "every human being is obliged to be courteous with those who surround him".

The terms "essential" and "irrinunciabili" (indispensable) need to be read in a metaphysical sense, as indicating that courtesy is of the essence of what it means to love rather than being an incidental to that love. It is intrinsic as part of love and, as such, is not something that the one who loves either chooses or refuses - it is simply given.

N.99 ends with a quotation from what must be one of Pope Francis' most memorable General Audience addresses, where he speaks of three expressions for the every day living of family life, most easily stated in English as  "please", "thank you" and "sorry". It is worth reading this Audience address to  grasp the practical intention of the term "courtesy" as intended by these two paragraphs of Amoris Laetitia: General Audience 13 May 2015.

N.100, though addressed specifically to the relationships within family life itself, nevertheless reads as if it applies to how family life affects society as a whole:

Loving kindness builds bonds, cultivates relationships, creates new networks of integration and knits a firm social fabric. In this way, it grows ever stronger, for without a sense of belonging we cannot sustain a commitment to others; we end up seeking our convenience alone and life in common becomes impossible.

Pope Francis' citation of Octavio Paz is from a book that represents a wide ranging study of the relationship of eros and love in the history of literature and culture. The immediate citation is somewhat nuanced, and refers to an idea of love as courtesy in a historical and literary cultural context. Paz's discussion here parallels approximately in a secular sphere the discussion of eros and agape that Pope Benedict XVI pursued in a specifically Christian context in Deus Caritas Est nn.3 ff. Writing of stories of lovers in literature from all parts of the world, Paz comments (in English translation):

Their encounter requires, in turn, two contradictory conditions: the attraction that lovers experience must be involuntary, born of a secret and all-powerful magnetism; at the same time, it must be a choice. In love, predestination and choice, objective and subjective, fate and freedom intersect. The realm of love is a space magnetized by encounter.... 

But sometimes reflection on love becomes the ideology of a society; then we find ourselves in the presence of a way of life, an art of living and dying, an ethic, an aesthetic, and an etiquette. A courtesy, to use the medieval term. 

Courtesy is not within the reach of all: it is a body of knowledge and a practice. It is the privilege of what might be called an aristocracy of the heart. Not an aristocracy founded on bloodlines and inherited privileges but on certain qualities of the spirit. Although these qualities are innate, in order that they be manifested and made second nature, the adept must cultivate his mind and his senses, learn to feel, speak, and sometimes remain silent. Courtesy is a school of sensibility and selflessness.... 

"Courtly love" is learned: it is a knowledge of the senses illuminated by the light of the soul, a sensual attraction refined by courtesy.

Pope Francis cites from the Spanish original of Octavio Paz's work, and, in the English translation of Amoris Laetitia, it appears as follows: 

Courtesy "is a school of sensitivity and disinterestedness" which requires a person "to develop his or her mind and feelings, learning how to listen, to speak and, at certain times, to keep quiet".

A glance at the French, Italian and Spanish translations of Amoris Laetitia, and the translation from the original work above, suggests that a reference to the cultivation of the senses in Paz's original text has dropped out of the English translation of Pope Francis' citation though it is present in other translations; and there is as a result an ambivalence as to how far the term sensitivity/sensibility refers to the senses or more generally to a sensitivity/sensibility of spirit. 

Monday, 3 May 2021

Transitioning - a single narrative?

 What is now known as "gender reassignment surgery" would, in an earlier time, have been referred to as a "sex change operation". The latter term is perhaps more honest in public discussion, avoiding as it does the conflation of the idea of physiological sex to that of social presentation that occurs with the current prevalent usage of the term "gender".

In February 2008, I saw a film called Juno, starring Ellen Page (who has since transitioned to a man and is now known as Elliot Page). See here for comments relating to Juno that have appeared previously on this blog. The part played by Ellen Page in Juno, as an unexpectedly pregnant high school teenager, attracted very significant acclaim at the time the film was released.

Elliot Page has recently gained media coverage following an interview with Oprah Winfrey, in which he speaks of how liberating he found being able to have "top surgery" and so present visibly to himself as male. UK coverage can be read on the BBC news website and the Guardian newspaper website.

“I want people to know that not only has it been life-changing for me, I do believe it is life-saving and it’s the case for so many people,” the actor told Oprah Winfrey on her new show for Apple TV+...

Page said the surgery has given him newfound energy “because it is such a freeing, freeing experience”, adding: “This is incredibly new. I feel like I haven’t gotten to be myself since I was 10 years old.”
 In the interview, Elliot speaks of feeling a discomfort with his own body that was only partly relieved by coming out as a gay woman (and entering a same sex marriage from which he has divorced); and how his (partial) transitioning enables him to now feel comfortable with his body. He goes on to challenge steps being taken in the United States in response to concerns about the treatment of children for gender reassignment, that he sees as limiting access to important health care. (There is some echo in those steps of concerns raised here in the UK about the work of the Gender Identity Development Service at the Tavistock Clinic.)

Whilst it is important to treat Elliot Page's account of his own experience with respect - it is a courtesy, I think, to refer to him now as he would wish to be referred, and hence my use of "Elliot" and masculine pronouns in this post - it does nevertheless raise two questions in the context of a wider debate.

Firstly, a narrative such as Elliot Page's should not be seen as the only and normative narrative. Alongside those suffering from gender dysphoria who may be helped by transitioning, there are also young people who may not be helped by considering transitioning, and who simply need health care as they grow up through puberty in the sex that they already have. Our public conversation needs to recognise that there are differing background stories - multiple narratives - around gender dsyphoria, and that an assumption in favour of transitioning is not always going to be helpful. The public acceptance of transitioning by the media and wider culture, which in effect promotes this acceptance to others, is not going to be helpful for everyone.

Elliot Page's earlier experience as Ellen Page in the film Juno also highlights a second question in a very visible way. He has transitioned (at least partly) from the female sex to the male sex; he is now someone who was of the female sex but is now of the male sex. How far can someone identify fully with their new physiological sex, or, as is implied by the identification as part of a "trans" community, is the fundamental identification that of a person who was of one sex and is now of the other, that of a person who has changed sex?

[In December 2020, I posted indirectly on this last point, in the context of the alacrity of media sources such as Wikipedia in changing the previous "Ellen Page" in their cast list for the film Juno to "Elliot Page": Ellen or Elliot?]

Saturday, 1 May 2021

Canon Michael Bourdeaux

 The Times newspaper today carries an obituary of Canon Bourdeaux, who died on 29th March 2021.  (The Guardian obituary can be read here; and an appreciation from the Keston Institute here.)

The obituary in the Times refers to Canon Bourdeaux's influence with political leaders, based on the integrity of the research work of Keston College:

In Britain Bourdeaux was consulted in the 1970s by Harold Wilson, and in 1983 after he had briefed Thatcher she took a personal interest in securing the release of Irina Ratushinskaya, a Christian poet, and Alexander Ogorodnikov, the founder of a Christian seminar in Moscow.

At that time, Keston College had a network of support groups in the UK, including one based in Hornchurch. Each group was assigned a particular religious believer experiencing persecution behind the iron curtain in order to pray for them and support them by, for example, sending supporting cards to their prison addresses. Irina Ratushinskaya was the prisoner assigned to the Hornchurch support group. I still have in my possession the minute book of the Hornchurch support group, as I was secretary for a number of years. If I recall correctly, I became a member of the support group after visiting an open day at Keston College, in the days when it was based in the former village school at Keston.

The minutes of the group Annual General Meeting in October 1986 record a collection of £120 being taken at the meeting, and handed to a representative of Keston College so that it could be spent to buy orthopaedic boots and a warm coat for Irina Ratushinskaya, who at that time had just been released from prison and was seriously ill following her ill-treatment in prison.

Irina visited the Hornchurch support group in September 1988. My minutes of that meeting read as follows:

Over eighty members and friends of the Group put questins to Irina Ratushinskaya. Irina first answered questions about her time at school in the Soviet Union, and then answered questions from the floor. Irina was accompanied by her husband Igor, and Mrs Alyona Kojevnikov from Keston College.... Irina's closing remarks were to thank members of the Group for providing the money for a pair of boots. After the meeting, refreshments were served, and Irina signed copies of her books.

 Very different times ....